If you’re short on money, but you’d still like to eat good, life can seem lille a struggle. Whilst living on a diet of ramen might not seem too bad, mixing things up with a bit of variety is a fundamental part of the human experience.
It can be hard to decide which ingredients are worth buying or not, and even harder to still to work out which of the cheaper ingredients can be incorporated into a variety of meals.
Not to worry – we’ve done the hard work for you. Below are a range of ingredients that are, not only cost effective, but able to be used in a range of recipes, allowing you to have a delicious meal at every opportunity. Whether you and the people you are cooking for are happy to eat anything, or a little more picky, there are ingredients below to fit a wide range of palettes and purposes.
37 Cheap Groceries to Buy When You’re Broke
Kale is an amazing food to use when on a budget – we have two words for you: kale chips. When you spread a handful of these on a baking sheet (after mixing with a little oil and salt, alongside your seasoning of choice – if any).
And pop them into the oven for around ten to fifteen minutes at 250 degrees Fahrenheit, you’ll have some tasty kale chips in no time at all. These are a perfect snack that you can rustle up super fast, and kale isn’t expensive either!
Peanut Butter – Smooth or Crunchy
This delicious spread can be used in hundreds of ways. Mixed into your favourite cookie batter, as a topping on your toast, or even as the main ingredient in a variety of cooking sauces… either way, you can always count on peanut butter to make an excellent addition to any dish you add it to.
Peanut butter is also a great sauce of protein, and you can choose between crunchy and smooth, depending on your personal preferences. Dogs can even enjoy a spoonful of this every now and again as a treat – what’s not to love?
Spices are always worth making sure that you keep around, as a little pinch of a particular spice can absolutely transform your meal, turning it from something bland and unappetizing to a delicious, well-seasoned dish with minimal effort.
Spices are a cheap way to allow you to experiment with your cooking, and take the same sauce-base and turn it into something new five nights in a row if you need to. Spices can contribute to both sweet and savory dishes – for example, paprika compliments a wide variety of savory dishes and snacks, however cinnamon tastes delicious when paired with desserts and sweet snacks.
Canned fruit should be a high one on any budget-food list! Having a can of fruit in your cupboard or pantry to add with cream or sugar can give you a super cheap and easy snack or dessert in no time.
You might also choose to use your canned fruit in a pie, allowing for a super delicious (and filling) dessert that the whole family will love and look forward to.
Chicken legs can be used in a variety of different ways, with a bunch of different rubs, marinades and methods of cooking helping to keep this food a super versatile cooking ingredient.
You can cook chicken legs as a part of a whole meal or as a snack – provided that they are cooked properly, this will work as a good meal option on a budget.
Cucumbers make a brilliant addition to a wide range of salads or can be used as the main or secondary ingredient of many different dishes. You can eat cucumber as a quick healthy snack, helping you to save time if you are in a hurry.
Cucumbers can be prepared in a variety of different ways 0 you can eat them raw, maybe as part of a salad or in a sandwich, or you can cook them as per a recipe including them. Either way, this is a good choice if you’re in search of cost-efficient items that are worth your money.
Apples are perfect as a snack – you can pop them in a lunch box, eat them on the go, or cut them into slices that make for easy snacking from a bowl.
If you’d rather cook your apples, that’s fine as well – apples make the most wonderful apple pies, crumbles and strudels, so the possibilities with this fruit are truly endless.
Lemons might not be the first thing on your list if you are shopping on a budget, but you may choose to reconsider.
Not only do lemons make perfect garnishes for beverages, but they work amazing for seasoning or marinating food, you can add them to a variety of recipes and – well, what can you make with lemons if not lemonade?
Whilst these may not seem like the most important thing on your list, they might be worth the purchase if you’ve got a little amount spare.
Ground turkey can be used in such a wide range of recipes, that providing you’re not vegan or vegetarian, it’s a very worthwhile purchase.
Ground turkey provides a cost-effective way to make sure that your family are making sure that they get enough protein in their meals, without having to pay a ridiculous amount for your meat.
Potatoes are, by far, one of the most important items on this list!
