Category Archives: Cooking

What’s Cookin’ Wednesday: Broccoli and cauliflower mac and cheese

This is one of our favorite go-to comfort food recipes. Who doesn’t love homemade macaroni and cheese? While adding fresh vegetables to the dish doesn’t counteract the butter, cheese, and whole milk, it does add lots of nutrients and flavor, and it’s a great way to sneak some veggies into a picky kid’s diet.

This recipe was originally inspired by a very similar recipe for cauliflower mac and cheese from Real Simple. Tony simplified it a little, and fattened it up for flavor, but you could easily use reduced fat cheese and 1% milk to make it a little healthier.

Broccoli and cauliflower mac and cheese

  • 12 oz. macaroni (or another short tube pasta)
  • 1 head of cauliflower
  • 1 bunch of broccoli
  • 4 Tbsp. unsalted butter
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • A pinch of grated nutmeg
  • 8 ounces of sharp cheddar, shredded
  • 1/4 cup bread crumbs or Panko
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 Tbsp. dried parsley
  • Kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper

Bring a gallon of water to boil over high heat in a large pot as you cut the cauliflower and broccoli into florets. Generously salt the water once it has reached a boil.

In a medium-sized saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. When the butter is melted, pour in the flour and stir until it and the butter form a roux (a thick paste). Add the milk slowly, stirring regularly. Allow the mixture to come to a simmer. Sprinkle in the pinch of nutmeg. Once the liquid has become thick and creamy, lower the heat. Stir in the cheese one handful at a time.

Cook the pasta in the boiling water until it is close to al dente. Add the broccoli and cauliflower to the boiling pasta and stir them all together. Let the vegetables boil with the pasta for two to three minutes, or until the broccoli has turned bright green and the cauliflower has begun to soften. Strain everything into a colander.

Place the pasta and vegetables back into the pot, pour in the cheese sauce, and stir to combine. Add plenty of black pepper. Transfer to a large casserole or baking dish. Top with the bread crumbs, parsley, and Parmesan.

Bake in a 350-degree oven for 20 minutes. Let it rest for 5 to 10 minutes before serving.

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What’s Cookin’ Wednesday – Apple Cider Pancakes

If you’re a regular reader of my blog, then you know my husband is the cook in our house. It’s not that I can’t cook; I know my way around the kitchen. It’s just that my husband is a more inventive and more accomplished cook, and since it’s something he enjoys doing, he cooks dinner 95% of the time. It’s okay with me, because one less thing, right? I enjoy baking every now and then when I get an itch to do some mixing.

I recently decided that keeping all of his delicious concoctions to myself is a crime. So I’ve decided to share some of his recipes with all of you. I do the menu planning, so I usually find a recipe that looks good, and then Tony adapts it however he sees fit. Sometimes the end result doesn’t look a lot like the recipe that inspired it, but it’s always delicious. Sometimes he throws things together completely from his own imagination.

So I’m going to start sharing recipes on Wednesdays. I may not have something to share every week, though I’m going to try. I also promise to start working on my food photography so I can share my own photos instead of other people’s Flickr photos of similar meals. If you have any questions or comments to chime in, please do! In the future, I may figure out how to do a Mr. Linky thing, though I imagine the last thing the Internet needs is another recipe link-up.

Without further ado, here’s the first recipe. Pancakes are a long tradition in our house. Tony makes them almost every weekend. Sometimes he gets a little bored with his tried and true buttermilk pancake recipe, and he adds things to the batter to mix things up. Last weekend, he stumbled on a smash hit that’s perfect for a chilly fall morning. I hope you enjoy it as much as we did!

Apple Cider Pancakes

  • 1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 Tbsp. brown sugar
  • 1 Tbsp. baking powder
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 2 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • ¼ cup apple cider
  • 1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
  • Sweet apple, peeled and grated (1 large or 2 small)
  • 2 Tbsp. melted butter


Combine flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, and cinnamon in a large bowl. Set aside. In a separate bowl, combine milk, apple cider, egg, and vanilla. Pour wet ingredients into dry ingredients. Add grated apple, and mix everything until just combined, but don’t over-stir.

