Shaky economy aside, solutions for eating on a budget didn't resonate with cooking-class crowds as the holidays loomed.

Shaky economy aside, solutions for eating on a budget didn't resonate with cooking-class crowds as the holidays loomed.

But the new year, says Mary Shaw, is just the time to rebuild bank accounts and stock a better pantry.

The culinary educator for Ashland Food Co-op is bringing meals for four — purchased for $10 or less ­— to the store throughout the month of January.

"We're always following a theme," she says.

The theme is a continuation of the Co-op's promotion of healthful meals at affordable prices, often the featured dishes at the store's culinary kiosk three times per week.

But rising food costs in a bleak economic climate make simple lessons around shopping in bulk and cooking from pantry staples all the more relevant, Shaw says.

"Good idea," says 30-year-old Jade Bockus, an Ashland resident and Co-op customer.

Bockus says she not only anticipates tasting what the Co-op's staff has cooked up every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday, she brainstorms meals and troubleshoots kitchen techniques with Co-op employee Maria Katsantones, who mans the kiosk from 4 to 6 p.m.

"She's my cooking guru," Bockus says.

"People plan their day around coming to the demos," Katsantones says.

Between 80 and 150 attend each free demonstration, a response estimated by the number of samples consumed, Shaw says.

In addition to recipes, shoppers are nudged toward products available in the store, some of which are offered under the Co-op's "basic pricing" program, an effort to supply food staples without a mark-up.

"Like the stock market, they change, but we do offer them at the lowest possible margin," Shaw says.

Of course, the concept behind Budget Solutions doesn't work only at the Co-op, Shaw says.

She encourages consumers to shop in bulk, no matter the store, and maintain an adequate supply of cooking essentials like beans, nuts, oils, vinegars, broth, salt, sweeteners, eggs, specific meats and produce items and whole grains, tortillas and bread.

"Basically, all you're adding is seasonal vegetables," Shaw says.

Starting Thursday, visitors to the Co-op can taste the frugal flavors of Restoration Split Pea Soup, Smart Chicken Stir-Fry Stew, Enchilada- Style Beans and Grilled Polenta, Sweet and Sour Tofu Stir-Fry, Smoky Black Bean Stew, Savory and Cheesy Bread Pudding, Winter Quinoa Salad, Red Lentils and Greens in Coconut Broth, Hot 'n' Dirty Rice and Bean Salad, Lentil Potato Salad With Winter Greens, Tuna Noodle Salad With Asian Vinaigrette, Tamale Pie and Sesame Citrus Pork.

Or try the accompanying recipes.

Reach Food Editor Sarah Lemon at 776-4487, or e-mail