This much we know is true: A girl’s gotta eat. But as much as we like to stare longingly at fancy restaurant menus and wander starry-eyed through Whole Foods, our credit card statement always brings us back to reality—it is scarily easy to overspend on food.
In college, we got by subsisting on dining hall food we surreptitiously stowed away in Tupperware containers. Those were the days, amiright? But, as grown women, we have accepted that we could use some better nutrition in our lives—and that dining halls do not last forever. So, through the trials and tribulations of our own budget-conscious lives, we’ve come up with some tips that have made eating at home a lot more wallet-friendly, without being totally flavorless.
Say goodbye to your spendthrift dining days and hello to your new budget-babe bites with the help of these eight dinnertime hacks.
1. Buy in bulk.
While not everyone has access to a suburban wholesale store like Costco or BJ’s (or their pricey membership fees), there are other ways you can buy your food in bulk to save money. Amazon gives you the option to purchase wholesale-sized boxes of not just snacks, but also dinner staples like rice, beans, pasta, and of course, Kraft mac ‘n’ cheese. Instead of paying high prices to grab a single box in the grocery store, think of Amazon bulk purchases as investments that will save you money in the long term. Buying more in one go equals fewer trips to the grocery store, which in turn equals fewer tempting purchases (Ben & Jerry’s, anyone?).
2. Get freezer-friendly.
As much as we’d love to eat fresh fruits and vegetables for every meal, that’s not always a possibility. Veggies can go bad quickly, and when you’re buying organic, the costs can really skyrocket (Five dollars for a bag of kale? Really?!). Instead of digging through the produce aisle for bargains, stick to the freezer section. There you’ll find organic frozen vegetables that don’t cost an arm and leg and will last for more meals. When kale is frozen, it’s easier to compact, so that bag of frozen greens has way more leaves in it than that tub of salad-ready stems.
3. Grab some grains.
Though diet trends may have you thinking otherwise, carbs are your best friend. Pasta, rice, and things like bulgur wheat and even couscous are cheap food options that don’t run the risk of being bland. There’s a reason that noodles and rice are staple foods in so many different cultures. A box of spaghetti can easily become multiple meals for one person with the addition of frozen vegetables, oil and red pepper, pesto, or a simple marinara sauce, and rice easily transforms into a stir fry or good ol’ pot of rice and beans. If you’re on a budget, these are the meals that won’t hurt your wallet—and will keep you satisfied.
4. Opt for dried goods.
While cans of beans are cheap on their own, if you’re really looking to pinch some pennies, get thee to the dried goods section. Buying dried beans in bulk gives you much more food for your money, and soaking your own beans can give you more satisfaction with your cooking. Not to mention the fact that steering clear of canned food is much better for the environment.
5. Purchase easy protein.
Sorry to say it, meat-lovers, but your steak is not the most budget-friendly dinner option. Going vegetarian or switching to cheaper cuts of meat can make a world of difference in your expenses. Just be sure that you don’t give in to pricey veggie burgers and faux meat alternatives. Choose healthy, wholesome foods like beans to get your protein fix, and when in doubt, put an egg on it.
6. Sip smartly.
A spaghetti-and-wine dinner combo seems like a wallet-friendly make-at-home dinner, but dropping your bucks on vino could make your meal deceptively expensive. The same goes for soda, juice, and any other beverages that don’t come out of your faucet. We’re not saying that you should entirely give up your glass of wine to cut back on expenses (or suggesting you should resort to boxed wine), but there are ways to make sure you’re getting the most booze for your buck. Spanish and Portuguese wines are generally cheaper than their French alternatives, but still taste delicious. If you want the best taste for the lowest price, a wine aerator is also a small one-time investment you can make to make those cheap bottles seem a little more luxurious.
7. Spice up your life.
When you’re buying basics for your groceries, your spice rack quickly becomes your best friend. Salt and pepper may be life-changing go-tos, but never underestimate what a little bit of red pepper, cumin, or basil can do. Start your spice collection slowly and eventually you’ll have so many potential flavor combos that you’ll never be bored again.
8. Make takeout last longer.
Takeout is tempting, even if you can make versions of your favorite to-go food at home. If you succumb to ordering some more Pad Thai, fettuccine Alfredo, or even some fajitas, you can make it into at least two meals, stretching your dollar as much as possible. Try adding frozen vegetables to noodle dishes for added bulk and consider whipping up an easy side salad to make your takeout dish big enough to be considered two meals. Add extra beans to Mexican dishes for a more filling meal and never underestimate the power of a good baguette when eating Italian food. The next morning, the leftovers of some takeout dishes can easily make a delicious breakfast with the addition of an egg—breakfast burrito, anyone?