When the budget gets really tight, the first thing you must do is learn to think differently. Eating cheap isn’t only about top ramen. In fact, you will likely want to cut all cheap, processed foods out of your diet immediately. Those types of food usually leave you hungry faster… and craving more junk.
I can hear you thinking, How do I do that? And, I get it. As a society, we have been programmed to demand quick-fix and instant gratification. Drive-thru or microwaveable. If it ain’t quick, it ain’t happening.
Change Your Thinking Quick
First, take your Busy Parent or Busy Multiple Jobs (or both!) hat off and start thinking in terms of long term survival. Not just what can we eat right now or today, but what can we eat this week – or dare I say, this month… and you will start to see a world of new cheap, healthy dishes emerge.
What are the Cheapest Foods?
What are some of the cheapest ingredients on the planet? Especially in this outrageous post-pandemic economy?
Well, the least expensive foods are not ready-to-eat, but we will cover that in a minute. For now, know that the some of the cheapest foods are still in their raw ingredient form.
-rice - grains (such as barley, bulgur, quinoa, oats, pasta) - legumes (such as beans, soybeans, chickpeas (a.k.a garbanzo), peanuts, lentils, lupins, mesquite, carob, tamarind) - off-brand/ generic canned or frozen veggies - spices - water and - low sodium broth or cubes (beef, chicken, and veggie)
No More Mr. or Mrs. Last Minute
Next, you will need to start planning ahead. I know it sounds scary and like a waste of time, but you can’t fool me. I’ve spent more time in the drive-through lane and waiting in the fast-food lobby than the best of them. I know fast food isn’t always fast.
The amount of time you spend doing those things, you could be prepping your crock pot. That means you will need to:
- Clean the dust off your crock pot, or invest in one (I bought mine for $4.99 at Goodwill) - Explore the many recipes you may want to try (crock and otherwise)
Where’s the Beef?
Notice I did not list meat or eggs on the ingredient list? That’s because those items have gotten quite pricey in our modern world. But not to worry, our plan includes soups, stews, and casseroles, where traditional amounts of meat can be replaced (and not even missed!) with budget-friendly alternatives.
Sneaky Low Cost But Delicious Trick I’ll go ahead and give you the trick now, as to not scare you away: Some of the ingredients mentioned above (many of the beans, legumes, and grains) can be used as a meat substitute when combined with other ingredients to make a delicious (and nutritious) soup, stew, or casserole.
The substitutes mentioned above are somewhat of a blank slate and will take on the flavor of the dish.
If you have time, you can put your tougher dry beans (such as Great Northern, chickpea, or navy beans) in the crock pot on high with water and generous amounts of seasoning for two to three hours before adding the other ingredients.
Then cook on low for the remainder of the time. This allows those though beans to cook longer and soften, all while absorbing the delicious flavors. (Bonus, the extra cooking time helps break down the raffinose in the beans, which will in turn will greatly decrease or eliminate the bloating and gassiness often associated with beans.)
An alternative is to soak the beans overnight. I find this option less appealing because they don’t seem to absorb the flavor, and you have to dump the water they soaked in and rinse the beans before adding them to the cooking pot. This is too much of a waste of seasonings.
However, if the pre-cooking on the high setting is not sufficient to prevent bloating with your family members, the overnight soak should work.
Since we have reduced or even completely eliminated naturally occurring complete proteins from our diet, we need to make sure we consume food combinations that create complete protein.
Naturally occurring proteins Fish Poultry Eggs Beef Pork Dairy
Budget-friendly (and also Vegan) Complete Proteins
You don’t have to combine ingredients to make a whole protein at each meal, but I like to, anyway. I guess it just makes me feel… complete.
If you don’t create complete proteins at each meal, make sure you are creating them over the course of the day or few days. You want to provide your body with all the amino acids it needs.
Most of my soups, stews, and casseroles have at least a couple of selections from the legumes and grains lists. If the original recipe doesn’t call for it, I will often add it for good measure… and not necessarily for the nutritional content, but rather to spread the meal farther, giving my family more delicious food to eat.
Nothing beats that feeling of when you are hungry and are served a warm bowl of yumminess- especially on a chilly or rainy day. And when there’s enough for a second helping... talk about comfort food!
To make a Complete Protein, pair a legume with a grain, a seed, or a nut.
Legumes Kidney beans Black beans Lima beans Pinto beans Navy beans Green peas Split peas Black-eyed peas Chickpeas (garbanzos) Lentils Peanuts
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