As I’m sure you all know, sometimes in life a situation arises in which you are more financially pinched than normal. Even the best budgeters with decently padded savings accounts can’t anticipate things like home repairs, doctors bills, or car problems. Such is the situation I found myself in when a knocking sound in my car lead to one part needing to be replaced, which then lead to several other parts needing replaced, until the source of all the problems was found and I had to replace that as well!
All said and done, nearly $1000 later, even with parental help (bless their hearts!) my budget belt is tighter than it has ever been before. That, compounded with a soon upcoming move to a new apartment, meant a stock-taking of my fridge/freezer/pantry was in order.
The goal: By August 1st, have used up every edible in my apartment, purchasing as little extra as possible. This means the meals I will be eating will be sure to get interesting!
I have actually found that sometimes, the best meals are the ones where you just open a cupboard and say, ‘ok, what can I do with this?’ With a bit of inspiration from Allrecipes.com (one of my favorite recipe websites) I did just that, opened my cupboard and came out with:
1 can chickpeas
1 can diced tomatoes
Dried onion flakes
1 cup white rice
To make easy, delicious meals on the cheap and quickly, it is vital to have your pantry stocked with a few key ingredients. These staples are the things which keep for a long time and are versatile in many dishes, like grains and canned foods.
Here is a list of things I always try to keep in the house:
- Rice (white and/or brown)
- Pasta (various kinds, usually at least one straight pasta and 2 shapes)
- Tomato sauce, paste
- Pasta sauce
- Diced tomatoes
- Green beans
- Beans (Black, kidney, chickpeas, chili)
One of the best, easiest Crock Pot recipes using cupboard staples I know is Tortilla Soup. It is perfect for a busy day, just open a few cans and throw them in the Crock Pot. You can let it simmer all day, then come home to a hot and filling meal!
1 can corn
1 can kidney beans
1 can black beans
1 can diced tomatoes
1 can of chicken (optional)
1 jar salsa
1 cup cooked white rice
6 cups water
Literally, just dump all the ingredients in the crock pot. I added some dried onion flakes and oregano too. Then just let it simmer until you’re hungry!This tastes great with some cheddar cheese melted on top. You can also fry up some tortillas and put crisps on top. This does make quite a bit, so be sure to have some people to share with, or freeze individual portions for lunches all week.
One of the best techniques I know to save money and time on food is to plan your leftovers and get creative. There are so many dishes which are perfect for using up extra food, like casseroles, tacos, stir fry and pasta dishes.
If you have the time to plan a whole week of meals, I recommend it because that way you can make a whole chicken one day, then use it later in the week for soup, sandwiches, salads, and many other dishes. This saves you money by using one item in several meals.
Step 2: Sprinkle about 1/2 cup to a cup of flour over top, and add about 2 cups diced ham. I added 1 cup of cheddar cheese on top becuase cheese makes everything better! Then pour in 1 cup milk and cover with tin foil.
I also sprinkled some salt and pepper over top before baking, it’s to your own taste preference.
Step 3: Bake at 375 for about 1 hour, or until potatoes are soft but not falling apart.
Assuming you buy a 5-lb bag of potatoes for about $3, and had the ham on hand, the whole meal costs maybe $5 total.3 of us had 2 helpings each, with a small amount left over for someone’s lunch later! Feel free to doctor it up with different cheeses, adding some kind of vegetables, using chicken broth instead of milk… get creative and have fun with the process.
One of the main things any good cook knows is what a difference a pinch of this or that can make to the overall flavor of a dish. The kinds of spices there are is nearly limitless, especially if you’re willing to drop some serious cash on things like saffron and cardamom.
However, the vast majority of dishes can benefit from a few affordable key spices:
- garlic (and garlic salt)
- dried onion
- salt (sea salt preferably)
- pepper (white, black, red, whole peppercorn…)
- Italian seasoning
- chili powder
- lemon pepper
- bay leaves
- Old Bay
- Nature’s Seasoning
You can’t get a meal for much cheaper than that! I’ll be there!
Well, after debating and thinking about starting a blog for quite some time, I have decided to go ahead and do so. No idea what I’m doing, so you will have to learn along with me. I have this idea to try to make a cookbook of some sort with recipes which are very easy and very easy on the wallet. Having been a college student, and still a grad student, I know how strapped for cash we all are. And after talking to several people, I am always amazed at how few of us know how to feed ourselves beyond Ramen noodles and Taco Bell! So my mission is to educate the hard working students of the world (or anyone who has little to no culinary experience and/or cash in their pockets) how to feed yourself… simply and cheaply.
I will update as often as I can, and will include recipes and pictures when I can. If you have recipe suggestions or any questions I would be happy to hear from you! I also welcome any reader to take my recipes and see how reproducible they are. If this cookbook idea goes through, I want to know that my ideas work in the “real world” with real people.