Good and Cheap: Making Budget-Friendly Meals Deliciously Simple

By Micheline Hynes
Nutrition Services Manager, Tarrant Area Food Bank

Eating well on a tight budget can be tough—really tough. When you run out of money before the end of the month, it’s tempting to buy cheap, filling foods and pass on more nutritious items that don’t seem to fit the budget quite so well. Often, fruits and vegetables—especially fresh—can seem impossible to afford. Sometimes, it’s just difficult to tell what the best deal at a grocery store really is when it comes to similar foods.

Here are a few helpful strategies that will stretch your dollar:

  • Divide up your cash into an envelope for each week. You can do the same thing with SNAP benefits. Using only part of your monthly food budget each week can help ensure you are able to eat well all month.
  • Buy staples that can last multiple weeks, like rice, pasta, butternut squash, onions, carrots and frozen fruit.
  • Shop in season and buy from the bulk bins for the best prices. Remember, buying from bulk doesn’t mean you have to buy a lot at one time. Bulk spices can be bought for about 25 cents a bag as opposed to $3.50 or more for the same amount in a bottle or jar.
  • Get creative with leftovers. Last night’s pot roast will make delicious sandwiches today, and tonight’s leftover rice can become fantastic Fried Rice with Eggs and Veggies tomorrow. You won’t even feel like you’re eating leftovers.
  • If you receive SNAP benefits, you can use them to start your own garden. Any retailer that accepts SNAP and sells food-producing plants, like potted herbs or tomato seedlings, is authorized to accept SNAP for those plants. Learn more.
A Free Resource to Help You Get Started

Check out a fantastic resource that makes eating better on a budget even easier. “Good & Cheap: Eat Well on $4/Day” is a cookbook by Leanne Brown that is full of delicious, low-cost recipes and more. In the book, Leanne first provides tips for eating and shopping well to help people on tight budgets. She wanted to create a resource that would specifically help people living on a SNAP benefits budget.

Leanne’s book includes ideas on shopping strategically (like buying foods that can be used in more than one meal), a list of basics everyone should have in their pantry, what to do with leftovers and other helpful tips. Most importantly, she reminds us to think of adding vegetables to dishes as a way to enhance flavor, rather than just meet our nutrition needs.

The recipes deliver on flavor, too. With recipes as simple as Spicy Green Beans (Page 59), Leanne uses quick and simple cooking methods and some highly flavorful seasoning to make a winning side dish that costs about 65 cents per person. For a main dish, nothing could be easier than the Creamy Zucchini Fettuccine (Page 89). At $3.50 for a dinner that serves three, even an inexpensive boxed mix has a tough time beating the price.

Many of the recipes pull from a variety of cultural traditions, so there’s no chance of getting bored with the same old meals all the time. The book includes Southern favorites alongside Indian, German, Italian, a variety of Asian dishes and more.

Right now, take a moment to download your free copy of the book. After looking through just a few of the recipes and strategies in the book, you will likely feel inspired and ready to start cooking. If you’re not that comfortable in the kitchen yet, I suggest starting with the Roast Chicken recipe on page 121 and the Roasted Vegetables recipe on page 122. They’re both simple and the vegetable recipe gives you the chance to use what you have on hand already. You could even roast them together in the same pan.

How Tarrant Area Food Bank Can Help

If you’d like some help getting comfortable in the kitchen, TAFB offers Cooking Matters, a hands-on cooking-based nutrition class. Find our schedule on our Cooking Matters page. We also offer free gardening classes that will help you get your garden going. Find out more on our Community Garden page.

Most importantly, if you’re having a hard time getting food on the table, we’d like to help you. Tarrant Area Food Bank’s Social Services Specialists help families and individuals apply for food assistance, financial assistance and healthcare. You can also call us at 1-866-430-6143 for help with applying for assistance programs.