Easy Frugal Cooking Techniques That Save Hundreds of Dollars

When it comes to saving money on food, it’s not just about clipping coupons or hunting for sales.

While these strategies can help, they will only get you so far. But, when you combine savvy shopping techniques with super frugal food prep, you will save you hundreds of dollars every year. Real savings come from smart cooking techniques that maximize the value of every ingredient you buy.

By incorporating these habits into your routine, you can cut down on waste, make the most of your groceries, and enjoy delicious, home-cooked meals without breaking the bank.

From batch cooking to creatively repurposing leftovers, these tried-and-true methods will help you stretch your food budget and save hundreds of dollars each year.

To see real-life examples of these techniques, watch the video.

Tip #1 – Use One Main, Low-Cost Ingredient for Multiple Recipes

If you want to save some serious money, use one or two super inexpensive ingredients as the base of multiple dishes. Here’s a great example. Two pounds of dried beans can serve as the foundation for a variety of dishes like soup, sandwich spreads, and casseroles.

By getting creative with how you use a versatile ingredient, you can enjoy diverse and satisfying meals without spending extra money.

Two pounds of dried beans cost me about $3.50. When pressure cooked, these beans can become the backbone of four nutritious, filling recipes.

The recipes I made using two pounds of chickpeas.

Chickpea Soup

I created this chickpea soup recipe many years ago when I found a similar recipe in a favorite cookbook. The original recipe had ham in it. So, I “veganized” it. The soup fills my 8-quart pressure-cooker and will feed a family of four for three meals at a cost of less than $2.00 per meal.

Chickpea Salad

Chickpea salad is an amazingly delicious, plant-based sandwich spread which is reminiscent of tuna salad. It’s a family favorite uses a few, simple ingredients and costs under $4.00 to make an entire batch.

Walnut Lime Chickpea Spread

This walnut lime chickpea spread is incredibly versatile. You can spread it on crackers, tortillas, toast, or use it as a dip for chips or raw veggies. Now matter how you eat it, it goes together in about fifteen minutes and is incredibly delicious.

The fat from the walnuts combines with the bright, tart lime juice and the creamy chickpeas to satisfy your cravings, but not weigh you down. It’s like a party in your mouth.

African Peanut Stew

When you add a creamy peanut butter-based sauce to some Frank’s hot sauce and top with a little fresh tatsoi, you have African Peanut Stew. I made it extra thick and served it over rice.

By using the single, inexpensive base ingredient of chickpeas, I created four recipes, which fed my family for ten meals.

Tip #2 – Creatively Repurpose Leftover Ingredients

Leftovers don’t have to be boring! With a bit of creativity, you can transform them into entirely new meals.

If you have leftover vegetables, toss them into a frittata or a stir-fry. Leftover pasta can become a pasta bake with the addition of some cheese and sauce.

Even leftover grains like rice can be reinvented as a base for grain bowls or fried rice. By thinking outside the box, you can reduce food waste and keep your meals exciting.

Here’s how leftover rice can be made into exciting, new meals.

Seeing eight cups of leftover rice in a bowl can be seem very dull, indeed. However, with the addition of a few, simple, inexpensive ingredients, it can be transformed into a multitude of delicious, new meals.

Stir Fry

Fried rice is a classic dish that makes excellent use of leftover rice. You can make it completely plant-based (like us) or add in eggs and a bit of meat.

Start by heating a bit of oil in a pan and adding chopped garlic and onions. Once fragrant, add in any leftover vegetables you have on hand, such as onions, celery, peas, and carrots. Chop any leftover meat finely and add it to the pan.

If you’re adding eggs, push everything to the side and scramble a couple of eggs in the empty space. Finally, mix in the rice, soy sauce, and a touch of sesame oil, stirring until everything is well combined and heated through.

Garnish with green onions for an extra burst of flavor. This versatile dish is quick to make and incredibly satisfying.

This is wonderful way to use up small amounts of veggies, scrambled eggs, or bits of meat. It turns out differently every single time we make it.

Rice Salads

Traditionally used on meats, teriyaki provides an unusual, but tasty, surprise in Teriyaki Chinese Rice Salad. Simply toss your cold rice with a mix of fresh vegetables like bell peppers, green onions, cucumbers, and carrots. Drizzle with my homemade teriyaki dressing. This dish is perfect for a light lunch served with muffins.

Mexican rice is not only super easy, it pairs perfectly with tacos, burritos, or as a standalone dish. Sautéd diced onions, garlic, and bell peppers with rice along with canned tomatoes and traditional seasonings, give it an authentic Mexican flavor.

