You're a few days away from payday, but you need groceries to last until your bank account has a bit more cushion. What can you do? You may head out to discount or dollar stores, but you still need to cover at least a couple of meals each day. That means you need versatile ingredients for multiple recipes, while still giving you (and your family) adequate nutrition. Grabbing a handful of snacks or premade frozen meals won't go nearly as far as keeping ingredients on hand to pull together.
Luckily, some staple foods fit the bill. Even if you have dietary restrictions or allergies, at least a few items on this list will help get you over the hump until payday. Here are ten great foods that are easy to cook with and easy on your wallet.
Frozen vegetables are one of the most versatile, healthy foods to keep on hand, especially since you can grab a bag of whatever your household prefers. Fresh produce isn't available everywhere, and frozen vegetables are a lot easier to store for longer periods, too. The standard blend of carrots, onions, and peas will stretch practically any meal further - from stews and soups to stir-fries and casseroles.
Typically, a bag of frozen veggies costs $2 or less. If you have a Dollar Tree in your area, you can pick up a bag of frozen vegetables for a reliable price - $1.25. Frozen produce pairs well with nearly every other suggestion on this list, so you're off to a good start.
On average, a pound of long-grain rice costs around a dollar. This may vary depending on where you live or what stores you shop at, but it's still going to be a food budget-friendly item. Rice is filling and (like frozen vegetables) pairs well with a multitude of different recipes and cuisines. You can incorporate it into any meal. Yes, even dessert. Rice pudding is hard to beat!
For added nutritional value, opt for brown rice if you can. It's one of the most accessible whole grains, and you'll get a solid dose of iron, calcium, and antioxidants!
This suggestion is a bit controversial in 2023, but as of mid-year, the price of eggs is finally coming back down. That's good news for the budget cooks out there since eggs have historically been one of the least expensive (and most delicious) sources of protein around. It looks like we're getting back to those days, as reports show the average wholesale price for a dozen eggs tops out at around $1.40 now in June of 2023 -down from $5 per dozen just a few months earlier.
What makes eggs so great? Just about everything! They can be a great source of healthy fats that support brain health and vitamins. They're also fantastic additions to a multitude of recipes. If you have an egg, you have a meal. You have scrambled eggs, fried eggs, boiled eggs, or however you prefer to cook yours. Add them in with your frozen veggies and rice mentioned above, and you have an excellent, healthy stir fry.
Canned Beans or Dried Beans
Like eggs, beans are a great, inexpensive source of protein. Canned beans are likely easier to prepare, as some dried beans require additional steps (like soaking) before they're ready to cook and eat. A can of beans works as a side dish or pairs with other ingredients for just about any kind of meal or cuisine. Beans are a pantry staple, and they'll leave you feeling full without much effort.
Whether you're grabbing black beans, navy beans, kidney beans, or something else, you'll likely get a can for less than a dollar (and maybe even less than 50 cents). There are many recipes and suggestions online for how to use your canned beans, so look around for some extra inspiration!
Many grocery stores sell fully-cooked rotisserie chickens. Costco and Sam's Club are renowned for their delicious rotisserie chickens (sold for less than $5) but other stores sell them, too. You can get in on the action at Walmart, Kroger, and more.
Use rotisserie chicken to make chicken soup, chicken tacos, or chicken chili, or just enjoy it as-is! To make a delicious stock, hang onto your vegetable scraps in a freezer bag. Once you're done with your whole chicken, save the bones and boil all your ingredients together.
Canned or packaged tuna makes a quick, easy meal in a sandwich or with crackers. You can also use it to feed the whole family by making a simple tuna casserole. A can of tuna sells for around $1, or you can pick it up in a multi-pack for a bit less than that price, and it'll last on your shelf a lot longer than an expensive pack of fresh (or even frozen) fish.
What can't you do with canned tomatoes? Like frozen vegetable blends, canned tomatoes fill out just about everything. Use crushed tomatoes to make your own homemade pasta sauce, add them to ground beef with some seasoning to make tacos, or make a comforting pot of tomato soup! In some cases, canned tomatoes even taste better than their fresh counterparts!
Fruits and vegetables are part of any healthy diet, but it's sometimes daunting to purchase fresh fruit when you're on a tight budget. Certain types of fruit, like berries, cost the same amount of money as buying several items on this list - especially if they're not in season. Frozen fruit is the answer! You get the same delicious taste and nutrition without the cost. Like frozen vegetables, you can typically even find them in discount and dollar stores.
Frozen fruits are particularly great for smoothies and popsicles, as they're already cold and refreshing. It's a great way to give your family a treat without spending a lot.
If you're going to pick up a fresh vegetable, make it a potato. They last a long time if stored properly, and they're packed with more vitamins and minerals than most people realize. They're incredibly filling and can serve as a meal on their own or be easily incorporated into a variety of different recipes. Potato soup, cheesy potatoes, scrambles, hash...the list goes on (and so will your budget).
10 - Oats
Oats will get you through the whole day. Enjoy oatmeal at breakfast, veggie and oat burgers for lunch, and oats tucked into meatloaf for dinner! You can typically snag a pound of oats for a couple of dollars, and you can store any unused portions for at least a year in a properly sealed container. Enjoy oats sweet, savory, or a little bit of both, making them the perfect way to round out this list. You can pair them with every other ingredient above!
The ten ingredients listed above are an excellent start to a stocked, flexible pantry. They'll help you stay within budget and keep you well-fed all at once.
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