Cooking On A Budget

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Astralseed's avatar

Cooking and Baking Week

Let's talk eating cheap!  

Hi everyone, if you're like me you don't have a ton of extra cash to spend on keeping yourself and/or a whole family fed so the best course of action is to budget carefully when it comes to meals.  

Today I'll discuss a few things you can do to get or keep your grocery bills down while still having good options to keep your tummy satisfied.  

If you're a person who is keen on being fed Steak, Lobster, and Caviar on a regular basis but want to keep your grocery bills low, I have bad news for you!  However, if you're a person who digs potatoes, pasta, and/or rice and want to keep your costs down, you're in for a treat!

Not to give things away too soon or anything, but I guess you already noticed, the first step to cooking on a budget is to avoid cooking things which are generally expensive.  If you can find some steak on sale though and it fits within your budget, by all means don't be afraid to add the foods you love from time to time.  

Generally cheap foods

Below I'll outline a few generally cheap foods that are great foundations for good meals that wont break your budget.   At the end of each food type I'll also add a simple meal that is cheap and easy to make.  I'll go ahead and apologize for not having exact measurements on hand for these since I am someone who cooks by 'feeling'.  


Pasta has always been a favorite of mine because there are so many options not just for what to add to the pasta, but the types of pasta as well.  Making cheap meals using pasta can be a bit like playing mix and match with your favorite foods. Pasta often makes a good foundation for casseroles too which just broadens the options for what you can make.  
Popular affordable meals with pasta include: Spaghetti, Tuna Salad, Mac n Cheese, Chicken Alfredo, Lasagna, Tortellini, Stroganoff, Raviolis, and more.  

Pasta and Olives
Boil your pasta of choice.  After rinsing, add black olives and Italian Salad Dressing to flavor.  Enjoy.


Rice is an incredibly affordable and filling food. Like most of the foods listed in this journal rice also comes in various types.  If your funds are super super tight and you need to keep yourself fed, red beans and rice will save the day! If you're not struggling to pay your rent and have a normal food budget you can try making meals like Mexican Rice, Fried Rice,  Risotto, and any other delicious rice dishes you can think of.  

Broccoli and Rice Casserole
Make approximately 16 oz/ 500 ml of rice (I use white but if you have other preferences go nuts).  While you're making the rice cook some broccoli.  When rice and broccoli are finished being made, add them into a large mixing bowl and mix them together.  Add 2 cans of cream of mushroom soup (you can also use cream of broccoli or cream of chicken if you prefer), one large can of chicken, and half a bag of shredded cheese into the bowl and stir.  Once everything is properly stirred, add the contents of the bowl into a casserole dish and then top it off with the rest of the shredded cheese.  Pop in oven at 350°F/ 180°C until cheese melts.  Enjoy.  


Potatoes have such a wide variety of things you can make with them the sky is the limit.  Want something breakfasty?  How about Hashbrowns.  Just a quick snack to tide you over?  Potato wedges or French Fries.  Need something quick, pop a potato in the microwave for a baked potato.  Want more of a meal?  How about Potatoes Au Graitin?  Just need a side dish?  Mashed potatoes have your back!
When funds are tight you can come up with any number of ways to prepare potatoes and keep everyone fed without breaking the bank.  

Potato Salad
Cut a bag of potatoes into bite sized pieces.  Put in pot, add water.  Bring water with potatoes to boil.  Cook until Potatoes are soft.  Drain water, rinse and add potatoes to a large bowl.  Make some hard boiled eggs (ideally while cooking the potatoes).  Cut hard boiled eggs into pieces (sliced, diced, whichever floats your boat).  
Add eggs, mayo, salt, and pepper to the bowl of potatoes and stir.  
Feel free to add any other foods you'd like, for example celery or pickles.  If you like mustard adding a bit can help give it a bit more flavor as well.  


Eggs are another versatile food with plenty of variety.  Need a quick breakfast?  How about eggs and bacon, sunny side up.  Need to feed some kids who are picky eaters?  Try some scrambled eggs.  How about a family dinner?  Quiche has you covered.  

