Frugal living: Homemade tater tots for kids and adults
There's something youthful about tater tots. They're typically purchased frozen, then cooked and served with burgers, hot dogs or sloppy joes. Some families enjoy tater tot casserole, too (check out the recipe at frugalvillage.com/forums/casseroles).
Tater tots probably don't make the cut as a go-to potato side dish in your meal rotation. But what if you made them yourself? Sure, it takes a bit of work, but it's cheaper than frozen, and it might even become a delicious new option your entire family can enjoy.
The first reader-submitted tip shares a recipe:
Homemade tater tots: If I had known they were this easy, I would have made them years ago! I baked potatoes yesterday, then put them in the fridge to firm up overnight. I rubbed the skins off and grated them today, then seasoned and rolled them into balls. I fried them for 1-2 minutes until browned, but you can bake them, too.
I used a recipe for Indian-spiced tots at chow.com, but you can season them however you like.
Reuse coffee cans: They make excellent containers for garage items. Nails, screws, nuts and bolts can all be put in separate containers, labeled and put on a shelf. The tight lids ensure that they won't spill if knocked over.
Lots of frugal cooking tips: Oatmeal is a great cheap breakfast that you can spice up with seasonings of your choice. Rice served sticky with cinnamon and a pinch of sugar makes another nice breakfast.
Almost any fruit can be used to make muffins, if you just learn the correct consistency to make moist muffins, as well as the appropriate cooking time.
You can bread meats and fish with almost any bread product. Combine a few seasonings with ground-up crackers, potato chips or cornflakes to make Shake N Bake. Put the mixture in a bread bag, then drag a piece of meat through an egg and place it in the bag, shaking to coat the meat. Place on a greased cookie sheet and bake.
While most people have heard of "leftover soup," fewer people know about "leftover broth." Take ANY vegetable peelings (carrots, onions or potatoes, for example), leaves off almost anything (such as celery, spinach or lettuces) and ends of veggies (onions, carrots, root crops, etc.) and cover with water in a stockpot. You can also add bones to make meat broths. Bring to a boil, then let it sit on a back burner to cool. Run the broth through a colander to remove solids before using. You may need to run broths made with chicken bones through a strainer to remove bone fragments before using. You can freeze all of these vegetable parts and bones in a freezer bag until you have enough to make a batch.
If you like flavored rices, search the Internet for do-it-yourself recipes. Many Rice-A-Roni-style dishes can be duplicated with bouillon cubes, one or two spices, an onion and a pat of butter. It's easy to cook up a whole pound of rice, separate it into individual meal-sized freezer bags and freeze for later use.
Experiment with homemade sauces for serving with meats. Many of the most expensive are just a jam and two or three other ingredients. Serve with an appropriate vegetable to reduce meat portions. You can also experiment to discover which sauces are nice with a pasta and cut down meat servings even more.
Spinach makes a versatile and healthy salad. Use it in salad until it starts to droop, then wilt the remaining leaves in the microwave for 90 seconds with a little water. Allow it to cool, then freeze it until you have enough to add to a lasagna or quiche. Grind it up and experiment with adding it to almost anything, especially soups.
Check nearby markets for discount sections. Finding a market that regularly marks down meats, produce and breads can save a lot of money. Plan your shopping trip around the days when the manager marks down these products.
• Sara Noel is the owner of Frugal Village (frugalvillage.com), a website that offers practical, money-saving strategies for everyday living. Send tips, comments or questions to Sara Noel, c/o Universal Uclick, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO, 64106, or email@example.com.