Cooking on a budget

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My parents are no strangers to making a dollar stretch, both of them being children of the Depression and having raised six kids on a teacher’s salary. Some of my favorite recipes on this site are those inexpensive dishes that my folks made for us practically every week when I was growing up, like baked chicken, chili beans, tuna macaroni salad, enchiladas, or hamburger and macaroni. Even today, if you popped in for dinner unexpectedly, likely one of those would be on the menu that night. And if you were me, you would be darn pleased. Cooking on a budget doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice flavor or nutrition.

Some of the themes that mom and dad have perfected over the years in their practical budget-mindedness when it comes to food and cooking are:

1 Chicken: buy it bone-in, skin on. It’s cheaper. Buy thighs. More flavor and meat for the money. Save the bones, either before cooking or after a meal. Freeze and use later for making chicken stock. Not only is the marrow from bones incredibly good for you, but if you already have the bones, the stock you can make from it is practically free.

2 Mexican food. Corn tortillas and beans are cheap, and combined make a complete protein. The beans are especially economical if you buy them dry and cook them yourself, instead of using them from a can. Add some rice and salsa and you have a filling, nutritious, delicious meal.

3 Eggs. Great source of inexpensive protein. Make hard boiled eggs for sandwiches or scrambled eggs for breakfast.

4 Make stews with cheaper, tougher cuts of meat, like beef chuck roasts or pork shoulders. Low and slow braising completely tenderizes the meat, and the flavor is amazing. You can also brown a rump roast on high heat and then lower the heat for low slow cooking for roast beef.

5 Turkey legs and thighs. Best deal out there. You can braise them or make turkey stew.

6 Make your meal go farther with potatoes, rice, pasta, or tortillas.

Those are just a few of the ideas I’ve observed from my parents. Personally my favorite budget meal is a peanut butter sandwich. Do you have a favorite tasty and nutritious “budget” menu? If so, please let us know about it in the comments. (By the way, I’ve added a new category of Budget Recipes to the site.)

117 Comments

  1. anonymous in a cash pinch

    Yeah, I’ve been eating a lot of beans and rice lately because I just got into a little bit of debt with medical bills. And I’m eating oatmeal a lot more, too. It’s amazingly cheap, and you can really change it up with different add-ins of fruits, nuts, and sweeteners.

  2. whitney

    One of my favorite cheap meals is pasta with tomato juice. Everyone always thinks this sounds so weird, but it’s something I’ve been eating my whole life! The best pasta to use is something small–little shells or stars or alphabet pasta, for example. cook & drain the pasta, then add tomato juice (it shouldn’t be too soupy, but it shouldn’t be too thick either). I also like to add a little shredded cheddar or colby-jack cheese on top. This goes great with a grilled cheese sandwich!

    • Stargazer

      Because I find the tomato juice too thin and watery in the final dish, I cook the raw macaroni right in the tomato juice. It absorbs the flavor, and the end product is not too watery.

  3. Lauren

    I’m totally all for budget cooking!! You don’t even have to have a large family to benefit, as any of those dishes you’ve posted can be made in advance & frozen in portions. I did that for a long time when I first moved out of home. I have a recipe for Baked Cauliflower in White Sauce (http://lusciouslawns.wordpress.com/2008/07/24/baked-cauliflower-in-white-sauce-a-family-favourite/) that is really cheap and easy, when when you use produce that’s in season you can get them from farmer’s markets for one or two dollars each! And since cauliflowers are in season in the colder months, this is a great dish to warm your belly.

    Oh and don’t forget budget desserts either! You’ve mentioned eggs & their benefits, and they can also be used to make wonderful custard. I have a recipe here (http://lusciouslawns.wordpress.com/2008/09/27/a-cup-of-caramel-custard/) for a delicious warm dessert using only basic ingredients, and this can be served with any fresh fruit, or canned if that is not available (eg canned peaches or pears, delicious!).

    I think using fresh produce that’s in season is really important, and not only for saving money. Fresh produce it better for you because it hasn’t been in cold storage for 6 months…. Also by buying locally at markets means that they haven’t traveled halfway across the county… Anyway thanks for a great post!!

  4. Monica

    My budget food tips :
    -Invest in a pressure cooker. It costs money initially, but it takes the annoyance out of homemade stock, dry beans, and other long-cooking foods that are more expensive to buy ready-made. It is much more tempting to save bones and chicken carcasses if I know I can have my stock ready in 25 minutes instead of 3 hours, or beans in 10 minutes instead of overnight.
    -Always shop with a list, and plan things like roast chicken + chicken soup in the same week so you use every part of the chicken/bones without needing to worry about storing it.
    -Reduce ground beef to half of what the recipe requires. You can either replace with lentils, or just leave it out completely. For example, use one pound of ground beef and divide it between chili and meaty spaghetti sauce. You won’t notice there is less, and if you brown it all at once, you save yourself a step later in the week for the next meal.
    -Eat (seasonal) vegetarian meals a few times a week.

  5. astrorainfall

    I have a Chinese homey suggestion: Savoury brown rice porridge with chicken meat balls, dried scallops, and shredded cabbage.

    All you need is to pop a piece of chicken stock cube, pepper, soy sauce, sesame oil into the porridge.

    Minced chicken breast is always the cheapest (and the least fattening!) and I mix in an egg and white onions with salt and pepper. You can stretch this delicious meal, too, since a pot of porridge goes a long way.

  6. carol

    Thanks for the idea, Elise. Here, in Spain, there is a great economical crisis and the food is more expensive each day. Potatoes are a good solution: cheap and various recipes.
    A lot of kisses

  7. Jennie

    My favorite budget tip in the kitchen is to save bits of leftover vegetables, either cooked or uncooked, and make a soup at the end of the weekend to use during the week for lunches.

  8. Lynn

    Great tips. We can learn so much from the older generations. Thanks for sharing the ideas. And a budget section to your site is a great idea. Two of our favorite budget meals are black bean burgers and salmon burgers. Both recipes are on my site. Soups can also be budget friendly. Thanks agian for the great ideas.

  9. Keegan

    I am a big fan of eggs, they are so versatile and very filling. I make toad in the holes for breakfast every weekend. If I have a little leftover meat I make scrambled eggs with it and throw in any leftover veggies. We love onion and spinach in ours. I think soups are great too because they make a lot with little ingredients. Our current favorite is french onion au gratin.

  10. Christine

    New favorite budget meal, especially now that hearty winter beans are plentiful and cheap: black eyed peas w/ collards or other green over rice.

    Saute a couple of cloves of minced garlic, a chopped onion, and a chopped chili in oil (or bacon fat, cooked bacon reserved and crumbled), add dried beans and water just to cover. Cook until tender. Season with salt, pepper, pimenton and a bit of cumin. Add chopped cooked (steamed or boiled) greens. Let cook until good and thick. Serve over cooked rice with some of the crumbled bacon and hot sauce.

  11. Thao

    I loved this entry! Especially relevant for these distressing times.

  12. Katie

    Great post Elise! Good tips.

  13. Jenn

    I’m so happy to see your Mexican food advice. That’s my favorite budget tip. I love pinto beans in a crock pot–just add dry beans, onion, jalapeno, plenty of salt, and enough water to cover. Cheap, delicious, and convenient!

  14. Nellie

    My college roommate and I almost started a blog called Krazy Kollege Kooking. The jist of it: cooking fancy on a college budget. Of course, then we realized that the initials were KKK, and we had midterms to attend to, so we never completely got it off the ground.

    This post is a reminder of our Microsoft Word plan documents littering our desktops!

  15. Chad

    The #1 money saver for my family has been actually making a weekly menu, a corresponding grocery list and then executing on that list *only*.

    I used to walk around the grocery store to get dinner ideas, and always ended up with way more than I needed.

    We actually bought a chalkboard for the kitchen. On it we put the weekly menu, wishlist for next weeks dinners and a grocery list.

    Our grocery bill is down by 40% or more. Additionally, by making a reasonably exact list with respect to portion size, we are managing our caloric budget as well. :)

    Great ideas, thanks Chad! ~Elise

  16. Laura

    A staple at my parents’ house was always a “stoup” of some kind. My mom’s soups were never the watery-thin light soups, they were more along the lines of everything-but-the-kitchen-sink type soups. Her lentil soup still is one of my favorites.

