Radish top soup: and other super-frugal foods we no longer eat

Back when we were just starting out we had no money and very little income.  We also had education debt.  We were frugal to the bone, and we used every edible part of veggies with very little food waste.

Here are some of the things we used to make but no longer do because we don’t have to.  Wasteful?  Well, yes, but also time-saving… and really I’m not crazy about greens.

Radish top soup.  This is actually a pretty tasty mildly spicy green cream soup.  Made from radish greens from the tops of radishes.  You get the radishes, you cut off the tops so the radish doesn’t get wilty, then you use the radish greens right away before they get wilty.  In Radish Top Soup.

Beet greens.  These you cut off the beets, saute in olive oil, and serve with the cooked beets.  These days, I just toss them into compost!

In case you’re wondering how we were able to afford fresh produce on very little money, we’d go to the city’s big open air market near the end when everything was being marked down and get huge bags of fruits and veggies at a dollar each.  As we got more income, we’d go earlier when stuff was fresher and spend more to get less!  Eventually we had enough of a money cushion that we’d walk to Whole Foods and buy from there instead.  (Now we have to drive into the city to get to a WF, so we buy from the fru-fru section at the local chain grocery.)

Chicken leg-thigh combinations.  I would buy these on bulk when they hit 69 cents/lb and boil them for the meat which I would then freeze and add sparingly to future meals.  Clean-up was a PITA.  Now we keep bags of individually frozen chicken breasts in the freezer.

Macaroni and cheese from a box.  Just kidding!  We still eat these, but we no longer wait until they’re on sale, and we tend more towards Annie’s than the store-brand Kraft imitation.  (“We wouldn’t have to eat Kraft dinners”  “But we would eat Kraft dinners, we’d just eat more!”)

Leftover cold pizza from department events.  Now I only eat this if it’s from a good pizza place or is a kind that I particularly like.  Or sometimes I’ll have a piece anyway (because, you know, pizza) but not 3 pieces and I certainly won’t take a box home.

Are there things that you used to eat when you had less money and choose not to eat now?  If you still have less money, are there things you are looking forward to no longer eating or doing?

52 Responses to “Radish top soup: and other super-frugal foods we no longer eat”

  1. eemusings Says:

    I do not eat jam sandwiches for that reason. In fact, I pretty much don’t eat sandwiches full stop.

    I used to buy packs of chips for $1 for an afternoon snack because all the fat and salt would fill me up until dinnertime. Don’t do that anymore.

    I actually like minced meat and sausages, which are cheap, but I’d love to be able to buy prosciutto and salami without wincing.

  2. First Gen American Says:

    Between my mom’s garden and working in food service during college, I pretty much never skimped on food. Yeah, I would take home leftover food that wasn’t at the peak of it’s freshness, but it was still pretty darn good. The hardest part for me still continues to be not stuffing myself with food at any free opportunity to do so. It was pretty normal to be opportunistic with my eating and stuff myself once a day and then not eat the rest of the day. I think trying to eat normal sized balanced meals is the biggest change I’ve taken with my food consumption since having more money.

    I do still periodically get a craving for Ramen, but I never ate them out of necessity.

  3. Perpetua Says:

    For a long while we didn’t eat beans, because my then-vegetarian husband lived on them for years and years. beans and rice, rice and beans. Turns out, it really upset his stomach. But now he can eat them again, which is good, because I’ve discovered the joys of a simple bowl of pinto beans and rice (with pickled jalapeños and chedder cheese), especially since I can get beans and rice in bulk with thrills in equal parts my thrifty soul and my environmentalist soul. I always bought nice, organic vegetables as a grad student. I was super frugal in other ways to compensate (I rarely went out – most grad students I knew drank a lot of money away – and never bought myself anything, basically) – but food was the one place I didn’t want to give. Of course I didn’t eat meat, and we still don’t eat much, which can save a lot of money, especially if you’re persnickity about the kind of meat you eat (as we are; we wouldn’t eat any if we couldn’t get pasture grazed etc etc).

    • Perpetua Says:

      One grad student habit that I’ve kept is my eagerness for a free meal. When there’s a call to take a speaker out or some such, I always volunteer! Can’t turn down an opportunity for a really nice meal someone else is paying for.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        I used to have that too. (#2 here) But eventually after my third year on the tenure track, I’ve decided that my time is more valuable than a meal I can afford to buy at *my* convenience. That, and not having to make small talk with strangers. I am a curmudgeon.

      • bogart Says:

        Yes … count me among those who does include the costs associated on time and introvert-energy in the “benefits of a free meal” calculation.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      We didn’t have enough money to eat meat either (other than the chicken leg/thigh combos on sale) that first year… vegetarian but not by choice. Basically we had income 36K, rent 20K, debt 10K… and we paid off that debt the first year in addition to buying say, furniture. I lost my ability to digest red meat. But once our savings went up, food was the first place to increase expenditures in the direction of quality.

