This week’s Focused Frugal February is all about great food on a budget. Now, I like to think that am pretty good in most budget categories, but cooking is not my thing. I can follow a recipe, but that’s about where that skillset ends. Luckily, I’m well aware on when to bring in the reinforcements. This week Sara from @weeknightfoodiefight is going to give us some tips on ways to meal plan on a budget, along with some of her favorite cheap eats.

I’ve known Sara for a long time and more importantly, I have eaten her incredible cooking. I can and will put my stamp of approval on anything coming out of her kitchen. If I’m known for anything outside of personal finance, it is LOVING food. To top it off, she’s been classically put through the paces both through her training with the Culinary Institute of America (CIA) and by being a working mom to just the cutest . Without further ado, let me introduce you to Sara. Check out some of her mouthwatering dishes on Instagram @weeknightfoodiefight and her website.

Ah the early 2000s… Sara was a great cook even then!

Chat with @WeeknightFoodieFight

How did you get into cooking?

Growing up my mom was a single parent until I was about 10.  She also went to night school to get her degree 2-3 weeknights for a couple years.  My mom is a fabulous cook and we enjoyed cooking together and watching the Food Network together as it was rising in popularity too.  While my mom was in night school, different members of my family would watch me for different nights during the week.   So I not only grew up appreciating my mom’s specialties, but also enjoyed cooking alongside my aunts and getting to learn different tips and techniques from their preferences.

What made you start Weeknight Foodie Fight?

I have always been a foodie and thoroughly enjoyed my time after college living and exploring the Boston food scene.  I also went to school to become a chef and worked in the food service industry for about 10 years before I changed careers.  Due to my culinary background my family and friends often ask for recipes or ideas for cooking to accommodate allergies/ fussy eaters.  I consider cooking to be my favorite hobby and thought weeknight foodie fight would be a fun way to share what’s cooking at my house and ideas for my friends and family that might also help them feel inspired cooking. 

Do you have a budget and do you use meal planning to help you keep it?

I definitely have a weekly and monthly budget and religiously meal plan and meal prep each week.  Planning is basically a necessity to have great food on a budget. Almost every post you see on Weeknight is the meal prep my husband and I make for the week.  We just plate the meals nicely to share on Instagram and then everything gets portioned and stored in Tupperware.  Freezing one bigger portion each week is a great way that we can enjoy something different on the weekends while we meal plan, shop, and cook for the next week. 

We plan 3 meals and make big batches so there is enough for us to have in rotation Monday-Friday.  I try to work the sales at the supermarket to help keep to my weekly & monthly budget.  I will stock up on my daughter’s favorite snacks when there is a sale and will buy a few bigger portions of proteins and freeze them when they’re on sale as well.

What is your process for meal planning?

My husband and I both try to eat healthy foods and focus on proper portion control since we’d both like to lose a few lbs.  We base what we’re making on how many portions of protein, fruit, veg, carbs, and healthy fats we can have in a day.  We also try to take the work & thinking out of breakfasts as much as possible and make big batches of veggie and black bean burritos we can just microwave and enjoy.

Being a lover of breakfast burritos, and that they are a great food on a budget, I pressed further and got the following answer:

We use these as an opportunity to clear out any remaining veggies and protein that we have left in the fridge. We make a large batch of scrambled eggs with whatever veggies and protein we have. Usually we use peppers, onions, zucchini and mushrooms, but have also added spinach and broccolini. For protein, if you want it, bacon/ham/sausage tend to be our staples. Figure that it will be 2 eggs per burrito and use that as a measure for how much to make.

For assembly we spread canned black beans on the tortilla, add one cup of the scrambled egg/veggie mixture, sprinkle some cheese and a few squirts of hot sauce. This is of course to your preference for a level of spice. Then we fold up the burritos and wrap them individually in parchment paper and freeze them. In the morning, we’ll heat them either in a frying pan or microwave, time dependent. Makes for an easy grab and go breakfast, especially when we both work full time and have our daughter, Fiona, to get ready in the mornings.