    She would make a “sofrito” to start, which is a can of tomato sauce, equal amount of water (or stock), lots of onion, lots of garlic, oregano, salt, olive oil, whatever other spice, and let it simmer a bit. I’ve adapted the sofrito to add in some chopped bacon or sausage out of the casing for a meaty flavor. Let it cook a bit, add that to the cooking lentils. Add in chopped carrots, potatoes or sweet potato, squash or pumpkin, or all if you like. I always use whatever veggies I have on hand, and chop them into big chunks for texture. Let it cook for about 1 or 2 hours until it is the consistency you like. Season to taste, and you have a pot of lentil stoup to last you about 4 days.

    That was a one bowl meal for us. Sometimes she’s pair it with a watercress salad, and we’d were set for the evening.

    I make one of these once a week at least, it’s a great packed lunch.

  17. Clyde

    Cooking on a budget info is spot on…could you re-post it with the print option so I can add it without the side stuff to my printed recipe collection?

    Thanks!

    Hi Clyde, that print function is set up to only print actual recipes. To make a print out of this post what you can do is choose the print function directly from your web browser. It will print the post (not the ads) plus all the comments though, so you may want to limit the number of pages you print to 1 or 2. ~Elise

  18. Garrett

    I do a lot of Thai and Chinese food at home. The methods and techniques are mostly all born out of economic neccessity, so with just a few scant ingredients you can get a lot of flavor.

    Also: Buy at local Farmer’s Markets! If you buy seasonal at these you will end up paying a far cheaper price than at the supermarket!!!

  19. Lindsay

    One of my favorite cheap meals is grilled cheese. I buy the French bread loaves when they’re on sale at the grocery for $1 (and freeze what I don’t use; and they’re also great for French bread pizzas–also cheap and yummy). I buy colby and provolone cheeses from the deli (instead of sliced and packaged) because it doesn’t take much; I might buy five slices of each. Throw them on the panini grill with some butter and they’re done in no time! My husband and I also really like chipped beef on toast. I figure we can have dinner for about $1.50 when we have that. Not bad!

  20. Tina Roggenkamp

    First, I LOVE your site. A year or so ago I googled a recipe for banana bread and came upon your great collection of recipes. I have never been to a site that even comes close to this one.

    Next, thanks for this specific post. I’ve been looking for ways to cook more and save money. I’ll be trying the hamburger and macaroni this week!

    Keep up the outstanding work!

  21. Erin

    We joined a farmshare for the first time this summer, and not only was it an amazing culinary adventure, it was extremely economical! We had 17 weeks of organic, unbelievably fresh fruit and vegetables, and it worked out to be about $17 per week. The same amount of food would have been at least $40 at Whole Foods! I can’t recommend it enough.

  22. VB

    Vegetarian Indian food can be incredibly cheap: some items like khichri (rice, lentils, veggies, and spices) are incredibly easy to make, and are a whole meal in themselves. Rice and daal (variably spiced lentils) with an optional side of lightly fried veggies form a typical everyday dinner, and is also unbelievably cheap and easy.

    Any other vegetarian item that you may find at a restaurant also will be incredibly cheap and healthy to make from scratch (especially anything with any sort of bean), though sometimes it may take a little time.

    The best thing about vegetarian Indian food is that there’s a HUGE variety of things, from different regions, that you can make at home very easily, and all of them are cheap and delicious! Restaurants usually have the most fiddly items that one would make for guests, rather than home food.

  23. VB

    One thing I must mention as a follow-up to my previous comment about Indian food: the spices. They tend to be unbelievably expensive in regular grocery stores like Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, or Wegmans, but you get the same spices for really really REALLY cheap in Indian stores (or the Indian section).

  24. Nick

    Those are some good ideas. I’ve been meaning to start a budget category as well, especially fitting for the current times. Mexican food is my number one idea, rice and beans are as cheap as you can get but still filling and packed with nutrition. I find that jalapenos, at least around here, are very cheap and are a great way to spice up any meal. I now use them to make batches of that simple tomato salsa you posted and find myself often resorting to bean quesadillas during the week, mostly for ease and taste but they’re also quite cheap!

    A little bit of seasoning and you’re good to go. Other than that, peanut butter is a great source of flavor and nutrition and an incredible caloric bang-for-your-buck. The cheapest brands are Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods 365, running in at about $1.70 per jar.

  25. Cindy

    Back in the 80’s I was raising 2 children as a single parent, no child support from their father and the courts couldn’t/wouldn’t get me any. (he refused to work). So,some days I would find myself going down the aisles in the grocery store with a handful of change. These nights we would have a can of store brand vegetable beef soup mixed with vegetable soup and grilled cheese sandwiches. I could probably write a book on taking change to the grocery store and coming up with supper for 3. My oldest son has a Bachelor’s degree in Information Technology, my youngest son is an electrician attending college to get a degree in Electronics Engineering. So, it didn’t hurt them to eat cheap.

  26. Andrea

    What a great post, Elise!

    I think you hit just about all of my favorite budget friendly techniques! I would add that cooking up pancakes and eggs, or egg frittata, or egg and sauteed potatoes are favorites here also.

    Hugs to you.
    Andrea

  27. Andrea

    Oh, and hummus! Or cheese sandwiches!

  28. Ellen

    I keep a small container in the freezer for the tops and ends of carrots, onions, and celery. When I go to make chicken broth (from the bones, which can also be frozen until you’re ready to make broth), I toss the ends in for flavor. I’d also add grow some vegetables and herbs and fruit if you have any space. Healthier and cheaper! FYI, my whole web site is on “cheap cooking.” I’ve got a cost per serving calculator for meats and fish that can help you figure out which cut is really the cheapest.

  29. Chris

    I also have use fresh spinach as an alternative to potatoes, rice, pasta, or tortillas. It is particularily good with red sauce based dishes — and less carbs.

  30. Bob

    My parents fed us (their seven children) on a pretty tight budget too. My moms big thing was meat sauce. It was the only way she could feed us all with a pound of hamburger. We had a lot of pasta and lasagna and such things. They also had a large vegetable garden, which I didn’t appreciate at all growing up. I sure wish I had it now though. :D

  31. Hänni

    Fast, cheap, and nutritious, I like to whip up a pot of soup with veggies from fridge and freezer, bouillon cubes, and an egg or two.

    For a very inexpensive and totally nutritious side dish (we’re talking 6 – 8 servings for less than 50 cents/serv), i like to make cashew cabbage:

    Ingredients
    1 head of cabbage (if large, just use half)
    1/2 onion, diced
    1/4 – 1/2 c almond milk (or your milk preference)
    salt and pepper to taste

    1/2 C coarsely chopped raw, unsalted cashews

    To cook
    Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. Core and chop cabbage and place in a 9 X 13″ baking dish. Mix in the diced onion and enough almond milk to coat the bottom of the dish. Season with salt and pepper to taste (probably 1 – 2 tsp salt). Bake uncovered for 40-50 minutes, until cabbage is soft. Before serving, top with cashews.

  32. ambitious

    I’m always amazed at how much cheaper produce is at Asian grocery stores, even in NY, specifically, Queens.

    For example, the other day I bought: a red bell pepper, a green bell pepper, a giant single piece of carrot, 5 red potatoes and 1/2 pound of squid for less than $4.

    Try this sometime: mix white rice with a hint of soy sauce and a tiny bit of sesame oil. Top with egg. Sprinkle with sesame seeds. Eat with something spicy if you’d like, such as Kimchi. :)

    Thanks for your wonderful tips!!!

  33. Zoe

    I really like this post and one of the main reasons I read your blog is that you have so many cheap recipes that actually taste really good!

    My best tip for people who love to cook is to build up your pantry and food reportoire a little bit at a time. I try to buy one “specialty” food item, like a spice or interesting vinegar, a week. When I do it little by little, it doesn’t add much money to the grocery bill and then when I want to try a new recipe I don’t feel as intimidated by a long ingredient list because I know a lot of the stuff is already sitting in my pantry. I also try to do one new recipe a week.

  34. Susan

    I buy budget packs of chicken drumsticks for family dinners. My kids love them, and they are usually under $1.50 per pound. Our favorite recipe is hot and sweet chicken which uses a cup of apricot preserves, 1/4 cup soy sauce, 1/2 cup ketchup, 1 tsp tabasco and 2 tsp minced garlic as a glaze. You just mix it and microwave it to melt the preserves and then pour it over the drumsticks in a 13×9 pan. Bake for 40 min at 350 degrees. I serve it with rice.

