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Healthy food on a budget

I’m a cook. I cook healthy and nutritious meals on a budget. I’ve been toying with the idea of sharing on my blog site secrets of how I manage to cook high quality meals on my household’s one salary.

We’ve been living on one income for over a year and a half. I make a decent income, but when your household is used to two, being downgraded to one can be a challenge regardless of how much you make, in my opinion.

Because eating healthy is important to my husband and I, we haven’t sacrificed our food budget too much. I realize some people have a smaller budget than ours. It sucks that eating healthy is expensive, but it is what it is and we do what we need to do. One big thing we do is cook homemade meals often. We’ve drastically reduced “eating out” at restaurants, which means we cook at home. As I share more of my recipes in this blog, I’ll share my tips on saving money.

Boneless, skinless chicken thighs. LPC

If you’ve ever heard the expression, “Never Say Never”, then you may appreciate that I’ve said many times what I’d never eat by way of food, but I had to change my thinking. Here’s an example. I’ve said I will never buy chicken thighs or chicken legs. Yet, I’ve also learned from renowned chefs of various cooking shows just how flavorful the dark meat of the chicken is. They love it!

I’ve preferred white meat for many years. I think mostly because I was so burned out from the “pinwheels” (leg/thigh combos) my mom used to buy when I was growing up due to their affordability. I’ve been cleaning chicken since I was about 12 years old. In the summers, it was my job to cook dinner for the family before my mom came home from work. Cleaning the dark meat of the chicken grossed me out.

Building the foundation for my meal. LPC

For years, I’ve said I’d never buy dark meat chicken, then I found myself considering dark meat chicken because it’s much more affordable. I love chicken wings, but have you seen the price of chicken wings? They’re expensive in Texas. I also love chicken breasts, but you have to find them on sale. I’ve found dark meat chicken is always less expensive than white meat. In the past year, boneless, skinless chicken thighs have become my staple. It’s much more messier to clean them from the bone than the boneless, skinless kind. I can cube the boneless, skinless pieces in a breeze for a chicken and mushroom teriyaki dish like I made this evening.

I don’t know the history of how Trader Joe’s started, but MAN!!! I love this store for quick meal ideas. Tonight, I also made an udon noodles stir fry. I simply used a bag of broccoli slaw as a vegetable saute. I added onions and a jalepeno, which I add to most everything. I also added two eggs, soy sauce, and spices. Another secret is I shop at several different stores to get the best deals.

Today, I attended a 2+ hour Zumbathon for a special cause and tried a new exercise platform called Kangoo Jumps. It was AMAZING and scary!

Kangoo Jumps Demo about to start. Be brave and try new things! LPC

When I returned home from the Zumbathon, I was so happy to drink the watermelon kiwi banana green smoothie I made earlier. Although this smoothie was made with all fresh ingredients, I buy large bags of frozen fruit from Costco for my green smoothies.

Watermelon kiwi banana green smoothie. LPC

Two or three frozen fruit bags from Costco will last me through the month. It’s much more affordable to buy fruit for my smoothies this way, especially since I drink them daily. Also, my usual grocery store had some varieties of their store brand organic frozen fruit on clearance. I bought a few. I have a variety of healthy add ins on hand such as flaxseeds, chia seeds, and hemp seeds. I purchase from whatever store has the best deal. I also buy a large piece of fresh ginger and freeze it so it doesn’t spoil before I can use it all.

Tonight’s meal was delicious. I seldom cook from recipes, except when I’m cooking vegan or baking. By the way, I haven’t found vegan cooking to be less expensive than cooking with meat. I do a 21-day vegan cleanse about once or twice a year. It can also get expensive (variety of nuts, fresh produce, avocados, specialty ingredients like nutritional yeast, etc.)

I literally create meals and get inspiration from a variety of sources. I also use a lot of delicious spices and herbs to layer on the flavor. Yes, I have two starches on my plate (jasmine rice and udon noodles), but I only added a small portion of rice. I burned hundreds of calories today, so I can afford the carbohydrates.

O Organics Jasmine Rice. LPC

I’ve found store brand organic and non-organic foods to be less expensive than the name brand versions. The day I bought this rice, I had an online coupon for a 36 ounce container of Organic Texamati Jasmine rice for about $4.55. It just so happened it wasn’t on the shelf. I kept looking and noticed this 32 ounce of store brand organic rice for $2.99.

I’ve had a Sunday that made my heart and belly full. That’s what I call a Happy Sunday!

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Thai Tuesday

Nope…it’s not Taco Tuesday. It’s Thai Tuesday. I’ve been looking forward to trying out this Organic Thai Style Curry Chicken Broth. I don’t always cook during the work week, especially since I arrive home late most days, but when I have a taste for something, I make the effort.

