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Best budget meals...need suggestions

Hi all,

I am just wondering if you all have some ideas for affordable, yet healthy meals. Meals that can be frozen and therefore save money over time are also appreciated.

I am very open to different types of cuisines, just am getting tired of spending too much at the grocery store!


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  1. i think the best way to "budget" is just to buy things when they are on sale and freeze. i only buy meat when it is on sale and then stock up and freeze. that way - i always have ground beef, steak, chicken, turkey, etc. in the freezer but haven't paid top dollar for it.

    i do the same thing with general items - buy when they are on special and not when they are not.

    i also buy some things in bulk and then portion out and freeze.

    then, i just buy all the fresh stuff i need every week: fresh fruits/vegetables/salad/eggs, etc.

    10 Replies
    1. re: dtud

      I second this - I'll buy boneless chicken breasts or chicken thighs at Sam's Club in big packages, or whole boneless pork loins, and portion and freeze. The vacuum sealer is a great investment for budget cooks.

      But the biggest secret to healthy budget cooking is to cook fresh food from scratch. For less than five dollars, I can cook a quick meal for my husband and I with leftovers for his lunch the next day. For ten dollars, I can prepare salads for my lunch for the week. I don't always cook to that budget, but I can, and so can you...

      What kinds of food do you like? and what do you consider affordable? That would help in making suggestions.

      1. re: sheiladeedee

        Oops sorry if I was not clear enough about what I am looking for.

        I do try to buy things on sale and freeze them for later use.

        What I was looking for is actual recipes (not too detailed, just ingredients and what you do with them). If you are able to put together meals with leftovers for under five bucks, I am definitely interested to hear what they are!

        I consider a budget meal to be under ten bucks, if I can get leftovers out of it especially. (I usually cook for one or two at the most).

        I like pretty much everything but especially enjoy Indian, Thai, and Italian, but am totally open to other ideas.

        1. re: Keramel

          Braised Short Ribs

          Season and Sear short ribs in very hot skillet until nice and browned.
          Remove from pan and saute some diced onion in meat drippings.
          Add some wine or balsamic vinegar to deglaze, then enough liquid(beer, wine, stock, water) to cover the shortribs most of the way.
          Braise at a low simmer for 1-2 hours, until meat is fork tender.
          Remove ribs and reduce liquid by half. If you want you can defat the remaining liquid, but it really isn't necessary. Serve over plain polenta, pureed potatoes, or pasta.

          Short ribs are between $2-2.50/lb. Starch is almost nothing. Once you get the technique down you can experiment with different seasonings. A few combos I like are: thyme, rosemary and balsamic vinegar and soy, ginger, and chile.

          1. re: ltownhound

            But there's almost no meat on shortribs, and they "shrink" a lot; you need a few pounds to feed a couple of people. I've actually found that serving short ribs is a bit of a "luxury" meal in terms of price, at least where I live (where short ribs definately aren't as cheap as $2.50). I love short ribs, I just don't think they are a "budget" meal. For my family I'd need to buy about 3lbs, or somewhere around $9 or $10 worth, which in my book is on the pricy end for just the meat, compared to chicken, meatloaf, pasta with sauce, etc.

            1. re: DGresh

              I use boneless short ribs usually, and while they do shrink a little, they are also very rich, so a little goes a long way. Thats why I like to serve them over starch, the sauce soaks in and is really tasty.

              1. re: DGresh

                I second that!!! Definitely a luxury! Not $2.50 lb here, even for boneless ones? Try feeding my husband. He HATES anything stew, he won't touch a bean to save his life (literally), he's not real big on casseroles except he does like tuna casserole thank God! I get tired of eating spaghetti and baked chicken ALL THE TIME!! And, I have three kids to feed. He can plow through half a chicken and look at me like I am starving him to death. And, he does not understand why groceries cost so much. Has anyone looked at the price of rice lately? I grew up DIRT POOR, ALABAMA!! He grew up MANHATTAN!! I would be happy with scrambled eggs and toast for dinner. We are on a strict budget right now since I left the workplace when I had my twins, and price of groceries has skyrocketed in the past few months. I can come up with budget, but he hates it. I love po' food. And, my stew was made with venison when I was growing up (free-range, organic, low fat, low cholesterol)!! We could not afford to buy beef, we had to hunt our red meat. So, I am at wits end too. Oh, and someone suggested the picnic pork, can't afford the gallbladder surgery right now either. So, I can't have that, it's too greasy. It is mostly fat, low yield on that too. Also, has anyone seen the price of "Campbell's cream of" soups lately too -even store brands? Not budget. And, why does all budget recipes have to have cream of soups in it anyway? It is a conspiracy! And, I was trained in culinary arts, so, I do have the ability to cook from scratch. But, with the price of groceries lately, it is a good thing we do not have any small pets......I hear the peruvians eat guinea pigs....hmm....

