When you’re living paycheck to paycheck, conjuring up a week’s worth of budget-friendly meals can be a challenge. It’s always fun to treat yourself to some takeout every now and again, but for many, this just isn’t in the budget. Your food budget doesn’t have to keep you up at night, though. If you have a plan and you’re armed with the right knowledge, home cooking can be the key to keeping your food budget low. Here are five tips and tricks to help you cook within the confines of your budget.
All smart grocery trips start with a plan. Whether you’re looking to dive into your cheap healthy meal prep plan, or you have some healthy snack recipes in mind, it’s important to plan out your meals and ingredients for the week and stick to what you need. Straying from your list is an easy way to be left with a pile of spoiled and uneaten food at the end of the week. If you normally have a hard time sticking to a list at the store, take a look at our guide to saving money on groceries.
As nice as it would be if your favorite produce was always in season and at its cheapest, this just simply isn’t the case. While you can usually track down most vegetables at the grocery store all year round, it’s generally going to cost more when it’s out of season, and probably won’t taste as good. If you want to start home cooking and find the freshest produce at the best prices, try to stick to what’s in season.
A great place to start is to head to your local farmer’s market. Talk to the farmers about what’s in season and keep an eye out for what’s readily available and works for your budget.
If you’re really trying to start meal planning to save money, you’re going to have to time your trip to the market accordingly. Farmers are looking to offload as much of their product as they can, so you’ll often see drastic price reductions and bundled items by the end of the day. This is your time to pounce! Stock up as much as you can and freeze what you don’t think you’ll be able to consume within the week. Your choice of produce may be limited at this time of day, but the savings you see will make it worth your while.
You may be thinking that to start home cooking with your budget in mind, you’ll have to wave goodbye to meat. After all, it’s hard to justify buying a $15 steak when you could conceivably make lunch for the whole week for the same price. The truth is, you just need to start being more selective about the cuts of meat you buy.
Getting the most bang for your buck with your meat purchases starts with chicken. It’s versatile, packed with flavor, and best of all, it’s relatively inexpensive. But what part of the chicken should you be buying to make the most economical choice?
One prevailing thought is that because the work of butchering the chicken as been removed, buying a whole chicken will get you the best deal. With a whole chicken, you’re getting two legs – this includes the drumstick and the thigh – two wings, two breasts, and all the bones. While most people may not see the value in the bones, they can be used to make chicken stock which can be repurposed in all sorts of ways.
While a whole chicken will definitely give you a nice variety of cuts at a low price – a 2019 USDA report shows that the national average price of a whole chicken is $1.28 – it’s not quite the cheapest and doesn’t give you the highest yield of edible meat (65 to 70 percent).
When you’re looking to start home cooking on a budget, chicken leg quarters should be at the top of your list. They come in as the cheapest cut at $1.07 a pound, and they also yield the highest percentage of edible meat (70 to 75 percent). So if you’re looking to keep meat in your diet but don’t want to stray outside of your food budget, chicken quarters may be your best bet!
Chicken doesn’t have to be the only inexpensive cut of meat you include in your diet. Cuts like pork shoulder, pork butt, or beef brisket are other meats to look out for if you want to save on home cooking. While these cuts can often be tough, chewy, and easy to overcook, using a slow cooker can be the key to transforming them into a tender and delicious component of any dish.
Not only will they help you extract as much flavor from a cheaper cut of meat as you can, they’re also a great tool for any novice cooks who may feel overwhelmed by the prospect of home cooking. You’ll be hard pressed to find an easier tool to use in the kitchen than a slow cooker; it does all the work for you! The basic principle is to throw a bunch of ingredients in the pot, set the temperature, and let it work its magic for the next several hours. It can even remove most of the usual prep work, as a lot of recipes – particularly stews and soup – don’t require you to pre-cut or cook the raw ingredients in advance. When your timer goes off, you should have a big meal with plenty of leftovers to spare! Here are some simple and cheap slow cooker recipes to get you started.
Freezing your food is a great way to avoid wasting food and capitalizing on great deals at the grocery store, but you wouldn’t be the first person to toss something into the depths of your freezer and completely forget about it until you find yourself scrounging for something to make months later. So, before you run out and blow your grocery budget for the week, take stock of what you already have in your pantry and freezer. There’s a good chance you have the makings of more meals than you think.
Start making a point of regularly taking stock of what’s in your freezer and pantry before you head out to shop to avoid buying more than you need, and try to eat your way through the food you already have before heading out for more. Working your way through your freezer and cutting back on how much you spend on groceries can add up to some major savings if you make it a habit. This also may help you to refine your shopping habits. Scrounging through your freezer and finding bad purchases may lead you to be more thoughtful next time you head out to the grocery store.
If you’re looking to save money on more than just home cooking, check out these useful tips to help you cut back on your spending each month.
Having to consistently find ways to stay within a tight food budget can be a challenge, but don’t get discouraged! If you make a home cooking plan, know when and what to buy, and find ways to make your purchases last, you should be able to confidently work your way through the week without breaking the bank. Use the tips we’ve provided and do your best to make purchases that fit within your budget!
Have any home cooking tips? Share below!