    The best part of this recipe is that I can mix it up early in the day and then pop it in the oven to bake while I help with the homework. The only “hands on” time required at dinner is to make the rice. Easy peasy!

  35. gennie

    I was one of 7 in an Italian family and we
    never went hungry. Pasta fazool is cheap and good and yet I hear that food pantries
    have a hard time giving away kidney beans.
    One can of beans a package of frozen spinach a little ditalini some fresh carrots celery and onions and you can make
    quite a bit. My mom would also saute onion and add some chick peas and water to make a simple soup served with soup mac. buy a small container of ricotta cheese boil up a
    pound of shells don t drain it too well. throw in ricotta some fresh ground black pepper and a little parmesan- yummo

  36. Melissa from Pittsburgh

    Great site. Thanks.

    I’m searching high and low for meals I can pack in my girlys lunch. They are some of the pickyest eaters on the planet … and to top that off I am trying to change our diet by eliminating most of our standard foods they DO EAT. UGH!

    It’s great to have some ideas.

  37. Maggie

    Really appreciate the budget tips! Turkey stew will have to be on my menu soon…

  38. Jamie

    Cabbage and noodles is a nice, cheap, delicious meal. Probably not so nutritious, but cheap and good nonetheless. I only buy whole chickens anymore – anything else seems so expensive! I can usually get one for under $5 and I made my first batch of stock from the bones this week (and put it in Tortilla Soup!).

  39. Aimee

    One of our favorite meals on the cheap is Channa Masala (also called Chole), a spicy vegetarian curry made with chick peas.

    Ingredients:
    from grocery section:
    2 cans chickpeas
    1 can tomatoes
    butter or olive or vegetable oil

    from produce section:
    one medium-sized onion, sliced
    several hot peppers, chopped (serrano or jalapeno work well, use fewer for less heat)
    3 medium sized potatoes, cut into roughly 1-2 inch pieces
    4-6 garlic cloves, chopped or minced (or the equivalent in the jarred variety)
    about a 2 inch piece of ginger, chopped or grated (If the pieces in the store are huge, I always break off a piece only as big as I need right there in the store)
    cilantro

    For spices, I use 2 tsp salt, 2 tsp coriander, 2 tsp masala (garam masala, or tandoori masala, or masala tea) 1 tsp cumin or cumin seeds, and 1 tsp turmeric

    cooking instructions:
    melt butter over med-high heat (or use olive or vegetable oil for a healthier version)

    add onions and cumin (or cumin seeds) and stir together. Cook until onions are beginning to brown.

    Add garlic, ginger, and chiles. Stir a few moments, then add the can of tomatoes and the rest of the spices. Allow to cook for a few minutes so the flavors become well blended. Add the potatoes and the chick peas, and add in some water. lower heat and partially cover. Cook until potatoes and chickpeas are softened. Add cilantro to taste. Serve with rice or pita bread.

    Cheap, easy, and tasty!!! :)

  40. LaTanya

    I also try to plan my meals on a weekly basis. I start with the local grocery store sale paper and then plan my meals for the next week to two weeks. If an item that I use regularly is on sale, then I stock up.

    Since I am not a big fan of eating leaftovers for days, I try to take the leftovers and turn it into a completely different meal. Left over baked chicken is used to make enchiladas or chicken spaghetti. Leftover spaghetti sauce is used on chicken parm. This changes it up a bit so we don’t feel like we are eating the same thing.

  41. Lisa_S.

    I didn’t see the spaghetti recipe on the “Budget” page, then I looked at the recipe and realized why. Maybe add a “Budget” version of spaghetti sauce that’s tastey too? Instead of “Italian Parsley” you can just shorten it to “Italian Herb Blend” and “Fine dry red wine” to “Two-Buck Chuck Red.” LOL Thanks Elise for sympathizing with everyone who’s having a hard time right now and helping.

  42. Chris

    Pinto beans. I can make a pot of beans (with or without sausage) and eat on it for days.

  43. Jessica

    Lentils and rice (also known as mujadarrah) – what could be cheaper? I use Deborah Madison’s recipe from Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone.

    Another lentil recipe I love is from Heidi Swanson’s blog http://www.101Cookbooks.com – Lively Up Your Lentil Soup. A can of crushed tomatoes, lentils, onions and spinach. Both of these recipes are delicious, economical AND super easy.

  44. Jane

    Smagoli – Brown 1# ground beef and small chopped onion. Drain. Cook 8-12 oz of macaroni. Drain. Mix beef and macaroni together with one can campbell’s tomato soup.

    Another one. Ground 1# ground beef and small onion. Add 1 can campbell’s mushroom soup and enough milk to tafor the consistency you want. Make 3 cups long grain rice – serve soup mixture over.

    Both good, filling, and cheap.

  45. Lillianne

    In Louisiana it’s Red Beans and Rice but my personal fave is a fried egg and tomato sandwich. Ummmmmm.

  46. Karen

    Bean burritos! Yummy and great protein!

  47. Julie

    I love this topic! I always plan my meals one week in advance. That definitely saves on last minute trips to the store or ordering Chinese in a moment of weakness. Also, I can make better use of ingredients – so, I buy celery for one dish that calls for just a couple of stalks and use the rest later in the week for a soup or stew.

    I also like to buy the giant package of ground beef at Costco. It’s usually about 6 lbs. While I’m there, I also buy the big (I mean BIG) can of tomatoes, another BIG can of tomato sauce etc. and then I go home and make a giant sized pot of pasta sauce. I divide it up into 6 or 7 freezer bags and I’ve got spaghetti sauce for at least a month. I buy another giant package of ground beef and make meatloaves for the freezer.

  48. Keith Prickett

    I really like to throw a couple of cups of dry beans (and water) in the crock pot in the morning and put it on low until I get home from work (8 hours or so). I’ll “re-fry” the beans with some onions, cumin, salt, pepper, garlic and oil, then mash them all up.

    I surprise myself with what I want to make with it in the evening. Some days it’s bean burritos, some days it’s a side dish with rice and some vegetables, but every day it is DELICIOUS!

  49. Mary Ann McVay

    My favorite inexpensive meal is what my kids call, “Mommy Noodles.” I cook elbow macaroni, then mix with a little butter and some parmesan. I add seasoned salt and dried basil (or other fresh herbs if I have them). Sometimes I’ll toss in some grilled chicken or sausage. But it’s their favorite anyway I make it.

  50. Emily

    We always reach for the pasta! (You don’t have to remember to soak it the night before…)

  51. Cecelia

    My favorite meal growing up was what we called potato burgers. Mom took about a pound of ground beef (really that’s all she ever used to make dinner for 8) and mixed it with shredded potato, green pepper and onion diced small, and some spices. Then she cooked the individual patties in her electric skillet until browned on one side, flipped, poured a small amount of tomato sauce on each, then covered and cooked until done. I think we ate them with green beans and homemade bread and butter. Yum. :)

  52. cj

    My mom would use a chicken until there was nothing left but a little broth. FIrst roasted, or boiled. she would divide it puttng some straight to the fridge for another meal. Chicken pot pie or chicken tetrizzini were a couple of our favorite second night meals. Now I have learned to serve them to my family. Her chicken tetrazinni is wonderful and I’m so glad I was able to have my mom “talk me through” many her recipes before she passed away.

  53. Sues

    All fabulous suggestions! Even harder? Cooking on a budget while still trying to cook healthy. I hope that someday my food budget won’t be so tight!

  54. Ingrid

    In general, these guidelines work for me. Some of them may not be viable everywhere, however, like buying on the farmer’s market:

    - Everything you can do yourself saves you a lot of money. (Like cleaning vegetables, or slicing them)
    – Eat in season.
    – Eat vegetarian more often. Beans, eggs and certain mushrooms can be adequate meatreplacers.
    – Buy on the (farmer’s) market. Sometimes you can even get good deals towards closing time, when the sellers don’t want to take vegetables/fruit that are (nearly) ripe back home. All you need to do is eat or prepare it in the next 2 days.
    – Canned tuna is relatively cheap (it is over here, at least) and can be used for tasty food. Recipes in plenty here :)
    – Buy in larger quantities. Obviously this only goes for things that you will use and that you will use before their “best before” date. Example: rice.

