The other night, my boyfriend’s mom made eggplant parmesan for dinner. She’s a great gardener, so she had a few huge eggplants on hand and figured it would be a cheap and easy meal. Turns out, it was neither easy nor cheap. The recipe called for a ton of expensive ricotta cheese, as well as numerous other ingredients she didn’t have on hand. Although it was delicious, it quickly went from a home-grown budget meal to an expensive eggplant extravaganza.
You’ve heard all the tips on saving when you go out to a restaurant. But did you ever stop to think about how much it actually costs you to cook a meal at home? Without a doubt, cooking cheaper meals will help lower your grocery bill. Here are some tips for cooking cheaper dishes, and spending less money when you’re “eating in.”
Eat healthier – Did you know that saving inches on your waistline can also save money in your wallet? Doing things like reducing portion sizes and buying less junk food will help you spend less on the grocery bill. You’ll also save by drinking more water and eating less dessert. Save money, lose weight: it’s a win-win.
Buy foods that are “frugal but filling” – Some food staples are cheaper than others. If you keep your home stocked with the cheaper options, you’ll be able to create gourmet meals in a pinch. I found a great article about cheap pantry staples, and you can see it here. For your reference, here are a few key items to stock your kitchen with that will provide many cheap and healthy meals.
- Boneless chicken breasts and thighs – These are healthy and can be added to salads, pastas, and soups, or even served as the main course.
- Turkey cutlets and ground turkey – These are cheaper and healthier than their beef alternatives.
- Frozen vegetables (peas, corn, green beans) – Frozen veggies are great to have on hand. They have all the nutrients of fresh produce, without the high cost.
- Carrots, romaine lettuce, celery, bell peppers – These vegetables all keep well, and you can use them in pretty much any dish, or even turn them into a quick salad.
- Broccoli, cauliflower, and potatoes – These all make delicious side dishes.
- Apples, oranges, raisins and bananas – These are great anytime for a cheap, healthy snack.
- Rice, beans, and noodles – These make great sides, or can be used as a base, in a casserole, or just about anywhere.
- Oatmeal – Oatmeal is cheaper than cereal, and makes a hearty, quick breakfast. It can also be used for baking.
Think frozen, canned, or dried – According to WebMD, frozen, canned, and dried ingredients are less expensive than produce, yet equally nutritious. Buying these types of foods also saves you money because it cuts down on waste. Frozen foods allow you to use only what you need, and return the rest to the freezer. Canned and dry foods last longer and you won’t have to worry about them going bad before you can use them.
Buy alternate sources of protein – Meats are expensive. I’m not suggesting you have to become a vegetarian, but vegetarian options are ultimately going to be cheaper than buying pork or beef or chicken for every meal. Try using tofu, beans, or even mushrooms, since they’ll provide protein and keep you full, while still keeping your grocery bill down.
Focus on vegetables and grains – Let me rehash that last point: meat is expensive. When you do cook with meat, don’t make it the superstar of the meal. In other words, your “main dish” shouldn’t be a pricey cut of steak or pork tenderloin. Instead, focus your meal on whole grains and vegetables. By filling your plate with noodles, rice, veggies and other cheaper ingredients, you’ll use less meat. Think of meat as a flavorful condiment, to be used sparingly.
Cook with a Crock-pot – For the busy working parent, Crock-pot cooking is magical. You can make a variety of recipes and use very few ingredients. What’s more, any leftovers can be frozen and eaten for another meal.
Don’t waste it – We waste so much food every day, and let’s face it, there is no grosser task than removing moldy leftovers from the fridge. You can avoid waste by freezing any extra food you happen to purchase, and by repurposing leftovers. If you make a conscious effort to eat your leftovers for lunch the next day, or incorporate them into tomorrow’s meal, you’ll waste a lot less food and spend a lot less money.
Check online – When worst comes to worst – Google it. There are so many online resources offering meal suggestions and shopping lists to complement the budget-minded chef. My favorite food website, allrecipes.com, even has a budget meals section, as well as numerous tips for planning your meals with a budget in mind.
Planning ahead and purchasing cheaper ingredients can save you a lot of money. Eating in can be a financially responsible and healthy decision. Eating in frugally can save you even more.