What are your best low-cost quick meal ideas?

We like to eat well, but will be cutting back on the finances this fall. Thanks for any input!

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Trena Heinrich
Trena Heinrich July 19, 2013

Beans and rice. I use dried black beans to avoid the BPA in the cans and to save a few dollars. Soak them overnight and cook them in homemade vegetable or chicken broth. I keep mine frozen for easy quick meals. Throw in a few fresh herbs from the garden if you have them. I use rosemary, thyme, oregano, and bay. A quick pickle does wonders. I've been making refrigerator pickles lately from baskets of hot pickles I get for $3 at the farmers market. Put pepper slices in white wine vinegar and a pinch of salt. This in my opinion makes the beans and rice sing. Also I put the rice over the beans so that I can put a nice pat of butter on top. Sea salt to taste. Delicious and cheap.

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Sam1148
Sam1148 July 19, 2013

Learn to break down a chicken.
Another tech for a whole chicken for lunches for a week is poaching a chicken.
Use this Chinese method to make moist poached chicken.
Use a very large stock pot that will cover the bird by about 3 inches.
Fill with water and add some salt, onion, celery, carrot, one or two cloves of garlic.
Bring that to a boil.
Put in the bird (after your removed the giblet bag) and bring the pot back to a boil. TURN OFF THE HEAT and Cover.
Wait 1hr.
The tech here is prevent overcooking the bird--which results in dry tasteless chicken. The thermal mass of the water once brought to a boil will cook the chicken to safe zone without drying it out.

The chicken is now perfectly cooked and get your hands dirty now, because you go at the bird pulling off meat and putting it in tupperware.
That's used for:
Chicken Salad, Cold lettuce salads, Addition to stir fries, Thai Salads, Tacos, Soups (added at the end of soups), Chicken tetrazzini, addition to Mac and Cheese...etc..etc.
Now..go back to the stock pot and either pour off some of the water or reduce the liquid amount. Add back in the bones and skin from the picked over carcase; and a bit more onion, flavor aromatics like celery, etc.
This makes a basic chicken stock.

So with one bird, you have several meals and bonus of chicken stock.
put the skin in there too and the wing tips...put the stock pot in the 'fridge so the fat forms a disk on the top which is easy to remove.
Then store the stock.

Also..I use gloves when handling chicken etc. Not needed but makes your more comfortable so invest a box now before you budget crunch.

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Sam1148
Sam1148 July 19, 2013

My other budget tip is to shop at ethnic markets for few staples.
Soy sauce, rice, rice paper wrappers, rice noodles.
All much cheaper at a Asian Market.

Mexican Markets are great for Veggies..limes, lemons, avacado are very cheap there. It can be a bit daunting at the meat counter to order roasts etc as they're often sliced to order raw.
Indian Markets will have cheap spices. Often some health food stores will have bulk spices that you measure and bag yourself---instead of paying 4 bucks for a Supermarket spice of dill weed, it'll be 50 cents.
And also shop at other places that use Generic or store brands.
Aldi is good--invest in some canvas bags as they don't supply bags.
They have a pretty good produce section.

And before you "Crunch" a Needle tenderizer can turn a cheap cut of meat into tender---especially good for pot roasts and braised cuts.
http://www.google.com/imgres...

I got mine from Acadamy sports in the BBQ section for about 18 bucks.
I use it a lot. A cheap generic steak pounded and poked. (ahhem)..will make a nice 'country fried' steak. White gravey with the pan drippings please.

Another good investment from an Asian store is powdered "Dashi" stock powder for Miso Soup, and Miso; I find the dark miso is more Versatile.
Although the starup cost for "Miso Master" brand is about 8 bucks--but miso lasts years in the fridge.

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drbabs
drbabs July 19, 2013

Frittata. (I made this for dinner tonight.) I basically sautéed and sweated a whole mess of vegetables until they were cooked down and caramelized, then scrambled some eggs and poured the eggs over the vegetables, covered it, and and cooked it over low heat for about 10 minutes. (I added some fresh herbs, too.) You could also grate in a little of your favorite cheese (cheese isn't cheap, but you can use a little as a flavor enhancer).

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girlwithaknife
girlwithaknife July 19, 2013

Agree w/ above. Eggs are easy and cheap. Think breakfast for dinner. Put a fried or boiled egg on anything -- salad, toast, fried rice.

Also, I discovered white beans (I've only tried cannellini). SO tasty. They are always in my pantry now so I don't have anything to defrost when it's 6pm and I don't know what to make. Dice and saute a spring onion, then throw in a can or two of the beans, some salt, pepper, whatever herbs you want (I used a seasoning blend), and olive oil. Then turn the heat to low, and while you're finishing your prep, they just cook themselves into deliciousness. It takes 15 min from dice to eat. I put them on toast, crackers (just mash them a little and they are like a creamy spread), salad, tomato soup, etc. You will want leftovers for this but not have any.

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Sam1148
Sam1148 July 20, 2013

Well..this might not be super budget. As it depends on Hosin sauce, and a rotisserie chicken.

Get a rotisserie chicken from the supermarket. Cut it in half and brush the skin with hosin sauce. Broil the bits until the skin crisps.
Chop up some green onions while that's happening and steam some flour tortillas. (If you haven't guessed--we're going Mock Peking Duck here).

