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What's your cheapest, most well-balanced meal?

  • k

Lately, we've been trying to invest our moo-lah more wisely and also save for our upcoming honeymoon in August. And I've discovered that I don't cook well cheaply! I just cannot come up with fresh, exciting ideas that are also reasonably priced. So, I'm wondering what you guys depend on for a inexpensive meal? I've exhausted the breakfast route, the taco route, and just about exhausted the pizza route. Hotdogs also! I don't want to sacrifice on quality, but I just about had a panic attack the other day when I bought olive oil! Any exciting ideas out there?

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  1. Souffles are cheap as can be (the only ingredients: eggs, roux, milk, cheese/other filling). They just take the skill of setup, but are easy once you get the order of battle prepped. Add a light soup, good bread and vegetables or salad, and you can have a feast for royalty for less than $5 per head.

    Quality cheap food of the sort one does not tire of readily requires that most precious resource of all in our current culture: a bit of time and patience.

    1. there are so many things you could do -- great food does not have to be expensive.

      Meat is one of the more expensive items you tend to buy (assuming you've given up your caviar and champagne habits). Try buying cheap cuts that require cooking "low and slow" like pork shoulder or stewing beef. These meats are really good, as long as you cook them over long periods of time (which you'll have since you're not going out all the time) at relatively low temps, so they don't get burned or dry. Anything you make it the crock pot is going to be pretty cheap.

      You didn't mention pasta, but you can hardly beat it for cheap, plus its quick and easy. Sauteed anything goes well with it, I find. I've been wanting to make the dish people have of pasta with chick peas and spinach. How expensive can that be?

      Soup -- I know it will be summer soon, but soups are really cheap and are great to heat up for dinner when you get home from work.

      Rice, beans and anything else. Half the world seems like they eat rice and beans constantly, so why not you as well? Rice, beans and some sliced chorizo could do you two dinners for less than $5. Throw together a salad and you're set, plus its really filling and healthy.

      I'm sure others will have ideas as well, but food is definitely something you can economize with and not suffer. Also, don't forget to start bringing your lunch to work!

      1 Reply
      1. re: cheapskate

        Soup beans, fried potatoes, and cornbread...cheap and good!

      2. h
        Hungry Celeste

        Beans & rice are your best nutritional & budgetary friends. Red beans, black beans, lentils, white beans...you can get high-quality protein without spending $$. In my local markets, lentils are by far the cheapest; get indian & middle eastern cookbooks for great ways to turn those lentils into delicious things. A little ginger, some garlic...you're well on your way.

        Go back to old-school home ec tips: read the supermarket circulars & buy what's on sale...it can be fun and stimulating to cook with an eye toward the budget. A good rule of thumb is that packaged & processed stuff = not cheap. In other words, potatoes are cheaper than instant mashed flakes.

        1. How cheap are you trying to go per meal?

          Whole chickens are cheaper than already cut up, plus you can make stock. I buy frozen veggies instead of supermarket fresh produce, as it's cheaper, doesn't go bad, and often has more nutrients.

          There are endless variations on rice and beans: Mexican, African, Indian, Middle Eastern, etc. I particularly recommend those little green French lentils-- interesting flavor, fairly quick cooking and they don't disintegrate like many of the other lentils (not always a bad thing).

          Make your own bread. By spices at ethnic markets instead of the grocery store. Buy pots of fresh herbs at the garden center instead of those outrageously priced packets at Whole Foods. As the other poster said, trying to save money inevitably takes time and vice versa.

          4 Replies
          1. re: Jess

            In regards to how cheap per meal, we're not destitute, by any means, but I'm just wanting to start economizing a little bit. I tend to get carried away and want to grill steaks or have crab-stuffed shrimp, (I'm being a little extreme here) so I was just wondering what people's go-to, inexpensive meals were.

            1. re: Katie Nell

              Also, when we are looking to save some money, we make big batches of food on the weekend to use during the week.

              1. re: Katie Nell

                I second the turkey chili idea. I make mine with all different kinds of beans, even garbanzo. Lots of green and red peppers, onions, garlic and tomatoes. Also tomato paste. I put in a chicken bouillon cube instead of salt if it's not salty enough.

                Chili powder (store-bought or homemade), extra cumin and cinnamon. chili flakes, and oregano.

                It freezes well and is easy to take to work for lunch heated in microwave. I serve it with chopped green onions and cilantro and shredded sharp cheddar.

                Another good idea is soup and something like pakoras. If you just film oil on a non-stick pan, they don't get greasy. Made of besan flour and spices (cumin, coriander, black pepper), garlic, water and chopped veggies of your choice. I always add chopped onions to the mix. Great with chopped eggplant, broc, squash....anything but tomatoes, which are too watery. Serve with yoghurt mixed with mint, garlic, and cilantro.

                Carrot soup is especially nice these days while carrots are perfect. I have posted before about a soup (idea from recipe in Chez Pan. cookbook) carrot soup pureed and served with a swirl of roasted red pepper "sauce"...I just heat up peppers with a little water and garlic and sometimes a dollop of butter, then blend and serve on the side with the carrot soup. Plop a spoonful into soup and stir around. Not only deelish, but pretty.
                Serve soup and pakoras with a cuke salad.

              2. re: Jess

                Making your own bread and pasta (I mean baguettes and ciabatta and not croissants or brioche) is not only a great way to practice your skills to open a boulangerie in the future, but an inexpensive way to get nutrients into your body. Jazz up the bread with a braised dish with sauce or a pasta with a dressing or sauce (it's also cheaper because you're using less ingredients to dress pasta since it really doesn't need much sauce) and you got yourself a great meal. As noted before, lentils, white beans, and similar things are also nutritious and delicious... and flank steak or other similar cheaper cuts of meats are good for a marinade and grill.

              3. Don't throw any leftovers away. Either make something completely different out of them, or freeze for future use. Down to the bones, cook with leftover veggies, and make stock. It's actually more creative than just following a recipe, you'll enjoy the process I think.

                1 Reply
                1. re: coll

                  Along those lines, I use the rinds of parmesan cheese in the water i cook my chickpeas in. I freeze roughly 1.5-2c of the cooked chickpeas and then can easily defrost them and add them to pasta or salads as a low-cost, delicious source of protein. Buying the chickpeas dried and cooking them myself is cheaper, they taste great, and I don't waste any part of the real parmesan I buy (so yes, i still have indulgences).

                  Using circulars, planning your meals accordingly and using up absolutely everything you buy are all great ways of saving money.

                  I'll admit, I don't do a lot of money saving now because i don't have a lot of time. In my experience, it's one or the other (you've either got time or money, but rarely both). I've found that the careful planning and cost saving takes more time than I'm willing to give now.

                  Good luck!