As the author of a blog, I get a lot of feedback about our lifestyle. Some people say terrible things, but the vast majority of commenters are kind, well-adjusted humans that don’t mind taking a peek into the life of a family that lives a little differently.
Within that “well-adjusted human” category, there are two comments I hear more frequently than any other:
- “Your food looks amazing! Keep the photos coming!”
- “Wow, your food expenses are so low — How do you do that?”
At first glance, a reader might think these two different outcomes are derived from unrelated behaviors. They are not!
The same process that keeps our food budget low is also what keeps our food photos looking so amazing. What you can’t taste (of course), is how delicious it all is.
Let me assure you that we eat VERY WELL in the Tako household. (Bordering on completely spoiled at times.) All for less than $500 a month.
How do we do it? By staying as low as possible on the grocery store value chain. The grocery store value chain is a stairway to higher-priced items, with the cheapest (best value) items being at the bottom and the most expensive at the top:
6. Seafood and fancy meat cuts ($$$$)
5. Snack foods & Deli items ($$$) — Chips, drinks, wraps, prepared sandwiches, etc.
4. Most Prepared foods ($$$) — frozen burritos, lasagna, pizza, burgers, potstickers, fried chicken, french fries
3. Chicken, Ground Beef, Fruit, Avocados ($$)
2. Eggs, Milk, Bread ($)
1. Vegetables, Grains, & Beans ($)
The grocery store always wants you buying from the upper tiers of the value chain. That’s where the convenience food is, and that’s where the profits are highest. This is why you’re forced to walk through the entire store just to reach the bread, eggs, and milk at the back of the store!
In general, we try to keep our food spending focused in categories 1, 2, and 3. We avoid categories 4 & 5 like the plague. Only occasionally do we purchase items from category 6.
This keeps our food costs low. Not only that, but we do a lot of our purchasing from weekly loss leaders — Items the grocery store puts on sale (and probably sells at a loss) to attract customers.
So what can you eat from a few cheap on-sale vegetables and loss-leader eggs?
TONS of stuff! You can eat extremely well if your willing to put in a little effort and have at least an ounce of creativity!
To demonstrate this frugal food dance, I’ve enlisted a little help — Mrs. Tako is cooking a recipe for us!
Mrs. Tako’s Cucumber Soup
Soup makes a regular appearance at our table, but for some strange reason I haven’t shared any soup recipes yet. Which is really odd considering that we eat soup all the time! Especially when the weather is cold!
Well, you’re in for a treat — Not only am I finally sharing a soup recipe, but it’s a Mrs. Tako original!
That’s right, Mrs. Tako invented this soup recipe! She comes from a long line of soup makers, so it should come as no surprise that this recipe is frugal, simple, and delicious.
AND it can be made from two items that are typical loss leaders at grocery stores — Eggs and cucumbers!
Mrs. Tako’s Cucumber Soup Ingredients:
- 4 Cups of Chicken Broth (instant is fine if you don’t have fresh broth)
- 1 Large Cucumber (or two smaller Persian cucumbers)
- 2 Eggs
- 1/2 Yellow Onion
- 1 Teaspoon of Soy Sauce
- 1/3 Cup of Grated Parmesan Cheese.
- Salt & Pepper
Steps To Prepare:
This recipe begins by heating 4 cups of chicken broth. If you have fresh chicken broth, that’s preferable to instant broth, but instant was all we had during our photoshoot today.
First, get the broth up to a boiling temperature in a medium sized pot. (We’re using a 2 quart pot here). The heat should be set to medium-high so that a gentle boil is produced (not a violent boil).
While the broth is heating up, use the time to prepare the cucumber and onion. Start by cleaning and stripe-peeling one large cucumber (or two smaller persian cucumbers). The cucumber, when clean and peeled will look something like this:
Next, cut the cucumber into 1 inch to 1.5 inch segments (This is about 3 centimeters for metric oriented readers). These 3 cm segments are then sliced into vertical “sheets”, like so:
Then, the sheets are cut-down further into lengthwise strips.
After processing the cucumber, move on to finely dicing the onion. The finer the better. Mrs. Tako demonstrates a good size here in this photo:
By now, your chicken broth should be boiling. Add the finely chopped onion to the broth, cover, and allow it to boil gently for 4 to 5 minutes or until onions are translucent and soft.
While you’re waiting for that to cook, now is the perfect time to prepare the eggs. Crack two eggs into a small container. A pyrex measuring cup makes a perfect container for this task. (You’ll see why in a moment)
Next, add 1/3 of a cup of grated Parmesan cheese to the eggs. We use the Kraft variety, but I’m sure any brand of parmesan would work fine.
Whisk the eggs and cheese together until they’re evenly blended. Take your time on this step and make certain you don’t have any big ‘lumps’ of cheese.
The result should have a very even texture.
Now, set the eggs aside and add the chopped cucumber into the soup pot. Re-cover with the lid, and allow the cucumbers to cook for approximately 3 minutes.After those 3 minutes, the cucumbers should be slightly cooked but still firm enough to add a little texture to the soup. (Feel free to taste-test a few slices to get the texture just right.)
The pot of soup, will look something like this:
Now is the time to add the soy sauce, and a little salt & pepper to taste. If you want more, add more. If you want less, add less. Fresh ground black pepper in particular is a very good fit for this recipe so I like to use plenty.
After that, the final step remaining in this recipe, is adding the egg mixture. This is also the trickiest part of the entire recipe because you can’t just dump the whole egg batch in all at once. It needs to be added slowly in a thin stream, with the heat still ‘on’. The egg should NOT be allowed to pool together.
To do this, Mrs. Tako demonstrates: Start by stirring the soup in a swirling circular motion with one hand, and then slowly pouring a light stream of egg from the pyrex container with the other hand.
Remember to add the egg evenly and slowly. Keep the soup moving in a circular motion. You don’t want to get giant globs of egg, so doing this process smoothly is very important. Eventually the soup will start to look like this:
After about one minute of cooking time, the egg should be cooked enough and the heat can be turned off. The final result should look kind of similar to a Chinese egg-drop soup, but the taste is generally closer to an Italian stracciatella soup. Sort of. It’s a fusion recipe.
I hope you enjoyed today’s little foray into frugal cooking and reasonable portion sizes. On a holiday week when many people are at home preparing to stuff themselves, affordability and sensible eating are not probably top-of-mind.
This isn’t a turkey recipe, but it is delicious.
I hope it’s evident from my many food posts that eating well DOES NOT mean you need to buy expensive ingredients. In fact, some of the best recipes use extremely affordable ingredients!
Mrs. Tako’s Cucumber Soup recipe only has a few simple ingredients, it’s quick & easy to make, fairly healthy, and absurdly cheap when you can find the ingredients on-sale.
One batch of this soup serves about 4 adults and costs roughly $1 to make. The flavor is light and fresh, and it goes well with many protein dishes. Even turkey!
We hope you enjoy it! Happy Thanksgiving!