Muffin Cup Omletes
Crack a handful of eggs into a bowl.  Scramble the eggs.  (If you prefer fluffier eggs you can add a little bit of milk before scrambling them).  Toss in some yummy stuff like red bell peppers, ham, mushrooms, or whatever else you'll enjoy.  Don't forget to add cheese!  Get out a muffin pan and slap some muffin cups in it.  Pour your egg mixture into the cups.  Slide into the preheated oven ( 350°F/ 180°C) and bake for 20-25 minutes (or until eggs are cooked).  Remove from the oven, and then dig in!


There are a lot of different options when it comes to Bread.  You can make cold sandwiches, or you can make things like French Toast, or Grilled Cheese.  How about using English Muffins to make mini Pizzas?
No matter what you pick you're likely to be making something inexpensive to eat by choosing bread.

Toast Hawaii
Lightly toast your bread slices before laying them out on a cookie sheet.  Then add a slice of ham over each slice of bread, on top of the ham add a slice of Pineapple (if you're like me and don't like pineapple you can simply skip it), then add a slice of cheese on top.  Set your oven to broil and put the cookie sheet with toast Hawaii in until the cheese has melted.  Take out and eat.  

In Closing

At the end of the day there are so many options when it comes to eating great while still keeping your costs low.  

Spend a little bit of time comparing prices at your local grocery stores, use coupons if you can, and take advantage of deals on foods you love. Keep in mind that fruits and veggies can go up or down in cost depending on the season.  It helps to keep this in mind and buy the foods that are currently in season to help keep costs down.  

Don't be afraid to experiment a bit.  A lot of the foods mentioned above pair quite well with other foods.  
If you're flat broke and you only have a few things left in your kitchen see if they might pair well together for a fun and delicious meal to last you until pay day.

© 2019 - 2021 Astralseed
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Torekdva's avatar
Ooo I love this! I actually have a cookbook that has a free PDF download for those that want to cook on a budget!

The recipes are amazing and for every cookbook bought physical a copy is donated to a family in need :D
ChimeraDragonfang's avatar
I am eating rice with red beans (and bean sprouts and cheese and red onion bits) right now. Tomorrow I'll fry up the leftovers with some eggs.
Astralseed's avatar
:#1: that's a great way to save money and still eat well! 
kalmanen's avatar
mmmm living in poverty, my favourite lifestyle that's never a choice

