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Hawaii_Jake's avatar

What are some inexpensive things to fix at home to stretch one's food budget?

Asked by Hawaii_Jake (34191points) July 27th, 2012

I’m hoping you know some cheap eats that are easy to fix other than black beans and rice.

What do you like to cook to stretch your food budget?

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39 Answers

linguaphile's avatar

1 box of bowtie pasta, 1 can diced tomatoes, 1 jar spaghetti sauce, 1 bag frozen spinach, 1 bag shredded mozzy cheese (all store or off brands). Cook pasta, put on bottom of a glass pan, top with sauce, tomatoes, spinach and cheese then bake at 350 until top part’s toasted. Freezes well too! Enough for 6 people or 6 meals.

If you have extra dollars, throw in ground beef browned in onions. I’m frightfully broke and have 6 mouths to feed right now, so am becoming creative with my pasta dishes.

flutherother's avatar

Minestrone soup made from vegetables, beans, chopped tomatoes , pasta and served with bread is very cheap and very tasty.

TexasDude's avatar

Boil a box of whole wheat pasta and throw some hearty beans in (like Great Northern or red beans). After you cook it, toss it in parmesean and/or sriracha sauce.

It’s high in protein and fiber. My roommates in college and I would practically live off this meal extremely cheaply.

anartist's avatar

hummus [and edamame hummus]. The tahini may be a bit pricey, but you can use less of it. Lemon luice, garlic, and beans [traditionally garbanzo beans/chick peas] are cheap. It’s a quick mix-up in food processor or blender. A hummus spread can also be made with edamame or soy beans—my favorite—a beautiful bright green. You can use white beans or basically any beans to mix it up. Roasted red peppers can also be pureed into the mix.

Served with bits of pita bread or vegetables like carrots, celery and cucumber to dip it up [all inexpensive and the veggies are healthy]

garnished [if you want] with a teaspoonful of olive oil pressed into the center and bits of fresh parsley, chopped scallions, finely chopped red pepper— to name just a few.


also tabouli, baba ganoush, and a few other middle eastern salads

I am a great fan of the mezzo, which is sort of a middle eastern smorgasbord of all of the above served with pita. Bowls of dips and salads and [if you want to push the budget, feta cheese and olives] in center of table and each person with a plate of pita bread and veggies and a small bowl for the salads. Also yoghurt can be strained through cheesecloth or a clean handkerchief or sock [aggghh imagine a dirty one—no don’t] until it becomes much denser and can also be used as cheese [in case plain yoghurt is cheaper than cheese]

Judi's avatar

Corn bread is good with pinto beans.
Do you have space (and time) for a garden?
My daughter fed 100 people cheese enchiladas with beans and rice for under $40.

ragingloli's avatar

bread and butter, potatoes

whiteliondreams's avatar

I mean this with the most respect possible: curb your appetite, analyze your carb, fat, and protein intake, and go from there. All everyone here is telling you is to consume more and more carbs. Carbs make you feel full, but you have to eat more of it, thus increasing you’re appetite. If you plan on improving your financial situation, then sure, follow the norm and eat what is recommended, but if you want to change your eating habits, it’s going to require as much dedication and moderation as your concern for your budget. The only book I can recommend, which if you find at Good Will may cost you $4 the most is called The Zone Diet by Barry Sears. Best wishes.

rooeytoo's avatar

I take a half of a chicken breast, cut it into cubes, brown it in olive oil with a chili, onions and some garlic, throw in any veg you have in your fridge, peas, broccoli, cabbage, sweet or white potato, truly whatever you happen to have, brown it all until it is a pretty color. Throw in a litre of chicken stock, add a cup of lentils of your choice. Season with a hit of Ketjap mantis, a hit of ketchup, salt pepper. Simmer for an hour or so. This will make 2 meals for my husband and myself. For one you should be able to stretch it to four meals especially if you have some crusty bread with it. I know you live in heat but I like a stew no matter what the temp is.

DigitalBlue's avatar

@whiteliondreams that’s because carbs are cheap. There are good reasons that poverty and obesity are linked. I live in one of the hungriest cities in the US, and the people that I know who struggle to buy groceries for their family don’t buy more carbs because they are hungrier, they buy carbs because they have a couple bucks for groceries and they need quantity.

