Frugal Food: Stretching the Grocery Budget

By , November 18, 2009

I love to see how far I can stretch our food budget. I have been perfecting this for all of my adult life. When we were newlyweds—still in college—we had money from my folks for room and board. It gave us the amount they would have spent for me if I were still in the dorm. With that we rented a two-bedroom apartment and bought food, gas and incidentals. Sometimes money was a bit short, but we did okay. I remember one holiday we had $20 left for the whole week. We bought lots of vegetables and a piece of ham (realize this was in 1983) and we made a feast for two—then stretched it into many leftover meals, adding items from our meager pantry such as rice or noodles. Near the end of the week we were down to soup made with the bone. We were very proud of ourselves, not at all upset that we had so little.

I guess with such a start I couldn’t help but develop a frugal lifestyle.

Reading Kristen’s The Frugal Girl blog has inspired me to write about my own frugal meal experiences.

Today’s example is tomato paste. This is one of my favorite versatile staples in our kitchen. Not only do they stuff 5 or more tomatoes into that little 6 oz can, it has lycopene, that wonderful anti-oxidant, and no extra ingredients— just tomato pulp!

We buy tomato paste by the case from our local grocer. If we buy it on sale, we get the sale price plus a 10% case discount. This brings the price down to less than 65¢ per can here in Alaska. Compare that to 99¢ for a can of store brand soup on sale. I have found that with a few spices, garlic, and onion I can turn it into tomato soup, pasta sauce or pizza sauce depending on how much water I add. Simply diluted with water it is equal to 2 cans of tomato sauce. It’s cheaper, lighter to carry home, takes less shelf space and has no extra salt. With one can and my favorite cream soup mix, I can make a better tasting and a better-for-you cream of tomato soup than any name brand you could mention.

Recently, we had the following soup for lunch with leftover cornbread I made the previous night.

Frugal Tomato Soup

2 T olive oil

1 – 2 garlic cloves, crushed or minced

1 small onion, cut in half and thinly sliced

1 T fresh oregano, chopped (1 tsp dried)

2 T fresh basil, chopped (2 tsp dried)

1/2 to 1 tsp salt   (to your taste)

1/4 tsp pepper

1 can (6 oz) tomato paste

4 cups (+/-) water

In a 2 qt saucepan, sauté garlic and onion with olive oil until slightly transparent. Take off heat and add all remaining ingredients except water. Fill tomato paste can with water and stir to get all residual paste, then add it to the pan. Add 4 cups water about 1 cup at a time, stirring well each time. Return to heat and bring to boil. Simmer for 5 minutes (or longer if you have time—flavors will improve). This made three large servings—probably four small ones.

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