The cheapest food you can get is food that you already have on hand. This goes hand in hand with being kind to Mother Earth, since reduced demand leads to less production, which reduces the amount of dangerous chemicals in the atmosphere. That being said, it can be tricky to use up the last bits of leftover vegetables, fresh produce that’s starting to wither, and other odds and ends.
Enter Dirt Cheap Soup. Every family has a variation of this, but it’s such a frugal staple that I feel like I should mention it again. You can make this meal feel less like a depressing, we’re-broke-and-need-cheap-eats meal by serving it with homemade bread (I love this recipe, and it’s also dirt cheap!) and butter. I’m also a fan of the set-it-and-leave-it cooking method, since it A) forces me to stay home all day, which reduces the amount of gas and wear & tear on my car, and B) makes dinner a no-brainer. Just chop some stuff in the morning, throw it in a pot, and dinner is served!
So here’s what you do.
- Get a big pot. I have a giant stock pot that was a hand-me-down from my Mom, who I believe bought it from a thrift store.
- Open your fridge and pull out everything from your produce drawers and all those leftovers. Any vegetables that are starting to look a little past their prime are excellent candidates for dirt cheap soup. So are leftover side vegetables, rice, beans, lentils, noodles, etc. Chop what needs to be chopped, and throw it all in the pot. Just a quick note- veggies that have one or two moldy spots can still be used! Just cut off the moldy spots, carefully examine the insides to make sure there aren’t hidden issues, peel and chop as needed, and use.
- Open up that pantry to fill out the soup. I personally have a lot of lentils in my pantry, so I added about a cup of them. For small dried beans, don’t worry about soaking, since simmering all day will cook them sufficiently. You could also add dried noodles, frozen noodles, rice, barley, etc.
- Add some water. I like to fill the pot to just below the vegetable level, since the veggies will cook down.
- Add some spices. If you like it spicy, make it spicy. The only real rule here is to not salt until the end, because some vegetables will release a lot of salt as they cook.
- When dinner is about 3 hours away, you can add some meat. Here’s my ultimate guide to adding meat without breaking the bank: use very, very little. I added this much chicken to the entire pot of soup.It’s one chicken breast, cooked and chopped up very, very tiny. The smaller you can chop it, the more meat it will seem like the soup has, and the more luxurious the whole meal will feel. Seriously, if you’re trying to save money, never serve a chunk of meat- chop it up and put it in veggie-based dishes.
- Scoop up some soup and serve it with your delish homemade bread and butter. I like to put a little cheese on top, which boosts the protein content and the yum factor! You can salvage slightly moldy cheese by chopping off the moldy parts and using the rest- cheese is essentially mold to begin with, so removing localized spots of it won’t hurt the rest.
Et voila! A cheap, delicious meal. I like to freeze half of the portion I made, just so we’re not eating the same thing for four or five days. If Brother-In-Law was here, however, I wouldn’t bother- that man is a leftover vacuum! Enjoy the sweet taste of savings.