By Lisa Holcomb
Can you really feed your family healthy, well-balanced meals with cheap ingredients? You can if you keep these few ingredients on hand in your kitchen.
- Brown Rice. Rice is such a versatile ingredient and costs just pennies to serve. You can use it as filler for meatballs or meatloaf. Lots of recipes call for rice and any recipe that calls for white rice can be substituted with brown rice. Just remember that it takes longer to cook, so adjust cooking time accordingly. My family likes to eat rice for breakfast as well. Just fix it like you would any hot cereal with a little sweetener and milk.
- Dry Beans. Beans can be used in soups, with rice (red beans and rice), chili, casseroles, or as a side dish. A 16-oz package of dried beans usually costs less than a $1.50 at most grocery stores. You can cook what you need or cook the whole bag and freeze what you don’t need now.
- Pasta. Pasta comes in all shapes and different types of flours and what kid doesn’t love pasta? Add some tuna or a little ground beef with some sauce and you have a very inexpensive meal.
- Canned Tuna. You can keep cans of tuna in your pantry for up to three years. This lets you buy them on sale and keep them until you are ready to use them. One or two cans of tuna will go a long way to feeding a family of four to six. It’s also packed with protein. My kids love it when I add a can of tuna to a simple inexpensive box of macaroni and cheese for lunch. You can add tuna to pasta, salads, or casseroles. It’s much less expensive than beef.
- Eggs. Eggs are packed with protein and can feed a family of four to six for just pennies. Scrambled eggs for dinner or an omelet is a great way to make your groceries stretch.
- Peanut Butter. A jar of peanut butter can fix a whole bunch of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Have you tried grilled peanut butter and jelly sandwiches? Add a veggie and a glass of milk and you have a lunch or dinner any kid would probably love.
- Cabbage. Cabbage is usually cheap, yet it can be utilized for more things than people give it credit for. Nutritious and packed with vitamins, it’s perfect to have on hand.
- Canned Tomatoes. Canned tomatoes and tomato paste are inexpensive and often on sale and can be used to make inexpensive soups and stews.
- Spices. Keep plenty of spices on hand in your pantry. Spices go a long way to “enlivening” the flavor of whatever you might be cooking. Some stores sell spices in bulk, which can cut down on the overall price.
- Potatoes. Potatoes—both regular and sweet potatoes—are versatile and inexpensive. They can be used as a side dish, potato pancakes, or baked with leftovers as a topping. There are so many ways to cook up potatoes. A baked (you can even microwave) sweet potato for lunch is yummy, cheap, and nutritious.
Every family has their own favorite list of “cheaper” ingredients that they like to fall back on. Many of them can be bought in bulk and have a long shelf life or can be frozen and used at a later time.
Here’s a fun family dinner recipe from Build A Menu that only costs an average of $7 at most major grocery stores and serves four to six. Bon appétit!
8 eggs beaten
1 package pepperoni slices
1 cup pizza sauce
1 cup mozzarella cheese, shredded
Spread pepperoni slices in the bottom of a 10-inch skillet over medium heat. Beat eggs and gently pour over ingredients in skillet. Cover pan and turn heat to low. Cook 10–12 minutes until eggs are set. Spread pizza sauce over eggs and top with mozzarella cheese for the last couple of minutes cooking. Cut into wedges and serve.
Lisa Holcomb and her husband, Will, have six children (her oldest two children are married and have babies of their own) and live near Austin, Texas, with their four boys. Lisa is co-founder of Build A Menu and is known as the “Queen of Meal Time Makeovers.” She is an author, speaker, and an advocate for adoption, family nutrition, savvy grocery shopping, and family dinners.