  4. Pamela Says:

    Oh, now I love beet greens! And I liked the radish greens in a stew I made. If I had a lot of money, I’d probably eat out once or twice a week, because I enjoy being waited on.

  5. Dr. Virago Says:

    Rice and beans. *Tons* of rice and beans (wometimes with frozen veggies — the 10 for $10 store brand kind — thrown in). I can’t remember the last time I ate rice and beans.

  6. Cloud Says:

    I used to make my own granola… I stopped doing that as soon as I could. It isn’t hard, or even that much of a PITA, but something about it annoyed me.

    Of course, now I eat oatmeal for breakfast, which is even more frugal. But I eat it because I got in the habit when I was off dairy, and now my toddler expects it. Not to save money.

    @Perpetua- my company is in a hiring boom, which means lots of opportunities for free dinners and lunches. But mostly, I just resent the imposition on my time and try to avoid them!

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      We’ve been buying the super fancy gluten-free granola during my wheat-free-ness and only made granola once. And it was better than the fancy expensive stuff and not that hard to make… but for some reason we didn’t keep doing it. Buying is just way easier. Last pregnancy I ate a tonne of oatmeal but this time around I haven’t been wanting it, possibly because this time around I’m not anemic. Poor DC2 may not love oatmeal as much as DC1 does.

  7. rented life Says:

    I’m in between–there are things I can’t afford, but also things I don’t eat because I’m not a student. I no longer eat Ramen because it’s the only thing we can afford. In college we live off ramen, tuna (which I no longer like), cereal and apples that we could get from the school with meal points. Now we eat real pasta and since my mom cans her own sauve, I get free spaghetti sauce! If I had more money, I’d probably eat out once ever week or two weeks (even with more money, husband’s schedule can throw that off). I’d also eat a lot more meat as that’s the main thing I miss and crave but can not afford to have every day. Mom and dad went paleo–all fruit, veggies and meat. I cuoldn’t afford that if I wanted to.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Homemade sauce sounds good! I love meat. Where we live right now meat is actually less expensive per pound than produce, which is weird compared to the other parts of the country I’ve lived. Carbs are definitely cheaper and filling.

      • rented life Says:

        The sauce is the best, especially since I’m not making it! And I haven’t ate boxed mac ‘n cheese in years, but that’s because I make my own–it reheats better and ends up as more than one meal. And tastes loads better.

        Where we were living fresh produce was much cheaper than where we are now. It’s the only thing I miss.

  8. Anthea Says:

    I’m in the between like rented life but I refuse flatly to eat any form of tinned tuna fish since I ate far too much of it while writing my PhD in the form of tuna mayo pasta ‘something’ (insert what a word here – salad, pasta etc, etc). I got to the point where I could make a tin last a week. I will just about eat it in salad nicoise since I like the rest of the salad. I love beet greens especially if they’re steamed and drizzled with olive oil and smooched garlic – what a trea! I turn radish leaves into pesto since it’s so much cheaper than the one made from basil. I swap pine nuts (yikes expensive) with walnuts or almonds (cheapest nuts at the bulk food store). My big treat for finishing my degree was a subscription for a CSA box for fresh veg.

  9. Ana Says:

    “If I had a million dollars…” (now I’ve got that song in my head!)

    I ate a lot of Ramen; I mixed salsa into it for flavor and “veggies”. Frozen meals used to be cheaper then (sometimes $1 on sale) and I would stock up. Not many fresh fruits or exotic veggies, lots of frozen veggies, rice & beans, definitely the store brand mac&cheese (and yes, I still eat it, but also the fancy Annie’s kind now). I was vegetarian during my poor days so that actually worked out really well for me.

  10. J Liedl Says:

    I ate lots of pasta as a poor student (ramen noodles minus the toxic saltiness of the flavour packet, any kind of noodles that were on sale). I also lived for a month on a daily meal of fish and chips while finishing up some research in the UK. To this day, I don’t want to see another battered piece of haddock. . . .

    For the first few years of my Ph.D., I lived right near campus and just north of a fine market area. I could pick up lovely cheeses, produce and baked goods not too expensively. Then I moved to a cheap and quiet place in the north end that sadly had few market options but a real fancy-pants (WF-style) grocer right around the corner. Nice to window-shop but not easy to live on!

    These days, I coupon like a madwoman, particularly on toiletries, cleaning goods, paper products and pet food. I sometimes even score money off on fresh produce, dairy and meat. A penny (or dollar!) saved is still appreciated, especially as Eldest is only a year out from university herself. . . .