Some choice advice from me, living in poverty from child to adulthood lolol

- Plan ahead. I know it sucks, but when you're on a budget, check out what's on sale and plan with those items in mind the weeks groceries. Consider making a trip to multiple store if they run sales at the same time and it makes sense in gas/whatever is your mode of transportation
- Try to keep plenty of basic ingredients available, such as spices, herbs (growing your own if possible can often be cheaper), pasta, rice, salt, sugar, flour, baking powder, baking soda and so on. Having these in hand will make your life A LOT easier and give you more options as well make your food more flavourful. 
- Baking your own bread rolls and bread in general is much cheaper than buying ready made bread. It's also a fun activity if you got kids, they can help mix ingredients together or shape the rolls. This is especially pertinent if you have dietary limitations (such as gluten free)
- Same goes for snacks (I like homemade muësli) and sweets; learning to cook your own is often much more cheaper. Also keeping ingredients for a quick treat like mug cake in the dry cabinet 
- Use plastiware when putting things into storage. Minigrip bags (unless reusable) can get expensive in the long run vs buying a $20 set of variety size. Old ice cream tubs (that are made of plastic) are great for freezing things in and often dishwasher-safe. The print on the side will wear out over time, but that doesn't matter. 
- Buy in bulk, prepare in bulk. If you have the freezer space (and I would always recommend buying a cheap extra freezer if possible; $100-150 can get you a good one and if you're adventurous, buy one used!) pack the food in meal sizes (if there's only one eating, then for one etc) and put a piece of tape over the cover and write on it what's inside the box and when it was prepared. This makes freezer organization much easier and you won't have to wonder what the "brown stuff" is and how long it's been in the freezer!
- Frozen vegetables ARE A GOOD BUDGET CHOICE. Never feel like you have to buy everything fresh if it's more expensive! Frozen veg is your friend! It will stay usable longer, you can buy bigger amounts and use it for variety of dishes. It's better to buy frozen veggies than to not eat them at all. 
- A good butcher is also your friend. Always ask them for scraps, such as bones - you can use them to make your own stock (cheaper and only as salty as you make it; freezes well and can be used in so many dishes!!), same goes for fish scraps such as the head and bones. They can also give you suggestions on cheaper cuts of meat!
            - Learn to gut/clean a fish. While dependent on area, full fish can be cheaper than buying ready made filét. If you clean the fish yourself, you can use the head, bones etc for making fish stock and fish soup.
- Keep an eye on things that are on sale, especially "going out of date" things; most products WILL survive well after their best by -date. Those dates are just to keep the stores on the safe side of things, and they are well before the product will actually go bad. 
- Eggs will survive LONG TIME. Whether to keep them in the fridge or in the room temp DEPENDS ON THE COUNTRY. In US, the membrane that keeps eggs from going bad faster is cleaned off them and the porous surface is open, making them go bad in room temp faster. Not sure if your eggs have gone bad? Put water in a tall glass or pot, then put your eggs in the water; if they sink, they are good to use. If they float, they have gone bad (floating eggs have more air in them -> they have gone bad). 
- Store brand is often just as good as the big name brands. Don't be afraid to buy Not Your Uncle rice instead of Uncle Ben's, it'll be just as good but often half the price. 
- Evaporated milk is just as good for cooking as regular milk is, and you can often use water instead of milk in recipes anyway. Real milk (that has a normal fat content, fat-free and low-fat milk is often just water dyed white, look into it...) can also be frozen as-is if you want to save it for cooking purposes. I've done this many times and while drinking it on it's own the taste isn't quite the same, in cooking it's more than fine. 
- Porridge is also a great food that'll keep your hunger, especially in the morning. I would always recommend porridge (with fruit, or touch of butter on top) over cereal as a breakfast item. You can also use porridge flakes in bread-making ^^

Couple of easy, classic poor people Finnish foods;

PÄÄKALLOPATA (aka Skull Stew):
400 g minced meat*
1 onion
300 g macaroni (or any pasta of your choice)
Black pepper (grinded)

*You can also use things like canned tuna, or baked beans if you want vegetarian/vegan option

Cook the mince in it's own fat and once brown, add the cut up onion and let it simmer until soft. Cook the macaroni in water while the onion and mince are browning. When the macaroni is done, pour out the water and add the macaroni to the mince-onion mix. Mix it all together and add salt & pepper to taste. Ready to eat! This costs (in Finland anyway) about 3 euros (or less, depending on the price of your mince) in Finland and feeds multiple people. 

PANNUKAKKU (aka Finnish Pancakes):
1 litre of milk*
4 eggs
touch of salt
5 desilitres of flour**
0,5 desilitres of oil OR 50 g of melted butter/margarine
+ if wanted, you can add some sugar, but personally I don't think it's necessary.

*Works fine with evaporated milk that you've redehydrated with water, you can also use a mix of cream/half-n-half and water, I wouldn't recommend using water only as it will affect the taste!
**Cheapest type of wheat flour is what I'm used to using, I would imagine other types work just as fine

