How to keep groceries low and cook with what you have?
For this week I went through our cupboards and listed what we could have which I’ll share below, including recipes. Be aware, this post may contain affiliate links to products or services I personally use. Read the full disclosure here.
Much of what I do can be found in my book 26 Ingredients along with tips to reduce waste, make leftovers into something new etc. If you want to try HelloFresh, you can get $35 off your first box here then you can use your own refer a friend code to get free boxes.
What we don’t have or do
Tea, coffee, fizzy drinks, juice, alcohol etc are things I choose not to drink. Being raised in a Mormon household I never really got a taste for them and while I did have alcohol in my last relationship, I dropped it when we broke up. We drink water and on Friday Family Fun Night the kids have a fizzy drink such as lemonade or sometimes they have chocolate milk.
My daughters are 9 and 10 which is not the same as feeding teenage boys. We are gluten free, mostly dairy free and rarely eat processed food. After seeing how they feel with processed food vs healthy food, my daughters make their own healthy choices. They have a say in what we buy and what they eat, they also help cook.
Breakfast and lunch
These meals are the same pretty much every day, although this week my kids got pancakes as a treat. Breakfast is cereal or eggs and fruit.
Lunches are simple. I work from home so can reheat curry/soup/stirfry or similar easily. My kids will take soup or bolognese in their thermos along with a piece of fruit (apple, orange or banana which we have), cucumber sticks, carrot sticks and crackers. Since they pack their own lunches they can choose if they feel they need more and add it but usually, this is all they want. Muffins are baked and in the freezer, if they want. Most days they prefer fresh produce and hot food.
Monday, June 11th
Being a public holiday, my eldest daughter was at her friends all day, so it was my 9yr old and I at home.
Tonight I chose to do a big cook up. In just over an hour I made our lunches for the week and extras. A plate of pancakes which is enough for a few breakfasts, 10 serves of pumpkin soup, 4 serves of bolognese, 6 serves of chickpea curry and 10 serves of pho. Here is the recipe I use for pho. My kids will take these over the coming week or two for lunches and the curry will be for me. Recipes below.
Facebook Live discussing some of what I do:
Tuesday, June 12th
Tuesdays are a long day with school, followed by 2 hours of dance then another activity for my kids this week. We get home around bedtime which makes meals a little trickier.
Pho will be heated by me and brought to my daughters when I pick them up so they can eat it hot and we’ll head to the next thing. This way they have are full and when we get home they can have something else if they want or head straight to bed.
Wednesday, June 13th
I have interviews most of the day so will again eat from home. No going out tonight but we will probably play at the park after school if the weather is good.
Mexican chicken which is slow cooked chicken with spices, shredded and served with salad and veggies (cooked capsicum, zucchini, onion and corn). Topped with cheese, salsa, guacamole and sour cream if you want. We usually have the meat, salad, veggies and salsa only.
Thursday, June 14th
My breakfast is at a cafe for a work meeting after I drop the kids off at school. We have no plans after school so it’ll be dinner at home.
Beef stirfry with beef from the freezer, broccoli (including the stalks and leaves), zucchini, capsicum, onion and corn. The sauce is a mix of sweet chilli sauce and tamari sauce.
Friday, June 15th
My kids look forward to this night all week. It’s Friday Family Fun Night where we watch movies, play games and spend time together. They also get treats such as popcorn for the movie, lollies, fizzy drink and we have pizza!
Frozen pizza is not something I like, but they love pizza. One likes ham and cheese, the other prefers Hawaiian so we get a Hawaiian and move the pineapple from one side to be all on the other side. I usually have leftovers.
Saturday, June 16th
Weekends are for sleeping in, right? Saturdays are typically a lazy day for us or we might go to a festival, it depends what’s on in Melbourne.
Saturday night is usually leftovers or platters. Since most meals I make are for 4 people, I freeze the leftovers and on Saturday my kids choose what they want. If there are no leftovers they love platter meals with eggs, nuts, vegetable sticks, fruit and sometimes some meat such as ham or similar.
Sunday, June 17th
With football in the morning and another activity in the afternoon, it’s a day we are out. Breakfast and lunch is similar to school days. Sunday evening we’ve been invited to friends for dinner. I’ll be taking chocolate pudding for dessert.
Monday, June 18th
Today is my Dad’s birthday! He lives in Canberra though so we won’t see him. A new HelloFresh box will arrive (provided it’s not stolen again) and we will likely have salmon for dinner that night.
As I said, a lot of the recipes come from 26 Ingredients, which has over 100 recipes from a basic pantry of 26 ingredients. Often when I cook, I am pretty haphazard about it, with no exact measurements and often substituting where needed. Adjust these to suit your own taste and how many you are cooking for.
