Creating, maintaining, and rotating a well-stocked pantry (and freezer) can be a great way to create meals for your family that are both healthy and frugal, even, and maybe especially, when time is at a premium. Words like instant, fast, and convenience can be quite appealing when we are short on time or inspiration. But, in general, whatever I think I am saving in time, usually ends up costing more – financially and nutritionally.
I have found that the quickest route to the convenience foods, or the local fast food restaurant is a lack of proper planning. (That is probably a whole post of its own!) And, while I want to avoid that whenever possible, I also understand that, sometimes, even the best laid plans go awry. Things happen that can make a trip to the grocery store virtually impossible. Illnesses (kids, or mommy)…traffic (for those of you working outside the home)…blizzards (okay, so I can’t use that excuse, but some of you can!)…or just an unexpectedly busy day. Keeping ingredients on hand that will allow you to create meals directly from your pantry (or freezer) is a great way to plan ahead for those things that you just can’t plan for!
This is one of my favorite “pantry” meals. But, it finds its way on to our (planned) menu fairly regularly as well! It is healthy, very economical, and so easy.
Lentil & Brown Rice Casserole
by Sue Gregg, from “The Busy Woman’s Main Dish Cookbook”
Published by Transitions Publications (copyright 1986 by Rich and Sue Gregg)
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 1 ½ hours
3 cups chicken broth or stock
¾ cup lentils
½ cup brown rice
¾ cup dried minced onion (or you can use fresh onion, minced fine)
¼ tsp (dried) sweet basil
¼ tsp (dried) oregano
½ tsp garlic powder
1-2 cups grated cheddar cheese (optional)
Preheat oven to 350º.
Combine first 7 ingredients in a baking dish.
Cover, and bake for 1 hour and10 minutes. (If the liquid has not completely absorbed into the rice and lentils at this point, just continue baking, covered, checking every 10 minutes.)
Once all liquid has been absorbed, remove from oven, sprinkle cheese on top (and stir some in, if you would like).
Return to oven, and continue baking, uncovered, for another 20 minutes.
Tips and Variations:
This is great as a side dish with grilled chicken, or fish. But, I usually make it as a main dish and serve it with a (spinach) salad and whole grain bread (my friend has a great whole wheat bread recipe that is really good with this!).
Including one (or even a few) meatless meals in your weekly menu is a great way to stretch your budget!
You can make this a vegetarian/vegan dish by using vegetable broth in place of the chicken stock, and omitting the cheese (or is there a vegetarian/vegan substitute? I don’t know.).
This works out to less than $2.00/person…possibly less if you have a larger family!! (But, I almost always have leftovers – which are great for lunch the next day, or even another dinner. And, because the recipe doesn’t use a whole bag of lentils or rice – for our family – I can usually get at least 3 recipes out of each bag…making the second and third round…free?)
Here is the breakdown:
Brown Rice: $2.99/bag
Cheese: $1.60 for about 1 ½ cups ($4.99 for 32oz ($0.16/oz) – I buy the large block of cheese, and shred it myself, rather than buying the pre-shredded bag. It is cheaper, and, I recently discovered that the pre-shredded stuff in the bag is not gluten free! This is pretty much a non-issue for our family, but since we do have several friends who need to eat gluten free, that was good to know!!)