This week’s Budget Eats entry is one of my favorites, mostly for the sheer ease of it all. If you’re looking to save some serious cash, get adventurous, and have yourself a tasty meal for days to come, give this idea a shot:
Cook a huge batch of soup, stew, or chili and divide it into individual portions.
Win! Here’s what I mean, in a bit more detail:
Take some time at the beginning of the week — Sunday afternoon or Monday night, perhaps — to cook up a large batch of your favorite stew, soup, or chili. About 6-8 servings will serve you very, very well, and cooking such a large amount will help spread out the costs per meal. (I.e. divide the total cost by 6 or 8, and any recipe looks good to your wallet!)
Then, use some Tupperware or other types of plastic containers (I’ve saved Cool Whip containers, yogurt tubs, takeout containers and more) and divide the recipe into individual servings. Realistic servings, of course — you could, if you weren’t careful, portion 2 or 3 servings for yourself in an oversized Tupperware. Store a few in the fridge for easy access (lunches, a quick dinner); store the rest in your freezer, and let ’em thaw in the fridge for a day before noshing.
Cost-wise, this is a genius move: By investing up front in staples like canned beans, a pound of ground turkey, chicken or beef, or vegetables and broth / stock, you can create a meal that ends up paying for itself. You’ve all seen those Pins or blog posts: “50 Freezer Meals for $1oo!” The logic — even if crafting 50 meals up front seems daunting or unnecessary when you’re cooking for one, or even two — is sound. Divide and conquer!
So what should you make? Here’s a recipe for my Meatless Tortilla Soup, a classic recipe from my service program days. It’s incredibly simple, even if it’s not your abuela’s tortilla soup, per se. The ingredients are uncomplicated and easy to find, requiring no “World Foods Aisle” scavenger hunts.
*NOTE* Wait until the soup has cooled to a lukewarm temperature before storing. Otherwise you can overheat your fridge and risk some items going bad.
Meatless Tortilla Soup — Serves 8-10 (or makes 8-10 generous lunch / dinner portions)
- 2 16 oz cans black beans, rinsed
- 2 16 oz cans kidney beans, rinsed (you can swap one of these for cannellini beans, chick peas, or another bean that you like)
- 1 16 oz can Rotel tomatoes (the can w/peppers)
- 1 16 oz can crushed or pureed tomatoes
- 1 small bag frozen corn
- 1 tbsp chili powder
- 1-2 tsp cumin
- Salt & pepper to taste
- 3-4 tortillas, cut or ripped into strips
- Lime juice, shredded cheese, and sour cream for serving
Here’s what you do:
- In a large soup pot, combine beans, tomatoes, corn and spices. Stir until all ingredients are well mixed.
- Heat the soup over medium heat until bubbling steadily. Season to taste, then lower the heat to low. Allow to cook for 1-2 hours for additional flavor development (optional, but you won’t regret it!).
- Turn off the heat and allow the soup to cool until it’s lukewarm. Then, use a ladle or large soup spoon to divide the soup into single-serving containers. Store half in the freezer (for random meals) and half in the fridge (for immediate use — this week’s lunches or dinners, for example).
- Store fixins in individual Ziploc bags or at work if you plan on lunching on your soup.
- Tortilla strips: Either serve strips untoasted with soup, or toast lightly in the oven before serving. Y0u can also stir them into the soup during the last 30 minutes of cooking for a more authentic tortilla soup vibe.
There are so many ways to use this technique, and the price-to-serving ratio speaks for itself as a practical solution for the budget-minded chef. I’m also a fan of making large batches of stir-fry, pasta with sauce, or Quick Vegetarian Chili (modify the above recipe by swapping 1/2 the beans for chopped / diced veggies, such as zucchini, squash, or even sweet potatoes. Add 1 tsp of cocoa powder to the tomato mixture when you add other spices, and vary your frozen veggie additions to your liking).
Do you, my awesome readers, ever make things in batches like this? What are your go-to recipes for divide-and-conquer dining? Any warm-weather suggestions, given that soups and stews are best consumed in chillier seasons?