Cooking on a Budget: How to Eat Gourmet Meals on a Shoestring

by Michelle Guerrere

Let's be honest, with every new year come new concerns about saving for important events in the coming months. A down payment on a new place? Bolstering your 401(k)? Flights to your friend's destination wedding? Any goal can seem overwhelming. Then you check your favorite budget tracking apps and realize if you're going to make your financial dreams for the year come true, something has just got to give… and that something is your food spending. But what can you cut down on? Don't worry, we've laid out a few simple tricks for cooking on a budget below. You’ll be several steps closer to reaching your monetary goals for 2017 in no time.

Make a Shopping List—and Stick to It

Keep track of how many meals you will be preparing for the week and what you will be making (remember, don't factor in nights you have dinner plans). A detailed grocery list makes shopping a breeze and also saves you from making spur-of-the-moment purchases that are sure to up your bill. Side note: Never, ever go shopping hungry. 

Choose recipes with common ingredients 

Be conscious of trying out new recipes with tons of ingredients you don't have stocked in your pantry because a rare truffle oil or fancy spice is definitely not cheap, and you probably won't use it again for a while. Instead, build recipes around essentials you have on hand. Salsa chicken or salmon and vegetables grilled in olive oil are quick, healthy options that will help you cut down on your cost per meal. That being said, it's okay to splurge on new ingredients once in a while.

Slow Cook Tougher Meat Cuts

It's time to pull your slow cooker out of your hallway closet. Although chicken is cheap, meat lovers need a little variety.  Don't hesitate to purchase chuck roast or short ribs in lieu of steak; they are particularly tasty when roasted for hours in a slow cooker. 

Buy In-Season Fruits and Vegetables

You know you'll pay a premium for roses when they're not in bloom, and the same goes for your favorite fruits and veggies. Find out which crops are in season, and build your meals around them. If you're set on making something that's not in season, don't shy away from pre-frozen options or from freezing your own produce in advance when it is in season (just remember to blanch vegetables first). 

Freeze leftovers

It's easier and cost-effective to make a double batch of a meal. Since you won't want to eat the same thing all week, simply freeze extra portions that you can defrost when you're having a busy week. By that time, you'll likely have a taste for whatever it is you made again.

Repurpose your meals

We pick wardrobe essentials specifically because they work double-duty, and meal planning shouldn't be any different. Opt for meals like chili or roasted chicken, which—with a few simple ingredient additions—can be transformed into chili-topped nachos or cheesy chicken quesadillas later that same week. 

Try out new recipes

Cooking on a budget doesn't have to be boring, but it will be if you prepare the exact same things every week. If you need to get out of a food rut, start following food bloggers who specialize in budget-friendly meals on Instagram, or ask friends to share their top basic recipes. By mixing it up, cooking on a budget will seem less like a chore and more like a fun new experiment. 

How do you cook at home on a shoestring? Share your five-star tips with us below. 

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