Because Lots Of People, Including Myself, Are Pretty Broke

I’ve been working on this post for a full week longer than I meant to, and this morning I decided just to put it up the way it is.  There’s so much to say about this  that it could easily grow into a whole cookbook, and there’s no sense in waiting for that to happen.

Several different things inspired me to write this post. First of all, I’ve been working on our budget for the year and thinking a lot about how we need to spend as little money as possible on food (preferably growing it all ourselves), cause man oh man, my bank account is pathetic looking right now.  Last week there was also a great event called Food Bloggers against Hunger, inspired by the film A Place at the Tablewhich is working to bring awareness to the issue of hunger in America.  One in four children in the United States don’t know where their next meal is going to come from, and food stamp participants only receive $4 a day for food.  To cook three meals a day using $4 is already a virtually insurmountable challenge, but the food stamp program (SNAP) is at risk for severe cuts which would greatly affect millions of families across America.  Please take a moment to click this link and send a letter to congress to tell them that we need to protect the federal nutrition programs that help feed the nations children.

Another thing I should mention while I’m on this subject: the Ukiah Farmers Market has a fantastic food stamp matching program which has  a big fundraiser going on.  The program helps both shoppers and vendors: a customer with an EBT card (food stamp/calfresh) can swipe the card at the farmers market manager’s table for up to $15. The customer receives $15 in market tokens plus an additional $15 in tokens because of the program.  Customers get extra fresh produce, vendors get the additional income which helps support local farms, and we all can go home happy.  To read more, click here.  There’s a 5K race on May 4 which fundraises for this program, and it’s really easy to donate.  Just click this link and scroll down to farmers market food stamp matching program.

So, with all that said….

I’ve been brainstorming meals that are really super cheap to make. It can be so easy to get stuck in a rut when you’re on a tight budget, but it’s kind of silly because there are a lot of options.  Last night, getting my grocery list together for the week, I checked this list for some ideas.  I’m hoping that other people on a budget can bookmark this to get some inspiration for dinner too.  (I don’t know that it’s so helpful for me to include a lot of recipes for all this stuff, so I haven’t. Most recipes are just a quick google search away….)

dried beansBEANS & DRIED LEGUMES:

We all know how cheap it is to cook a pot of beans.  Plain old beans and rice can get really old, really fast, though, so here are some other ideas:

  • Top beans and rice with some fresh cilantro, salsa and sour cream. Add eggs to make huevos rancheros.
  • Make Daal & steamed white rice for an Indian twist. Chutney from the pantry adds bonus points.
  • Beans & Bones: add a bone leftover from a roast to the pot of dried beans while it’s cooking to make a wonderfully rich stock. Serve with cornbread and greens to make this meal extra amazing.  (Split pea soup is in this category….)
  • Puree leftover cooked beans into a spread to put in pita sandwiches with some sliced vegetables, use it as a filling for vegan quesadillas, or serve with chips for a snack.
  • A pot of garbanzo beans can turn into Chickpea curry  or hummus.
  • Entree salads: Cold leftover beans are wonderful tossed with some chopped red onion, olive oil, lemon juice and some random other veggies from the fridge or garden. (Cherry tomatoes and cucumber are great with this!).
  • Chili, of course
  • Beans are amazing in all sorts of Mexican inspired dishes: tacos, burritos, empanadas, chilaquiles, enchiladas.

eggsEGGS:

Eggs are hands down the cheapest source of organic animal protein, so if you’re on a tight budget, they’re perfect. I love eggs — they’re these perfect little servings of protein and vitamins.

  • quiche
  • frittata
  • egg salad
  • egg in a basket/toad in a hole/ whatever you want to call it
  • savory bread pudding: add some random veggies or breakfast sausage to make a fantastic casserole
  • egg sandwiches with sliced tomatoes
  • breakfast for dinner is always cheap and simple

sausage gravy, greens, delicata squashPOTATOES:

  • potato pancakes (make them huge and fancy them up with canned applesauce from the pantry, sour cream and sliced scallions),
  • baked potatoes topped with random vegetables and cheeses from the fridge
  • potato soups
  • hash browns with some onions, bell pepper and scrambled eggs
  •  mashed potatoes with sausage gravy and greens.
  • Roasted potatoes topped with some shredded cheddar cheese and dipped in homemade ketchup taste amazing.  

pastaPASTA

is an obvious cheap dinner….