Then serve the chicken with more hosin sauce chopped up in steamed (or microwaved steamed with wet paper towels for 30 second).
And brush with sesame oil and place the tortillas 'face to face' before steaming or nuking them.
So you have a Mock peking duck...with sesame flavoed wrappers, crispy skin chicken. green onion in a wrap.
Suppliment with a Egg drop soup...and rice. Egg rolls...you might have made the week before using ground pork--which you ground yourself in a food processor, and veggies and cabbage..and wrapped and frozen. Bake or fry to serve.

The rotisserie chicken isn't a major 'saver item' as it's pricy...but save all the bone for stock with that; and use half the meat for the above suggestion and the other half for salads tacos etc.

The other Budget thing..is Do Not Buy Box dinner stuff. Shake and Bake you cam make your own with some corn flakes, or panko bread crumbs seasoned with Salt, garlic and onion powder, paprika, thyme, oregano, and flour and table spoon of cornstarch...and put in paper bag and "Shake and Bake".

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Kristen W.
Kristen W. July 20, 2013

Fresh pasta is also super-cheap to make -- just flour and eggs. You can even hand roll it if you haven't got the funds for a pasta machine (though it's pretty labor-intensive that way). Toss with fresh tomatoes and some torn basil -- simple, elegant, and good. If you want cheese, pecorino romano is cheaper than parm and works great here. Pasta is of course also a great vehicle for using up whatever leftover veg is sitting in the crisper, which can be economical as well. Also, that frittata idea -- which I like very much -- can be done in a homemade tart shell (also cheap to make -- just flour, butter, and water): sauté some veg, put veg in bottom of raw tart shell, pour eggs mixed with pecorino (or omit cheese if too expensive) and S & P over it, and bake at 375 for 25-30 minutes. Serve with a green salad -- yum! Rice bowls with a fried egg on top are also another good way to clean out the fridge and eat well on a budget.

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lloreen
lloreen July 20, 2013

Lentil and veggie soup. It doesn't sound so appealing in July, but in October or November, nothing is as cheap, healthy, and delicious. Actually, soups in general are great for cost saving because you can "stretch" them by adding a potato or other starch and the hot broth is very filling too.

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pierino
pierino July 20, 2013

Burritos are cheap and need contain nothing much more than beans, rice, grated cheese and salsa. See "How to make any burrito..." in the "Not Recipes" feature. Okay, I admit I wrote it.
Get to be friends with offal. Tripe, the third stomach of your favorite ruminant, is delicious when properly cooked. So is calf liver.
Another cheap, guilty pleasure is Korean style ramen noodles. I like Shin Ramyun Black. A package will cost about $1.79 and with some kimchi on the side will feed two.

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aargersi
aargersi July 20, 2013

There was a whole contest theme around this - I would browse the entries!

http://food52.com/contests...

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petitbleu
petitbleu July 21, 2013

Dried beans and grains, chicken, eggs. I wholeheartedly agree with Sam--shop at ethnic markets, and go for the bulk bins. Turn a roasted chicken into several meals, then stock. Find cheaper cuts of meat, which often have better flavor than expensive cuts, and learn how to cook them well. Stretch your meat budget by having smaller amounts and using meat as flavoring as opposed to the star of the show (we love Asian-style rice or noodle bowls for this reason). Throw away as little as possible (beet greens, carrot tops, parmesan rinds, pickle juice, bones, etc.). Cooking on a tight budget is a good challenge, and your cooking skills will improve as you rise to that challenge.

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Valerie Stivers
Valerie Stivers July 21, 2013

I find the whole-chicken method to be one of those money-saving solutions that sounds better than it is, since it relies on me being organized and forward-thinking and actually using the whole thing efficiently. A better money-saver for me is going with the less-expensive cuts of meat, which I can buy as needed in smaller quantities. The chicken thigh/leg packs are much cheaper than breast and tastier anyway for anything that asks for breast. And my store sometimes seems like it's giving away "country style" boneless pork ribs for, like, $3.50 a pack. Those are great pounded flat, saltnpeppered, and fried in butter/oil. And beef chuck packs plus marrow bones are the affordable base for all Russian soups. My store also sometimes has half-pound containers of fresh chicken livers for a steal, though I don't know what I'd do with that much liver, I'm often tempted to figure it out because it's such good value. Another thing that's obvious but always amazes me is how cheap bulk organic oatmeal is. Your whole family can have an amazing breakfast for under $1. I pulse my oatmeal for a few seconds in the Magic Bullet and cook it in water with a splash of milk, and it's to die for.

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London_Eats
London_Eats July 22, 2013

I find bean stews are filling, cheap and delicious. Use dried beans, but cook WAAAAAAY more than you think you will need - you can freeze the extras in bags to use when you're in a bit of a rush.

My favourite recipe is to sautee some onion in olive oil, add garlic and ginger if using, then add various spices (chili, coriander, cumin, caraway, nigella, oregano, turmiric, mustard seeds...), fry briefly, then add water (not stock) and beans. Simmer slowly for around 30 mins, then add tomates and salt/pepper to taste. Simmer until the sauce is thick and the beans tender. Great topped with natural yoghurt and some strong cheese (cheddar or feta).

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WannabeBaker
WannabeBaker July 26, 2013

I'm on the whole-chicken bandwagon, too. I love to get raw one, roast it and shred the all the meat off of it. I usually can get enough meat for two meals from it - chicken quesadillas, mac and cheese with chicken in it, chicken and pasta with pesto, buffalo chicken sandwiches, chicken salad, etc. Then I use the carcass to make chicken stock, which is much cheaper than buying from the store. It's really easy to do.

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