Feb 3, 2012

$3 Dinner Recipes

It's unusual I spend more than $5 total on dinner for my family of four. Lately, I'm aiming for $3. I know many of you are, too. If you're not a vegetarian and if you don't like to eat a lot of pasta, it can be challenging to find recipes to fit the bill. Here are a few tips:

* Buy produce that's in season.

* Find cheaper alternatives to the expensive produce called for in a recipe. For example, I wanted to make something with leeks this week, but they were $3 for two when I went shopping. Instead, I purchased sweet onions that cost about 20 cents.

* Go for frozen vegetables, when possible. I find they are frequently cheaper, easier to store, and better tasting than fresh produce from the store. (They are also more nutritious than store bought produce because they are frozen at the peak of freshness.)

* Plan the most expensive ingredients around sales. Meat is usually the priciest part of dinner, so be sure you get the sales flyers to all the grocery stores in your area. Stock up if prices are especially good. Then plan meals around that food.

* Buy staples in bulk. It's typically considerably cheaper to buy items like dried beans and flour in bulk, but do pay attention to prices. For example, I've found a huge bag of beans at Walmart isn't such a great deal, but the same size bag at Costco definitely is.


* Avoid buying too much. Although it's smart to buy many things in bulk, if you won't use it before it goes bad, it's just a waste of money. Freeze extras of anything that's freez-able.

* Try a site like My Fridge Food to find recipes for the food you already have in your house.

* Grow it. When our garden is producing, it's very rare I purchase produce. What I grow is cheaper (and more nutritious and tastier) than store bought.

* Decrease the amount of meat in your dishes. Even a slight reduction helps.

* To add bulk to the meal, consider adding some beans to the dish, too. For example, dried lentils are cheap, don't need soaking before cooking, and are bland enough to mix in with, say, ground beef.

* Try not to throw any food away; use everything you can, just like they did in the old days.


$3 Dinner Recipes to Try

* A simple meal of meat (say, pork chops or a steak) with one or two sides of vegetables makes for a meal that's cheap, but doesn't feel like it. This requires buying the meat on sale and then knowing how to prepare it cheaply. Often, we just season it and grill it.

* Too Tired to Cook Black Bean Dish

* Roast chicken with vegetables. This is actually more than one meal, because my family can't eat a whole chicken at once. (For added value, save the bones and scraps of meat from to make stock. For more ideas on using up a whole chicken, click here.)

* "Barbecued" Chicken Burritos

* Chicken in a Pot
(which also gives extraordinary stock that can be used for other dishes)

* Crunchy Baked Chimichangas

* Garbage Soup


Shepherd's Pie

This traditional, hearty meal is easy to make with leftovers, if desired. For example, the evening before, make mashed potatoes and save some for this dish. (If I'm in a hurry, I've been known to use dehydrated mashed potato flakes - purchased on sale, of course! - instead.) The meat can also be leftover from another dinner, such as roast beef.


What You Need:
1/4 cup butter
1/4 cup all purpose flour
1 teaspoon dried thyme or oregano
pepper
1 cup beef, chicken, or vegetable stock
2/3 cup milk
4 cups ground beef or leftover cubed beef or chicken
1 (16 oz.) package of frozen mixed vegetables
3 1/2 cups mashed potatoes
cheddar cheese
Skillet (ideally ovenproof)
Large spoon
Casserole dish (if the skillet isn't ovenproof)

How to Do It:

1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

2. Place the butter in the skillet and melt it over medium heat. Stir in the flour, thyme or oregano, and pepper. Stir in the stock and milk. Cook and stir until thickened. Remove from the stove.

3. To the flour mixture, add the vegetables, stirring well. If the skillet isn't ovenproof, transfer the vegetable mixture to the casserole dish.

4. Spoon the mashed potatoes over the vegetable mixture. Bake for 35 minutes, then remove from the oven. Grate cheese over the top of the potatoes and return to the oven for about 5 minutes, or until the cheese melts.LinkLink

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