  • buttered noodles topped with parmesan and chopped parsley
  • tossed with herb pesto (it doesn’t have to be just basil!)
  • pasta primavera with random garden vegetables
  • macaroni and cheese
  • pasta with red sauce
  • tuna noodle casserole

RAMEN

This should be a subcategory of pasta, but it deserves it’s own heading, don’t you think? I know it has MSG in it and tons of sodium, but sometimes if you’re broke, you’re broke, and ramen’s kind of delicious. I like to add any or all of the following to pretend that I’m not eating something so processed:

  • an egg
  • dried seaweed
  • radishes
  • sliced scallions or leeks
  • steamed vegetables
  • leftover sliced meat (pork or beef, usually) from a dinner the night before

Whole Wheat Sandwich Bread, from Grow it Cook it Can itBREAD

  • homemade pizza is dirt cheap, as are calzones, both of which can use all kinds of random things for topping/filling
  • homemade biscuits and gravy with  a salad
  • grilled cheese and soup
  • peanut butter and jelly
  • open faced sandwiches with random veggies and cheese
  • pancakes
  • scones, either savory or sweet
  • cornbread topped with mixed vegetables or beans
  • homemade bread is hard to beat, especially with some fruit and cheese

polentaGRAINS:

  • fried rice with random vegetables from the fridge or garden is one of my favorite way to use up leftover random vegetables
  • rice and beans, steamed grains (quinoa, brown rice, etc.) topped with stir-fried vegetables or vegetable stew, sprinkled with cheese if you have it. 
  • grain salads:  mix some cooked grains with chopped fresh or dried fruits, nuts, or random vegetables
  • polenta topped with eggs/sauteed vegetables/roasted vegetables/butter, or, in the same vein, all kinds of variations on grits. A bowl of warm cooked cornmeal topped with some butter, a sprinkle of cheese and fresh herbs is dirt cheap and delicious. Top it with a poached egg and it turns into something a hipster restaurant would have on the menu for a lot of money. 

chickensCHEAPER CUTS OF MEAT:

Ground beef and beef stew meat are always quite affordable at our farmers markets, so I end up making things like…

  • meatballs
  • beef stew
  • spiedies
  • grilled kebabs with garden vegetables
  • beef stroganoff using ground beef is fast and delicious…

Roosters…  If you raise your own chickens, you know you can end up with too many roosters that end up terrorizing the hens. Instead of having a nightmare in your coop, turn them into: 

Wild game is another great option. We barter eggs and jam with hunters who we know, so we don’t actually have to go out and get the meat ourself.

summer vegetable sauceVEGETABLES FROM THE GARDEN:

  • With just a quick walk to the garden to pick whatever you have, you can make a whole array of soups, pasta dishes, stews, stir-fries, curries, tacos, burritos, enchiladas, casseroles, and salads. (Check out this saucy summer vegetable dish that’s a staple in our house).  
  • Vegetable tarts and galettes are a great meal option, and can be made with either pie crust of puff pastry.
  • In the summer, if you have access to cheap produce, stuffed zucchini is a delicious, really cheap entree.  
  • Tomato sandwiches, as simple as they are, are divine with garden fresh tomatoes.   I also am quite fond of grilled eggplant sandwiches… especially with some tomato jam and goat cheese. 
  • Pesto can be made with pretty much any fresh herb (just google for some recipes) and is good on pasta, chicken, fish, pork chops, tofu, etc. 
  • If you don’t have a garden, hit up the farmers market in the last fifteen minutes that it’s open, and you’re sure to score some great deals if you haggle a bit with the farmers.  If you get to know the farmers at the market, on bad weeks for your wallet, you can say “I’m super broke this week. What can I get for $2?” and they’ll probably hook you up.  We do this with our market customers, at least…

The last things I remind myself when I’m trying to cook for next to nothing are probably obvious, but worth saying:

Grow the food myself.

Never throw away anything.  Herb scraps and slightly past their prime vegetables can always find their way into something good.

If there’s ever extra, can it! (or freeze it, or dehydrate it, or ferment it….) We’ll be happy that it’s there later on.

Be creative. Just because it’s cheap doesn’t mean it has to be boring. really amazing split pea soup I made this split pea soup last week that was a nice example of how to spruce up a basic cheap meal…. Instead of just a ham bone and green split peas, I added cubed butternut squash from our pantry, frozen corn from last summer, some wilted parsley from the fridge, and a few random fresh veggies we had on hand.  It was delicious. It fed us for many meals, and I really couldn’t think of a better lunch.

If you have any favorite cheap dinners, feel free to mention them in the comments.  There’s obviously a lot more recipes than I’ve mentioned here, but like I said…. this could easily turn into a cookbook that I could work on for several years.  There’s a lot to be said on the subject.

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19 responses to “Because Lots Of People, Including Myself, Are Pretty Broke

  1. Wow. I’m a freelance writer living on tight budget too and your post just gave me lots of great ideas – and yummy ones too! Thanks.

