Mix 'n match your food to save money


Is there any way out of the "I love to eat but I don't want to cook all the time!" dilemma? Will there ever be a way to eat consistent, healthy, homecooked meals without slaving in the kitchen all the time? Read on, and tell me what you think.

First, a little background: I love to eat well. When I'm working full-time, though, there are days when I'm lucky to be able to throw some snacks in a bag so I don't starve all day (or dent my bank account eating out all the time). There are days when I forget to eat and days when I keep the chocolate companies in business. And when I come home, most of the time I'm not ready to start cooking. I need my down time, time to relax and hang out and take care of all the things I couldn't take care of all day because I was working. But I still want good meals.

For a while, this was a problem without a solution. I found myself either eating the same thing every day because it was cheap at Costco, relatively healthy, and didn't require me to cook anything, or spending a lot of money, when I multiplied it over every day for a month, eating at a local cafe. I was frustrated and unhappy with myself and fed up with how I was eating. Then, one night, I made pasta.

I mixed up a ton of sauce, but then realized that I only had a couple servings of spaghetti, so all the sauce was going to go to waste (because going to the grocery store when it's not a weeked doesn't happen). I sighed, and put the sauce in the fridge because I couldn't bear throwing it away before it was bad. Over the next several days, I kept seeing the sauce and feeling guilty for wasting it. One night, I was making a quesadilla and had it all finished when I realized I was out of salsa. I saw the pasta sauce, and added it to the quesadilla, for a surprisingly good (though different) taste. That quesadilla woke me up.

Over the next several days, I put that pasta sauce to all sorts of uses. I put it in tortillas, mixed it with my otherwise-plain veggies, even ate some of it with a rice dish I didn't particularly enjoy. Instead of thinking in meals, I was thinking in individual items and how they could go together. Awesome!!

Now, instead of either slaving or despairing, I make sure that I have something (and many times more than one thing) around that can contribute to many individual meals. I have sauces that can be used on sandwiches, as salad dressing, with pasta, as a topping for rice, and as a mix-in for veggies. I cook up ground beef so I can make tacos, burritos, enchiladas, even meaty pasta sauce. I don't get bored with my food, yet I can whip up a "meal" quite quickly. I never have to spend a lot of time in the kitchen at once (because cooking one of these sauces or meats doesn't take nearly as long as cooking a whole meal), but I still get to cook my own food and eat as healthily as I want to.

Here are a couple of my favorite recipes and serving suggestions for each one:

Killer Mexican Ground Meat

1 lb. ground beef or turkey
1-2 cloves garlic (or 3, if my husband is eating)
onion powder to taste
chili powder to taste
cilantro to taste
cumin to taste

Brown ground meat with garlic and spices.

Add to: tacos, sandwiches, roll-ups, panini, chili, soup, salads, enchiladas, pasta sauce


White Sauce


1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup milk or 1/2 cup evaporated milk and 1/2 cup water


2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup milk or 1/2 cup evaporated milk and 1/2 cup water


3 or 4 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup milk or one half cup evaporated milk and 1/2 cup water

Melt butter in a sauce pan and whisk in flour and salt until smooth. Gradually stir in cold milk, cooking over direct heat and stirring constantly until sauce boils; reduce heat slightly and continue to stir until sauce becomes smooth and thick. When sauce thickens, simmer for an additional 10 minutes over very low heat, stirring occasionally.

Stir carefully to avoid lumps. If sauce becomes lumpy, use a stick blender or rotary beater to blend out lumps or else press through a sieve. Wondra flour may be used to great advantage since this flour does not have a tendency to lump.

Add to: Cooks.com says this can be used to make cheese sauce, onion sauce, and horseradish sauce, to name a few. I've also used it to make dill sauce and different curry sauces to give my food an Indian or a Thai taste. Try it with pasta or as a soup base for something really different.

My latest favorite?

Andrea's peanut sauce . Yummy and versatile!

Photo by rick

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Andrea Karim's picture

That's how I end up using my batches of peanut sauce. A little bit over brown rice is really good. Broccoli suddenly seems inviting. It's a real life saver, having a tasty staple that you can keep coming back to for many meals.

Guest's picture

I make a lot of soups out of unused tomato sauce, pasta, rice, meats, and veggies. My DH doesn't love the soup as a main course, but if he gets a grilled cheese or quesadilla on the side, he is quite happy. I freeze the rest after a day or so, just b/c we don't want to eat it any more, but we aren't going to throw it away.

I also freeze a lot of stuff I know I don't want to use right away. I bet most stuff would freeze well for a soup that you make later.

Guest's picture

I mix and match soup or stew whenever it's time to clean out the fridge. Kind of like it's Foods' last chance.

Guest's picture

They say neccesity is the mother of invention, and how true that is! Especially when you have to feed the whole family and payday is three days away.(I am not one to reach into savings for groceries.) There is something in the house we can eat. Right now I have an adundance of eggs, so I will fix a couple of egg dinners this week. I recently ordered an egg dish at a mexican restaurant, not sure what I was getting, and it was fried eggs covered with salsa! How ingenius! I really have to think to be creative in the kitchen, but one way is to say I have to cook what I have till the next grocery store trip

Guest's picture

i make cheap dry pink beans over the stove ( after soaking the night before and rinsing in the morning) i slow cook over a gas stove in big pot till done then at dinner time i satee onions nad peppers nad add the beans,sauce and a square or two of some dark dark choclate.. if you put in a low fat tortilla with fat free cheddar it is very good and healty! the mixture is also very servable with plain rice and freezable( if you mix the beans and rice together it makes a good base for a quickie 7 layer burrito with leftover quac,sourcream and cheese and lettuce and tomato!)

i also like to use marina sauce as a base for ministrone or vegetable soup in the crock pot( other great use for beans).

I love to see recipies and ideas like these..good job keep more coming (especially since i buy those huge jars of costo sauce to)

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