I actually posted these tips exactly 4 years ago this month, and they still hold true for our frugal family. People are always asking how to cook on hot summer days, without spending an absorbent amount of money on take-out. With the weather in the 90s here in NJ, and my pregnant belly making me too tired to even write, let alone cook, I’ve found that these tips have been saving my sanity lately.
Make it a burrito
After each summer holiday, we have an abundant amount of grilled beef, chicken, and vegetables so I create burritos to freeze for later. I keep it simple with just meat, rice, grilled or fresh vegetables, seasonings and fresh cilantro. They can also be turned into enchiladas, by topping with cheese, salsa, and warming in the microwave. I wrap them in wax paper, then foil, and place them in the freezer.
Breakfast for Dinner
We’ve all loved the idea of breakfast for dinner when you’re on a budget. It’s easy to do, and in some instances, you can make items ahead of time. Also, any make ahead breakfast items can be eaten for breakfast too. Shocking, right? We make breakfast burritos mostly, since we always have tortillas on hand. If you need a good breakfast burrito recipe, check this one from The Pioneer Woman. Also take advantage of pancake recipes, or buy the box kind and make them in large batches. Once they cool, separate them on a cookie sheet flash freeze. These stack nicely in a freezer bag. When needed, reheat in the microwave and top with fresh berries.
Prep your vegetables immediately
We are lucky to have most of our stores put a lot of produce on clearance almost every morning here. When I can get clearance bags of carrots, I not only chop one or two in the food processor (can be added to sauces or sprinkled over salad), but I also cut them into coins and place them in a tupperware container. When we need a veggie side, I add some water to the container, throw it in the microwave, and let them “steam” to perfection. I also use my mandolin to slice up cheap onions and freeze them. If I need the onions to be chopped, I take the slices and chop them up.
Take advantage of your starches
I always grab a 5lb or 10lb bag of potatoes when they are on a great sale. I wash all of the potatoes when I get home, cube them, and use my cast iron skillet to brown them up. I don’t cook them all the way, since I know 3 or 4 minutes in the microwave will complete the cooking process when I need a quick starch. I’ve also used some of these in the breakfast burritos. I separate them in meal-size servings and once I need a side starch I warm them up.
Also take advantage of your rice cooker. It uses a minimal amount of heat and you can use it to make white and brown rice in large batches. I actually love to make 2 batches, cool one, and use it to make rice pudding for our summer dessert. It pairs well with summer fruits sprinkled on top.
You can even go lazy with your pasta prep. Bring water to a boil, salt it, add in the pasta, stir, cover with a lid and turn the heat off. About 15 minutes later (depending on what type of pasta you are making), you have perfect, al dente pasta! It’s like a miracle! I always make a whole box of pasta when I do this, and just place the leftover pasta in the fridge for another meal. Plus, with the heat, pasta salad just seems so appropriate and it’s nice to have the pasta ready to go whenever we want it.
Make “no-bake” desserts until you are sick of them
We do love to have a dessert available here, so I’m more than happy to provide one for my family each week. Choco-nana pie, no bake cheesecake and even simple macerated fruit are our summer staples. I do think that having something sweet in the fridge helps us stretch the meal even further, even though we don’t eat as much during dinner in the summer than we do in the fall or winter.
Use the slow cooker
This one is pretty obvious. We are still taking full advantage of our slow cooker and will continue to do so. I have a good amount of freezer meatloaves, so we’ve been using those. Paring those with make-ahead potatoes corn on the cob that has been on sale everywhere, and we have a totally easy meal. I’ve also been taking advantage of tomato season and making slow cooker marinara sauce. We have about 6 bottles in the freezer now. If we run out of the jar sauce, we will be set with freezer sauce, and vice versa. Chicken leg quarters and even chuck steak have entered my lovely slow cooker. Heck, I’ve made our dessert in there a few times (mostly peach cobbler).