KITCHEN DIVA: Spend less while still eating well

Try three cheese stuffed jumbo pasta shells in marinara sauce served with salad and bread as a cost-saving meal.

During these uncertain times when so many are ill, have lost their jobs and are frightened about what the future may hold, it’s easy to feel hopeless or become depressed. Remember, even though things may look bleak, have faith that this too shall pass, that you’re not alone, and that help is available to you... just ask!

Learning how to spend less but still eat well takes skill, determination and knowhow, but it can be done! There are simple ways to stretch your resources when you must cut expenses.

Here’s a list of ideas designed to help you and your family eat well even after your income has been reduced. Most of the ideas are practical, everyday things you can do to cut food costs.

• Plan your meals one week at a time. Take advantage of specials and seasonal foods. Plan meals around featured sale items to cut food costs.

• Make a shopping list. When you get to the store, stick to your list to cut down on impulse buying.

• Find out when supermarkets discount meat, produce and bakery goods as day-old goods, and check items in the “discount” bins for additional savings.

• Buy generic store brands and products on the lower shelves of the grocery store. The price difference can be considerable.

• Shop for food once each week to save gas, time and money.

• Make a pound of hamburger go further by adding breadcrumbs, oatmeal or tomato sauce. You are stretching a high-cost food item with low-cost products.

• Look for coupons before you go, but only for what you would buy anyway. Some stores double coupon amounts for additional savings.

• Use economy cuts of meat, like chicken thighs and chuck roast. They provide good quality protein at a lower cost.

• Use your oven efficiently and bake more than one dish at a time. The energy savings can be used to supplement other parts of your budget.

• Mix one part of reconstituted instant milk with one part of skim milk, 1% or 2% milk. Again, you are stretching a high-cost product with a low-cost one in a way that likely will not be noticed by your family.

• Compare prices per unit: pound, ounce, dozen or package. Most stores provide the information on the shelf label.

• Wrap, store and plan how to use leftovers. Millions of dollars’ worth of food goes to waste each year.

• Make your own convenience foods. The more convenience built into a food product, the higher its price.

• Plan a meatless day each week. Meat is one of the more expensive foods in our diet. Use recipes that feature beans, cheese or vegetables instead of meat.

Here’s an easy recipe for veggie-stuffed pasta shells that makes a great one-pot, meatless meal that saves time and money!

SLOW-COOKED VEGGIE-STUFFED PASTA SHELLS

1 cup small-curd cottage cheese

1/4 cup grated Romano cheese or Parmesan cheese or a combination of both

2 teaspoons finely grated lemon zest or 1 teaspoon lemon juice

4 ounce package (about 1¼ cup) pepper jack cheese, coarsely grated

2 tablespoons Italian seasoning or poultry seasoning

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon ground black pepper

1/8 teaspoon red pepper flakes or cayenne pepper

1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg or ground cloves

1 (10-ounce) package chopped, frozen broccoli, thawed, squeezed of excess moisture

1 cup baby spinach, roughly chopped

16 large pasta shells, uncooked

3 cups marinara sauce, preferably one containing garlic and onions or mushrooms

1/2 cup water

1. In a large bowl, combine the cottage cheese, Romano or Parmesan cheese, lemon zest or juice, and 1/2 cup of the pepper jack cheese, the Italian seasoning or poultry seasoning, salt, pepper and red pepper flakes or cayenne, and the ground nutmeg or ground cloves until well-combined. Fold in the broccoli and spinach.

2. Gently fill the shells with the cottage cheese mixture (about 3 tablespoons per shell), using the side of the spoon to push and pack in the filling.

3. In a 5- to 6-quart slow cooker, combine 2 cups marinara and the water. Place the filled shells in the slow cooker, then spoon the remaining cup of sauce on top. Sprinkle with another 1/2 cup of the pepper jack cheese and cook, covered, on low until the shells are tender when tested with a fork, about 2 to 2 1/2 hours.

4. Spoon the stuffed shells and sauce onto serving plates and sprinkle with the remaining 1/4 cup pepper jack cheese. Serve with garlic bread, toast or rolls, if desired. Makes 4 servings.

Angela Shelf Medearis is an award-winning children’s author, culinary historian and the author of seven cookbooks. Her website is www.divapro.com. © 2020 King Features Synd., Inc.

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