What are some of your favorite budget friendly recipes?

Having great food on a budget is really important in my house. Two of my recent budget friendly faves have been my strawberry banana pancakes and the viral famous roasted cherry tomato and feta dish.  My pancake recipe is a great way to use up fruit and the addition of bananas to the batter adds a sweetness so you don’t even need syrup to enjoy them.  They’re a great option for kiddos as well.  

The roasted feta and cherry tomatoes craze is as amazing as the internet raves it is.  We made this for the superbowl and served it in a bread bowl with crackers and veggies.  For a quick family dinner though roast off these simple ingredients and add fresh basil and a pound of fresh pasta.  It’s hearty, creamy, and one of the best pasta dishes & appetizers we have had in awhile.

Roasted Cherry Tomato and Feta Dish:
Preheat oven to 400 degrees and on a sheet tray combine:
3 cups of cherry tomatoes whole
1 whole block feta
4 cloves garlic whole
Drizzle with 1/2 cup of olive oil then season and sprinkle evenly with
1/2 tsp dried oregano
1/4 tsp Italian seasoning
1/4 tsp black pepper

1/2tsp salt
1/4 tsp garlic powder

Bake at 400 degrees for 30 mins and then broil the tray for an additional 5 mins at the end at 500 degrees.

Pull from the oven and stir to combine. If serving as a dip, place into a bread bowl and toast it again in a 400 oven for and additional 15-18 mins.

OR just stir in cooked hot pasta, add some chopped fresh basil and use as a sauce for dinner.

What advice do you have for someone who is just starting to grow their cooking skills?

On a personal level, I know that I am always worried to try and cook new things just because I don’t want to screw up and waste the food, money and time spent creating something that turns out to be inedible.

There are a few things I would suggest for those learning to cook.  The first is to have fun!  So often people are nervous and panic and it only holds you back as you work through a new recipe.  Put on your fave playlist, get your favorite beverage, and find your happy place.  Next I would suggest starting with recipes that have all of your favorite ingredients in it.  Chances are if you like the main ingredients, you will like the final preparation.  Then you can build on those skills while you build your confidence. 

Next I would suggest you take your time to plan and measure out all your ingredients before you start the cooking process.  In a professional kitchen this concept is called Mise en place and it really is a mindset.  Having everything you need ready will cut back on the chance of you accidentally overcooking or missing an ingredient. 

My last suggestion is to taste your food while you’re cooking.  So often you get to the end of the recipe and you realize you over seasoned or haven’t cooked something long enough.  Taste your food while it’s in progress and then you can better judge when to adjust seasoning or cook times.  

Last one…. Who is the better cook, you or your husband?

This is a touchy subject haha.  Andrew and I met in Culinary school and I will say we both have different strengths in the kitchen.  His coworkers often say “Your wife must love that you cook for her.”. He always jokes back “She does, but we met in culinary school so she usually tells me how I can do it better.”.  We’re also very different with our cooking.  I try to make a whole meal using only one pot and he’ll use every dish in the kitchen for the same meal.  If I were to pick the fight, I’d say me of course.  In reality, it’s not that simple and he’s one of my favorite cooks.  My absolute favorite is getting to cook and create together.  It is how we have fun and unwind together.

Wrap It Up!

Needless to say, I’m hungry from looking at these pictures. Try these recipes out for yourself and see that you can have great food on a budget! If you’re looking for more from Sara, check her out on Instagram @weeknightfoodiefight or at her site! As I’m meal planning for next week now, I think I’m going to take a crack at that Roasted Tomato and Feta dish. I’ll let you all know how that works out on Instagram later this week.

You can also check out some of my wife’s favorite recipes from last year’s grocery post for even more great food on a budget!

Let me know if you try any of Sara’s recipes and what your thoughts are below!