Combine pantry staples with flavor-packed ingredients to create budget-friendly meals that tastes like a million bucks.
April 08, 2008
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Dried Beans: Ham Hocks and White Beans
Use dried beans instead of canned and save big. A 15- or 16-ounce can of beans (about 1 3/4 cup) usually costs around a dollar, while a pound of dried beans (about 5 1/2-6 1/2 cups) will run you almost the same–$1.07. That's roughly five times more beans for your money! Soak beans overnight before using, then add them to hearty recipes like this one. This dish takes a little while to prepare (lots of soaking or chilling), but the results are well worth it.
Cutting costs doesn't have to mean cutting the meat out of your diet. Choose cheaper cuts, like flank steak, and rub with spices or marinate to add extra flavor. Thinly slice the steak against the grain, then serve over salad, with vegetables, or even in fajitas.
Save yourself lots of chopping–and a few dollars–by using frozen veggies instead of fresh. Buying fresh, in-season vegetables also saves money, but not if you tend to let leftovers go bad. Recent research has shown that flash-frozen vegetables retain more nutrients than their fresh counterparts that travel for several days before arriving in grocery store displays. Even better–you won't lose an ounce of flavor.
Tuna has come a long way since its sole role in the can. These days it can be found canned in a variety of flavors and premarinated in pouches. This recipe calls for herb-and-garlic light tuna, plus a few spices and buttermilk cornbread mix. For all the bold flavor these sweet and tangy cakes pack, they're a bargain.
Bypass the fresh, precooked shrimp at the seafood counter and skip right to the frozen food aisle. Frozen shrimp are cheaper, and often come prepeeled, making preparation easier. Cooking Light created this dish with flavor and budget in mind, and found that it costs less than $3 per serving thanks to using frozen shrimp and dried herbs, rather than fresh.
Long-Cooking Rice: Multigrain Pilaf with Sunflower Seeds
Rice has gone from the stove to the microwave and, while those nifty two-serving pouches are convenient, they're more costly than the long-cooking version. Instead of paying a few dollars for small but speedy servings, cook with dry rice instead. It averages about 58 cents per pound, and adds nutty flavor to every meal. Use leftovers with fresh or frozen veggies in stir-fries.
Oats are a price-performer when bought in the large canisters. Opened oats, when stored in an air-tight container, can last from about three to six months. Unopened canisters can be stored up to two years.
Thai-inspired dishes often call for a few tablespoons of peanut butter to add rich flavor, but another bonus of using peanut butter is that it's an inexpensive source of protein. Cut costs by buying frozen shrimp and thawing under warm water in a colander, or substitute chicken.
Add crunch to your casseroles without upping the cost by topping the creamy filling with cornflakes, especially if you buy a store-brand box. We promise you won't notice a difference in flavor! This breakfast standby can also give chicken tenders or fish fillets extra crunch. Just dredge them in egg before dipping into the flakes to get tasty favorites like Buffalo-Style Catfish Strips with Ranch Dressing.
Packages of ramen noodles cost between nine and 20 cents, depending on what deals your market is currently running. The super-cheap ingredient adds festive crunch to this Chinese-inspired salad. The recipe doesn't call for the ramen flavor packets, so reserve those for another use, such as adding flavor to a vinaigrette or marinade.
Instead of buying chicken piece by piece as you need it, plan your menu to include meals that use legs, thighs, and breasts on different nights. You'll end up with flavorful soups, stocks, and dinners, plus more than a few extra dollars in your pocket at the end of the week–whole chickens typically run about $1.16 per pound. Learn how to cut up a whole chicken.