Tuesday, June 24, 2014

5 Intensely Cheap Recipes

Every once in a while Yahoo (or whoever) will run an article boasting a recipe for cheap food--something like salmon that comes out to something like $3 or $4 per serving. I'm not bashing that, but it doesn't impress me. Every time I read those articles I think, "That's just homemade food; homemade food is always cheap." And it is. Or at least cheaper than it's restaurant or TV dinner counterparts. But that's not really really cheap. And really really cheap is what I want to talk about today.

Really really cheap is what you need if you already make most of your food at home, but still need to pinch a grocery penny. Really really cheap is how people have survived through famines and depressions, war rationing, and other shortages. And every once in a while, even in our so-privileged-we-don't-always-remember-we're-privileged society, we need to cut back severely and it's really really cheap that comes along to save the day. Here are some ideas for eating well, but crazy dirt cheap--like, less than $.50/serving.

I should note that it's helpful to find yourself a super cheap store in which to buy your food. In the Midwest we've got Aldi and Ruler Foods. These super cheap stores are the type of stores where every single item is (almost always) cheaper than Walmart. These stores are little gems of cheapskaterlyness. Most of my pricing is based on these stores. That said, you can generally find super cheap produce (and other cool things) at Asian stores. Or shop sales. Or with coupons. But even if you don't do any of those things, these foods are the cheapest there are.

1. Rice and beans and beans and rice. It doesn't have to be unpleasant. Check out these crock pot re-fried beans. Serve them with rice if you want a meal for less than $.25/person. But if you're, like, rich and stuff, you can serve them with tortillas and a little cheese, or maybe some salsa or garden tomatoes. Or sauteed peppers. Or whatever awesome summer veggies sound good. A whole pot of beans (4-8 servings) costs $.35-.40. That is $.05-.10/serving. This (with all due respect to those fabulously well-written Yahoo articles) is cheap. But it is still oh-so-good.

2. Lentils. They're a legume that's quick, cheap, and healthy. Not everyone loves them. Some people hate them. I believe that if there's a solution for that problem, it is this dal. I have tried dozens of dals and lentil soups, but this is the best I've found (by a good long shot in my humble opinion). Even my husband--a devout lentil hater--likes it. This comes up to about $.50/serving. Add a tortilla or somekindawonderful naan and you're up to a whopping $.60, you big spenders you. (And, yes, you will be full. And happy. And full. )

(Note: This is the Coconut Red Lentil Dal--it's my second favorite and it had prettier pictures.)

3. Eggs Eggs Eggs. You can eat them a billion ways. Recently I posted a Dutch Baby recipe, which is a fabulous way to dress them up, but these deviled eggs can't be beat either. Add a seasonal salad and you're set. Two deviled eggs (4 halves) are going to run you about $.20/serving. Add yourself a cucumber tomato salad and you're going to add another $.50 (with summer seasonal veggies). Note: I get that if you're a man or teenage boy, this might not tide you over, but it's pretty filling and satisfying for me. And there's always bread....(see number 5).

4. Potatoes. This is our favorite potato soup. And this one--a close second for me--has a potato base, but also boasts a whole lotta spinach. More spinach than the average American eats in a meal or likely a week. More spinach than the stereotypical poor person (should he or she actually exist) ever eats. And that for $.40/bowl.

5. Bread. Oh poor bread. It's gotten such a sad, bad name for itself in recent years. But bread is cheap. And it can be healthy. During the summer, after I've made some homemade jam (which I do once or twice a summer because I think it's fun and awesome), one of my favorite things in this world to do is to make a loaf of bread, eat it with some fresh jam, and a bowl of fruit thereby. It's like heaven on a table. It's like mid-summer Thanksgiving. We all love it. Bread is also a great receptacle for eggs, cheese, nut butters, and other healthy stuff. This 100% whole wheat bread is classic and delicious ($1.15/large loaf). Want one that's dumb easy (and doesn't require kneading of any sort)? Try this refrigerator bread ($.50/loaf). Or this one-hour bread ($.45/loaf).


  1. Very useful- lots of people in the UK are now struggling to afford food and have to use food banks. We always shop in Aldi, our local produce market, Asian shops and wholesale, plus we grow a lot of stuff and that's how we feed ourselves. I notice beans are pretty much the cheapest thing, and that meat and dairy don't really come into it!

  2. Hi! I just found your site. It is fabulous. You rock! You are saving my bacon this month. I just made naan and I can't believe there aren't any comments on that page lauding your fame. It was a couple years ago. Well, I will be back. Love, Paige



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