Frugal but still nutritionally dense meal ideas? - Mothering Forums

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#1 of 29 Old 01-12-2012, 04:01 PM - Thread Starter
 
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We are currently trying to squeeze some extra money out of our budget to be able to pay off our debt faster and one of the ways we are wanting to cut down is in groceries.  We are a family of 3 plus I run a home daycare (just two babies at the moment) and we were spending about 500.00/month on food + formula for the babies.  I would really like to get that down to 400.00, but I don't want to stop eating organic and nutritious meals.  Everything that seems to be on sale is always processed junk (at least in our commissary).  I like to cook from scratch but I find us eating the same meals over and over again.

 

Does anyone have any ideas for some cheap but still tasty and nutritious meals we could try?  I am trying to cute out sugar but other than that we eat all meat, dairy, eggs, etc. except for soy.

 

Thank you!


-Meagan

 

A Christian, crunchy, homeschooling southern wife to D and mama to A (5) who loves ( treehugger.gif, knit.gif,teapot2.GIF, and reading.gif)

 

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#2 of 29 Old 01-12-2012, 08:52 PM
 
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I love to make rice and beans with avocado. Use organic brown rice or basmati rice and you have a nutritious meat free meal for .50 cents a person!

 

Hope you get some other answers on here. I'm interested too!

 

 


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#3 of 29 Old 01-13-2012, 08:13 PM
 
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I am subbing for new ideas too!

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#4 of 29 Old 01-15-2012, 11:37 PM
 
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I make a lot of variations of beans and whole grains, sometimes alone or with a veggie side/mixed in. Some of my staples:

 

red beans and rice

beans and greens with sourdough or ww french 

bean tortilla soup with cornbread

baked beans with BBQ pork sandwiches on ww buns (buy a big cut of pork, cook it in the slowcooker all day, and it lasts forever for us)

black-eyed peas with corn cakes

minestrone soup with white beans and whole grain bread

white bean/hummus with pita or tortillas

black bean salsa with tortillas

black bean burritos (even my meat-loving dh liked these) or quesodillas

pink beans and coconut

'stewed' beans and cornbread 

split pea soup with bread (if you used a smoked shank it's cheaper than a ham bone and gets a good flavor still)

roasted chicken thighs w/salt, pepper and lemon, with whatever veggies you want- carrots are a cheap staple here

creamy pureed soups

stir-fry with just a few bites of chicken or shrimp- say, 1-2 tenderloins or 1 breast for the 3 of us and a bunch of veggies

fried rice with egg, and asian-style veggies like soy sauce carrots or hoisin green beans

leftover oat pancakes with PB and banana (for a snack)

fried leftover oatmeal (beat an egg in it and fry it in coconut oil or butter; also as a snack)

beef and veggie stew makes a small cut of beef go a long way

 

 

Wow that was more cornbread than I thought. Our commissary also carries a few nice things in the freezer section, like wild blueberries and ezekiel bread (which we weren't crazy about but i know a lot of people are). The produce leaves a lot to be desired but we just have to make do until the farmer's markets open again eyesroll.gif Good luck!

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#5 of 29 Old 01-16-2012, 08:11 AM - Thread Starter
 
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mommy212- Thanks so much! I will definitely have to try a bunch of these out.  My Dh is a meat lover too so I have the same problem. The one cheap/healthy meal I love is pinto beans and corn bread but my Dh hates pinto beans :(

 

Oh and I understand completely about the commissary.  One of the main reasons I like the place we are stationed at now (Monterey, Ca while Dh is at the DLI) is because they have a year round farmers market and you can get great quality organic produce for really cheap.


-Meagan

 

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#6 of 29 Old 01-16-2012, 02:27 PM
 
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Lucky! DH and I like black beans and cornbread better than pinto. I cook a bag with a whole onion, 4 or 5 garlic cloves and a ham bone or smoked shank. Worth a shot!