Melt butter in a non-stick skillet. Pour melted butter into batter, leaving a small amount in the pan. Cook pancakes until golden brown on both sides. Serve hot with warm maple syrup and a glass of apple cider.

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Crock pot cooking saves time & money

I’m suffering from a lack of inspiration this week. I’m tired. Judah is teething. Things have been a little rough lately. So forgive me for phoning it in a little on this one, but lately I’ve been having a love affair with my crock pot.

I’ve always thought of the crock pot as a fall/winter thing, but my love affair with mine started during this summer’s intense heat wave. We were having issues with our air conditioner, and the house just wasn’t getting as cool as we wanted. We couldn’t bear the thought of turning on the oven, and my husband (the cook in our family) didn’t want to stand over a burning stove top in the kitchen. Enter the crock pot.

We started buying large cuts of meat, slow cooking them in the crock pot, and using the meat in dishes throughout the week. Sandwiches, salads, soups, quesadillas. The possibilities were endless. Now as we enter the cooler season, I’m thinking about soups and stews and roasts and other winter comfort food that will be a snap to prepare in our beloved crock pot. It makes me wish we’d started using the thing years ago.

Here are a few of the reasons why I love it so much:

It’s easy.

Just chop and drop your ingredients in the morning (or before you go to bed), and when you get home dinner is ready to serve. Simple!

It uses less energy than the oven.

Even though the crock pot cooks for longer, it doesn’t use the massive amounts of energy it takes to heat an entire over to 300-400 degrees. So it will lower your energy bill (slightly).

It doesn’t heat up the kitchen or the house.

While most people think crock pot = winter comfort food, we started using ours in the summer time to avoid the heat generated by the oven and stove top.

It allows you to buy and cook cheaper cuts of meat without sacrificing flavor.

The process of slow cooking breaks down and softens up cheap cuts of meat that would otherwise be tough. That means you can stretch your grocery budget and still eat delicious meals.

It makes the house smell glorious.

There is nothing better than walking in the door to a house the smells of delicious roasted meat or soup. Trust me.

You can make more than you think with a crock pot.

I have an entire pinboard on Pinterest devoted to crock pot cooking, and I’ve been shocked at how many different recipes you can make. It’s not just soup and roasts. The crock pot can make it easier to prepare pasta dishes, casseroles, dips, and even drinks and desserts.

What’s your favorite crock pot recipe or web site? I’m always looking for new ideas!

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Recipe inspiration from Pinterest

Everyone has been buzzing about Pinterest for a few months now. I spend way more time on the site than I probably should, but I’m sad to admit that I don’t have nearly enough time to actually act on the inspiration I find there. I’m constantly repinning ideas for crafts, home decorating, and brilliant life hacks, but I’ve recreated almost none of them.

Menu planning is the one area where I do act upon the inspiration I find on Pinterest. It takes no effort to glance at the recipes pinned by the people I follow and repin what looks good a few times a day. On grocery day, I look through the ideas, and there’s always something that inspires me.

Now that I’m on a high-protein, vegetable-heavy, low-carb kick (I’ve lost 7 pounds so far!), it’s been harder for me to find good, frugal recipes that fit my dietary restrictions. This is why Pinterest has been so helpful! The people I follow share a ton of great ideas for easy, healthy, low-carb meals. (They also share a ton of ideas for sinfully delicious desserts that I repin in the hopes that I’ll someday hit my goal weight and enjoy those things on occasion again.)

This week, I was thrilled with the recipes I found on Pinterest, and four out of seven meals we’re cooking were inspired by recipes pinned on the site. I wanted to share them with you in case you’re looking for frugal, healthy meals that don’t require a ton of ingredients or time.

  • Healthier General Tso’s Chicken – I’ve been craving Chinese food, and this recipe is a simple, easy way to kick up traditional stir fry. It has more sugar that I should be eating, but we’re adding extra veggies to counteract the sugar content.
  • Rosemary Chicken – I have a huge fresh rosemary plant growing in front of my house that I’ve barely touched this season, so I was thrilled to find an opportunity to use some of it up. We’re pairing it with a fresh romaine side salad and this roasted broccoli to amp up our vegetable intake.
  • Crockpot Chicken Enchilada Soup – We’re making a few adaptations to this recipe since we’re trying to avoid processed foods. It calls for canned enchilada sauce and cream of chicken soup. We’ll make our own enchilada sauce and use a combination of milk and chicken stock instead of canned soup. Hopefully it will turn out as good as it looks!
  • Basil Chicken with Vegetables – This is another skillet stir fry that will allow me to use up some of my homegrown herbs. I’m trimming basil by the handful every week to keep it from flowering, and I haven’t been able to use it as quickly as it’s growing. Again, we’re loading it up with more veggies than the recipe recommends.

