6 Ways to Make Cheap Foods Taste Delicious

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If you’re living on a tight budget, you’re probably well acquainted with the bargain bin at the grocery store. You’re constantly on the lookout for the cheapest foods possible, even if that means they’re boring, bland or a bit past their prime.

Here are six ways to make that cheap 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, at best, boring and, at worst, 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 lemon herb chicken marinade.

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2. Sauce it up

Beans, pasta and rice are all super cheap staples, but they can be bland with a capital B. 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, if you have one, 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 little 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 only 2 tablespoons of them.

Bacon is another prime example. Cook up a couple pieces and crumble onto salads or soups to give them a little bit of wow. Or chop and fry bacon to be added to pasta and veggies for a delicious pasta carbonara. Bacon can even make beans extra tasty as proven by 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, and your family more likely to eat them, paying for some flavorful mix-ins makes sense.

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Comments & discussion

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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.

  • 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.