    My favorite budgetfood would be a dutch mash called ‘hutspot’. You cook potatoes (the kind that is suitable for a mash), halfway through you add sliced onions and carrots. After cooking, drain water. Mash together. Serve with a roast, or just gravy. Very hearty (and healthy too!) food for a low price.

  55. Trish in MO

    Thanks, Elise, for yummy ways to help us save money! I’m still fairly new to commenting on your site, but have been following your recipes for some time.

    What I love here too is the atmosphere of all for one, and one for all…everyone pitches in and adds to the ambiance, and recipes! I especially love when readers contribute similar recipes in the comments section!

    So, thanks all!

  56. Trish in MO

    To GARRETT & ELISE: What if you don’t have a panini grill for those grilled cheese sandwiches?

    I use a cast iron pan to make grilled cheese sandwiches. ~Elise

  57. Jean Prescott

    It’s astonishing the “nothing” recipes that will tug at you if you let the originator “get away” without passing them on. Kudos to your family for sharing. My brothers and I have tried endlessly to recreate something we only much later in adult life realized was Mama’s version of Stone Soup. We all called it Potato Stew, but it had a red-sauce base, probably from tomato paste (one of her “secret” ingredients). There was seriously cooked-down onion and garlic, too, generous amounts of potato (probably russet, from the mealiness I recall) and the occasional slice of spicy sausage or frankfurter. I do remember her boasting once that she could feed a family of 6 on a half-package of frankfurters. But no combination of the above, no attempt to replicate Potato Stew has produced the thick, delicious stuff we gulped down for autumn/winter suppers when we were kids…oh, 50 years ago. The missing ingredient must be Mama. God, that sounds sappy, but I wonder if TLC isn’t an ingredient we sometimes forget about. Sounds like your family has it in spades, Elise.

  58. Annie

    I am arguably the queen of the quick and cheap one-pot meal. Frozen veggies are my friends. Pressure cooker lentil soup with spinach – might work in the slow cooker with the defrosted spinach added when it’s done. Brown rice cooked with chicken and salsa, broccoli added at the end. My friend’s zucchini corn saute or spinach and beans (works with broccoli, too!), recipes here, served over brown rice. Pasta al aolio (sauteed anchovy, garlic and hot pepper in olive oil) with spinach. Homemade hummus w/raw veggies blended in on the sly served with whole wheat pita. Spaghetti and meat sauce with spinach mixed in at the last second. Chicken thighs cooked in brown rice with oyster sauce, broccoli added in last. Chicken breast and sweet potato cooked in curry sauce over brown rice. And on those days when my brain totally fails, mac and cheese with egg and broccoli mixed in. If you have such things nearby, shopping for veggies at the Asian grocery (we have no local farmer’s markets) and spices at the Indian grocery does save plenty, too.

  59. Garrett

    Trish: I don’t do panini, I just do plain old grilled cheese using a nonstick fry pan. Rather than haute or cafe cuisine, I call it rustic.

    It’s all about renaming things. For example, I didn’t burn the onions, they’re just highly caramelized. ;)

    Also, for those cheeses. Save the rinds and store them in the freezer. Use them for soup stocks, they have lots of great flavor!

  60. Lesley

    We’re suffering from the “credit crunch” here too,
    I love your recipes and I agree some of the best dishes in the world are the cheapest ones to make!
    and if you’ve never had Yorkshire puddings come round our house! We have them every Sunday.

  61. Ellie from Kitchen Caravan

    Excellent post! I appreciate all the comment suggestions too. My biggest money saving tactic is planning my weekly menu before going to the farmers market or grocery store. Next time around, I will use many of your dinner ideas for the coming weeks. Thanks!

  62. Esmeralda

    Thanks for addressing this topic and thanks to the other readers for sharing their money-saving ideas. As other readers have mentioned, good ol’ oatmeal is a great budget breakfast food because it is like a blank canvas to get creative with fruit, nuts, peanut butter, etc. One of my favorite oatmeal ideas is to make my own muesli and granola. Not only is homemade cereal less expensive, but it is also healthier because one can control the amount of sugar and fat in the cereal. I also seem to feel more satisfied with a 1/2 cup of muesli/granola than with 1 whole cup of bran flakes, shredded wheat, etc.

    For an easy budget main/side dish, how about fried rice? A bit of leftover meat, a bit of leftover vegetables (or even frozen), one or two scrambled eggs, and a few cups of leftover rice can go a long way. My family has been known to eat fried rice for breakfast – ham, eggs, frozen peas and carrots. As odd as it sounds, it is pretty good even early in the morning.

  63. CJ

    We stretch the dollar by making a lot more soups, casseroles and one pot dinners, bean&rice combos and stir fries. We also have one or two vegetarian dinners each week.

    We eat more greens (collard, kale, chard), sweet potatoes, squash, cabbage and other less pricey vegetables. The ways to prepare them are infinite and delicious.

    To extend soups, we serve them with some noodles or rice in the bottom of the bowl. Chili can be extended as chili-mac. (The teens love it that way.) Or make some cheesy garlic or herb bread to accompany them. (spread softened butter on bread, sprinkle some garlic powder and parmesan cheese, or make a herb compound butter to spread on. Then heat in hot oven for a couple of minutes and it’s ready.)

    Leftover meats and veggies become casseroles, pita fillings, tacos, fajitas, enchiladas, or fritatas. We don’t waste leftovers, but change the way they are prepared to eliminate repetition.

    I’ve been experimenting with tofu and will add it to a stir fry to extend the “meat” protein for my meat eaters.

    We buy meats only on sale and stock up for the freezer. We buy a whole ham or turkey (on sale) or make a meatloaf, meatballs, etc. After a dinner, some goes into the freezer, some made into a soup and some becomes “lunch meat”. My only true weakness is hard salami…. *sigh*

    My husbands co-workers ooo and ahhh over his chicken or fresh ham sandwiches. Little do they know, we’re saving dollars and eating better because we don’t or very rarely buy deli meats.

    We also save time by cooking in “bulk” (double or triple batches), then freezing them for another week night meal.

    We joined a CSA this year, and for $20 a week, we had the most amazingly fresh and delicious supply of vegetables for a family of four. We also shop at our local farmers market.

    We have very little sunlight and very poor soil, but I planted six tomato plants and a variety of fresh herbs (got to have them) in some large pots along the sunny side corner of our home.

  64. April

    What a timely post! I think we could all use a little budget cooking in our homes. My grandma used to make pinto beans (aka “soup beans”) and serve them with green onions and cornbread. That’s probably the simplest of meals, but satisfying. My family likes homemade chicken and dumplings with mashed potatoes. It’s super cheap but oh so filling and tasty. :D

  65. CJ

    For a super quick and inexpensive meal, we make ramen noodle soup, adding leftover meat, some veggies, and etc. and call it dinner.

  66. CJ

    One more-
    We extend taco filling by adding black beans to the mixture.

    We try to serve it with refried beans (add a can of pinto beans to the refried to give it more texture. Or make from scratch.) and some type of rice (spanish, or yellow) as sides.

    To extend the vegetable toppings we finely chop some iceberg lettuce, add chopped tomatoes, some cilantro, Jalepenos (if you want them) and a dash of salt, mixing to combine. (all one topping)

    Add grated cheese and hot sauce- taco night.

  67. cleartrampoline

    Great idea for a post! Making good use of leftovers is definitely a money saver and something I’ve been trying to implement more.

  68. Suzanne

    My ideas:
    1. Shop wisely. Buy ingredients rather than convenience foods. Check out the bulk section. Have a list, but be ready to modify it if you find a good deal on something else.

    2. Actually cook and eat the food you buy.

    3. Freeze leftovers and take them to work for lunch (very important if you are single).

    4. Cooked vegetables can get mushy when frozen, so either select recipes where this won’t be an issue, or cut them very very small so it won’t be so obvious when you eat them.

  69. Rosie

    One of the earliest foods I learned to cook is something my mother ate a lot as a child. She was part of one of those old southern farming families; that is, she was 11th of 13 children. They very very often had to stretch their meals…using the same ingredients over and over. The simple solution: biscuits and gravy. Same three ingredients: flour, water, grease (fat, lard, what have you). They saved the bacon grease (or whatever meat they had when they had it), and used it bits at a time. It’s always amazed me that the same three ingredients made two very different foods, and how little of them was needed to get large quantities.

  70. April

    I would love it if some of the Indian responders would post recipes?

