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Kate's in the Kitchen: Bistro-Style Lunch On a Budget - Big Savings

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New electronic scale

This week, I’m finally getting serious about budget-tracking!

Fed up with my attempts at calculating the cost of my meals, I invested in an electronic kitchen scale. Suddenly it’s simple to weigh in metric when a recipe calls for it, and I don’t have to guesstimate the amount of nuts or berries to add when they list the amount in pounds instead of cups.

But even better, the real reason I ventured into that obnoxious box-store that shall not be named to obtain my precious scale, is that I can now prove the possibility of eating well on a budget. Now, for the first time, it becomes an actuality, backed up by solid figures.

You can actually eat well (organically, sustainably, minimally processed and with minimal impact) on a budget! I’m here to tell you so.

Bistro lunch for two (at home)

As my first experiment, I fixed up a simple lunch for Ian and I, keeping track of price per pound and weighing each ingredient. I called this the “Bistro Lunch,” because the quality of the food is something that I might expect if I went to a place that said “bistro” on the sign.

The fare is standard – a BLT with a side of soup and some lemonade – but the ingredients are special. I picked up a day-old loaf of artisan bread at a local bakery for $2: garlic and potato sourdough. At the farmers market, we splurged on bacon from a sustainable Montana farm. The produce came from our co-op, and is certified organic.

Olive-oil mayo made a healthier spread for the sandwich, and Ian snagged some discounted milk, coming from a local, biodynamic dairy (a whole gallon – and we had to use it up quick!). Unable to afford the highest-priced cheese and butter, we settled for some from farmers who pledge to use no growth hormones.

I tallied up the cost of the meal and compared it to the price of a similar meal at two local restaurants. Our meal cost less than half of what we would pay eating out, and took little more than 30 minutes to make. And, face it, you could wait that long in any restaurant!

So without further ado, here is my recipe for a cheap and delicious (and rather large) bistro-style lunch. I might add that it could be made even cheaper… the fancy salad mix and biodynamic milk are nice but not a necessity; if you’re on a very tight budget, look to support companies like Darigold, which is farmer owned, and Tillamook which does not use growth hormones.

Who needs the frilly toothpicks?

BLT’s  for two

4 slices of crusty bread…… 1/3 of a $2 loaf, $0.67
6 slices of lean bacon…….. $8.79/pound, $2.28
1 large tomato…………….. $1.69/pound, $0.53
A handful of salad mix…… $4.29/pound, $0.27
Mayo……………………….. $0.10/tablespoon, $0.20






Cook the bacon in whatever your preferred method… here’s mine: bake at 400ºF for twenty minutes, flipping the bacon over once at the 10 minute mark. Drain the fat into a jar – it should not go down the drain (or in the garbage while hot) and you can save it to flavor soup and other dishes. The rest is self-explanatory…slice the tomato, toast your bread, and layer your sandwich!

Cheesy Broccoli Soup, or Creamy Vegetable Soup for 2 rather large bowls, or several small cups

Lovely lemonade

2 Tablespoons butter………….. $3.26/ pound,  $0.10
½ a yellow onion, diced………. $0.99/pound,  $0.54
2 Tablespoons flour……………. $0.41/pound,  $0.02
2 cups milk……………………… $4.50/gallon, $0.56
1 cup grated cheddar cheese… $2.62/pound, $0.41
Salt and pepper
3 cups raw broccoli, chopped… $1.24/pound, $1.16
2 cups roasted veggies









In a saucepan, heat the butter on medium low. When it’s melted, add the onion and cook until translucent. Then sprinkle in the flour and stir to combine. When the mixture forms a paste, pour in a little of the milk. Whisk and wait for it to thicken; add more milk and repeat until you’ve used all the milk.

At this point you have a lovely base for a creamy soup. I happened to have leftover roasted veggies in the fridge, so I simply added two cups of already cooked veggies, stirred in the cheese, and seasoned to taste. For creamy broccoli soup, add three cups of chopped broccoli and let it simmer until the broccoli is cooked; then stir in the grated cheese and season to taste.

If you prefer a thinner soup, simply add a bit of vegetable or chicken broth. For an even creamier texture, let it cool before pureeing in the blender. Reheat to serve.

Find my simple lemonade recipe here (omit the basil).

The greasy burger-joint down the street The upscale downtown bistro Our kitchen
Sandwich $7.50
BLT with a cup of soup
$4.75 half
$9.25 whole
$9.75 combo –
1/2 sandwich and cup of soup
$1.99 whole sandwich
Soup $3.25  cup
$4.25  bowl
$4.95 cup
$6.45 bowl
$1.45 bowl
Drink $2.25 large juice
(no lemonade)
$1.50 small soda $0.69 large lemonade
Meal for one
Meal for two
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