The possibilities for meals with potatoes are so vast that getting potatoes in your weekly shop should almost be considered a necessity – providing that you like them, of course.
You can use your potatoes to make mashed potatoes, fries, roast potatoes, homemade chips, as well as a huge range of other meals. This starchy food is super filling and tasty – simply poking a few holes into a potato and baking it until soft in the middle can provide you with an incredibly satisfying and filling meal with minimal effort. Just make sure to add butter!
Tortilla wraps are perfect for meals when you don’t have loads of money to spare.
You can use tortilla wraps to make a savory snack by adding a cooked protein and sauce of your choice and wrapping it up into a parcel. Enchiladas, burritos, and wraps are all excellent examples of how tortilla wraps can be used for savory foods.
If you’re looking for a quick and easy, yet sweet, snack, however, you can choose to add some Nutella or chocolate spread of your choice to a tortilla wrap, roll it up and cut it into small cylinders. These tasty chocolate pinwheels are great as a snack in no time at all.
Not only is cereal the perfect way to start your day, but certain brands can be quite inexpensive too.
You don’t have to add milk to your cereal for a snack either – there are a wide range of recipes available online that show you how to make cereal bars, a portable option that you can add to yours or your kids lunchbox, either as a snack or side, or as a solution to a morning with no time to make breakfast.
Greek yogurt can be mixed with a variety of fruits and seasonings, as well as different seeds such as chia seeds, to create a fast, reasonably healthy breakfast or lunch in no time at all. You can customize your yogurt bowl to your own tastes – add your favorite fruit or sweet seasoning for best results.
Mixing some yogurt with oats overnight can create a super tasty snack for you to wake up and eat for breakfast in the morning as well, allowing you to make this ahead of time.
Banans are perfect as a source of potassium, as well as a tasty snack oor addition to a dessert. Due to their soft texture, they make good snacks for younger children too, with very little preparation – simply peel, prepare as required by your child (mashed, cut into pieces or served whole) and you’re done!
Bananas can also be mashed and frozen in order to make an ice cream of sorts.
Oatmeal makes a super filling dish in a hurry and on a budget. Much like with greek yogurt, you can add fruits and seasonings of your choice to your oatmeal, such as honey, sugar, a jam, or fruit of your choosing.
This allows you to change your morning oatmeal up on a daily basis, as well as help you to experiment with this dish so that you find exactly how you like to eat it.
Eggs are always a sure bet if you need something to last, that is both versatile and inexpensive. Eggs can be prepared in a wide range of ways – sunny side up, boiled, and scrambled, just to name a few. Not only are eggs an excellent source of protein, but they are also tasty when paired with a huge range of seasonings.
Eggs are also a super important ingredient for a range of desserts and pastries, so keeping these around can improve your ability to make a wide range of other dishes that can be useful if on a budget.
Beans are great to keep in your pantry, and they don’t cost very much at all. Simply heating a can of beans and adding them to some toast creates a super tasty meal in a hurry.
You can even add your own seasonings to your beans in order to spice them up and give them an exciting twist. Either way, beans are known to be a cost-effective, yet delicious, choice for a shopping list.
Tomatoes are the main ingredient of a number of different recipes, and the canned version of tomatoes can come in just as handy as the fresh one. Tomatoes act as the base to a number of sauces, such as spaghetti sauce and certain types of curry.
You can make your own marinara sauce and add this to homemade pizza. Mixing some cooked mince, canned tomatoes, onion, garlic and seasonings together in a hot pan can create a delicious pasta sauce in no time.
Broccoli is always a great vegetable to add to the cart – no matter what your kids might say!
This delicious vegetable can act as the side to a wide variety of dishes, whilst providing your family with all of it’s healthy properties and nutrients.
Much like normal potatoes, sweet potatoes can be used in a wide range of ways. Sweet potato mash and sweet potato fries and chips both come to mind as very delicious ways to prepare this food.
Alongside some butter, cooked sweet potatoes can taste just as good (albeit, different) than the regular kind of potato.
