Gourmet Munchies

contributed by A.M.

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My husband and I have a horrible secret. We love to eat out. However, we don't just love to eat out anywhere. We love the gourmet food that inevitably involves goat cheese, prosciutto, and balsamic vinegar somewhere in the menu. We do like to make gourmet dinners at home sometimes, too, but it often involves more expense for the ingredients than the result justifies, and the time involved often is a disincentive now that we have a daughter running around.

I had tried to cut down on eating out by constructing carefully planned menus consisting of healthy, inexpensive, but still quite tasty meals. This works for the majority of the week, but at least once a week (and sometimes twice), we get bored and want something different. This is when we would decide to go out to our favorite Food Network-esque restaurant and drop $30 to $50.

I finally figured out how to curtail this urge. These days, grocery stores are carrying natural, organic, and even generic store lines of gourmet frozen prepared food. These aren't TV dinners, as they usually feed at least two people. When I first saw these, I thought it would be such a waste of money, as they often cost in the $10 to $15 range. Then it dawned on me that if we kept several in the freezer, it's not too difficult to take them out on short notice, pop them in the oven or on the stovetop and have a pretty good gourmet meal, saving at least $20 over what we would spend eating out. And the selections can be pretty good.

If you live in a metropolitan area and have stores like Whole Foods, Wild Oats, or Trader Joe's, there are surprisingly tasty meals for two that cost less than $10. You can also have an appetizer night, with a few boxes of hors d'oeuvres. I particularly like the Goat Cheese Quiche at Whole Foods, which feeds two. Of course, most of these meals are not low-fat, but we wouldn't be ordering healthy food at a fancy restaurant anyway. Combine with your favorite box wine, which is another huge money-saver if you find the right one. My favorite is Pacific Peak Merlot at Total Wine. You can have an upscale meal at home without the upscale price tag!

"My Story" is a regular feature of The Dollar Stretcher. If you have a story that could help save time or money, please send it by MyStory@stretcher.com

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