Welcome to our fourth post in the Frugal Recipe Series! We try to plan out all our meals ahead of time, which means 99% of the food we eat is cooked at home. Because of this, we are constantly looking for new recipes to try out, but we have some pretty stringent requirements when it comes to what we are willing to make, especially on a weeknight. Besides being delicious, which is a non-negotiable, there are three other necessities for our top recipes. We present, the Frugal Recipe Trifecta:
- Healthy – we’re often only willing to cook one “thing”, which means we aren’t usually making vegetable or salad sides. If we can get the vegetables into the actual main dish, that’s a plus. We’re also looking for some lean protein and healthy fats here.
- Relatively inexpensive – sometimes we splurge a bit, but we are generally looking to stay under about $4 / serving, often well under.
- Easy to make – this is slightly more important to me than Mr. Paradise. If we’ve planned out a complicated recipe for a weeknight and we don’t get home until 7 or 8pm, there’s a chance we (I) might throw our hands up and declare that we are having canned soup instead. Also frugal but not the healthiest choice.
Sometimes we can’t hit all three of these (e.g. we might be willing to sacrifice #1 on occasion for uber delicious recipes, #2 when we have been doing really well with groceries otherwise, or #3 if we have some extra time on a weekend). Today’s recipe definitely meets #1 and #3, and depending on your level of strategery, it can be made inexpensively, too.
Ok, so you know vegetables are good for you, right? And you get your 5-9 servings of vegetables in a day, riiiight? Well, if you’re like me and left to your own devices would eat a diet consisting of chocolate chips, pancakes, and cheerios (maybe an occasional banana), then green smoothies are the way to go. I’d like to say I’m all grown up and I love eating lettuce every day, but the truth is I mainly love eating vegetables when they are covered in butter or some delicious condiment that prevents me from knowing I am eating them.
Here’s a quick questionnaire to know if it’s time to whip out your blender:
- Would you rather not eat a bowl full of greens every day?
- Are you too frugal to buy $4 / serving commercial smoothies? (Hopefully, since you’re on this website.)
- Do you think chewing is a lot of work?
If you answered yes to these questions, then you might want to give this a shot. Here’s just a few reasons why green smoothies are great:
- If you made it right, you can’t taste the “green” in the green smoothie.
- You can get all your vegetable servings in one go.
- You can secretly eat vegetables in meetings at work, silently feeling superior to everyone else.
- You can look like a superstar at the grocery store. “Yes, I am buying Swiss chard, dandelion greens, and organic kale, thankyouverymuch.”
- When you make smoothies, it’s much easier to avoid throwing out produce. Extra broccoli? Get out the blender! Too much green pepper left over? Throw it in! Onion and garlic about to go bad? Don’t be ridiculous, please don’t put onions and garlic in your smoothies.
There’s no specific recipe for a green smoothie. This is the only recipe you need:
- Add water to blender. I usually do about 2 cups in our 8 cup container. I don’t measure. If it is too thick at the end, add water.
- Add greens to blender until about 2/3 full. Any greens. Whatever you want!
- Blend until mostly chopped up.
- Add fruit or other ingredients until blender is full.
- Blend until smooth.
- Store in refrigerator up to 2-3 days.
The truth is, once it is blended the end product is going to taste pretty similar no matter what you put in there, and the flavor is going to be dominated by whatever fruit you choose. Below are some of our ingredient tips.
- Base green: either spinach or kale. Both of these have a very mild flavor and you won’t even realize they are in there, but they are both outstandingly healthy for you. We get the 16oz container of triple-washed organic spinach from Costco for $4.50. Organic kale we just get in bunches at the grocery store for $1-$2 / bunch. Kale is harder to blend up all the way so it makes for slightly grainier smoothies.
- Carrots: The flavor of carrots is so subtle that you won’t notice a taste change when adding carrots. This is a great way to sneak in some more vitamins.
- Swiss chard: Use sparingly for variety. Swiss chard is bitter, and adding too much can give you a sore throat.
- Celery: Awesome even if you don’t like celery by itself. Adds a “fresh” flavor to the smoothie.
- Banana: This is the key to delicious green smoothies. One or two bananas in an 8 cup blender will mask the flavor of just about any green you might put in there. Start with two if you are a smoothie beginner or you just really hate the taste of greens.
- Avocado: Won’t change the flavor but makes for a very smooth, creamy consistency. Plus avocado has a ton of healthy fats that can be hard to get otherwise.
- Any frozen fruit: We buy the big bags of organic frozen fruit from Costco. This includes strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, cherries, pineapple, mango, melon, etc. Sometimes you can get mixes.
- Lemon juice: This is more work but there’s lots of evidence that lemon juice is a nutritional powerhouse.
- Apples: Avoid apples. There is something in them that causes the smoothie to get really airy and separate – not a good effect. If someone knows what causes this, please share in the comments!
- Yogurt: (I used Greek yogurt in the picture above). This makes for a nice texture if you don’t have an avocado. Also adds protein.
- Protein powder / creatine powder: You know, if you’re into that.
- Flax seed: Get your omega-3’s! Buy the seeds and grind yourself if you can (and refrigerate), the pre-ground stuff doesn’t last.
- Spices: Cinnamon is great, also ginger, nutmeg, anything you might put in a pumpkin pie.
What you want to do is add fruits / other sugars only to a point where you still want to drink the smoothie. After that you are just adding sugar and not improving the healthiness quotient.
Since the ingredients are so varied, it’s hard to estimate the cost of a green smoothie. In the large picture above, I used about half a pound of spinach ($2.25), frozen cherries ($0.75), some strawberries ($0.40), a banana ($0.25), and some Greek yogurt ($1.50) for a total of $5.15. (I forgot to add the avocado, oops.) We get about six servings out of one blender-full, which means the price per serving was about $0.86 for this batch. I’m sure this varies between $0.50 – $1.50 depending on what I throw in there.
So, it’s not the cheapest snack / meal, but it might just be the best thing you do for your health all day if you’re like me and you have the palate of a five-year-old. If you try this out, please let us know what ingredients you used and how it was!