    I’ve been doing what my mother did: buy soup bones – I find I can get them at our local middle eastern grocers, since King Soopers and Safeway stopped butchering in their stores. Some beef bones and lamb bones start a GREAT broth for beef and barley soup – and only a couple of dollars per pound. Really extends the meat. My beef barley soup is really more like a thick stew, and the ingredients are very economical. Make lots and freeze in lunch/dinner size containers. I use whatever veggies look good or are on hand. The middle eastern market also seems to have better veggies at half the cost. My mother’s other trick was boiling a whole chicken. You can get several meals out of the chicken and you also have the broth available. Just freeze what you don’t use. She’d make a pot roast that would then become hash (we had an old fashioned meat grinder) and/or beef salad or a beef casserole with tomatoes and pasta.

    I love that we have Elise and other great sites for these meal ideas. I have an Amish cookbook that is also a great resource.

    I recommend going to Food Blog Search and doing a search for indian food blog. You’ll find a list of great food blogs by Indian cooks, all with wonderful recipes. ~Elise

  71. Sylvie, Rappahannock Cook & Kitchen Gardener

    ah… a favorite topic of mine: eating well on a budget is withing the reach of everybody by learning a few culinary techniques, learning what’s in season locally, planning formals, buying in bulk and learning to cut-up meat etc…I did a series of posts myself a few weeks ago on roasting one large chicken on Sunday and using it during the rest of the week in ways that don’t feel like left over:
    o Sunday: Roast Chicken
    o Monday: Tomatillo-chicken Soup
    o Tuesday: Rainbow Stir Fry
    o Wednesday: Tex-Mex Chowder
    o Thursday: Fajitas
    o Friday: Pizza

    Cutting out processed food, sodas and bottle water, will go a long way towards eating better (both taste & nutrition) and eating cheaper.

    Thanks, Elise, for the great article which spurred all the comments – and the new “budget” category.

    Sylvie

  72. Lynn

    In my house we stretch a dollar by making big crockpots full of things like…Ham & Bean soup,
    Chili (both red & green), Spaghetti Sauce & Roast (beef & pork).
    The chili you can eat on it’s own with homemade tortillas (a bag of Masa is CHEAP) or you can put the chili over baked potatoes. I make such a huge batch of spaghetti sauce that there is always left overs to use for lasagne or to freeze for later use. Roast, ecsepically the cheap cuts can be stretched to make sandwiches and soups for days afterwards. Don’t forget the old tried and true tomato soup & grilled cheese.
    My father always made a huge turkey roasting pan full of Goulash for us 5 kids (3 teenage boys). With prices going up and up I’m glad I learned how to make food stretch long ago.

  73. Sylvan B.

    I recently remembered and cooked up a specialty from my barely-post-depression youth, probably originating with my southern-born, po’folks, dad’s side of the family: Ham, potato, & green bean stew. Ham hocks are really cheap and have a lot of flavor….No recipe, but here’s what I did:

    Heated up a couple quarts of water. Simmered a ham hock until the meat was tender, fished it out and trimmed of the bits of meat, then threw everything else back in the pot (if you cook the meat the whole time it will lose its flavor). Simmered for a loooong time, skimmed off some floating fat. An hour before dinner I quartered some white potatoes and an onion, cut fresh green beans into bites, and into the pot with the veggies, plus a bay leaf, a smashed garlic clove, and some pepper corns. Simmered VERY gently; added the meat bits back in and tweaked the seasoning a few minutes before serving. Everything gets tender and hammy-flavored. (This is the only time it’s OK to cook green beans past the bright and crispy stage!)

    Dish up into a bowl with a very little broth, and chow down with hot cornbread — the kind with more cornmeal than flour and hardly any sugar, not the muffiny-stuff you get these days; you heat up an iron skillet in the oven with some bacon fat and pour the batter in to sizzle and bake up crumbly and brown. Butter some to eat alongside, and toss some in the bowl to soak up broth, and have the rest with lots of honey for dessert.

    The stew is just succulent and filling and yummy and incredibly cheap! Memories of a very very poor time that makes today’s poverty look rich….

    Another quick, vegetarian, southern sort of meal-for-one — steamed kale and a baked (or nuked) sweet potato. Butter with the potato and vinegar on the kale.

    Another thanks, Elise, for a website that’s fun to read and recipes I actually use!

  74. glittergirl

    I loved the post and everyone’s comments. I’ve got some good ideas, so thanks!

    I was wondering if you’d ever do a special post about crock pots, or maybe add a category. I’m obsessed with mine these days!

    I got the 3 in 1 set at Target so there are different sizes for different recipes.

    One of the best, cheapest and most simple recipe is rosemary lemon chicken.

    Ingredients:
    2-3 chicken breasts (skin on, bone in) rinsed and patted dry
    Juice of 1 lemon
    3 sprigs of fresh rosemary
    2-3 tablespoons of *smoked paprika
    Salt and freshly ground pepper

    Place chicken into crockpot (2 quart small size). pour lemon juice over chicken and sprinkle with paprika, salt and pepper. top with rosemary sprigs. cook on low for 4 hours or high for 3 1/2 (temp should reach 180 degrees.) serves 6. Yummy!

    I have used cheaper cuts of chicken and it works great.

  75. Lynn "The Frugal Surgeon"

    I have stopped visiting my barista after finding a “Moka Pot”, a stove-top expresso maker. This saves me $1400 per year ($4/day) (or a one month mortgage payment–pay attention here Mr. Bernanke).This simple device is easy to use, easy to clean and easy to store. A one cup Moka Pot costs less than $20. I also froth my own milk on the stove top using a pear-shaped frothing utensil (I think it is used for bartending…).

  76. melissa

    Love the ideas! We love tortillas, they go great with everything! I make turkey chili and we use those to dip lol. Another cheap one I like is kielbasa sausage (turkey is what we use, much healthier), it’s usually 2 for 4 bucks, with rice, white or brown. I cut the sausage into round slices (makes it stretch), cook it in the skillet with a little olive oil and spices, and then serve it over the rice. Put a type of bread with it and you have a cheap, filling meal.

  77. Raquel

    I don’t remember for how long I have been reading this site, but this time last year I made my first recipe from your archives..the sour cream apple pie with streusal topping, which has established me amongst my friends as the favorite chef! Thanks for that Elise! This is the first time I am driven to comment, as a budget-minded college student. I have to admit that my inspiration comes decidedly from my favorite restaurants.

    In high school in New Jersey, I was a waitress in a Tex-Mex restaurant, and would spend the larger parts of my shift in the the kitchen kibitzing with the mexican cooks, so I am with you 100% on that one!

    I went to college for a year in Manhattan and my favorite restaurants were Pommes Frites(a belgian french fry place with a selection of more than 27 mayo sauces), The Hummus Place(which was just that..a $5 serving of hummus with tahini and a boiled egg plus a $2 lemonade), and The Peanut Butter Co.(my favorites being with orange marmalade and almonds, and of course with fried bananas and bacon.) I love falafel and have yet to give it a try, and there was this japanese place that made a rice, called Hibachi rice, very similar to the one mentioned by ambitious which I LOVE to the point that I learned how to cook rice in order to make this. Take white rice and fry it using any oil that is on hand, pour some soy sauce and crack a couple of eggs over it depending on the amount of rice, sprinkle with sesame seeds, and they would put some amazingly crunchy green peas in it, but I use frozen. I have also tried but failed to recreate a pineapple cashew rice from a Thai restaurant in the Village. Variety really is key.

    Now I live in the Dominican Republic and have a garden where I hope to have a variety of fresh produce year-round. Including 3 varieties of avocados! I will be eating VERY cheap!

    I love eggs in every manifestation! My parents raised us on a budget as well, and our cheapest but favorite food were plantains. Green ones we would boil and mash up, I like them with a garlic butter poured over them, yellow ones(the sweeter variety) sliced longways and fried, or both as tostones, cut into pieces about an inch thick, fried, smashed flat, and fried again to make a kind of chip. I’ve never liked the thicker versions of these served at restaurants, nor the too thin versions that are transparent, but they do need to be crispy on the outer edges. These were usually served with a combination off eggs, cheese, and sometimes as a side with rice or meat or on fancier occasions, shrimp in a tomato sauce.

    Ok well it’s been fun sharing, I must do this again! Love you both Elise and Garret!

