Now comes the hard part. I have shown that I can get enough food to live on spending only $1 a day, but now I need to learn how to make meals that are appealing to others with that food. The fact that I can't cook (I used the broiler for the first time the other day) will make this all the more challenging (I feel like someone is going to nominate me to be on one of those worst cook reality shows), but if I can learn how to coupon, then I can over come this cooking handicap as well (at least that is the hope). The simple fact that I have no idea where to even start is why I am writing this post and hoping to get your input.

First I need to know what it essential for me to purchase so that I have the ingredients needed to make more appealing meals and then we can begin working on some recipes. What I would like is for anyone with any cooking knowledge to rank what they feel are the 5 to 10 most important things for me to purchase in order from 1 being the most important. A little explanation on why you think it is important would also be greatly appreciated. This is what I have to work with at this very moment as I write this:

5 small boxes of raisins
2 bananas
3 ears of corn
20 lbs of potatoes
1 gallon of milk
29 eggs
1 5lb bag of flour
1 canister of instant oatmeal
1 box Bisquick pancake mix
1 3/4 loaves 100% whole wheat bread
1/2 box of Corn Flakes
1 bag veggie spiral pasta
1 Deli Selections lunch packages (deli chicken, crackers, cream cheese, chocolate)
4 Deli Creations Chicken & bacon ranch flatbread sandwich (flatbread, cheese, sauce, chicken)
1/2 package of chicken breast meat deli style (1 lb)
12 hardwood smoked turkey franks
1 salt and pepper shaker combo
1/2 jar Miracle Whip
1/2 jar of Classico pasta sauce
1/16 jar of salsa
9 packs of Philadelphia Cream Cheese Minis
1/8 package of Knudsen Light sour cream
4 jars of Skippy All Natural peanut butter
2 jars potato salad dressing
1 bag What Thins Toasted Chips
1 Power Bar
3 Caprisun fruit drinks (not shown)

While I can't guarantee that I can get everything that you think I need, I will do my best. A lot will depend on what type of coupon deals appear during the month and if I can leverage those to get the things on the lists you make, but I should be able to get the most important ingredients. All suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

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  1. I would add what I consider “essential”: garlic, onions, green peppers and some fresh (or canned) tomatoes (I live in the tropics, fresh is less expensive!) and some cooking oil (for me, preferably olive or sunflower) …My mom used that as a base for almost anything!
    Also, some spices and herbs are always important when flavoring dishes! (which ones depend on what you like. I always have tons of basil, oregano, parsley, and cilantro on hand)

  2. Try You type in the ingredients available, and it gives you recipes that match. I typed milk, flour, raisin, sour cream, eggs, banana, & potato and got 113 recipes! BTW, love your blog & the $1 challenge:-)

  3. 1 – Flour
    2 – Butter (not margarine or soft spread)
    3 – canned tuna in WATER
    4 – Pasta of different shapes and sizes
    5 – Cheese – Cheddar & Jack in brick form
    6 – various creamed soups
    7 – Frozen chicken breast
    8 – Potatoes

    with these 8 things, you can make at least 15 different easy meals

  4. Sorry, just remembered– assumes you have salt, pepper, & sugar.

  5. Yes – canned tomatoes will enhance almost anything! You can capitalize on those with good coupons/sales (Big Lots is where I stock up in lieu of coupons). Crushed tomatoes are best, and also Tomato paste, because it can be thinned.
    My other big thing is spices/herbs. Again – you can get cheap ones at Big Lots, but I think I saw a coupon for some the other day. I cook for homebound folks out of a soup kitchen one weekend a month, and oregano & basil are my go-tos, along with cumin and maybe chili powder to lean another way. You can make canned/boxed things from the food bank taste homemade, which is great when you’re starting with pre-made taste.
    Oh, one more thing. Canned fruit – drain/rinse it and it tastes not-canned. I like to use biscuit mix along with cinnamon, and turn it into a cobbler. If you have packets of oatmeal, mix it in with your biscuit mix and it’s more like a crisp.
    You can make a lot of pizza variations for cheap – and people think it’s a big deal because it didn’t come out of a box.
    Definitely supercook. it indexes other web-based recipe sources.

