During times like these I like to rely heavily on convenience items to make meal time easier, but they can be a budget breaker if you buy them prepackaged at the store. In my never ending quest for frugality I have discovered that you can make of these items yourself. The hardest part is setting aside time out of your busy schedule to prepare them. Setting aside a few hours in the evening or on the weekends is worth it, though.
I have a good friend who clued me in to making your own french toast sticks. She makes a loaf or two of bread (check bread outlet stores for stale bread, it makes the best french toast and it's cheaper) into french toast, then slices them into four sections (horizontally) with a pizza cutter. She places them on wax paper lined cookies and freezes them. When frozen she stores them in gallon plastic freezer bags. To reheat just pop in the microwave for a minute. I like to save the plastic cups Crystal Light comes in to use as dipping cups (to keep my kids from using a ton of syrup). Double the recipe for a batch of waffles or pancakes, and freeze the extras the same way as the french toast. Pop in the toaster to reheat. It is also easy to make your own flavored cream cheese to spread on bagels or toast!
Making your own frozen burritos and bagel pizzas is fast and easy, too. To make burritos simply place a 1/3 cup of meat (or refried beans) down the center of a softened (microwave for 10 seconds) 12 in flour tortilla. Sprinkle cheese on top fold the bottom end over the filling, fold in sides and roll up. Place seam side down on a waxed paper lined cookie sheet and freeze. Store in a gallon plastic freezer bag. Microwave for 1 to 1 1/2 minutes to reheat.
When I find ground beef on sale I will buy a large amount. I will cook 5 or 10 pounds of it with onion and green peppers. Then I fill quart size plastic freezers bags (about 2 cups per bag) with the mixture and freeze it to use in soup, chili, spaghetti, or casserole. Sometimes I will add taco seasoning to some of it for variety. I do the same thing with chicken breasts ( I use bone in if I want to save the broth to make soup). When the chicken is done I shredded it and divide into freezer bags and freeze. We all know cooked chicken has endless possibilities!
Cutting up produce when you bring it home from the store is another way to save time later on.
Shred lettuce (store it in a gallon plastic freezer bag with two paper towels in the bottom. The paper towels wick the moisture away from the lettuce and keep it fresh for a week or longer.), chop or slice tomatoes, shred carrots and store in clear plastic containers in the fridge until you need them. Celery, onions, and peppers can be chopped and flash frozen (yes, you guessed it) on wax paper lined cookie sheets. Let the frozen cookie sheet sit on the counter for a few minutes before you try to remove the frozen veggies to make them easier to remove them. Store them in freezer bags. Melons can be peeled, cut up and stored in the fridge for up to a week. Apples can be sliced and stored in a plastic container in the fridge if you pour and can of Sprite or 7 Up over them (make sure they are completely submerged) for a day or two.
When I do have time to cook I double the recipe and put one in the freezer (uncooked) for later. Lasagna, soup, enchiladas, stuff shells, pulled pork, non cream based casseroles (sour cream and cream based sauces separate when they are frozen), stew, and spaghetti sauce all freeze well. If you are short of freezer space. Put entrees in gallon plastic freezer bags, and lay flat to freeze. Then you can stack them. Make sure what you write what the entree is and the date you put it in the freezer to save on surprises later!
You can even make your own seasoning, pancake, muffin, quick bread, and cake mixes. The are a ton of make your own mix cookbooks (and most can be found at your local library. They can also be purchased used on Amazon.com or thrift stores). A few of my favorites are:
- Make A Mix Cookery (by Karine Eliason, Nevada Harward, and Madeline Westover)
- More Make A Mix Cookery ( by Karine Eliason, Nevada Harward, and Madeline Westover)
- Food Storage For The Clueless (by Clark L. and Kathryn H. Kidd)
- Family Feasts For $75.00 A Week (by Mary Ostyn)
Alas, I hear the clamoring of hungry little (and not so little children)! They are telling my it is way past dinner time, and they will starve to death in the next five minutes if I don't feed them right now, but I will be back soon with more budget saving ideas!