When it comes to enjoying food, the most expensive options aren’t necessarily the best.
Making homemade bread is cheap and fun, and there’s nothing better than the smell of fresh bread baking in the oven.
You don't have to break the bank to enjoy good, healthy food. Although it seems like celebrity chefs and food bloggers use fancy and expensive ingredients, there are budget-friendly alternatives to making delicious food that don’t require crème fraise or truffles.
As a young professional, I’m always on the lookout for ways to enjoy food and try new recipes while sticking to a monthly budget. There’s also the issue of time, convenience and taste. Some high fat, high-calorie options just cost less than healthy alternatives, but there are ways to eat healthy and cheap for the same price as a fast food combo:
Eat vegetarian once in awhile: You don’t have to be a vegetarian, but including a few vegetarian meals in your weekly rotation will save money. I enjoy meat, but I just don’t find I eat it that much because it can be expensive. Instead of grilling up a steak every night, try a strictly veggie meal --like soups, salads and stir-fries --or cheap meat alternatives, such as tofu.
Cheap meat makes great meals: Cuts of meat like chicken thighs, pork shoulders and brisket are cheap and make great stews, soups and sandwiches. A cheap cut of beef is great for a slow-cooker stew and a whole roast chicken has enough meat for a few days worth of meals. Chicken and beef bones also make for great homemade stock, which is much cheaper than store bought. If you do buy store bought broth, freeze it into individual portions in a muffin pan. The average box of stock only lasts for a few days opened in the fridge. By freezing it, you won’t have to buy a new box every time you need stock and you’ll always have it on hand.
Instead of going out for a pasta meal, make your own tomato sauce at home for the cost of a can of tomatoes ($2-3) and a few vegetables.
Don’t waste food: According to a food waste study at the University of Arizona, the average American family throws out $590 worth of food each year. Freeze leftovers for another meal or take the extras for lunch the next day. Add leftover meat to salads and sandwiches or just freeze leftover veggies for another day. There’s no reason why one meal has to last only one day. Something like a lasagna or casserole can last for multiple meals.
When you go to the grocery store, bring a list and think about planning your meals for the week so you don’t buy anything on impulse or buy more than you need.
Stock your pantry/buy in bulk: It may feel counter-intuitive to buy “big” when you’re trying to save, but buying in bulk can actually be cheaper than making small trips to the grocery store. You may spend a bit initially to stock your pantry, but once you have the essentials, you’ll find there’s always something on hand for a quick, easy meal. There’s no point in making recipes with a lot of ingredients and making small trips to the store if you have all of the basics on hand. Canned tomatoes, vegetables and tuna can be the basis for a quick, cheap meal.
Beans, lentils and grains are also cheap to buy in bulk and are good for you. Buying in bulk for things that are freezable or that can be stored in a cupboard will be worth it in the long run. Baking supplies, spices, grains and beans from a bulk store are usually cheaper than the grocery store.
Individual sized packages or ready-made meals may seem convenient, but you’ll actually spend more and they are usually packed with sodium and preservatives.
A homemade pizza is fun to make and costs significantly less than takeout or order-in pizza.
Make it at home: The average entree at a sit-down restaurant costs between $10 and $20. For that money you could make a few meals at home. I’m not saying you shouldn’t go for a nice meal, but ordering in or going out for dinner a lot can seriously damage your food budget. I usually go out for one or two meals a month, and then I make most of my dinners and lunches. Even coffee and tea is cheaper to make at home then to buy for $2 or $3 out. Something like a pizza --that costs between $10-$20 to order in-- can be made at home for less than $5, depending on your toppings. Although making things from scratch does take more time, you will see a drastic change in your budget if you make your own bread, dough, sandwiches, sauces and baked goods at home. Plus, there’s nothing better than saying you made something yourself and sharing it with family and friends.