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#7 of 29 Old 01-17-2012, 04:51 AM
 
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Black eye peas are tasty, too, and have the added advantage of not needing a pre-soak.

Sandra

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#8 of 29 Old 01-17-2012, 06:16 AM
 
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I too look to reduce our food budget.  You could make home made bread.  I got a used bread machine at the salvation army and it works great.  There are some good deals on Amazon.com - its the best kept secret.  You can get a 25# of organic flour for a really good price at Amazon link: 

 

http://www.amazon.com/Great-River-Organic-Milling-25-Pound/dp/B0049YK1W0/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1326805838&sr=8-1

 

Also check out Amazon's "subscribe and save" for more good deals.  Here you can order product on line and it ships to your house free every month, 2 months, ...6 months or what ever you want and you get an additional 15% off the products.  What is neat is that you can get the 15% off and cancel before your next shipment with no penalty.  So if you find a good deal on a 6 pack of laundry detergent you can cancel the next order and just re-order it when you need.

 

When you buy in bulk  you can put it in food storage containers .  If there is a Mormon Church food pantry in your area any one can use it.  They have the materials to store food for many years - anyone in the community can use it - you just need to call and make an appointment.  Here's the link: 

 

http://providentliving.org/location/map/0,12566,2026-1-4,00.html to see if there is a location near you. 

 

Beans are always a great way to save money.  You can buy dry beans in bulk and save money over the canned variety.  The easy way is to put your beans in the crock pot on low the night before and they are ready the next day for you to use. 

 

Less Meat - We make a great chili recipe with more veggies and no meat or very little meat and now we dont miss it.  My mom loves chili loaded with meat and i cant eat it any more because i got used to it with less meat.  We dont use any soy products either.

 

Use Organic Quinoa  instead of rice.  This is an amazing ancient grain that has 8 of the essential amino acids that your body needs.  I substitute Quinoa for rice all the time and its great.  Its organic and can be sprouted for even more nutrition!!  I get this at Costco and its $10 for 4pounds. 

 
Sprouting:  Sprouting is one of the best and cheepest way to get an amazing amount of nutrients but make sure you get organic seeds to sprout.
 
I hope this helps!!
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#9 of 29 Old 01-17-2012, 06:24 AM - Thread Starter
 
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Thanks everyone for all the advice!

 

miller234- We are moving in March back to Texas for 3 months so it isn't very cost effective to buy much in bulk right now, but I will definitely keep that in mind when we get to our next duty station!  I also didn't know about the Mormon food pantry-which surprises me because I grew up in the Mormon church lol (although I am no longer a practicing member).


-Meagan

 

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#10 of 29 Old 01-17-2012, 06:27 AM
 
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#11 of 29 Old 01-17-2012, 09:12 AM
 
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We've gotten our monthly food budget down to $350 for our family of 4.  It does take some doing to get it (and keep it) that low!

 

The two most important things I do to trim grocery costs are

1. Plan meals

and

2. Waste nothing.  

 

We plan meals a week at a time, then shop for only what I need to make those meals.  When I plan meals, I go through the fridge/freezer/pantry and I make sure I plan meals that will use up what's already there, so we have almost zero food waste here.  (Well, unless you count the food my children throw on the floor when they eat.  They're still pretty little.)  Whenever anyone gives us anything -- tomatoes from their garden, whatever -- I make a point of planning meals that will use up all those nice gifts.  We actually save a lot on groceries because of the generosity of friends and family, at least during the harvest season. :) 

 

I cannot stress enough how much money we save by planning meals.  When I plan meals, I try to arrange the plan to stretch things as much as possible.  For example: red peppers are expensive, but I like the way they taste/look in some dishes, so I buy them, but use sparingly.  I'll plan a stirfry and a taco salad in the same week, and I'll use half a red pepper in each one.  If I didn't plan ahead, I wouldn't know to save half the pepper for the next dish -- or, worse, I'd be left with half a red pepper going bad in the fridge waiting to be used.  I follow similar logic with nearly all of the expensive things I use, like avocados, certain fruits, cheese, sour cream, etc.  

