Want to save on groceries? Cook like a peasant

Ever notice how most cultures have their own take on rice? Risotto in Italy, Spanish rice in Mexico, dirty rice in New Orleans, paella in Spain — all
In fact, it could be argued that some of the most famous (and delicious) meals were invented by people who were short on time, money, and resources and had to make do with what was available. For example, ribollita, a Tuscan soup, is made with leftover bread and vegetable soup, but it makes me wish I had day-old minestrone and stale bread in the house more often. It's the best kind of comfort food.

Consider the following dishes:

  • Ribollita. The name means reboiled, and though there are many variations, the dish always includes leftover bread, inexpensive vegetables like cabbage and onion, and cannellini beans. During the Middle Ages, only the wealthy could afford meat. Peasants had to make do with whatever was available and often combined stale bread with vegetables to make soup. There's no one way to do it, making it a simple dish that's hard to screw up. If you prefer to use a recipe, here's one from Chef Mario Batali, but the real money-saving ribollita is the one a peasant would make, using your leftover ingredients.
  • Ratatouille. The flavors of late-summer and fall produce (tomatoes, garlic, onions, zucchini, eggplant, bell peppers, and herbs) are deepened in this traditional dish from Nice. Add a slice of a crusty bread and you're set. There's debate on the right way to make it — sauté the vegetables together or sauté separately and combine them before serving? I've had both and wouldn't turn down either. I'm not a stickler for tradition when it comes to food; in fact, my introduction to ratatouille was a Jacques Pépin riff — he served it on penne pasta.
  • Bibimbap. This signature Korean dish means “mixed rice” or “mixed meal,” and is typically made with steamed rice, vegetables, a raw or fried egg, and sliced meat. Served hot or cold and easy to prepare, it was voted one of the world's 50 most delicious foods in a 2011 CNN poll. One theory about its origins is that it was a meal made for peasants during the farming season, when long days in the rice field necessitated a single bowl of rice with side dishes thrown in. Here's how to make bibimbap in 10 steps.
  • Frittatas. If peasant food is about taking cheap ingredients and transforming them into something more substantial, a frittata surely fits the bill. If you have vegetables on the verge of going bad, broil them, whisk in some eggs, and in 15 minutes or so you have a meal. The variations are endless, but here's a five-ingredient chickpea and rosemary frittata recipe for inspiration.
  • Fajitas. Compared with ingredients like cabbage and rice, meat is expensive. But if you embrace cheaper, less popular cuts of meat, like pork shoulder and chicken thighs, you can keep your grocery bill down and still eat like a king (or, um, a peasant?). Flank steak, for example, becomes fajitas when you marinade it and add chiles, lime, and cilantro, all wrapped up in a tortilla, of course. I don't use a recipe for fajitas, but this one is pretty close to how we make 'em at home.

Of course, if you're reading this, you won't truly cook like a peasant. You probably have more than five ingredients in your kitchen, not to mention supermarkets nearby with almost every ingredient imaginable. So I suggest keeping a few less-than-peasant-like staples on hand to make it easier to throw together a meal. The following ingredients are always in our kitchen and add serious flavor and interest to meals:

  • Bacon. You can throw it in a frittata, make real bacon bits for a more satisfying salad, or use it to start a pasta sauce base. Chopped bacon with onion and red pepper flakes is the start of so many good things.
  • A good bottle of extra-virgin olive oil, as fresh-from-the-press as possible. We buy ours from a specialty shop that imports oils three weeks after pressing, and it makes a huge difference. Salad dressings are more flavorful, and it puts the finishing touch on homemade pizza. To keep costs down, we save it for vinaigrette and to finish meals and use cheaper olive oil for cooking.
  • A variety of salty ingredients. Sure, there's plain old salt, but capers, anchovies, fish sauce, soy sauce, olives, and Parmesan also add that all-important salt flavor to your food.

Even though we don't live the peasant life (thank goodness!), by following the same principles — cheap, filling ingredients and meals meant to stretch whatever was on hand  — you can slash your food expenses without sacrificing flavor. I submit you'd be hard-pressed to find someone who thinks eating fajitas is an unpleasant way to reduce the grocery bill. In Texas, we'd call that loco en la cabeza.

What meals do you make that use inexpensive ingredients and feed the whole family? What are your most useful staples?

More about...Food

Become A Money Boss And Join 15,000 Others

Subscribe to the GRS Insider (FREE) and we’ll give you a copy of the Money Boss Manifesto (also FREE)

Yes! Sign up and get your free gift
Become A Money Boss And Join 15,000 Others
guest
145 Comments
Oldest
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Nicole
Nicole
8 years ago

Another really important thing to save money on food is to not let food go to waste. When bread goes stale, there are a million uses for it. (Moldy, not so much.) One of my absolute favorites is bruschetta.

Bits and pieces and odds and ends can go into stirfry, omeletes, pasta dishes, or soups/stews. Complete leftover meals can be taken for lunch the next day.

http://nicoleandmaggie.wordpress.com/2011/07/18/how-do-you-keep-from-wasting-food/ has more tips, especially in the comments.

Elizabeth
Elizabeth
8 years ago
Reply to  Nicole

Soup and stir fry are my go-to foods too — I can throw just about anything in them 🙂 I also save the veggie trimmings for soup stock.

Susan
Susan
8 years ago
Reply to  Nicole

When I was a young girl I loved my grandmother’s polenta. She used to laugh at me while I ate it (she served stew over it) and said it was nothing to get excited about–it was poor people’s food. I think of her everytime I see polenta on the menu of an expensive restaurant.

Bella
Bella
8 years ago
Reply to  Susan

HaHa, that’s like when we go to an Inidan friends house and he makes us yellow dahl – we think it’s awesome – his wife (who is also Indian) was horrified he would serve that to guests.

Leah
Leah
8 years ago

Not wasting food is great, and limiting meat and dairy are two other ways to save money. Especially when I was single, I had a lot of nights where I just ate veggies stir-fried with tofu and a little chili garlic sauce. It was quick and easy, and it didn’t cost much. I use perhaps a quarter of a container of tofu per meal, so I really made my food dollar stretch. I saved meat for special occasions. Learning how to cook from scratch also helps. Cream of mushroom soup isn’t that expensive, but it usually just gets thrown into… Read more »

Nicole
Nicole
8 years ago
Reply to  Leah

Also tastes way better! I used to love Campbells but now it just tastes artificial to me. Great tip!

