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10 Frugal cooking tips for family-friendly meals

The holidays are over, the economy seems to be getting worse (if that’s possible), and prices at the grocery store are skyrocketing. What’s a frugal family to do? Try these frugal cooking tips to help you stretch your food dollar, and still feed your family hearty, nutritious meals. Cheap eats that are delicious, too!

Woman with Pasta

Cooking tip #1: Befriend beans and rice

Beans and rice are excellent, cheap fillers in just about any dish. Beans contain a ton of protein and fiber, making them healthy and economical substitutions for more expensive meats and cheeses. Rice is a frugal kitchen staple that is even more wallet-friendly when bought in the bulk area of the supermarket. (Note: prepackaged instant rice is usually more expensive.)

Soups and stews: Try adding rice to a soup or stew to stretch the recipe. You can add a cup of rice, a little more water or soup stock, and create a big enough pot of soup to serve once and freeze for another meal. The same goes with beans. You can add canned beans to a soup or stew to stretch the recipe and make enough to freeze, or you can create an entire soup around beans, leaving out the meat entirely and really saving money.

Cook extra: When making rice, cook an extra batch – it makes an inexpensive leftover dish in and of itself or a convenient ingredient for other dishes. You can add hot sauce and a chopped jalapeno to rice for a Latin side dish, use it to stuff green peppers with a little ground beef or chicken, and even whip up a quick rice pudding for dessert.

Cooking tip #2: Prioritize pasta

Pasta is another fantastic frugal food idea. The pasta itself is cheap and filling, and you can create very economical tomato sauce or other delicious sauces that will fill up your family and still save you money. You can even make your own pasta, if the culinary muse so strikes you.

Make your own sauce: Make your own spaghetti sauce, rather than buying prepared spaghetti sauce in the jar or can, it’s much cheaper and fresher, too!

Cook extra: Cook double or even triple the pasta so you can add any leftover sauce to it and then freeze for upcoming meals. When you’re ready to serve it, defrost, then place the defrosted leftovers in an ovenproof baking dish, add some cheese and breadcrumbs to the top, and bake for a pasta casserole. We call it “recycled spaghetti” at our house, and it’s one of our favorite meals!

Cooking tip #3: Buy ground meats

Rather than empty your wallet on often pricey steaks, chops and roasts, buy ground beef, turkey, pork or chicken. Ground meat is usually cheaper, and you can brown it and drain off the fat to help make your meals healthier.

Cooking tip #4: Buy in bulk

Buy in bulk when you can, especially dry ingredients like flour, rice, beans, cereal and pasta. Because you aren’t paying for packaging, it’s not only more eco-friendly, it’s much more economical in the long run.

Cooking tip #5: Love your leftovers

Never ever throw away leftovers! You can make something out of just about anything.

  • Use leftover chicken or vegetables to create a quick chicken soup.
  • Include leftover cheese in casseroles and to sprinkle on top a rice or pasta dish.
  • Turn day old bread into a bread pudding or croutons for a salad, or breadcrumbs for topping casseroles.
  • Make a “Mongolian BBQ” style meal.
  • Transform leftover vegetables into salads or stir-fries.
  • Shred leftover potatoes for morning hash browns or even latkes.
  • Use leftover eggs for omelets, egg-salad sandwiches, or devil them for simple snacks.

Gary Foreman, editor of the Dollar Stretcher newsletter and website, goes one step further. He notes that you can take a paper plate or food storage container, add a leftover portion of meat, vegetable, and starch, and place in a plastic bag or cover with foil. Make a note on the outside of the container about what it contains, and freeze it. That way, you have a quick meal or snack whenever you need it, and you’ll be less tempted to dine out or hit fast food after a long day at work.

Cooking tip #6: Simmer your own stock or broth

Instead of using stock or broth in soups and stews, use water and a bouillon cube, or salt to taste. You can get low-salt bouillon cubes which will keep you from spending money on expensive stocks. Better yet, make your own stock and save even more, since you can use the vegetables and seasonings in a soup or stew after you’ve finished the stock.

Cooking tip #7: Perfect shopping with a price book

Foreman offers a refinement of the shopping list routine, too. “Create a price book, where you have a sheet for each item you buy frequently. It can be a loose-leaf notebook or memo pad that will fit in your purse. Record the date, the store, and the price of your favorite items,” Foreman notes.”Over time, if you do this, you’ll begin to know when you’re looking at a real sale in the store, and when to stock up. You’ll know when it’s not really a sale, and not to stock up, too. This puts the average grocery shopper in the same position as a professional buyer, and you can save 15 to 20 percent after putting this plan into being, and you’re eating the same foods you’re used to.”

Cooking tip #8: Make your own

Learn to make your own sauces, spice mixes and marinades. They are much cheaper, and you can control the amount of salt and fat in them, making them much healthier for your family. And be sure to use the spices you buy. (Click for 7 Cooking tips to use your holiday spices all year.)

Cooking tip #9: Be creative

Cooking cheap doesn’t mean cooking meals that are boring or tasteless. You can create simple, mouthwatering, money-saving meals by unleashing your culinary creativity. Read your cookbooks, food magazines and SheKnows Food and Recipes Channel for frugal inspiration and fantastic food ideas.

Cooking tip #10: Pass it on

It takes a little planning to eat frugally, but you can do it. Follow these tips, and you’ll soon be coming up with your own frugal food tips you can pass on to friends and neighbors. And they will pass on their money-saving tips to you, too.

More money-saving cooking tips

Fast ways to makeover leftovers
How to turn your leftovers into mouthwatering meals
Make-ahead meals to fix and freeze
How to save money with coupons
How to buy good cheap wine
7 Tips for saving money at the supermarket 
Money-saving recipes

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