I didn't grow up on cranberry sauce for Thanksgiving, but my husband did so I bought more cans than we needed last year.  After Christmas and Thanksgiving, the Food Bank where I once worked got more cranberry sauce and similar holiday specific foods than you can imagine.  It was difficult to move because people are used to eating it only one way. The cake mix I bought with coupons gave me the idea for Cranberry Sauce Dump Cake, a popular Southern dessert that comes together in milliseconds. Somehow it mysteriously disappeared before I could take a picture of the final product.
LaChoy Beef Upgrade

I spent a couple months teaching nutrition to a group of teens in a program called Louie's Kids. I learned that LaChoy canned dinners offer 3 grams of fiber and only contain about 2-3 grams of fat per serving.  We eat this recipe at home every few months, so I should've known (slapping my own hand for not reading the nutrition label before this class). We doctored the mix by stir-frying fresh red cabbage, celery, carrots and onions in batches and then mixing the tender crisp veggies with the dinner kit ingredients.

  • Cooking spray
  • Coarsely chopped veggies: 1 small red cabbage, 1 small onion, 2 unpeeled carrots and 2 stalks of celery, broccoli and peppers would also work here too.
  • Garlic powder
  • Low sodium soy sauce
  • 1 LaChoy dinner kit
  • 1 Tbsp minced garlic and ginger
  • 1 tsp sesame oil (optional)
  • 1 can Hormel Roast Beef and gravy (only contributed another 2 grams of fat)
Remember the crunchy vegetable speech? You don't need a wok to stir fry veggies, just a good quality pot and a some quick hands.  Heat a large heavy bottom pot on high heat.  Do a quick spritz of cooking spray directly on the veggies because it'll burn in the pot.  Stir fry veggies in batches so they won't wilt, about 2-3 minutes per batch.  After veggies start to brown add garlic powder and a little soy to the batch, stir and remove from pot.  Tongs work well in transferring hot veggies to a large bowl.  Continue to do this until all the fresh veggies are cooked.  Take the pot off the heat to cool it down before proceeding.

Return the pot to medium low heat and add minced garlic and ginger, canned beef and sesame oil to the beef and sauce portion of the dinner kit.  Drain and rinse (to remove some of the sodium) the canned vegetables and stir into the sauce.  Heat through and toss in the stir fried veggies.  We serve this dish with whole wheat pasta. 

Side note: Who do I lobby to get more coupons for whole wheat pasta and brown rice?  I'll find out after this post!
As promised,  here's our homemade coleslaw from the cabbage that what was on sale.  We chopped up and added  fresh carrots and broccoli from an earlier purchase.  Talk about good!  I don't like washing dishes so this will all mix up in one bowl.  Making recipes from scratch not only saves money in the kitchen, but also helps in your garden too.  Veggie scraps normally end up in our compost pile or as food for our hens and the seeds from the peppers can be dried and used in the garden. 
  • 3/4 cup fat free mayo
  • 2 Tbsp mustard, any variety
  • 3 Tbsp vinegar
  • 2 Tbsp sugar or 1-2 packets sugar substitute
  • I head cabbage, thinly sliced
  • 2 whole carrots, washed and chopped into small pieces
  • 2 head of broccoli, washed and thinly sliced
  • 1 bell pepper, thinly sliced (optional)
In a large bowl mix the mayo, mustard, vinegar and sugar.  Add chopped veggies and toss.  Crunchy veggies are better for you, so you can eat this coleslaw as soon as its mixed.  If you like your coleslaw with more dressing, just double the dressing recipe and add a pinch of salt. Allow it to chill for about 3 hours.

This recipe only used one head of cabbage, but we bought 4.  So we used the rest for my husband's cooked cabbage and a stir fry.  Check back for those recipes.
I froze more hotdogs in the last month than we normally have in a year. Now that I know how to use coupons effectively, I'm finding great deals all over the place, but it often means that I buy foods, normally didn't eat, like those hotdogs.  Don't get me wrong, we eat hotdogs, burgers and ice cream like normal families, but we buy it from a restaurant or a similar location. That was my way to help my kids distinguish between the types of food you should have every day and sometimes foods.  In terms of frugality, a pack of 8 hotdogs is about the same price of one or two dogs from a restaurant, so we'll have to make this work.

The whole wheat artisan bread recipe came in handy again as my 9 year old stepson helped out with our first attempt at homemade hotdog buns.

  • Roll a small piece of dough into a cylinder shape, a little thicker and longer than a serving of string cheese.
  • Place dough on a pan lightly dusted with cornmeal.
  • Bake at 350 degrees for about 8-10 minutes or until golden brown.
  • Let the buns cool.
  • Use a serrated knife to slice the buns along the side, less than a 3rd of the way through. 

Raisin bread and a renegade batch of sticky buns finished off the day's baking.  I'm sure these tips can work for your family too. 

Homemade coleslaw (from the 3 lbs for a $1 cabbage we scored at Bi-Lo) would have been a great addition to this dinner. That's recipe's coming soon!

Coupons or not, serving processed food straight from the can isn't an option for me and my family.  Its easy to turn that bargain into a masterpiece.  You can do a lot to improve on the original.  In tribute to Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution, here's how we pimped our pasta.
Issue #1: Flavor

1 Tbsp vegetable oil
1 onion chopped
1/2 yellow pepper, washed and chopped
2 roasted red peppers, chopped
1 tsp celery seed
1Tbsp Italian seasoning
2 tsp beef base

Saute onion and peppers in oil for about 5 minutes.  Stir in seasonings and beef base.  Add 1/4 cup hot water to pan and cook another 3-5 minutes adding more water as needed to keep from burning. *Red wine, spinach, olives, squash, eggplant, sliced carrots would have all been great additions too.

