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April 2024--The Use-It-Up Frugal Salad by Makayla King

As a party of five, my husband, three girls, and I love our time together around the dinner table every night. We say our highs and lows from the day, tell silly jokes, but most importantly, allow ourselves to share time with great food, love, and prayer. Creating memories around meals has been a divine part of blending our sweet family into this beautiful bubble, and we vehemently protect our special time together.

Woman holding salad in casserole dish

My husband and I both grew up with four siblings, and our parents valued dinner time. Each of our families had three boys; oh, what a joy that must have been for our moms to keep enough milk in the house! Being frugal was something that was modeled for both of us as children, as both of our moms chose to be wise about stretching finances to fit the needs of our big families. I am grateful for our mothers’ guidance around cooking and food prep, as it has taught us the value of food for nourishment, daily meals together, and how to stretch a dollar.

In today’s world, inflation has caused food prices to skyrocket. In order to create a well-balanced nightly meal for ourselves and our children and also stay within the food budget, we are creative and thrifty. This means we don’t allow food to go bad. We purchase in bulk ahead of time, individually vacuum seal and freeze our meats, and always eat our raw fruits and veggies first. (Never wash your fruit and vegetables ahead of time. Adding this moisture to them will encourage them to turn quickly.) We also buy fewer options for snacks, emphasizing healthy options. However, my husband always finds a way to sneak some junk into the cart, such as chips, fruit roll-ups, and candy. I pretend I don’t notice, and then he makes it last a long time.

As an active family, it is important for high-protein foods to be incorporated into our diets. Our girls are athletes and prefer outdoor rec over television. Keeping them nourished is a high priority. In addition to protein, we believe fruits and vegetables are equally important for the development of their minds. Salad is a go-to side for us as a family, and I find myself leaning toward salad whenever I am asked to bring a dish to a gathering. I gravitate to salad prep because it allows me to use up food before we lose it! I can be as creative as I would like while also incorporating protein, carbs, and healthy fats all in one dish in just a few steps.

How To Start Your Use-It-Up Salad

To break it down for you very simply, I begin with a blanket of lettuce. This can be whatever we have the most of in the fridge at the time. Romaine, arugula, butter lettuce, spring mixes, or even plain iceberg can be a wonderful bed for your jumble. I enjoy preparing a platter for the salad instead of a bowl to allow the medley even distribution. A favorite of mine is an antique glass tray set in silver from my husband’s grandmother.

Next, I take either fresh lemon or lime juice and sprinkle about a tablespoon on top of the lettuce. This adds extra flavor and allows the lettuce to keep longer.

Give It Color

Then, I choose my fruits (yes!) and veggies based on what we have available in the fridge. You could attempt to match the color theme of a holiday or be creative and choose as many different colors as possible. Sometimes, I will stick with one color theme. Examples could include:

● Red- cherry tomatoes, red peppers, strawberries, dried cranberries

● Green- green peppers, cucumbers, avocado, green grapes or green apples

● Orange- carrots, orange peppers, mandarin oranges

● Yellow-yellow peppers, corn (cold and roasted), pineapple

After laying the fruits with the vegetables, I add a coordinating garnish such as cheese (fresh parmesan, mozzarella, or even diced-up string cheese is a family favorite!), hard-boiled eggs, or crunchy bacon. (This is when you would place your meat if you are choosing to do so. Although we rarely add our main protein to the salad, we would rather serve the salad with a side of grilled chicken, tuna, steak, or salmon.)

Add Nuts and Spices

Next, I add one type of nut. We always have either almonds, walnuts, or pecans handy.

Finally, to literally spice it up, I add fresh or dried herbs on top. This is the best part, as it brings all the flavors of the salad together and makes it look oh-so-pretty! I prefer dill, Italian seasoning, salt and pepper, or lemon pepper.

Wisely, Leave It Undressed

The very last step is possibly the most controversial: keep your salad naked.

Yes! In order to stay frugal, never, ever dress a salad. It should be served, delivered, and stored in the buff, absent any sort of sauce. This allows you to present options to those you are serving and enables you to store the rest of the salad for another meal without it going bad if it is not finished. In order to prevent it from going soggy, I also use my mom’s trick of folding a paper towel and laying it on top of the salad in its container. This will absorb excess sweat from the fruit and vegetables, keeping your salad crisp.

The idea of the use-it-up salad is to enable you to create both frugal and healthy meals for your family at the same time. Following and purchasing a recipe can be daunting and expensive, so allow yourself to have more fun with food prep, lean into your artistic side, and make the most of what you already have in your kitchen. As a result of this, you will find yourself saving money, regularly purchasing a healthy variety of fruits and vegetables in order to have enough variety in your meals, and curating your palette toward savory or sweet preparations, naturally.

Watch Generations Repeat This Process

Perhaps the most important point, however, is this. Choosing to make more frugal decisions around food prep and consciously sharing a daily meal will enable you to model those commitments just as my mom and mother-in-law continue to do, thus creating generations of wealth in pocketbooks and souls.

Finally, other ingredients we often use in our salads include blueberries, raspberries, green or black olives, mushrooms, navy or black beans, sweet potatoes, mint, red onion, beets, green onions, celery, broccoli, mango, water chestnuts, artichoke hearts, quinoa, pepperoni, jack, cheddar or blue cheese. So be creative and frugal, and watch your family thrive!

Makayla King is married to The Frugal Catholic's second son, John-Michael. Their family lives in beautiful Colorado. Makayla is an excellent cook, and, as you have just read, she wisely uses the family's leftovers. However, no leftovers remained from this excellent family dinner!

male and female couple smiling over their cooked pot-roast

Genesis 9:3--"Every moving thing that liveth shall be meat for you; even as the green herb have I given you all things."


Martha Wild King, M.Ed., Author

The Frugal Catholic: Learn to live on less to give and save more.

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