  11. Barb - The Empty Nest Mom Says:

    Oh absolutely yes there were super, super frugal meals in those early years in our home. Lots and lots of boxed macaroni and cheese – I’d add a can of tuna fish for protein – yikes – another .69 cents from the budget. Lots of Top Ramen soup. I’d sometimes add a little frozen mixed vegetables and chopped cabbage. Lots of rice. And I remember consuming a lot of bottled peaches that my mother-in-law brought by. They were a treat.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      We still do mac + cheese + tuna + peas. It’s totally a comfort food to me… something my mom made about once a week back when my parents had to be super frugal.

      We also still do split pea soup and leek and potato soup and vegetarian chili… some super-frugal foods are yummy enough and easy enough to keep doing.

  12. Debbie M Says:

    I think I eat all the same things; it’s just that I also eat more expensive things. And I eat more expensive versions of things (whole grains, hormone-free animal products, shade-grown chocolate, organics of some produce including peanut butter, stuff without partially-hydrogenated oils or added nitrates/nitrites).

    One thing I don’t do anymore is wait in line for free movie tickets. Or shop during tax-free weekend (except at thrift stores, which so far have not been crowded). Sometimes I don’t want to spend the time; always I don’t want to deal with the crowds or the chance of not getting in. I don’t even go to crowded expensive things.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Definitely, we don’t wait in line for things anymore, or anywhere there’s likely to be a crowd. My in-laws still do the early Black Friday shopping and it just isn’t worth it to us. (They always end up buying things they didn’t really want in addition to the stuff on their list anyway, so one questions how much they’re really saving.)

    • Linda Says:

      Same here. I actually enjoy greens and other “peasant foods” a lot, so I still eat them. I was never much into ramen, but I do occasionally get some to eat even now because it’s a quick meal that can be easily enhanced (a few chopped veggies, a hard cooked egg, and you have a pretty good meal).

      I just buy food based on different standards now. I buy and eat only pastured meat; if there is no pastured meat option at an event or restaurant, I just eat vegetarian (or I may get fish, but only sustainably caught ones). I buy most of veggies at the farmers market in season or grown them myself.

      And thank you for the link to the radish top soup! I love radish greens and will make a pot of that (substituting coconut milk for the cream) very soon to freeze. Pureed soups come in handy for me when my braces are really hurting. How did you ever afford the cream on a budget?

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        Well, it would really be more “milk of radish top soup.” Also pureed potatoes can be used to thicken, as can a roux. (That’s not actually the recipe we used– ours is from The Victory Garden Cookbook, and we’d make changes based on what we had on hand.)

  13. bogart Says:

    I almost never ate Ramen, and really have probably never eaten mac-and-cheese (beyond perhaps a taste sometime), so can’t count those among things I’ve now crossed off the list. Also, I love chicken-thighs-and-drumsticks, much prefer the brown meat to the white. So much moister! So. Um. I no longer buy the *really* cheap dog food (for my dog!) though we are still pretty low-end (Purina dog chow). And I had moved away from the baked-potato-as-a-meal thing but am actually sort of wandering back toward that because it’s so easy to do (as a meal for myself, that is. DH would pretty much never accept a baked-potato-as-a-meal-unto-itself idea).

    I’ve mostly rejected buying cheap cuts of meat as a cost saver (unless I like them, see above re: chicken) because I find we don’t eat them (even after buying them). And I definitely buy more stuff that’s organic now and am buying more prepared stuff to combine with other stuff and make into a meal (e.g. just buy the rotisserie chicken, don’t roast the chicken).

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      I also prefer brown meat. But it is nice not having to process them for the meat. If we have them we can eat them as one big chunk of meat baked or fried.

      • bogart Says:

        This is true. I recently used a rotisserie chicken to make chicken salad and while the results were tasty, I’m pretty seriously considering the thought that I should buy and cook my own boneless chicken next time, or — gasp! — buy premade chicken salad.

    • Debbie M Says:

      @bogart, might DH like a baked potato for a meal if it had a hardy enough topping? Like chili or sloppy joe filling or pulled pork? (Ideally those would be leftovers from a previous meal so that the potato meal would still be easy. Though you could use canned.)

  14. Clio Bluestocking Says:

    Ramen noodles and store brand diet coke — or store brand anything that tastes icky.

  15. Sara Says:

    The best investment I’ve made so far as a grad student is a small deep freezer (the tiny freezer on top of a small apartment fridge just doesn’t cut it) when I have extra time I go out and buy in bulk, and then prepare and freeze portions of things like chilli, home made raviolis, chick cutlets… anything I’m feeling like really. That way later when you’re both busy and short on cash, you can just pull good things out of the freezer and enjoy real food!