                1. re: binkytwins

                  If he "doesn't understand" the price of groceries, he needs to take over food shopping. A few trips through the supermarket will quickly school him in the realities of food costs. When he realizes how many hours/minutes he has to work to pay for his dietary proclivities, his tastes may change. Another thought: check this book out from the library: "What the World Eats" by D'Alusio & Mendel. It shows families from around the world, photographed in their kitchens/homes, with a week's worth of groceries gathered in one place. It's a mind-opening book, for sure.

                  Plus, you can make a from-scratch white sauce that will substitute for most any canned soups, provided that you season it appropriately. Use powdered milk instead of fresh milk and that white sauce gets even cheaper.

                2. re: DGresh

                  I have seen both pork and beef short ribs for 99 cents a pound the past few weeks. When I see something on sale I stock up on it and work to find recipes that use it. Did a braised short rib with the ones I picked up.

                  1. re: blackpointyboots

                    You're right, I bought a family pack of country style ribs last week for 99 cents a pound. The pack was roughly 7 fat juicy thick pieces; I cooked half of that on Sunday and froze the remaining. I had dinner for 3 days with the first half. They also had chicken breasts on sale for 89 cents a pound, which I grabbed also. They had bones & skin but I don't mind doing a little work for a savings, and I save my chicken bones for stock.

                    I always buy my meat on special. I have a body size deep freezer that is so full that I can barely close the top. The only thing I buy as needed are fresh fruits & veggies, bread & milk.

                    Also, about the creamed soups, I make mine from scratch. A little cream or half & half, butter, flour, some seasonings and a handful of whatever veggie. Way cheaper than canned and taste better. For those who don't care about brand names, however, there are cream soups 2/$1.00 at Dollar General

                    1. re: Cherylptw

                      Boneless country-style ribs go on sale around here fairly frequently, and they're a great deal. Watch your store ad circulars for sale whole chickens, too. About once a quarter, I see chickens on sale for about 69¢/lb. I'm usually cooking four servings at a time for two adults (our dinner plus two left-overs lunches), and I can usually use one roast chicken for two nights. (We'll split the white meat for dinner and lunch, maybe with egg noodles or over salads, then I'll use the dark meat later in the week in a casserole or pasta dish. Though I hate it, my partner loves chicken pot pie, and this is a great way to turn the dark meat into four servings. Make your own quick pie dough and frozen peas and carrots, and it's remarkably inexpensive.)

        2. The bargain dish that comes to mind is a nice roasted pork shoulder. Buy the whole shoulder (usually $1-2 a pound) and trim of large chunks of fat (some say trim the skin, but it's a lot of work and i think it makes a more rustic dish to leave it on). prepare a rub of equal parts salt, pepper and cumin and add a smaller portion of cayenne (to taste) and rub all over the shoulder. Dollop 1/2 cup marmalade or other fruit preserves here and there. Thinly slice a sweet onion and arrange atop the roast. Wrap the whole thing up in a double layer of foil, place in a baking dish, and roast 5-6 hours in a warm oven (225 degrees). Allow to rest 20 minutes. Then open the foil and begin to shred and pick over the meat. Toss meat, onions, and some of the juices together in a bowl, adjust seasonings, and serve.

          This makes several meals for my family. Tacos with onions, avocado and hot sauce; mounds of shredded pork with red beans and rice; tossed with BBQ sauce and piled onto a crusty roll with a green salad on the side. Portions could probably be frozen for later use. Enjoy!

          8 Replies
          1. re: ennyl


            That's exactly the kind of thing I was hoping for - I never would have thought of that!

            Thanks, and I hope people can keep these ideas coming!

            1. re: ennyl

              Yes, you can freeze cooked pork shoulder. I've done it frequently because one pork shoulder is way too much for Mr. B and I. And pork shoulder is very versatile!

              1. re: ennyl

                Pork shoulder is a great bargain - my supermarket always has it on sale for .99 per pound. The spices and fruit preserves sounds wonderful, although I like to cook it without a lot of seasoning so I can use it in casseroles, fajitas, and so on that might be flavored differently. It freezes beautifully.

                When you can get turkey on sale, at those absurd loss-leader prices around the holidays, get as many as you can fit in your freezer. You can cook one later unstuffed, and freeze the cooked meat in portioned packages for use in casseroles, fillings for meat pies, whatever.

                Beans are also great to eat and economical. One of my favorite dinners is pasta, a can of tomatoes, a can of kidney beans, basil and chopped scallions, and a handful of black olives. My husband loves this and I pack the leftovers for his lunch - I use a sturdy pasta so it will microwave better.

                I also like to make meat pies - those nice frozen circles of dough folded around a filling of chopped cooked meat of some kind - that pork, or turkey, or leftover something or other, with a little onion and potato, baked at 350 until browned. These reheat well in the microwave, so I make a lot of them, bake and freeze. They are an inexpensive lunch or snack.

