Tips for Frugal Meals ~ and Indian Lentil Recipe

Indian Lentil Curry Pressure Cooker

You’ve heard it or you’ve said it yourself, right?

“Eating healthy costs too much money.”

Of course, there aren’t

  • coupons for organic broccoli
  • BOGO’s on pastured chicken or
  • “catalinas” on coconut sugar

Sigh.

Those of us interested in eating healthier whole foods and doing so on a budget must look to other means to make budget friendly meals.

I’ve learned how to save money on whole foods the hard way.

Without going into debt, my husband and I have been through

  • several advanced degrees (all his)
  • a special needs child with no medical coverage for his condition
  • at one point a salary of $13,500/year

Now, at various points, we weren’t eating as healthfully as we are now, but believe me–eating healthy on a budget can be done.

Today I’m sharing some of my best tips for making frugal whole foods meals.

I’m also going to share one of our favorite frugal recipes–Indian Lentils.

1. Eat More Beans

If there were stock in beans, I’d buy it now. Beans are simply a great way to stretch your whole foods dollar, and in this economy, more and more people are going to be eating beans.

You can:

  • Make main dishes with beans, like Adzuki Bean Shepherd’s Pie.
  • Substitute beans for some or all of the meat in your main dishes (In our favorite meal, Pakistani Curry, kidney beans would make a nice meat alternative.)
Don’t like beans–or rather, they don’t like you? Try reading How to De-Gas Beans. I guarantee it will help.

2. Use Leftovers

Throwing away food is of course, not a budget-friendly habit :-) .

How about:

  • Having a leftover night, but call it “Family Buffet” or something fun like that? Pull all the leftovers out of the fridge, put them each on different plates on the table and have everyone serve themselves.
  • Use leftovers to make a new meal like I do with my “Clean Out the Fridge” Pasta.

3. Be Flexible

Use substitutions when working with a recipe:

  • If your recipe calls for celery, but carrots are on sale, buy the carrots and cut the cost of your meal.
  • Make do with what you have. If your recipe calls for onions, but you’re out, either use minced onion or onion powder. Or avoid an extra trip to the store and just do without. Extra spices or salt can make up for the flavor you might miss.

One of our favorite Money Saving Meals is Indian Lentils.

You can make this dish with either traditional green or brown lentils, or you can use red lentils to get the beautiful yellow color you see in the photo above.

This dish is fast (only 9 minutes if you have a pressure cooker!) and kid-friendly.

Indian Lentils

Ingredients

  • 3-4 Tbsp coconut oil or other healthy fat.
  • 1 onion, diced (or ~ 2 Tbsp. minced plus a bit of water to reconstitute)
  • 8 garlic cloves, minced
  • 28 oz (3 1/2 cups) chicken or vegetable broth
  • 28 oz can diced tomatoes
  • 2 1/2 cups red or brown lentils, rinsed
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper (optional)
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh basil (or 2-3 Tbsp dried)
  • Salt to taste (I recommend RealSalt; use about 2 tsp)

Method

1. Heat oil in a pan over medium heat.

2. Add onion and garlic, cooking about 5 minutes until onion is soft.

3. Add broth through pepper.

4. Boil and reduce heat to low. Simmer, uncovered, for about 30 minutes, or until the lentils are cooked thoroughly.  Note:  Red lentils will cook more quickly so keep an eye on them.  Green will take longer–about 45 minutes. (If you have a pressure cooker, red lentils will be done in about 9 minutes, but add tomatoes after cooking the beans.)

5. Add basil and salt to taste and stir.

Serve over rice or other grain.

What’s your favorite frugal meal or frugal meal tip?

Adrienne, of Whole New Mom, is a wife and homeschooling mother of two boys, one of whom has Asperger’s Syndrome and life-threatening food allergies. In her past life she worked in the financial services industry and also taught in Japan. She has a passion to help others navigate the sea of information on the road to healthier lives, while trusting God for the results of their efforts. Additionally, she is a blossoming food freedom advocate. Because she loves to (and can’t afford not to :-) ), she specializes in frugal living and simplifying special diets. You can also find her on Facebook or follow her on Twitter.

58 Responses to Tips for Frugal Meals ~ and Indian Lentil Recipe

  • Ricki Heller says:

    Dal is one of my all-time favorite meals! Love this recipe. Will give it a try! :)

    [Reply]

    Adrienne Urban Reply:

    @Ricki Heller, Us too. Hope you enjoy it as much as we do, Ricki!

