Friday, March 22, 2013
I’m a bargain shopper, and I often search for cheap food. And yes, it does exist. I don’t like the idea of spending a small fortune on groceries every week just for survival. Don’t get me wrong – I love good food, and we don’t always eat cheap food. Sometimes we splurge on lobster, crab, and high quality steaks. That’s not to say that the two terms are diametrically opposed. Cheap food can be good food if you shop wisely and have some good cheap meal ideas. I sometimes enjoy the challenge of creating cheap meals, especially cheap and easy meals, although this isn’t always a simple task. We love meat, and meat is usually the priciest part of most meals. Turning cheap meat into tender, delicious meat is actually one of my kitchen specialties. If you want more information on cheap food and cheap meals, along with some cheap meal ideas, read on!
Cheap Food – Where to Find It
Does cheap food seem like an oxymoron to you? If so, you’re not looking in the right places! I’ll give you a prime example. You know those big beautiful red bell peppers that often cost $1 each in supermarkets? Well, I needed several of them for making some chow-chow a while back, but I just couldn’t bring myself to plop down the money for them in the grocery store. Instead, I visited a local ethnic farmers’ market in order to check their prices. I got a large bag of the peppers for just a buck! No, they weren’t as large or as attractive as the pricier peppers, but they actually tasted better.
Pick-your-own produce farms is often another source of cheap food. Even when large tomatoes were selling for about $1 each in our supermarkets, a local pick-your-own farm was selling a five-gallon bucket of tomatoes for just $5. And believe me, those tomatoes had a lot more flavor than the ones in the grocery store. I froze some of the tomatoes to use in soups, stews, and sauces.
You can also find cheap food in grocery stores. Check the discount bins. Just be sure to check the expiration dates. When you find a good sale on canned goods, stock up. We turned one of our closets into a pantry so that we could take advantage of sales and discounts, and it’s helped us save a bundle on groceries. When I discover great sales on canned goods, sugar, cooking oil, and dried beans, I buy in bulk.
What about cheap meat? Some markets also have a discount meat section, where they sell meats, poultry, and fish that are soon reaching their expiration dates. If the meat hasn’t been previously frozen, you can buy it and store it safely in your freezer. Of course, if you’re going to cook it and eat it that day or the next, you don’t need to freeze it.
Cheap meat isn’t just about the expiration date – it’s also about the specific cuts of meat you choose. Too many consumers confuse price with nutrition. For example, is there really a lot of nutritional difference between chicken breasts and chicken thighs, even though breasts are much more expensive? The same generally holds true for cuts of beef and cuts of pork.
Cuts of Beef
When it comes to cuts of beef, some consumers are almost clueless. They might think that because prime Angus ribeye steaks are expensive, they provide the most nutritional value. Of course, that’s simply not true. In fact, cheap cuts of beef often have less fat or “marbling” than the leaner cuts have. With ground beef, it’s just the opposite. Lean and extra-lean ground beef contain less fat than regular ground beef, but does that make it a better value? Probably not. The leaner the ground beef, the more water it contains, so instead of paying for fat, you’re paying extra for more water. If I’m using crumbled ground beef in a recipe, I usually rinse the cooked meat with hot water to remove some of the fat. A pound or two of a cheap meat like hamburger can go a long way, especially when it’s used in dishes like soups, chili, and spaghetti.
For steaks, chuckeye steaks are cheaper than sirloin, ribeye, strips, T-bones, and Porterhouse. They can, however, be cooked successfully on the grill with a little work on your part. Flank steaks and skirt steaks are two more examples of inexpensive steaks for grilling. You just need to know how to tenderize meat.
Use some common sense when shopping for cuts of beef. For example, let’s say you want to make beef stew in the slow cooker. All meat stew beef is more expensive per pound than chuck roast at your market. Buy the roast, take it home, and cut it into cubes yourself. If you want country fried steak and discover that chuck steak is cheaper than cubed steak, buy the cheaper cut of meat and pound it with a meat mallet. If you want roast beef, choose a brisket or pot roast.
Cuts of Pork
Pork can be an example of cheap meat, too, but you need to be familiar with the different cuts of pork. The tenderloin is usually the most expensive, followed by the loin and its cuts. Cheap cuts of pork include sausage, neckbones, and cuts from the shoulder. Instead of cooking a loin roast, cook a Boston Butt. Instead of baking a ham, bake a picnic, which is a cured pork shoulder. Use pork shoulder steaks instead of pricey pork chops. Barbecue country-style ribs instead of baby back ribs. If you regularly substitute cheaper cuts of pork for more expensive ones, it won’t take long for the savings to rack up.