  6. Hi, I read your adventures on $1 a day with interest.

    The below are some of my cupboard staples:
    1. Garlic and onions
    2. Herbs and spices (as many as you can assemble from coupons over time; or try planting herbs, now that your garden produce is allowed again)
    3. Carbohydrates (e.g. potatoes, rice, pasta, etc.)
    4. Tinned tomatoes, chickpeas and beans (some vegetables taste almost as good as fresh when tinned or frozen, but many do not)
    5. Condiment of choice (e.g. mustard, relish, mayonnaise, pesto, etc.)
    6. Frozen sweetcorn or other vegetable
    7. Fresh vegetables according to coupons / availability (e.g. broccoli, peppers, carrots, courgettes, mushrooms, etc.)
    8. Chicken stock cubes (home made chicken stock is much nicer, but maybe wait till you are more confident at cooking)
    9. Fresh lemons or good quality lemon juice
    10. Cheese – as unprocessed as possible e.g. good quality cheddar or parmesan

  7. I’m no expert, but I will throw in my 2 cents:

    1 – potato
    2 – eggs
    3 – pasta
    4 – miracle whip
    5 – salsa
    6 – salt/pepper

    7 – chicken
    8 – potato salad dressing

    I agree with the others – can’t imagine cooking without butter, vegetable oil, spices and herbs. (onions, garlic, peppers). I could probably live with a hot pepper blend as my only spice. Finding it hard to narrow down, otherwise. Creamed soup and broth can also be added to pasta, rice, etc. (I like the creamed soup suggestion).

    Anyway, potatos, eggs, and pasta lend to a variety of dishes. Egg salads (why I included miracle whip), potato salads, scrambled eggs/omelets, potato pancakes (eggs and potatoes), hard boiled eggs, roasted potatoes, etc., etc.

    Salsa is an easy way to spice up any dish. Salt and pepper are the basic seasonings you can use to spice up about anything.

    I think chicken is good, though I think I only saw deli style listed. I am sure you can work with that though.

    I am not exactly sure what potato salad dressing is. Maybe be better than miracle whip. I googled it and saw vinegar-based and mayo-based potato dressings, so depends. A vinegar based dressing and a mayo one (miracle whip) would be good.

  8. Based on what you already have, here is what I would get next:
    1- Vegetable oil. It can be used in baking or frying.
    2- Carrots. The ultimate snack or can be used in a casserole or just boiled.
    3-Sugar. No reason needed!
    4-Frozen peas. Can go in a casserole or as a side dish.
    5-Cheddar cheese. Sliced for a snack or grated on top of a casserole or eggs or used to flavor a soup
    6-Rice. Can be used in a soup or a casserole or as rice pudding with your raisins and milk and sugar.
    7-Ground beef. Lots of uses
    8-Cream of Mushroom soup. Can be used in a casserole or as a soup base.
    9-Chocolate Chips. All that flour is begging to be made into choclate chip cookies along with a couple eggs and the aforementioned sugar.

  9. Love this challenge! I am new to couponing and I can’t believe you bought all that food today for less than $4!! Anyway, my top choices for pantry staples:

    1. Pasta and Pasta sauce or just plain tomato sauce. You can make many things, from spaghetti to chicken parmeasan with this.

    2. Salsa. As you already know, can spice up anything from eggs to potatos to chicken.

    3. Definitely some form of oil. I use olive oil the most but it is more expensive than other kinds.

    4. Any type of frozen veggies. I add these to everything from pasta sauces to soups to casseroles.

    5. canned soups, particularly cream based such as cream of mushroom, cream of chicken, etc.

    6. cheese — cheddar and jack are good choices. I’ve also found that if you can find a sale buying block cheese isn’t always cheaper than buying already shredded, so if you can find shredded cheese for the same price, it saves you some work.