  78. Susan

    I had a chuckle reading your comments about budget cooking. I had to call my elderly mother (who also lived through the Great Depression and was a single working Mom way before it was popular) and thanked her for bringing me up on some tasty cheap food “from the Old Country.” I asked her how to make “Cabbage & Noodles” and “Cottage Cheese & Noodles.” Big surprise – each one starts with a little bacon fat (or all butter) and some chopped onion. Add chopped cabbage and cook and serve over wide egg noodles. Or add the cottage cheese to the cooked noodles and pour the hot sauteed onions over that. Those are two cheap meals that fill your middle (maybe a bit too well!). These days also make me think of a bumper sticker I saw every day on a fellow college student’s parents’ old wreck of a car that parked in the spot in front of me. 1985 was the age of Gordon Gecko (Greed is good) and this car sported a sticker that said, “Happiness is a full freezer and a full tank of gas.” I remember thinking how out of touch that was…here, 20+ years later it’s right on track…Best, Susan

  79. Coco

    Great post.

    One thing nobody’s mentioned is Vietnamese food — it’s inexpensive, and the fresh herbs and aromatics are such a nice break from heavy winter fare.

    My Vietnamese friend Son Le’s marinade for pork, beef, or chicken:

    1 tbsp. white sugar
    1 tbsp. brown sugar
    2 tbsp. lemongrass (for chicken, substitute ginger)
    2 cloves garlic
    2 tbsp. chopped [red] onion
    black pepper
    chili pepper
    1/2 C. soysauce (for chicken, leave out and add some salt instead, creating more of a paste consistency)
    10-15 drops fish sauce

    You only need to marinate the meat for 20 minutes or so. Serve it over rice noodles with a big squirt of lime juice and some cilantro. Mm.

  80. Spring Recipes

    I hope that my comment will not constitute an offence for all the people out there who think that a meal without meat is not a proper meal (but at least it is a tongue twister :p )

    I tend to think that, if you are on a budget, it is healthier to leave out meat altogether most of the times. Sure, you can buy very cheap meat (although in developing countries this is not always true), but the health hazard that it may constitute outweighs the benefits of eating meat.
    Take chicken for instance ; cheap chicken is raised in horrible conditions, fed on hormones, and sometimes does not even get to move at all during the course of its life. The same can be said of beef.
    I am not a doctor, but it seems that people can live very healthily by eating meat once a week, supplemented with eggs and milk/cheese. In short, buy less, but buy better..

    I live in Turkey, and contrary to a common conception the diet here is very low in meat. When people dine out, they can have kebabs or grilled meat, but at home they eat mostly vegetarian (at least in ordinary families). It’s not that people cannot afford meat, but it just does not constitute an integral part of home cookery.
    In other countries, though, people can feel deprieved if no meat is available ; in France (my home country), traditional families serve meat as a main dish, with a few vegetables on the side. A friend of mine once asked me on one occasion when I had made veggie pasta to him : “Where’s the main course ?”.

    I’d be interested in hearing your opinion from other parts of the world.. Here or as a comment on my blog.
    (If you visit my blog, you’ll be tempted to make fun of me because out of the 3 recipes posted, 2 use chicken as the main ingredient :p )

    Best,
    Michael

  81. Lee

    When my kids were small, in the 80’s, we did the soup, meat, carb casserole every week. My granddaughter isn’t big on ‘mixed up stuff,’ but her favorite meal is Chili Beans – a pound of ground meat and a can of baked beans, a little brown sugar added. Now, at 10, she makes it herself.
    I read an article recently that said the foods our mom’s used to cook were more nutritious and less fattening than the same recipes we make today. I’m glad I have my mom and grandmother’s recipe books, and, for decadence, my baker grandpa’s recipes as well. Another benefit of using these recipes – they force you to slow down.

  82. Kim Howell

    My grandmother (born 1904) died this summer, just 12 days shy of her 104th birthday. Her favorite foods were vegetables, cooked down, swimming in their juices, and she was not a canned food snob. Canned or frozen veggies made her happy. Nana ate very little meat and loved soups. She always ate very slowly, and cut her food into tiny bits…then she napped, since my mother can remember. Eat your veggies and slow down a little everybody!

  83. alynn

    While I appreciate the ideas for cooking on a budget, the most healthy foods for you are conspicuously missing: where are the veggies?

    Hi Alynn, I focused on main courses as protein tends to be expensive and isn’t season dependent. You can find plenty of vegetable recipes here on the site, many of them are quite budget friendly, assuming you are buying your vegetables in season. ~Elise

  84. Nick

    So many great ideas here — many of which I already incorporate, some of which are on my list to try very soon (like cabbage and noodles).

    I’m a big fan of cooked cabbage, and this time of year in the northeastern US it’s easy and cheap to come by. One of my favorite recipes for it is ham and cabbage — not suprisingly, passed down from my grandma and mom. You simmer a smoked picnic ham in some water until the ham is tender. Take it out, clean it up, return the good ham pieces to the pot. Add some roughly chopped potato and roughly chopped green cabbage. If you like, you can also add onion and carrots, but I’m a purist and like only those three main ingredients. Simmer until the potatoes and cabbage are tender. Season with freshly ground pepper and dig in! This is one of those meals in which the whole is greater than the sum of its parts — very flavorful, satisfying, comforting, especially on a blustery fall day. When I make pots of this I’ve been known to eat it breakfast, lunch, dinner and midnight snacks until it’s gone!

  85. Sally

    I really like these budget friendly recipes, not only because they’re cost conscious, but also because they’re what I would call comfort food. In addition, they’re foods that my family eats without complaint!

    Elise mentioned Mexican food as being budget friendly because it’s based on inexpensive ingredients. Others have mentioned Chinese, Thai, Indian, Spanish, Slovak, Turkish and Vietnamese foods as budget friendly cuisines. The cuisine of southern Italy is called “la cucina povera,” the cuisine of poverty.

    I can’t think of a traditional cuisine that isn’t based on cheap, healthy ingredients. The cuisine of nearly every country (and regions within a country) is based on locally grown, seasonally available, budget friendly, healthy foods. Every region usually has one or two grains (and bread made from those grains), a starchy vegetable or two, and legumes on which much of the cuisine is based. They are supplemented with small amounts of meat, fish, poultry, dairy products and eggs along with seasonally available vegetables and fruits.

    I’ve read that home cooks in nearly every other country stick to their own cuisine — you’ll rarely find a home cook in southern Italy making Chinese food. Or a cook in rural China making Italian food. Our “melting pot” has made all of it American Home Cooking — and we cook all of it at home.

    I’m restricting the variety of recipes I cook at home. Pick the foods of your region in the U.S. or your country of origin or one or two that you like and limit your cooking to them. My own cooking reflects my Midwestern/German background, but I love the foods of the Mediterranean, and include some of them. Many of the ingredients are the same, so it limits what I need in my pantry.

    I’m also using more potatoes and making more soup. Both very budget friendly and healthy. There was an article in the New York Times on Sunday 10/26 by Elisabeth Rosenthal about potatoes. A search of “depression era recipes” brings up many recipes using potatoes.

    I love the ideas everyone has presented. here.

  86. Gillian

    I made dad’s pulled pork and mom’s chili. Thanks for the good ideas! Both were so delish!

  87. Robert

    One of our household favories is chicken and potatoes cooked in Italian dressing. Take whatever chicken parts you like, add some diced potato (one medium potato per person in bite-size pieces), drizzle 1/2 bottle of your favorite Italian dressing over it, and cook in a casserole dish in the oven until done. Only three ingredients!

  88. Alecia

    One thing I love to do is cook a pork or beef roast in the crock pot in beef broth. I often find good deals on roasts, and then I use them right away or freeze them. Sometimes I add tomato paste and herbs for more of a stew flavor. And of course add carrots, potatoes, celery, any veggies on hand. When dinner is done and the cooking fluids have cooled, I strain them off and pour into a gallon sized freezer bag, then freeze flat. The next time I make a roast, or stew, I have pre-flavored broth. I don’t have to buy it as often (I don’t have time to make my own) and it has a ton of flavor!

  89. daniel

    This site is fantastic!
    Really love the stuff on here!