Issue #2: Broken ravioli
I know how to add flavor to the sauce, but how do I get the pasta out intact?  Heat water to boiling in a small stock pot and turn off heat.  Place cleaned unopened cans in water for about 10 minutes.  Remove from water with tongs.  Allow cans to cool for a minute or two and out they come!

Empty cans into pan.  I set ravioli to the side and combined canned sauce with my onion and pepper mixture. Lower heat to simmer. Then pushed sauce to the side and arranged ravioli in single layer in the pan.  Simmer for another 5 or so minutes, top with a tiny bit of cheese and you're done.

All this food for $47
Apologies for Saturday's drama fest.  As I'd stated before, my last 9-5 was spent showing folks how to eat healthier by transforming common fare.  Our house was another story, replaced 90% of processed foods with staples and cooked from scratch AND we have chickens in the backyard.  I'm working towards hard core healthy 'round these parts.  That practice got away from me for a bit in my quest to get germainesolutions.com up and the couponing frenzy that soon followed.  But it can be done!  Think of processed food as a half glass of empty.  Just fill it up with nutrition!

Little to no whole grains in your favorite muffin mix?  No problem. Too much fat and or sodium in a frozen dinner.  Gotcha covered.  Here's how.

Remember my list of healthy foods no kitchen should be without?  Well, filling the processed food glass with nutrition means adding in the stuff that's missing.  Simply adding a cup of old fashioned oats to a muffin mix dilutes the concentration of hydrogenated fats, salt, etc. as long as you don't add these things back into your new and improved recipe.

After going out and buying two June All You mags, I waited to redeem the Chef Boyardee coupons for a number of reasons. 1) We make our own pasta dishes and sauces and when you get a taste for highly flavored tomato sauce, often what's found in a can seems lacking. 2)  The ravioli seemed to disintegrate if you thought about them too hard.   Four step solution coming up!

Mind:Let's call this BA (B1G1 Anonymous) meeting to order.  Does anyone want to speak. 

GWhiz: I do, hi fellow nutrition enthusiasts, I'm G.

Mind: Hi, G

GWhiz: I've been a flaming bowl of nutrition for the last 7 years. I taught my kids how to cook when they were toddlers - brussel sprouts are a treat for them. My husband who was recently diagnosed with diabetes has avoided insulin injections, maintained great cholesterol levels with an AIC number of 6 because of the whole grain, high fiber, low fat foods we eat at home.  I can make my own yogurt for broccoli's sake!

But fellow foodies, in the last two weeks I've bought 10 frozen dinners for about $1.25 each, but they were the healthier options. Three packs of...gulp, big pause, hotdogs....  all beef Kosher hotdogs on sale for $1.50 each. Five rolls of $1 Jimmy Dean sausage - 3 of them were reduced fat.  And two, count 'em, one-two boxes of Nabisco snack crackers, that I bought by accident because I thought they were part of the BIGI sale (probably subconscious punishment for my couponing transgressions).  On the bright side, we haven't had them in the house in almost a decade so my daughter just referred to them as 'Nabasco' crackers.  I feel an eensy bit better.  With $2 boxes of Kellogg's Pop and Honey Smacks cereal snickering at me whenever I walk in the kitchen, I'm starting to feel like a Saturday morning cartoon endorsement!  I did get the skim organic milk that's served with it for $2.50 a half gallon though.  I almost printed an online coupon for, for...oh God, OREO COOKIES!!!  Can anyone out there help me before I hit rock bottom and eat my first pop-tart?

My mind:Wait, wait, wait! Calm down, G.  You can do this! Heck, you got paid to teach people to doctor packaged food to make them healthier.  Just look at the semi-homemade soup in your germainesolutions.com header -- DUH!

This is a dramatic version of the one person dialogue that's bubbling inside my head and heart. I've been conflicted since that very first frugal grocery shopping trip - 37 coupons a-blazing, but I don't want to shoot my family in the foot nutritionally.  I repressed my regret until Jamie Oliver outed me on Oprah yesterday.  "All those B1G1 sales are for the most processed foods."  This 'Food Revolution' star is mostly right, but for every one salad coupon I find, there 10 for Redi Whip.  So what can I do?

We have a ridiculously large garden in the yard, but the dumb slugs - they've taken feral cats place as my arch enemy - have chewed up my peppers and sugar snap pea plants (I told my husband we need a duck)!  Blackberries are only ripening by the handful and the cucumbers and tomatoes are taking their sweet time to grow.  Darn these trees!  Strawberries are starting to pop up all over, but I'm allergic to them!  We don't have the funds for me to buy more plants.  What is this, the Twilight Zone?  Better not say that out loud or my daughter - might run in thinking I'm talking about the movie.

There has to be a way to coupon and still serve out easy healthy meals.  If I can do it, hopefully people who are trying wean themselves off processed everything can find some doable strategies and comfortably maneuver through the kitchen with something other than a can opener. Culinary Tourette's, is that journey.

Remember, my sentence structure issues?  Maybe we can fix that too.

Easy Recipes for Cheap Living
Last Updated November 26, 2010
Web Site Content by Mrs. Germaine Jenkins (gwhiz@germainesolutions.com)
Easy Recipes for Living Well on a Budget