Mix eggs, salt, flour and oil/butter in with the milk. Let the mix swell up for 30-ish minutes (in the fridge or covered with a cloth on the table); I usually let it swell up while the oven heats up. Heat your oven to 200 celsius and pour the pancake mix into a baking tray (MUST HAVE HIGH EDGES! the mix will be very watery!) that you've either buttered or covered with baking paper. Cook in the oven for ~30 minutes, or until it turns golden brown on the top. This WILL bubble and rise in the oven, so don't be afraid if that happens! It's all part of the process. When done, let it cool down slightly before serving with berry jam, ice cream or whipped cream. This is a great dessert to make that's as good when it's cold as it is when warm. It will be also easy to freeze for later eating. In Finland, this is traditionally eaten on Thursdays with pea soup as the main dish.  I often eat it without any extras, to me this is just as delicious on it's own.
tsahel's avatar
nice recipes ! 
kalmanen's avatar
Thanks! I hope people enjoy them :)
Astralseed's avatar
This!  This is fantastic!!!!!  
the pancakes sound really good, how big of a dish should be used?  Like a large casserole dish?  
kalmanen's avatar
A full-sized oven tray! Here they are apparently usually around 15 x 18 inches? I've never actually measured an oven tray, I'm just going off what first came up in google :XD: They are usually about an inch high (the ones that have the higher edge, which is a must) and the pancake batter shouldn't reach all the way to the edge of the tray. You can always make the mix and pour some and see how it fills your tray and make it in couple of batches if your tray is smaller, or if your tray is huuuge then make slightly more of the mix. The mix should cover the whole bottom well and come up maybe halfway up (or a little more) on the tray. The measurements aren't written in stone so adding a bit more flour and bit more milk (or even water) to make it big enough for a bigger tray is just fine. You usually find the perfect ratio by testing :) 
Astralseed's avatar
Cool, now I just need to figure out if I have something big enough to mix the ingredients in.  hmm maybe it will fit in my big mixing bowl?  I'll have to try! :eager:
kalmanen's avatar
Big mixing bowl should do fine, you can always check on it while it's resting to see it's not coming over the edges. If your biggest bowel is too small - put it in two; you can always combine them on the tray. Please send me pics when you've done it :D 
Firefilly1996's avatar
Sigh... Wish it was that easy... Good ideas but not feasible for thoes with cholesterol problems. They are good on occasion, but these foods in excess also cause rapid weight gain.

I've found lots of veggies from a farmers market paired with some sort of nut protein or lean meat is cheaper. Fruits are also good
Astralseed's avatar
I don't think these foods by themselves will cause rapid weight gain, I eat these foods very very regularly and have never gained weight from eating these foods.  I imagine if people are making sandwiches and loading them up with things like Nutella or jelly or something, or they make potatoes and load them up with sour cream all the time.. like there are definitely ways to gain weight on these foods.. 

It might depend on where you live.  Fresh fruits and veggies by me are far more expensive than canned or frozen for example, even when in season.  Making a meal from scratch is also often significantly more expensive than picking up a box meal.  
Firefilly1996's avatar
That's true I suppose. It's diffrent everywhere. I'm in a rural area so it's cheaper for fresh stuff
Astralseed's avatar
I wish fresh was cheaper here.  Even our locally made Cheese is significantly more expensive than the cheap crappy stuff.  
Firefilly1996's avatar
We're are you from again if you don't mind me asking?
Astralseed's avatar
Firefilly1996's avatar
No wonder cheese is so expensive! XD isn't that the cheese capital or the states? Lol
ikazon's avatar

Bread, pasta and rice are essentials when it comes to eating on a budget. Great article!

Astralseed's avatar
I originally had a soup section in here too but I can't eat most soups so wasn't entirely sure if I added it if I was making things up about their cost or not.  
ikazon's avatar

Soup keeps well, which makes it good in terms of being cost-efficient, but so few soups actually provide enough nutrition for the cost that I wouldn't recommend most of them, to be honest.

Astralseed's avatar
Good to know, now I don't feel so bad about leaving them out of the list :D
I was going to add a recipe for split pea soup because it's the only soup I make/can eat, but then I was like asking for a ham bone might make this really costly!  And without the ham bone it's just not very exciting.  
Jaes95's avatar
Hi. Thank you so much for this information.
😃😄 *Valuable advice!* I added this post to my favourites.💕 I appreciate you.🌟
Astralseed's avatar
I'm glad you found it to be useful :hug:
Jaes95's avatar
😊 Yes! This is very useful. I will definitely start applying. 🌟
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