In my last article, How I Spend Only $100 a Month on Groceries, I shared how I keep my food costs low, and discussed simple ways for the average family to save on groceries. After all, saving a dollar here and there can really add up!
For me, the secret is preparing all of my meals at home – and a lot of people are surprised that I do. For me, it just doesn’t make sense to go out for fast food when it takes more time to line up and order than it does to make my own food – and I spend much less by doing so.
You don’t have to be a master chef to save money in the kitchen – all you need is be able to boil a pot of water. For under $2, I can prepare a variety of wonderful meals. Here are my top five go-to meals for someone short on time and on a budget.
Spaghetti and Sauce
Spaghetti is one of my favourite meals because it’s so easy to prepare. A box of spaghetti will provide dinner for three days. Preparation is easy – all you have to do is boil a pot of water and in under 10 minutes you’ll have a tasty plate of pasta to enjoy. And it’s a bargain – I be sure to stock up when it’s on sale for $1 per box.
I’m a big fan of whole wheat spaghetti – not only is it healthier, it fills you up because it’s high in dietary fiber. As for spaghetti sauce, you can make it yourself or buy jars of it when it’s on sale. Once you’ve prepared spaghetti for the week, all you’ll have to do is boil a kettle of hot water, pour it on your spaghetti, and enjoy!
Brown Rice and Frozen Vegetables
Did you know brown rice is one of the world’s healthiest foods? It’s true! Brown rice is the unrefined version of white refined rice, which is a fancy way of saying the iron, vitamins, zinc, magnesium and all the other healthy nutrients have been stripped out of it.
Most rice has a 2:1 ratio of one cup of rice and two cups of water. Preparing brown rice is easy – boil a pot of water and you’re good to go! Rice can be time consuming to prepare – brown rice takes 30 to 40 minutes to cook – so consider preparing it on the weekend. Include frozen vegetables like peas, corn, broccoli and mixed vegetables, for a well-rounded meal.
Macaroni and Cheese and Frozen Vegetables
In the hit song, If I Had A Million Dollars, by the Barenaked Ladies, the band says they’d still eat Kraft Dinner even if they were millionaires (they’d just buy the fanciest Dijon ketchups). In all seriousness, Kraft Dinner is a mealtime favourite for a lot of Canadians, not just students on a budget. It’s the perfect time to stock up when it’s $0.50 a box or less.
Similar to rice, to prepare macaroni and cheese boil a pot of water, but unlike rice, mac and cheese is ready in less than 10 minutes. If you’re looking to eat healthy, pick up whole wheat Kraft Dinner. Again, toss in some vegetables for a more wholesome meal.
Soup is without a doubt the easiest meal to prepare on my list. It’s what I rely on the odd late night when I don’t have any meals prepared ahead of time. After all, if you can boil a pot of water, you can make soup! If you’re extra hungry, I suggest throwing in a couple slices of bread with peanut butter to fill yourself up. A word of caution – when you’re buying soup, be sure to watch the sodium! It’s not uncommon for a can of soup to have a day’s worth of salt or more!
For a lot of families, takeout pizza is way to celebrate another long workweek. I used to order pizza too, until I discovered I could make my own pizza at home for less than half the price.
You can buy pizza dough (go for whole wheat) at the supermarket or make it at home instead. Making your own dough is easy – and a good argument for investing in a bread maker. Your bread maker should come with a book of recipes – look for pizza dough. To make pizza dough, all you need is four cups of whole wheat flour, two teaspoons of salt/sugar/yeast, two tablespoons of olive oil, and one and a half cups of water. Pizza dough can take anywhere from 1.5 to 2 hours to finish – the morning is the perfect time to put it on.
Once your dough is ready, you should let it rise for a few minutes. Once it’s risen, you’ll want to grease your pizza pans, and roll out the dough with a rolling pin. Next grate your cheese, add your pizza sauce and finish it off with some toppings of your choice. Once it’s ready, preheat your oven to 500°F, let it bake for 12 to 14 minutes and you’ll have piping hot pizza to enjoy! You can make pizza at home for $2 or less – a lot less expensive than ordering pizza!
Do you have any inexpensive meals at home you’d like to share?
Sean Cooper is a personal finance freelance writer and blogger living in Toronto, Ontario. He is a first-time homebuyer and landlord who aspires to be mortgage-free by age 31. You follow him on Twitter @SeanCooperWrite and read his blogs and request his services on his personal website: http://www.seancooperwriter.com/