  2. Hey! I really like this post you’ve done. Good tip about the farmers market! I love a good cucumber dill sandwich,especially now that it’s getting warmer. I’m gonna try that eggplant sandwich you’ve mentioned..yum! I just love anything dumped in the crock pot with the veggies you’ve listed..always a keeper that doesn’t break the bank:)

  3. Wow! I would have never thought there could be so much variety in all those foods. I tend to limit myself, but I am going to start using this as a guide to make easy, healthy, and affordable meals… Most of the items I actually keep around the house :)

  4. Great post. I have been working for over a year on our budget as well. I also lived in the mountains and so you cook with what you have because a trip to the store is not realistic. I found making bread really helps the budget. I use Jim Lahey’s recipe from the Sullivan Street Bakery for both pizza and artisan boule recipes. I make nearly everything from scratch. It really saves. Glad to have found your blog. I will share this on FB. Cheers and happy DIY cooking.

  5. Yolanda Rodriguez

    Great blog, congratulations to you! I make a Cuban dish called “Picadillo” the basic recipe uses 1lb of lean ground beef, one onion finely chopped, half a red or green pepper diced, one carrot grated, two garlic cloves mashed, 2/3 cup of tomato sauce, 1/2cup of corn kernels, salt and pepper to taste.
    Brown meat in 1-1/2tbsp of veg oil, remove from pot and set aside. Add 1/12tbsp of oil to pan and Sautee onions for 8 minutes, add pepper for 5 min. Then carrot and finally the garlic. Add meat to vegetables, tomato sauce and corn, salt and pepper. Mix well lower heat to minimum and simmer for ten minutes. Serve with rice, and mixed green salad. You can use this recipe to make tacos, or even shepherds pie. Bon appétit!

  6. Your post couldn’t have been more timely :-) my hubby and I were just having a conversation to day about cooking and having to save some money ASAP – there are only 8 more paychecks before I give birth if I’m on time. My 10 week maternity leave will be minus income from myself, as I only have enough sick/vac. Pay to cover my insurance premiums. This post will really help me stay on track for making meals with leftovers so we don’t spend extra going out or eating at work from the cafeteria. Thank you!

  7. Pingback: Recipe: Green Eggs & Cam [era] | eat play move

  8. Great ideas! I save everything. Vegetables trimmings and peels get stored in the freezer to make stock later on once I have bag full. Stale bread crusts go in another freezer bad to make croutons or bread crumbs. I also try to eat seasonally whenever I can. Seasonal produce is healthier, tastier and cheaper than buying it out of season.

  9. Wow, it seems like I’ve been broke all my life…comfort food to me. Well written article can’t wait for the amended one.

  10. Thanks for all the great ideas.

  11. This is such a great resource! I’m going to print it off and stick it to the refrigerator for those, “there’s nothing here what are we going to eat” nights. And amen on ramen noodles! I love those things but hardly ever buy them since they’re nutritional garbage.

  12. Thank you for your thoughtful post… chock-full of ideas for healthy eating on a budget! This is a MUST SHARE post!

  13. Thanks for the great post! I just started a bag in the freezer with ends and pieces of veggies that might’ve gone in the compost. When the bag is full I will be making stock out of it. I also make most of our bread and baked foods as we are gluten free. It definitely saves on the budget. :) thanks again!

  14. Mark A. Radice

    I think I told you that I’ve used quinoa to make polenta; right? It’s awesome! (And so is your post. Lots of really excellent, practical suggestions that are TASTY too. I hope everybody has at least enough cash to buy a drinkable bottle of wine at Big Lots to make these pantry suggestions even more delicious.P

  15. For those of us in the Ukiah area, the Grocery Outlet is actually a great resource for cheap organic food. I know there’s a stigma but this is largely food that will be thrown out otherwise, so I feel good buying organic goods that won’t go to waste. They always have Coastal Range organic chicken thighs and drumsticks, several organic veggie options (they carry Earthbound Organics), and organic cheese/yogurt/milk. There’s also an entire aisle of non-perishable organic foods (everything stacked above the low freezers). Bonus – check their home goods aisle for organic cosmetics!

  16. Kathryn Arnold

    Wow…love, love, love this. Pinned and shared!

  17. It’s nice to be reminded that to eat well, we don’t have to spend tons of money. A little extra prep work or time in the kitchen, and you can eat a hearty, healthy, filling meal that won’t break the bank. Grow and preserve as much as you can, and be frugal about the rest! I’ll be making a batch of cowboy beans this week with some stew beef. The long cook time lets the meat get tender and helps to flavor the beans!

  18. Pingback: Recipe: Green Eggs & Cam [era] | Eat Play Move

  19. absolutely wonderful…ditto on the timeliness! Thank you!

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