Preparing frugal meals doesn’t mean you have to serve your family low-quality meats like hot dogs and canned luncheon meats at every meal, and it doesn’t mean you have to limit yourself to rice and beans every time you sit down at the table either.
Frugal meals also don’t have to be boring or tasteless. By making smart choices at every meal, you can dramatically cut your food costs while still enjoying tasty, nutritious and fun meals.
Here are 10 ideas for reducing your food costs at every meal, every day. Take a few of these to heart and you’ll soon be the frugal meals king or queen of your neighborhood.
1. Reduce the amount of meat you serve. Your family probably won’t notice the difference if you cut the meat in your favorite casseroles by a third or even half. They might not even mind if each hamburger is an ounce smaller or each chicken cutlet is really a smaller piece pounded out to look like a bigger one. Meat is expensive, so reducing the amount of it you use is the simplest way to make your meals more frugal.
2. Make up the difference with filling and inexpensive starches. Yes, rice and beans fit the bill perfectly here, but so do many other things. Switch your usual half-pound burger patty for a smaller patty and add a bowl of pinto beans to your meal, for example. You can also serve a side of buttered pasta or rice pilaf to make sure you get full at every meal.
3. Try the cheapest version of everything. Frugal meals are sometimes exactly like your old meals except they are made from less expensive store-brand canned veggies, cheaper cuts of meat and economy-sized bags bought on sale. You’ll soon figure out when buying a name brand is really necessary to get good quality — and it almost never is.
4. Bring back some ramen. You may have given up packaged ramen noodles when you left college or got your first job, but they are much more versatile than many people realize. Drained ramen noodles make a quick and frugal substitute for spaghetti that tastes great. Noodles with their broth and seasoning can also be the base of a soup made from whatever leftovers are in the fridge.
5. Take advantage of doggy bags. Don’t leave leftover food behind when you eat out. Take home everything — even the chips and salsa or dinner rolls if you’re allowed — to use as a snack or an addition to the next day’s lunch. You’ll be surprised how much you can save. Leftovers fill you up just as much as fresh food, and no meal is more frugal than one you already paid for yesterday.
6. Make more soups. Soups are mostly water, and water is nearly free. That means a soup is an ideal frugal meal. Fill it out with leftover bits of meats and veggies or used canned items when you have nothing else.
7. Don’t forget the seasoning. Some frugal meals seem unappealing at first because they aren’t properly seasoned. Don’t be shy with dried herbs, spices and black pepper. Add in whatever seasoning you like to soups, pastas, grains and every other dish you serve. You deserve a meal that tastes great while it’s saving you money.
8. Have breakfast for dinner. Breakfast foods like eggs, grits and cold cereals can be inexpensive if purchased in bulk or on sale, so use up extras by serving breakfast for dinner. Since breakfast is many people’s favorite meal of the day anyway, you’ll surprise and satisfy the family.
9. Make a salad your main dish. With a base of fresh lettuces, you can get by with small amounts meats and veggies and still serve a nutritious and filling meal. And don’t worry about the high cost of salad dressing. Try some olive oil and lemon juice or thinned-down plain yogurt with salt and spices added instead of bottled dressing. You’ll be surprise how quickly a frugal meal can start to seem exotic and expensive.
10. Serve a mezza platter to your family and your guests. A mezza platter is a selection of meats, cheeses, breads, olives and other items served in small quantities. Things you’re wanting to get rid of from your refrigerator make a perfect mezza platter, and you may be able to create one for very little if you have things sitting around that wouldn’t have gotten used otherwise.
An Endless Array Of Ideas
It’s easy to get carried away listing out ideas for frugal meals. When you take a moment to consider what you usually serve yourself and your family, you’ll quickly realize that there are less expensive choices that can be just as pleasing as the ones for which you have paid a premium.
Congratulations on considering serving more frugal meals. You’re doing the right thing for your pocketbook — and for those in your family who would rather spend the money you have in other exciting ways.