Soy-Glazed ChickenFor our June story, Delicious $3 Dinners, we developed dinner recipes that cost just a few bucks per serving. When we first started brainstorming ideas for this story, there were some obvious budget-minded ingredients that we turned to, but there were also some surprisingly inexpensive ingredients we grew to rely on as well.
Here are some of our favorite wallet-friendly ingredients:
Cabbage and Celery: For cool crunch and freshness cabbage and celery were our go-to ingredients. The cabbage was the perfect base for fuss-free salads and slaws, while easy-to-prep celery was a great way to lighten any dish with its refreshing, mild flavor.
Zucchini: While it didn't surprise us too much that cabbage and celery were inexpensive, the low price of zucchini was a pleasant discovery, a great example of how at-its-peak produce is often the cheapest option at the store.
Chicken Legs: The continuously high demand for chicken breasts makes chicken drumsticks and thighs the less expensive option. Get them as leg quarters (drumstick and thigh still attached to each other) and the price drops even lower, which is just fine by us since those parts are also the juiciest and tastiest for summer grilling.
Beer Brat SkewersSausages: Cheap, delicious, easy to cook, great for grilling, and versatile, what more could you ask for?
Related: Our Easiest-Ever Pasta Dinners
Canned Beans: Canned beans are often the poster children for budget cooking and there's a reason. They're inexpensive, readily available, nutritious, and filling. If you ever get sick of the same ol' beans, try expanding your bean repertoire. If you love black beans, try pink; they have a similar thin skin and creamy interior. A fan of kidney beans? Try just-as-meaty pinto beans. Love chickpeas? Experiment with canned black-eyed peas for a similar dense bite.
Rice and Pasta: Both are low-maintenance crowd-pleasers that play well with tons of different flavors making them perfect for summer. We love these two starchy staples in summer salads or as quick and easy sides to grilled meat. Plus, the wide range of pasta shapes and types of rice (my faves are basmati, jasmine, and short-grain brown rice) means you'll never get bored.
Related: Takeout-Inspired Dinners
Other easy, dollar-stretching tips:
- Save money by reducing the amount of meat in a dish and "replacing" some of it with hearty substitutions like zucchini, beans, or bell peppers.
- Don't assume you can't afford conveniently pre-cut/trimmed vegetables. Frozen veggies will almost always be cheaper than fresh pre-cut produce, yet they're just as convenient and nutritious as the fresh stuff. Our freezer favorites are broccoli, peas, green beans, and corn.
- Don't assume the same types of vegetables are equally priced. In our research, we found that green bell peppers were often cheaper than red bell peppers, same with Yukon gold/yellow potatoes versus red potatoes and green cabbage versus red cabbage (notice a pattern here?). Swap out the pricier options for the cheaper ones. 9 times out of 10 it won't make a significant difference flavor-wise.
What tricks do you use to make sure your family's meals are inexpensive but still healthy and delicious? Let me know in the comments!
-by Sherry Rujikarn
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