Cooking on a budget

Several recipes and ideas for stretching your food dollar and cooking on a budget.

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Photography Credit: Elise Bauer

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.

Chicken Stock

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.

Refried Black Beans

3 Eggs

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

Egg Salad Sandwich

4 Use cheaper, tougher cuts of meat

Make stews with 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.

Roast Beef

5 Turkey legs and thighs

Best deal out there. You can braise them or make turkey stew.

Turkey Stew with Root Vegetables

6 Potatoes, rice, pasta

Make your meal go farther with starches like 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, check out the Budget Recipes category on the site!)

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Links:
The Hunger Challenge: Eating on $3 per day
How to save money on groceries by Alanna of Kitchen Parade
How to turn cheap "choice" steaks into Gucci "prime" steaks from Jaden's Steamy Kitchen
How to cook during a recession from Eating Out Loud

If you make this recipe, snap a pic and hashtag it #simplyrecipes — We love to see your creations on Instagram, Facebook, & Twitter!

Elise Bauer

Elise Bauer is the founder of Simply Recipes. Elise launched Simply Recipes in 2003 as a way to keep track of her family's recipes, and along the way grew it into one of the most popular cooking websites in the world. Elise is dedicated to helping home cooks be successful in the kitchen. Elise is a graduate of Stanford University, and lives in Sacramento, California.

More from Elise

120 Comments

No ImageCooking on a budget

  • Melody Gardner

    MAKE YOUR OWN BREAD! I have been doing this for years, and my family loves it. I use whole grain flours such as barley I buy at the African market, white whole wheat and bread flour from Hudson Mill in KS — local to KC. Store bought bread almost always has junk in it, I also use honey, and organic molasses for sweetener. I make sure it has a nice soak to soften the shards on the whole wheat so it does not cut the gluten strands.
    It is not only cheaper. but soooooo gooood. My family won’t let me buy from the store.

    Also, I make bone broth in my power pressure cooker — I know the fans are here! I buy chicken feet from the Asian market, and add chicken bones from a carcass. It comes out like gold jello, and totally healthy as a base for everything. The left overs I keep a pot boiling for my dogs. I add it to their food, and one 16 yo girl can’t hear, or hardly see, but she can leap tables in a single bound.
    My contribution here!

  • 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

  • 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!

  • 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…..

  • 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

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Cooking on a budget