That roux can also make a fantastic gravy.

Bella
Bella
8 years ago
Reply to  Leah

This is something I need to start doing, I don’t have any pancake or cake mixes in my cupboard because it’s easier cheaper healthier (insert good adj here) to just make from scratch, but I think I still rely on canned soup for too many of my dishes.

Ru
Ru
8 years ago
Reply to  Bella

I have never understood people who use box mix for pancakes- they’re just eggs, milk, and flour (a little melted butter if you want to get fancier). This is coming from a girl who ate 16 pancakes on Tuesday…

I can understand box cake mix in some circumstances, though I never use it. If you only make chocolate cake once in a blue moon it can be annoying to have cocoa powder knocking around. I have such little cupboard space in my kitchen (sharing with 4 other people) that I have to store all my baking stuff in my bedroom.

Nicole
Nicole
8 years ago
Reply to  Ru

Oh, but box cake is so bad when you’ve had real cake. I didn’t know cake could actually taste good until we made our first one from scratch. It’s a whole world of difference. Flavor, texture, crumb…

(Granted, real cake, especially the kind with creamed butter instead of oil, is more expensive than box cake. But worth it.)

Jane
Jane
8 years ago
Reply to  Ru

Unlike Nicole, I actually think cake mixes taste better than homemade in most cases. This is mainly because they are make with actual cake flour, rather than regular flour. This makes it much lighter and airy, which I prefer. But to each his own.

sandycheeks
sandycheeks
8 years ago
Reply to  Ru

I agree with Jane. I prefer boxed cake. I’ve made homemade cakes before and spent a lot of money on bakery cakes/cupcakes for events. Every time I am reminded that it is tastier (to my palate) to bake one from a box mix.

Debbie M
Debbie M
8 years ago
Reply to  Ru

To those of you who prefer cake from a mix-try one of the recipes with vinegar, called depression cake or war cake. It is lighter and fluffier than the other kinds of cakes I’ve made from scratch, even if you use regular flour.

Lynda
Lynda
8 years ago
Reply to  Ru

Found a recipe for cake using vinegar and baking soda in one of my cookbooks. It’s a one pan mix and is vegan – no eggs , milk or butter. Comes out great, very moist, doesn’t need frosting and is really easy. My children make variation of it all the time. So much better than anything you can get out of a box. I bake cakes often, always from scratch. You end up using the same eggs and oil, just mix up the dry ingredients, add some vanilla or lemon zest or coco powder to change it up, just like… Read more »

Nicole
Nicole
8 years ago
Reply to  Ru

You can buy cake flour at the grocery store. Some cakes use that, some cakes use regular flour.

Some cakes use butter. Some cakes use oil.

There are many kinds of cakes you can make from scratch.

Grocery store and bakery cakes are often not any better than box cakes because often they are just box cakes.

LJ
LJ
8 years ago
Reply to  Bella

I use cake mixes, but always make my own frosting/icing. I hate canned frosting!

stellamarina
stellamarina
8 years ago
Reply to  Leah

To that white sauce of Leahs you just need to add a can of tuna to have creamed tuna that I like served on toast, or grated cheese which becomes Welsh Rarebit…..another peasant food.

Jane
Jane
8 years ago

This is good advice. While bacon is expensive if you eat a few slices for breakfast, adding one or two slices to a sauce, soup or veggie is delicious and frugal. Also, if you’re just using it as flavor in a soup, you can buy the cheaper bacon. Oh, and don’t forget to save the bacon grease. Sometimes I use a small amount of that to saute things instead of butter. I think we have become afraid of grease and lard, but used in moderation they are fine and make simple food taste oh so good. I love to make… Read more »

El Nerdo
El Nerdo
8 years ago
Reply to  Jane

Ha ha, no, bacon is NOT expensive, as I found out recently!

http://www.traderjoes.com/fearless-flyer/article.asp?article_id=260

^^ $3/lb and uncured– yessssss

it’s also meatier than regular strips

El Nerdo
El Nerdo
8 years ago
Reply to  April Dykman

ha ha, I may just start a re-mail order, “personal shopping for busy yuppies” where I ship care packages from New Mexico to people all over the world for a fee. Bueno Chile and Trader Joe’s goodies will be my first products.

(no, i really wouldn’t have the patience. but someone please start such a business. i miss DC and could use some utz crab chips ha ha ha. count me as your next customer if your fees are fair.)

sjw
sjw
8 years ago
Reply to  April Dykman

Trader Joes has an interesting expansion strategy where they try to keep their stores close to eachother (to reduce shipping cost).

However, in trying to find the article I read about that (and failing, sorry), I found that they are going to Texas, so you might be in luck soon.
http://www.chron.com/business/article/Trader-Joe-s-chain-plans-to-expand-to-Houston-1692842.php

sarah
sarah
8 years ago
Reply to  April Dykman

Trader Joes is cheap, but the majority of what they sell is prepackaged, prepared stuff. I find I’m better off going to a normal grocery store (or farmer’s market) since I’m cooking from scratch anyway.

Andrew
Andrew
8 years ago
Reply to  April Dykman

The only trouble with Trader Joe’s is that I always leave with so many more items than I had planned to buy. It’s full of food that you never knew you wanted or needed until you saw it.

Carla
Carla
8 years ago
Reply to  April Dykman

I agree with Sarah. The only items I can buy from TJ’s are the lemons (the cheapest place I can get them in Oregon), some cleaning and bathroom supplies and their Tree Tea Tingle Shampoo & Conditioner which I love. Everything else is super processed.

El Nerdo
El Nerdo
8 years ago
Reply to  April Dykman

Of course TJ’s does not specialize in perishables. You can’t get everything there but you can get certain great things much cheaper than other places, like: – the uncured bacon i linked – whole grain dijon mustard (the real deal) – cornichons – frozen organic blueberries and strawberries – frozen broccoli – frozen pesticide free and/or organic spinach – a number of other things i can’t remember… some people like to buy organic ground beef here (not grass-fed, but still organic) and of course – wonderful wonderful wine for cheeeeeeeeeeap – $5 belgian style ales – $7 bottles of rum!… Read more »

babysteps
babysteps
8 years ago
Reply to  El Nerdo

Bacon, look for the chain pharmacy store circulars, every 2 or 3 months one of them (Walgreen’s, CVS, RiteAid) will have some name brand bacon 2 for 1. Bacon freezes fine

Also, if you live near farms look for places that sell their own bacon – we can get locally raised organic bacon for no more than brand-name bacon at the supermarket (won’t save you money unless you buy 1/2 the pig at once, but does taste a lot better!).

