Watch our family of 6 eat (or try to) on $6/day this month (maybe year--ask me at the end of January).
And if you're interested in minutiae, I've added Jean's Food Journal to the sidebar, so you can follow what I eat everyday. Wow. You don't get more interesting than that.
And speaking of my daily eating, I made my first sacrifice today. It was a small sacrifice, but a sacrifice nevertheless. This morning my kids ate all the breakfast cookies. I wanted one. Normally, I would have whipped up another batch. But today I just had oatmeal instead. Breakfast cookies are cheap and all, but they're not as cheap as oatmeal. And oatmeal is good and all, but it's not as good as breakfast cookies.
Thank you for enduring that interruption. Now, back to our scheduled programming.
I had grown up thinking of soup as difficult to make. After all, except for the occasional can of tomato or chicken noodle, we never ate it. Surely there was something difficult about homemade soup--mysterious, gourmet. This idea was strangely reinforced through my first experiences with homemade soup. When I was in Belgium for several months, I enjoyed a lot of great soup because they often ate the most delicious soups as a first course to their dinners. I didn't realize quite how good they were until my mother sent a sweet care package with a packet of dried soup. With my new soup addiction, I couldn't wait to try it. It was awful. I wasn't cook enough to put it together that processed American soups were crap. Indeed, I decided, the Flemish must have secrets, because soup, it seemed was wicked hard to make.
And then I got married. And I learned to make soup. It was very easy. Which was disillusioning. Why had my mother never made soup? And then I had several kids. And I realized why she never made soup. Because if she had ever made soup in our formative years, she had surely gotten plenty of grief from her band of little tyrants (more on that below). Additionally my dad was interested in bodybuilding, which meant meat was usually our main event. And my mother was too busy for first courses. And believe me, I get that.
But I really like soup. So I suffer through a certain amount (meaning a whole stinking lot) of whining and complaints from the peanut gallery in order to eat it. Especially when this family is doing a cheap eat challenge. Becasue soup--it is the cheapskate's delight. A broth, a white sauce perhaps, some onions, whatever's wilting in your fridge, maybe some leftover meat, salt and pepper, and voila.
Tonight I made a potato soup. Because potatoes are cheap. And healthy. And pretty filling.
And my kids received their bowls and said, "Thank you mother for the last 45 minutes of preparation with a baby in your arms, for the vegetable chopping, the creativity, the cleaning up afterwards. Thank you for helping this family save money, and for somehow creating pure deliciousness through it all." What? You don't think that's what my kids said? Well, I won't tell you whether you're exactly right or not, but all of zero of my children capable of speech ate more than one spoonful. At least one of my kids ended up in his room. And baby Emma, bless her baby sugar-free heart, scarfed it up like it was the best thing ever. And it was pretty good. (P.S. If you've got great tips for picky kid eaters, please, for all that is peace-loving in my life, send them this way.)
Serves 4 heartily, 8 1st-coursily
Preparation and cook time: 45 minutes (you could probably get it close to 30 if you're not holding a baby part of the time, as I was)
(Red Potatoes--.75, milk--.25, few strips bacon--.75, homemade stock--.00, onion--.25, butter--.40, flour--.02, chicken buillion granules--.05)
A tip for onion: Guess what? Picky eaters don't like big chunks of onion. When I was at my onion-chunk-hating sister's house, she gave me an onion tip. She said to grate the onion. If you do this and then cook it well (you don't want that crispy pop to it, no matter how small--picky eaters don't like that), you'll have the flavor without the texture, which is the thing so many onion haters dislike.
Another note on onion: The garnish in the above picture--it's caramelized onion--turns out I like big chunks, so while everything else cooks, I put some big onion slices in a bit of olive oil with salt and cook them slowly so they caramelize. Then I top my soup with my chunky sweet onions.
A note on meat: I used just a little for flavor. If you like more meat, go ahead and add it. Bacon is my favorite, but sausage is good as are chunks of leftover ham. My bacon was from a pig who is treated more humanely than your average pig. Why? Because we care about our pigs. Anyway, point is (you didn't think I had a point, did you?) that your meat won't cost this much if it's just from the grocery store.
A note on veggies and herbs: Seriously, just throw in what you've got. We often have this with corn thrown in. I meant to put some spinach in tonight, but forgot. Got some carrots or celery; throw it in. I bet it'd be good with rosemary or sage or thyme. Be creative, use what you have, and have fun. That's what soups are about and it's why they're so good and so cheap and so useful to the home cook.
2-4 strips bacon--this is mostly for flavor, not so much to have chunks of meat
1/2 medium onion, grated or chopped
1 clove garlic
4 C diced potatoes (I make mine pretty small)
4 C chicken stock
5 T butter
5 T flour
2 C milk
salt and pepper to taste
1 tsp chicken buillion granules
Cook bacon in stock pot or Dutch oven. Add onion to bacon grease and cook till translucent. Add garlic and cook for a minute.
Remove bacon and place on paper towel. Add diced potatoes and chicken stock. Let cook until potatoes are tender.
In the meantime, melt butter in a saucepan. Add flour and mix well. (I use a flat whisk.). Cook for 1 minute and then add milk. Mix well with your whisk. And stir until sauce thickens (you don't have to stir constantly, but it needs to be stirred every 30 seconds or so if it's on medium or medium-kinda-low). This takes about 5 minutes. Add salt and pepper or any other herbs you wish to white sauce. (P.S. If you're new to cooking or homemade soup, this is a basic white sauce.)
When potatoes are tender, add the white sauce. You can leave the potatoes in pieces or mash up some of them right there in the pot. I mashed some.
Break bacon into bits and add it. Taste soup. If it is blandish, add 1/2-1 tsp of chicken buillion granules (or whatever secret spice you have).
Garnish with caramelized onions, cheese, sour cream, or nothing at all. And then brace yourself, cause your kids might whine.