Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Cheap & Easy Meal-Builders

(This is a reader-submitted post idea: Thanks, Dan!)

Awhile back, I suggested it was possible to feed one person for a week on a grocery budget of just $5. Sounds crazy, but I know it can be done because. . .Well, I've done it!

Even if you aren't in such dire straits, you may still be looking for ways to knock a few dollars off your grocery bill. Here are 10 frugal foods that I keep well-stocked at all times to form the backbone of cheap meals.

The List
  1. Rice – by itself, in casseroles, or to add bulk to soup

  2. Beans—mainly for soup. I'm not a big bean fan, but can't justify missing the chance for cheap protein and fiber!

  3. Condensed Soup—Mushroom and Chicken are what I usually use. Add it to rice with some leftover chicken and you have an instant casserole. 'Nuff said.

  4. Chicken—the fowl that keeps on feeding. (Ok, that was lame. Moving on.) Chicken is always the cheapest meat to be had in the grocery stores I frequent. You can often find a whole chicken for 98 cents/lb. Day 1: Roast it and enjoy some chicken. Day 2: Add some of the leftover meat to a chicken and rice casserole. Day 3: Strip the rest of the meat from the bone and freeze it for later. Day 4: Throw the bones in a pot with some vegetable scraps (celery tops, old carrots, an onion or two) and make chicken stock! Day 5: Use half to make a big pot of chicken soup. Day 6: Freeze the rest of the chicken stock for later.

  5. Onions—Toss them into anything you do with the above to save a meal from being bland.

  6. Sunflower oil—For baking, frying, greasing, and more. Cheaper than stocking a bunch of cooking sprays or going through pounds of butter, and healthier than regular vegetable oils that often contain soy!

  7. Spaghetti Sauce—Not just for spaghetti. Keep some cheap Hunt's on hand to add to casseroles and other dishes.

  8. Veggies under $1/lb—(Cabbage, potatoes, often broccoli or cauliflower.....)

  9. Fruts under $1/lb—(Bananas, apples, oranges....)

  10. Herbs and spices—You don't need a huge variety, but if you keep a few of your favorites on hand they can take cheap meals from boring to extraordinary. My go-tos are: Garlic powder, Chicken Boullion (for when you run out of your homemade chicken stock: you can use it to cook rice, or even braise cabbage with it!), Basil, Red Pepper Flakes, Kosher Salt, and Thyme.

I find you can mix and match these 10 ingredients almost endlessly, and they can be spiced up with whatever you happen to have on hand! Often, frozen broccoli will make it into my casseroles. . .

What are your favorite go-to frugal meals?