 

We don't buy meat.  I can't imagine keeping our food budget this low while also purchasing meat.  Perhaps others' advice might be helpful here, because I've never tried it.  We also buy very few dairy products and use them sparingly.  Cheese has become a condiment in this house, for example, rather than an integral part of a meal.   Following a largely vegan diet makes a big difference in our budget.  

 

We buy a few items in bulk, but generally we don't over-buy.  We've found that having huge amounts of things around sometimes leads us to be less-than-frugal when we use them, because it feels like we have such an unlimited supply.  So mostly we only keep around a handful of staples (rice, dry beans, etc.), and replace them as needed according to the menu plan.  We have a small kitchen, too, with very little storage space, so this works well for us.  

 

We make a lot from scratch.  We buy almost nothing processed on a regular basis, with the exceptions of fruit juices, beer and wine, occasionally crackers, and Cheerios (for the baby).  For the most part, everything else we make at home.  We've done the math to find out which things save us lots of money to make from scratch, and which ones aren't worth the effort and work.  So we aren't obsessive about making things from scratch, but we try to do it where we can.  I make my own tortilla chips, for example, because it's a heckuva lot cheaper to buy a bottle of vegetable oil and a monster pack of frozen corn tortillas than to buy prepared chips.  Plus, we eat fewer when we make them ourselves, and we don't put salt on them, so it ends up being a healthier option.  

 

Other things that save us money to make from scratch: cookies and cakes, potato chips, spaghetti sauce (I use plain canned tomatoes and cook them into sauce -- not as good as fresh, but cheaper), pasta (we have a hand-cranked pasta maker), hummus and pita bread (we eat this by the gallon!), all of our dips, sauces and dressings.  Even things like popcorn are a money-saver: we just buy kernels and pop in oil in a pan, rather than buying microwave popcorn.  And we'll use popcorn as a snack, rather than more expensive snack foods.  

 

We are careful where we shop, and when.  We buy bulk spices, grains, beans and certain kinds of produce at our local Indian grocer, because the prices are outrageously lower than the supermarket on "specialty" items.   We get 10 pounds of high-quality basmati rice for $13 there, for example, while at our local supermarket we'd pay nearly $50 for the same amount.  We buy most of our "regular" grocery items at our local discount supermarket -- it's not as nice for shopping as the "fancy" store, and there are certain things they don't carry, but the small savings add up, so it's worth the trouble to go there.  For produce, we sometimes go to our local vegetable market (or farmer's markets) near the end of the day, when the vendors are packing up -- they'll often have big loads of fruit/veggies that they're practically giving away just to avoid taking it home with them.  It sometimes means we have to eat a case of strawberries in two days, but we can manage.  Or we stock our freezer for later. :)  

 

Also, don't overlook free sources of food!  So much perfectly good food gets thrown away every day, and with a little ingenuity and asking the right questions, you can rescue it from the trash AND save some money.  We get bread free at our local food pantry -- they get more than they can use and end up throwing it away, so we make a point of picking up a bit every week.  There are other good free sources of food around, if you look.  Bakeries and grocery stores will often give away food that's just about to expire (or day-old breads/sweets), especially if you promise to deliver most of it to a hunger center or soup kitchen.  DH picks up a load of leftover food at his work cafeteria at the end of each week, and delivers most of it to our local soup kitchen, but sometimes we'll keep some of it for a meal or two if it's stuff they can't use at the soup kitchen.  

 

Oh, and one more great source of free food: wild foods!  I've made a fair number of meals using wild greens, milkweed pods, wild mulberries, wild leeks, and other things that grow wild in our local parks and ditches.  For kids of a certain age, foraging for foods can be a real adventure.  