Kiwi’s work amazingly as a quick snack, or as an addition to a tasty, fresh fruit salad. Whilst they can seems quite finicky to peel, cutting your kiwi fruit in half and coring the delicious green fruit out with a spoon can make this process a lot easier.
Obviously, this is a super healthy snack, as any fruit is, but kiwi’s can be perfect if you’re after that slightly sour, sweet and juicy taste that’s characteristic of a ripe kiwi.
Lettuce heads are another important item on a any food shop – especiallly if you’re looking for budget friendly foods that can be used in a range of ways! Lettuce works as the base for a number of salads – side salads and mains alike.
Not only this, but lettuce tastes amazing in a wide variety of sandwiches, and can help to bring a bit of color to an otherwise potentially bland and beige meal time.
Rice is a really important food to purchase, due to how filling it is, as well as the wide range of recipes that use rice! This ingredient can be used in desserts, to make rice pudding, for example, or as the base of a number of dishes, such as chili or different curries.
Depending on the type of rice, you can also use it to make sushi, although this may be tricky. Rice is used in a variety of different dishes, and because of this, it should be a staple in absolutely anyone’s pantry. It’s also super quick and easy to cook!
Frozen fruits are a great addition to your freezer, as you can make a fruit pie at any time of the year – even if your particular fruit isn’t in season, making it more expensive.
Not to mention, you already have it at home! This can save a lot of money and effort, as you won’t need to go out to the store on a regular basis in order to purchase fruit that may spoil before you use it.
Flour is the main ingredient of so many recipes that making sure this ingredient is in your pantry should go without saying. Depending on the type of flour, you can use it to make pizza, bread, pasta, different types of pastry, or even thicken your sauces, so keeping this around is super important.
Flour is also really inexpensive, so even if you aren’t sure whether or not you’ll use it, try to buy some, just in case. It might come in handy – especially if you have any late night cravings for cookies.
If you’re looking for a pretty cheap, super versatile food that you can use in many of the same ways that you use rice and pasta, quinoa might be the superfood for you!
This healthy ingredient is not only cost effective, but it’s also a source of protein, as well as being low in carbohydrates. You can incorporate quinoa into each of your daily meals – breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Bread is always worth buying, due to the fact that without bread, you can’t make sandwiches! Sandwiches are the staple of any lunchbox, and work well as versatile snacks that can be changed up based on the ingredients that you use to fill them.
You can also make your sandwiches ahead of time, depending on your filling, helping to save time if you tend to have busy mornings.
If you’re trying to find substitutes for meat that are cost effective, lentils will do you well. These pulses are crucial ingredients in a wide range of recipes, and they’re full of nutrients that are extremely good for you.
If you come across these, you should pick them up.
Spinach can be added to a wide range of dishes, and works amazingly in sandwiches and salads.
This cost effective food is definitely worth getting if you’re on a budget, as not only is it inexpensive and tasty, but it’s healthy too!
Canned corn, much like it’s fresher counterpart, can be used in so many different ways that purchasing it just makes sense. Simply boiling and adding some butter to your corn can make you a tasty snack or side in minutes.
This is a healthy option as well!
Green beans are a super tasty vegetable that works brilliantly as a side to a wide range of meals – especially mixed with a little butter.
They’re healthy, as well as cost effective, and most importantly, they’re tasty! This is a brilliant way to incorporate your greens into a range of meals.
Honestly, whilst we’re at it – a range of vegetables are better than just a few! Mixed vegetables can come in handy little serving sized portions, ready to be popped into a microwave oven, fresh on the vegetable stand, canned, or they can come in large bags, frozen but ready to be used at a moment’s notice.
Having multiple of these forms of mixed vegetables at your disposal can be super handy when you’re trying to find a healthy side to a meal (or in need of some vegetables as ingredients), at a super budget-friendly price.
Pasta is, by far, one of the most budget friendly, filling, and easy to cook foods you can buy for this purpose. Pasta comes in a range of sizes and shapes, allowing you to play with texture, which can be the key in making dinner or lunch times interesting.
There are a vast amount of pasta recipes available, with ingredients to suit a range of budgets, tastes and cooking levels.