Casseroles

Add a simple marinara sauce to leftover rice and the top with a sprinkling of fresh basil for a rice casserole. Place the mixture into a crockpot and heat on high for two hours.

To make a heartier version, add chopped cabbage and marinara to the top and it’s a deconstructed stuffed cabbage casserole.

Plant-Based Burgers

Add leftover beans and make into rice and bean burgers. For an even cheaper version, mix together leftover oatmeal and rice with some seasonings together. Plant-based burgers cost about 15¢ each to make from scratch. As an added bonus, they freeze beautifully.

Tip #3 – Use Ingredient Substitutions Whenever Possible

Ingredient substitutions are a clever way to avoid last-minute grocery runs and use up what you already have. If a recipe calls for sour cream, you can often use yogurt or even cottage cheese in its place.

Missing a specific herb? Try using a different herb or a blend that you have on hand.

Once you get the hang of which colors, tastes, and textures can be effectively combined, a whole new world of quick and easy lunch and supper dishes will be opened to you! 

This flexibility not only saves money but also helps you avoid wasting ingredients that might otherwise go unused.

Tip #4 – Try Batch Cooking

Batch cooking, also known as bulk cooking, involves preparing large quantities of meals at once and freezing portions for future use. This not only saves time, it also reduces food waste. You’ll be able to buy ingredients in bulk and schedule cooking sessions less frequently.

As an added bonus, you’ll be heating up the kitchen, and the rest of your living space, less often during warm weather. Therefore, as an indirect result, you could also be reducing your summer utility bills.

Tip #5 – Make Homemade Broth from Scraps and Peels

Don’t throw away those vegetable peels and scraps! They can be turned into rich, flavorful broth with minimal effort.

Simply collect scraps like onion skins, carrot tops, and the larger stems of herbs in a freezer bag until you have enough to make a batch of broth.

Simmer the scraps in water with some herbs and spices, strain the liquid, and you have homemade broth. I make my veggie broth in the pressure cooker in less than thirty minutes. This not only saves money but also adds depth and nutrition to soups, stews, and sauces.

Tip #6 – Use Up Slightly Stale or Overripe Items

Slightly stale or overripe items don’t have to be thrown into the waste bin. Bread that’s a bit too hard can be turned into croutons or breadcrumbs. Overripe bananas are perfect for baking banana bread or adding to smoothies.

Even vegetables that are past their prime can often be used in soups or stews where the texture won’t be noticeable. By finding creative uses for these items, you can reduce your food waste get the most out of each ingredient you’ve spent your hard-earned money buying.

Tip #7 – Have a Regular “Clean Out the Fridge” Day

Designate one day a week to use up leftovers and ingredients that are about to expire.

Get creative with what you have on hand to make soups, casseroles, stir-fries, or frittatas. This helps minimize food waste and encourages using up every last bit of food.

It’s super helpful to make a list of ingredients in your fridge or sitting on your kitchen counter. We write everything down on a Perishable Food Inventory, which is prioritized. This simply means the items with the shortest shelf life go at the top of the list. That way, we’ll see them and use them up first.

I use the Perishable Food Inventory to create a topical menu plan based on items I already have in the house. In this way, I can use up perishables before they go bad.

Tip #8 – Use a Slow Cooker or Instant Pot

Slow cookers and pressure cookers are excellent tools for saving time, energy, and money. Slow cookers can help you cook cheaper cuts of meat and dried beans to tender perfection, developing the flavors with a minimum of effort.

Pressure cookers, on the other hand, can cook meals quickly and efficiently, which saves on energy costs.

They are also great for batch cooking and making large quantities of food that can be portioned out and frozen for later use. Finally, both also use less electricity than traditional, full-size electric ovens.

Tip #9 – Stretch Meat or Have Meatless Meals

Meat is often one of the most expensive components of a meal, so finding ways to stretch it can lead to significant savings.

We’ve been a plant-based family for over ten years and can tell your from experience that it’s quite possible to create tasty meals without the meat. Try incorporating beans, lentils, or tofu to extend the meat in dishes like tacos, casseroles, or stews.

You can also use less meat and cut it up into smaller pieces when you cook with it. The meat will be equally distributed throughout the dish. When you add all the other ingredients, your family will never suspect that you cut back on the meat.

Of course, it’s also a great idea to designate a few meatless meals each week, by focusing on inexpensive, plant-based ingredients.

Your turn!

How are you cooking to save money? Tell me in the comments.

Leave a Comment