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. Marinade 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 marinade 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.
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.
4. Puree up veggies past their prime
I can’t lie: Fresh veggies 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. But you can certainly puree or otherwise cook up veggies to disguise their imperfections. Take this potato soup recipe, for example. Rather than stirring in the spinach at the end, puree it up with the rest of the soup.
There are plenty of other sneaky ways to incorporate pureed vegetables into your meals to provide extra fiber (keeps those growing kids feeling full longer) and added nutrition. In fact, some cooks have made an entire career out of this technique.
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 to use bargain fruit finds, but sauces and jams are options too. For example, in the fall, some stores are practically giving 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.
- Cook 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.
Those are my strategies for making cheap food taste delicious. What do you do to keep the cost low but the flavor high? Share your tips in the comments below or on our Facebook page.