  90. Paula

    Wow, such great ideas, thanks folks! My trick, especially since I have a long commute is the crock pot, you can do wonders with cheaper cuts of beef, potatoes, carrots, onion, and cream of mushroom soup- cooks while you’re gone and you have a nice comfort dish of pot roast when you get home. Next day, roast beef sandwiches. Growing up in Spain, we often ate simple lettuces salad, amazingly, it is good and simple – just romaine lettuce (more nutricious than iceberg) and thin sliced onions and oil/vinegar – this would accompany just about every side of protein, … meat, fish, chicken, etc., and very basic but good for you and your wallet. Also tortilla de patata (Spanish potato omelet) – very hearty and simply eggs and potatoes (sometimes onions) in a fritata style omelet – keeps well in the fridge for leftovers too. Cheers!

  91. Gisela

    Make your own bread. Three cups of flour, a tsp. or less of yeast and a bit of salt is all it takes to create a loaf of bread that goes for $4 at the grocery. Lack of time is not an excuse with no-knead bread recipes.

    Another super cheap dish is scalloped potatoes and onions. Resist the urge to add cheese, garlic or anything else. Just parboiled potatoes, carmelized onions, and white sauce, seasoned with salt and pepper.

  92. Mar

    Something we do in my house to stretch the budget. Buy a whole or half ham when it is on sale, usually right before Christmas or Easter. We got a half-ham for $10. Take it home and slice it yourself into sandwich size slices, big fat “ham steak” style slices, and cubes (for pizza or casseroles) and freeze. Then use the bone to make a BIG pot of bean or pea soup. Now I still have 3 big bags of sliced up ham in my freezer.

    Another tip- Whenever I make a pot of soup, I ladle some into one or 2 of those red plastic cups and freeze. Now I have 3 different types of soup in my freezer in single-serve portions for whenever I don’t feel like cooking.

  93. Ana

    We have a family of three and we eat on less than $350.00 each month. We live in Oregon and things can be a bit pricey in the Portland area. Our menu always includes fresh veggies (usually around what is on season), fresh fruit (season also), whatever protein is on special and for any can or spice items, BUY the store brand!! ;) We also eat a lot of black beans, pinto beans and lentils (cooked at home), rice and whole wheat pastas, as well as fresh corn tortillas, eggs and cheese products! I am from Mexico but carry a Spanish heritage and I have the perfect recipe for you :)

    Cook some lentils with a drizzle of olive oil (extra virgin), once the lentils are cooked, add some chopped onion and salt and pepper to taste. Add some chopped ham and a kielbasa ;), as well as a can (or two) of diced tomatoes!! and voila!! Delicious and very nutritious, I always make a green salad with this, my little 2 year old LOVES this lentil soup!!

  94. Jae

    Wow! What great ideas. I am a stay at home mom struggling to keep our family budget in check so I can continue to stay home with our young sons.

    I try to make everything I can from scratch. Even bread. Homemade bread is made with few ingredients.It is healthier as well as tastier when you make it yourself. I also make my own “fruit roll ups.” I just use fruit that we haven’t had a chance to eat yet, I puree it then spread it out over wax paper on a cookie sheet. I put it in the oven on the lowest temp then let it sit in there for at least 6 hours.

    I am so thankful for this site and all the inspirational comments.

    You’re welcome! By the way, I love making fruit roll-ups too. Here’s our recipe for fruit leather. ~Elise

  95. paula

    You cannot beat Heinz Baked beans on toast. !!

  96. Hannah

    Just a comment on someone else’ previous post about buying a large thing of cheese instead of the sliced. I don’t know how it is everywhere, but here in the ‘burbs of Portland Oregon, if you buy a normal brick of cheese from the store, you can take it to the deli and they’ll slice it for free. It’s a whole lot cheaper than buying the pre-sliced and packaged cheese…

  97. KathyS

    I love this article and all the information from your readers. I also really enjoy this site.
    I have 3 small kids who, I think like all kids, can be a bit finicky. One thing I found that saves a ton of money is homemade yogurt and granola. Here in upstate NY milk is only $2/gallon but yogurt is $3/quart ($12/gallon). I found by taking about 10 minutes of active time I can make a gallon of yogurt for a little over $2. I used the WikiHow site recipe b/c all I need is milk, yogurt (about 1 tbls), some dry milk, and a heating pad. So easy and I let my kids add flavorings if they want.
    For the granola, I take 1 1/2 cups of brown sugar with 1/2 cup of water and microwave for about 5 minutes add a little salt and vanilla and mix it with 8 cups of oatmeal and whatever nuts, seeds, flax, germ I have in the house. Bake at 275 for 45 min. The kids love it! The granola is great for the kids to bring to school for snack also. I let them throw in some raisins, chocolate chips or whatever.
    The other tip is joining your local CSA. Not only do you get healthy, organic produce, it makes you look up recipes for items you have never heard of and vary your diet. I find it easier to get my kids to try something new, if they know it is also new for me. My daughter has learned she loves kale and my son has learned he doesn’t!

    Great tips, thanks Kathy! ~Elise

  98. Thanh Lu

    Here’s another way to spice up budget cooking:
    a gourmet fried egg sandwich

    A fried egg (over medium, still some yellow yolk to run) with mayo spread over bread, top the egg with sprouts, tomato, avocado, cucumbers, cilantro, a little of salt & pepper. Yum!

    It looks and taste really fancy and simple.
    It’s also easy and quick to make.
    Also very healthy with all the vegetables in the sandwich.

  99. Annie

    Elise, I work in a food bank at a local church. I get an assortment of canned foods to put into packages for those who come to the church in need of food. While packing the food bags it occurred to me that surely I can group these canned/boxed foods in such a manner that I can give a family “a meal”. (I try to put enough for 4 dinner meals in each bag) I see from the posts that many of you really stretch your budget. I only have access to canned/boxed items donated to the church. I put bean and rice donations together in bags, I put tuna helper and a can of tuna together, I thought of putting hamburger helper together with pinto beans or canned chilli or Mac & Cheese donations, which are plentiful, with a can of chilli. I am looking for ideas of ways to combine the variety of canned goods in ways that make useful “go togethers” for a meal. Might there be any suggestions which could help me better serve so many families in need right now. Thank you for all suggestions. Annie

  100. cate

    Anyone have a good old-fashioned “Ham and Cabbage” recipe for the crock pot? My Mom and my friend used to just throw a ham in the crock pot with a quartered cabbage, a little water, let it cook all day, and then add quartered potatoes and cook until they were tender. I want to try it, but, do not remember what spices, etc. would go well.

    Sounds a lot like New England Boiled Dinner. ~Elise

  101. Megan

    One of the best cheap recipes I have is for homemade chili! All you need is 1 lb ground beef/turkey (browned & crumbled), 1/2 an onion chopped, a large can of diced tomatoes, one 8-oz. can tomato sauce, one 6-oz. can tomato paste, 1 can of kidney beans, 1 can of chili beans and about 2-4 tablespoons of chili powder. Throw it all in a large pot (don’t drain the beans!), bring it to a boil then reduce the heat to low/med-low and cook for at least an hour. I like to add the chili powder half an hour before serving so it doesn’t get too bitter. This recipe works great with crock-pots, too!

  102. Crystal

    I’ve found that adding bulgar wheat to ground beef has been great for reducing the amount of red meat that we eat and making it go farther, while adding more protein and fibre to our diet. A few minutes before I put the meat on to brown, I put 3/4 cup of bulgar wheat on to boil with 1 cup of broth or water, then cook as I would rice for 15 minutes. When the meat has browned, I add the cooked bulgar wheat and any herbs, spices, onion, garlic. Is wonderful in pasta sauce, burritos, stews, casseroles, meatloafs, etc.

  103. Summer

    We eat meat once a week, which keeps our food costs down but a favorite meal I make is a casserole made with chickpeas, spinach (wilted is best) a cup of orzo and either a can of chopped tomatoes or fresh chopped tomatoes. Add some basil, thyme, oregano, and garlic for flavor and bake at 350 for about 30 minutes.
    It’s a complete meal. Sometimes we add some cheese to the top, feta is especially good!

  104. Julie

    Great ideas – I really want to try making yogurt. It is amazing how much money you can save by buying ingredients instead of convenience foods. Pasta was my go to meal when my son was growing up, there was always some kind of pasta dish that he could reheat after school or soccer – ready for him in the frig.

