Inexpensive Food to Help Stretch Your Food Dollars

Frugal Foods

One obstacle that people often face when beginning to eat a healthier diet, is the ever growing grocery budget.  I know I did!  A few years ago when we first started eating an unprocessed diet, I shopped mainly at Whole Foods because many of the ingredients that I was needing to purchase, I could not find in my regular grocery store.  Sprouted breads and grains, grass-fed meats, raw honey, grass fed dairy, organic produce, chia seeds, flax seeds, an array of nuts, yada yada yada.  You get my drift…PRICEY!  My eager beaver self would be so proud as I would fill my shopping cart with such healthy food.  When I would reach the check out lane though, I would feel like a deflated balloon as the total on the register would climb higher and higher and higher.  Ummmm….I CAN’T AFFORD TO EAT LIKE THIS!  Talk about defeating.

Since my early days of eating well, I have made it my mission to make this lifestyle change a sustainable one and one that I think most families can afford.  I wrote an entire post earlier in the year of my best money saving tips to make real food affordable.  One of the tips I talked about in that post was heavily relying on inexpensive healthy foods and minimizing or stretching the more pricey items.  For example, I buy bulk grass fed beef and whole chickens which are cheaper than individual cuts, but it’s still a significant cost, so I have learned to stretch my meat and protein to last several meals.  In my money saving post, I did not go into great detail or give examples of frugal meals you could make with these more inexpensive ingredients, so today I thought I would get down to the nitty gritty with you.

Basically you want to pretend like you live on a farm and cook for a large family.  Think soups, homemade stocks, big pots of greens and beans, hearty dishes and casseroles that will fill the belly and warm the soul.  The more uncomplicated you can use the simple inexpensive ingredients, the better for the budget.  Some of my favorite meals that my grandma makes are big pots of beans and greens with cornbread on the side.  She can feed our entire family for super cheap with a meal like that!

Using this technique doesn’t have to be implemented all of the time, but when you find yourself needing to squeeze the grocery budget a little tighter, I highly recommend going simple with these inexpensive ingredients.  Simple and humble meals are where it’s at when it comes to winning the food budget game.

These are some of my favorite inexpensive real food ingredients.  I’ve included what I believe to be the most frugal and simple way to prepare them as well as other delicious recipes using these ingredients as the star of the show.


sweet potatoes

Most frugal and simple option:  Baked sweet potatoes or a hash with some type of meat with roasted sweet potatoes.

Maple roasted sweet potatoes

Sweet potato spaghetti spirals

Sweet potato poblano pepper soup

Sweet potato and apple pancetta hash



Most frugal and simple option:  Roast or sautee with butter, olive oil, or leftover animal fat and salt.

Butternut squash soup

Carrot Squash Hash

Roasted Squash

Stuffed acorn squash

Spaghetti squash spaghetti



Most frugal and simple option:  Cut up and boil with some salt and meat like ham or bacon from healthy pigs or no meat at all.

Smothered Cabbage

Ten easy cabbage recipes

Ground beef and cabbage stir-fry



Most frugal and simple option:  Soak beans overnight in warm water.  Rinse and cover with water or broth the next day and slowly simmer until beans are tender.  Season with salt, pepper and any desired fat.  This is my crockpot pinto bean recipe

Beans and greens soup

Kale and white bean soup

Black bean and vegetable soup

Burrito bowls (can be made with or without rice)

Homemade refried beans



Most frugal and simple option:  Sautee onions, garlic, and carrots.  Add lentils and simmer in water or broth until tender.  This is a good basic simple lentils dish.

Winter lentil soup

Creamy lentil coconut curry

25 ways to use lentils

sloppy lentil recipe



 Most frugal and simple option: Basic soaked oatmeal. This makes a big pot and will fill a lot of bellies.

Soaked waffles

Peaches and cream oatmeal

Baked apple oatmeal

Easy oat flour crackers



Most frugal and simple option:  buttered peas (frozen peas, steamed or boiled with butter):  a super quick and easy side dish

Simple pea salad

Split pea soup

In a quick fried rice



 Most frugal and simple option:  Steam or boil until tender.  Top with butter.