If you haven’t signed up for Pinterest yet, I highly recommend it. It’s honestly the most useful social network I’ve ever joined. Sure, there’s still the time suck factor, but the ideas really motivate me to try new things in the kitchen. And hopefully someday I’ll find the time to make some of the awesome crafts and life hacks I find there, too.

Are you on Pinterest? Follow me here, and share your username in the comments so I can follow you!

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Unplanning our menus

So at what point do you stop calling the postpartum pounds “baby weight”? Because my baby is almost 9 months old, and I’m still hauling quite a bit more around than I’m comfortable admitting. Methinks this is less about the baby and more about the absurd amounts of junk food I craved when I was pregnant. (Note: “Breastfeeding makes you lose weight” is a MYTH. Because homeboy is still nursing around the clock, and it’s not helping my waistline.)

In an effort to finally get serious about getting myself back to a comfortable weight, I joined a gym and met with a personal trainer for a free consultation. I told him about my diet, which honestly, is reasonably healthy. I cut out the junk food after Judah was born. We rarely eat out, and we never eat fast food. We cook fresh whole foods, lean protein, and lots of vegetables … but we also eat lots of carbs.

To keep our grocery budget down, we make a lot of big pasta dishes and sandwiches, and potatoes are usually featured pretty prominently in our menus. The trainer suggested I cut the carbs and focus on eating vegetables and lean proteins instead and see if that helps me shed the rest of this weight. That doesn’t seem tough to me. I’m not counting carbs. Just sort of leaving them off our menu.

Unfortunately, this makes menu planning tough. Most weeks our menu features at least one pasta dish and one sandwich night. Most days I also throw a sandwich together for lunch. On weeks when I’m having menu planning writer’s block, we’d even eat pasta or sandwiches twice. We usually bought potatoes in bulk and served them roasted or boiled as a side dish. Clearly, I’d have to rethink our entire menu planning strategy if I was going limit my carbs.

So we’re trying something new. We’re unplanning. In other words, we’re just buying one or two meats that are sale priced, and then loading up the cart with whatever produce is cheap that week. When we get it all home, we take stock of what we bought, and we build a menu around that.

Here’s an example of how it works. Last week, split chicken breasts were on sale for 99 cents a pound. We loaded up on a few pounds of chicken. Then we filled the cart with low-price produce — several heads of romaine, spinach, tomatoes, carrots, zucchini, squash, broccoli, sugar snap peas, onion and cauliflower. We have a ton of homegrown cucumber and herbs from the garden. For snacks, we bought fruit — peaches, pears, apples, and grapes. We also bought staples like milk, eggs, cheese, and some canned beans.

Surprisingly, because everything we bought was on sale, we stayed within our grocery budget. Tony basically shopped our produce selection each night and made something up. It turned out fantastic! Here’s what he came up with last week:

  • Roasted chicken breasts with squash and side salad
  • Chicken Caesar salad
  • Chicken stir fry
  • Chicken skillet with beans and vegetables
  • Chef salad with turkey
  • Grilled chicken and veggie kabobs

Yes, you end up eating a lot of the same meat all week, but you can change it up the following week. Pork and beef would work the same way. Or you could use beans instead of meat.

Of course, this method relies heavily on having an adventurous cook in the house. Tony is great at foraging the kitchen and throwing something together.

At the end of the week, we had a few items left — spinach and cauliflower mainly. We took stock of what was left, and we made sure we used up any leftover produce at the beginning of this week to avoid waste.

I really enjoyed everything we made last week, and shopping the sales motivated us to buy and use produce that we rarely eat — like zucchini and squash. It is a little harder control spending without writing an actual menu and grocery list, but as long as you stick to sale meat and produce and only buy about as much as you’ll eat, it shouldn’t get too pricey.