    7. tuna or canned chicken.

    From this you could make spaghetti, tuna noodle casserole, etc. I do have a good recipe for you, since you have cream cheese. Get some canned chicken (regular chicken breast works best but I have made this with canned before.) Drain it and put it in a skillet with about a cup of salsa and 8 oz of cream cheese, and cook until the cheese melts. You could reduce the amounts for only one serving, I cook this much for 3 people and usually have leftovers. We use this as enchildas, stuffed in tortillas and baked with cheese on top, or just as a dip for crackers or chips, either way it is excellent and you already have 2 of the 3 ingredients needed for it.

  10. I don’t have anything new to add except for (since you ARE trying to be healthy) add some nuts like walnuts and pistachios and definitely EVOO!

  11. 1) baking powder- you need some sort of rising agent or you won’t have many uses for your flour

    2) cooking oil- evoo is good, but iirc, canola oil is also heart healthy and more economical.

    3) rice- can be used in a million different ways, from breakfast to dinner

    4) dry legumes- I would suggest starting out with lentils or split peas, but most beans are easy to master

    5) bottle or can of hot sauce, like El Pato, Tapatio, or Taco Bell taco sauce- cheaper than a jar of salsa

    6) applesauce- Can be used as a sweetener and also in place of oil/butter in some baking recipes

    7) Italian dressing (or other bottled salad dressing)- Italian dressing has tons of uses. You can use a spoonful in your lentils to add flavor, you can toss your cooked pasta in it to make a pasta salad, or you can add it to ground meat to flavor it as well. It’s fun to get several kinds and experiment. My daughter uses ginger and soy dressing in her stir fried rice. This week in my area, it’s on sale for .49 after coupon, so an entire bottle can be cheaper than a small container of dry spices.

    8) frozen apple juice concentrate- I’ve used this many times undiluted in place of sugar in many recipes.

    9) corn tortillas- very versatile. You can bake them for homemade tortilla chips. You can also fill them with all sorts of fillings and bake them as enchiladas.

    10) chicken or beef bouillon powder- can be high in sodium, but a little sprinkle can add a lot of flavor to rice and veggies.

    11) butter- for all the baked potatoes you can make with your 20 lbs of potatoes.

  12. I got a couple of ideas but you need butter/margarine to start.

    I would be using some of that sour cream (with butter/marg)on a baked (or microwaved) potatoes. You could use salsa too.

    With some butter or margarine and bread I would use some cheese and grill a grilled cheese sandwich.

    With some butter/marg you could be frying up some cubed potatoes and corn sliced off the cob to go with a hot dog for dinner.

    Add an onion:

    With an onion, butter, pasta and eggs you could make yourself a nice frittata. (fry the onions (slivered)in marg/butter add cooked pasta and pour on some scrambled raw eggs and then bake in the fry pan till firm)slice like pie.

    Google some recipes for your bisquick. Bisquick is so handy for pancakes, waffles, etc. My favorite is sweet muffins (need sugar, oil) and eggs. Bananas would probably go good in some baked goods.

    When you add more items I will think of new recipes for you!

  13. I’ve enjoyed your blog so much that I’ll throw my 2 cents in too if it’ll help you keep going. I’ve been couponing for about a year now so I’m used to having to come up with interesting menus based on what the best deals are, but I’m vegetarian so you won’t find butter, milk, eggs, cheese or cream-based soups on my essentials list (although they would have been before going veggie).