    [Reply]

    Gina Reply:

    @Adrienne Urban, I was just wondering what do you mean by add broth through pepper? And at what point do you add the lentils? Looks like a great receipe to try.

    [Reply]

    Adrienne @ Whole New Mom Reply:

    @Gina, I meant add the broth, the pepper and every ingredient in between in the list of ingredients. The lentils are in that list so that’s where you add them. Hope you like it!

    desiree Reply:

    I love lentils too!! One thing that I do to save money is make my own lara bars. It isn’t really a dinner per say but a meal on the go or a snack. It saves me a ton of money and they taste amazing.
    http://www.unconventionalkitchen.com/homemade-lara-bar-recipe

    [Reply]

  • Kim says:

    Adrienne,
    I love all of your tips, and this recipe looks delicious!

    [Reply]

    Adrienne Urban Reply:

    @Kim, Thanks, Kim. I hope you enjoy it. Take care!

    [Reply]

  • Sarah says:

    Yum! I think I will make this for dinner! My 1 year old is allergic to so many things. I really appreciate a safe recipe like this!

    [Reply]

    Adrienne Urban Reply:

    @Sarah, I might too….we were just talking about my needing to come up with something quick :-) . We have a bunch of allergies in our home as well. Perhaps some of my other recipes would be a help as well. Take care!

    [Reply]

  • I’ve got half a bag of lentils left over from a lentil and sweet potato salad I made for Easter . . . now I know what I’m going to do with them!

    [Reply]

    Adrienne @ Whole New Mom Reply:

    @Jason (Gluten Free / Dairy Free NJ), Yea! I’d love the recipe for the salad!

    [Reply]

    Jason (Gluten Free / Dairy Free NJ) Reply:

    @Adrienne @ Whole New Mom, it’s by Annalise Roberts and on her site here: Warm Lentil Salad with Roasted Root Vegetables. Not a big fan of other root vegetables so I just used red onions and sweet potatoes. (Had the last left over serving today for lunch so it froze well!)

    [Reply]

  • Melanie says:

    That looks so good! To be honest, I don’t think I’ve ever had lentils, but I know my husband likes them, so we were going to add them soon to our diet! We’re currently trying to figure out how to slash $50 from our grocery budget each month while keeping healthy, whole foods (which is a lot considering we don’t spend much on groceries in the first place!). I’ve been considering more ways to eat meat less and stretch the meat we do buy by sticking into meals instead of having it as the whole main dish. We’re implementing two days a week to not eat meat and stocking up on dry beans and eggs (which, yes, is not allergy friendly, but we can eat it) for protein.
    Honestly, though, calculating it in my head, it’s much cheaper to buy fresh produce and lessen the amount of meat we eat even just by a little! (Sorry, really long comment!)

    [Reply]

    Adrienne @ Whole New Mom Reply:

    @Melanie, I personally think it’s been good for us to keep meat in our diets. But we really do love beans. So adding beans to our diets works. My son has a life threatening allergy to egg white but I try to give him just the yolks to give him added nutrition. Take care!

    [Reply]

  • Melanie says:

    I do think meat is good too! (And my husband’s a big meat lover ;) ). We’re hoping to drop our grocery budget partially so we can afford good, grass-fed meat!

    [Reply]

    Adrienne Urban Reply:

    @Melanie, That’s our goal as well – the grass fed meat! And pastured chickens, etc.

    [Reply]

  • Becca says:

    My family loves lentils! I want to mention that red lentils cook faster than brown/green ones, so while I’m sure both would taste good in this recipe, if you’re in a hurry or want the lentils really soft, red lentils are a better choice.

    We are having Masoor Dal tonight–similar to your recipe but with carrots instead of tomatoes and slightly different spices.

    [Reply]

    Adrienne Urban Reply:

    @Becca, Thanks for reminding me about that, Becca! I have actually had a bunch of trouble w/ cooking lentils and figuring out how long to cook them for in my pressure cooker. The info on how long each takes (brown, red and green) is all over the place on the internet, so I guess one really needs to just cook and see how they are doing. But I really appreciate your mentioning this. My green lentils have been taking forever and now I remember why! Thanks! I’ve just added this info to the post!

