In spite of horrifying documentaries like “Super-Size Me” and statistics about the effect of hyper processed food on our health, fast food corporations like McDonald’s continue to earn billion-dollar profits, year after year. All in all, the average U.S. family of four spends nearly $240 a month eating out, according to Beverly Mills and Alicia Ross of “Cheap. Fast. Good!”
We’re not pointing fingers, but chances are your family eats out more than you would like. Of course, we all know that eating in is much less expensive than eating out, even if you’re buying Happy Meals for a dollar a piece. Mark Bittman of the New York Times writes, “In general, despite extensive government subsidies, hyper processed food remains more expensive than food cooked at home. You can serve a roasted chicken with vegetables along with a simple salad and milk for about $14, and feed four or even six people. If that’s too much money, substitute a meal of rice and canned beans with bacon, green peppers and onions; it’s easily enough for four people and costs about $9.” You can further reduce the cost of this meal by omitting the bacon, using dried beans, and substituting carrots for peppers. Combining inexpensive ingredients to make a great, filling meal, could save you a pretty penny in the long run.
To start saving up on groceries, try experimenting with some of these cheap meal ideas:
- Soups and stews are easy, versatile, tasty, and extremely inexpensive. Buy off-brand stock that’s low in sodium and rich in consistency, and stock up on canned ingredients for soups when they are on sale. Canned chicken and beef broths can be replaced with the cheaper alternative: bouillon cubes in warm water.
- Save money by making certain grocery store items on your own at home. There are many ideas for what you can make at home in Jennifer Reese’s book, “Make the Bread, Buy the Butter.” In this book, Reese explains from first-hand experience that cooking some items at home can be very cost effective and she includes the recipes. Make your own sauces, like barbecue sauce, ketchup, and vinaigrettes. All you need is a decent food processor to make sauces at home. If you’re a fan of expensive, organic granola, you can save big by making it at home instead of buying at the store. Granola is high in fiber and complex carbohydrates, it lowers cholesterol, and a few dollars spent on rolled oats will feed you for breakfast for a week.
- Invest in a crock pot to cook inexpensive cuts of meats to tenderness. You can also make your budget-friendly and filling soups and sauces in your crock pot.
- Logically, if you’re budgeting you should always keep your eyes peeled for cheap ingredients. Generally, the cheapest fruits for their amount of nutritional value are apples and bananas, while cabbage and carrots are the more inexpensive of vegetables. Buy your produce seasonally, too. Seasonal produce is fresher and cheaper.
- Rice and beans combine to make a complete protein when served together. If you’re strapped for cash, meals including rice and beans are your best bet for an incredibly cheap meal.
Take all of these cheap meal ideas into consideration when you’re heading to the grocery store and making meals at home. Trust us, the savings will add up before you know it. With a little creativity and some practice in the kitchen, you’ll be whipping up inexpensive culinary delights for many dinners to come.