I’ve been thinking about my mom, Solange, today and how much she loved the show Chopped on the Food Network . I wrote a post on my mom teaching me how to cook, which you can read about here. I’ve never really liked the show Chopped, but my mom watched it every day, for hours. I’m more of a 30-Minute Meals, Pioneer Woman, and Master Chef kind of girl.

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Chicken Breasts, chopped vegetables, lime, oil and vinegar

This whole dish was inspired by the Organic Thai Curry Chicken Broth. I’ve never heard of it until I saw it in the grocery store a few months ago. This meal was really quick to prepare. I’m an experienced cook and am used to making meals quickly. I also use whatever ingredients I have and enjoy being creative.

I set the bone-in chicken breasts out last night to dethaw. I chopped up some vegetables and prepared Vermicelli noodles (not pictured). Bless my husband’s heart! He attempted to make dinner and made the grave mistake of boiling the broccoli. I haven’t boiled broccoli in years. I prefer roasted broccoli and so do my kids. In fact, I prefer all of my vegetables roasted. There was no undoing the boiled broccoli, although I could have used it for one of my favorite vegan broccoli potato soup recipes. However, instead, I decided to roast it and use it as a garnish for my soup. I don’t like wasting food.

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Sauteed vegetables. LPC

My oil of choice was coconut oil. After seasoning the chicken, I sauteed the chicken, then vegetables, then added the Thai Curry Chicken broth (plus added 2 cups of my homemade chicken broth), and then the noodles. Ordinarily, I’d marinate chicken for a day or two, but I didn’t have the time. I’ve read a few articles on how healthy bone broth is, particularly because of the collagen. I also attribute my immune health to eating my homemade broths and soups weekly.

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Thai Curry Chicken Soup. LPC

I ladled the noodles and broth in a bowl, then topped with the chicken and broccoli. I didn’t want soggy chicken or broccoli. If I weren’t so hungry, I would’ve been patient enough to add a touch more red pepper flakes, carrots, and green onions for the visual, but I ate it up. The dish came out DELISH! Bon Appetit!

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Solange taught me how to cook

This isn’t the first time I’ve boasted about my good cooking. I attribute my cooking skills to my mom. She started teaching me as early as 11 or 12 years old. She taught me when I didn’t want to learn. She made me do it. She would call me into the kitchen when she was making a dish like one of our Haitian staples: rice and beans. You can make rice and beans two ways: separately (pot of rice, pot of beans-sauce pois) or together (rice and beans cooked in the same pot with herbs and spices). These two methods could produce probably hundreds of meals depending on the combination of beans and rice you choose. She’d have all the ingredients out and would walk me through every step from washing the ingredients, to chopping, to putting them in the pan, to tasting, and to admiring the completed dish.

As it’s been two years since my mom passed away, she’s been on my mind a lot lately, so I decided to use my pilon (Haitian Creole) that I purchased from a garage sale a while ago. My mom always used a wooden pilon, but what you usually find nowadays in stores are marble ones. I didn’t know it was called a mortar and pestle until sometime after I moved to Texas. I’m very big on meal prep and I had a taste for rice and beans made in the same pot. The types of beans and rice are endless, but I particularly selected peas because I learned a month ago that I’m iron deficient and peas are a good source of iron. I’ve been diligent about increasing my iron intake.

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I haven’t actually used a pilon in years. One time a friend was over for dinner and she saw me using the pilon. She asked me why I just didn’t use a mini food chopper/processor. I thought to myself at the time, “Good idea!” because it was easier, so I stopped using the pilon. Looking back, what I should have told her is that by smashing the herbs in the pilon, it releases the juices allowing for more flavor. For years, I used the food processor, but today I tested my theory. I was right…the herbs were more fragrant. I might be a little biased. This reminded me there is wisdom in tradition. My grandmother likely showed my mother how to cook the same way. I also remembered using a pilon is a workout in itself as a result of pounding the herbs.

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Herbs sauteing in olive oil before I add the peas. I ommitted the salt pork. LPC

The rice and peas were delicious. I ate a bowl with nothing else. So did my daughter. For my work lunches, I will have them with chicken breasts. I blogged about Haitian food when I was in the Dominican Republic last month which you can read about here. I’m not putting any pressure on my daughter to learn the techniques my mom taught me. I want her to come to me when she’s ready. We’ll see. In the meantime, I’ll continue to bless my family with these creations.

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The largest “Pilon” or mortar and pestle I’ve ever seen-Dominican Republic 6-7-19. LPC