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#12 of 29 Old 01-17-2012, 09:20 AM
 
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Garden, befriend gardeners, buy in bulk.  Cheaper cuts of meat in the crockpot. Eat less (I'm not saying go hungry. Many of us really do eat beyond satiety or no longer pay attention to when we are full).  I spend a small portion of my budget on long term storage foods and when I'm in a tight month can eat from those stores.


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#13 of 29 Old 01-17-2012, 09:55 AM
 
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Lots and lots of great ideas on this thread, and then one MDC mama lovingly put it all together.  http://www.mothering.com/community/forum/thread/1068609/under-2-meal-ideas-thread-compilation-completed-see-dedication 

 

I agree wholeheartedly w/the pp who mentioned wild foods.  We make use of wild plums, wild grapes, persimmons, blackberries, dandelion, red bud blossoms, cactus paddles and fruit, pecans, kefir pears, crab apples, Indian Bread Root, etc.  The majority of our meat comes from wild pigs.  Just recently a lady posted crab apples free for the picking on Freecycle.  I was the ONLY person who jumped on that, and I just couldn't believe it.  We went out on a Saturday and had to stop at 50-60 GALLONS because I was afraid I wouldn't be able to get them all done in time.  (I still didn't, but the deer, our goats, and chickens and ducks love them!).  I saw that she reposted about them a few days later, and I bet no one came.  I pickled them, juiced them, preserved them, and jammed them, lol.  Don't be shy, post on Freecycle, and even stop and ask someone if you see their fruit trees are loaded.  Lots of times people don't use them, and would love you to pick it and then bring them some already processed. 

 

Garden.  Find a place, find a way.  Grow it and stow it.

 

 


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#14 of 29 Old 01-17-2012, 05:38 PM
 
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The other posters have great ideas!

 

I don't stockpile (limited space and minimalist by nature) but I do stock-up when things are extremely cheap. We only have a freezer over fridge but I can store a lot. For example, around New Year's kale was super cheap because in my region (or is that everywhere? lol) it's considered good luck to eat on New Year's Eve/Day. So, $4 bags of kale were advertised for $1 at our local supermarket. Things like that are awesome to stock up on, even fresh items, because they can be frozen. We do that with lots of things so it pays to check the online ads for local stores.

 

The idea about using things like meat and cheese as more of accents rather than main features is smart too.

 

In the winter we do a lot of crockpot soups and stews and I serve them over homemade biscuits or freshly-baked bread in a bowl to 'beef' them up. I'll use cheaper vegetables to bulk it up (carrots, onions, and so on) and then add more expensive veggies as a complement (like the poster mentioned about red peppers).

 

We love beans and legumes -- specifically things like split peas and lentils which don't need to be soaked. Split pea soup over biscuits is a favorite as well as lentils over rice, lentil loaf (like meat loaf except with lentils), lentil "meat" balls, and I even make cold salads with lentils and chick peas (like chicken and tuna salad, only using chick peas or lentils). They can be served in sandwiches or with cut veggies (carrots are cheap, even organic).

 

I look for nutrition in unexpected places too. For example, after thanksgiving the large cans of pure 100% pumpkin were on sale at deep discount. I got a few because pumpkin is super nutritious and I can use it in lots of things -- spaghetti sauce, muffins, pancakes, quickbreads,  soups, mixed with vanilla pudding or yogurt, mixed with fruit juice in poscicles, in smoothies, mixed into oatmeal...the possibilities are many!

 

My husband went to DLI many moons ago in Monterey too! :)

 

 


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#15 of 29 Old 01-17-2012, 06:09 PM - Thread Starter
 
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Tumble Bumbles- Wow that's neat!  What language was he?  It's kind of sad because at first I hated hit here (I'm originally from Texas) and now I am slowly starting to like it but we are about to leave at the end of March/early April.  Rumor has it though that the Army might abolish their Tagalog mission (my Dh's language) so who knows?  We might be back here in a couple of years to learn a different language.


