Creative Stretching in the Kitchen: Beverages

by Donna Miller

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Water is one of the most reasonable beverages for a tight budget. We drink a lot of it. We have a faucet filter and use glass or stainless steel bottles for carrying the water around with us. Bottled water is too expensive and not good for either our health or the environment, so none of that plastic, bottled water for us. Filtered tap water, as good, cheap and pure as it can be, can still get boring and sometimes you just need another flavor. With a little creativity and stretching, you can add variety without breaking the budget. The following are some of the things that we use to keep the cost of beverages low and the variety selection high:

Tea: Whether herbal, green or black; tea is one of the other most reasonable beverages to use. A tip to stretching it is to let the tea bags steep in the boiled water while still on the burner and then until it has completely cooled. This makes a stronger base to add water to, using less tea bags. Also for variety, you can buy some of the sugar free flavored tea mix or a flavored tea bag and add a little (not the whole amount) to your plain tea concentrate after the steeping process. We do this with peach teabags, raspberry teabags, etc. Just use one instead of only that flavor. The rest is regular tea.

Coffee: I am a coffee addict. Yes, it's true; I need my coffee in the morning. It really is the warmth more than the caffeine, so decaf works the same for me. Either way, it can get expensive to delve into the "specialty" coffees, creamers, etc. There is no way that I will regularly pay for a $5 coffee at the local (okay, hour away) Starbucks, but my tastes are still that high, so I've learned to improvise.

For regular morning coffee, I add half the amount of grounds the second day to the previous day's grounds and make as usual. So, if I used four tablespoons on Monday, then I use two tablespoons on Tuesday morning and make the same four cups. This stretches the "cheapo" grounds even further.

For that special flavor, I've been known to sprinkle cinnamon, nutmeg or cocoa on top of the grounds before setting the coffeepot to "on." A little vanilla, maple or almond extract to the water makes a nice switch as well.

At times, when the small samples of flavors I cannot make go on sale (for $.50 a pop), I add a tablespoon of that to my regular grounds. The flavor is actually just as strong.

Flavored or regular, leftover cooled coffee (yeah, like that happens often) works great for homemade frozen coffees and lattes!

Concentrated Frozen Juices: These are often a less expensive and healthier beverage choice than the bottled or powered mixes. Look at the ingredients and compare if there is high fructose corn syrup and additives.

We also tend to dilute the frozen OJ or other fruit juices to stretch them longer and the taste is just the same.

Homemade Lemonade: This is a fast, cheap and healthy beverage that stretches any kitchen budget. Lemon juice is high in Vitamin C. We make our own lemonade with two slivers of lemon (for looks and freshness), 1/3 cup lemon juice, 1/4 cup organic sugar and 20 drops of liquid stevia. Put all previous ingredients in a two-quart pitcher and fill the rest to the top with filtered tap water. This is a great treat over those powdered mixes! It's lower in calories than most lemonades and still a great beverage for anyone!

I hope you'll give these creative budget-stretching ideas a try and broaden your beverage variety without broadening your kitchen budget!

Donna Miller is an author, teacher and entrepreneur. Her favorite roles are that of wife and mother to three home-school graduates. The Millers own and operate Millers Grain House, which offers Organic and Chemical-free Whole Grains, Bosch Mixers, the NutriMill, instructional tutorials, recipes and more.

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