1 onion, diced
2 carrots, finely grated with their skin on
1 zucchini, finely grated
3 tomatoes for the sauce
2 Tablespoons tomato paste
1 Tablespoon Italian herbs
1 teaspoon crushed garlic
Heat a frying pan to medium heat. Add the onion, carrot and zucchini. Fry until soft and starting to go golden.
Meanwhile, boil a jug. Cut a cross on the top of the tomatoes, place them in a heatproof bowl and pour the water over the top. Leave for a few minutes then remove, cover with cold water and peel the skin. Finely dice the tomatoes and set aside
Add the mince to the frying pan with the vegetables and cook until brown. Add the tomatoes, tomato paste, herbs and garlic. Cook for another 5 minutes, stirring to ensure it is all mixed in.
Serve with pasta, rice, rice noodles, mashed potato or whatever you have on hand.
I used the tomatoes, tomato paste, herbs and garlic instead of pasta sauce because it’s what I had on hand. You could easily use a jar of sauce instead!
Pumpkin soup is a favourite in my house. My 10-year-old requests it all the time and it is so easy. My version might be different to yours, it’s basic and you can add spices or serve it with cream if you want. We are plain eaters here so it’s served as is.
Ingredients and Method
I have a more specific recipe in my ebook, but this week, it was a ‘throw it all in a pot’ week.
Pumpkin (approx 1/4 of one), 2 potatoes (peeled), 1 sweet potato (peeled), 1 onion and 2 carrots, all chopped and placed in a pot. Note, for almost everything I use carrots for I don’t peel them. Add stock, almost covering the vegetables but not quite. For a thicker soup use another potato and less stock.
Bring to the boil then reduce and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes until all the vegetables are soft. Allow to cool a little then use a stick blender to puree it all and serve.
Another throw together meal, this is likely to be served with some spinach and could have meat added to it if you wanted. Serve it with rice or add other vegetables to flesh it out too.
1 tin coconut milk
1 onion, diced
200g pumpkin, diced
1 carrot, sliced
1 potato, diced
2 Tablespoons of curry powder
1 tin chickpeas, rinsed and drained
Throw it all in a pot over medium heat and bring it to the boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook for 15 to 20 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are soft.
My children prefer the in between where it’s a bit thicker than a crepe but thinner than pancakes. If you like fluffy pancakes use self-raising flour instead.
2 cups plain flour
1/4 cup cornflour
1/4 cup sugar
1 cup milk
1 cup water
Mix the dry ingredients together in a bowl first. Slowly add the milk and water, mixing quickly to combine it thoroughly. Add the eggs and whisk to combine.
Set aside for 30 minutes to 1 hour before cooking.
To cook, add a small amount of butter to a frying pan on medium to low heat. Pour in 1/4 cup of mixture and swirl in the pan to spread it out or use a fork if you prefer. Cook until golden (1 to 2 minutes), flip and cook the other side. If you use self-raising flour the mixture will bubble when you should flip it.
Cook all the mixture. You can keep them in the fridge for a few days or place baking paper between the pancakes and you can freeze them for up to 1 month.
This is done in the slow cooker but you can do similar in the oven or in a frying pan. I make enough of the chicken mix to freeze some for later.
500g to 1kg chicken thighs or breasts. Thighs make it juicer than breasts.
3 Tablespoons Mexican seasoning – either use a packet such as taco seasoning or make your own.
My Mexican seasoning is mixed and stored in a container to use in recipes such as these. 1/2 cup paprika, 2 Tablespoons chilli powder, 1 Tablespoon each of onion powder and garlic powder.
1 zucchini, sliced
1 capsicum, diced
1 onion, diced
1/2 cup corn
Lettuce or salad to serve
Optional: guacamole, sour cream, grated cheese (we prefer mozzarella) and salsa
Place the chicken in the slow cooker with the seasoning and cook on high for 4 hours then shred with forks.
Around 20 minutes before you want to eat, fry the zucchini, capsicum, onion and corn together until golden brown and softer. You can add a little seasoning to it as well if you like.
Serve by placing the lettuce or salad on the bottom, then the vegetables, meat and any condiments.
Note, I like mine hot so if it is for myself only or some of my friends, I add cayenne pepper. My kids hate that though so I don’t add it when cooking for the 3 of us.
Our apartment is small and I don’t have a lot of storage, however, I know we could always make do if needed. We cook as a family so it doesn’t feel like a chore and this way my kids learn to cook as well.
For more tips check out this post with free and super cheap ideas for groceries, how to spend under $150 a week for a family of 4 (based on when I was in a relationship and what we did) plus this long list of freebies.