Cari
Cari
8 years ago
Reply to  babysteps

Trader Joe’s will be opening the following stores in Texas sometime this year:

Dallas – lower Greenville
Plano – Preston & Park
Fort Worth

I can’t wait!

Anita
Anita
8 years ago
Reply to  Jane

I make my own bacon out of whatever boneless pork is less than $2 a pound. I don’t have my recipe here but if you just google buckboard bacon you will get a slew of recipes and it’s easy. My favorite is when the local grocery marks down pork loin, I buy a bunch and cut off the fatty side to make into bacon and the rest of it I make into ground pork, or dice it and make sweet and sour pork or slice and pound it into thin pieces dredge in seasoned flour and fry.

Michelle
Michelle
8 years ago

I need to make some of these!

Elizabeth
Elizabeth
8 years ago

Good tips! I’d add soup stock to that list of items to have on hand. (I make my own and keep it in the freezer, but you can buy low sodium versions.) If you have little bits of meat or rice or pasta left, you can make a quick serving of soup using up these odds and ends. (I throw in frozen veggies if I don’t have any fresh on hand.)

DJ-MoneyforCollegePro
DJ-MoneyforCollegePro
8 years ago

We also buy our EVOO from a local shop that presses it multiple times per week. One thing I have looked long and hard for at discount prices is cheese, but I have yet to find anything. I suppose that is one food item where you get what you pay for. Any suggestions? Specifically, parmegiana regiana?

Nicole
Nicole
8 years ago

Well… there’s this place in Wisconsin that my father goes and gets lots of cheese. I think it is the Mars Cheese castle. He also hits up the Wisconsin state fair and buys the (still delicious) losers at a steep discount in wheels. I assume Oregon, Vermont, California, etc. have local options like that. You won’t get imported parmigiano, but you can get similar domestic hard cheeses.

DJ-MoneyforCollegePro
DJ-MoneyforCollegePro
8 years ago
Reply to  Nicole

Thanks Nicole! I don’t live anywhere close to Wisconsin, but I do have some local dairies around here. I’ll have to check them out for some of their cheeses.

Megan
Megan
8 years ago
Reply to  Nicole

As a Chicagoan, let me just say that your dad should skip Mars Cheese Castle and head straight to Woodman’s. Their cheese aisle stretches as far as the eye can see, they have a fantastic selection (organic, local, gourmet, etc., etc.), and it tends to be cheaper than Mars.

BlueCollarWorkman
BlueCollarWorkman
8 years ago

While not the most flavorful like some of the recipes here, when we’re trying to stretch it until next payday, we break out the rice and beans. You get a lot of food for so very very cheap! And we often even have leftovers — it’s one way we make it to payday during particularly tight months.

KS
KS
8 years ago

But rice and beans are very easy to make flavorful. Think Indian, Mexican, middle eastern dishes, southwestern. Black beans cooked with cumin, orange, and garlic. Red beans with carrots, celery, hot chili, and tomato sauce. Chick peas with cumin, coriander, ginger, lemon, and turmeric. They cook up yummy with garlic, onion, ginger, small bits of meat, spices, tomato, you name it.

Sadly, beans are no longer that inexpensive for me as I live in Ireland where even buying them from “Ethnic” stores isn’t that cheap.

soledad
soledad
8 years ago
Reply to  KS

Pindi chole–yum!

El Nerdo
El Nerdo
8 years ago

Too much rice and beans makes me lazy so I switch to 100% eggs for my animal protein source. Fried, scrambled, poached, boiled hard or soft, stirred into broths, in doughs and curds and creams and even drinks. costco is selling 24-packs of organic eggs for $6 in my area. not terribly cheap, but if you want cheaper and are willing to go mainstream eggland’s best are great eggs and found everywhere. of course, i’d rather get hand-picked farm eggs if i can get them, but those are 40 miles away and only sold on saturdays. damn you, santa fe… Read more »

Sharon
Sharon
8 years ago
Reply to  El Nerdo

Or you an get perfectly good and healthy eggs for $.88 a dozen on special at Albertson’s

El Nerdo
El Nerdo
8 years ago
Reply to  Sharon

88 cents!! Awesome!! I wouldn’t eat them raw/runny/undercooked like I normally do, but in a pinch, it’s a great way to fill up the fridge with hardboiled eggs which make a great quick lunch with some veggies.

Carla
Carla
8 years ago
Reply to  Sharon

I would question if eggs for .88 dozen are truly “healthy”. Sounds fishy to me…

El Nerdo
El Nerdo
8 years ago
Reply to  Sharon

I’d rather get 88-cent eggs than a weird bag at a food bank.

Sales will be usually due to upcoming expiration dates. Supermarkets like to stock eggs with 30+ days of shelf life ahead of them. You pick them up on D-29 day and you’re good.

Carla
Carla
8 years ago
Reply to  Sharon

@El Nerdo – I was actually referring to the quality of the eggs, where they are from, what the chickens eat, etc. Eggs generally have a pretty long refrigerator shelf life. I didn’t see the initial post that sparked the discussion though. Yes, in that case, .88 eggs is a good deal when your options are limited.

El Nerdo
El Nerdo
8 years ago
Reply to  Sharon

Ah! Yeah… I try to buy my eggs as good as I can afford, since I eat so many. Still cheaper than meat.

Ms Life
Ms Life
8 years ago

I rarely eat rice and beans, but I like it a lot. This dish is more of a delicacy for me, cheap though it is. That’s what I brought to the office for lunch today.

