Contrary to popular belief, you do not have to resort to overly processed ingredients to eat on a budget. Real food can be consumed, even when pockets are not overflowing with cash. Eating meals that are tasty, full of nutrients, and affordable are not a pipe dream. For some, it may take a new way of thinking, but eating whole-food meals on a budget is viable, delicious, -and dare I add even enjoyable.
Check out these 10 tips to make great meals on a budget:
- Use Seasonings- dried or fresh herbs add flavor to dishes. Spending a couple bucks on some herbs can really elevate a dish and most herbs cost less than store-bought sauces or marinades. Add some mint to a salad, garnish soups with cilantro, mix dried herbs to create your own signature rub for protein – possibilities are endless.
- Frozen Veggies- A-Okay to use frozen vegetables. They are frozen at their peak, which means you get all their deliciousness and nutritional value. Often times, a bag of frozen vegetables is the same price or even cheaper than fresh, and they do not rot or spoil the way fresh veggies can, which means you’ll get the most usage out of them. Now this is probably not the best option for salads, but frozen vegetables work wonderfully in soups, casseroles, or as a quick side dish.
- Canned Meats- If it is challenging to find economical sources of protein, walk through the canned meats aisle. Canned tuna, salmon, chicken, or even sardines will be far cheaper than fresh. Make salads with tuna or chicken, turn canned salmon into salmon patties, or squeeze some lime juice over a can of sardines. It does not have to be your only source of protein, but swapping canned meats for a few of your weekly dishes can save some cash in the long run.
- Bulk up meals with vegetables- Want to save some money on making a homemade plate of food? Bulk it up with vegetables. Since veggies are fiber powerhouses they help keep you full, which means you’ll be satiated with less food. Turn a sandwich into a salad buy adding tons of chop veggies and lettuce. Serve roasted vegetables with eggs to form a hash or place chicken on a bed of cauliflower rice or steamed spinach. Yu-um.
- Remember You’re Worth It- Paying a little more for products that will help your physical health might sound like a luxury, but it isn’t. Buying foods that nourish you and sustain your health means you will spend less down the road on medications or quality of life. Your body and mind will thank you for the investment you make right now, so don’t be afraid to look at the bigger picture and choose to spend a little more now.
- Nose to Tail/Root to Stem – It goes without saying, using as much as you can from a product means you get more out of that product. Make broths out of bones, stock out of peels and vegetable scraps. Fennel fronds and cilantro stems have plenty of flavor. Don’t let all that extra yumminess go to waste by throwing it away. Find ways to incorporate them into your recipes.
- Honor the Versatility of an Ingredient – Some products are just meant to be used in a variety of ways. Cauliflower can be eaten as florets, but it can also be made into rice, pizza crust, or even bread. Eggs aren’t just a breakfast staple, they can be the base of a slew of items from tortillas to sandwich bread, to two-ingredient pancakes. Buying ingredients that can be used in a variety of ways means more dishes can prepared with them.
- Learn New Recipes – The more ways you know how to use an ingredient, the more ways you will use it. By expanding your culinary knowledge, you open yourself up to making more meals from scratch, eliminating the need to order takeout regularly. Pick a few online recipes (or check out cookbooks at the library for free) to try out each week. Cooking at home not only saves money, but also helps to control the ingredients that are used in a dish.
- Needs and Wants – Ask yourself what are needs and what are wants. Do you need to buy cookies every week? Do you need to have that special seasoning in your pantry at all times? Is making a daily morning latte a need or a want? Figuring out what are wants (and how often the wants should occur) can help save money. Limiting your groceries to the things you need, with only occasional wants here and there, will make it easier to eat on a budget. It doesn’t mean you should eliminate certain foods – it just means you pull the reigns a little tighter when it comes to purchasing those products.
- Only Buy What You Will Use – This may sound obvious but purchasing only what you can consume can save a lot of money in the long run. Bargains are not bargains if you end up throwing half of it away. Take account of what you will realistically consume so you do not purchase more food than needed. Consider buying fruits and vegetables by the pound instead of bagged ones, or smaller containers of condiments if you find you don’t finish them before they go bad. Learning how much you truly eat will help you figure out how much should be purchased.