This month, Cate, from Liberal Simplicity, opened up her kitchen and cooking experiences for our Frugal Foodie Interview. I’ve been inspired by Cate in many ways, and I hope this peak into her kitchen encourages those of you who have been doing this frugal healthy cooking for years and those of you who are just starting.
Cate, I enjoy reading your Frugal Meatless and Almost Meatless recipes on Liberal Simplicity. Have you always enjoyed cooking or did something inspire you to learn?
Thankfully, I’ve never had a negative reaction to cooking…my mom was always a fabulous cook and enjoyed experimenting in the kitchen. But I didn’t do much of my own cooking until I briefly became vegetarian and then vegan as a teenager. Since I couldn’t eat what the rest of my family was eating, it was up to me to come up with my own meals. You can only eat so many Boca burgers before you find yourself on the internet searching for better recipes.
You’ve mentioned on your blog that your family eats a largely vegetarian diet so that you can afford to buy high-quality local meat for a few of your meals. What led you to make that decision?
My husband and I both read Animal, Vegetable, Miracle around the time of our wedding and we were really disturbed to learn more about factory farming (though that’s not the main focus of the book). We started going to a farmers’ market in the area and after buying some local, organic meat, there was no going back! It was so much tastier than what we’d been eating that we were more than willing to pay more for our meat and eat less of it.
With all of the different things to focus on for eating healthier (organic, whole wheat, local meat, etc.) how did you decide to make local meat a priority?
Well, we’re always trying to eat healthier. We buy organics when we can, we planted a small garden last year, and I’m trying to convince myself to cut back on the sweets. But I guess we chose meat because 1) the taste difference is so huge, 2) the health benefits of local meat are astronomical compared to meat from CAFOs, and 3) It made us miserable thinking about eating all of those mistreated animals.
What is your favorite part about eating mostly vegetarian?
It really keeps things interesting! I can’t often fall back on the standard supper of meat, vegetable, and starch, so it forces me to be more creative with my cooking. I find that our meals contain a lot more produce when I’m cooking vegetarian, as well as great sources of protein like beans, etc.
Do you ever find yourself in a frugal and healthy cooking slump? How do you deal with it?
YES! In fact, lately I’ve been in the mood for Chinese takeout and pizza pretty much every night. When I get into a slump, I don’t give in to my desire for constant takeout meals, but I do try to plan no-brainer menus for a couple weeks until I get inspired again.
If you only had $25 a week to spend on food, what would you spend it on?
Wow, this is a tough one. We’ve been very lucky to be able to increase our grocery budget recently and $25 would be hard! Assuming I have some basics in my kitchen already, like spices and cooking oils, and that I don’t have a flourishing garden at the moment, I think I’d go with: milk, dried beans, rice, oats, and some inexpensive produce like bananas and whatever vegetables are on sale.
I know my son and your daughter are close to same age, and I often struggle with getting him to eat what I think is a balanced diet. Do you struggle with this for your daughter? Do you have any tips for encouraging young children to eat healthier?
I frequently struggle with this. My daughter isn’t the pickiest eater in the world, but like any other preschooler, her food preferences are a frustrating mystery to me. I try not to panic if she has a few days of eating a less-than-ideal diet, but in general I try to steer her toward healthy choices. Some winners in our house include oatmeal, bran cereal, yogurt, sliced cheese, almost any kind of fruit, boxed macaroni and cheese (I pick up Annie’s when it’s on sale), sweet potato fries with ketchup, and homemade baked goods of any kind. In fact, she is obsessed with these super-healthy pumpkin carrot cake muffins.
What are your family’s favorite quick, cheap, healthy meals?
For breakfast, we’re big fans of oatmeal! It’s easily adaptable and can be made in the microwave or on the stovetop. My husband prefers regular rolled oats, but sometimes I make a big batch of steel-cut oats and then keep the leftovers in the fridge for a few days. They reheat well and streamline our mornings.
For dinner, I love to make a big pot of soup. It’s not necessarily quick, but the prep time is limited, and I can go about my daily activities while dinner cooks itself. Beans or lentils, some vegetables, and some spices can really form a transcendent meal, especially alongside a good loaf of bread. I adore this spicy black bean soup, which actually does fall under the "quick" category. I serve it with a little sour cream, cheddar cheese, and some tortilla chips for dipping.
What do you think are the 3 most important things to know how to make yourself when trying to save money and increase your health?
Desserts and baked goods in general would be my first pick, if that’s not too broad! Storebought versions are often packed with creepy ingredients, and the markup is just ridiculous. Buying baking ingredients is so much cheaper than buying pre-made baked goods, especially if you buy them in bulk. I also save a lot of money making a lot of my own condiment-type items, like jam, salsa, hummus, and chocolate syrup. Lastly, I vote for yogurt! It requires very little hands-on time and for some reason yogurt is always pricey at the grocery store. This way, I can just buy a gallon of milk and make my own yogurt, without any gelatin or random additives.
What is, in your opinion, the strangest thing you do to save money in the kitchen?
I don’t know that I really do anything very strange except for saving every little bit of everything that I can, which is probably strange to some people. If I have a cup of buttermilk in the fridge that I can’t use right away, I freeze it. If I have two carrots I won’t use right away, I cut them up and freeze them. I hate waste, and those odds and ends always come in handy.
As a mom and blogger, how do you find the time to cook and clean along with everything else there is to do?
Well, the cleaning really doesn’t happen as much as I’d like it to. As for cooking, I’m extremely lucky that my husband gets home in the afternoon each day, so he’s around to play with our daughter while I cook dinner. That’s a lifesaver. Other than that, I just try to plan ahead and make cooking for my family a priority. I could use that time for other things, but good food is important to me. I’m hoping that once our daughter is a little older, she’ll be able to help out more in the kitchen and that cooking will serve double-duty as bonding time for us
Do you have any suggestions for people who want to start eating healthier and more frugally, but don’t know where to start?
Pick something small! Start packing your lunch. Eat oatmeal with fun add-ins for breakfast. Brew your tea or coffee at home. Try cooking one or two meals from scratch a week. Don’t try to do it all at once, or you’ll get burnt out. I’m still working toward making my family’s food healthier and more frugal. It’s a process.
WHAT ABOUT YOU?
Do you have a question for Cate? This weekend she is going to hang out in the comment section and be available for any questions you have for her. So speak up!