RobertaM
RobertaM
8 years ago

I love rice and beans! Grew up on boracho beans and Mexican rice but now I love all different versions of it. I even eat brown rice and whatever bean I have on hand for breakfast sometimes. It sticks with you on a twelve hour shift. 🙂

Marianne
Marianne
8 years ago

We eat things like chili and pea soup as cheap meals. My husband tries not to eat many carbs as he’s always had weight issues and works very hard to keep his weight down. As a result, cheap foods like rice and pasta are out of the question- or only for once in awhile. My husband does eat a lot of eggs but those aren’t all that cheap anymore…

Mom of five
Mom of five
8 years ago
Reply to  Marianne

Same here. I do keep plenty of cheap carbs like pasta, rice, and taco shells on hand for the kids but my husband and I tend not to eat them so much. Same holds true for cheese.

sjw
sjw
8 years ago
Reply to  Marianne

This is where cabbage is great. I love napa cabbage. Good cooked, uncooked, and stretches out a little bit of pulled pork really far in a crepe filling.

I love to buy pork shoulder or lamb shoulder, slow cook, shred, put in 1 cup containers in the freezer, pull out as needed. It’s a big up-front investment – though the cuts sometimes go on sale – but it is a great present to your future self.

my honest answer
my honest answer
8 years ago

My favorite peasant food – pizza. Yum! The easiest way to cut your bill is like you said – less meat, more veggies.

EXK
EXK
8 years ago

Pizza is pretty fantastic, I agree.

It’s not just “more veggies” though, some veggies cost more per pound than cheap cuts of meat! I don’t mean to be a downer, but if I were to eat a lot of the fresh leafy greens or peppers or portabella mushrooms that I love, my grocery bill would double, so most of the time I try to make things work with onions, carrots, cabbage, and frozen spinach. Unfortunately, the affordability of vegetables varies a lot based on location, and not much is cheap in New England for most of the year….

Kraig @ Young, Cheap Living
Kraig @ Young, Cheap Living
8 years ago

I’m single so my goal is not to feed an entire family, but feed me as cheaply and as easily as possible, while allowing me to bring in leftovers to work so I can eat there instead of going out for lunch. My staples that I’ve learned to cook are not very glamorous, but they’re easy and cheap. I make tator-tot hotdish (casserole), homemade chili, meatloaf and baked potatos, spaghetti with garlic toast, and cajun chicken pasta. I recently tried a lasagna recipe from thepioneerwomen.com and it was outstanding, but quite expensive to make, for me. I’ve cut my expenses… Read more »

Carol in Mpls
Carol in Mpls
8 years ago

Oh Kraig, I just have to laugh. If you’re eating hotdish, you must be from Minnesota!

“Of course it’s in a ‘hot dish’ — who would want to eat a cold casserole?”

Tater top hot dish, the best.

EXK
EXK
8 years ago

Bean soups are awesome. Will stow this ribollita idea back in my memory somewhere, just in case. Also, in the vein of frittatas, the “fried egg on top of leftovers” trick is pretty great for a weekend lunch, or weeknight dinner for one or two. I’ve noticed women tend to be more fans of it than men, though, not sure why. And in addition to the “variety of salty ingredients” advice, I’d add a variety of seasonings common in cuisines you like. Some of my favorite meals are basically just recombinations of frozen spinach, onions, and chickpeas. But they’re very… Read more »

Stacy
Stacy
8 years ago
Reply to  EXK

I second the fried egg on top of leftovers. I also do a fried egg on top of sauteed peppers and mushrooms, or spinach and mushrooms, over polenta. These meals take less than 30 minutes. It’s true though, I’m more of a fan than my husband…

Jenzer
Jenzer
8 years ago
Reply to  Stacy

Some mornings I make what I call “breakfast fried rice” — leftover brown rice and veggies reheated in a skillet, topped with a poached egg or two. The slightly-undercooked yolk makes a nice sauce for the rice. Yum!

Annelise
Annelise
8 years ago

At first glance, the title of this post really made my hackles rise – I am tired of being told the only way to save money on travel, grooming, food etc. is by taking the peasant route – however, I see “peasant” is being used in its more positive sense here and I do agree with the writer’s advice. I’m also glad you haven’t advocated veganism, which I think is the joyless, culinary equivalent of self-flagelation. Anyway, I particularly recommend buying cheaper cuts of meat, which are often tastier – just make sure you cook them slowly and for longer… Read more »

Liz
Liz
8 years ago
Reply to  Annelise

What?! Bibimbap is delicious, and I consider myself lucky that there’s a Korean-owned sushi place around the corner from my office that does a bibimbap lunch special. It’s cheap and filling, and one of my favorite aspects of that particular dish is that you can choose exactly how much chili sauce you want to put on it – the ingredients aren’t pre-mixed for you. Maybe you just had a bad batch of sauce, or you dumped too much on it. I don’t get how it’s possible to detest what is essentially just rice with tons of fresh veggies, a bit… Read more »

Annelise
Annelise
8 years ago
Reply to  Liz

@ April – I’m glad you enjoyed that line! I just couldn’t think of any better way to say it. I’m definitely an everything-in-moderation girl and would never cut out any food groups. And Liz, I spent several months in Korea years ago on business and I’ve eaten plenty of Korean food, so I really know what I’m talking about. As commenter Dahlia has pointed out, real bibimbap rarely contains meat (but often egg), which contributes to the unsatisfying quality of it. As for the sauce, yes, you can put less of it in, but in that case you’re just… Read more »

Amanda
Amanda
8 years ago
Reply to  Annelise

I have to disagree. I lived in Korea for years and have a Korean mother-in-law who taught me how to cook, so I’ve got “sonmat” down to an art. (To quote a coworker’s aunt, “I can’t believe a white woman made this kimchi, it tastes like mine.”) Bibimbap is great, usually has some sort of protein on it (in fact….I can’t think of a single one I’ve had that didn’t have some sort of protein on it), and you control the gochujang. Also, bibimbap has sesame oil in it, so now sure why that’s called out as a special thing… Read more »

El Nerdo
El Nerdo
8 years ago
Reply to  Annelise

Lastly, bibimbap is a no-no I think what you mean to say is “…lastly, I hate bibimbap even though it’s the favorite dish of millions of people in Korea, and even beyond her borders.” violent red I looooooooove “violent red”!! Do you by any chance not like chili peppers? You’re missing out! Start slow with a mild roasted chile powder and work your way up the Scoville scale. Try Bueno’s “Premium Reserve” chile powder, exquisite– though it’s a local product in my Wal-Mart, you can order it online, and it’s like $5 for a sizable bag (about a pint). —… Read more »

Annelise
Annelise
8 years ago
Reply to  El Nerdo

I’m not advising people to avoid bibimbap just because I don’t like it myself – I’ve also been in several situations where groups of foreigners have been introduced to Korean food via bibimbap and it didn’t make a good first impression. For example, I went on a couple of tours to the DMZ with groups of travelers on layovers at Incheon Airport, and the lunch that was included in our ticket was at a bibimbap place (it’s vegetarian, so less hassle with special dietary requests). On my table, I remember both times over half the food remained uneaten – people… Read more »

Liz
Liz
8 years ago
Reply to  Annelise

Awesome though some of the restaurants in Incheon may be (not being sarcastic), I wouldn’t base my disapproval of a dish on anything I ate there. If you never encountered bibimbap you liked in Korea, then you probably just don’t like it, which is fine – like Dahlia said, to each his own. But to say a dish isn’t good because you (and tourists trapped in an airport on a layover) weren’t enamored of the flavors on the occasions you had it isn’t really a fair assessment.

