If you’re looking for ways to cut costs, then learning how to make meals on the cheap is a great place to start. Since food takes up so much of our life, from buying it to cooking it, learning how to deal with food wisely can save you money!
There are plenty of articles out there that give you step-by-step recipes for making cheap meals on a budget. Instead, we’re focusing on time-tested tips to help you keep your pantry stocked and your belly full without breaking the bank. Learning how to stretch your meals will help reduce your monthly grocery budget.
So, let’s go ahead and jump right in!
12 Food Hacks for Making Meals on the Cheap
1. Use up expiring products
Having a weekly meal plan is crucial to saving money on groceries. As you plan your meals, put them in order with perishable ingredients, or those that are nearing the expiration date, to the beginning of your week.
Throwing away half a head of wilted lettuce or a couple of ripe bananas may not seem like a big deal but it all adds up!
If you’re concerned you can’t use everything up before the expiration date, rely on your freezer! Freeze mushy berries and spotted bananas to make smoothies. Aging vegetables can be frozen and later tossed into soups and stews. You can even freeze bread and then thaw it out to make French toast, breadcrumbs, or croutons.
2. Rely on fillers like rice, pasta, and beans
If you truly want to make meals on the cheap, start relying on “filler” items like rice, pasta, and beans. These so-called fillers aren’t usually the star of the dish. Instead, they form the foundation of most meals and make other ingredients shine.
Not to mention, they’re cheap, make you feel full, and basically last forever. Our go-to cheap meals are always things like chili, spaghetti, or some sort of meat and rice dish that rely heavily on inexpensive filler ingredients.
3. Learn to love eggs
Eggs are truly amazing! They’re one of the cheapest foods on the market, extremely versatile, and packed with protein. You can scramble them, fry them, or bake them in the oven. No matter how you crack it, eggs are a cornerstone ingredient in cheap cooking.
You can make eggs the star of a dish, a side item, or the binding that holds everything together. We have a couple of ways we use eggs on a regular basis. First, we love making quiches and frittatas. It’s a great way to use eggs and incorporate veggies that are on the cusp of expiring. Second, consider breakfast night at least once a week. It’s a cheap way to feed the whole family and kids love it!
4. Make soup
Some dishes are just more economical than others. You can cut your grocery bill with soups, stews, and chilis. They don’t require a lot of fancy, high-end ingredients. The flavor comes from simmering for a long time and the melding together of meat, veggies, herbs, and broth.
The other great thing about soup is that you can get creative. You can toss in veggies that are just about to expire. You can use bits of chicken, beef, or pork that couldn’t stand alone as the entree in a dish. The combinations are virtually endless and the cost savings are big!
5. Eliminate meat
Let’s face it, meat is delicious but expensive! In general, you can get more for your money if you use less meat or, even better, cut it out altogether. That doesn’t mean you have to eliminate protein entirely from your diet though. To supplement, use beans and eggs. They both provide great sources of protein and are very economical.
6. Use lesser cuts of meat
If you plan to eat meat, that doesn’t mean you have to eat high on the hog. Filet mignon and chicken breast may be super tasty, but lesser cuts can be just as good if you know how to prepare them and are a fraction of the price.
Things like chicken thighs and chuck eye steak are much cheaper options! Chicken thighs are very tender and can be prepared in a number of ways. They’re particularly tasty in chicken teriyaki and other Asian-inspired dishes.
For tough cuts of beef like the chuck eye, use your crockpot to cook it down until it’s fork-tender. Serve with mashed potatoes and gravy, and you’ve got a hardy, budget-friendly meal fit for a proper Sunday dinner.
7. Buy frozen veggies
Frozen vegetables are one of our trade secrets. Canned vegetables can be tasty, and, of course, they last basically forever. Unfortunately, they’re also often packed with loads of salt and other preservatives. In contrast, fresh produce is much healthier and flavorful but runs the risk of spoiling before you have time to eat it.
Frozen vegetables are like the “Goldilocks” of produce. You get a taste much closer to fresh vegetables but with the extended shelf life of canned, all at a very affordable price.
8. Cook extra and freeze
Meal prepping has increased in popularity these days but it can be a lot of extra work. Rather than going all-in with the meal-prepping craze, consider a scaled-down version. When you’re cooking, simply make a little extra!
For example, whenever we make pancakes, we make a big batch and freeze the rest. Our homemade “freezer foods” are much cheaper than store-bought, have fewer additives, and keep us from relying on more expensive, prepackaged convenience foods.
9. Buy in bulk
There’s no secret that buying in bulk can save you money. You just have to be smart about it. Don’t buy anything in bulk that has a short expiration date unless you can use it up right away or freeze it for later use.
A safe bet is to stick with shelf-stable pantry items like rice, pasta, and oil that you’ll use in a variety of dishes. If you do buy perishable foods in bulk, be sure to parcel up and freeze the foods that need to be preserved before they expire!
10. Skip the bun
We usually don’t challenge our assumptions about food. We eat things the way we always have. So, of course, a burger comes with a bun, a sandwich needs bread, a taco has to have a shell…right?!
Try going bun-less. Skip the bread or tortilla and just go for the good stuff. It’s a great way to trim a little out of the budget and reduce carb intake at the same time. It’s really a win-win.
11. Eat like a kid
Kids like simple foods. They tend to be completely satisfied with less processed things like apples, raisins, peanuts, and slices of cheese. Consider simplifying the way that you eat and connecting with some of your childhood favorites.
Most of these simple, kid-friendly foods are cheap meal ideas. Not only that, you’ll avoid elaborate recipes that save you time and reduce cleanup, and who doesn’t want that?
12. Cut portions
Making less food is a simple way to reduce meal costs. It’s really more of a mental adjustment than anything. Maybe you’re used to making meals that consist of a meat, 2 sides, and a roll. If you reduced that meal to a meat and 1 side without any bread, you’ve just saved a pretty good bit of money.
Make a habit of eliminating sides and cutting recipes in half. In addition, just make less! Cut recipes in half and eat smaller portions. If you can’t make less food, be sure to freeze and/or use up those leftovers.
We know that making meals on the cheap isn’t always easy, but we hope that our 12 tips will help you make wiser decisions. If you’re looking for more inspiration, check out 25+ Dirt Cheap Meals to Make Today!
Changing up your routine with food and reducing your grocery bill is one of the best ways to save money, and it was one the things that helped us to get out of debt and stay out of debt.
Do you have a favorite tip, trick, or hack for making meals on the cheap that we didn’t mention? If so, we’d love to hear about it. Drop us a line in the comments below!