Cheap Eats Week 2: Cooking from Scratch

Hi there! It’s Week 2 of Cheap Eats already! If you are new to this series, HERE is the introductory post. To see all posts in the series, click on the tab under the blog header at the top of the page labeled Cheap Eats.
Let’s start with the menu this week. I’ve included links to recipes if available.
Tuesday– Baked Potatoes with Ham and Broccoli Cheese Sauce
Wednesday- Crispy Chicken Sandwiches (homemade buns), Frozen Mixed Vegetables, Sliced Apples
Friday- Homemade Gnocchi and Breadsticks, Canned Green Beans
Saturday- Mac and Cheese, Frozen Peas and Carrots
Sunday- Creamy Chicken and Rice Soup, Homemade Bread
Monday- Porcupine Meatballs, Rice, Cooked Carrots
And here’s the receipt:
2 gallons milk 4.56                               breakfast, snacks, cheese sauce for potatoes, chicken/rice soup
Green bell pepper .58                           half used in BBQ chicken salad, half went to the freezer
Fuji apples 2.91                                   dinner side dish, lunches, snacks
2 cucumbers 1.16                                snacks, lunches
2 lbs. carrots .88                                  chicken/rice soup and dinner side dish
Frozen broccoli .78                              topping for potatoes
2.05 lbs brown sugar, bulk 1.46            restocking pantry
.85 lb wild rice, bulk 1.76                     half used in chicken/rice soup, half saved for later
3 lbs frozen chicken breasts 5.98          cooked using THIS method, used in salad, soup and some in freezer
Canned tomato soup .59                      for meatballs
2 cans tuna 1.00                                  lunches
6 cans spaghetti sauce 2.88                 stocking up, gnocchi sauce
Two loaves bread 1.76                         lunches, snacks (my kids love toast)
Toothpaste .85                                     I didn’t want to make a separate trip to another store!
5 lbs Cutie oranges 6.00                       snacks, lunches
Dozen eggs 1.25                                  gotta have eggs, right?
Total: 36.03
Did you notice how many things on the menu this week were made from scratch? The potato topping, breadsticks, homemade bread, gnocchi, soup, meatballs, mac and cheese. Learning to cook from scratch is one of the best things I have ever done. When I first got married, I couldn’t cook at all. Really. As a single college kid, I ate oatmeal, toast, frozen burritos and quesadillas. My roommates can testify. Over the years I have learned how to bake bread and follow recipes and you can too.
So what are the benefits of cooking from scratch?
1. It saves you money! Homemade bread costs maybe 25 cents vs. a few dollars for a comparable loaf at the store. Making a roux sauce is cheaper than canned cream soups. Frozen meatballs are very expensive per pound compared to buying ground beef and shaping the balls yourself. And gnocchi would be a food I could not afford if I didn’t make it from scratch.
2. It is healthier. There are no preservatives and you can control how much fat, sugar, and salt are in your food.
3. It tastes better. Nothing beats homemade bread topped with home-canned jam. That’s just the way it is. Our burgers went from good to amazing when I started making homemade buns.
4. It makes your house smell great. A sauce simmering on the stove or fresh baked anything and you will have neighbors stopping in to see if they can come to dinner!
At first, I was really intimidated by baking bread especially. But now that I’ve been doing it for a while, it takes hardly any time at all. I use my bread machine to mix everything, so I literally add ingredients, turn it on, then come back an hour later to put the dough into the oven. It hardly takes any time at all.

Cooking beans from scratch is another area that’s easy and can save quite a bit of moo-lah. I bought a pound of black beans for just a little over a dollar, cooked them in the crock pot with water until they were soft and ended up with enough beans for six meals. I used them in our Navajo tacos last week, the BBQ salad this week, and I put four bags in the freezer. A can of black beans is .68 cents around here and the bag of dry beans made at least 8 cans worth of beans. That’s a lot cheaper! And it’s not any harder to pull a bag of beans from the freezer than it is to open a can. By cooking a lot at once, it doesn’t increase your work load by much.

