In today's economy sometime we need to make ends meet by cutting out the fat. Clever food reference aside, a lot of people have to save money by cutting down their food budget. Whether you have been recently laid off, fresh out of college with a entry level job and a mountain of loans, or trying to carve your way out with a part time job until you find your real calling the best way to save a little money is to prepare foods on a budget.
An important tip for eating on the cheap is to remember that meat is expensive. It is best to avoid steaks and other prime cuts of meat to save money. Try to focus your meals more on grains and vegetables like they do in poorer countries. However, do not cut meat out all together. I mean, you can if you want, but dramatically cutting out all meat can give people what is referred to as the "meat crazies." People start to crave a hot bloody steak after denying themselves meat and it can lead to surprising irritability and splurging. Make sure to include at least one cheap source of protein in your meals.
If there is one cheap food that you can always count on to be cheap, it is pasta. Meat fluctuates in price as does milk, but pasta mostly stays the same price -- Cheap. A box of pasta, can of sauce, and bag of mozzarella cheese will cost you about $5 dollar and will feed two people for two meals.
My favorite recipe is Mostacholli. This involves penne pasta (sometimes the noodles at even labeled as 'Mostacholi noodles'), mozzarella cheese, ground beef, and sauce. Boil the noodles and in a separate pan brown the ground beef. Drain the ground beef and mix the sauce in. Combine the sauce and beef with the drained penne pasta and mix in the cheese. Now you have a delicious and cheap meal.
An even cheaper meal is spaghetti. A simple spaghetti is just noodles and sauce. However, it can really become bland if you eat it too often. I know how bland it can get, I spent a whole year eating spaghetti for almost every meal because I got a bunch of it for free from working at a Boy Scout Camp Kitchen. There is an endless amount of things you can do with a box of spaghetti noodles. Try using alfredo sauce instead of tomato sauce. Use melted butter and parmesan cheese and eat them for a flavorful pasta snack.
Another popular and cheap pasta dish is macaroni and cheese. The boxed stuff in the store is plenty cheap, but you can make more and spend less by making it the somewhat homemade way. Buy elbow macaroni and some velvetta cheese. You will also need some milk. Cook the elbow macaroni and strain, do not run cold water over it. Cut your velvetta into cubes and stir it in until it begins to melt. Turn the heat back on and stir in 1/4 cup of milk, this will make the cheese melty and cover the macaroni.
If you are in a country that does not have velveeta cheese, replace with real cheese but shred it so it melts easier. You should also be thankful, velveeta is one of the many reasons some Americans are fat
Tortillas are another great base for cheap meals. You can oven bake a tortilla shell and cover it with pizza toppings for a cheap and crunchy thin crust pizza. You can also cut up tortilla and oven bake them for homemade nacho chips.
Tortillas are also used for another famously cheap food, tacos. With some ground beef, lettuce, tomato, and cheese you have a nice meal. For some extra texture, try frying some tortilla up in oil. Make sure you fold them into tacos while they are still warm because they harden as they cool. If you cook them for just long enough, they make a pleasant gordita like shell. If you are looking for something healthier, bake them and put all your taco ingredients into a taco salad.
Potatoes are a great hearty food that you can use for a lot of meals to give make them more filling. A bag of potatoes will only cost you about $2 dollars and you can last for a good month. Mashed potatoes, scalloped potatoes, baked potatoes, you have a side for every occasion.
Chop up some potatoes, add some stew meat, add a can of cream of mushroom soup and you have an amazingly hearty and delicious meal that will fill you for awhile.
Even better, buy a block of curry seasoning and some stew meat. Brown the meat, add the potatoes, curry block, and a couple cups of water (so that it covers everything) and you have a fantastic beef curry to serve over rice. I do not know what it is about curry, but there is just something about it that fills you up fast. You will almost always have leftovers with curry because people get so full so fast.
Try mashing up your potatoes and making a Shepherd's Pie (though technically it's a Cottage pie, Shepherd's Pie is made with lamb). Brown the hamburger and drain. In a casserole dish, later green beans and corn, top that with the hamburger, and top the hamburger with mashed potatoes. Baked for 20 minutes at 300 degrees.
These are all the other cheap eats that do not fall into other categories
If you want a cheap source of protein, then canned tuna is the way to go. You can bake it into casserole, eat it on a sandwich with mayo, pickles, onions, and/or cheese, or eat it on crackers. It is a great lunch or snack food but can serve as a dinner food in a pinch.
Beans are cheap whether you buy them dried or in cans. However, if you buy them dried you can get a lot more for a lot less. The key is to soak them in water overnight or for a few hours before cooking. You can use beans in a variety of soups or stews to make them heartier or use them to make a fine chili. You can even use them to stretch a little bit of pork for a meal.
Not exactly a very healthy meat option but they are cheap and you can make a good meal out of them with some chili or just condiments. You can cut them up and put them in beans or even spaghetti to give those dishes a little bit of meat to them.
Some fruit may seem like it is excessively expensive, but if you buy the fruits that are in season, they will be significantly cheaper. Check up on what is in season before going to the store and maybe make a nice fruit salad or add them to dishes. Fruit is a good option from breakfasts and lunches to give you good healthy energy for the day.