Eating Within Your Budget | U.S. News

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The pandemic has significantly disrupted our jobs, our non-work related activities, social engagements and how we choose to nourish ourselves. Many people have seen their personal income take a hit and are trying to be creative and innovative in getting the most from the least when it comes to feeding oneself and family.

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How can we be safe and efficient when we shop – and proficient when we prepare food at home? Is it possible to maximize nutrition while minimizing costs?

Think About How You Shop

As a starting point, think about the way you shop and what you spend your money on when it comes to food:

  • Do you buy in impulse, or do you plan?
  • Do you buy foods that are ready to eat or do you cook from scratch?
  • Do you choose foods based on the dollar value or nutritional value?
  • Do you spend a lot on snacks, beverages and desserts?

Planning and Stocking

We don’t all know on Monday what we want to eat on Friday, but in our new COVID-normal, it is safer to minimize the frequency of supermarket excursions, so we may want to keep some foods around that lend themselves to quick preparation. For instance, frozen ravioli can be jazzed up with pesto or a puttanesca sauce (tomatoes, olive oil, olives, capers and garlic). Then throw in some frozen broccoli for a quick, delicious and nutritious meal.

Leftover Makeovers

You can also batch cook and then makeover your leftovers by changing the sauce, the presentation or the add-ins:

A batch of chili could be the base of several different meals:

  • In tacos.
  • As Spanish rice.
  • Sloppy Joes.
  • Over a baked potato.

  • Mixed with mayo, apples and celery for a chicken salad.
  • Mixed with BBQ sauce for a pulled chicken sandwich.
  • Sautéed with veggies and served over rice for a stir-fry.
  • Chopped and added to a cheese quesadilla.

  • Covered with sauce, cheese, sausage or veggie crumbles and extra veggies.
  • Folded over into a calzone.
  • Rolled thin and baked crispy for a bruschetta.
  • Brushed with olive oil and garlic and served with greens and beans.

Breakfast for Dinner

For the budget and time conscious, breakfast is always a great dinner choice. Eggs are high in nutritional value and low in cost. They can be scrambled, served as an omelet, an egg bake, a frittata. A quiche made with eggs, evaporated milk and leftover veggies – crustless or in a crust.

French toast, waffles and pancakes are all lower cost foods and can be prepared quickly and the batter can be enriched with added protein (nonfat dry milk powder or yogurt) and canned pumpkin or applesauce to add more produce.

Cereal is a great breakfast and snack choice but also works as a breading for meats or vegetables, as an ingredient in a trail mix and DIY energy bites. You can make your own energy bites with cereal, oats, dried fruit, honey, nut butter and powdered milk.


Snack hacks can put money back into your budget. Instead of spending a lot on your coffee drinks, make your own. Brew tea and take it with you. Buy a reusable water bottle and carry it with you instead of spending money on bottled water. Infuse your own water with cut up fruit rather than spending money on flavored beverages.

Popcorn, dried fruit and nuts build a lower cost trail mix. A wrap spread with hummus and shredded cheese or nut butter and sliced apples is a cheap and delicious snack. A tortilla with melted cheese and salsa is savory, tasty and low cost.


Be selective with condiments. Herbs and spices can be expensive, but you may find a spice/herb blend that can be used for many recipes. Organic herbs and spices cost more but are not nutritionally better. And make your own: For example, blend your own honey, mustard, oil and vinegar together instead of buying a honey mustard dressing. Mix a powdered dressing mix into plain Greek yogurt to use as a dip, sauce or dressing.

More Low-Cost, Low-Effort Meal Ideas

  • Baked potato topped with canned tomatoes, black beans and plain Greek yogurt and taco seasoning.
  • A rice bowl with rice, shredded cabbage, canned tuna in oil, pineapple and teriyaki sauce.
  • Scrambled egg burrito with salsa, tortilla, leftover veggies and shredded cheese.
  • Vegetarian chili made with texturized vegetable protein, spicy tomato juice, salsa, kidney beans and canned corn.
  • Shredded chicken sauteed with sauce, add spinach and serve over pasta.
  • Bulgur sauteed with onion and cooked in chicken broth with lentils.
  • Add cooked barley and cooked chuck roast or flank stead thinly sliced to a beef and barley soup.
  • Boxed macaroni and cheese with evaporated milk, pureed white beans and added peas and carrots.
  • Spaghetti, frozen edamame, canned pineapple in a peanut butter-soy sauce.

A Budget Shopping List

  • Texturized vegetable protein.
  • Chuck roast, flank steak: Lean meats such as chuck and flank steak mean less trimming and minimal loss.
  • Canned tuna in oil: Canned tuna in oil packs protein and flavor and means less mayo or other fat needs to be added in preparation.
  • Eggs.
  • Peanut butter.
  • Nonfat dry milk powder and evaporated milk: adds protein to quick breads, cooked cereal, boxed mac and cheese and cream-based soups.
  • Rotisserie chicken.
  • Frozen shredded chicken.
  • Cheese: Buy a block of cheese instead of slices or cubes, and cut, slice or shred what you will use and then freeze the remainder.
  • Large containers of plain Greek yogurt: Plain or vanilla Greek yogurt in large containers gives options of use as a sour cream substitute, a dip, the base of a smoothie and a creamy addition to baked goods and cereal.

  • Cabbage.
  • Canned beans.
  • Frozen veggies without sauce: Frozen edamame or mixed vegetables adds a plant punch to a soup, sauce or stew, using only what you need and freezing the rest for a future use.
  • Applesauce: Canned applesauce and canned pumpkin deliver produce to a muffin, pancake, oatmeal or smoothie.
  • Vegetable/bean soups.
  • Canned tomatoes.
  • Potatoes.

  • Barley.
  • Whole grain cereal: Store brand cereals save money without sacrificing nutrition or taste.
  • Whole-grain pasta.
  • Bulgur or cracked wheat.
  • Any type of rice.
  • Pizza dough.
  • Popcorn.

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