  16. Practical Parsimony Says:

    I never ate ramen or white rice, no matter how little we had. Ex and I would half an apple and a banana each day. A can of tuna with eggs, pickle, onion lasted two day with us each having a sandwich for lunch. Dinner was a small portion of meat with vegetables–canned green beans and potatoe, for instance. Now, I eat a whole banana, apple, and can of tuna. I just hate all of chicken except breast. Even now, I eat about 1/3 of a breast at a meal just because people don’t need to consume so much meat. Eventually, ex and I were not so strapped for money. Then, I divorced and life changed for the worst.

    Since I heard brown rice was better (over 20 yrs ago) I switched t brown rice. I live dried beans I cook myself. Canned ones are not as nutritious or tasty. Then and now, I cook lots of rice and a huge pot of beans and freeze them in portions. I love beans and rice mixed with no seasoning, not even salt. I love regular pasta but switched to whole grain even though I still live below the poverty level. Some of the whole wheat pasta is gross. I just refuse to buy it and find a brand that tastes good. Regular Ronco spaghetti is a “treat” that I indulge in rarely.

    I found fancy organic, whole grain, imported from Italy, fusilli for $3.98/lb and reduced to $1.79. I asked the manager if I could buy it all for $1/package if I bought all. So, I came home with 17 packages for $17. All went into the freezer for 48 hours then sat on the counter for 24 hours to dry, and now it is in the freezer in quart canning jars. (Plastic breathes) (Canning jars and lids keep it from moisture in the freezer.)

    When I was less strapped for money and food, I read about two doctors in Nashville who ate from dumpsters. I did that for about a year. I fed 4 other people. One woman said she did not tell her son and husband where it came from. They would not eat if they knew. A boyfriend had no qualms. I got dairy, juice, frozen meat, and all manner of vegetables, bread, pastries. It was 17 degrees all day long and I found the meat when it was colder than that at night. I even found eggs with only a few broken in three dozen cartons. I think I had 10 dozen unbroken eggs when I finished sorting. I got from $75 to $150 worth of food each week with only one or three nights at the dumpster, not climbing in, just reaching in. Most of the vegetables were very fresh!

    I have always gone to the Thrift Bread Store to get whole wheat bread for $.99 instead of $3 in the store. I would continue to get that no matter how much money I ever have. I have a freezer and put two loaves of bread in a two-gallon freezer bags–no freezer burn. The bread is 3-5 days before the date on the bag.

    I have hens so I can have truly organic eggs, from hens that are free range and eat no commercial food. My eggs are full of B3. If I had more money and more yard, I would organically raise my own hens to slaughter.

    If I had more money, I would hire someone to clean the kitchen because it is a struggle for me with my disabilities. I would eat more cherries. Now, I just buy half a pound and eat three or four each day. I would buy more pecan halves from the market where I know the woman who has the trees. I eat pecans every day, and I only have enough to last me for the next few weeks. I will be forced to eat walnuts until pecans are in season. I would buy only grass-fed beef and chicken.

    I would still eat greens, sweet potatoes, rice, and dried blackeyed peas.

  17. Laura Vanderkam (@lvanderkam) Says:

    This topic is oddly appealing… I actually like Ramen. I tried it for the first time about 15 years ago because someone told me it was a frugal food, but I found it quite tasty. I have bought it recently. I mix it with celery and spinach to get some veggies in. And I only use about half the seasoning packet to save on some of the sodium.

  18. Dr. Koshary Says:

    (“We wouldn’t have to eat Kraft dinners” “But we would eat Kraft dinners, we’d just eat more!”)

    I thought of this song as soon as I began to read about your continuing to eat mac and cheese. And then I read the quotation, and it made my entire day.

    I ate all kinds of strange things in grad school to save money. The worst idea that I can recall is buying organ meats at the grocery store since they’re so much cheaper by weight than muscle meats, when I didn’t yet have any idea how to cook them. I tried to saute some beef livers, if I remember correctly, and created a godawful stench that permeated my little apartment for days. (This was back before I knew almost anything about cooking beyond some extreme basics.) My aunt visited a few days later, and when she reported to my grandmother that my apartment stank because I was trying to save money by cooking nasty-smelling organ meats, my grandmother insisted on mailing me a gift certificate to Whole Foods so I could buy some “real meat.”

  19. Carnival of Personal Finance #375 – The World Travel Edition — Narrow Bridge Finance Says:

    […] still spending.”Nicole from Nicole and Maggie: Grumpy Rumblings of the Half Tenured presents Radish Top Soup: and other super frugal foods we no longer eat, and says, “Nicole and Maggie discuss things they ate back when they were poor but no longer […]

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