Cooking on a budget does not have to mean $0.10 packages of ramen noodles. Everyone is entitled to a balanced meal, even if you’re on a budget. A little research can go a long way and there are tons of resources available online to help the penny-conscious plan meals. Before I dive into a couple of my favorites, I want to give you a few ideas of some versatile budget-friendly food staples to keep in stock.
- Eggs: They are incredibly versatile, typically inexpensive, and are close to the “perfect” food with regard to their nutrient profile. They can be elegant in meringue cookies, hearty in a quiche, sophisticated in a soufflé, or comforting simply scrambled. Not to mention they hold their own in breakfast burritos, fried rice, and casseroles. My biggest suggestion with eggs, is that you go for the gold. By that I mean, aim for a high quality egg with dark yellowy-orange yolks. These might push you into the $4+ range for a dozen, but they will most likely come from pasture-raised chickens that have an omnivorous diet of insects and plants. Even at $4/dozen, each egg will only cost you $0.33. However, if you really can’t spring for the expensive eggs, rest assured that the macronutrient profile of all eggs remain the same regardless of the yolk color.
- Fresh lemons: Nothing adds a zing to ordinary chicken, fish, or vegetables like a squeeze of fresh lemon juice. Lemons are another versatile food that can be featured in baked goods, drinks, desserts, soups, and main dishes. As a bonus, a squeeze of fresh lemon can replace the need for added salt creating flavorful, low-sodium meals.
- Oats: You might only think of oats as a small package of powdery stuff that you mix with water to make sugary, breakfast mush. Do me a favor and forget that those packages every existed. Large cylinders of quick-cook oats are economically priced and with a little imagination, oats can be a versatile food. We are so ingrained (pun intended) in thinking of oatmeal as a breakfast food that the potential for oats to be featured as a dinner side dish, entree, or dessert is often overlooked.
Now onto a couple of my favorite online resources:
Regardless of featuring Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) friendly recipes, one of my favorite cookbooks is Good and Cheap by Leanne Brown. The book offers great basic shopping and cooking tips plus it is loaded with wonderful recipes. The best part is that the PDF version, available in both English and Spanish, is free to download or view on her website.
The websit budgetbytes.com features tips and recipes to guide readers through the journey of making balanced, budget-friendly foods.
Megan Farris has a B.S. in Nutrition, Health, and Wellness from NIU and is an NIU Dietetic Intern and a 2020 M.S. in Nutrition and Dietetics candidate.