Now send me low-carb recipes! I doubt the planner in me will let this “unplanning” last too long.

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Is gardening really frugal? An update

Since I wrote an update on how line drying is going and what I’ve learned from that last week, I thought I’d share how things are going with our little vegetable garden.

You might recall, I’ve had trouble with container gardening in the past. I worried that I was doomed to a black thumb forever. Thankfully, that doesn’t seem to be the case. My little vegetable garden is doing pretty well considering how late in the season it was planted and how little I knew what I was doing when I started.

Here’s how it looked right after I planted it:

And here it is yesterday:

Unbelievable what sunshine, water, and time can do for a garden!

I sort of rushed planting this garden, because it was late in the season, and I wanted to get some experience under my belt before I try my hand at some more ambitious gardening next year. I’d like to plant directly into the ground next season, but that’s going to take some considerable prep time that I just didn’t have this year. Instead, I put this tiny raised bed into the existing flower bed in front of the house. I planted red pepper, tomato, cucumber, sage, peppermint, parsley, oregano, rosemary, and basil.

The cucumber plant is my biggest success. I’ve already picked two cucumbers, and I see about 10 or 15 more tiny ones growing now. The basil and rosemary are thriving, and we’ve gotten the most use out of the basil for pizzas, pesto, and other cooking. I’m not quite sure what to do with the other herbs, but I want to harvest them late in the season and try my hand and drying them out for later use. I was worried about the tomato for a while, because I wasn’t seeing any signs of fruit, but now I’ve got several blossoms. I’m hoping to see at least some tomatoes, but I probably could have grown more if I hadn’t waited until the middle of June to plant.

Because I was so rushed, I made a ton of mistakes. But I learned! And that’s what’s important, right?

Lesson #1: Cages should go on tomatoes, cucumbers, and any other plant you want to grow vertically immediately after planting. This isn’t something you can do later. Doh. Consequently, when the cucumber and tomato plants started taking over my garden, I tried to rig a cage to hold them up. It’s sort of doing the job, but not as effectively as it should. I feel pretty stupid about this one, because it seems so obvious now.

Lesson #2: Plan your garden carefully and avoid giant plants in tiny beds. Seriously, look at that tiny little cucumber plant in the first photo. I had NO IDEA the thing would grow to be so giant and try to take over the entire bed. I had an idea about the size of tomato plants, but I probably shouldn’t have planted the red pepper plant right next to it. Sadly, my red pepper plant is not going to make it because it’s so overshadowed by the tomato. I was able to rig the cucumber plant in a cage to prevent it from taking over everything, but the parsley isn’t doing well because it’s under the cucumber.

Lesson #3: Plant what you eat. I sort of grabbed the plants that looked best to me, and there wasn’t a lot left in the middle of June. I knew we’d have a ton of uses for basil, but I’m sort of at a loss for what to do with the rest of the herbs. And I have no clue what I’m going to do with 20 cucumbers that will likely ripen within a week or two. I see lots of pickles in our future. When I plant my big garden, I’m going to be more careful about selecting what to plant to ensure that we get lots of use out of the food we grow.

Lesson #4: Gardening doesn’t always save money. I had hoped my garden would reduce our grocery bill. It’s taking forever to grow anything, though, and most of the herbs are things we don’t use regularly anyway. Between plants, the prefab raised beds, and soil (who knew soil was so expensive?!), I spent about $100 on my garden. I doubt I’ll yield enough to cover my overhead this season.

Next year I’ll lower my costs my planting directly into the ground (or building raised beds myself from lumber). We plan to start a compost bin soon, which will provide us with fertilizer, and tilling the soil and planting in the ground will mostly eliminate the high cost of soil. I will probably still buy seedlings next year, because I’m not confident enough in my ability to grow from seeds just yet. But in the future, I’d like to grow from seeds to cut down on plant costs. I also plan to learn about canning so we can make the most of our harvest during the winter months.

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Dairy-free coconut milk ice cream (you won’t even miss the dairy, I promise)

Summertime = ice cream. Obviously. So now that summer is here, and Judah still doesn’t seem to be tolerating dairy in my diet, I was understandably bummed about it.

