Sticking to a budget can be difficult, especially when it comes to food. Going out to eat is pricey, and even when you try and save money by cooking at home, your grocery bill can get pretty expensive. If you do manage to to leave the store without breaking the bank, chances are your grocery bags will be filled with microwaveable noodle cups, canned beans, and a whole lot of tuna — in other words, cheap groceries. Suffice to say, eating well on a budget is hard work.
Luckily for us, author and cook Leanne Brown has made it a whole lot easier. While studying for her master's degree in food science at NYU, Brown created Good and Cheap , a cookbook whose goal is to provide resources and recipes for those cooking on a budget. Initially intended for people whose entire food budget comes from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, informally know as food stamps), Good and Cheap gives readers everything they need, from grocery check lists to step-by-step recipes, to cook good meals on just $4 a day.
Sounds impossible, right? I thought so too, until I got my hands on a copy of Brown's book, which is filled with page after page of mouth-watering recipes (Green Chile and Cheddar Quesadillas anybody?), handy shopping guides, supermarket and pantry strategies, and every other resource one needs to learn about economical cooking.
So whether you're a broke college student cooking for one, or the head of a household trying to provide for your family, here are nine tips from Good and Cheap for cooking smart, healthy, delicious meals without sacrificing taste, quality, or too much of your money.
1. Eat Less Meat
While meat tends to be the focus of many recipes and meals, eating well on a budget means not only changing your grocery list and your pantry, but also your mindset. Though meat offers a lot of protein, it can be expensive and only keeps for a few days. Other protein-filled meat alternatives such as nuts, beans, and eggs are inexpensive, last longer, and can be used in a variety of ways. Even if you're a sworn carnivore, you will be surprised how satisfying meatless meals can be, as long as you prepare them right.
2. Make Vegetables The Base Of Your Meals
Vegetables have so much to offer every meal — from color to flavor to texture, they really do have it all, and that is why they should be the main ingredient in all of your meals. Cheaper than most other grocery items, vegetables are healthy, filling, and versatile foods that can and should be incorporated into your breakfast, lunch, dinners, snacks, and beverages. They're they healthiest and least expensive way to create a satisfying, flavorful meal.
3. Buy Ingredients That Can Be Used In Several Recipes
You want to get the most out of your money and ingredients, so when you're shopping, try and purchase food items that can be used in more than one meal. Certain pantry staples such as flour, butter, and eggs are obvious choices because of there endless uses, but other items like tomato paste, onions, tofu, and potatoes are versatile foods that can be used in dozens of different recipes to create fresh, new meals daily.
4. Skip The Drink Aisle At The Grocery Store
When it comes down to it, your body doesn't need drinks aside from water, so one of the easiest ways to eat well on a budget is to forget about packaged drinks. Not only are store-bought juices and sodas overpriced, but they are loaded with sugar. If you want to save money but still have beverage options at home aside from tap water, make your own Agua Fresca, lemonade, or smoothie from fresh ingredients in your own kitchen. They're healthier, tastier, and much cheaper than the bottles and cans.
5. Get Creative With Leftovers
Leftovers sound easy and convenient, but when you open your fridge to see cold chicken in a congealed sauce, you might think twice before reheating. Who wants to eat the same thing two days in a row anyways? Instead of reheating last night's dinner, try using your leftovers as an ingredient in an entirely new meal. They work great as taco and sandwich fillings, or even pizza toppings. By reusing your leftovers, you'll be saving money, cutting down your waste, and creating a fresh meal all at once.
6. Always Buy Eggs
Fried, scrambled, baked, boiled — the different ways in which you can prepare eggs are endless. Not only are they inexpensive (you usually end up paying less than 30 cents per egg), but they're also a healthy protein alternative to meat, and they only take minutes to cook. Scramble some eggs with your leftover taco filling, slice some hard-boiled eggs to add to your salad, or mix them in with your stir fry. No matter how you prepare them, eggs are a delicious, nutritious, budget-friendly food item you should always have in your fridge.
7. Shop Seasonally
Fruits and vegetables are such an important part of preparing healthy, tasty meals, but when it comes to choosing what to get at your next trip to the store, try and shop around for things that are in-season. Produce that is in-season is generally less expensive, not to mention fresher tasting in general. (If you've ever craved strawberries in the dead of winter, you know what I mean.) You may have to do a little research to figure out what's fresh in the area you live in, but in the end, your tastebuds and wallet will thank you.
8. Make Friends With Your Freezer
Cooking food in large batches is one of the simplest ways to save money and time, but if you aren't cooking for several people, it can also be an easy way to get sick of a meal or have it go to waste. This is where your new best friend the freezer comes in. You can prepare a large quantity of ingredients, like tomato sauce and cooked beans, and freeze whatever you don't need that day. Similarly, you can make large portions of entire meals, such as quiche or enchiladas, and store in freezer-safe containers for a quick meal on a later day. Either way, if you want to eat well, the freezer is the best way to save yourself time and money without sacrificing taste.
9. Don't Let Anything Go To Waste
Wilted vegetables and stale bread can seem heartbreaking — you spent the money on something that you couldn't use in time, so it's like throwing cash out the window — but before you tie up the garbage bag, rethink the uses of some of your less-than-perfect foods.
You should never eat anything that has gone bad or could make you sick, but vegetables past their prime can be great sautéed, blended in shakes, or added to soups, and stale bread can make excellent breadcrumbs and croutons. It's like turning lemons into lemonade, only you'll be turning bruised bananas into banana bread ... or something like that.
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