I don’t have specific recipes. When the groceries run thin, I will eat whatever we have. Can of peas? Dinner.
A pot of vegetable soup is inexpensive for a large amount that is not expensive. I like to use a whole head of cabbage, and it adds a lot of bulk to the soup, but is very inexpensive. An onion, some carrots, beans, tomatoes or tomato juice… it’s filling, a large amount of food, and very cheap to make. This is assuming that you aren’t easily bored with eating the same thing every day, but it works for me.

fremen_warrior's avatar

broad beans – cook for 15–20 minutes, add some salt near the end – tasty, cheap, and easy to make

anartist's avatar

And there’s always the big pot of spaghetti sauce or the big crock pot of chili—these can be added to over days and seem bottomless.

Or try a meatloaf—stretch it with bread

Clean and simple—I love canned tuna all sorts of ways, but mostly on a sandwich

creative1's avatar

I find if you keep things simple and make them from scratch they can be made cheaply and I find they taste better.

Adirondackwannabe's avatar

@Hawaii_Jake I can’t remember if you’re vegetarian or not. I have a great soup recipe but I need to taylor it for you. Let me know.

creative1's avatar

Provide us a list of things you keep on hand in your kitchen and I am sure we can divise a ton of recipes that you can make cheaply with the ingredients you have.

I know I just buy different things and create a new dish the day I decide to have it. LIke I picked up some eggplants which at the farm was $4.00 for the amount of #‘s I bought. I am going to sauté some onions until caramelized then add peeled and diced eggplant, garlic (which I always keep on hand like the onions), chopped peppers (that my mom gave me from her garden) and saute a little longer until the eggplant starts to soften I will then dice up some home grown tomatoes again given to me by my mom from her garden. I will season to taste a little chilli powder, salt, pepper and italian seasoning. I will then cook until the eggplant is all cooked down making a nice sauce. You can then cook up some pasta which you can buy a box for a $1 or $2. And you have a nice pasta and sauce dish that you can either top the pasta with the sauce on the plate or do what I do and combine the 2 in a pan and let the sauce infuse the pasta. This makes a meal for several people at very little cost out of pocket.

I know I never turn down free garden veggies from family or friends then create something wonderful

Adirondackwannabe's avatar

@creative1 That sounds so friggin good.

marinelife's avatar

Pasta with veggies. Pasta prima vera. Make a cream (half and half) and parmesan cheese sauce. Delicious

Are you veggie? A whole roast chicken is pretty inexpensive. I made one with lemons and rosemary that was delicious. I put the lemon and rosemary between the skin and the meat and it infused the whole chicken with flavor. Also some in the cavity.

creative1's avatar

@Adirondackwannabe Thank You! I can do a lot with veggies to streach meat as well, which was is also heathier than eating a ton of meat.

Tropical_Willie's avatar

Mexican pasta salad:
Pinto Beans
Chunks of cheese

seekingwolf's avatar

I have to watch my carb intake because of a medical issue I have. I prefer beans, meat, eggs, plus my fresh fruits and veggies. I have potatoes once in a while…

Here’s how I save money: CROCKPOTS. You can make delicious soups, stews, and roasts in there, and it’s pretty cheap. Esp if you use chicken. I spent about $25 on meat and ingredients for beef stew and it lasted me over a week.

JLeslie's avatar

Omelette, eggs are very cheap.

French toast sandwich. Soak the bread in egg, regular ol’ sandwich bread like Wonder is fine, then fry it with very little butter/oil/margarine. Cook one side, flip, add ham on one piece of toast and cheese on the other while the other side cooks and then put the sandwich together. I use only one yolk with three egg whites to cut cholesterol, still very high in protein. The three eggs makes 6 slices of bread.

I was going to suggest some bean dishes, but sounds like you have those covered.

Iceberg lettuce topped with tuna made with mayo (tuna salad) and lemon squeezed all over the salad. Add a slice of bread, pretzels, crackers, whichever you like for a few more calories.

Sometimes bread is much cheaper next to its due date. You can buy it and put it directly in the freezer. Bread unfreezes quickly by the slice and the freezing process has little affect on the bread’s taste or texture. Especially sandwich bread.

Spaghetti with meat sauce. One pound of ground round can be stretched over several meals if you add it to sauce.

