Food is expensive. In most families, it's the second or third largest monthly expense. (The other two are housing and transportation.) Food is the easiest of the "big three" to control. It's also the expense that it's easiest to flex both up and down - you can go very lean for a little while and then splurge when you can afford it. With many of us looking at our budgets for the new year, this is a perfect time to consider frugal foods that can help you get your budget back in line.
In that spirit, here are meals/recipes that are cheap, tasty, and (at least relatively) nutritious:
- Black beans and rice. My family likes this recipe. It's not the cheapest, but it is very flexible. We've added and subtracted ingredients in any number of ways.
- Baked potatoes. Just butter and pepper are great, but you can get fancy with cheese, sour cream, chives, bacon, canned chili, or whatever else sounds good to you. In England, they add tuna fish and corn. Go figure.
- Kai Si Ming, a New Zealand all-in-one dish using ground beef and cabbage. This version is written with American words and measurements but inexplicably forgets to include the essential curry powder. More vegetables can be added as desired.
- This golden cauliflower soup recipe makes enough for a week. It isn't super-cheap to start but it is very healthy, warm and can be mixed up with different toppings and add-ins.
- Fried rice. You can add meat or whatever veggies you have that desperately need to be eaten.
- Potato frittatas: potatoes and eggs = yum. Here's a basic recipe to get you started if you've never had a potato frittata. Once again, you can add basically anything to this recipe.
- Tomato soup with popcorn floating on top.
- Super-simple unstuffed cabbage using a head of cabbage, shredded, topped with browned ground beef and a jar of spaghetti sauce. Bake until the cabbage is cooked and the dish is hot through. Top with cheese if desired. If you prefer an actual recipe, start with this one.
- Burritos, can be made ahead, frozen and microwaved. You can do breakfast (eggs with peppers, onions, mushrooms, cheese, etc.) or lunch/dinner (rice with beans and cheese.) If you're not eating flour, you can do just the burrito fillings for a bowl.
- Chili. Leftovers freeze well, and little bits can be used to top nachos, hot dogs, and baked potatoes.
- Bean, corn and tomato soup. Even better yet, it can be made entirely with canned stuff and it still tastes good. Perfect for keeping these supplies on hand for when "there's nothing to eat" and you just can't find time to get to the store. Once again, you can make this complicated if you want, but there's really no need.
- Quesadillas. Start with cheese, and add what's available, on sale, or leftover.
- Breakfast for any meal: pancakes, waffles, scrambled eggs. Cereal may not win you any parenting awards but lots of people are happy to have it for dinner once in a while.
- Chili-mac. This Cheesy Vegetarian Chili Mac looks sooo good and it is going on my meatless Monday menu ASAP. Prefer meat? Consider my grandmother's recipe. Might have been your grandmother's, too.
Also, in compiling this list, I completely fell in love with the blog BudgetBytes. I found at least 20 recipes that I want to go cook right now, except that we're visiting family and they don't want me commandeering their kitchen and leaving a ton of leftovers. This woman knows her frugal foods!
If you're reading this post, that means you have access to the internet, where there lives a limitless number of resources for finding inspiration, ideas, and tips for keeping your food budget low. This list is just a starting point; an internet search for cheap meals or frugal foods will give you days worth of reading. Take advantage of the information available to cut your food budget, whether it's a temporary fix or a permanent shift.