The Budget

I was reading a friend’s blog tonight and she was talking about budgeting, specifically the household food budget. I’ve been mostly out of the workforce for a couple of years now and, not bring in any money to the house, have felt it’s now my duty to stretch the dollars my husband makes. The best things I’ve done so far are in not throwing away the food we have because it expires (we’re talking mostly leftovers here) before anyone becomes desparate enough to eat it. Case in point: old, blackened, mooshy bananas. I know people who will use these to whip up a tasty batch of banana bread. The problem I have is that inspiration for baking doesn’t always strike when I notice the bananas on the counter starting to ooze through their skins. Solution: peel each banana and put into individual sandwich baggies to freeze. The will keep in the freezer nearly forever, and are the perfect base for slushy fruit smoothies. Another mostly wasted item? Bread heels. No one here seems to like them, so, unless I have the energy to toss them into the woods behind our house for the squirrels, into the garbage they go. Now I instead air dry them thorougly, run them through the blender and use the resulting crumbs in a couple of ways. First, I use them for homemade coating mix (Shake n Bake) by adding onion soup mix and/or other seasonings. Second, I have a falafel recipe that calls for a big dose of bread crumbs, so I’m always ready to fry up a batch. I usually splurg for the good, grainy, seedy bread so I’m pleased to have a use for the otherwise undesirable pieces too. Also, we very rarely take the kids out to restaurants anymore. This means, with most of our dinners prepared at home, we have a lot more leftovers in our fridge than we used to, both meat and dribs and drabs of vegetables. Once a week I used to round up this stuff from the fridge and throw it out, but then I found a recipe for Shepard’s Pie. I take a pound of ground beef and then grind up whatever leftover meat I have in the fridge with my mixer’s grinding attachment. This usually gives me a pound and a half of meat (which is what the recipe calls for). Then I can add whatever vegetables are at hand–fresh or leftovers–to make the base. Top that with a layer of shredded cheese and top the cheese with a layer of mashed potatoes and bake the hell out of it. It’s a little different everytime, but always a winner with the kids. And I don’t throw away nearly as much leftover food as I used to. For fresh vegetables in danger of exceeded their shelf life, I bought a wok and stir fry them all up with nuts, a bit of meat, and a pot of rice. In short, I’m making better use of the appliances that I already have to make better use of the food and finding key recipes here and there that make better use of the things we are otherwise reluctant to eat. If you have any advice found by stretching your own food dollars, I’d be pleased to hear it.