                1. re: sheiladeedee

                  I'm totally sick of pork shoulder. I used to buy it when it hit $1.20 or so, and then roast it in the oven for pulled pork. It shrinks A LOT, and, after the bone and all the fat is gone, that several pound pork shoulder is only a few servings. I don't have any use for tons of brined and seasoned pork fat either. I bet i get around 2 pounds of pulled pork out of a six pound shoulder. Maybe I might start getting it again when I figure out how to get good pork shoulder and still make use of all the fat

                  1. re: Danimal

                    That's crazy awful! 5-6 pounders, and I cut mine in half and use it in the crock pot sometimes boned and sometime not. There must be a lot of hidden fat for that to happen? I get my monies worth over here and I'd be pretty unhappy too if that were the case! Talk to the store, they might not know.

                    1. re: Danimal

                      I know it shrinks a lot (but I get a solid 5 lb or so out of an 8 lb chunk...) but the nice solid meat is wonderful to have on hand. I freeze it in small packs to have on hand for soup, casseroles, sandwiches, dumpling fillings... and I use it in place of chicken on a lunch salad. I use the browned skin and the juices to add flavor and texture to baked beans, stews, soups. And I can get it for .99 at my supermarket... the easiest way to have a block of protein on hand I know of. But of course, it would be boring if we all thought alike.

                  2. re: ennyl

                    We get the huge bone in pork shoulder roasts for 99 a pound frequently. I stock up and throw some extras in the freezer. They turn out great slow smoked on the grill for pulled pork. I have roasted them in the oven with either red wine or beer and an onion,carrot,celery mix with bacon and flour, sort of how you prep beef burgundy.

                    Pork loin is dirt cheap from time to time and is rather flexible.

                    A good routine is to see what is cheap and then search based on the ingredient on various recipe sites to see if anything trips your trigger.

                    1. re: ennyl

                      We do the same thing with pork shoulder. I always have shredded pork in my freezer. I use it in quesadillas a lot.

                    2. Here is one I always do around Thanksgiving. Start with a turkey which can be just a breast if you want and roast it. - one dinner. Keep the carcus and leftover meat and boil until everything slowly with some onion and herbs. Pick the bones and the fat and grissle out, making sure you keep the broth. Add pots, carrots etc and make a stew - dinner 2. After this is done get frozen pie crusts and drain the stew and make pot pies - dinner 3. I can do the same to hamburg/ground beef, from bolognaise to chili (add beans) to another form of meat pie, or shepards pie. Most of these can freeze with no problems

                      1. Meatloaf w/ lean turkey or lean ground meat... I make mine w/ Lipton's Onion Soup mix, chopped onions, garlic, egg whites, chopped mushrooms and ketchup essentially. You can jazz up as you desire. You can also make turkey or meat meatballs w/ sweet and sour cabbage (shredded cabbage, canned sourkraut, ketchup, sweetener, etc.) Let the meatballs cook in the cabbage mix...

                        Crockpot sloppy joes w/ lean meat or turkey.

                        Chicken w/ Broccoli, Mushrooms and Rice
                        In a microwave dish, put onion, chicken breasts (or thighs if you prefer) and one crushed bouillon cube. Cover and microwave on high for five minutes, stirring once. Add mushrooms, uncooked rice, boiling water, ginger and 2 more bouillon cubes (crushed) into same dish. Cover and bake in oven for 30 minutes. Stir and add broccoli, making sure rice is covered with liquid. Bake another 10 minutes [Or, you can then stir in peanuts, cooked rice, and steamed broccoli.]

                        An Enchilada Casserole
                        1 (14 oz.) can tomatoes -- 1 small chopped onion -- 1 clove minced garlic -- ½ tsp. ground red pepper, ½ tsp. salt -- 6 oz can tomato paste -- ½ lb. ground beef or turkey, browned -- 1 can beans, drained 1 pkg. dry taco seasoning mix -- 2 cups shredded cheese -- 9 corn tortillas

                        Blend tomatoes with onion and garlic in blender. Pour in medium saucepan. Add pepper, salt and tomato paste. Heat until boiling, then simmer 5 to 10 minutes. Place 3 tortillas in bottom of baking dish. Layer on tortillas 1/3 of meat, 1/3 tomato sauce and 1/3 Cheddar cheese, then 3 more tortillas. Repeat each layer 2 more times, ending with cheese. Bake

                        1. Get to know some new grains - bulgur, millet, quinoa. They are an inexpensive way to add variety to your diet, are really healthy and satisfying, and can be cooked as sides or be the basis of some really good salads.


                          4 Replies
                          1. re: pepper_mil

                            yes grains! Cheap and very healthy. My new favorite is barley risotto w/ mushrooms. Can be reheated.

                            And of course stewed lentils (or w/ more broth -- soup) is cheap and delicious.

                            Cannellini beans w/ stauteed broccoli rabe w/ olive oil and garlic. Yum!

                            1. re: NYchowcook

                              I made the spinach dhal recipe on chowhound -- I've frozen some of that and haven't eaten the frozen, but it's cheap and easy and very tasty.

                              1. re: bebevonbernstein

                                Lately I have been picking up one nice small steak, season and grill rare, then slice thin, lay slices over a mixed salad, maybe a few nuts, fruit slices, what ever is on hand and sprinkle with some crumbled gorgonzola or blue cheese, a llittle balsamic and maybe a few slices of crusty bread. You can serve at least 2 people and it looks and tastes a lot more expensive than it is.

