After I lost my job last year, I tore through the family finances, figuring out how we were going to get by. More than half our household income disappeared with the words, “your position has been eliminated,” and I was fully aware that there were no newspaper jobs waiting for middle-aged middle managers in the devastated Detroit area.
As I pored over bank statements and pounded the calculator, I was shocked when I realized how much money my little family spent eating out. That didn’t even take into account what we spent on food at supermarkets and specialty stores.
On top of the restaurant lunches I had just about every day, I often took my son out to dinner a couple times a week since my husband works most evenings. Eating out meant I didn’t have to cook or clean the kitchen, so it was a perfectly acceptable choice to make since we could afford it. And, heck, I was pooped and sore from sitting on my butt in front of a computer all day.
We ate in restaurants for entertainment, too. There were those “date-night” dinners out, and the meeting-the-friends-and-family-for-a-quick-bite-to-eat meals out. It all added up quickly.
When we quit eating out, it felt as if I had found a part-time job.
Then, I looked at our supermarket spending. I didn’t want to cut back on fresh fruits and vegetables, and, food snob that I am, I buy organic whenever I can. Since the local supermarkets are now doing a much better job stocking organic products, our once-a-month trips to Whole Foods Market in Ann Arbor were eliminated.
We also cut back significantly on our meat consumption. I’ve taken to making my own hummus and I’ve perfected what I call my “Recessionista Minestrone Soup.”
To get the biggest nutritional bang for our food bucks, I’ve been experimenting with soup recipes that include lentils and beans, and I think I’ve finally hit upon the perfect mix of great taste and healthiness. Like the true minestrones of my Italian ancestors, this soup makes short order of whatever vegetables are on hand. This recipe is really just a template that can be adjusted to your own particular taste buds.
You’ll find “Recessionista Minestrone” is a warm, healthy, satisfying meal that costs a fraction of a meat-based lunch or dinner. It’s delicious, too.
I now have the time and, perhaps more importantly, the motivation to plan and prepare frugal yet healthy meals. Spending a little time planning frees me of having to eat out as a convenience; these days, we eat out occasionally, thoughtfully and intentionally. There is a difference.
If you give the “Recessionisa Minestrone” recipe a try and put your own particular twist to it, let me know. I am always up for new variations.
Maria’s Recessionista Minestrone Soup
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, diced (I use yellow cooking onions)
1 chopped zucchini
1/2 small green cabbage, chopped
1/2 cup frozen Italian green beans, chopped
3 or 4 stalks of celery, minced
1 clove minced garlic
4 cups vegetable broth (you can make your own, or used store-bought vegetable broth)
4 15-ounce cans of drained beans (I use 2 cans of red kidney beans, a can of cannellini beans and a can of great northern beans, all organic; I’ve been told you can substitute 1 pound of assorted dried beans to equal the four cans of beans. I will do this in the future as dried beans cost a whole lot less than canned.)
1 28-ounce can diced tomatoes, including juice
2 diced carrots
4 cups water
4 cups fresh baby spinach
1 cup whole wheat, smallish pasta (I like shells or small penne)
2 tablespoons minced parsley
1-1/2 teaspoon sea salt (be sure to use sea salt, not table salt)
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon dried basil
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
1. Heat the olive oil in a soup pot.
2. Add onions, celery, garlic, green beans, cabbage and zucchini. Stir until onions become translucent, about 6-7 minutes.
3. Add the vegetable broth, tomatoes, beans, carrots, water and spices.
4. When the soup begins to boil, reduce the heat and simmer for a half hour.
5. Add the spinach and whole wheat pasta and cook for another half hour.
6. Serve sprinkled with freshly grated parmesan or Romano cheese, and accompanied by a chunk of bread and a small glass of red wine.
This is the kind of soup that is even better on the second and third day.
Note: I’ve taken to cooking large batches of soup and sauces, always freezing half. This means less cooking for me, and more good food on hand to keep convenience eating out at bay.