Budgets are simply no fun, but they’re incredibly empowering when you know how to use them resourcefully, especially for your food bill. Eating within a budget is never easy with all the trendy new foods hitting the market, the constant new health advice being pushed at us to try something new, and the many tempting pre-made varieties of simple fruits, vegetables, and fancy nut and seed products out there. You’ve likely been to the store like most of us, headed in with a list and good intentions, and left wondering how you let some fancy packaged foods ruin your grocery bill so fast. No need to worry — we’ve all been there.
And then, when you get home and go to cook your meals, you’ve got a whole new feat to conquer: how to make the most of what you did buy to make it last, make it tasty, and not waste anything. Challenging? Maybe. Impossible? No.
Aside from shopping at a farmer’s market, buying in bulk, and buying what’s on sale, there are other some simple things you can do to help yourself cook simple meals, all while abiding by a budget. And no, you won’t starve doing it. Cooking affordable meals is really much easier than you think. And though conquering the grocery store’s temptations will never be a breeze for some of us, it can be done if you remember to keep these cooking tips in mind. It also doesn’t mean skimping by on flavor while cooking, or eating beans all week just to stay full on a small amount of money.
Try these tips to hack your budget (and your menus) without insane amounts of calculating and configuring.
1. Bulk Up On Veggies
Start with the produce department when you shop, and be sure you pick up some bulking veggies. Not veggies that will bulk you up, but bulk up your meals and your appetite. These are inexpensive foods such as: heads of broccoli and cauliflower, sweet potatoes and regular potatoes, winter squash, onions, carrots, kale, and spinach. While these might seem simple, they’re very satisfying and filling. Other foods in the produce section are of course good for you, but aren’t necessarily that filling and affordable per serving. These foods are also some of the most nutrient-dense and help lower your blood sugar to prevent you from getting hungrier quicker.
2. Pick Two
At many veggie-friendly restaurants, they often have a “Pick Two” section of the menu where you choose any two veggies listed. We should practice this more at home. Because even though more veggies seems filling and even healthier, the truth is, sometimes a little goes a long way. Instead of feeling the need to cook multiple amounts, just pick two per meal to pair with a protein source. A cup of sauteed kale in some water with dried herbs, black pepper, and a touch of sea salt with a baked or roasted sweet potato makes for a fantastic side of vegetables that will satisfy you. It will also prove just how delicious affordable meals can be that require little time or excessive planning.
3. Use What Goes Bad First
If you buy quick-to expire veggies such as fresh broccoli and kale, use those first before you use frozen spinach or other veggies. Leafy greens and non-root vegetables tend to spoil more quickly than root vegetables do (which will last for months). Never let a good vegetable go to waste in the fridge because you just forgot to use it; that’s throwing money away and good food too!
4. Learn to Love the Pantry
The pantry might seem like just another place to keep snacks and spices, but honestly, it’s one of the best-kept secrets to help you eat healthier and cheaper. While canned foods get a lot of negative attention, the truth is, for a budget and busy schedule, they’re life-savers. Instead of nixing canned food, buy generic brands and choose BPA-free brands when possible. Whole Foods’ generic 365 brand is just as comparable in price to name brand items at Walmart and other major superstores, and it’s also naturally free of BPA. Artichokes, pumpkin, soups, tomatoes, corn, green beans, chickpeas, and other vegan delights all make great canned foods to keep in your pantry. You can normally get around five cans for $10 or under. That’s five meals worth if you’re feeding two people. You certainly can’t eat out for that amount. Learn to love the pantry and find out how to use canned goods for the good.
5. Get Creative With Pantry Goods
Soups, chilis, or even just a quick reheat on the stove with some seasonings can turn canned foods into something delicious. Try artichoke hearts with some canned tomatoes, oregano, black pepper, and some veggie broth — what a great side meal that people rarely think of. It’s filling, delicious, and yes, cheap too. Or, how about using canned pumpkin and mixing with some non-dairy milk, cinnamon, nutmeg, and a touch of black pepper as a smashing substitute to mashed potatoes or pasta? Green beans need nothing more than some black pepper, a touch of apple cider vinegar, a little sea salt, and what a side in just minutes! Learn to love the pantry for creative, affordable meals.
6. Learn to Rotate Proteins
Anyone would get tired of eating lentils all week just to add cheap protein to a meal. So, the best thing to do is to rotate your protein options. Some, such as hemp seeds, only cost cents per serving, though the bag may seem pricy itself. Use 3 tablespoons of hemp seeds on a salad or on top of cooked vegetables one night for 14 grams of protein and over 8 grams of fiber. The next night, use lentils or black beans, which we all know are affordable and high in protein. Maybe the next night you’ll use frozen peas, a powerhouse protein option and also pennies per serving. If you enjoy eating grains, also add a small side of these to your meals to make things more filling. Brown rice, quinoa, wild rice, and oats are all great options.
7. Be Smart With Your Portions
Though it can be tempting to prepare yourself big meals, try to avoid that and just make proper serving sizes. One reason is because many times, our eyes are bigger than our tummies, which can make for throwing food away, or saving it for leftovers that never get eaten. If you’d like to batch cook to save time through the week, make a commitment to eat those leftovers, or freeze them so you know they won’t go bad; all they’ll need is a quick reheat the nights you decide to eat them.
These food hacks are tips anyone can use and are all simple enough to try right away. Keep lunches simple by using some budget-friendly meatless lunch ideas, and keep simple snacks on hand that will fill you up such as baby carrots, oranges, apples, and bananas. If you love beans, don’t neglect those as well; they’re awesome sources of protein that most people thrive with on a budget. And though nut butter and seed butters can seem expensive, most of the natural options aren’t too bad, are very filling per serving, and make great protein options that will last awhile in your fridge.
If you have any tips for cooking on a budget, we’d love to hear them. Let us know your best frugal cooking tips so we can give them a try!
Lead Image Source: Katrin Morenz/Flickr