Thursday, January 21, 2010

Five Star Meals on a Two Star Budget

In an effort to save some pennies here and there, I have been really paying attention to the types of meals I've been making. Some recipes (like that Taco Soup) are incredibly cost-efficient because you can use store-brand products and save on top with extra-care cards. For example, I made that soup (12 servings), a fajita dinner for 4, and a big dessert for my coworkers, all for just $25 at Kroger YAY!!

Other recipes are more tricky because the ingredients are more specific than canned tomatoes or beans. A recipe with big cuts of meat, 8 different spices, and complex sauces are perfect for special meals, but might not fit into a weekly food budget otherwise.

But that doesn't mean you can't eat fantastic meals on a budget, too! It just takes a good eye and some practice. When I am flipping through food magazines or online sites like YumSugar, I try to eyeball the ingredients first so that I can gauge how much the meal might cost me. It takes some time, but it really pays off (literally). In general, I have noticed Cooking Light and Southern Living have good balances with simpler (and easier) recipes.

But then sometimes, you are at the store, and have no plans for dinner (even when you recipe plan, some nights you just need a random meal!). How can you budget for this on the fly? For me, I use the same technique, but keep it simple and stick to the basics, and things I know well. I knew we already had ground lean turkey, and so I did a quick mental search and decided Greek-style turkey burgers might be perfect, extremely healthy, and low-ingredient needy.

So we picked up fat free yogurt and cucumbers for a quick tzatziki sauce, tomatoes, sprouts, fat free feta, and green onions. Add in spices like garlic, dill, and oregano that we already had on hand, and all of that combined into a glorious but very healthy Mediterranean feast for 4, all for under $25.

What are your strategies when you are shopping on the fly? Do you have some go-to recipes you default to, if you are in the mood for something random and easy for dinner that night? I'd love to hear your tips!