10 Tips for Cooking Tasty Meals on a Budget
The word “budget” often gets a bad rap, especially when it comes to cooking. When most of us think about the types of meals we can make on a tight budget, the odds are good that the ingredients that come to mind are pantry staples: foods that will help keep us full (like rice, pasta, or beans), cooked without much variation in color or flavor. But low-cost meals don’t have to be bland or monotonous — in fact, there are a number of affordable ways to make cheap meals delicious.
One of the best ways to cut down on food costs without sacrificing flavor is to look at your shopping habits. Saving money on some basic staples at the supermarket can free up additional funds for a few high-end ingredients that help make meals delicious. If you don’t already, check your store’s circular to see what’s on sale, take advantage of coupons, and buy in bulk when you can. The amount of time you’ll spend looking for deals each week is insignificant when compared with your potential savings. If you save $50 in any given week, use $10 of that money to buy a special ingredient like a fancy wedge of cheese or a small bottle of good quality olive oil. You’ll still save $40, and you’ll have one nice ingredient that you can use to elevate your meals for several weeks.
You should also know how to plan your weekly menu for even more savings. When you buy bulk ingredients, choose ones that are easy to transform and simple to use in multiple ways during any given week. If your store has sweet potatoes on sale, for example, stock up. Roast some sweet potatoes and add them to salads for a hearty and healthy brown-bag lunch, cut sweet potatoes into wedges and sprinkle them with curry powder or Chinese five-spice blend for a flavorful side dish, and use any leftovers to make a chorizo and sweet potato hash on Saturday morning. Experiment with seasonings and cooking techniques to take the monotony out of using an ingredient more than once during the week.
Looking for even more ways to save money without sacrificing flavor? We’ve rounded up 10 low- to no-cost ways you can amp up the flavor of budget meals.
One of the easiest (and cheapest) ways to build flavor in a dish is to let the ingredients in your pan start to brown — as they do, they’ll generate a plethora of delicious flavors. Whether you’re sautéing sliced onions or searing chicken thighs, the flavors of most foods are enhanced when you let them brown. The amount of color that you want depends upon your personal taste and the recipe. Make sure you read on to learn how to deglaze the pan and create a flavorful sauce after letting these ingredients brown.
Citrus Juice or Zest
Whether you have lemons, limes, oranges, or grapefruit on hand, citrus can contribute a bright and refreshing flavor to whatever you’re cooking. A squeeze of fresh citrus juice is great in marinades, soups, and sauces, and freshly grated citrus zest can perk up everything from biscuit dough to plates of pasta.
Kristie Collado is The Daily Meal's Cook Editor. Follow her on Twitter @KColladoCook.