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.