Our salaries and rent are set, however, when it comes to food, studies show that we have a huge amount of decisions to make. Brian Wansink, the director of the Food and Brand Lab at Cornell University estimates we make 227 decisions about what to eat every day. These decisions include questions like, “Should we have leftovers tonight or just order takeout?” and “Should I buy the expensive, imported cocoa for the cake or the off-brand?” Research shows that these seemingly infinitesimal decisions add up. “The average American household spent $3,778 on groceries in 2009, and another $2,736 in restaurants and bars,” according to a study by Bundle.com. The truth is, we could do better. While we might use coupons or resist urges to eat out more than once a week, we could still save more. If you are looking for a challenge, try making satisfying dinners for only $10 a pop. You never know, it could be easier than you think. We’ve already thought of 10 meals for $10 and under that could kick off your budget family meals challenge:
- Fresh Lemon Trout with Couscous: For only $9.74, this meal is both satisfying and delectable. Trout provides an amazing amount of healthy, omega-3 fatty acids, which can reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke and help reduce symptoms of hypertension and depression, according to WebMD.
- Mexican Night: Try hosting a Mexican night, cooking rice and beans with guacamole and salsa, which can easily come in at less than $10. Don’t be surprised if $10 is enough to give you a good hunk of leftovers, too!
- Macaroni with Sausage and Bacon: You can’t go wrong with this American classic, and for $2 a serving, the price is right.
- Chicken lettuce wraps with Peanut sauce: For anyone who likes Asian-inspired cuisine, chicken lettuce wraps are a healthy option. Season 1 lb of chicken tenders with chicken broth, soy sauce, lemon, ginger, and green onions and wrap in a large lettuce leaf for a crispy, filling dinner. Don’t forget the peanut sauce, which you can make out of peanut butter, chicken broth, lemon, brown sugar, and garlic. All of this will only cost you about $2.46 per serving.
- Spicy Shredded Beef: Art Ginsberg of MrFood.com recommends slow cooking beef, seasoned with tomato sauce, chili powder, onion, and garlic, then serving it on rice or on a roll to make a meal that only costs about $2.40 a serving.
- Lentil soup: While we may not think of soups as conventional meals, lentils are extremely filling and make for a hearty dinner. You can take this classic soup and for only $6 for 4 servings. Lentils provide you and your family with an incredible amount of fiber, iron, and vitamin C.
- Quesadillas: No one can turn down a quesadilla and at only $9.57 for four servings, we’re starting to crave some warm, spicy cheese over a buttered and browned tortilla. Add salad, refried beans, and fajita-style chicken, all for under $10.
- Spinach Salad with Chicken and White beans: Bagged spinach is one of the most affordable, healthy foods out there, at only $3 for a huge bag. Just add grilled chicken breast, a simple vinaigrette (combining olive oil with salt and pepper from the pantry) and a can of white beans, all for $9.03.
- Spanish Chickpea Stew: Celebrity chef Jose Andres presented a meal for NPR’s “How Low Can You Go” family dinner challenge that brings a little bit of Spanish flavor to the table for only $9.71. Use dried chickpeas, which are cheaper than canned and taste better, too. Simmer your chickpeas (hydrated overnight) with saffron, paprika, spinach, ground cumin, olive oil, and garlic, and make a “bread paste” to give the stew some texture.
- Frittata: While a frittata may sound a little fancy, you can easily make this open omelet with all of your leftovers in the fridge. You can do the same with a quiche Lorraine, which CNN notes as a great “recession recipe.” At $10 for 8 servings, a veggie quiche or frittata will give you plenty of food for less.
So, how low can you go? Just do two $10 dinners a week and you could save thousands of dollars over the course of the year. Keep your eyes peeled for budget grocery list ingredients at the grocery store and you’ll have a bit of savings for a rainy day.