6 Ways to Make Cheap Foods Taste Delicious

Bargain foods are only a good deal if you are willing to eat them. Here are six ways to give cheap foods a flavor boost.

Most people living on a tight budget are well-acquainted with the bargain bin at the grocery store. Not having a fat bank account puts people constantly on the lookout for the cheapest foods possible, even if that means those eats are boring, bland or a bit past their prime.

However, here are six ways to make that cheaper food a little more appetizing without resorting to buckets of salt.

1. Marinate that meat

Chuck roast, pork shoulder and chicken pieces are some of the cheapest cuts of meat available. However, they can be, tough and chewy. 

Fortunately, marinades are a cheap way to add flavor as well as improve texture. You don’t want to marinate delicate meats or fish too long, but feel free to leave that chuck roast marinating in the fridge overnight.

Give this technique a try with an easy marinade for Lemon Herb Roasted Chicken.

2. Sauce it up

Beans, pasta and rice are all super-cheap staples, but they can be bland. Instead of serving them up plain or with butter, experiment with sauces to incorporate extra flavor.

The easiest add-in may be stirring in pan drippings from a main dish meat, or using a canned sauce. You probably already know about adding a jar of spaghetti sauce to a box of cooked pasta, but don’t be limited by what’s traditional.

For example, try this Creamy Dill Sauce over some rice.

3. Mix in a high-flavor ingredient

Sometimes, a bit of a more expensive and flavorful ingredient goes a long way. Consider the capers in this Rainbow Rice recipe. Capers aren’t cheap, but they’re packed with flavor, and this hearty — and cheap — rice dish calls for just 2 tablespoons of them.

Bacon is another prime example of a flavorful ingredient. Cook up a couple of pieces and crumble onto salads or soups to give them a little bit of wow. Or chop and fry bacon and add it to pasta and veggies for a delicious pasta carbonara. Bacon can even make beans extra tasty, as in this Red Beans and Rice dish.

Other high-flavor ingredients include:

  • Herbs and spices
  • Infused oil
  • Roasted red peppers
  • Robust cheese

You may pay more for these ingredients, but a little goes a long way. If they make your cheap meals more satisfying, paying for some flavorful mix-ins makes sense.

4. Puree veggies that are past their prime

I can’t lie: Fresh vegetables are definitely more appetizing and more nutritious. However, that doesn’t mean you should turn your nose up at the reduced-price rack. If your budget is so tight that fresh produce is out of the question, less-than-perfect greens are better than none at all.

That said, I wouldn’t recommend eating them raw. Instead, puree or otherwise cook up veggies to disguise their imperfections. Take this recipe for Potato Soup With Sausage and Onions, for example. Rather than stirring in the spinach at the end, puree it with the rest of the soup.

There are plenty of other sneaky ways to incorporate pureed vegetables into your meals to provide extra fiber (which keeps those growing kids feeling full longer) and added nutrition.

5. Use bargain fruit in smoothies, sauces and jams

Just as you can puree past-their-prime veggies, you can whip up some yummy foods with slightly blemished and bruised fruits.

Making breakfast smoothies seems to be the most obvious method for using bargain fruit finds, but sauces and jams are options too. For example, in the fall, some stores practically give away bruised apples. Grab a bag or two because they are perfect for making Crock Pot Applesauce.

6. Tweak your technique

Finally, you can make your cheap foods taste better by tweaking your cooking technique slightly.

Consider these flavor-boosters:

  • Brown cuts of meat in a skillet before adding to a slow cooker.
  • Roast veggies rather than boiling or steaming.
  • Prepare rice with chicken stock rather than water.
  • Brown butter to be used in recipes and sauces.

These are simple adjustments, but they can dramatically improve the flavor of your ingredients and meals.

What do you do to keep the cost low but the flavor high? Share your tips in our Forums. It’s a place where you can swap questions and answers on money-related matters, life hacks and ingenious ways to save.

Stacy Johnson

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  • marketfog

    I recently tried brown butter. It really kicks up the taste of recipes that normally use butter. Try it in mashed potatoes or desserts. Tobasco also imparts a little kick.

  • Don1357

    This advice is applicable in many ways for vegetarians. Just vegetables can be bland–especially after many meals without meat after decades of eating meat!–, but using some of the suggestions here (without meat, of course) can give the meal some really good taste and a desire comes with that to try that dish again! Some of the “fake” meats are quite good but need some experimenting with to determine which is most desirable to the individual eater. The way they are served, seasoned, and even the size of portions used in a dish can make a big difference in taste and desirability. Also, there are other cultures that don’t have much meat to use, and they have found over centuries some really tasty ways of serving up their vegetables and a variety of “new” vegetables that may be unusual and tasty to other cultures. Eating from a variety of cuisines and in locations run by other cultures is a way of making vegetarianism much more enjoyable! Many of these alternatives have many more good tasting alternatives as foods than the typical meat-eating American eating establishments–although many more (formerly meat-oriented restaurants) are getting on the band wagon as more vegetarians are “happening” and their profit margins are depending upon these customers as well as the meat eaters :0) As an aside, I’d like to see you focus a bit more on vegetarians in your great articles, too. I think they will draw in more appreciative readers, as well.

  • I.Popoff

    Cooking is a life-long learning experience that I enjoy. Improving a bland dish is often possible by adjusting the salt, oil and sugar content, or adding umami or other flavoring ingredients. Personally, I use a lot of Tony Chachere’s Creole Seasoning.

    • carrdude

      100% on the Tonys!!! 😉

  • bigpinch

    Expectations can have a major influence on the perception of taste. Everybody should (and will) season meats, vegetables, fruits, and beverages in the way that they like. But, sometimes, it can be interesting and instructive to experience all these things in their simplest and unseasoned states. You might find that you don’t need as much salt, sugar, and spices as you once thought in order for a food to taste “good.”
    Many people, for example, put on a sodium restricted diet for medical reasons, experience distress because they think that their food needs salt to bring out the flavor. Those successfully following such a diet succeed at it by learning to appreciate flavors they hadn’t expected and had been masking for years, if not their entire lives.

  • Journe

    Like suggestions here. I BIG ON PEPPER, BLACK OR WHITE PEPPER GREAT, more subtle. Love garlic, onions sauteed in
    anything. I keep boxes of Low sodium organic chicken broth, beef & vegetable broth and great for quick soup with all leftover veges, littke meatballs, beans, or leftover chicken ,veges, broth for soups. Love keep bag sliced almonds, mix in with fresh,frozen green beans, dab butter & drops olive oil. Yum!
    Jar ALFREDO SAUCE for over Fettucine, but I Add leftover Slice chicken, peas or string beans! Delicious with white pepper mixed in. I ALWAYS LIKE bit leftover steak, ir chuck roast. Saute up slice with GREEN, RED PEPPERS & ONIONS. DELICIOUS.
    I EVEN keep bag frozen mixed peppers in freezer to use if dont have fresh. Me, I TRY buy & keep staples in cupburd, like box broth various beans,can tomatos, crushed garlic in frig. then easy to come up with nutricious healthy dishes.

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