Annelise
Annelise
8 years ago
Reply to  Annelise

Liz, the restaurant was NOT at the airport. It was in Seoul, and we went there after the tour. The other people were all well-traveled and open-minded, so I think it’s fair to say based on their reaction that bibimbap isn’t a good choice if you’re new to Korean food. Go for the dishes I suggested instead.

Liz
Liz
8 years ago
Reply to  Annelise

Fair enough, but I’ve also introduced several people to Korean food through bibimbap, and they got hooked on it, so this is clearly something we’re not going to reach an agreement on.

I.N.
I.N.
8 years ago
Reply to  Annelise

**veganism, which I think is the joyless, culinary equivalent of self-flagelation.**

I am not a vegan. But I’ve been reading some vegan recipe blogs regularly, and I have added a ton of the most colourful, interesting, flavourful and joyful dishes to my repertoire! And have seen a number of rather vivacious and food loving vegans, although myself see no need to take this step.
If you think of veganism this way, you’ve been reading all the wrong things about it.

Miser+Mom
Miser+Mom
8 years ago

It feels like someone’s been looking over my shoulder (or maybe I’ve been looking over April’s?) this week. We’ve had Everything Soup, Smorgasbord Spaghetti, and a dish my kids happily named “Yellow”. Right now I’m saving bread crumbs and apples for a homemade apple crisp.

EXK
EXK
8 years ago
Reply to  Miser+Mom

Ok, I’m intrigued…what was in “yellow”?

Miser+Mom
Miser+Mom
8 years ago
Reply to  EXK

Since you asked . . . crustless quiche. This version had 3 eggs, 1 cup milk, 1 cup flour 1/4 cup water, a handful of yellow cheese, and some more yellow “stuff”: corn, yellow squash, and onions.

El Nerdo
El Nerdo
8 years ago
Reply to  Miser+Mom

brilliant

Jenzer
Jenzer
8 years ago
Reply to  Miser+Mom

“I’ve noticed the average pile of yellow ‘stuff’ on the buffet has about five ingredients in it. But they’re all yellow. That means four of them gave up.” -George Carlin

Priswell
Priswell
8 years ago
Reply to  Miser+Mom

LOL! We used to make something we called “Lizard”, which was actually leftover beef and gravy (homemade) with a biscuit top and baked in the oven.

I don’t know how we got that name, but it stuck.

Matt at Healthy N' Wealthy
Matt at Healthy N' Wealthy
8 years ago

My favorite way to save on food is with my AMEX card: 6% back on groceries with Blue Cash Preferred. Plus, I can buy gas cards and gift cards at the grocery store, and get 6% back on those too!

I eat healthy, regardless of the costs, because I see it as an investment in my body. Hopefully the government will stop subsidizing junk food so that I don’t have to spend my life savings every week…

http://www.cbsnews.com/video/watch/?id=7392991n

Katie B.
Katie B.
8 years ago

Hi April, Great article – thanks! My husband and I follow a few general rules to keep our grocery bills low ($300-$350 per month for the two of us, plus an additional $100-$150 per month for restaurant dining): – use meal planning to have a general list of the meals we can make each week based on ingredients we have on hand – use meat mostly as an ingredient in grain or pasta-based dishes rather than as the main feature of the meal – keep many basic ingredients on hand, including grains, beans, spices/herbs, potatoes, carrots, onions, green onions, and… Read more »

Stupidly Happy
Stupidly Happy
8 years ago

How about Shepard’s Pie – ground beef (lamb, turkey, or chicken also), garlic, rosemary, thyme, mixed veggies (I use frozen to save on waste), and homemade mashed potatoes. One of my kid’s favorite meals. We usually get two meals out of it.

Stupidly Happy
Stupidly Happy
8 years ago

Will definitely try some of the above ideas – they sound great. Below is one of my favorites;

Shepard’s Pie – ground meat (beef, lamb, chicken, or turkey), garlic, rosemary, thyme, mixed vegetables (I use frozen; less waste), and homemade mashed potatoes. It’s one of my kid’s favorite meals. Usually makes enough for two meals.

Dahlia
Dahlia
8 years ago

Correction- traditionally, bibimbap does not include meat. I traveled in Korea extensively and at bibimbap throughout the country and it never included meat. And I completely disagree with Annalise above, I’ve never had bibimbap I didn’t like. Different strokes for different folks, but I don’t want other readers to be put off by her review.

myscientificlife
myscientificlife
8 years ago

We eat a lot of pastas, chili, and soups. Chili and soup freeze well. I usually make bread to go with it, and it’s super cheap.

louisa @ TheReallyGoodLife
louisa @ TheReallyGoodLife
8 years ago

I’m reading this while eating a leftover misc-stuff-in-spicy-rice dish so I think I’m already on board with the eating like a peasant idea 🙂

Our spice collection is by far the most important factor in making cheap meals – without them we couldn’t eat all the rice and beans/pulses we do without getting very bored.

We’ve also got our own chickens so always have plenty of eggs on hand for bulking our leftovers or providing a quick, cheap meal.

Bareheadedwoman
Bareheadedwoman
8 years ago

My current peasant passion is something I saw on some archeology discovery/history channel something not too long ago…some sort of roman plebeian-life reenactment. Anyway the dish is called “Pulsim”

It’s a quick saute of smooshed salt & garlic, olive oil, chick peas and kale…on a good day, strong sausage. For whatever reason, watching the reenactor make it struck my taste buds and, happening to have everything on site, I tried it and absolutely loved it.