    1. oil – I can’t believe you’ve lasted so long without it. I would recommend an olive or grapeseed oil since it can multitask for cooking, baking, and as salad dressing, but both have a lower burning temperature than canola or vegetable oil so if you try to fry with them you have to keep the temp lower.
    2. sugar – I’m not sure what you were planning to do with the flour, but any baking would require sugar. I think you said you were a chocolate fan? Then I would recommend brown sugar for chocolate chip cookies and brown sugar also helps oatmeal out a lot. Oatmeal raisin cookies also need brown sugar and it is good in banana bread…
    3. baking soda – one can lasts forever, there is no way to bake without it and baking your own treats is a lot cheaper. It is hardly ever on sale or in a coupon except at the holidays, but sometimes there are peelies and you are pretty good at finding deals to pay for other things you want (like pb!)
    4. basic seasonings – I originally didn’t like your rules very much because they made no sense to me. Why wouldn’t you be allowed basics like salt & pepper? I would never be able to cook/bake anything without those two and here are the other five I can not live without:
    garlic powder
    chili powder
    vanilla extract
    I’ve gotten coupons for spices on McCormick’s and Lawry’s websites before and Safeway has the generics on sale all the time.
    5. dry beans – they are super cheap, a great source of B vitamins, fiber and protein and can be made into almost anything. (If you aren’t eating meat, it is really important to make sure you are getting complete proteins, iron and B vitamins or you will start getting really cranky and irritable) It takes some practice to get into the habit of soaking them overnight and simmering them slowly, but it is worth it. Black beans are great for soups, empanadas, tossed in a salad or mashed & shaped into black bean burgers. Black-eyed peas are good in almost anything bbq-themed, as stuffing in peppers, and a staple in my bean & veggie stew. I go through so many garbanzos I buy them by the case – hummus, falafel, salads, stewed, in bean burgers… Kidney beans are essential because of their high iron content if you aren’t eating much meat and they also work in all the dishes named above.

    The essentials to bean cooking are these: soak beans for at least 6 hours before cooking in a large pot with at least 3 inches of water above the beans and covered in the fridge; drain and rinse well to remove excess starch, refill with fresh cold water (at least 3 cups of water for every cup of beans); bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer and let cook for at least an hour, but most beans take 1 1/2 to 2 hours; if the water level becomes too low, add more water as needed to keep beans covered; DO NOT add salt until beans are cooked through, salting the water too early = tough beans. And once your beans are cooked, don’t assume they are fit to eat, they may still need another form of preparation in a dish to make a meal. Cooking a pot or two over the weekend and storing in the fridge is a great way to have easy dinners.

    Those are the top five I can’t live without, but here are the runners up:
    6. mirepoix – a fancy way of saying onions, celery and carrots. It is the classic combination that creates the base to almost every sauce, stew, and soup imaginable. Variations include garlic and red or green bell pepper.
    7. canned tomatoes – good for everything from soup to sauce to salsa. Also makes a great addition to bean dishes and depending on the variety (crushed, diced, paste, etc) you can make the same dish a variety of ways.
    8. quinoa – it is cheap ($1.99/lb for organic at whole foods and $1.09 the last time I got it at a regular grocery store), easy to cook, and is the only complete protein out there (even red meat is not a complete protein by itself). It can be used the same as rice or couscous. My favorites are cold quinoa greek salad (mixed with evoo, balsalmic vinegar, diced cucumber, tomatoes, and olives) or warm with black beans, diced mango and salsa (it is a combo that can work with almost any fruits and beans on hand). Just don’t try to eat it plain, it isn’t very exciting on its own. You can cook it with half water and half stock to add flavor or even some juice – pineapple is good in cases when you are going to mix it with fruit. (And there were pineapple juice coupons last week online and in the ads).
    9. fresh lemons – almost every recipe I have needs lemon juice and fresh is best. It can also multitask as a household cleaner or you can make some lemonade!
    10. earth balance – it is the vegetarian version of butter. It is healthier than either butter or margarine, tastes the same to me (and I used to LOVE butter), and works well in any recipe. It is hardly ever on sale but I have been able to find coupons online or I go to Trader Joe’s for it since they have the best price.

    good luck and I’m happy to send you some full recipes if you can’t find them online!

  14. You’ve got enough to make some cool things now.

    Slice potatoes thinly and layer with a tiny bit of flour, some salt, pepper, and hot milk. Bake for 1.5 hours. You can also top with cheese, add meat, or sliced raw or frozen veggies to make a casserole. Easy way to make scalloped potatoes.

