I love cooking shows on TV but am underwhelmed at the ambition of some television chefs. They often set crazy high spending limits for “budget” meals—$20 for dinner, or $15 when they really stretch. Rachael Ray tries harder when she offers meals using ingredients that cost $10. Let’s do even better!
Preparing low-cost meals is as much about the way you shop as it is about cooking. An important strategy to keeping your food bills low is to locate and frequent the many alternatives to traditional grocery stores. You’ll pay less to eat better if you shop the alternatives.
There are discount or “surplus” grocery stores that sell short-dated canned and boxed goods, dented and crushed items, off-named products equivalent to brand-named ones, and discontinued or odd lots at dramatically reduced prices.
Farmers’ markets offer fresher local produce than grocery stores, and at lower cost. Roadside farm stands may have even lower-priced produce, and u-pick orchards and farms provide bigger bargains still. Of course, growing your own vegetables and fruits can beat all the others.
Burritos for Four
The other night, I assembled burritos for four from ingredients I bought at a Farmers’ Market, a traditional grocery store, and a discount grocery outlet. I served each burrito with a side of sweet corn and a glass of milk, and the cost was six dollars and 35 cents. Had I bought all the ingredients at “normal” grocery store prices, I’d have spent $9.61, and even at recent sale prices, it would have been $7.45. Shaving $3 from the cost of each dinner saves more than $1,000 in a year.
Here’s how to make a burrito dinner for four for under seven dollars:
4 7-inch flour tortillas – $ .80
4 oz grated Mexican cheese mix – $1.25
7.5 oz refried beans (half of a 15 oz can) – $ .25
2/3 lb ground beef – $1.67
7.5 oz tomato sauce (half of a 15 oz can) – $ .25
7.5 oz diced tomatoes (half of a 15 oz can) – $.25
¼ small onion diced ~ ¼ cup – $ .06
¼ medium bell pepper diced – $ .29
½ Tablespoon Canola oil – $ .02
½ package taco seasoning mix – $ .13
2 Tablespoons chopped cilantro – $ .10
- Fry the diced onion and pepper in the oil on medium heat for 2 to 3 minutes.
- Add the beef and cook until the beef is done.
- Pour off oil if there is any in the pan.
- Add the taco seasoning mix and ¼ cup of water. Stir and continue cooking until the liquid in the pan thickens.
- While the seasoned meat is still hot, stir in the chopped cilantro.
- Set your oven to 375 degrees. While it heats, spread two tablespoons of tomato sauce on the bottom of an 8 inch square baking dish.
- Smear two tablespoons of refried beans on about two-thirds of a tortilla.
- Distribute as much of the seasoned meat mixture on the beans and add two tablespoons of cheese.
- Starting at the covered edge, roll the tortilla into a tube and place it into the baking dish.
- Repeat with three more tortillas, using up the refried beans and meat mixture.
- Spread the remaining tomato sauce evenly over the rolled tortillas, then drain the diced tomatoes and spread them over the tortillas.
- Sprinkle the remaining cheese over the tomato-covered, rolled tortillas and bake for 20 to 25 minutes.
- Garnish each burrito with cilantro leaves and serve with ¼ cup of corn.
Provides approximately 500 calories and 21 grams of fat per serving.