Sunday, March 4, 2012

Tooting the frugal bugle

Today's post is brought to you by the numbers 2 and 1 and by the letter O. The numbers combine to make 21, the number of dollars I am going to use to feed my family this week. The O is for "O my, we have FIVE packets of pasta in the pantry". Nice use of alliteration aside, I was quite shocked to see the amount of food we had in the pantry, fridge and freezer, despite my husband recently declaring that there was nothing, WHATSOEVER to eat in our house.

You can find out more about the $21 challenge here (photo courtesy of It would be great to have some company this week so please feel free to post your progress in the comments section if you fancy taking part.

The first step is to take an inventory of what you have in your pantry, fridge, freezer and garden. I won't bore you will the full list but my journey to the centre of the pantry turned up pasta, two tins of tomatoes, wraps, rice, cous cous, tuna, biscuits and Cheerios. The fridge and freezer provided fruit and veg, chorizo, milk, eggs, pastry, a lonely sausage and 1.5 chicken breasts. I don't have a bountiful garden - something I have work on ASAP.

The next step is to meal plan. Rather than deciding what you fancy and then shopping for it, on the $21 Challenge you work back - look at what you have and then plan a week's worth of meals. (NB the $21 really is just for food so you can exclude toiletries and cleaning products and the like. We are also excluding milk as we class that as an essential and don’t want to skimp or use powdered or long life brands, though many people do and happily so).

I wanted to get ahead a bit so yesterday (day one of the challenge) I made a batch of Napolitana sauce using one of my tins of toms, an onion, garlic, mixed herbs and olive oil. I was out of tomato paste so substituted tomato sauce which worked just as well.

Next I made a zucchini slice (recipe below) for us all to have for lunches.

Finally I "invented" a Cheerio bar using Cheerios (no surprises there), margarine, brown sugar, pine nuts, sultanas, dried pineapple and maple syrup. I thought we could have these as snacks/with lunch rather than buying muesli bars. It was only a partial success as the mixture didn’t hold together very well so we’ll have bags of Cheerio mix rather than bars! The trial and error is all part of the fun so I’m not disheartened.

The final step after stocktake and meal plan is to shop for those (hopefully) few extra things you’ll need this week. I went to the supermarket (two supermarkets actually, to get the best deal) and I bought: two tins of tomatoes, a tin of tuna, bacon bits, cheese, three capsicums, three potatoes and two tins of baked beans. If you’ve been paying attention you’ll have noted that I already had tuna and tinned tomatoes in my pantry. The tuna we have in stock is flavoured stuff (which Andy will eat) and I wanted a plain one in spring water for Agatha and the extra tins of toms are because my menu this week calls for lots of tomatoes and the (organic) tinned were cheaper than the (non-organic and organic) fresh. The total cost for my extra bits was $19.50. Whatever shall I do with my remaining $1.50 - caviar, truffles, handmade Belgian chocolates??

My menu looks like this, with Sunday being day one of the challenge:

Lunch = zucchini slice and vege pakoras (which I found in our fridge)
Dinner = chorizo and pasta with Napolitana sauce (Agatha had the same but without chorizo)

Lunch = Cheese sandwiches all round
Dinner = Falafels, roast vegetables and cous cous with sweet chilli sauce in a wrap (Agatha will have the same sans the sweet chilli sauce)

Lunch = zucchini slice all round
Dinner = Sausage casserole (with a variety of veg) and baked beans with rice for all

Lunch = Tuna wrap for Andy, tuna for Agatha and soup for me
Dinner = Moroccan chicken tagine (with veg) and cous cous for everyone

Lunch = Baked potatoes with baked beans for Andy and Agatha, baked potato with cheese & onion for me
Dinner = Quorn mince spag bol for all

Lunch = Curried egg sandwiches for Andy, French toast for Agatha and I
Dinner = Fish and chips for Andy, fish and vegetables for Agatha, hash browns, chips and baked beans for me (this is “bottom of the freezer” night!)

Lunch – we’re going to a BBQ
Dinner – Creamy bacon pasta for all

Sunday we’re back to normal and while we might spend more than $21 in the week that follows, I will certainly be meal planning and pantry surfing before I hit the shops.

I would love to hear other tips for frugal eating and living if you have them!

Zucchini slice - recipe and photo courtesy of

Ingredients (serves 15)

• 5 eggs
• 150g (1 cup) self-raising flour, sifted
• 375g zucchini, grated
• 1 large onion, finely chopped
• 200g rindless bacon, chopped (I used bacon bits)
• 1 cup grated cheddar cheese
• 60ml (1/4 cup) vegetable oil


1. Preheat oven to 170°C. Grease and line a 30 x 20cm lamington pan.
2. Beat the eggs in a large bowl until combined. Add the flour and beat until smooth, then add zucchini, onion, bacon, cheese and oil and stir to combine. Pour into the prepared pan and bake in oven for 30 minutes or until cooked through.

(I also added grated carrot this time, just to mix things up a bit and increase our vegetable intake).

Thanks for reading! x


  1. I wish our groceries were $21! I spent that much this week on various types of cheese and fresh herbs alone - and that was using the method to 'use what we have' and just buy what we need.

    We also had a big pantry/fridge/freezer tidy on the weekend and we seem to have an abundance of muesli.

    Good luck - we also need to get our grocery spending down. It's a major blowout of our budget and it's really bothering me.

    Becks x

  2. Becks we usually spend $200+ a week on food so this is massively overdue for me. I would say food shopping and takeaway is our biggest blowout too and it was making me really fed up.

    The challenge of shopping with only $21 was actually really fun and I feel all fired up and more productive generally. The best bit is that I have had to be creative in the kitchen rather than churning out the same old stuff.

    If you think $21 straight off is just a bridge too far, have a $50 food shopping week or a $75 week instead. It's still a great saving.

  3. I'm super impressed! And your menu looks delicious! I try to make a point of digging deep in my pantry and freezer now and again; it's always pleasantly surprising what bounty is yielded!

  4. Thanks Nat, that's very kind. The challenge has really shown me how much money I waste buying food because I fancy it and also buying ingredients for one-off meals that never see the light of day again.

  5. This is very inspiring! We spend I reckon most of our income on damn food so we'll definitely need to get on board once I end up on half pay. I like the look of your zucchini slice and will have to give it a bash. I also like the sound of your Cheerio slice/crumble- I bet it tasted way nicer than muesli bars.

    When interest rates went really high a few years ago we often had to do our whole weekly shop (work lunches included) on $80-$100 but what made it possible was having an Aldi in our suburb and a fantastic cheap fruit and veg shop which sold stuff in trucking quantities. We'd buy a massive box for $40 and split everything with my Mum, then eat like kings! Where we live now a tomato costs $1.50 (and Clayton eats 8 or more as snacks each week alone) so we're going to have to find a solution.

    Please keep us updated with more excellent and thrifty recipes you find :)

  6. Thanks for those tips Siobhan. I need to find a good fruit and veg provider, I looked into a Farmers Direct type one but the quantities we too large for us.

    I have the perfect solution to Clayton's Satan's fruit (I mean tomato) fetish - a tomato plant! You can grow them in a pot indoors and they're really low maintenance.

    I'll definitely post some more thrifty recipes, for the first time in ages I'm really enjoying cooking.