    Mix the oatmeal, peanut butter, raisins, and bake for simple cookies. You could also use to get more recipes for the biscuit mix – you could also get cookies, snack mixes, and the topping for fruit crisp out of that if you added some butter and brown sugar.

    If you buy yeast and oil, you could make some pizza dough. It’s just flour, water, yeast, salt, and the oil. Mix it together, and when it’s ready to bake, bake it on your grill. Grill until you can flip it, then quickly build it backwards – meat and veggies first, then sauce, then cheese. You could do a lot with this with what you have – makes great bread for chicken sandwiches, white pizza with the alfredo sauce, olive oil and grilled veggies are good, too.

  15. Just kidding. I totally meant baking powder, not baking soda. But baking soda is great for a lot of things too!

  16. My daughter just suggested that instead of buying bouillon cubes, you buy cheap packs of instant ramen. Do not eat the noodles, throw them away, but the flavor packs inside can be used to flavor rice, potatoes, beans, etc.

    Also, I found a coupon for $2 off a rice product: It looks like it retails for more than $2 a container, but maybe you can find it on clearance.

  17. I’ve really enjoyed reading this blog! I’m in the UK and am astounded at the possibilities of couponing; it isn’t an option that we have.
    Previous commenters have come up with lots of great ideas. It may be that you can get a chunky tomato sauce in a jar that works out cheaper than buying seperate ingredients. You can always add more garlic, onion & peppers as well as meat. At the moment, while you’re fairly new to this cookery lark, it would be one less variable for you… like the difference between browned and golden fried onions for example! You don’t say if you have a freezer; even a small one can help you save food for later in the month. By the way, Huevos Rancheros would be a great variation! I bet there’s an offer on refried beans somewhere if you don’t feel up to starting from dried and raw ingredients. Also, pasta with bacon and peas… Yum!

  18. I think all my staples have been mentioned above, but you wanted a survey of what people thought, so I’ll throw in my opinions too:
    1. Oil
    2. Onions
    3. Garlic
    4. Canned crushed tomatoes or tomato paste
    5. Salt
    6. Pepper
    7. Dried or canned beans
    8. Brown rice or any other whole grain
    9. Whole wheat pasta
    10. Basic spice collection: Italian blend, cumin, chili powder, curry powder

    Also nice to have:
    Condiments (mayo, ketchup, salsa, mustard, balsamic vinegar; whatever you like)
    Coffee or tea!
    Sugar or other sweetener

    With these staples, I think you could do a great deal with whatever food you find on sale. (I focused on things to spice up lunch & dinner, since it’s easy to find good breakfasts and you’ve never seemed to flounder there.)

  19. Thank you all for your suggestions. I am making a list of them all and seeing which ones i can match up with sales and coupons to possibly add to my food stash. While I probably won’t be able to get spices all at once, I hope to add one or two each week (I think I can use CVS moneymakers to get those). Oil is currently #1 on my list.

  20. I am a huge fan of the original Fix-it and Forget-it Cookbook. A “best of” recipe book for cooking with a crock pot. We have bought several copies (and several crock pots) as gifts for friends and newly weds. Many of the recipes amount to “place ingredients in crock pot; turn on (very important step); come back in 6-8-10 hours (or cook on high for 4)”. Very tasty, very easy.

    My other suggestion is to figure out stocks and broths. If you ever have meat with bones (steaks or poultry) you can make a stock from the bones and some veggies without much effort.
    Cooking rice with stock rather than water makes it more nutritious and adds flavor.

  21. 1 – Rice, long grain white. For breakfast, add a little milk and sweetener to leftover cooked rice and warm in microwave. Tastes a little like rice pudding.