                              2. re: NYchowcook

                                Lentil tabouli, lentil dahl, rice dishes done with brown rice. I started adding oats into our diet more when wheat went through the roof in price. Oat breads, oat pancakes, home made oatmeal in the rice cooker.

                            2. I'm also way big on eggs -- soft-cooked eggs are good on pretty much anything, including leftover Indian and polenta topped with spinach. I also like cooking my own marinara and freezing that. Oh, and polenta is good and cheap and also freezes well.

                              I've also found that good bread freezes really well if you wrap it and refresh it right (per Amy's Bread instructions on the website), which makes buying a whole loaf or baguette much more palatable from a money standpoint (just freeze it in two-slice or half-baguette increments).

                              Oh, and one more thing, because I'm a real cheese fan. Really good cheese is not that expensive, because you don't buy it or eat it in large chunks (the good stuff you don't), and it's so good and such a treat. Even if I have to eat cheaply, I like to eat well, so some good bread and some really fine cheese and even a cheap bottle of wine (or Pellegrino) make me feel like I'm living large.

                              1. Trader Joe's is the best store in the world for that. My fave are their simmer sauces in a jar. Just add shrimp or chicken to them and add in a veggie like peas, green beans, or broccoli all fresh or frozen. With all the varieties you can have a different one each night! They go great over brown or white rice and take less than 15 minutes to make. And so economical too since everything is from the freezer or pantry.

                                And a classic, easy bolognaise sauce can be made with either ground pork or beef (which you can freeze until you're ready to use it), a can or two of tomato sauce, a chopped onion and some minced garlic. It's great over spaghetti or rice.

                                2 Replies
                                1. re: VirgoBlue

                                  A couple more suggestions. Risotto is 90% rice and chicken stock, both very cheap, so I use the savings to add "luxury" ingredients, really good parmesan, artisanal bacon and cured meats, wild mushrooms. A little of these go a long way in risotto.

                                  Roasted chicken thighs served over spanish rice.
                                  brown chicken thighs with adobo seasoning, or whatever you like. Then slow roast in oven.
                                  Make rice and season with spanish seasoning (annatto and coriander) then add diced caramelized onion, chopped olives, and pigeon peas.
                                  Should make four good servings for under $10.

                                  1. re: VirgoBlue

                                    We found US wild caught raw frozen shrimp for $3.99 a pound at Hyvee. You have to buy a huge bag. But for a bit of work you can have a better tha restaurant meal for pretty cheap. We did a shrimp boil with corn on the cob, potatoes and a mix of cajun spices and hot sauce. Made a garlic butter with more cajun spice. The only reason we bought the shrimp in the first place was we noticed it was half the price of steak when we were looking for something good for Friday night dinner.

                                  2. Learn how to roast a whole chicken, if you don't already. It's easy and you can shred the leftover meat and use it in all sorts of dishes. Also, learn how to quarter a whole chicken and you can make many different dishes (I find it cheaper to buy a whole chicken and butcher it than to buy pieces). And if you are buying pieces, bone-in with skin is always cheaper than boneless/skinless.

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: Megiac

                                      Totally agree with Megiac. There are 3 of us at home and I usually make a whole 6-7 lb. roaster for Friday night (bought when Perdue chix are BOGOF). Shred the leftover chicken meat and make chicken tetrazzini, chicken a la king, BBQ chicken, chicken hash, chicken salad; if you really want to be thrifty, make stock from carcass. You can also usually get a better price on a large subprimal piece of meat and either cut up yourself or get your butcher to do for you. For example, buy an entire leg of lamb, which runs around 7-9 lb. Have butcher cut off 4 chops from sirloin end, make roast from middle piece and trim pieces of shank end for shish kabob. In Ohio, you can usually get a price break if you buy a whole rib (14-16 lb.) from which you can have steaks and roasts cut. Or likewise a strip loin. This brings down the cost of otherwise unaffordable luxury cuts considerably. I cut up my own whole chickens, use backbones, bones & wings for soup, not hard to bone your own chicken breast either. Have never bought whole side of beef, however. We don't eat a lot of the cuts, there is a lot of ground beef, never made financial sense to me.

                                      Become a savvy grocery shopper and avail yourself of what prices "should be" for meat & poultry in your area. Seek out specialty stores, they are often not more expensive and quality is usually a lot better. Become friends with your butcher, they will look out for you in the end.

                                    2. Beans and rice are your friend. I feel like a broken record, but beans offer a great source protein without the fats & pricetag of animal protein. Red, white, black, lentils, limas...get into bean cookery and you'll definitely save money and be eating healthy. Cook a pound of black beans, simply seasoned, and you have the foundation for burritos, enchiladas, soup, beans & rice.....

