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Money Wise--Meals and Money

It's no secret that cooking your own meals--as opposed to eating out--can save you a lot of cash. But what you cook can also have an impact on how much you save.

Lee Dubose is a personal chef. She travels from home to home in Savannah, creating menus based specifically on her clients' tastes. But when cooking at home, Dubose bases the menus on the family budget.

"We have student loans and car payments and mortgage, so it just makes sense to budget when cooking and grocery shopping," she said.

She has several meal ideas, but two in particular are the least expensive and most healthy. First, lemon herb chicken and broccoli couscous. With only a handful of ingredients, it's simple, tasty, and most important, cheap. Dubose's tip: avoid boneless, skinless meat.

"I used chicken thighs," Dubose said. "They are $1.69 a pound as opposed to $4.99 a pound. You get a lot more bang for your buck there."

For the veggie part of the meal: "Broccoli is in season now, it was 99 cents a bunch."

That, coupled with a box of couscous, and you've got the family fed for next to nothing.

Another dish on the list: Lebanese lentils and rice. This one is full of flavor, and costs so little, because beans are the primary ingredient.

"It's an inexpensive way to get a good source of protein without the meat," said Dubose.

The flavor comes from a just one spice, and a little salt and pepper. Plus caramelized onions top it off. "These are just normal white onions, 89 cents a pound," said Dubose.

One budget, and two meals. Dubose says both feed a family of four with leftovers. And if you're wondering how much they cost: "Everything you see here, except for the seasonings which I had on hand and the olive oil, it was 10.67, which includes tax," Dubose said.

And if you'd like to try these, here they are:

Mijardarah (Lebanese Lentils and Rice)

1 c. lentils
salt and pepper to taste
3 c. water
2 c. rice
1-2 t. cumin
2 large onions, halved and thinly sliced
1 1/2 t. olive oil

Combine the lentils with the water, salt and pepper in a pot over medium high heat. Bring to a boil and cook over medium heat for about 7-8 minutes, or until the lentils are half cooked. Add the rice and the cumin to the lentils. Bring to a simmer and cook until the rice is tender and the water is absorbed.

In a large nonstick skillet over medium heat, cook the onions until they turn dark brown, about 30-45 minutes. Stir occasionally.

Garnish the mijardarah with the caramelized onions. This serves 4 as a main course.

Lemon Herb Chicken over Broccoli Couscous

1 lb. chicken thighs
zest of 1 lemon
1 t. Italian seasoning
1 clove garlic, smashed
2 T. oil (I use extra-virgin olive oil, but use what you have) pinch of salt and pepper 1 box plain couscous 4 c. broccoli florets

Preheat the oven to 350°.

Remove the skin from the chicken thighs. In a zippered plastic bag, combine the chicken, lemon zest, Italian seasoning, garlic clove, oil, salt and peppers. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour. This can be done the night before.

Arrange the chicken in a baking dish, pouring some of the marinade over it. (Discard the rest of the marinade.) Cover the dish with foil and bake for about 20 minutes. Remove the foil and continue to bake for another 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and set aside.

While the chicken is cooking, prepare the couscous according to the directions on the package. Steam the broccoli in a little bit of salted water for about 5 minutes, or until fork-tender.

To serve, combine the couscous and broccoli and place on a platter. Arrange the chicken over the couscous and broccoli and drizzle some of the pan juices over the whole thing. This serves 4 as a main course.

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Reported by: Dmitra Denmark,

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