Fresh Family Meals Made for Everyday Life

Cheesy Polenta and the Challenge

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Want to know why I didn’t post dinner last night? It’s because I was too busy doing this:

Laying out in the grass enjoying the marvelous unAugust-esque weather. Oh yeah, I also may have been retreating from the three flea bombs going off in our apartment. But mostly enjoying the weather. Let’s not talk about the fleas, it’ll send me into an itching fit.

Since we were without kitchen for nearly three hours, I made sure to pack us a nice picnic.

Moving onto more recent meals. While trying to crunch our pre-vacation budget (we are renting a house on Lake Michigan next month), I found that we really need to tighten our belt in order to have the kind of vacation we want. So that means it is challenge time.

Yup. We are going to try to eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner for 20 days on only $40. We have our weekly CSA share, a garden and a well-stocked freezer, so I think we can do it. We typically spend $150 per week on groceries. So for nearly three weeks, that would be a $410 reduction! Now that is a nice chunk of change to take on vacation with us.

We are going to try to stick to our food philosophies as much as possible, but obviously we may have to make some concessions (buying $5.99 a gallon organic milk is the first one that comes to mind).

I have NO problem with having food be a large portion of income. In fact, I think as a whole, Americans spend too little on food. But for this short period of time, and with the bounty of summer, I truly believe we can still eat real food on the cheap. And I’m taking you along with us. Plus, I think it is a fun challenge!

The 20 Days/40 Dollars/60 Meals Challenge officially starts tomorrow, but I whipped up a test dinner tonight with some pantry and fridge diving. I do well at adapting recipes to suit my taste, but I rarely venture into mixing up my own recipes. Tonight I did and it was fantastic! I’m feeling more confident in my recipe-creation skills and I hope this challenge brings it out in me more.

Parmesan Polenta with Roasted Summer Veggies and Vodka Cream Sauce

It should be noted that I’ve never made vodka cream sauce before, so this may or may not resemble the actual stuff. It has vodka and cream in it, so I figure that’s a good start.

Roasted Summer Veggies

1 yellow summer squash, sliced into half discs
1 zucchini, sliced into half discs
1 bell pepper (any color), sliced into thin strips
1/2 c. cherry tomatoes
Olive Oil


3 c. chicken broth
1 T. butter
1 c. cornmeal (polenta)
1/4 c. grated Parmesan
Salt and pepper

Vodka Cream Sauce

1 T. olive oil
4 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 c. diced onion
2 c. diced tomatoes (whatever is fresh and sweet)
1/3 c. vodka
1/2 c. half and half
1/4 c. fresh basil, chopped
2 T. fresh oregano, chopped
Salt and Pepper

Preheat oven to 450°.

Arrange veggies in a single layer on a baking sheet. Sprinkle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Bake in the preheated oven for 20-30 minutes, or until all veggies are soft and browned.

While veggies are roasting, begin polenta by bringing broth and butter to boil over high heat in a medium saucepan. Reduce heat to low and gradually whisk in cornmeal. Let simmer for 15-20 minutes until thick, stirring frequently. Finish by stirring in Parmesan and seasoning with salt and pepper.

While polenta is cooking, heat olive oil over medium heat in a pan. Add garlic and onion and cook until just translucent. Add diced tomatoes and let simmer until liquid of tomatoes is reduced, about 10 minutes. Stir in vodka and let cook 2-3 more minutes. Add cream, basil, oregano and season to taste with salt and pepper. Cook until just warmed through, 1-2 minutes.

Serve by layering veggies over polenta and pouring vodka cream sauce over top. Makes four small portions, or two portions for hearty eaters.

We served ours with shredded Romano cheese and a sprig of basil on top.

And some nice toasted focaccia.

And a glass of Merlot.

MMMM. This was so incredibly good! The polenta was fantastic. I had to force myself to stop eating it straight from the pan after I tasted it for seasoning. Go make this.

Finished off dinner with a square of Lindt sea salt chocolate.

Tomorrow is the big day to officially start the 20/40/60 Challenge and I’m a little scared, but super excited.Wish me luck!

How do you keep your grocery budget in check while eating real food? Share your tips!

Cassie is the founder and CEO of Wholefully. She's a home cook and wellness junkie with a love of all things healthy living. She lives on a small hobby farm in Southern Indiana with her husband, daughter, two dogs, two cats, and 15 chickens.

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10 Responses
  1. Jenn

    Thanks once again for the wonderful soundning recipes. I made polenta for the first time a couple of weeks ago and LOVED it! However, I made it with water. Will try making it with chicken broth next time!

  2. MegsFitness

    I spend about $40/week on produce from the local grocery store. If I make time for myself to get down to the farmer’s market, I spend HALF that and get much more for my money. I could also control costs (and ingredients!) by making my own bread or other “ingredients”.

    I’ve never been handy in the kitchen and don’t know how to properly choose any fruits/veggies outside of the basics, so it’s a challenge for me to explore new foods (even things as simple as avocado, mango, egg plant or kiwi. These are foreign foods to me that I’ve only recently tried to include in my diet)

  3. Brandi

    You rock! I also follow you on Sparkpeople. I can’t wait to try this recipe. I do believe I will make it tonight. I am so excited to see how the next 20 days go for you.

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Hello. My name is Cassie, and I’m a healthy home cooking expert.

I'm a Certified Holistic Nutritionist, and I've been developing healthy recipes professionally for over 15 years. Food is my love language, and my kitchen tips and nourishing recipes are my love letter to you!

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