I don’t cook everything from scratch. I buy canned spaghetti sauce and cheap-o store bread for lunch sandwiches. I buy canned soup. This week our chicken sandwiches were the frozen patties I bought last week and didn’t use. Hello. I am not super woman. I do what I’m willing to put the extra time into and cut corners with stuff that doesn’t matter as much to me or is not as big of a price difference. Let’s keep it real, right?!
Just one last thing for today…the recipe I used on our baked potatoes.

Homemade Cheese Sauce:
This recipe starts with a basic roux. It is such a versatile sauce. I use variations of it all the time! 
4 TBSP butter
4 TBSP flour
2 cups milk
cheese (1-2 cups)
salt and pepper to taste
garlic powder to taste
onion powder to taste
dash hot sauce or Worcestershire sauce
Melt butter in saucepan. Add flour and stir until combined. Add milk and whisk until smooth. Add cheese and spices, then stir continually so it doesn’t burn. When the sauce reaches the desired thickness, you are done!
All I did for our potato topping was add cooked, chopped ham and frozen chopped broccoli and heat through.
Weekly Total: $36.03
Remaining After Last Week: $132.93

Remaining for the Month: $96.90

Click HERE for Cheap Eats Week 3: Snacks


  1. I'm totally intrigued by cooking beans! I've wanted to for awhile but don't really know how and we use a LOT of black beans… and I didn't think about freezing what you don't use! I'm totally going to have to do this… how long does it take in the crock pot?

  2. Very interesting. Normally I would think the canned beans are so cheap, why bother, but I can see how the little stuff like that adds up over time!

    Do you have any recipes to replace cream of soups?

    I'm also excited about the Porcupine Meatballs recipe! We've tried to make them a few times but they are never cooked quite right.

    • To replace cream soup, you would make a roux: 1 TBSP butter, 1 TBSP flour, 1 cup milk. It isn't as creamy as creamed soups because it's not as full of fat. But that's a good thing, right? 🙂

      Another reason to buy dry beans vs. canned beans is that dry beans have a really long shelf life so they are perfect for emergency situations/long term food storage.

  3. Also, I am very interested in what your family has for snacks. We seem to go through a TON of cracker type stuff, and I like to have fruits/veggies along with something that can stick to my kids' ribs a little more. I am eager to hear what you come up with.

    • I'm glad you're going to try the potato topping! Hope you like it!

      I think I will dedicate a whole post to cheap snacks. That seems to be a hard one for a lot of families…especially families with young kids. So look for that post soon!

  4. Great, I can't wait! Also, my family loved the cheese sauce last night, and they are picky! Potatoes are usually a difficult meal for them, but this one worked out great. I will be putting it in my regular rotation. Thanks for all the great posts. I love your blog.

  5. Hi! I've found your blog a few days ago, and I found this very "cheap eats" interesting.

    I'm living with my boyfriend and even since we were together, we only had one income coming in (studies (mostly) and bad luck). So, we got used to live on a very tight budget.

    But, ouch!, you're so lucky to have two gallons of milk for that price! Same thing for chicken breasts! One gallon of milk is 5,81$ where I'm from, and chicken breasts are normally around 6$/lbs, sometimes they are half price, but not so often… Either way (or price) cooking from scratch sure does help. 😉

    And thanks for sharing the gnocchi recipe! We ate that once at a friend's house, I love it, boyfriend no, but if I have the same success as with homemade eggrolls, it is worth a try! Thanks again!

  6. Hey Jennifer! Thanks for linking to our Gnocchi Recipe! It is such a great recipe and we are so glad that you like it!

    Another note on the recipe! Make sure you check out the How-To Video (the link is right under the picture on the recipe page). Chef Bryan does a great job teaching you how to make those delicious little noodles!

    • Curious, where is your "low-cost-of-living" area (or region at least)? I'm really not trolling here, but this is the equivalent of the McDonald's employee budgeting tool from a year or two ago. You're giving people false hope by completely omitting any explanation of your circumstances and it seems like you're getting lots of attention from this so-called "receipt". What's the deal?

    • Tony, I don't know what to tell you. I copied my receipt exactly. This post was meant to do the opposite of what you accuse me of… I want to give hope to other families in my situation. It IS possible to live frugally, no matter where you live, even if it's not the exact same numbers that I have. Society in general tells people they need more and more "stuff" to be happy and I want to stand up and say that you CAN be happy with less!


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