More Dollars and Sense Savvy: Meal Planning from Limited Resources and One Cut of Meat

How do you take a single package or cut of meat and make it last for a whole week of meals? How many of us even think about these things anymore?

Photo credit: Amanda Stiver

The coronavirus crisis has made it cross minds again, and the best place to look is back to the 1930’s when salaries were low, if they existed at all, and homemakers (or women who worked from home before it was cool in this moment of history) used strategic planning to eke out the last bit of everything.

One account goes as follows:

“My husband graduated in the late 1930’s…He was finally able to land one [a job] and after we figured out our weekly budget, there wasn’t much left over for food shopping…To get the most for our money, I shopped at the two markets in our neighborhood to get the best price on staples, vegetables and meat. To stretch the meat…I came up with a strict schedule. I’d buy a round-bone pot roast and cut out the largest portion for our Saturday night dinner… I’d serve more of the same on Sunday. Monday’s supper would be hot beef sandwiches and gravy…”

On Tuesdays the author, Lucella Bowman, would make stew from a small portion of the original roast. Then Wednesday was meat pie made from leftover roast and stew with a biscuit crust. Friday was soup from the round bone she’s cut out earlier and leftover vegetables.

This short memory was from page 157 of a recipe book called, Dining During the Depression: The simple-yet-satisfying foods that saw families through those tough years. Edited by Karen Thibodeau, it was published in 1996 by Reminisce Books.

Just as in the above, one of the best places to search for old time common sense and home economics wisdom are in nostalgia magazines. Titles such as Reminisce and Good Old Days both also publish topical books on everything from the Great Depression and the Second World War, to kitchen traditions and entertainment.

If you come across one of these, nab it. They are oral histories in writing, full of practical lessons drawn from personal, historical experience.

Lucella’s account is a prime place to mine some practical tips:

1. Keep a weekly/monthly budget, and budget for food.

2. Shop around for the best deals, and use your consumer skills to make a limited budget last.

3. Buy mostly staples, milk, eggs, cheese, butter, flour, sugar, spices and seasonings, vegetables (fresh, canned and frozen), and meat. You can make an amazing number of variations with the basics. There is a learning curve, but it will be a savings and a newly acquired skill set.

Notice: I didn’t include fruit, which is now much more of a staple than it was then due to out- of-season availability and shipping. During WW2 in England, fruit was often rationed to go first to children and invalids who needed the readily available Vitamin-C the most. The rest of the population was admonished to get their vitamins and minerals from vegetables instead, and there were a surprising array of “substitutes” for fruit such as carrots for oranges, and so on.

4. Stretch your meat by planning a week’s worth of meals off of one large roast. The author does a great job of outlining how this is possible. Use up leftovers, don’t throw them out. Extend them into a new dish with added vegetables and crusts. Don’t throw bones away…the current fad of bone broth should teach us this. Cook them into a stock and make soup! You get not only protein, but collagen.

5. This is an unspoken lesson, but have a set of simple go-to recipes that allow you to make these variations in a flash. Save the more gourmet or finicky recipes for when there is more availability, or in our case, mobility and variety! Challenge yourself to make things last!

So there we go, one small oral history provides all of these useful lessons. You can do this from a variety of historical accounts and on various topics. Find the lessons and carry them with you into your daily life!

Keep thinking history!

– Amanda Stiver