                                      1. Thanks everyone for these ideas. I look forward to trying them out.

                                        4 Replies
                                        1. re: Keramel

                                          I could not agree more with the above posts.
                                          I use eggs often because they're cheap - by making frittatas or egg bakes for company.
                                          I will take the pork shoulder - to make a filling for tacos with olives or for bbq pulled pork sandwiches.
                                          I'll buy a whole chicken - separate it....freeze portions (use the thighs to marinate in cubes for chicken tikka); the breasts for a variety of easy chicken n' rice bakes, fried chicken, etc. and use other portions for a bbq pulled chicken or cut up for a cobb salad, quick chicken quesadillas)....
                                          I'll use decent cut meats (flank stank, etc) to make bulgogi or cut up chunks for stir-fry or kebabs.
                                          Rice is a good staple along with beans -cut up some chicken sausage or andouille sausage with some red and green peppers and some onion and you've got dirty rice or jambalaya---and if you can afford it, put in some shrimp - use the remaining shrimp for shrimp scampi over linguine - or shrimp alfredo.
                                          I get ground turkey and put in a bunch of spices, diced onion, shredded spinach and feta - pack them into patties and freeze the rest (it's only 2 people in my family), and slap them on the grill -cheap, easy, efficient and healthy for you.
                                          Experiment with stews and breads...so much can be done. Also, good sandwiches are hearty and can be very affordable.
                                          As mentioned above, a few basic pantry staples can really go a long way and I like to add in the occasional expensive cheese, spice, meat, etc. to make up in flavor, etc.
                                          I've seriously made a from-scratch mac n' cheese, used it again within the two week time period by adding some pancetta, etc. and then as lastly, coated in bread crumbs and fried as an app for a small dinner gathering. I really try never to let food go to waste. There is always a use for anything.

                                          Good luck!

                                          1. re: snoboardbabe77

                                            Lamb shoulder chops are pretty inexpensive and easy to prepare- I just put some kosher salt and fresh black pepper on the tops and stick in the toaster oven to broil. I'll serve it over jasmine rice and w/ veggie of choice.

                                            1. re: snoboardbabe77

                                              Giada's mac and cheese, the one from Harry's Bar in Venice (recipe on food network site), is really quite excellent, and it freezes well, too. It may be a bit for the ingredients up front (and it's really not that expensive anyway), but you figure it lasts you for 6-8 meals, and damn, is it good and decadent.

                                              I also second the addition of pancetta to almost anything. You don't need much, but boy, it adds flavor.

                                              Oh, one more thing: you mentioned that you like Indian food -- I had never cooked Indian, and have found it to be very economical once you have the spices (and as I live in Bklyn, I'm fortunate to have a few sources for bulk spices, so even those are cheap). Spices, in particular the Indian ones, are such a great way to make really flavorful stuff without spending a ton of money, and I have a great Indian vegetarian cookbook that really has some awesome stuff in it. Dig around on the web and I'm sure you'll find some great Indian recipes that taste amazing without spending a ton of cash.

                                              One thing that I honestly believe saves me money too are the plastic containers (not the bags, the containers) of lettuce, already washed. The lettuce actually keeps for at least a week, and I end up eating more of it because it's so easy, so I do think it ends up costing me less than the stuff I had to wash (which always went bad since I hate washing lettuce). Oh, and those containers keep herbs (damp paper towel on the bottom and top) fresh a really long time too . . .

                                              1. re: bebevonbernstein

                                                Chicken thighs are some of the best bargains in the grocery store. Everyone else wants boneless breasts while thighs are cheaper, tastier, more satisfying and easier to cook (less chance of going rubber on you).

                                                Also, check a cookbook on whole grains out of the library and learn how to make different dishes based on rice, barley, oats, etc. You'll be surprised how delicious these can be for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Whole grains are cheap and healthy - just be sure to store them well. Your wallet (and likely, your cholesterol level) will be all the better for it.

                                                I also recommend cooking things like waffles, rolls, muffins, and breads in larger batches and stowing them in your freezer so you always have something to grab for breakfast or snack and you're less likely to stop and blow $5 on a bagel and a latte!

                                                Watch out for most prepackaged shortcut foods, too. It only takes seconds to shred cheese or dice onions yourself so save yourself the money. Besides, freshly prepared tastes better anyway.

                                                If you live alone, however, don't go nuts on large quantities at first unless you know you're going to cook it all right away. Nothing is a bargain if it goes bad in the fridge before you can eat it.

                                          2. I lived off soup when I studied abroad-- no joke. Mine consisted of boxed tomato puree, sauteed onion and garlic, chunks of fresh tomato, s&p, fresh basil (I had a couple of freakishly large plants), with added cheese, Quark, creme fraiche or the like. Yogurt, by the way, will curdle if you stick it in boiling liquid :/

                                            You can stock up on some cubed bouillon, canned stocks/bases, and whatever veggies, meats, frozen things, dried/fresh herbs and spices you want to throw into it.

                                            I also made a lot of omlettes...or chicken breasts encrusted with pecorino/parmesean, dried herbs (usually an "Italian" mix), and almond-meal (I can't stand flour) with egg as the binder.

                                            Flavored olive oils are pretty useful-- a little goes a long way in terms of enhancing other flavors without buying additional ingredients.

