Cutting Your Food Budget
For a family of four, a food budget can easily be 800 dollars or more a month. This includes things like fast food, meals out and of course those big trips to the grocery store.
When times are tough, like they are now with the Coronavirus or Covid-19, you may be forced to make some cuts and the food budget is a prime target. You obviously should cut out the meals out and fast food, but you might need to do even more.
Making bigger cuts can be tough, especially if you are not that good in the kitchen. It is never too late to learn though and even if your biggest accomplishment up until now is making toast, there are a lot of inexpensive meals that anyone can make. Take a look at our top 9 meal choices for those on a budget.
This is really one of the easiest and cheapest meals that you can make. A can of spaghetti sauce is around a dollar and so is a package of spaghetti noodles. That is 2 dollars for a meal that can feed four. Want to splurge a little, add a half pound of ground beef for 2 dollars or a loaf of fresh french bread for the same cost. 2 to 4 dollars and you have a filling and healthy meal and the only skill that you need is to know how to boil water.
2) Baked Potatoes
Yes, a baked potato can be a meal and a very satisfying one. A five pound bag of Russett potatoes goes for around 4 dollars and that is enough for 2 – 3 full meals or more. So take 2 dollars in potatoes, 1 dollar worth of butter and 1 dollar worth of shredded cheese and you have a filling 4 dollar meal.
Baking potatoes is very simple, but I have a few tricks that make it even easier. First, skip the foil because it steams the potato and leaves the skin soft and unappetizing. Rub the outside of the potato with a bit of olive oil and sprinkle it with garlic salt. Then bake at 400 degrees in an oven for 50 to 60 minutes depending on the size of the potato. You will have a perfectly cooked potato with tasty and crisp skin.
3) Rice & Beans
Beans are a great source of protein and are a very good substitute for much more expensive meat when you are in need of money. Rice is very filling and costs just pennies a serving, especially when bought in bulk. A can of your choice of beans can be had for under a dollar and enough rice to feed four is well under a buck. That makes a meal for four that costs under 2 dollars, probably closer to 1 dollar if you shop well.
Some people have trouble with rice but it is very easy. Add 1.5 cups of rice, 1 tablespoon of margarine and 3 cups of hot water to a dish. Bake covered at 400 degrees for one hour, no need to stir. Perfect rice every time. As for the beans, microwave them for a few minutes or slow simmer them on the stove top for 30 minutes if you like them more tender.
4) Bean Tacos
Once again, beans are you go to source of protein. Cheap and nutritious. For bean tacos, choose from re-fried beans, black beans or pinto beans. Going generic, you can get a can to feed 4 for 50 cents. Add to that a package of flour or corn tortillas for $1.50 and a dollars worth of shredded cheddar and you have a meal for around 3 dollars. Add a 50 cent avocado if you want to make things a bit more special and still keep things inexpensive.
Prep is easy, just heat up the beans either in the microwave or slow simmerd on the stove. Avocado, if you go that route, can be diced or turned into guacamole by mashing it and adding a teaspoon of lime juice and garlic salt to taste. Simple, tasty and cheap.
5) Peanut Butter & Jelly Bagels
Okay, nothing will make you feel more broke than eating PB&J for dinner. I admit that, but by replacing bread with bagels, you make it more nutritious and much more decadent.
You may not know it, but bagels are a good source of protein. Combine them and peanut butter and you get a pretty healthy and still cheap meal. Take a package of bagels for 2 dollars and about a dollars worth of peanut butter and jelly and you have 3 dollar filling meal.
For prep, toast the bagels in the oven and then spread them with PB&J. The peanut butter gets gooey and, combined with a crisp bagel, is quite a treat. Your family will love it and if you new how good they were you would make them right this second.
6) Soup & Grilled Cheese
This is a classic that also happens to be very cheap. Traditionally, you would serve tomato soup but choose another if tomato is not your favorite. Take a 1 dollar can of soup, less than a dollar in bread and less than a dollar in sliced cheese and you have a sub 3 dollar meal that is filling and delicious.
Prep is easy as well although, if you are a novice, getting the grilled cheese right might take some trial.
For the grilled cheese, it is easiest to lay out your sliced bread in advance and spread a little room temperature butter or margarine on them. It is easier to spread without tearing the bread if you let it get to room temperature. Then, simply place the bread on a medium temperature pan or skillet, add a slice of cheese and then another slice of bread. Let it heat until the cheese melts and holds the bread together and then flip. Heat until lightly browned.
7) Macaroni & Cheese
There are two ways that you can go with this, cheap or very cheap.
For the very cheap, get the old fashioned box of mac and cheese with the powder cheese that requires a bit of milk and margarine or butter. Then you have a meal for around a dollar.
For the cheap, get the slightly fancier, and easier, mac and cheese that comes with the cheese sauce. That will set you back about 2 dollars.
If you want to kick it up a notch, add 50 cents worth of frozen peas to the mix or a loaf of french bread for under 2 dollars. Less than 4 dollars to feed a family of four if you include the extras.
8) Roasted Chicken With Vegetables
Wait what? Sometimes you have to splurge a bit without really splurging. Whole chickens regularly go on sale for under 99 cents a pound. Pick up a 5-6 pound bird for 5 dollars or less. Add to that a frozen vegetable mix for a dollar.
For the chicken, simply season the skin with a little salt and pepper and bake at 350 degrees until the internal temperature of the bird is 165 to 170 degrees. It should take about 2 hours. Baste it every 30 minutes or so with its own juices to keep it moist.
For the vegetables, simply microwave to heat and season with a bit of salt and pepper. Make it even better
Who doesn’t like pancakes? Pancake mix is about 2 dollars and comes with enough to make two complete meals. That means that you have a meals worth of pancakes for around 1 dollar. Add some syrup and the milk needed to complete the mix and you still have a meal for under 3 dollars.
The key to cooking the pancakes, for those new to it, is to get your pan to the right temperature. Most people cook them too hot. Medium-low heat works best with a few teaspoons of butter or margarine to keep them from sticking.
Anytime that you add meat to a meal, it is going to get more expensive but, you have to treat yourself, even when trying to save money. Even with the meat though, this is an inexpensive meal.
Take a package of store brand bacon for 3 dollars, a loaf of bread for a dollar, and 2 dollars worth of lettuce and tomatoes. That gives you a meal to feed your family for 6 dollars, not too bad.
Bacon is simple to make if you take your time. Cook it over medium heat and flip it often to keep it from burning. Remember that it will continue to cook a bit after you pull it from the pan, so you should pull it a bit earlier than you might think.