I also make a soup by adding equal parts spaghetti sauce from a jar and water, throw in some mini pasta shells (not too many because they expand) a little ground beef, and at the very end when everything is cooked I add some frozen corn, which cools the soup to be ready to eat, and the corn heats up with the heat of the soup. I usually have to add more water while the pasta cooks, I taste the soup and watch the consistency as it cooks. You can add already cooked pasta if you have some leftover, just add at the very end and heat for one minute.

bookish1's avatar

A meal I eat almost every day back home could be referred to as ‘mexican pasta’. Pasta with a little oil, beans (refried, white, pinto, kidney, chickpeas, it’s all good), mixed with salsa, topped with shredded cheese so it melts. All in the same bowl. It’s delicious and very filling, and it has starch, protein, and fiber. If you can afford to keep a couple different kinds of starch around (potatoes, rice, pasta, etc.) you can make varied meals with this same formula.

I make a lot of scrambled eggs and omelets as well, with salsa, sauteed onions, canned tomatoes, whatever vegetables I happen to have on hand.

And at the end of almost every week, I make “whatever’s in the fridge” soup, to use up the ends of vegetables before they go bad. Start by frying onions and/or garlic, and peppers if possible. Then throw in anything you got: carrots, corn, cabbage, broccoli, etc, even leftover pasta sauce or rice! And I add a can of beans if I have some, although I know dry beans are much cheaper. Soup is probably the cheapest thing you can cook at home for a whole meal.

Sunny2's avatar

I second @bookish1‘s idea to make soup. Don’t throw away leftovers. Even salad can be chopped up and put in the soup. My “whatever’s in the fridge” soup is “one-of-a-kind” soup, although I’ve also heard it called “kitchen sink” soup. Have on hand Boullion cubes. Worcestershire sauce, sour cream yogurt, cheese and croutons (made from stale bread) are nice additions. Ever found nuts or fruit in your soup? Grapes are nice. All from leftover salad.

bkcunningham's avatar

For me, @Hawaii_Jake, it depends on what is on sale at the grocery store and what produce I’m able to buy at a bargain price at my weekend fruit and vegetable markets. I also use coupons when it is sensible to do so. Unfortunately, they don’t double couple at any of the grocery stores in the area where I live.

Are you cooking for yourself or more than one person? That makes a big difference too.

nikipedia's avatar

Some people have mentioned soup, lentil soup is my go-to. Very cheap, very easy, delicious, lasts for a few days. If you add some rice, it’s a complete protein.

Hawaii_Jake's avatar

@Adirondackwannabe : I’m not a vegetarian. I eat everything.

@creative1 : I always have pasta and sauces, plenty of spices and flavorings, but I’m ashamed to say that I don’t keep fresh produce around. I buy simply what I need to make only the dish I have planned. I do always have apples, though. I love to eat an apple with peanut butter for lunch.

@all : Thank you. You’ve reminded me of some dishes I’d completely forgotten about. Curried lentils springs to mind. I used to make that often, and it’s very cheap.

Ponderer983's avatar

I used to make this dish in college that my roommate dubbed “Concoction night” because I basically threw in random stuff, but it was good. I sauteed chicken with onions, Cream of mushroom soup, random veggies (usually broccoli, corn, peas, but anything really), and then top it off with stove top stuffing. It was really good and cheap.

Adirondackwannabe's avatar

@Hawaii_Jake I make a really good bean soup that will feed a lot of people for pennies. It also freezes well. I saute bacon til done, remove the bacon, then throw in onion, plus carrots or celery if I have any. Then throw in a ham hock, add water or chicken stock, a lot of spices and simmer for a few hours. Then about two hours from the end, I throw in 6 cans of great northern beans. I remove the ham hock bones along the way when it falls apart. Then just mess with the seasoning until you like it. I use ham base or chicken base, just be careful it doesn’t get too salty. It makes at least three meals for me plus two meals for my mother and step father and one meal for my brother and his family. It takes some work but it’s really cheap for the amount of meals.

KNOWITALL's avatar

In the summer, stir fry is quick and very cheap (add meat or not). If you grow your own veggies you can make something different every night. Fried zucchini is one of our faves! For other cheap meals (for two) we like BLT’s, sometimes breakfast food (like biscuits and gravy) are really cheap. We enjoy egg salad sandwiches and sometimes we just eat cereal. Eat to live, not live to eat!

rooeytoo's avatar

Frozen vegs are cheap as and some say better than fresh produce from large grocery stores, add them to rice with some spices and again you have a complete dinner. A small portion of meat or fish or tofu adds the protein.

augustlan's avatar

[mod says] This is our Question of the Day!