                                            1. One of my secrets to cooking cheaply for a crowd or for many meals is to buy very cheap, basic ingredients and invest my labor in transforming them. For example, on the weekend, I make a pot of red sauce, which goes something like this:

                                              -olive oil, heated
                                              -one clove of garlic, minced
                                              -4 cans of pureed tomatoes
                                              -handful of basil, chopped

                                              You just cook the garlic slowly until translucent, add the tomatoes, enough water to clean the cans, then cook it for as long as possible, adding the basil at the end.

                                              While the red sauce is cooking, I usually make a loaf or two of bread to freeze, along with rolls for that night's dinner.

                                              As the bread rises, it is possible to brown a cheap cut of meat like pork shoulder (as someone suggested earlier), add garlic, onions, tomatoes, herbs, and some wine, then cook it low and slow in the oven.

                                              When I'm cooking for friends or multiple meals, I like to make a pan of lasagna. I make the noodles by combining 4 eggs, 10 ounces of flour, a splash of water, a bit of salt (fine), and enough extra flour to make the dough workable. If you have a pasta roller, just roll out sheets until you can see your hand through them, toss them in boiling water, then into very cold water once its cooked. If you don't have a pasta roller, it is supposed to be possible to do this by hand, but I'm a bit scared. Layer the cooked sheets in a pan, alternating between the red sauce and your favorite filling. My favorite filling is garlic and pepper roasted in the oven until soft, then mixed with an approximately equal amount of goat cheese. I top it with mozzarella, and its ready for freezing or a crowd.

                                              I also like to use every bit of everything I buy- I had some heavy cream waiting to go bad in the fridge this weekend, so I made butter by letting it warm up for a few hours, then shaking it in a jar for about 30 minutes. The butter is really lovely, and I had buttermilk left over for pancakes or biscuits.

                                              6 Replies
                                              1. re: TERMarlene

                                                what effect does warming it up have?

                                                thanks :)

                                                1. re: beany

                                                  It separates faster into fat & whey, rather than turning into whipped cream.

                                                2. re: TERMarlene

                                                  Old thread, but great suggestions!
                                                  "...buy very cheap, basic ingredients and invest my labor in transforming them."
                                                  Just my idea of a perfect weekend of cooking! Did you work in a kitchen?

                                                  1. re: roasted138

                                                    After making a whole chicken or a turkey, in the winter I always make a soup out of the carcus. Cover the carcus and any extra meat you have left over in a big pot with water & chopped onions and boil for 1 1/2. Seperate the liquid (and set a side) from everything else. Pick out all the meat & onion and throw away the skin, bones,etc. Then put back in pot with 2 lbs. carrots, 6 celery stocks, onions, salt&pepper, and poultry seasoning. Boil until veggies are tender. Eat as a chicken and veggie soup or add you favorite pasta (boil the noodles in the soup for 20 additional minutes or until done). It freezes perfect for future uses and is low in calories and fat... and very filling!

                                                    1. re: chattynoel

                                                      The best thing about chicken/turkey soup is that there is usually much more meat than you need for the soup, so now you have the main ingredient for enchiladas/crepes/pot pie type recipes. Pop it into the freezer until you're ready for it, it's a nice surprise when you don't feel like food shopping.

                                                      1. re: coll

                                                        Yes! We ate nothing but turkey for the next week. I made a turkey on Sunday. I made it into 1. a turkey dinner 2. turkey fajitas 3. turkey sandwiches 4. chef salad 5. homemade turkey and vegetable soup 6. turkey pot pie 7. more sandwiches 8. turkey chili. Everything turned out tasty though. I even have lots of soup left in containers in the freezer to eat throughout our cold winters here in Washington State. Turkey goes far for families of two adults and two small children.

                                                3. Some of my favorite inexpensive meals are 15-bean soup made with smoked ham hocks. I always serve it with cornbread. Beans, overall, are a bargain hunter's dream. Navy bean soup with ham is also a taste treat, as are lentils. Beef soups with the least expensive cuts of meat, including bones, frozen veggies and tomato soup are always popular and super simple. This is a crock pot special too. All of the tomato-based pasta sauces are amazingly inexpensive and easy to freeze. You can do meat sauces, sauces with meatballs, putanesca sauces, etc., and freeze them to use later. In the summer cook up all those zucchinis and eggplants and have ratatoulle in the winter. The roast chicken is a great idea for a few nights of eating. I've started mixing leftover chicken with Southwestern-style frozen veggies, a few spices (cumin, chili powder and a bit of cayenne), sauteing them all up and serving them as tacos. During the rest of the year, use turkey wings, which are dirt cheap. Just bake in the oven with a little sage and thyme unitl they're crispy and brown. They can be served with a stovetop stuffing (You can also make your own using stale bread), some cranberry sauce and green beans for an almost holiday meal that costs pennies. The tip about the chicken thighs was great too. They make a wonderful chicken caccittore (sp?) browned in olive oil with some chopped onions, minced garlic, green peppers, crushed tomatos with puree, a splash of wine and some herbs -- oregano, basil and bay. You can also add mushrooms and olives if you like.
                                                  But as people noted, it's always best to have a bunch of recipes on hand so you can take advantage of the specials each week. Another easy, sleazy thing to do with pork shoulder is to dump it along with a bottle of your favorite barbecue sauce and leave it in the slow cooker all day. Chop the meat when it's done and return it to the cooker for about another half hour. Serve on buns. Too easy for words and a family favorite.

