Eating on a Budget
I am in college and although I would loooooooove to spend money on great food, that is just not possible. What are some tasty/healthy items that are fairly cheap?
The less meat you eat, the less $$ you will spend. :)
Some of my favourite inexpensive meals (let me know if you want recipes):
- red lentil dal
- mixed vegetable curry
- sweet potato black bean burritos
- ethiopian lentil curry
- various vegetable soups
- rice and beans
- black bean soup
You can also make a number of things with ground beef that are relatively inexpensive:
- spaghetti bolognese
- "cheater" beef stroganoff
- hamburger soup
- cabbage rolls
Please begin a new thread on our Home Cooking board if you would like to share recipes or discuss cooking. This thread should cover only general discussion of budget foods, as is the focus of this General Topics board.
You CAN buy terrific food on a budget if you buy with your brain. Learn what things cost and watch for bargains. Don't pay for convenience or buy what you don't need.
Packaged and processed foods are expensive. Examples: plain oatmeal is inexpensive and you can cook it in the micro and add your own brown sugar and fruit; little packets of microwaveable oatmeal with chemical flavorings cost 20 times as much. Buy a nalgene bottle and a Brita water filter; bottled water cost 5 times as much as gasoline and all those plastic bottles are bad for the environment even if you discount the energy cost of hauling it to stores.
Buy what's on sale and seasonal.
Each week, the local stores publish flyers with special prices. Chicken on sale half price? Pot roast? That's what you decide to build your week's meals around. Make a policy of not buying it if it's not on sale. After a while, you'll see that the sales are cyclical and the same things come up every few weeks. Why pay $4 for chicken breasts this week when you can wait until next week and get them for $2. Eat something else this week.
Stores buy seasonal produce in bulk and offer it on sale. Buy that instead of out-of season-berries. Last week, avocados were $2, this week they cost $1. Last week apples were $1, this week they're back to $1.75. Guess when I bought what?
Get a really, truly basic cookbook like Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything or The Joy of Cooking. They aren't as glitzy or trendy as some but you can learn to cook the widest variety of foods from them. You can borrow others from friends or the library. Lots of recipes are available in newspapers, on-line and at Chowhound.
If you have freezer space, cook extra of some meals that will freeze. When you have no time, that meal is like money in the bank. You won't have to order pizza or go out to eat. Your economical dinner is ready to defrost in the microwave and eat. Healthy home-cooked food without ruining your budget.
Learn to cook one or two really great things that you love that you can eat and eat without getting tired of. Maybe a great pasta sauce. Your Mom's whatever casserole. Macaroni and cheese. Black beans and rice. Something that satisfies you.
Ethnic cooking can have hidden costs if you have to stock special spices and condiments. Before you plunge headlong into Indian or Japanese or Chinese cuisine, start with a few simple recipes that use only a few ingredients. If you decide that you aren't going to pursue that style, you aren't left with a shelf full of things you'll never use.
When my daughter was in college, she and her roommates went about once a month to a large grocery with good prices that wasn't walking distance from campus. The small stores near campus were expensive. They did a big shopping for staples and took a taxi bag with all the bags. They still came out far ahead because they saved so much on the purchases.
Most of all, don't think of yourself as poor. You aren't. You will be made rich by the experience. Think of this as a challenge and an adventure. Some of the most wonderful foods on earth are made from the most simple ingredients - flour, butter, milk, eggs, water, potatoes, rice, onions, salt, pepper, a few simple herbs and spices, olive oil. Not one of those is something you can't afford. Just learn how to use them.
Some great suggestions above. Also, Costco is great for purchasing durable staples, as well as frozen chicken breasts, eggs, and produce in larger amounts. Certain staples are also available at the 99 cent store; this may sound odd, but I've definitely gotten eggs and canned goods there, as well as six packs of Diet Grapefruit Shasta (yum).
Use meats more sparingly and enrich dishes with stocks.
Stews are great because as mentioned above, leftovers are freezable.
Make friends with your butcher/fish monger, and he may give you deals or let you take home extras for free.
Purchase beans and grains and such in original dried form instead of canned.
Also, considering making a rule about using what you already have. I find that I'm very impulsive buying things when I have plenty at home to eat. If you make yourself use things up before buying something else more momentarily appealing, you'll not only save money through less purchases, but you won't have to toss foods because they spoiled or are no longer good.
You can buy a large 96 oz Stouffers Lasagne for around 9 or 10 bucks, eat a pound of it a night for dinner and make a salad all for about 2 bucks a night. Also soups are very economical and good for you, for instance go to a Smart and Final or similar place get a hugh can of mixed vegtables throw it into a large pot put in a 46 oz can of tomato juice and you have soup for the week.