We’ve been talking about Real Food on a Budget here on Modern Alternative Kitchen the last couple of weeks, including sharing one contributor’s average grocery prices.
Now, eating real food without spending a fortune is something we’re all interested in, no? But everyone’s prices are going to vary by area. (But yours might be better than you think — I’ve had readers local to me tell me they’re spending double what I do on some items because they didn’t know about all the same resources I do! Yes, I shared.) So instead of focusing on exact prices, today I’m going to tell you about 10 budget-friendly items that are staples in my home.
These are real food, not processed “budget” items. These are items that I buy fair amounts of each week and plan my meals around. They are foods that help me stretch out the more expensive items I buy. And they are items that should be available and fairly cheap in any area. Curious?
Every member of the family loves potatoes and we can cook them in lots of ways. I often cube them and fry them in beef tallow, make mashed potatoes (with lots of real butter and cream!), make scalloped potatoes, or cheesy potatoes. If you can’t tell, I add lots of fat to them in some form to make them healthier and stretch them even further.
Rice appears on our meal plan a couple times a week. We buy brown basmati rice, and we use it as side dishes, in soups, or even some main dishes, like Mexican rice. We usually cook it with chicken or beef stock, which increases its digestibility as well as the nutrition. A cup of uncooked rice can easily feed our family of 5 (as a side dish).
Carrots are incredibly cheap. We toss them in with roasts, in soups, or cook them with roast chickens. The kids also like to eat them raw for snacks. I use the peels and ends to make my stock more flavorful. All around, carrots are cheap and great.
We use celery very similarly to carrots. They go in soups or salads, or get eaten raw. The ends also go into making stock. If you make some homemade dip, this is a great snack or even quick lunch, paired with some raw cheese.
We usually choose garbanzo, black, and navy beans, but it really doesn’t matter what you choose. White navy beans are cheapest for me, and they’re GAPS-friendly, for those who have that concern. I can throw them in soups, add them to a Mexican rice dish, or even bake with them. I like to add them to salads everyday for some extra protein and general nutrition, which makes the salad practically a main dish. They’re super cheap, and super easy, especially if you soak and cook a bunch at once and freeze the extras.
Peas are near the bottom of the EWG’s pesticide-contamination list, meaning they don’t need to be organic. I buy regular old frozen peas — 2 to 4 lbs. every two weeks. I add them to soups, and I steam them and serve them with butter and salt as a side dish on a regular basis. If you like it, you can use them to make cheap split pea soup, too.
This is also near the bottom of the EWG’s pesticide list, so I buy these at regular grocery stores, too, 2 – 4 lbs. every two weeks. I steam it and serve with butter and salt, add to soups, or even make soups out of it, like broccoli-cheddar. You can make cheese sauce or toss it into broccoli-cheese dip if your family isn’t a fan of plain. Plus, broccoli is so healthy for you!
Onions are cheap, and they have so many uses. They can be tossed in with roasts, used to flavor soups, added to salads, sauteed with burgers, caramelized and added to various sandwiches…. Onions are a great way to flavor and add nutrition with very little expense. We go through a lb. or two a week, especially in the winter.
This isn’t something I buy, but it’s something I make, and use frequently. I plan bone-in meats and also buy additional bones so that I can make stock every couple of weeks. I go through an average of 4 – 6 quarts per week. Stock can be used to cook rice or pasta, make sauces or gravies, and of course make soup. Homemade stock is rich and full of nutrition, and it can really help to stretch the meat, like in my scrambled hamburger.
Oats are super cheap and can be used in a lot of different ways. We need to soak them or we can’t tolerate them, but one favorite use is in our oatmeal pancakes. The kids will easily eat 6 – 8 of them in a sitting! Plus they freeze well. We might do soaked granola bars for snacks, or honey-oat bread. Oats help stretch more expensive ingredients, and they’re very nutritious.
Additionally, we buy bananas, eggs, and other foods that are on sale or in season to keep costs down. Lettuce is cheap in the spring so we’ll have a lot of salads. Apples will be cheap in a month or two, and we’ll buy a ton (literally, we will buy over 100 lbs.!) and we’ll both make applesauce and let the kids eat them fresh. We bought quite a lot of blueberries when they were in season, and we’ll use them in smoothies in the winter (which are pretty cheap too!). Peaches are nearly in season. A lot of farmer’s markets have “seconds” available, produce that’s fresh but physically marred and very cheap. Buy this if you can find it and make it into a soup or salad or other food where appearance won’t matter. I’ll buy anything off the clearance rack that we will use!
With these foods, we can help keep our grocery budget down. We will include plenty of meat, cheese, raw milk, coconut oil, and all that good stuff too, but these foods help us stretch those more expensive foods.
What are your go-to budget items?
**This post is entered into Frugal Days, Sustainable Ways #38 and Frugal Friday.**
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