    2 – Dried Legumes (Pinto beans, Kidney beans, Black beans, Lentils) You can make soups and chili, throw them into other hot dishes or salads for protein, or even mash them. The larger the bean the longer it takes to cook. (I cook pinto beans in my pressure cooker for 40 minutes.) Lentils cook the quickest and are a good place to start. I would make lentil soup with salt, pepper, chopped onions, carrots and celery. If the veggies are too expensive (onions are surprisingly pricey where I live), flavor with onion powder and garlic powder. Leftover lentil soup will thicken overnight in the frig. Add salsa to that and you have a yummy spicy lentil dish to serve over rice.

    3 – Onion powder and Garlic powder

    4 – Shortening or oil. Baking Powder Biscuits (good with bean soups and any leftover for breakfast): 2 cups flour, 1 TB baking powder, 1/2 tsp salt, 1/4 cup shortening, 3/4 cup milk. Mix lightly and drop by spoon onto cookie sheet, or roll out and cut. Bake at 350 until light golden brown.

    5 – Baking Powder, Baking soda

    6 – Canned tomatoes

    You might want to research sourdough baking. Sourdough bread doesn’t require yeast or eggs – it’s surprisingly cheap. Here’s my own personal recipe: 1 1/2 tsp salt, 1/2 cup warm water, 1 cup sourdough starter (learn how to make your own or “borrow” some), 2 cups flour, 1/4 – 1/2 additional flour. Dissolve salt in water, stir in starter, add flour. Knead dough for 1-2 minutes adding additional flour. Dough will be soft. Put in an oiled bowl, turn, put in a warm place. Let rise or 5-6 hours. Slide into a greased 9 inch cake pan. Let rise 3-4 more hours. Rising time is more flexible for sourdough than for yeast breads. Bake in 350 oven for 30 minutes. Remove from pan to cool.

    If you don’t already know how, learn how to make a white sauce. It is a combination of an oil (oil, shortening, butter, fat, etc.), flour, and milk (or combo of other liquids). You can season it with cheese, wine, bouillon, or whatever. No need to buy expensive cream soups when you can make your own white sauce.

  22. My fiance sent me a link to your blog and I’ve been reading with great interest starting from day one. I got as far as this call for cooking advice and thought I might add a comment. I’m a trained chef and support most of the suggests already listed as kitchen staples, although not being a coupon-clipper myself (yet!) I have no idea how value-centric some of these items are. But if you decide that oil is an important staple the best skill you can teach yourself is to make mayonnaise. That is, being able to emulsify oil and some other liquid using egg yolk. You can do it by hand with a bowl and a whisk or in a blender/food processor/stand mixer/etc if you happen to have access to those things. Mastering the basics of this skill will give you access to an array of customizable sauce options for nearly any meal. Of course there are classic options like traditional mayonnaise, salad dressings, hollandaise, and so forth, but honestly you can take whatever you have on hand and incorporate it, much the same way you were experimenting with mixing foods in May, and turn out a perfectly fine sauce for cold pasta, salads, sandwiches, eggs, meats, veggies, fruits, and just about anything else you can come up with. You’re only really limited by the fact that it’ll break if it’s over heated.

    Another more complicated suggestion if you want to tackle it, is learning to bake bread. Traditional bread only contains flour, water, yeast, and salt. And the yeast for artisan breads comes from a starter which you can develop with apple skins and cores. So the production to ingredient cost in is about as good as it gets. But bread is a much more daunting mountain to climb than my previous suggestion.

  23. 1. Tinned/fresh tomatoes

    2. Garlic & onions (these, plus the tomatoes make a basic pasta sauce that you add to or have buy it’s self)

    3. Dried yeast (It’s opens up a whole lot more uses for your five pounds of flour. Pizza dough, bread etc.)

    4. Learn to make vegetable stock out of your fresh produce scraps. It doesn’t cost anything extra and is a handy ingredient.

    5. A whole/half roast chicken. You should be able to get a lot of mileage from this. Breast fillet (1-2 serves), thigh (1-2 serves), scraps (for soup/salad). Last but not least the carcass can be boiled with vegetable scraps to make chicken stock. Really handy.

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