    [Reply]

  • I love beans… healthy, filling, versatile… and yes, they are CHEAP!!! I love how red lentils can sport so many different flavours. :)

    [Reply]

    Adrienne Urban Reply:

    @janet @ the taste space, Me too. And I love that they are super fast!

    [Reply]

  • Tate Allyn Peterson says:

    I take the bones and veggies and left over fat from making stock and grind it up in the blender for putting on the dogs food. Now that is frugal.

    [Reply]

    Adrienne Urban Reply:

    @Tate Allyn Peterson, Wow. Can the dogs really eat ground up bones? That’s something I’ve never heard of before!

    [Reply]

    Tate Allyn Peterson Reply:

    @Adrienne Urban,

    Yes. Bone meal is one of the ingredients in dog food.

    [Reply]

  • Amber says:

    Hi Adrienne,

    I’m such a lentil lover. And your recipe is SCD friendly! Love it.

    Great tips!

    My favorite frugal meal tip is to let go. For example, let go of the need to create a huge spread every night for dinner. That’s my problem. I have to really tell myself to let go and just serve something simple and healthy that fills bellies and that’s that. Work with what you have. Let go of traditional meal ideas, have breakfast for lunch or lunch for breakfast. And we always use leftovers. I will use anything with eggs from roasted sweet potatoes to left over pasta. :-)

    [Reply]

    Adrienne Urban Reply:

    @Amber, You put together such nice things – I can see how that would be a problem. I used to do more fancy stuff. My stress level needs to be a lot lower now so really no more. Hope you like the lentils if you try them!

    [Reply]

    Becca Reply:

    @Amber, that is a great point. I sometimes feel bad thinking of how my mom almost always made at least one side dish and often served 4 or 5 separate items in a meal…but we are nourished and happy with our quick meals made in one or two pots and served from the stove, with maybe some cut-up fruit or tomato on the side. My mom used all those pots and serving dishes without a care because my dad washed them without complaint–my partner and I would rather minimize our dishwashing and kitchen time, as long as we’re still getting healthy meals.

    [Reply]

  • Hi there! Found you through Frugal Fridays. I love all of these tips and put them into practice all the times. Legumes are such an awesome, cheap and nutritious form of protein (and other micro-nutrients as well!). I often subsitute meat in recipes all together or cut it in half with beans.

    My other thing is to buy local when in season. Can’t believe how much cheaper it can be to buy at the local farmers market and you’re saving yourself money AND supporting your local farmers AND likely helping the environment.

    I make a similar recipe, a red lentil curry, and my daughter (2) loves it. She loves all beans, in fact (thankfully!). :)

    thanks for the helpful blog post. Blessings!

    [Reply]

    Adrienne Urban Reply:

    @The Old-Fashioned Housewife, Blessings to you as well. Great tip. Thanks! I would love your recipe if it’s any different. My kids love beans too. In fact, my youngest is having a kind of meat strike since he’s very upset about animals dying right now. I completely understand.

    [Reply]

  • Blessings to you as well. Great tip. Thanks! I would love your recipe if it’s any different. My kids love beans too. In fact, my youngest is having a kind of meat strike since he’s very upset about animals dying right now. I completely understand.

    [Reply]

  • Totally Perfect!!! I’d love to have you share at my party…it JUST opened!!!

    http://www.itsoverflowing.com/2012/04/overflowing-with-creativity-19.html

    XO, Aimee

    [Reply]

    Adrienne @ Whole New Mom Reply:

    @Aimee – ItsOverflowing, I plan to be by next week. Thanks for sharing! Nice site!

    [Reply]

  • Shiloh says:

    Leftovers is definitely the way to go. I plan for them regularly. I’m amazed that some people won’t eat them.

    [Reply]

    Adrienne Urban Reply:

    @Shiloh, I am too. I remember cleaning out TONS of unidentifiable stuff from my Dad’s home when I lived with him over the summers. I guess there are those of us who will eat anything. :)

    [Reply]

  • Kristy says:

    I can’t wait to try your lentil recipe. I have some lentils I need to use and I’ve been wanting to try a new recipe with them. Also great advice for stretching your food budget.

    Blessings,
    Kristy

    [Reply]

    Adrienne Urban Reply:

    @Kristy, Just made them again tonight! Had a rough and super busy day and wanted to have something besides popcorn and baby carrots! Hope you enjoy it!

    [Reply]

  • Jill says:

    Great tips! and those Indian lentils sound sooo tasty!