I’ve liked a lot of various chic-pea salad, multi-cultural type things but something about this hit the spot for a winter-jaded appetite. Super cheap too.

Jen
Jen
8 years ago

This post came at an excellent time! We’re looking to purchase a house in the next year, and we visited the local market in that neighborhood the other day. They had GIGANTIC bags of rice for less than $8! If I ate it at every meal, every day, it would take me weeks to finish it off. But rice just gets boring by itself – and I never remember the different ideas for preparing it to make it more interesting. Thanks for the ideas!

Kyle
Kyle
8 years ago

I have a couple of peasant food pro tips! 1) It’s OK to eat the same thing over and over again (if it’s something you like). I pack up five identical (or nearly identical) lunches on Sunday night – usually some kind of bean soup and some kind of seasonal vegetable dish – and then I don’t have to worry about my at-work lunch all week. 2) When you use meat sparingly, use the most flavorful meats you can. I’m a fan of chicken thighs, because I think their flavor goes a lot further in a recipe than the flavor… Read more »

BrokeElizabeth
BrokeElizabeth
8 years ago

I always keep pasta and olive oil in my kitchen… they can be eaten by themselves or added to almost every dish for some extra calories.

chacha1
chacha1
8 years ago

Olive oil, tomato paste, prepared chili beans, red or purple rice, and onions are staples in our house. I generally go for “healthy” (meaning highly nutritious, not necessarily super low calorie, and certainly not low fat) over “frugal,” but nothing beats a good chili. I feed two people for four days on a pound of ground bison – my chili is mostly veg and beans. Panzanella is another great way to use stale bread. Tomato, basil, maybe some onion or olives if you want; add some pearl mozzarella if you have ’em; toss in cubed bread and dress with homemade… Read more »

Economically Humble
Economically Humble
8 years ago

Not only do you save on the cost of groceries, you also save on the long term healthcare costs associated with all too common chronic diseases. Several well known studies that examine how people ate before and after moving to the United States explain that the typical american diet (and accompanying lifestyle) is unhealthy. By cooking like a peasant you are quite likely to save on long term medical/health care.

Sharon
Sharon
8 years ago

Please do not indulge in magical thinking. These studies are NOT based on anything useful or reliable.

Elizabeth
Elizabeth
8 years ago
Reply to  Sharon

Every time someone says “magical thinking” I feel like I’ve stumbled into a Harry Potter novel 😉

I’m skeptical whenever anyone says “typical American diet” or “Western diet” as if everyone eats the same things and lifestyle makes no difference.

Carla
Carla
8 years ago

I guess assuming they are eating fast and processed foods.

I tend to turn my nose up on the assumptions that “Americans eat a typical SAD”, but when I venture outside my West Coast paradise, I’m always amazed at what people eat.

Matt at Healthy N' Wealthy
Matt at Healthy N' Wealthy
8 years ago

My favorite way to save on groceries is with my AMEX card: Blue Cash Preferred. 6% back on groceries, 3% on gas and retail, 1% etc. I shop at the grocery store as if I’m Bill Gates, and everywhere else like I’m broke. I see it as an investment in my body.

Eating healthy is a financial nightmare, but I’m unwilling to compromise. Hopefully the government stops subsidizing junk food so that I don’t have to spend my life savings once a week at the grocery store to get real food.

http://www.cbsnews.com/video/watch/?id=7392991n

Lauren {Adventures in Flip Flops}
Lauren {Adventures in Flip Flops}
8 years ago

I do this, too! I have been known to live in a cheap apartment, cut cable ride my bike (instead of driving or taking the bus) and wear holes in my clothes, but I will always go out of my way to buy quality things at the grocery store.

I do try and limit my meat/dairy intake, and focus on using eggs, beans, rice, etc., but I definitely spend more on food than any other budget item aside from the obvious like rent.

Carla
Carla
8 years ago

Amen to that. When you have health issues directly related to diet (PCOS/insulin resistance in my case) and intolerances (gluten, soy, dairy) etc, you tend to look at food/diet/budget in a totally different light. Also having MS, I have another reason to make sure I eat the best foods I can. Eating a lot of the normally cheap foods is just not an option for me.

Matt at Healthy N' Wealthy
Matt at Healthy N' Wealthy
8 years ago
Reply to  Carla

I’m sorry that you have to deal with those health issues. I highly suggest you look into the Paleo diet, if you haven’t already. Our modern diets are way out of touch with what our bodies are designed to use. Too many carbs and inflammatory crap (gluten) -> insulin resistance and menstrual disorders. Its not surprising that PCOS in women correlates with male pattern baldness in men, and mpb correlates with increased risk for prostate cancer. All are linked to insulin resistance, which affects testosterone (and estrogen), which affects PCOS. Keep insulin/sugar and inflammation down, and you should feel better.… Read more »

Carla
Carla
8 years ago

Thanks, Matt! I do eat Paleo for the most part – long before I knew it had a name and its made a huge difference in my health, from my skin to my digestion. I was kind of “forced” in to it in a way from what my body was doing at such a young age. I will take a look at the link…

Nick
Nick
8 years ago

Awesome post!

For the last few years I’ve been running a food blog and regularly post economical meals. If readers want a few more suggestions, check it out!

http://www.macheesmo.com/category/economical/

Ru
Ru
8 years ago

Like many art students, I literally eat like a peasant. Very little meat, loads of vegetables. I cut my food bills and my waistline by not eating carbohydrates with my evening meal- why do you need that energy release at night? My advice would be to shop at Asian supermarkets if you can and pick up flavourful ingredients like teriyaki sauce, chilli, sushi vinegar. A mooli/daikon radish can be turned into a whole meal very easily, and I can get them 4 for £1 off my local market. These places also sell giant sacks of rice. Sure it’s a struggle… Read more »

Bella
Bella
8 years ago
Reply to  Ru

You had me right up until the Coffee Mate in your porridge. I guess since it has no actual semblance of real milk or cream – you don’t have to worry about lactose but still…

Carla
Carla
8 years ago
Reply to  Bella

Coconut or hemp milk is a good, healthy alternative.

Ru
Ru
8 years ago
Reply to  Bella

Don’t knock it til you’ve tried it is all I can say. I actually really like it. My recipe is 1/2 cup oats, 4/5 cup boiling water, and about a tablespoon of Coffee Mate.