  105. Marisa

    I understand how planning out meals works for some people, but for those of us who get cagey at the idea of knowing what you’ll eat for dinner six days from now …. It requires some cooking skill or the desire to get skills, but it allows for more flexibility. Here are the cheap (but not tawdry!) methods we use:

    1. Instead of planning meals, stock up on cheap vegetables and basic grains based on what is on sale / in season. Challenge yourself to integrate those items in every meal. Example: I always have onions, spinach, sweet potatoes, ginger, and garlic on hand. These are all pretty cheap at our farmer’s market and I can add them to most anything with lots of variety.

    2. DON’T shop for recipes if you aren’t comfortable enough in the kitchen to use the ingredients in other meals. We had a friend who religiously followed Alton Brown’s recipes. They turned out well, because butter and salt usually tastes good, but he was spending over $50 for a weekday dinner! Those Food Network people are bankrolled …. and obnoxious.

    3. Jazz up beans and rice. I love beans and rice, but I love the add ons even more. We shred up iceberg lettuce or cabbage, diced onions, tomatoes, shredded block cheddar, fresh cilantro, sour cream and hot sauce. They’re all relatively cheap ingredients and you can easily omit what you don’t have or don’t like. It also makes leftovers more palatable.

    4. Know your substitutions. Example: when making the cheap box of mac and cheese, be flexible with that half a cup of milk requirement. We’ve (successfully) used sour cream, unsweetened rice or almond milk, plain yogurt or chicken broth. Substitutions are a good way to fake your way through a recipe. It might not taste exactly like the original, but sometimes it tastes better.

    5. Never, ever, ever, ever buy anything pre-cut or sliced or seasoned. Your time isn’t that valuable.

    6. Buy The Flavor Bible. My boyfriend got it for me and it was the best gift. Instead of recipes, it just lists complimentary foods, spices and meats. Like, under “Apricots” it will list all of the foods that go well with apricots, highlighting those that are especially complimentary. It’s great for people who don’t love following directions in recipes or if you are trying to save a recipe. It’s wonderful.

    7. Use your leftover fruits and vegetables for health and beauty routines. If an avocado has gone too ripe, google uses for it as a hair or face mask.

    Good luck and I hope everyone keeps sharing their tips!

  106. Susan

    #1 budget saver requires space: big freezer and big pantry. My mantra is “When its cheap buy it in bulk”. I hate to pay full price for anything. By cost averaging this way I get to eat what I want, when I want, as cheaply as possible.
    #2 Invest in good knives (a couple of serrated and a set of straight edge [kept SHARP –> you really are less likely to hurt yourself if you don’t have to “saw”/press really hard to cut through foods]) and cookware. You don’t need $2000+ cookware but quality pots will take high heat, go from stove to oven, won’t stick/burn as easily, will clean up more easily and won’t put teflon bits in your food. You’ll cook more often if the entire experience is positive from start to finish.
    #3 the best value is always on whole unprocessed foods which require prep and cooking. So my other “best friends” are the BBQ, crock pot, 2 burner hotplate and breadmaker all of which are outside during the summer and all but the BBQ make great space heaters inside all winter.
    #4 Try new things/give yourself permission to fail. Not all recipes will turn out perfectly every time (Murphy’s law pretty much guarantees they won’t when you are having company over) and you’ll be less likely to experiment and try new recipes or flavour combinations if perfection is the only acceptable outcome: ps. the kids won’t starve if they miss a meal here and there because “they won’t try anything new”.

  107. Jen

    One of my favorite “budget recipes” is stuffed cabbage. I can get away with 1lb of ground beef, 1/2 cup of uncooked rice, 1 small head of cabbage and 1 large can of store brand crushed tomatoes and 1 can of store brand tomato sauce. I make the stuffed cabbage and steam the rest of the cabbage pour melted butter on the cabbage and sprinkle with bread crumbs and serve with rice or mashed potatoes. Usually this meal costs me less than $7 to feed a family of 4 and have enough leftover for the two adults for lunch the next day.

  108. Marisa

    We just made a dinner that made me think of this post and wanted to share:

    Stuffed spaghetti squash (working title).

    I just baked a spaghetti squash at 375 until I could pierce it very easily with a knife (maybe 20 to 30 minutes? Maybe longer…). Then, I took it out, sliced it open and scooped out the seeds. Take a fork and rake it along the sides to get the “spaghetti noodles” free. Transfer the strands to a bowl, mix in with a little olive oil and salt and fresh herbs (i used fresh basil and dried oregano). Then, we added some leftover spaghetti sauce and mixed it all together and scooped the mixture back in the squash halves. I topped it with shredded cheddar (mozzarella would have been better) and panko bread crumbs (toasted day old bread crumbled up works too) and baked it until the bread crumbs were crispy and the cheese was bubbling.

    Very filling and VERY cheap:

    -the squash costs around 2 bucks or less and fed two healthy eaters.
    – leftover spaghetti sauce (anything could be used here. Crushed tomatoes / fresh tomatoes / just olive oil / alfredo sauce / etc)

  109. Karla

    We are always living paycheck to paycheck so we find the cheapest way possible to make a meal that will fill 5 of us. My husband came up with grilled cheese which i make a little different i add a little seasoning to the butter on the bread..I also get a big can of veggie soup and make beef rice to go in it..very filling. We came up with our own fajita, we would find chicken already cooked and sliced (sometimes can be found cheap) i take it and heat it up throw it on a tortilla with rice and ranch dressing..yum still my favorite.

  110. Terry

    I just love ready all the ideas on ways to cook and using what you have in your kitchen. Makes me hungry and gets me thinking on new ideas.

  111. Kathy

    These are great ideas! I lived in alabama all my life and have grown up on buget southern cooking. Some of the cheapest meals are my family’s favorites:

    1)Large white lima beans, onion, garlic, ham boulion, salt in the crock pot. Serve with corn bread feeds the whole family for $1
    2)Chicken and dumplins
    3) chicken and rice
    4) corn beef and cabbage
    5) The 3 meal pork roast: night 1 bake in oven, night 2 take the left over meat mix with bbq for pulled pork sandwiches, night 3 take the bone or hock and use in beans or greens.
    6) shepperds pie

  112. Nelly

    Wow, I really really love all this ideas!!!

    I just moved in to Russia (Moscow) from UK, and I can tell you now, it’s not very easy to live in Moscow. The food is really really expensive here and tastes horrible. I have two little kids, which I need to make a dinner everyday after school and somedays it’s very hard to find inspiration on what to cook, so the kids will eat.

    So please keep posting this great ideas and recipes, as I always on this site looking through the pages.

    Thanks again, I love this web site…..

  113. Samantha S.

    I love this! I am a college student and we have found most of this to be really true and we try to save money while still enjoying our love of cooking! All of our friends always ask how we eat so well and cook so much and these budget friendly items are the answer!

  114. Tasha

    I loved reading this post and all comments, some great ideas to try. Here is my contribution from New Zealand.

    I make a self crusting quiche with whatever I have available. All you need is 3 or 4 eggs and a little milk,some cheese, half cup of flour and whatever you want to flavor it with. I have used some diced onion and bacon, chopped spring onions and ham, a few diced tomatoes and frozen veges as well as a can of tuna and cheese. Whatever you have to flavor it will work.
    It can go a really long way and one of those dishes great for large crowds – just make it in a huge pan

  115. Jeni

    We eat tons of rice and beans. Grains in general are pretty cheap (as long at you tend toward the “oats” end of the spectrum and away from the “purple wild rice”). Lots of bread, too; good for you and calorie dense. We eat eggs at least once a day and save meat of any kind for special occasions. Fruit and veg from the local farms is cheaper than the store. As my husband says, we’ve become “quasi-loca-flexitarian.”

    We, in making a small budget stretch, have found that starting with whole, unprocessed foods that you cook yourself is wayyyy cheaper than buying anything “convenient”.

  116. Gary in Massena

    I was raised by first generation Americans of Slovak peasant stock (I’m proud to say). Our menu was strongly influenced by heritage and contained a lot of simple, hearty (and especially carb loaded) foods. Now that I think about it almost every meal was comfort food and every meal also was cooked on a budget.

    One of my favorites has always been sauerkraut soup over smashed potatoes.

    To start make Zaprashka (Roux) and use it to thicken sour kraut into a soup, seasoned with garlic (always a lot), salt and pepper. Serve over basic smashed potatoes.

    If you want to get fancy – mix sliced sausage or kielbasa in too.

    Now that I think about it, I have not made this in a while. With cool weather setting in in northern New York it is time to put this back into the menu.

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