Thursday, 04 August 2016 19:25

Best Foods That Go A Long Way To Stretch Your Budget

Always having foods that go a long way in your house is a good thing.

It doesn't matter whether you're rich or poor, having cheap food that goes a long way really can help anyone's budget when it comes to meal times with the family. Trust me, I have six in my house, and know how much the kids can eat!

What you really want to focus on when you're looking for cheap food are the items that give you a lot of product but for the lowest cost. In this day and age of fast everything, going back to the basics can be a bit challenging.

What Foods That Go A Long Way to Stretch Your Budget?

If you're a penny pincher and savvy spender like I am, you know as well as I do that the grocery bill is always one of the bigger monthly bills... But what if I told you that we have friends, Susan and Lester, that have honed the art to the point where they can make meals for less than $3 per person that really fill you up?

Susan's family was made up of herself, her husband and two boys, 11 and 13 years old. 

It always seemed like they had their head either in the fridge or rooting around for snacks in the pantry. Susan was a stay at home mom and her husband, Lester worked a decent job, bringing in about $1600 a week after taxes.

Lester loved to cook when he got home to decompress from the day at the office, and on most nights it was up to him to make dinner as the kids did homework and Susan worked on her novel she was writing at the time.

Now, Lester is a master at stretching the food budget.

He is able to make meals that would make rich folk drool, but behind the scenes, he does it for less than $5 per person a night as his self-imposed budget.

As I was preparing to create this blog, I spoke to him about how he did it, and that I wanted to know what he was doing, and how to prepare food so cheaply.

His immediate answer was, "You need to have two things: You have to know how to cook to some extent, and you need to be really creative."

I had brought some beer and cocktails over to his house in "payment" for this vital information, and after a good number of drinks, he divulged his secrets!

Always Plan Your Meal Around a Cheap Foundation Food.

A foundation food, as he explains it is a cheap food you can get a lot of in the grocery store for a very low price. He also explains that it's usually carb heavy and often starchy. His list of foundation foods is as follows:

  • White Rice - One of the cheapest foods per serving available in the world, and also one of the most versatile. Rice really fills you up too.
  • Egg Noodles - Also extremely cheap, noodles can be used in many different dishes, and a little goes a long way in filling the belly.
  • Dry Beans, lentils & Split peas - all of these are excellent in soups, and you can buy them really cheap. You have to soak them so you'd do that in the morning right before leaving for work, or call home and have your spouse start the soak about 5-6 hours before you intended to use them.
  • Ramen noodles - When purchased in a box of 12 or more, each pack is about 10 - 12 cents. Add meats, eggs or other tummy fillers to bolster the boring noodles with.

Tummy Fillers

Tummy fillers are the cheap foods that Lester says you can get cheaply and fill the tummy quite quickly and for a long time. Some of these items he says, you have to watch for sales on because at normal price, they would often throw him over his self imposed $5 limit.

  • Potatos - Perfect for both soups, as a stand alone item or as a suppement on the plate for another item, potatos are quite inexpensive and fill you up fast.
  • Eggs - Provided you eat dairy products, frying or scrambling eggs can really ad to and otherwise thin meal. Although they don't go with everything, you'd be suprised at what you can toss them into to add some weight.
  • Chicken (when on sale) - When there's a sale, Lester buys chicken. Usually the boneless breasts or drumsticks. Chicken is an "all purpose" meat and can be added (in moderation, Lester adds) to just about any dish to entice the kids.
  • Tuna - is a favorite, but not everything works with tuna. You have to do a bit of planning for what it's going to go with before using it.
  • Red Meat (when on sale) - Lester looks for the cheap cuts or even the fatty discards. They make great additives for soups and the fat adds to broths. Bottom round is usually what he finds on sale, and if it's cubed or in a soup, no one cares. He usually reserves red meat for stews and crockpot recipies.
  • Ground beef (80/20 when on sale) perfect for taco nights

Flavor Adds

The soup or dish may end up being very bland unless you have some of these items:

  • Salt and pepper - Two staples needed for just about everything. Both are very cheap, and add a lot.
  • Garlic - Great for just about everything too.
  • Cilantro - It's one of those cheap foods that are great when used right. Lester says he dries the cilantro and uses it as part of a homemade rub and marinate for meats.
  • Lemon juice - great for salads and quite cheap

Packets of the following are also helpful to have:

  • French onion soup (makes dips and soups)
  • Taco seasonings (hispanic seasonings in general)
  • Beef stew packets - easy and cheap base for many stews and soups

One of the best examples is that when Lester makes tacos, he mixes cooked white rice in with the beef to add more weight and also to use less beef. He says that it cuts the meat usage in half just by doing that.

He often puts rice in the bowl before adding a beef stew or other soup to again, add weight.

Spaghetti and sauce alone aren't as filling as doing it and adding either frozen veggies or ones from a can.

Fresh Fruits and Veggies

Lester mentions that he always keeps fruits and veggies in the house. Not usually a lot at a time, but a good, wide variety. When I was there, he showed me what he was stocking. His advice was to get small amounts of everything so that the food is used sooner and replenished. There are exceptions to the rule -- Things that are used very often (Potatos, Onions, Garlic and Green Peppers, for example). He mentions that if you want to be even more conservative, you can make a practice of only buying the items you need on a daily basis, and in very small quantities.

  • Apples, Oranges & Bananas
  • Onions & Garlic
  • Hot & Green pepers (they like spicy foods)
  • Cilantro, Basil and Thime
  • Lettuce
  • Tomatos
  • Cucumbers
  • Melon if it's in season 

In the end, Lester says that you really don't need a lot of food to make a great meal that sticks, you just need a basic sense of what works well together and the commitment to doing it.

Our $3 Ramen Meal

While I was there, Lester demonstrated his technique by making the best Ramen noodles from 25 cent packs I'd ever had. It was all very easy, and I have made it on quite a few occasions myself:

Preparation:

Dice a tablespoon's worth of onion for each bowl of Ramen you are making. Also dice cilantro, if desired. Chop green onion and pull out sesame seeds if you have them to sprinkle on top when done.

Next, take frozen beef or chicken and shave thin slices from each. The amount is up to you, and since they're such thin shavings, it really doesn't add up to too much from a cost perspective. You also will need one egg for every bowl.

Put a pot of water on the stove with the eggs for hadboiling. Bring a pot of water to a boil, then toss in the noodles. ** DO NOT put the flavor packet in yet!!! **

Add in the meat shavings, chopped round onion and cilantro. Do not put in the chopped green onion or sesame seeds

It takes about three or four minutes for the noodles to soften, but when they do, drain almost all of the water.

At this time, also remove the eggs and shell them. Put one egg in each bowl.

Back to the pot of noodles: You will want roughly a half cup of water for each bowl left in the bottom of the pot with the Ramen. Now add the seasoning packet. If you make two or more Ramen, Lester says add one whole packet, then add as needed. You don't want to overload on sodium, so keep tasting the noodles until the taste meets your expectations.

Put the Ramen in normal soup bowls along with roughly the half cup of water I mentioned above. Sprinkle a bit of green onion and the sesame seeds.

That's all you have to do. The meat cooks itself really quickly in in the boiling water before you pour it out, and the dinner just works. I'm not really sure why it does, but that was the best cheap ramen dinner I'd had ever. 

You get the idea, by now... whatever dish you make, you add a bottom layer of filler to add the weight and fill the stomach.