One of the easiest ways to save money is to cook cheap, easy meals on a budget. When you prepare food at home, you have a lot of control over how much you spend. Further, saving money on home-cooked meals doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice nutrition. There are plenty of cheap, easy, healthy meals you can prepare.
Of course, the ingredients you use in those home-cooked meals determine how cost-effective they are, so pay careful attention to what you use to create those foods.
Here are some tips for cutting your food bill while eating tasty meals.
Eat Whole Foods
Colorful packaging and pre-chopped and seasoned ingredients generally cost more, and they’re often high in fat and sodium. Watch your waistline and save a bundle by making your own meals from whole ingredients like lean cuts of meat, pasta, potatoes, rice and fresh vegetables.
Try Cheap Sources of Protein
Protein sources tend to be some of the most expensive items in the food budget. Of course, they also help to create tasty, well-balanced meals. Some proteins are much less expensive than others, though. Generally, meats are costly. Some good choices that are much less money, yet pack a protein punch, include eggs, canned tuna, baked beans, tofu and lentils. For an especially cheap source of protein, try hearts, livers and kidneys.
Make Meat Stretch
If you do like meat, don’t make it the center of the meal. Instead, buy small quantities and use it to flavour your foods. For instance, broil a chicken breast and cut it up into small pieces that you add to a quiche. Diced beef is inexpensive and makes a great stew. This is especially helpful for creating cheap meals for a large family.
Here’s one inexpensive recipe that the whole family will enjoy. The meal can be made ahead in a slow-cooker or cooked on the stove.
Hearty Beef Stew
- 500 g beef stew meat
- 750 ml beef broth
- 500 ml water
- 3 carrots, sliced
- 1 stalk of celery, sliced
- 15 ml Worcestershire Sauce
- 1 onion, diced
- 2 large potatoes, cubed
- 4 cloves garlic, pressed
- 2 bay leaves
- 31 g flour
Place all ingredients except the flour and 125 ml of the water into a stock pot or slow-cooker. Mix the ingredients well and cook on low heat in the slow-cooker for three to five hours. On the stove, cook for two hours. When the stew meat and vegetables are well-cooked, mix the water and flour by shaking the combination vigorously in a jar until well combined. Add the flour mixture to the stew gradually, mixing quickly to avoid lumps. Once the stew is thickened, it’s ready to eat.
Fill Up on Sides
Of course, you don’t want to overdo it with the starches, but there are a lot of inexpensive side dishes that can nicely round out a meal. It costs very little to create fiber-rich meals featuring brown rice, whole grains like quinoa, and pasta and potatoes. You can even use these foods as the basis for the main dish and add small amounts of protein. Add a big serving of vegetables, and you've got a hearty meal.
Buy Store Brands and Generics
Whole, healthy foods don’t need a brand name. Choose the generic version of products like pasta, rice, dairy, eggs, bread and even peanut butter, and look forward to 30 to 50 percent savings on these staple items.
Since meat is one of the most expensive items on the menu, you can save quite a bit of money going without it. There are plenty of favourites that taste just as good without the meat, like the following recipe.
Veggie Shepherds Pie
This tasty classic without meat is easy to make and is hearty and filling. You can throw this recipe together quickly after a long day at work.
Ingredients for Filling:
- 30 ml cooking oil
- 3 shallots, minced
- 500 ml fresh mushrooms, sliced
- 6 carrots, chopped
- 500 ml veggie broth
- 1.25 ml herb seasoning mix, such as rosemary and thyme
- Salt and pepper
- 60 ml tomato paste
- 30 ml flour
- 250 ml frozen peas
- 250 ml frozen corn
Ingredients for Mash:
- 6 potatoes (about 9 grams)
- 125 ml Greek yogurt
- 45 ml butter, plus two pats
- Salt and pepper
Preheat oven to 200 degrees Celcius.
Make the mash: Boil peeled and quartered potatoes in water until they’re fork-tender. Drain and mash, then mix in the yogurt and butter. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Make the veggies and gravy: Sauté the shallots, mushrooms and carrots in cooking oil until the vegetables are softened. Add the tomato paste and flour and mix well. Slowly add broth, stirring as the mixture thickens. Season to taste with salt, pepper and seasoning mix. Simmer for 10 minutes over low heat until the mix thickens further. Stir in the frozen peas and corn and cook until they’re heated.
Bake: Place the veggies and gravy in a casserole dish and spread the potatoes on top. Add the two pats of butter to the top of the potatoes. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes at 180 degrees Celsius. To brown the top of the potatoes, place under the broiler for an additional 3 to 5 minutes.