    Thanks for linking to a Round Tuit!
    Hope you have a fabulous week!
    Jill @ Creating my way to Success
    http://www.jembellish.blogspot.com/

    [Reply]

    Adrienne Urban Reply:

    @Jill, Thanks, Jill! I think you’ll love them. Just made them again yesterday :-) !

    [Reply]

  • Yummie! I just found your blog on Foodie Friday. I’ll host my own party every month called My Sweet Party and I would love you to join. Please visit my blog for mor info.

    http://meandmysweets.blogspot.co.uk/2012/05/my-sweet-party-chocolate-cake-love.html

    Have a nice day!

    Johanna

    [Reply]

    Adrienne Urban Reply:

    @Me and My Sweets, Thanks, Johanna! I’ll try to pay you a visit!

    [Reply]

  • Great tips! The Indian Lentils look fabulous. Thanks for sharing.

    [Reply]

    Adrienne Urban Reply:

    @Kelly @ Blue Jeans & Coffee Beans, Thanks, Kelly! My husband told me they turned out the best ever this time around. Not sure what I did differently, except I added the tomatoes last :-) !

    [Reply]

  • Alea says:

    Great ideas! Your Indian Lentils look delicious! I have found that cooking from scratch instead of using packaged food keeps our grocery bill fairly low despite having special dietary needs.

    [Reply]

    Adrienne Urban Reply:

    @Alea, It does. Food is getting so much more expensive but this keeps the lid on it at least.

    [Reply]

  • Love this recipe and I love all these tips!
    Would love it if you shared it at our Potluck Party ;)

    http://www.lifeologia.com/potluck-party-protein-rich-vegan-recipes/

    [Reply]

    Adrienne Urban Reply:

    @Ella @ Lifeologia, Thanks, Ella!

    [Reply]

  • Great tips and the recipe looks good too. I’m looking forward to trying it.

    My favourite budget cooking tip is what I call “Thing One and Thing Two.” It involves using planned leftovers. Cook basics like rice or lentils in quantity and plan several different dishes to incorporate them throughout the week. Present them in their original form (Thing One) the first night but change them up into something else (Thing Two) before presenting them again. This saves on cooking time throughout the week and also helps to ensure variety in your diet without relying on mulitple trips to the store.

    [Reply]

    Adrienne Urban Reply:

    @Beth @ Aunt B’s Kitchen, Great idea! We tend to just do repeats of “thing one” but this is a great idea.

    [Reply]

  • I totally agree, it is possible to eat healthily on a budget, and you’ve provided some excellent tips. Your lentil recipe sounds absolutely delicious as well as frugal. I love comforting meals like that, and the spices you have used sound wonderful!

    [Reply]

    Adrienne @ Whole New Mom Reply:

    @April @ The 21st Century Housewife, Thanks, April!

    [Reply]

  • This looks fabulous! I’m new to eating/cooking with lentils and I am always looking for new recipes! I can’t wait to try this!

    Also, I’ve never cooked with coconut oil…would olive oil work just as well?

    [Reply]

    Adrienne @ Whole New Mom Reply:

    @Alison @ Under the Big Oak Tree, Yes, it would. Sorry for the late reply. I just saw your comment :-) .

    [Reply]

  • Keri Hessel says:

    Thanks for the recipe. I tried it last night and it was delicious!!

    [Reply]

    Adrienne @ Whole New Mom Reply:

    @Keri Hessel, You’re welcome! Thanks for coming back to share!

    [Reply]

  • Diane Balch says:

    I am so with you about eating beans. Not only are they inexpensive they are really healthy. I have a post about Escarole & Beans on my Foodie Friday party today. Please stop by and share this recipe.

    [Reply]

  • What a fantastic post!
    I cannot wait to make this delicious recipe this week.
    LOVE LOVE LOVE dahl!

    [Reply]

    Adrienne @ Whole New Mom Reply:

    @Tess Masters @theblendergirl, Did you get a chance to try it, Tess? I hope so!

    [Reply]

    The Blender Girl Reply:

    @Adrienne @ Whole New Mom, Adrienne, yes! I am on vacation and leaving a comment here was on my list of things to do when I got home. YUMMY! Thankyou!

    [Reply]

  • Its like you read my mind! You appear to know so much about
    this, like you wrote the book in it or something. I think that you can do with a few pics to drive the message home a bit, but
    instead of that, this is great blog. An excellent read. I’ll definitely be back.

    [Reply]

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