The secrets of cheap meals: frozen veggies and slow cookers

Rising prices at the grocery store are a huge cause for concern and are directly impacting my family’s food budget. We already eat most of our meals at home to save money, but now, with the cost of food increasing, home-cooked meals aren’t as cheap as they used to be.

Time is part of the cost-equation too. I become frustrated when well-meaning people suggest frugal tips like “cook beans from scratch.” Busy people don’t necessarily have time to do that, and they also don’t need the extra mental load of remembering to soak beans overnight.

So what is practical advice for saving money at the grocery store? In my opinion it’s this: build meals around frozen vegetables and your slow cooker.

Frozen vegetables save time and money because you don’t have to prep them and they won’t go bad in your crisper if you can’t use them in time. Unlike their canned counterparts, they aren’t loaded with sodium, making them a better choice — if you have freezer space. Unfortunately, the cost of frozen vegetables is rising. I used to buy them for 99 cents a bag at my local store. Last week I paid $1.99. Hello, Washington D.C.: that level of inflation is scary.

Slow cooking devices like Crock-Pots and Instant Pots also save time and money because you can turn cheap cuts of meat into flavorful meals. A busy parent can quickly assemble dinner in the morning, and come home to a fully cooked meal, which reduces the temptation for drive-thru or takeout.

Here are three easy and delicious meals to try this week:

Beef Stew

1 pound stew meat

12 ounces frozen peppers and onions

12 ounces frozen mixed vegetables

2 russet potatoes, peeled and diced

1 ounce package au jus mix

6 cups water or beef broth

Place ingredients in the slow cooker and cook on low for 10-12 hours. Serves 6

Chicken Sandwiches

1½ pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts

12 ounces frozen peppers and onions

2 cloves of garlic, minced

1 cup Italian dressing

Cook in Instant Pot for 20 minutes. Serve with rolls, lettuce, sliced tomatoes, mayonnaise and cheese. Serves 6.

Zuppa Toscana

1 pound mild Italian chicken sausage, browned

12 ounces frozen onions

5 cloves garlic, minced

6 cups chicken broth

4 russet potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks

6 ounces frozen kale

1 cup cream

1 teaspoon red pepper flakes

Assemble all ingredients except for the kale and cream and cook on low for 8-10 hours. Add the kale and cream and continue cooking for 30 minutes more. Serves 6.

Jennifer Bardsley publishes books under her own name and the pseudonym Louise Cypress. Find her online on Instagram @jenniferbardsleyauthor, on Twitter @jennbardsley or on Facebook as Jennifer Bardsley Author. Email her at teachingmybabytoread@gmail.com .

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