I’m forever trying to see how I can get better deals on quality food, to improve my family’s nutrition and reduce our budget.
It’s a challenge. It’s a good thing I like that! Part of what I do is always seek deals at different places. I might get lucky and find several boxes of my current favorite crackers cheap (Sea Salt & Black Pepper rice crackers, if you’re wondering — found ’em for $1.25 a box at a discount place last week). But I might not get lucky, and then I have to make do with what I have.
So, I wanted to share with you my top 10 frugal food items — the ones I always have on hand, that I can make many meals with, and really stretch.
10 Key Frugal Food Items
1) Brown Rice
Of course — the standard “rice” in cheap meals. But for real, we serve big piles of rice alongside grilled chicken, sausages, in a bunch of different soups, etc. It goes in taco salad or on the side of Mexican-inspired meals. Rice is cheap and good. I buy organic rice, 12 lbs. for about $11 at Costco.
Onions go in everything, too. I use them for salads, cook them with meats, toss them in tomato sauce, add them to soups. I bought the big bag last time, 10 lbs. for about $6 (Costco).
3) Chicken Leg Quarters
I use whole chickens a lot, too, but leg quarters are usually even cheaper. They can be boiled in a pot for soup — they’re bone-in, so they’ll make stock while the meat cooks. The shredded meat can be used for tacos, in soups, in casseroles, etc. And, the bones can go back in the pot (or a crock pot) for more stock. I use stock for soups, gravies, sauces, and more. Super cheap and healthy. We find them at different places for under $1/lb.
Peas are probably one of our favorite vegetables, one that everyone will eat and enjoy. We serve them as a side dish, in soups and casseroles, etc. Organic frozen peas from Costco are about $6 for 5 lbs.
5) Tomato Sauce
Of course — tomato sauce! I’ll make pizza or pasta, add it to soup, use it as a dipping sauce for breadsticks, etc. We go through a lot. I make my own (which is sooooo good), or buy organic from Costco — about $8 for 12 15-oz. cans.
Carrots are another favorite vegetable. If the kids don’t know what to eat, it will be carrots. We dip them in guacamole, eat them plain, add to soups and casseroles, cook with roast chicken, and more. We can usually find a 10-lb. bag at Costco (organic) for about $7.
7) Whole Wheat Flour
I always keep either whole wheat flour or wheat berries in the house. Whole wheat flour can be made into muffins, pizza dough, tortillas, dumplings, pie crust, and more. (Pie crust for pot pies, not desserts!) Biscuits are popular as well! I buy 50-lb. bags of wheat berries for around $26 at Ashery Country Store, or 5-lb. bags of white whole wheat flour for $3 at a local grocery chain.
Butter makes everything better — ha ha. I use it for baking muffins, sauteing veggies or chicken, cooking rice, putting on bread, baking pie crusts or waffles, and more. I’ve been buying Rumiano butter (grass-fed and non-GMO certified) from Azure Standard. It’s $3.55/lb. when you buy 15 lbs.
Potatoes, of course, are super cheap too! I make mashed potatoes, fried potatoes, baked potato soup, slice them for casseroles, and more. I bought 50 lbs. for $15 in Amish country. Costco has a good price too.
This goes on/in many of our meals. Cheesy potatoes, taco potatoes, taco salad, baked potato soup, etc. We love to add a little cheese. I bought grass-fed raw cheese from Azure Standard for under $4/lb.
If I had some “bonus” items, they would be broccoli, lettuce, salsa, ground beef, and bell peppers. Broccoli is good for a side dish, and it makes broccoli cheddar soup (which we haven’t made in awhile — we tend not to eat creamy soups in the summer — almost time to have it again!). Lettuce is great for side salads, or in taco salad. Ground beef is excellent for taco potatoes, taco salad, meatloaf, meatballs, and more. I just love bell peppers (I bought a froze a whole bushel of them), and they go in soups, tacos, stuffed, taco potatoes, etc.
I guess that’s really 15 things I always have on hand, but seriously — they are the best things, at least if you eat like we do. Most of our meals include salad and are very Mexican-inspired, with a fair amount of Italian-inspired too.
Top Pantry Spices
My top spices:
- Onion powder
- Red pepper
- Chili powder
- Garlic powder
- Bay leaves
- Black pepper
Those are the ones I use at least a few times a week. I buy most of my spices in bulk from Mountain Rose Herbs. It’s the cheapest place I know to get organic, high-quality spices.
Favorite Frugal Recipes
My very favorite frugal recipes are these:
- Mexican Chicken with Rice and Beans
- Taco Potatoes
- Taco Soup
- Broccoli Cheddar Soup
- Cheeseburger Veggie Soup
- Baked Potato Soup
What are your favorite frugal ingredients?