Lynda
Lynda
8 years ago
Reply to  Ru

My boyfriend is lactose intolerant, and he finds almond milk a very good alternative, plus it has a long shelf/fridge life.

Also, try re-hydrating your mushrooms in hot water for a bit in broth or hot water before putting them in your dish, and add the mushroom water into the for extra flavor.

babysteps
babysteps
8 years ago
Reply to  Ru

Asian stores or sections of supermarket are great for eggroll (wheat based) or spring roll (100% rice) wrappers – chop up your leftovers, add some condiments, maybe some rice or beans other “stretcher”, wrap & eat – yum.

Also, you can use any large tough green (collard, kale, chard) to make a leftover wrap (same chop leftovers/add seasoning & starch/wrap idea as above). Steaming the greens first helps so they are pliable.

Carla
Carla
8 years ago

I have very low iron levels despite how many green vegetables I eat on a daily basis. In addition to eating red meat at least once a week (which can be expensive, especially since I only buy grass fed), I sometimes make bone broths from beef bones which if made correctly, can contain a lot of iron. I just ask the people at the meat counters for any excess bones they may have. Its free and can make a good health supplement. (Going completely meat free is not an option for me health wise for a variety of reasons no… Read more »

El Nerdo
El Nerdo
8 years ago
Reply to  Carla

You ever eat lentils? I’m a meat-eater too and lentils go great with steak! They also have lots of iron. They are also great in a salad and with fried eggs. I do not like soup but some people swear by it. Also, molasses can be added strategically to beans, stews, milk, or desserts.

Carla
Carla
8 years ago
Reply to  El Nerdo

I’m not a big legume eater, but I do like a good dahl soup once in a while.

Thanks for molasses reminder. I usually buy the black strap from the co-op and that always adds a kick to whatever I’m making.

El Nerdo
El Nerdo
8 years ago
Reply to  Carla

I’m not a big legume eater either but there’s an old belief that eating lentils on mondays is supposed to bring money ha ha ha. eh– why not? — ps- also if you’re a real carnivore like yours truly– liver!!!! liver is amazing!!! i love tender buffalo liver lightly fried in grass butter, a pinch of coarse salt, a dash or two of black pepper, and bam! with a nice red wine! delicious! if my budget is down to the last few coins i buy organic chicken livers at the co-op and same thing! and besides freshly grilled, you can… Read more »

Lynda
Lynda
8 years ago
Reply to  El Nerdo

I was playing around in my kitchen and on the internet and created a good one pot dish with lentils, quinoa and kale (also did it with mixed southern style greens and it worked out great too. Turned it into soup and also a pilaf. Very versatile. Saute carrots, onions garlic, mushrooms and celary in evoo and butter or bacon grease for about 5 minutes. Season with garlic salt, pepper, saason salt, thyme and crushed red pepper (or not) Add quinoa and lentils and let them come together for about 5 minutes. Add ham or smoked sausage, like hillshire farm… Read more »

partgypsy
partgypsy
8 years ago
Reply to  Carla

I’m like you and am always near anemic. A nutritionist after reviewing my diet said that some people just don’t absorb non-animal iron as well as other people. I do eat red meat (as well as organ meat) but not daily so in addition I eat spinach (cooked in some form), lentils and other beans, and shellfish. In addition, my husband started doing a lot of cooking in a cast iron skillet and it really seemed to help both of our iron levels. There are so many good iron skillet dishes out there it has also expanded our cooking repetoire.

Carla
Carla
8 years ago
Reply to  partgypsy

Interesting you bring that up because I cook exclusively on and in cast iron, and have my entire life. It’s hard to imagine using anything else in the kitchen.

stellamarina
stellamarina
8 years ago
Reply to  partgypsy

To help you better absorb iron from iron rich foods, it is good to eat the foods along with foods high in Vit C such as tomatoes.

Windy
Windy
8 years ago

We have three kids, 11, 8, and 8. My piece of advice? Plan your meals around your groceries. If I need fresh parsley for one meal, I’ll make sure to add a few more dishes through the week that need parsley, too (it’s also great in salads!). We also have “kitchen sink fried rice” or “kitchen sink pizza” to use up leftover vegetables. I also make my own salad dressing out of coarse-ground mustard, a splash of lemon juice, a pinch of salt, and some olive oil. Add to a mason jar and shake. What else? If you need a… Read more »

Lindsay
Lindsay
8 years ago
Reply to  Windy

The other night, I used leftover ratatouille as a pizza topping and it was delicious! 🙂

Sharon
Sharon
8 years ago

Don’t forget bread pudding. Make it with enough eggs and milk and effectively you have French Toast, which makes a great quick breakfast once you cook up the main bread pudding.

Add a lemon sauce and it can be dessert, too.

Lindsay
Lindsay
8 years ago

I like to make burritos/wraps using black beans (add taco-type seasoning) and diced yams (for the yams, just peel and dice, put in a bowl and cover with saran wrap or a plate, and cook about 10 min in microwave!) top with lettuce. Avocado is a nice addition, as well as plain yogurt. Very quick, filling, and cheap! I also like to make ratatouille (esp. in summer when there is way too much zucchini and tomato!) Pizza is another one I make often. We like pepperoni and marinated artichoke hearts (both ingredients are very cheap at sams club). Ham and… Read more »

Bella
Bella
8 years ago

I love the comments, thinking about it now I have a lot of dishes that I make that basically – ground beef or chicken breast tenders chopped, whatever veggies are in the fridge diced, spices (depends on what we feel like, mexican, chinese, italian, etc…) and a starch (rice, potato, pasta). In fact – I would say 90% of what I cook fall into this catagory – but my husband thinks I’m a great cook so there you go.

Lauren {Adventures in Flip Flops}
Lauren {Adventures in Flip Flops}
8 years ago

Y’all need to check out one of my very favorite blogs, Budget Bytes (budgetbytes.blogspot.com). She breaks her recipes down by cost and ingredients so you can see how much it costs to make something per serving. I seriously love her recipes.

Jenna, Adaptu Community Manager
Jenna, Adaptu Community Manager
8 years ago

Most stuff you cook in a crock pot is pretty cheap / healthy. Meat, veggies and a sauce. Pretty delicious combo. Shepard’s Pie, Chili, etc.

