Reducing your grocery budget doesn’t have to mean sacrificing delicious, wholesome meals. I’ve often found that the best dishes are made from simple ingredients. What follows is a short list of staples that every frugal cook should keep on hand. This list is by no means comprehensive, but these basic ingredients will serve as the starting points for countless inexpensive meals.
Rice is cheap, filling, and versatile. It is an integral part of Asian-inspired dishes like stir fry. Mixed with vegetables and cheese or splashed with soy sauce, it makes an excellent side dish to complement a wide variety of entrees. I always keep plain brown rice on hand, which contains more of the naturally occurring vitamins and minerals than white rice. Flavored rice by Rice-A-Roni or Uncle Ben’s make quick, inexpensive side dishes. They come in many varieties, including low sodium for more health conscious cooks, cost less than two dollars a box, and make 3-4 servings.
Pasta is another inexpensive, versatile, easy-to-cook staple. From spaghetti to lasagna, rotini to ravioli, the possibilities for meals are endless. Spaghetti and meatballs is an oft-overlooked classic that can be made easily and cheaply, and if prepared well, makes for a satisfying meal. My cupboard has its very own pasta shelf, which I keep well-stocked with spaghetti, fettuccine, and rotini for my favorite pasta dishes at all times.
Vegetables are inexpensive and packed with nutrients no matter how you buy them, but there are several benefits to buying frozen. When you buy fresh produce you run the risk of your vegetables going bad before you’ve used them up, especially if you live alone or cook for a small family. Frozen vegetables keep for a long time in the freezer, and actually contain more nutrients than their fresh or canned counterparts. Frozen veggies are frozen as soon as they are harvested, locking in key nutrients that are lost in the canning process and during the transportation of fresh vegetables.
At my local grocery store, I can buy a box of store brand pancake mix for $2.19. They typically come in “complete,” which is prepared simply by adding water, and “original,” which is prepared by adding oil, milk, and egg. The “just add water” variety makes between 40 and 55 pancakes, depending on size, for a cost of a nickel or less per pancake. Add eggs, bacon, or sausage on the side for a tasty, cheap meal for breakfast, lunch, or dinner.
Fancy spices can be very expensive, but they aren’t needed for delicious meals. A handful of simple seasonings can be used for a variety of purposes. My spice shelf is stocked with black pepper, chili powder, oregano, basil, parsley, and an Italian seasoning mix. Each of these items costs under three dollars for a small package and lasts a long time. I also keep garlic powder and onion powder on hand, as a quick, nonperishable alternative to fresh garlic and onions.
Finding bargains on meat is all about how you shop. Cheap cuts of beef can still be tender and flavorful if they are slow cooked, either by braising or in a slow cooker. Bone-in chicken can be a little more work, but is less expensive than buying boneless. Buying in bulk at a warehouse club and freezing what you won’t use right away is another money-saving option. Finally, grocery stores often offer significant discounts on meat as the expiration date approaches. This can also save you money, and the meat is perfectly safe to eat as long as you use it or freeze it right away.
With a little discipline and careful planning, you can develop your own frugal kitchen practices. In the long run, smart shopping and meal planning will translate to substantial grocery savings. Visit The Dented Skillet and become a follower for more money-saving tips and simple, flavorful recipes.