It can be difficult to figure out things to cook when you're short on cash. When looking a recipe up online, it's easy to be overwhelmed by the long lists of pricey ingredients, or the fancy spices that will cost more than your week's wages. I hear you; it can be tough to cook on a budget.
Recently, I decided that I wanted to learn how to make my own Pad Thai (one of my favorite meals ever) instead of constantly ordering expensive takeout. I spent so much money buying the correct oils and vegetables that I ended up dropping about $50 on a meal I ended up ruining anyway (turns out Pad Thai is really hard to make). Defeated, I decided I'd be sticking to my pricey restaurant food after all.
But takeout doesn't have to be your only option, especially if you stick to simple recipes with affordable ingredients. There is something to be said for stocking up on kitchen staples when you can (like olive oil, seasoning, and vinegars). And also something to be said for simple recipes that you won't run the risk of ruining.
Here are some recipes that require a small amount of (cheap!) ingredients, and some things you may already have in your fridge, so that you can cook yourself some delicious meals even when you're short on cash.
1. "Whatever You Have In Your Fridge" Soup
Never fear, there's still something you can make for dinner even if you open your fridge and see nothing but some leftover chicken, half a tomato preserved messily in plastic wrap, and a bit of garlic (sound familiar?) In cases like this, it's key to have some stock on hand to make soups. Chicken or veggie stock costs less than a dollar, and can really help stretch out your leftovers. According to this recipe on Food.com, whipping up some soup is really just about throwing things in a pot starting with what takes the longest to cook. Making soup is incredibly easy, and of course all recipes can be tweaked depending on what you have lying around. Plus, soup has the added benefit of lasting forever in the freezer, so you can make a whole batch and eat it for weeks.
2. Rices & Beans: The Staples Of Humanity
Rice and beans are probably the cheapest things you can buy in the grocery store. And they come in bulk — think whopping bags you have to throw over your shoulder for only a few dollars. Keep some rice and beans in your cabinet and cook 'em up whenever you're strapped for cash (or whenever you want, really). They make a great simple meal all on their own. But you can also get all fancy and make pilaf (which requires quite a few ingredients, though they are all cheap). Or, you can throw beans and rice in a slow cooker with a few extra ingredients such as cumin, tomatoes, and corn, according to writer Erin Chase on her website 5DollarDinners.com. Sounds pretty good to me.
3. Your Very Own Personal Pizza (And Variations Thereof)
Pizza is another catch-all food to make when you have a bunch of weird stuff in your kitchen and no clear way to combine it all. It's also way cheaper to make it yourself than to order takeout, although I understand the convenience is mighty tempting. But it truly is simple to slap together a pie all by yourself. If you have some store bought pizza dough already in your freezer, then what luck! Pile on whatever you have and I'm sure it'll taste great. Or try making your own dough, which is actually easier than it sounds. All you need is active dry yeast, white sugar, bread flour, olive oil, a bit of salt, and a cup of warm water, according to AllRecipes.com. These are all cheap, basic ingredients you should think about keeping in your kitchen. As a total last resort, you can also make pizza on some mini bagels with melted cheese and tomato sauce. It won't win any culinary awards, but sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do.
4. DIY Tacos Or Burritos
Another super cheap food in the same vein as rice and beans is tacos. Everyone loves tacos, and for good reason. They are affordable, delicious, and easy to make. And yeah, all you need is some rice and beans, a tortilla, and you're done. If you want to take it a up a notch, it's possible to do so without breaking your grocery budget. Throw in some roasted vegetables, fish, cheese, salsa — you can really go nuts. But the best thing about tacos, as we all know, is the guacamole. This, too, is possible to make at home, and with only three ingredients: an avocado, sour cream, and salsa. Mix it all together in a bowl and have as much as you want, without worrying about paying extra for the stuff like you do in a restaurant.
5. Eggs Forever
Take inspiration from every college student you know and start cooking eggs for every meal. There's a reason young dudes love eggs, and that's because they're super cheap and really easy to make. In fact, there's a recipe for an omelette that takes 40 seconds to make and only requires two eggs and some butter, according to MrBreakfast.com. If you're too broke to get take out, and yet too lazy to cook, here is your answer.
6. Roasted Veggies For Days
Vegetables are often not cheap, unless you buy them in bulk. The best place to do this is at a farmer's market, where you can really stock up for the week. Veggies are good to have on hand, however poor you may be, because they can be added to each of the recipes above, or you can eat them on your own. Roasted vegetables may not be the most fillings things ever, but they are still really good. According to the blog GoodCheapEats.com, all you need are some chopped veggies like broccoli or cauliflower, olive oil, some salt and pepper, and a bit of garlic to make yourself a nice meal.
All it takes to create some cheap meals are a few kitchen staples and whatever you have in your fridge. Whether you're eating on the cheap in order to stick to a budget, or because you're rubbing your last two pennies together, it's possible to make some pretty good meals that cost next to nothing.
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