Adirondackwannabe's avatar

@Hawaii_Jake Do you know how to make chicken soup from a whole chicken? Or chicken and dumplings?

Hawaii_Jake's avatar

@Adirondackwannabe : No. I know how to make chicken soup from a can. :-\ I truly can’t see myself spending the time to cook and the debone a carcass.

bkcunningham's avatar

You need a good crockpot, my friend.

creative1's avatar

@Hawaii_Jake What I would do is make a whole chicken into multiple meals 1 roasted chicken 2 take some of the meat off the chicken and make a nice chicken salad for sandwiches then 3 remove all the rest of the meat throw the bones and left over skin into a pot of water add some onions and celery and any other veggies you like… in this step you can just simply cut the onions in half and just use the tops of celery and leaves since this will all be drained.. If I am putting in carrots into the final product I will rinse the carrots then peal them putting the peels and ends into the soup (they say the skins have the most nutrients with veggies) and anything else I may put into the soup I will take the discarded parts of the veggies and add it to the water then cook it for a few hours to get a nice tasty broth. I then strain the broth and add the meat you stripped off and all the veggies you like into it. Let it cook till all veggies are cook through. I sometime add either egg noodles or rice to the soup as well. By removing the meat before cooking the carcass you don’t have to pick through the bones and still have meat in your soup. I do the same for turkey soup at thanksgiving.

Adirondackwannabe's avatar

@Hawaii_Jake Get cheesecloth, put it around the chicken and boil it to your heart’s content. Then pull the whole thing out and seperate the meat and the bones out however you want.

jerv's avatar

The nice thing about Indian cooking is that the ingredients are cheap, filling, and nourishing. My wife knows how to do enough things with lentils, rice, and a spice rack that we can eat them for a month without getting sick of eating the same thing. Even better if you can make your own paneer.

For those with less coking skill, Ramen offers a nice base, and I always found a little peanut butter to give them a pseudo-Thai twist.

anartist's avatar

unless also mentioned above ratatouille, here a grilled version maybe to go with your meatloaf

augustlan's avatar

This is absolutely delicious, and very filling! Best grilled cheese sandwich on the planet:

2 slices sourdough bread
2 slices Havarti cheese
A little ham
½ an avocado, sliced thinly
2 or so tablespoons real butter

Melt butter in a skillet (preferably cast iron). Add one slice of bread, swishing it around to get it good and coated with the butter. Top with 1 slice of cheese, then the ham, then the avocado slices, then the other slice of cheese. Place other slice of bread on top. Cook till lightly browned on bottom, then flip (you may need to add a little more butter at this point) and repeat. Slice diagonally and enjoy the mouth-gasm.

Some tips:

Buy Sourdough bread on sale, and keep it in the freezer if you won’t eat it all before it goes bad. Makes good croutons, too.

From the deli: Get your Havarti sliced thickly, otherwise it sticks to itself and forms an unwieldy mass of cheese. Get the ham sliced thin… a little will go a long way.

If your avocados are ripe when you buy them, store them in the fridge to keep them longer. If they are hard when you buy them, put them in a paper bag on the counter til slightly soft, then refrigerate. When you cut the avocado in half, keep the pit in the half you’re not using and seal tightly with plastic wrap. It will keep in the fridge for a day or so, and you can use it in a salad or for another sandwich. If it gets a little brown on top, just cut off a thin slice and the rest will be good.

For another meal using some of these same ingredients, plus a couple of hard boiled eggs and some lettuce, make a chef salad.

SmartAZ's avatar

I don’t have any specific recipes, I just buy foods on sale. For example I found some lentils at 59 cents a pound so I bought all they had. I have never seen them that cheap again. I bought split peas for a buck a pound and canned carrots at 69 cents a can so any time ham goes on sale I have a crock pot of split pea soup, twelve cups for a buck sixty nine plus the price of the ham. Oh, and I have a stack of Zip-Loc disposable plastic cups and lids for that purpose. In the last two years I have made three trips to the grocery store and spent $400.

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