I looked at the “ice cream alternatives” in the grocery store — there are soy, rice, almond, and coconut milk varieties — but I sort of dragged my feet about trying them. I viewed them the same way I view “dairy-free” cheese. What’s the point? If it’s only going to remind me how much I want the real thing, then I might as well just skip it.

After some cajoling from Tony, I finally agreed to try coconut milk ice cream. No dairy. No soy. Still pretty high in fat and calories, so you can’t eat a pint every night without putting some junk in your trunk, but it’s okay as an occasional treat.

I tried it, and I FELL IN LOVE. Coconut milk ice cream is absolutely delicious. I didn’t miss the dairy at all. It tasted rich and smooth just like real ice cream, and the slight hint of coconut flavor just made it all the more delicious — and I’ve never been a huge fan of coconut in large quantities.

The only problem? Coconut milk ice cream is not frugal. Not even a little bit. We can usually get two quarts of premium ice cream for $2.50. A pint of coconut milk ice cream will cost you at least double that, and usually closer to $6. For a single pint.

Because my husband is a saint — and because he missed ice cream, too, but didn’t dare try to eat it in front of me — he found this recipe for chocolate coconut milk ice cream. We made a few alterations to make it more affordable (agave syrup may be healthy, but it’s pricey). Here is our version of the recipe:

Chocolate Coconut Milk Ice Cream

3 cups of unsweetened coconut milk (two cans)
2/3 cup of cocoa powder
8 tablespoons simple syrup
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
6 tablespoons brewed coffee, cold

Mix ingredients together until smooth. Cover and refrigerate overnight. Add cold coffee. Follow your ice cream maker’s instructions to turn the mixture into ice cream. Serve immediately as “soft serve,” or freeze overnight for firmer ice cream.

We paid about $3 for the coconut milk and pennies for the small amounts of sugar, vanilla extract, and coffee included. It yielded about a quart and a half of coconut milk ice cream for about half the price of a pint in the grocery store. I’m excited to try all kinds of variations on this recipe, including vanilla and coffee flavors and all kinds of mix-ins.

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Homemade baby food 101

All-natural, organic whole food is all the rage these days. If you’re introducing your baby to solid foods, you’ve probably wondered how you can avoid feeding him pricey, pre-packaged, preservative-laden baby food. Well, I’m going to tell you.

Here’s what you need:

  • Fresh, organic fruits and vegetables
  • A food processor, food mill, or blender to puree them

That’s seriously it.

The best thing about making your own baby food is that there is no tutorial necessary. There’s nothing to learn. If you can buy produce and puree it, then you can make baby food.

Of course, some foods are just a little more complicated. If you want to feed your baby something that easily oxidizes, like apple or banana, you’ll want to add a little vitamin C to the mix so you can freeze or refrigerate some. If you don’t want to mess with all of that, you can do what I do: cut the banana or apple in half, puree one half for baby, and eat the other half or serve it to an older child immediately. That way you’re not wasting any of it, but you don’t have to store it.

Judah hasn’t tried many foods yet. We’ve given him bananas, apples, carrots, and mangoes. We steamed the carrots before pureeing them, but the apple, banana, and mango were served raw. We tried to freeze half a pureed apple, but without vitamin C, the brown gook that we thawed was pretty inedible. Steamed carrots and fresh mango didn’t look or taste any different after thawing.

In addition to being healthier for baby, homemade baby food will save you a ton of money. At $1 or $1.25 each for two 4-ounce jars of organic baby food, it may not seem like you’re spending a lot. But when you consider the fact that you’re paying a whole dollar for a small amount of processed produce, it’s a lot more expensive than you think. Not to mention the environmental effects of the packaging and shipping.

We can get four 4-ounce jars of baby food out of one organic mango for $1.50. That’s 37 cents per jar. Organic mango is one of the fancier, more expensive foods. Organic bananas usually sell for around 69 cents a pound at my grocery store. A rough estimate is about 25 cents per banana. I feed half the banana to Judah and eat the other half, so 4 ounces of homemade mashed banana costs about 12 cents. Apples and carrots cost about a quarter per serving. Based on these very rough estimates, you can cut your baby food costs by 50 to 80 percent.