-Meagan

 

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#16 of 29 Old 01-17-2012, 07:42 PM
 
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Korean :)


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#17 of 29 Old 01-17-2012, 08:02 PM
 
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Ah, I was TDY at Monterey during my first pregnancy... the Loose Noodle was why I gained 50lbs...
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by addiluvmommy View Post

mommy212- Thanks so much! I will definitely have to try a bunch of these out.  My Dh is a meat lover too so I have the same problem. The one cheap/healthy meal I love is pinto beans and corn bread but my Dh hates pinto beans :(

 

Oh and I understand completely about the commissary.  One of the main reasons I like the place we are stationed at now (Monterey, Ca while Dh is at the DLI) is because they have a year round farmers market and you can get great quality organic produce for really cheap.


There are other places to shop besides the commissary.  Obviously Safeway is not one of them.  Trader Joes in Pacific grove is too small.  They don't carry enough.  Unless that's changed.  There was a place in Salinas I went too but I have to look up the name.  Better believe almost 10yrs later I still have those TDY receipts. 

 

Great Northern Bean/shredded chicken and jalapeno soup  (canned so it's not as spicy).  Chicken broth is needed

 

Red Onion soup, Red onions chicken stalk bread and cheese.

Split pea/ ham soup/ bread

Rice/sausage (not as soupy as gumbo)  I use lots of onions and garlic.

Pasta, shredded chicken or sausage, pink sauce ( not real pink sauce, regular tomato sauce and whip or cream cheese)

Migas!  Corn tortillas/scrambled eggs

Burritos, beans and cheese.  We make our own tortillas, I use flour butter water and salt.  I don't have a recipe as I just do it methodically like I've never stopped. winky.gif

 

Also do you have a bread maker?  If not I found mine and I know a lot other people found theirs for under 10 at thrift stores.  Most people buy them don't use them and then donate them. 

 

I have more but they're boring...

 

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#18 of 29 Old 01-17-2012, 08:36 PM
 
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Broths are a great way to extend meat, eat healthier and they are super tasty too!  http://www.westonaprice.org/food-features/broth-is-beautiful  Chicken backs and necks make the best broths and are super cheap.  Just throw them in the crock pot with a few "glugs" of vinegar, fill it up with water, and cook for at least 24 hours.  Part way through you can pick the larger pieces of meat off the bones and use it for one meal, then strain the bones out the next night and use the broth for another meal.  Beef or pork soup bones are great for broth too and are very cheap.

 

Breakfast cereal is a big unnecessary expense, and even the "healthy" ones are actually pretty bad for you.  Muesli is an easy and cheap breakfast option - it's like granola, but you don't have to bake it.  We make sourdough pancakes and eggs for breakfast most mornings.  We just fry up straight sourdough starter as pancakes.  It takes no mixing or measuring of ingredients, we just add oats, a little spelt flour and water to the starter every morning after using it (keeping it at pancake batter consistency) and put it back in the fridge.

 

Out of season buy frozen veggies (or better yet use veggies you've frozen or canned yourself in season).  They're probably as healthy as fresh that's been shipped who knows how far, and they don't require any prep work.


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#19 of 29 Old 01-18-2012, 06:10 AM - Thread Starter
 
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Imakcerka- Nope Trader Joes hasn't changed, there a few staples I like to get there (their ground beef and chicken are cheaper than Whole Foods) but that's about it.

 

I do not have a bread maker, every time I have made it before I have made it by hand, and a friend of mine is letting me use her kitchen aid mixer with the dough kneeder attachment until we pcs (she said she doesn't need it, I might try to buy it off her actually) and I think I will just use that for now until I can find a bread maker.

 

Thanks for all the ideas everyone I will definitely be using a lot of them!


-Meagan

 

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#20 of 29 Old 01-18-2012, 06:45 AM
 
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Seriously check the thrift shops.  Go to Salinas for that.  I don't know how long you've been there... but if you go to gilroy... don't eat the garlic ice cream.  I know it's tempting.  It's just disgusting!