                                                  1. Whole chickens. Roast it for a wonderful dinner, use the left overs for chicken salad sandwiches, salads, and tacos, and then use the carcass for a great chicken soup.
                                                    I can get some mileage from a roasted 4-5 lb chick.

                                                    And you don't have to cook the whole bird, split it in half removing the spine (keep that) and roast or use half at a time. Freeze the other for another day. Sometimes cooked chicken then frozen can be dry...

                                                    1. Cheaper during farmers market season but we always have roasted veggies in the frezzer. Any mix will do. Take 4 red peppers/2 yellow/1 or 2 green,1 very lg spanish onion,2 med zuccini rough cut put in a large roasting pan. Add about 2 tbs olive oil 2tsp dryed oregano juice half of a lemon and black pepper. Roast in 450 over for 25-30 min tossing 2-3 times. Salt after out of the over. Par frezze then cut into brownie size blocks.Now you have a ready base for omlets fajita's. Try veg fajita with black beantahini to keep it cheap or leftover chicken,steak shrimp est. Just had some for lunch today. Made some couscous (5 min) topped with premade veggies and a piece of lemon chicken breast I had in the frezzer yum. Now that I mention it lemon chicken is great follow this link for lemon salsa let it rest in the fridge for a week then frezze it till needed great stuff


                                                      1 Reply
                                                      1. re: don515

                                                        If it is still tomato season, look at the farmers market for boxes of canning tomatoes. Some of the stands at our local market will put the less attractive ones in a 20# box for about $10.
                                                        We find about 25% are still fine for slicing. The rest get cut into wedges, tossed with olive oil & ital. seasoning to be slow roasted in the oven. Then frozen to use later.

                                                      2. My current obsession is grass-fed roast and heirloom beans. This recipe in particular... http://www.ranchogordo.com/html/rg_co.... I made it last night, with a grass fed chuck roast, so I added about 90 minutes on to the braising time.

                                                        Served it with roasted acorn squash with a honey chipotle glaze. Cost was about $25, even with the fancy meat and beans, and it made enough for dinner for 3, with at least 4-5 days of leftovers lunches.

                                                        1. Vietnamese Braised Chicken Thighs

                                                          You can substitute drumsticks, breasts, whatever -- just be sure you buy them bone in, skin on, for all the flavor! At 99 cents a pound on sale, chicken thighs are ridiculously inexpensive . . . served with steamed jasmine rice, shredded lettuce, sliced cucumber, radishes, lime wedges, and torn thai basil, this recipe manages to be ridiculously cheap. About $10 worth of groceries can serve 3 or 4 people!

                                                          Marinade for 2 lbs. Chicken Thighs (serves 2-3, about 6 thighs)

                                                          1 tbsp. white sugar
                                                          1 tbsp. brown sugar
                                                          2 tbsp. grated ginger
                                                          2 cloves garlic, finely minced
                                                          2 tbsp. chopped onion
                                                          1/2 tsp. black pepper
                                                          1 tsp. red chili flakes
                                                          3 tbsp. soysauce
                                                          10-15 drops fish sauce

                                                          Marinate the chicken for 10 minutes to 1/2 hour.

                                                          Heat a dutch oven or similar to medium-high, adding 2 tbsp. of vegetable oil. Add the chicken thighs, skin side down, browning.

                                                          Add water to cover about 9/10 the chicken. Braise at a low simmer until 2/3 of the liquid is gone.

                                                          Serve over steamed rice! Mm.

                                                          1. A couple people have alluded to this, but cutting meat out of your diet a couple times a week is a great saver of money.

                                                            Right now our go to cheap meals are:
                                                            stuffed squash- acorn squash cut in half and filled with grains and chopped left over veggies and some butter
                                                            beans, tomatoes and eggs- one can white beans (cheaper if you use dried), one can chopped tomatoes simmered with some spices. Dish out and top with an egg over easy.
                                                            pancakes- super cheap.
                                                            Chili- freezes well once cooked too. Millions of recipes out there for veggie chili. Also a good way to stretch a little meat.

                                                            We make up rice ahead of time in big batches and freeze in portion sizes. We use rice as our main starch every day. We eat a lot of rice with yogurt and Indian "pickles." Particularly eggplant pickle.

                                                            1 Reply
                                                            1. re: churchka

                                                              Exactly what I have done. Some weeks, Hubby and I go through only one pound of meat between us. But we eat healthy. We buy cheaper from the bulk store: steel cut oats, brown rice, barley, etc., I make veggie burritos and pasta sauce without meat (Hubby, the meat lover, doesn't even complain anymore!). When I make something with meat, I always add way more vegetables than the recipe called for.