Priswell
Priswell
8 years ago

Excellent article!

Cooking at home is the way to eat better for less, hands down. Learning to cook has almost become a lost art, and I like to think that basic cooking skills will come back into fashion. It’s also interesting that lots of foods that we think are “special” began their lives as peasant food – nutritious and tasty, but inexpensive.

ginny
ginny
8 years ago

@El Nerdo Thanks for the bacon bits!! A long time ago, some bow hunting friends served me a dish made of cooked potatoes, some kind of meat, I forgot what kind, onion, etc. This was in a campground in the forest. Found the dish delicious, so worked on it and still work on it. The ingredients aren’t cut and dried. This dish for me goes a long ways. What I call my sausage/potato dish as follows: Sausage, did use a certain smoked ring, when it went from 16 ounces to 13, started trying other ideas. Johnsonville is packaging fresh in… Read more »

Julie @ Freedom 48
Julie @ Freedom 48
8 years ago

Some great ideas!

I love “cleaning out the fridge”, getting creative, and making a real meal out of it! There’s something satisfying about creating an “acceptable” meal out of nothing (or even better – one that gets rave reviews!)

ginny
ginny
8 years ago

Forgot! I use extra virgin olive oil for the cooking of the sausage/potato dish. Bertolli.
Sorry.

Andrew
Andrew
8 years ago

Good article and even better comments. I’m getting lots of good ideas –which is especially helpful for someone whose mind goes blank when faced with the need to think of something for dinner.

ali
ali
8 years ago

Beans and Rice can be spicy! I was briefly a vegetarian and I ate a lot of beans. My basic way to make beans – saute garlic and onion, add chipotle chile powder, cumin, salt and pepper, a dash of dry coriander, then add a can of beans (or 2 cups), 1 cup thawed frozen corn (I could get bags for $1 and use over several meals), and saute — taste and adjust seasonings. Optionally at the end add lime and cilantro. Other options – add bell pepper (or other fresh chile) and zucchini at the beginning. Add Ro Tel… Read more »

Joe
Joe
8 years ago

I find that if I treat myself to delicious foods at the grocery store, I generally eat out much less and eating, in itself, is a nice sit-down activity rather than mere sustenance. I guess it totally depends on your values. I’d rather eat steak than go on an annual vacation to Mexico. Maybe I’ll die a few thousand poorer and a few years younger, but I’ll have lived.

Sleeping Mom
Sleeping Mom
8 years ago

I have a list of “budget recipes” that include arroz con pollo, shepherd’s pie, beans and rice, enchiladas…wow too many to name.

I notice similar ingredients popping up in all my budget recipes such as beans, rice, ground beef, chicken and potatoes. Along with using inexpensive ingredients, budget recipes also tend to yield a ton of servings so we end up having plenty of leftovers.

Heather
Heather
8 years ago

Chili is a big favorite of mine, and I recently realized that all the things I need to make chili are considered staples in my house. “Mexican”-style food is a favorite as well. The problem I’ve been running into, cooking for 2 people, is that things go to waste. With my low-appetite issues, I can’t bring myself to eat leftovers soon after the original dish unless they’re either chili, or turned into something else. I’ve learned how to make some great 2-serving casseroles though! 8-inch square baking dishes are my friend. That being said, I can make an entire batch… Read more »

Lynda
Lynda
8 years ago
Reply to  Heather

One of the things we make at my house is ‘breakfast rice’. I usually leave the rice in the non-stick pot I cooked it in the night before, so the next morning I add butter, milk, 1 egg, brown sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg. Mix it up and let it simmer (covered) until the liquid is absorbed into the rice. It’s kinda like rice pudding, but drier, and a good way to use up left over steamed white or brown rice the next day

partgypsy
partgypsy
8 years ago
Reply to  Lynda

My oldest daughter loves rice. Oftentimes in the morning take leftover rice, mix in some milk and eat it for breakfast.

Lynda
Lynda
8 years ago

One of my go-to cheapo, easy food is dried beans. Red beans, lentils, dried lima beans, mixed beans, any of them will do and are versatile. Cook them using either the quick soak, and simmer for a couple hours or wash them and put them in the slow cooker with cut up ham or sausage, onion, bell pepper, garlic, carrots and sometimes celery and season with garlic salt season salt pepper, thyme and a little crushed red pepper. Serve with steamed white or brown rice. My other cheap, easy and versatile meal is pasta. I keep various types in the… Read more »

Melissa
Melissa
8 years ago

One of my favorite inexpensive staples is whole fresh chickens. I purchase several when they are on sale, stew one and throw the rest in the freezer. The stewed chicken, cooked with whatever veggies and herbs I have available, is then transformed into as many as three “meat meals” for my family of five. Soups, stews, enchiladas, pasta dishes,and many other thing are inexpensive meals. Oh yeah, the chicken bones are further cooked in the stewing liquid, yeilding a delicious broth.

Ellen (Gluten Free Diva)
Ellen (Gluten Free Diva)
8 years ago

I’m particularly drawn to rice (and other gluten free grains) because of the fact that they’re gluten free AND they’re so versatile. I bought a rice cooker a few years ago and it gets a daily workout in my gluten free kitchen. I use it to make all manner of grains from white and brown rice to oatmeal and quinoa and millet. You name it, my rice cooker can handle it!

Rail
Rail
8 years ago

Hi everyone! Having grown up and living in the middle of Iowa a staple of life is the Potato. Since most of the Iowa immigrants that came here in the 1800’s were English/Irish/German/Norwegan/Dutch the potato is about manditory in at least one dish a day. Taters are good keepers in the celler and can be made so many ways. Bake a bunch and put extras in the fridge. Next day you can make hashbrowns or fryed. Boil a bunch and eat them that way, or mash them. Once again the leftovers will keep in the fridge and you have another… Read more »

Bethany
Bethany
8 years ago

One of my favorite money-saving meals is to buy a whole chicken, which you can often get on sale as cheap as $.79 a pound, roast it and serve that for dinner with sides. Then take most of the meat off the carcass, put the carcass in a pot with water and make broth (I usually use a roast chicken recipe that makes a really flavorful broth on it’s own, so I don’t usually add veggies to the broth.) Reduce the broth down to half, take the chicken out and remove the leftover bits of meat, put that back in… Read more »

shares