Onions are another great food to add to your list, as they add loads of flavor to any dish you incorporate them into. A large amount of recipes make use of onions, including spaghetti bolognese, taco recipes, and even some salads and burgers.
The list of recipes that use onions is honestly huge – and none of those recipes would be the same without them. If you’re looking for dishes packed with flavor, definitely get some onions.
Marinara sauce can come in a jar, making it cost effective and also really easy to use in a meal if you don’t have time. You can use marinara sauce as a pizza sauce, or you can use it in a pasta sauce by adding a few ingredients, such as your protein of choice.
This tomato based sauce is very similar to regular spaghetti sauce, but it’s got a thinner consistency, allowing it to cook a lot faster.
If you plan on making tacos in the near future, make sure that you’ve got some salsa to go with them.
Not only does salsa work as the perfect addition to your tacos, but its cost effective, really tasty and, depending on the brand you choose, it can be super healthy for you.
Canned tuna is a great source of omega 3, and tastes absolutely amazing mixed with some mayonnaise and a little salt and pepper.
Mixing a tuna-mayo mixture into plain pasta, or using it as a sandwich filling are both exceptionally tasty uses of this really cheap ingredient. Canned tuna can come in a variety of brines, so this really lets you choose which type you like the best.
What Staple Groceries Should I Buy?
When on a budget, there are a few pantry staples that are absolutely vital to making sure that you have a wide variety of filling, healthy meals within your budget. We get into these some more below.
Pasta / Rice / Quinoa
Pasta, rice and quinoa can each form the foundation to a large amount of filling meals. Making sure that you have either pasta or rice, or their healthier and equally as tasty substitute, quinoa, available can help you to avoid unsatisfying meals that lead you hungry afterwards.
These ingredients aren’t expensive either, and can come in a range of shapes or grains.
Potatoes and Sweet Potatoes
Both of these ingredients can also, in a similar way to pasta, rice and quinoa, form a large part of your meal, contributing to a much healthier diet, and making sure that you have the energy you need to get through the day.
Both of these can be incorporated into a wide range of recipes, and be prepared in a huge variety of ways, so making sure these are available will ensure that you have variety at all times.
Vegetables -Fresh, Frozen or Canned
Both fresh vegetables and canned vegetables can be fundamental to a healthy diet – especially when on a budget.
Making sure that you’re fully stocked with a wide range of vegetables will make sure that you’re not only incorporating a lot more color and flavor into your meals, as well as ensuring that you’re providing both yourself and your family with all of the healthy nutrients your body expects from vegetables.
Fruit – Fresh, Frozen or Canned
Much like vegetables, ensuring that you have fruit available at all times can prove itself to be important. You can easily grab a piece of fruit if you are on the go or in need of a snack, as well as use fruit in a variety of breakfast and dessert recipes.
Yogurt and Eggs
Yogurt allows you to get some diary into your diet, and eggs are a great source of protein. Both of these foods can be incorporated into a large amount of recipes, and can come in super handy at breakfast and lunch times.
Both of these ingredients are really easy to change up, just based on the ingredients you decide to pair them with. Fruit can completely change the taste of your yogurt, for example. Eggs can also be prepared in a variety of ways, so this duo can ensure that your breakfast and lunch times are never boring.
Bread (and, Bonus ingredient) Butter
Both bread and butter are fundamental to anyone’s kitchen. Without bread and butter, you are unable to have sandwiches, which prove themselves to be extremely important at lunchtimes. Untoasted bread can serve as a filling side at meal times, or for dipping, and toast works perfectly as a quick and easy snack or breakfast food.
Butter is also extremely important in a wide range of recipes, as well as acting as a spread for your toast or sandwiches, so it should definitely not be forgotten
Canned Corn, Beans and Tuna
Canned foods are extremely important in anyone’s pantry. This is because these products have expiry dates that are considerable amounts into the future, meaning that even if you have forgotten them for a while, there’s a good chance that they’re still good to eat.
These foods are filling, healthy, and can act as good sources of protein, so making sure that you have them around can act as a saving grace on nights that you haven’t planned what you’re eating for dinner ahead of time.
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