After showing my partner just how cheap a homemade breakfast truly is when compared to going out to eat four times a week, he started to get a bit curious about cost comparisons, homemade versus store bought.
As he was eating my special potato salad (recipe below) with ham and beans last night, he pondered and asked, “What does this cost when compared to store bought potato salad?”
The answer was, I had no clue but I figured it out in short order. It cost less than $0.38 cents a serving. Contrast that with the $3.99 container of potato salad my partner buys at the local store and which gives him roughly three generous servings or, $1.33 a serving.
Granted, the average frugal cook doesn’t always have the time to make everything from scratch but with some careful planning and prep work, you can still save a bundle on sides by making them from scratch. As always, I make most of my sides on the weekends when I have more time and energy. Potatoes are absurdly cheap and I always toss in an extra spud or two to use in a main such as Shepard’s pie. I tend to keep a couple of hardboiled eggs on hand and always some really cheap sweet pickles (thank you, dollar store) so composing a potato salad is quick and easy and there is always a second serving for my partner to eat with lunch the next day.
Some frugal tips for assembling cheap sides from scratch:
1. Be sure and keep those flat packs of cooked, frozen beans in the freezer that I have recommended in the past. I store cooked and frozen packs of pinto, black, and creamy white beans in my freezer at all times. They are great for quick BBQ beans, chili and any number of family favorite Mexican sides like ‘refried’ pinto beans.
2. Always have fresh potatoes and onions on hand. With the help of a veggie chopper, you can dice onions quickly and sauté what you need in a flash. Peel a couple of spuds, toss them in cold water to boil and you have the makings of many sides. I like to toss a couple of oiled sweet potatoes in the oven while baking/cooking other things so I have some to mash, cube or toss into everything from salads to vegetarian stews. I also will take a cooked sweet potato to work and with some cheese, smear both on a tortilla for a nutritious and filling lunch.
3. Be sure and prep all your veggies for the week on one of your days off. You can then quickly assemble a chopped salad and any other side you fancy during the week.
4.Sheet dinners provide a great opportunity to roast your veggies for side prep. While cooking your favorite sheet meal (blog on frugal sheet dinners coming soon) you can prep another cookie sheet with cut up veggies to roast.
5. Have a couple of sauces in your meal playbook that you can whip up quickly to grace your prepped veggies. I rely on my famous cheese sauce but also have a rapid fire blender peanut sauce (see below) and a simple dressing of melted butter and lemon juice that I can whip up in under five minutes to embellish side dishes.
6. Mashed potatoes can actually be made a day or two in advance and gently warmed up in your slow cooker with the addition of a few pats of butter and a splash of half-and-half to reconstitute so you can enjoy them on a weeknight while prepping over your weekend.
7. Rice is a great standby for using up diced veggies (chop, chop, chop) in a stir-fry or mixed with a small can of diced green chilies and shredded cheese for the perfect Mexican side dish (see recipe below). I like to make double portions over the weekend in my Instapot (just 12 minutes cook time) and, with a sprinkling of water, the rice can be reconstituted in the microwave and ready to be embellished with whatever I have handy in my vegetable crisper at the time.
Rapid Fire Peanut Blender Sauce
2 cups homemade chicken stock
3/4 cup peanut butter, any kind
1/3 cup soy sauce
generous pinch of red pepper flakes
Thumb-sized chunk of fresh ginger root with the skin removed (use a spoon to remove the flesh in a hurry and store the rest in the freezer)
Method: Toss everything in the blender and blend until smooth. Thin out with more chicken stock if necessary. You can substitute slivered pickled ginger in a pinch.
Potato Salad on the Cheap
3-4 russet potatoes, peeled and chopped into bite-sized chunks
1/2 cup mayo
tablespoon mustard, any style
3-4 sweet pickles chopped
1/3 onion chopped finely
1 hardboiled egg, roughly chopped
1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese
Any finely diced veggies you prefer, up to 1/2 cup (optional)
Salt and pepper to taste
Method: Boil the potato chunks until tender. Drain and cool. Mix with all the other ingredients gently and chill before serving.
Mexican Rice Done Right
2 cups white rice
3/4 cup plain yogurt or low fat sour cream
1 cup shredded cheddar, Monterey jack or other cheese blend
Small can diced green chilis, drained
Tablespoon of diced black olives (optional)
Make the rice using your preferred method. Cool slightly and mix in the rest of the ingredients. Top with olives.