                                                              Here's my favourite vegetarian burrito recipe:


                                                            2. I fed my husband, myself, and three fast-growing step-children during their teenage (expensive!) years and was forced to learn some easy, inexpensive, tasty recipes. Kids are grown now, but I am bringing many of these recipes back for my husband and me due to the high cost of eating out and skyrocketing grocery prices. The recipes are generally comfort-type foods as well and are great for winter months!

                                                              I also have picked up several FANTASTIC NEW RECIPES from Food Network's 'Sandra's Money-Saving Meals'. Her clam chowder is fast, delicious, and inexpensive. And her Tuscan Peasant Soup (made with frozen veggies and cheese tortellini) is a quick, tasty, new favorite as well.

                                                              Look on Food Network's site for those two recipes. They were both on the episode 'One Pot Meals' in Fall 2009.

                                                              Also, if you live near an ALDI grocery store, be SURE to check them out!! Great food at reasonable prices. They save money by having no baggers and are no-frills in their displays, etc., but the savings are passed on to YOU, the customer! Few name brands, but their brands are frequently BETTER than brands I've used all my life! And NO, I don't work for them, but I'm their newest, biggest fan! Here in Alabama, a gallon of milk usually costs from $2.35 (walmart superstores) to $4.90 at convenience or drugstores. Aldi's every day price for milk is $1.49/gallon!!

                                                              Here's one of our favorite budget recipes...

                                                              BEEF STROGANOFF
                                                              4 servings

                                                              (My version is made with Ground Beef, but is delicious - and just about the most forgiving recipe ever! Adjust spices to your taste. If it comes out too thin, simmer longer uncovered and allow to thicken. Too thick? add water or beef broth. There are also other versions on the back of many egg noodle packages!)

                                                              -1-1.5 lbs ground beef
                                                              (75/25 or similar - DON'T pay tons more $$ for ground sirloin, etc. yes the meat 'shrinks' and has a higher fat content, but I like the extra flavor and we simply eat smaller portions and have more for lunches and leftovers! Fat is what makes you feel full and satisfied! But if you are very concerned about animal fat or cholesterol, drain the hamburger fat and use just the Tbsp or two of Canola or Olive Oil for sauteing the onions and garlic.)
                                                              -1-2 Tbs Canola or Olive Oil
                                                              (just enough to cover bottom of pan and keep meat from sticking while browning)
                                                              -1 medium onion - chopped
                                                              -3-4 garlic cloves, chopped/minced
                                                              -1 tsp dried thyme
                                                              -1 tsp dried basil
                                                              (if you have fresh, great!-use it, but fresh spices can be expensive! dried spices aren't cheap, but they keep a long time and you use smaller amounts than fresh)
                                                              -2 Tbsp all purpose flour
                                                              -2-3 cups beef stock or broth
                                                              -3-4 Tbsp worcestershire sauce
                                                              -One can chopped mushrooms
                                                              (Stems and pieces work great and are cheaper than whole or caps! Use a small or large can depending on how much you like mushrooms or what's already in your pantry!)
                                                              -1 cup sour cream
                                                              -salt and pepper to taste

                                                              Cooked rice or pasta

                                                              Heat oil and brown hamburger over medium to medium-high heat in large skillet or heavy pot. (if you're making a larger amount, like a double recipe, definitely use a large pot - sometimes a skillet just isn't quite large enough to allow for stirring, etc.)

                                                              Add onions and garlic and stir well. Saute until onions are soft and translucent.

                                                              Add thyme, basil and stir well.
                                                              Add flour and stir well 2-3 minutes until flour gets a little browned.
                                                              Add worcestershire sauce and stir.
                                                              Add beef stock and mushrooms to beef mixture and stir well. Heat to boiling for about 2 minutes, stirring often, then reduce to a simmer.
                                                              Cover and simmer for 15-20 minutes stirring occasionally until mixture begins to thicken and flavors have time to develop.
                                                              Stir in sour cream and simmer for 5-10 minutes, just until heated through. TRY NOT to let mixture BOIL after adding sour cream - just heat well.
                                                              (I HAVE let it boil and it STILL turned out ok! - just that the sour cream could separate from the mixture...)

                                                              Add salt and black pepper, stir.
                                                              Serve over hot pasta or rice.
                                                              Add a salad or veggies and you have a great, inexpensive, filling meal!

                                                              THIS RECIPE ALSO FREEZES VERY WELL! Sometimes I double the recipe so I can freeze some for later. Just remove frozen stroganoff from tupperware or ziplock and heat slowly in skillet, pot, or microwave - and serve as usual over hot pasta or rice!

                                                              (It does NOT freeze well WITH the rice or pasta added - just freeze the stroganoff mixture and make fresh pasta or rice to go with it when ready to serve the leftovers!)

                                                              Hope you enjoy the recipe and that the tips are helpful!
                                                              Good luck!

                                                              1. Have made this Tuscan Ribollita a couple of times, it's fantastic!


                                                                1 Reply
                                                                1. re: tiramasue

                                                                  tiramasue, would this recipe work well adapted to be vegetarian and excluding the ham?