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#21 of 29 Old 01-18-2012, 06:54 AM - Thread Starter
 
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Haha we have been to Gilroy but haven't attempted the garlic icecream.  We went up to Hollister back in September and picked apples, that was a lot of fun and I was able to can enough for apple pie for Thanksgiving and enough apple butter to give away for Christmas.


-Meagan

 

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#22 of 29 Old 01-18-2012, 07:13 AM
 
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Yum!  I found living in that area, though it's expensive place can actually be pretty cheap when it comes to entertainment.  Lots of places to go.  I loved just driving down 1 or hanging out in Carmel.  It's my favorite place of all times.  DH and I met there in class. 

 

Well have lots of fun there it's a place you'll never forget!

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#23 of 29 Old 01-18-2012, 01:18 PM
 
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I gave away my breadmaker when I learned the No-Knead bread method.  It takes very little effort and I could use better and fewer ingredients with WAY better results.


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#24 of 29 Old 01-18-2012, 01:23 PM
 
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Now you have to share. 

 

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Originally Posted by yitlan View Post

I gave away my breadmaker when I learned the No-Knead bread method.  It takes very little effort and I could use better and fewer ingredients with WAY better results.



 

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#25 of 29 Old 01-18-2012, 02:05 PM
 
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I don't know if this is the method the PP was referring to, but I've used it with good results!

 

http://www.motherearthnews.com/Real-Food/2007-12-01/Easy-No-Knead-Dutch-Oven-Crusty-Bread.aspx


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#26 of 29 Old 01-18-2012, 02:19 PM
 
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that's basically it. Except I make it even easier on myself. I use a big spoon so my hands never get dirty. I only use flour, sourdough starter, salt and water.  I don't sprinkle or worry about it being pretty.  I'm pretty sure there are some threads here mdc on it, as well.  Also check out breadtopia.com for recipes, video and more.  Seriously. I gave away my machine. It was that easy. when I started, I was still having babies, as well.


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#27 of 29 Old 01-18-2012, 02:27 PM - Thread Starter
 
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I'll have to try that out!


-Meagan

 

A Christian, crunchy, homeschooling southern wife to D and mama to A (5) who loves ( treehugger.gif, knit.gif,teapot2.GIF, and reading.gif)

 

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#28 of 29 Old 01-19-2012, 06:29 PM
 
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I totally recommend the no-knead bread too!  You can do it with part or all whole wheat, and the fact that you're soaking the grains overnight before you bake means that you're removing the phytates for better mineral absorption.  5 cups whole wheat to 8 cups white flour is my compromise recipe for nicer pizza crusts and fluffier bread, but I've also had really nice results with 10 cups whole wheat and 3 cups white.  I also like to put 1/2 cup of ground flax seeds and sesame seeds in too  - just add them to the regular recipe don't substitute for flour or add more water.  I always try to bake a pizza crust too when I bake a loaf of bread and freeze the crust for a quick meal sometime down the road.


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#29 of 29 Old 01-23-2012, 06:07 PM
 
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I love:

 

Frittatas

Hummus

Brown Rice and Kale

Mixed greens with and Italian-style chickpea - black bean spice mash on top

Frozen veggie pureed soup- choose  peas- broccoli asparagus etc puree with chicken stock and spices then top with a tbsp of plain yogurt and a little splash of olive oil and sprinkle of an appropriate spice.

My Dh likes meat- I was a veg for 15 years and now eat some meat- usually I make him a bit of meat and do not eat any because I don't really like it.

 

With the farmers market you can get any kind of veggie- add some barley, bulgier wheat, brown rice or cous cous- and a oil/vinegar/spice dressing and make anything taste fancy. 

 

I like to go to whole foods and look at what they sell pre- made a lot of it is cost conscious- so I get ideas and buy bulk.

 

Lots of great ideas here!!!  Thanks


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