Cheap and Easy Meals
Cheap and easy meals are entirely possible. Most people eat a lot more meat than they actually need. Try making the largest portion of your meals focused on cheap food like pasta, rice, potatoes, and vegetables. Use the meat as sort of a “side dish.” Below are some cheap and easy meals I make:
Cheap and Easy Meals
· Hamburger-vegetable soup
· Chicken and dressing (1 can chicken, 1 can chicken broth, 1 box stuffing mix, chopped onion)
· Sausage, red beans, and rice
· Slow cooker beef stew
· Baked chicken leg quarters
· Pork neckbones and rice
· Chicken-broccoli casserole (from canned chicken)
· Homemade chicken soup (from canned chicken)
· Salmon croquets (from canned salmon)
· Broiled/grilled tilapia (on my George Foreman grill)
Cheap Healthy Meals
Cheap healthy meals are sort of a no brainer. Generally speaking, the most expensive part of any meal is the protein, which is neither cheap nor healthy – if you eat too much of it. Add a few meatless meals to your menu. Instead of meat, try using dried beans, egg whites, small amounts of cheese, or fish. All of these are high in protein and are cheaper than meat.
I make many cheap and healthy meals from tilapia fillets. Most of the time, tilapia is the cheapest fish I can find in our supermarket, and it can be used in several ways. It only takes a few minutes to cook on my George Foreman. The fillets can also be baked, pan broiled, fried, stuffed, or used in seafood casseroles, fish tacos, and fish chowders.
Cheap healthy meals can also include chef salads and whole wheat pasta salads. Include some fresh veggies, low fat cheese, a little turkey or tuna, boiled eggs, fresh tomatoes, and low fat or fat-free dressing. You’ll fill up on the fiber and still have enough protein to keep you full for several hours.
Clear soups make cheap healthy meals, too. Use chicken broth, beef broth, fish broth, or vegetable broth as your base. Add lots of veggies, some brown or white rice, and plenty of herbs and spices for flavor. If you use legumes in the soup, you might not even need to add meat.
Cheap Meal Ideas
Unless you’re a vegan or a vegetarian, you probably want cheap meal ideas that include some type of flesh or other animal products. When you’re shopping for meat, don’t be swayed by the total price of the item. Instead, look at the price per pound and the price per serving. Take a ham, for instance. When they go on sale, they’re a good value. Because of their weight, the price might look expensive, but think how many cheap meals you can get from a single ham. Even if you don’t have the ham sliced by the butcher, you can stretch a ham a long way. Bake it, and slice the leftover ham. Place the slices into freezer bags for future meals. With what’s left, cut it into cubes for ham salad, casseroles, omelets, and for seasoning vegetables and legumes. Don’t toss out the bone! Boil it for delicious soup stock.
A whole turkey is another good example. When they go on sale, you get a lot of lean meat for your buck. Bake, roast, or fry the bird and eat on it for a couple of days. Freeze the leftovers for turkey sandwiches, turkey salad, casseroles, and other cheap meal ideas.
According to my husband, the best cheap meal ideas are based on dried beans. He loves pinto beans, lima beans, and great northern beans. These make cheap and healthy meals that are high in protein and fiber, while being low in fat.
I’ve already provided you with several ideas for cheap dinners, but what if you don’t have time to cook? Can you get cheap dinners on the go? Consider this: one day a week, a local deli sells eight pieces of fried chicken for $3.99. I can warm up some green beans and make some instant mashed potatoes in just a few minutes to serve with the fried chicken.
Another day a week, a different deli sells their whole rotisserie chickens for $3.99 each, and I sometimes center cheap dinners around the roasted chicken. I can toss a couple of potatoes in the microwave and warm up some veggies, and we have a complete meal.
We also have a local pizzeria that sells medium pizzas for $5 each – enough to feed me, hubby, and the two grandkids. The pizzas are hot and ready at the drive-through. I usually toss a quick salad to go with the pizza, and I serve fruit juice to drink. With these cheap dinners, we get calcium, vitamin C, carbs, fiber, veggies, and protein.
Cheap Meals for Two
I make a lot of cheap meals for two. I feed two of my grandkids dinner three nights a week, but for the rest of the week, it’s just me and the old man. After rearing three kids, it was hard for me to adjust to cooking for just two people, but it’s easy for me now.
Several of my cheap meals for two are made with canned chicken. I use it in casseroles, pasta salads, and chicken salad. The same goes for canned tuna. I can make a big bowl of tuna salad from one small can of tuna, along with chopped eggs, celery, pickles, and chopped apple.
This might surprise you, but cheap meals for two can even include shrimp. I can get a small bag of shrimp for under $5. Yes, the shrimp are tiny, but they’re already peeled and deveined, and the tails have been removed. I sometimes make fried popcorn shrimp from them. They can also be used in stir-fries, shrimp fajitas, quesadillas, shrimp Creole, and shrimp salad.