These recipe ideas will help keep your food budget down.
By Kimberly Palmer Nov. 25, 2014 | 9:00 a.m. EST
The Price of Food
Most of us spend a lot of ourmoney on food. In fact, the latest Consumer Expenditure Survey estimates that food eats up about 13 percent of our total spending each year. The majority of that spending, nearly $4,000, is on meals eaten at home. If you’re looking for ways to cut that cost, here are some ideas for affordable, but delicious, meals.
The $5 Family Dinner
Tortilla soup, with ingredients such as chicken broth, crushed tomatoes and carrots, is easy to make in bulk and freeze for later. The Mexican chicken soup recipe from Barefoot Contessa (available at foodnetwork.com) offers a tasty variation. Even adding extras like tortilla chips and sour creamdoesn’t push the price tag per person beyond the $5.
U.S. News contributor Susan Yoo-Lee offers recipes for apple and pumpkin bisque, chicken and mushroom ramen, and other winter soups on the Frugal Shopper blog. The common factor is that winter soups often feature root vegetables, which are in season, as well as winter spices like nutmeg or cinnamon, and they frequently begin with sautéing onions.
It’s hard to go wrong with pasta and red sauce, especially if you have children who don’t like spicy food. Canned tomato sauce is an affordable option, and you can always jazz it up by adding your own vegetables (like mushrooms) and spices (like oregano). Adding beans can also provide an extra protein source, Yoo-Lee suggests.
You can make your own pesto by blending avocado, basil, olive oil, garlic, lemon juice and pine nuts, Yoo-Lee says. It can be served with pasta or a vegetable like cauliflower, and offers an affordable option for a meatless Monday tradition. Opting for vegetarian entrees can often reduce the cost of the overall meal.
Green juice offers a healthy snack alternative to processed foods, and kids often like them, too. Yoo-Lee suggests using ingredients such as cucumbers, apples, ginger and other fresh fruits and vegetables. While green juice can cost $7 and higher at the store, she makes it at home for $3 to $4 a pop.
Chili, whether it features beans or meat (or both), freezes well, which means you can make a large pot for multiple future meals. It can also be freshened up by adding sour cream, shredded cheese and chips when serving. It’s an affordable, yet hardy meal for cold winter days.
You can turn inexpensive ingredients, like grains and vegetables, into impressive side dishes with a little extra attention, suggests Abby Hayes, a contributor to the U.S. News My Money blog. She recommends baking corn and zucchini with feta crumbles and seasoning, or roasting potatoes with Italian dressing and garlic powder.
One-Pot Rice Dishes
Rice not only freezes well, but it also pairs well: It can be combined with vegetarian protein like tofu or meat. Then, you can add a vegetable, such as carrots or peas, mix all three ingredients together, and you have a complete meal – and only one pot to clean.
One way to cut food costs is to waste less, which you can do by taking advantage of the ingredients that are already stored in your pantry, or using the wilting vegetables that will soon head to the compost pile if they’re not eaten. A website like allrecipes.com makes it easy to plug in ingredients and generate a surprise dinner.
Repeat and Reuse
When you plan your meals in advance, it’s easier to repurpose ingredients later in the week. For example, a roasted chicken on Monday night can turn into chicken tacos on Tuesday. Plan your weekly meals so you can double up on ingredients; it will save time and money.