Furlough Meals: Soup Pot Essentials
Are you recovering from the 3 week debacle in Washington D.C.? You aren't alone. It came at us out of the blue, and I found myself scrambling in the face of uncertainty as I considered how to quickly cut costs for our family of 9 at home and 1 away at school. I've lived in the mission field on a tight budget, meaning that I'm not a stranger to the need to scrimp. That made it easy to turn to my tried and true furlough friend, the soup pot
I've had my 8 quart soup pot for 21 years, and it has been a steady friend through winters and lean times. Soup provides you with the opportunity to cook healthy but frugal fare, and it's easy to stretch a soup meal. It's also pretty easy to create filling dishes from basics. The only challenge right now is that with three teens at home, an 8 quart pot doesn't go quite as far as it did when all the kids were under the age of 13. I use varied cooking vessels, but the stock pot is important for tasks like cooking pasta, preparing meat for some of my fave casseroles and for making soups, chili and stews.
Make sure that you select a soup pot with a durable structure. There are lots of cheap pots on the market, but a multi-layer construction helps in keeping the contents at the bottom out of direct contact with the heat. An aluminum core is helpful for even heat distribution. Handles that are cool to the touch will also be of use if you are making a big pot of something. The Farberware Classic Stainless Steel version featured here isn't overly expensive, and it provides you with the quality and durability that will ensure that you are able to weather the next tight season in your budget.
Making my way through this 3 week furlough season included some of the following options:
- Pasta - a 3 lb. package of pasta is only about $3 at Walmart. With cheap pasta sauce, 3 cans at $1 each, and a couple of lbs of ground beef, I can feed 9 of us a couple of dinners or one dinner and lunch with the leftovers. Use macaroni or shells and call it goulash for good measure.
- Chili - beans are usually stocked in our house for winter months. Half the pot filled with a variety of beans and soaked overnight will produce a base for a hearty chili. I used my crockpot to precook my beans this go-round, allowing less stovetop time and less burning. Adding 4 large cans of diced tomatoes ($5 total) and about 5 lbs. ground beef ($20-ish) along with some seasonings ($3), I made enough chili to last for several days...at least 4. Use rice to extend that last little bit for just another meal. I actually froze the last of it for another time so that the kids wouldn't rebel. In all, about $35 in ingredients for approximately 4 hearty meals and a couple of sides made this the highlight of the budget meltdown. Lessen the amount of meat and tomatoes if you need to streamline costs.
- Soup - a single chicken in the pot can provide a hearty and delicious soup. Boil, de-bone, and add stew veggies and egg noodles. With about $15 in ingredients, I can make 2 to 3 good meals.
- Top Ramen - I know it doesn't sound healthy, and I actually didn't do this during this go-round, but the kids love this meal during winter regardless of budget. Boil your water, add the noodles and seasonings. I use half the seasonings to limit salt and such. Crack eggs as if to poach, and slip them into the boiling liquid whole. Make sure you aren't at a rolling boil at this point so the eggs stay intact. My kids love having a serving of Ramen with whole eggs prepared this way.
If you are thinking like I am, you are wondering about January's deadline for funding the government again. Planning ahead a bit doesn't hurt. You may not face the same conditions, but at least you will be armed with a plan for feeding your loved ones on a shoestring. I managed to keep groceries during the madness to less than $20/person each week, and I'm considering the soup ingredients that are easy to stock up on if there should be another situation like this.
Non-stick is my favorite soup pot option to avoid sticking and burning on the bottom.
Colorful dinner prep may improve your attitude in the midst of a shutdown or budget shortfall scenario.