In 2019, Americans spent $7,700 on food — the most expensive of all household bills. Here, easy tips to put meals on the table without breaking the bank
Dress up boxed pasta.
“There are endless ways to dress up your go-to meals without having to run out to the store to buy more ingredients! For example, you can stir a spoonful of pesto and sun-dried tomatoes into your mac-and-cheese, or add a can of tuna and frozen peas to turn it into a cheesy tuna casserole. These additions make it easy to create a meal for a family of four for $5 or less!” —Kelly Rupiper, blogger at UpParent.com, a recommendation-sharing website for parents.
Save 50 percent on meat.
“You can use half the amount of beef a recipe calls for, like one sausage link or 1⁄2 lb. of ground meat in a pasta sauce. It enhances the dish’s flavor just as well for half the price. To beef up the meal, add low-cost, shelf-stable items like 3⁄4 cup beans or 1⁄2 cup of grains per 1⁄2 pound of meat.” —Jessica Braider, CEO of TheScramble.com, a meal-planning service and food blog.
Make your own ‘convenience’ foods.
“Stretch the food budget by skipping conveniences. For example, a package of pre-shredded cheese costs about $2.50 per cup, but buying a block of cheese and shredding it yourself only costs about $1 per cup. A 16-oz. bag of Frito-Lay’s chips costs $3, while a variety pack of 40 snack bags is $15. Buying the single bag and packaging it into small bags saves about $6!” —Collin Morgan, founder of Hip2Save.com.
Cut the cost of ground chicken.
“My grocery store recently had chicken breasts on sale for $1.99 per pound, while just a few feet over, the ground chicken was $5! And it’s easy to turn boneless, skinless chicken breasts into ground chicken with a blender or food processor. Simply cut them into small cubes, then pulse to grind until it reaches the consistency you prefer. You can use it just as you would ground beef — in sauces, as meatballs, in soups. It’s quite a hefty savings of over $3 per pound!” —Shelby Scott, mom of three, Omaha, NE
Get saucy with Chinese food.
“Asian takeout almost always comes with rice, and that’s a really great way to stretch a meal. Plus, after you’ve eaten the food, you’re sure to have leftover sauces at the bottom of the containers! Save them and the extra rice (or make some more rice on your own), and for your next dinner, use the sauce to mix in odds and ends of other meals, like veggies and bits of different proteins in your fridge, for a super-delicious stir-fry with little to no effort. But best of all, the meal doesn’t cost you a dime since you’re using ingredients you already have!”
—Suzi Gerber, chef and cookbook author at PlantBasedGourmet.com.
Nab a 2-for-1 takeout.
“Chipotle is not the cheapest counter-service restaurants out there, but you get more food without the higher price tag. To get two full meals out of one Chipotle visit, order a burrito bowl to go (and ask for a tortilla on the side, it’s usually free), choose a protein, then ask for extra rice, beans, and fajita veggies, and have them load up extra lettuce, pico de gallo, different salsas, cheese, and sour cream — all for free. At home, scoop half the contents out of the bowl and wrap it in the tortilla — now you’ve got two delicious meals for the price of one!” —Veneta Lusk, money-saving expert at WellKeptWallet.com
Raid the pantry and find free recipes here.
“Transform items that you think you might never otherwise use into dishes or snacks! Simply go to a site like ReadySetEat.com, type in an item you have and you’ll get countless recipes. One I recently discovered: a twist on pesto where I used kale instead of basil. When you’re using up items you already have on hand, it’s like a free meal!” —Rebekah Ziesmer, development chef at Conagra Brands
Get bakery treats for half the price.
“You probably already know how delicious the baked goods are at Costco, but did you know that you can purchase some of those same yummy treats — for less — when you buy them uncooked? That’s right! A box of 22 baked Costco cookies costs $7.99, or 36 cents a cookie. But you can buy 120 uncooked cookies for only $22.99 — that’s 19 cents per cookie! Just bake the ones you want and freeze the rest. And it couldn’t be easier to order: Do it on the website, or head to the bakery and ask someone to help you — talk about a delicious way to save!”
— Brittanie Pyper, money-saving logger at SimplisticallyLiving.com.
This article originally appeared in our print magazine.