You want to save money. You want to serve healthy, tasty, exciting meals. And you would prefer not to spend your whole life either at the grocery store or in the kitchen. It’s a familiar story: After all, most of us are juggling work, family, friends, chores, pets, and other responsibilities, along with the daily requirement to feed ourselves and those in our care. Saving money is a top priority for most of us these days. So does this mean you are doomed to a life of frugal classics like tater-tot casserole? No! There are so many creative frugal meal options to keep a family full.
During times of financial stress, the food budget is usually one of the first things to come under scrutiny, and while there may be money to be saved, it’s also important to understand all of the lending options and solutions that may be available to you to help make ends meet. The following sites are stuffed full of frugal recipes that use healthy, interesting ingredients to turn out great meals on the cheap. They are also full of ideas for how to tackle grocery shopping, meal planning, and meal prep so that preparing food doesn’t take up too much time or cost too much money.
Beth Moncel started Budget Bytes in 2009, two years after she graduated from college with a degree in nutritional science. She was struggling to pay her bills and manage her student loan debt on her entry-level salary. Needing to cut her food budget but unwilling to commit to a life of ramen noodles, she began tracking her food costs, looking to identify areas where she could painlessly cut food costs. Using the data she collected, she focused her menu (and her dollars!) around the foods that provided the best nutritional bang for her buck. She shared her journey on her blog. Moncel has published a cookbook, Budget Bytes: Over 100 Easy, Delicious Recipes to Slash Your Grocery Bill in Half, and developed a Budget Bytes mobile app.
The Budget Bytes website offers a variety of recipes, meal prep plans, one-pot meals, budgetary challenges, and tips for kitchen efficiency. The Budget Byting Principles are vital to the website’s ethos of eating well on little money:
- Plan your meals
- Use ingredients wisely
- Control portions
- Don’t be afraid of leftovers
- The freezer is your friend
- Shop wisely
With a database of recipes going back a decade, Budget Bytes has a comprehensive listing of budget-friendly recipes embracing a variety of flavor profiles and levels of difficulty. Each recipe comes with an estimate of how much it will cost to make.
The 99 Cent Chef launched in 2007. Unlike most other food bloggers, Billy Vasquez avoided sharing his biography or even his reasoning for why he was launching the blog. Instead, he shared pictures of the fresh blueberries and pancake mix he scored at his local 99-cent store for his first post. That’s what sets Vasquez and his blog apart from other frugal cooking sites: He sources ingredients that cost 99 cents or less! A lot of his shopping is done at his local 99-cent store. He also scours grocery flyers to identify great deals on fresh produce, meat, and bulk items and shops at local ethnic markets for inexpensive foods. And he’s not eating trash: Julia Child inspired some of his recipes, and Vasquez enjoys figuring out how to make expensive classic dishes or overpriced restaurant meals cheaply. How is this possible? By substituting less expensive ingredients, like chicken leg quarters, for pricey components like duck confit. Vasquez’s blog has been featured by media outlets like Time, NBC, NPR, Rachel Ray Everyday, The Huffington Post, and Saveur. Here’s a small sampling of the recipes available:
- Pork Bourguignon (inspired by Julia Child’s beef Bourguignon)
- Lamb Curry With Vegetables
- Black Pepper Chicken (inspired by Panda Express)
The trade-off for saving money is usually investing your time. For sporadic chores, like cleaning the gutters or changing your oil, that’s an easy enough trade-off. However, feeding your family every day is different: Saving money by increasing your meal-prepping responsibilities is an everyday time-suck that could quickly turn untenable. That’s where Jessica at Good Cheap Eats comes in. Jessica needed to save money on groceries but also had six kids and a busy life. So she developed grocery shopping, meal planning, and meal-prep systems that allowed her to save money and her family to eat good food while keeping cooking (and all the other work of food preparation) from taking up too much of her time. These systems will help you avoid all-too-common nightmares, like lugging the entire family through the grocery store at dinner time because of poor planning. Sign up for her newsletter and receive a free guide, Slash Your Grocery Spending in 7 Easy Steps. Or just take advantage of her blog archives. The recipes are divided into easy-to-navigate categories such as breakfast, lunches, main dishes, beef, meatless, beans, pasta, pizza, side dishes, bread, dessert, slow cooker, etc., making it easy to find recipes that fit your budget and needs. There’s also information about making freezer meals and 30-minute meals for the days when you need dinner on the table fast. Here are a few great recipes to try:
- Hands-Free Cashew Chicken
- Slow Cooker Beef Ragu With Mushrooms and Peppers
- Grilled Vegetable Couscous Salad
Cheap Recipe Blog’s Haley is determined to make sure you know that eating cheaply doesn’t mean you have to eat boringly! A self-described foodie who says her obsession started as a small child, Haley, and her blog have been profiled in Betty Crocker, Buzzfeed, The Penny Hoarder, The Today Show, Country Living Magazine, and other publications. Along with recipes, the blog contains posts on what the best deals are at various grocery stores, cheap appetizer ideas, how to save money by eating out of your pantry, and the top cheap ingredients you should have in your kitchen. Want to put together a frugal charcuterie board? She has a plan for that. The recipe index is easy to navigate and lets you look for recipes either by course or by ingredient. The recipes cover everyday needs from cheap, tasty casseroles to knock-off Japanese steakhouse dipping sauce. Try these:
Don’t live in New York? Don’t worry. Cathy Erway’s blog, first launched back in 2006, is filled with frugal ideas for all home cooks, no matter where they live. What will ring true for most people who live in restaurant-rich areas is how easy it is to NOT cook at home. When takeout, food trucks, drive-thrus, and neighborhood restaurants abound, cooking can take a back seat to convenience. For two years, Erway refused to eat food from restaurants and stretched her definition of “homemade” to include foraging, food events, and Dumpster-diving. These experiences inform the early years of the blog and are the basis for her first book, The Art of Eating In: How I Learned to Stop Spending and Love the Stove. She still regularly posts tips and stories about choosing to eat at home versus eating out. Her time in the kitchen inspired her to revisit her roots, and she published her second book, The Food of Taiwan, in 2015. Erway is up-front about the fact that she’s a home-trained home cook who makes the recipes featured on the blog in her small apartment kitchen. These factors didn’t stop her from winning the James Beard Award in the home cooking journalism category in 2019, taking home the prize for an article about chicken salad. Her work has been featured by Martha Stewart, The New York Times, Refinery 29, Buzzfeed, and More Magazine (among others). She also hosts a podcast called Eat Your Words. How will Not Eating Out in New York help you save money? Recipes developed and cooked in a small city kitchen are realistic and achievable in most home kitchens, and Erway’s honest talk about how to avoid the temptation of takeout will ring true for many people. She also posts a cost calculator laying out exactly what her recipes cost, meaning you won’t be in for any surprises at the grocery store. Try these, for example: