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Mar 24, 2007 01:14 PM

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.