You can save even more (and be greener) by growing the food in your garden. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to plant my garden this year, but my next baby will eat organic produce from my own backyard.

If you plan to make large quantities of baby food, buy some small mason jars or Tupperware containers. Freezing or refrigerating excess will make homemade baby food almost as convenient as the store bought stuff. To thaw frozen baby food, put it in the microwave for a minute or so. Be sure to stir the puree well and test the temperature for “hot spots” caused by the microwave before serving to baby.

If you’re like me and you don’t have a microwave, put the jar of frozen baby food into a bowl with hot water and place a coffee mug on top to keep it from floating. Leave it on the counter for 10 minutes. If there’s still a frozen chunk in the middle 10 minutes later, stir the puree, refill the bowl with more hot water, and leave it for another 10 minutes. If you just want to warm up refrigerated food, it will obviously take much less time.

I found a lot of great ideas and instructions on this wholesome baby food site. But honestly, once you get the hang of it, it’s as easy as perusing the organic produce section at your grocery store, buying whatever looks good that week, and buzzing it up in the food processor. No further instructions necessary.

What are your baby’s favorite homemade baby foods?

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5 simple switches to lower your grocery bill

Ever since I started living frugally, one of the areas of my budget that continually leaves me feeling guilty is groceries. My husband is the cook, and he has extremely expensive tastes when it comes to cooking. I gave up trying to convince him to live on a beans and rice diet to save money a long time ago. To be honest, the idea of eating as cheaply as possible doesn’t appeal to me much, either. I absolutely admire those families who can feed four people for $50 a week, but we’re never going to be one of them. (We average about $60-$70 per week for the two of us. Judah doesn’t count yet.)

That doesn’t mean we’ve given up on saving money at the grocery store, though. We’re always finding little ways to cut costs without sacrificing the quality of our menus. Here are a few of the ways we do it.

Split chicken breasts

We cook with chicken a lot, because it’s versatile, healthy, and relatively inexpensive. We try to buy chicken breasts when they’re on sale, and stock up. A big way to cut costs on chicken breasts is to buy split, bone-in chicken breasts instead of boneless skinless chicken breasts. They require a little extra prep work, but they typically cost half as much as boneless skinless chicken breasts, so it’s worth the effort. Bonus: you can use the bones in homemade chicken stock.

Homemade chicken stock

At $3-$4 a quart, packaged chicken stock is one of the biggest rip-offs in the grocery store. For the cost of a bunch of celery, a bunch of carrots, an onion, some garlic, and discarded chicken bones, you can make gallons of the stuff. Just put aside the bones from split chicken breasts or the carcass of a whole roasted chicken. We keep them in a plastic storage container in the freezer until we’re ready to make stock. We make a few gallons every other month or so, and freeze them in 1-quart storage containers for later use. It is time-consuming, but not labor intensive. Just make sure you start in the morning on a day when you’ll be hanging out at home so you can keep an eye on it and skim it every so often. You can find our recipe for homemade chicken stock here.

Frozen vegetables

In the summertime, fresh vegetables are cheap and plentiful. This isn’t the case in the winter. You’ll pay a fortune for fresh vegetables that have been trucked from across the country. It’s bad for the environment, and they’re typically poor quality anyway. When vegetables aren’t in season, we buy frozen. They’re not mushy like canned vegetables, and freezing generally leaves most nutrients intact. Broccoli, corn, peas, spinach, cauliflower, and carrots are all delicious.


Salads are a great way to sneak green vegetables into your diet, but Romaine is also one of the most expensive things per pound at the grocery store. Instead of paying for Romaine, we typically buy spinach instead. Unlike nutritionally void iceberg lettuce, spinach is full of vitamins and nutrients. It’s cheaper than Romaine, though. To save even more money, you can blend spinach and iceberg for a full salad that’s still nutrient rich. We also use spinach instead of pricey fresh basil for a milder version of pesto.


Water is the cheapest, healthiest beverage you can drink (especially if you filter it yourself instead of purchasing bottled water). If you want a little flavor, though, tea is an excellent frugal alternative to expensive coffee or soda. It costs pennies per gallon. For a little extra flavor, you can add some sugar or (my favorite) fresh lemon juice.

What are your favorite simple switches to cut grocery costs?

Photo by B tal