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Chef Nancy: Low-Cost Menu Planning

Chef Nancy called Pantry Paratus one day with a customer question, and I quickly realized I had much to learn from her.  I admire her whole foods knowledge and cooking ability, her homeschooling and childrearing wisdom, and her farming experiences.  She knows a whole lot about a whole lot.  I thought I’d give you a peek into the kinds of letters I get from her on occasion.  So go brew yourself a good cup of tea (with an extra dose of honey as a splurge), sit back, and enjoy this letter about low cost menu planning. 

Chef Nancy and Chaya


Hi Chaya,

I have a minute and thought I’d chat a bit about low cost for menu planning.

The lowest cost comes when you get more than one meal out of a food item; conversely, your highest cost is for things you eat all at one sitting. When I work on food cost, I look at how many meals we’ll get out of an item, not what the item costs alone.

Chaya’s 2¢: Read about why to buy in bulk for more on this topic.—

Today I had brisket from our beef for lunch (that I started cooking yesterday). I went ahead and cooked two, they are small (mini cows, remember).

Falster Farm Cattle

Now, I have delicious, tender beef left over for one or two more meals. Right now, my grandchildren are here as well as two young interns who work up a good appetite, so I’m not as good at prediction how far a dish will last.


So this meat is less expensive than you might think because it will go for several meals. I’ll add some of the bits and pieces of the brisket in the morning to scrambled eggs and put it in homemade flour tortillas. Another meal. I’ll use some of the bigger slices in gravy and put them over mashed potatoes…and when I get down to the last part, I’ll add it to other “last parts” and make a soup.


Stir fries are very economical and go a long way. Using fresh cabbage, onion, garlic, peppers, and whatever else you like. onion


Try adding carrots, fennel, all sorts of greens, tomatoes, squash, then you just add a tiny bit of meat per serving, maybe 2 Tbs per person, add a little rice on the side and you are done! The filling part is the veggies.


Stir Fry Veggies


I make a larger portion of rice when I soak and cook my rice. After using it for a meal, I warm it for breakfast with fruit and cream, not really like a leftover since it is for a completely different dish.

Fruit and Cream

Today, I made a pudding using squash and topped it with a bit of cream, no crust, not much cost there at all.

I think the more you cook from scratch, the lower your food bills get.  Also, I try to (not always good at this) use up all that is available in my fridge before going shopping again.


Chaya’s response:  Yes, I recently moved across town and have very little at the new house to use.  I found that I had to be resourceful to use what I had in new ways, and I used up everything without the wastefulness I unfortunately have all-too-often.


Speaking of shopping, I don’t spend a lot of time in the inner isles of the grocery store. The things that are expensive sometimes don’t seem like it because they are small but they do add up: salad dressings, packaged breads, cookies and snacks. Cake mixes (not only unhealthy but costly, too). Packaged cereals! A real mine field, as well as chips and of course commercial juice and other sweet drinks.


You can save a lot and get healthier beverages by buying natural carbonated water and adding whole concentrated juice to it and maybe a drop of stevia. My grandkids love it and there’s no HFCS or phosphoric acid, additives, etc.

Mix orange juice with carbonated water


We also had soaked pinto beans, now I’ll have those for one more meal and then mash them and use them in bean rolls with organic corn tortillas. I’ll also make a great fermented bean dip that is in Sally’s [Fallon–“Nourishing Traditions”] cookbook (she calls it bean paste). Then we use this as a condiment.


You have to balance out cost with nutrition because if something is ‘cheap’ but robs your and your family’s body in order to process it, it wasn’t really a good buy, was it? We always eat homemade ice cream, the heavy cream is $5.00 a quart, then I had from 4 to 8 egg yolks, raw maple syrup, and splash of vanilla. This makes about 1 ½ qts of very high quality ice cream. Then we usually have a hard chocolate topping of coconut oil, 90% cocoa bar and chopped crispy nuts. This may seem expensive but I have gotten as many as 16 servings of ice cream and the topping is full of great fats!


During the summer when we have our own cream from our cows, I even make it for breakfast at times and top it with fruit! While it is a bit more in money- it provides a wallop of nutrition, so cost is counted in health.


The same goes for bread, even if you do not use sprouted grains (the best to use), making bread from scratch with only flour, salt, yeast and water (I add a bit of olive oil ) is a lot less costly and much healthier than store bought breads with all sorts of additives.

Chaya's French Loaves


Time is over for this round, we’ve got baby chicks pipping in the incubator and cows with new calves in the barnyard, so we have to go milk to help the mamas out.


 Then more plants to plant and bees to rob of some honey frames… life has sped up since it looks like spring is here a month earlier than usual. Of course Old Man Winter is still lurking so I keep my frost blankets handy.

More Later from the farm,





Photo Credits:


Stir Fried Veggies

Fruit with cream

Orange juice drink

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