Honey glazed carrots

Roasted carrots

Carrot and leek soup

Whipped carrots

Mashed carrots



Most frugal and simple option:  Simmer 2 cups rice with 4 cups water or broth for about 20 minutes or until tender.  Season with salt and pepper and top with butter.

Simple chicken and rice

Bayou dirty rice

Easy fried rice

Spanish rice

Red beans and rice

Mexican rice


Canned Salmon

Most frugal and simple option:  Drained salmon, seasoned with salt and pepper on crackers or wrapped in lettuce.  Mix with mayo if desired.

Salmon patties

Wild salmon salad with lemon dressing



Most simple and frugal options:  Hard boiled, soft boiled, poached, or scrambled in butter.  A super quick source of protein that can be served for breakfast lunch or dinner.

BLT breakfast bake

Parmesan frittata with fresh rosemary and greens

Eggs poached in spiced tomato sauce- Shakshouka

Egg drop soup

Mushroom and spinach crustless quiche




Most frugal and simple option:  Baked potatoes topped with your choice of toppings:  chili, cheese, broccoli, sour cream, bbq.  You can even bake potatoes in the crockpot!

Shepherd’s pie

Potato soup

Garlic mashed potatoes

Potatoes with bacon and liver


Roasted kielbasa sausage and potatoes



leafy greens2

Most frugal and simple option: Sautee chopped greens, onions, and garlic in a skillet with butter, animal fat, or olive oil.

Grandma’s southern collard greens

Roasted chicken legs with potatoes, kale and lemon

Greens the whole family will love



Most frugal and simple option:  I add chopped and sauteed onions to just about everything for added flavor and nutrition.  They can even be eaten raw.

Homemade french onion soup

Sauteed onions and chard


brothMost frugal and simple option:  Everything in this category is going to be frugal. Leftover bones, vegetable scraps, and using the entire animal head to tail, is not only a frugal way to cook, but deeply nourishing.

How to make crockpot chicken stock

Cheap vegetable stock

Beef stock

Using odd bits of the animal (This is not for the squeamish.  :) )

Poor man’s chicken noodle soup



Most frugal option:  Buying bulk whole grains, grinding them yourself, and soaking them to make bread products will be your least expensive option.  If you don’t have a grinder, soaking whole grain flours will be your next most frugal option.

Soaked whole wheat bread

Soaked pancakes

Homemade soaked tortillas

Homemade skillet cornbread

Homemade corn tortillas



Those are my favorite cheap eats.  What are yours?  What is your favorite inexpensive real food ingredient and how do you like to prepare it?  Share with us so we can benefit from your great ideas!


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  1. says

    Thank you for including my Roasted Squash post in this wonderful collection of inexpensive foods to help stretch food dollars. This article beautifully-designed and extremely.

  2. says

    Thanks for sharing this. I am going to curl up with a cup of something warm this weekend while I menu plan and use some of these recipes!
    Visiting from Simple Lives Thursday…

  3. Jen says

    Most Thursdays we have GORP. It doesn’t stand for anything and it is not the nutty trail mix by the same name, but you can add some nuts to stretch the nutrition. GORP is taking all the leftovers in the fridge and making a meal. My husband and I both work full time but I make a home cooked dinner most every day. I love cooking and learned a lot from my mom who was a great, southern, meal stretcher born in Georgia. She grew a lot of her own veggies, rest and bless her soul, and so do I. By Thursday I am kind of tired from the work week. It sure beats carry out for economy and goodness. GORP Thursday usually ends up as a stir fry or a casserole but you would be surprised how mixing up all those little bits of this and that maybe adding a fresh thing or two can make a great meal. And you clean out the fridge!

    • Tara says

      I love clean out the fridge nights. Making something new out of the leftovers is a great idea. GORP is a great name!

  4. Judith Paterson says

    Tara, Thank You So Much For Thinking Of People Who Are In a Difficult Place In Their Lives… My Husband And I Are in That Place Now…………We Are In Our 60’s ,We are on Food Stamps $200 a Month( One Of My Favorite Things Has Always Been Cooking And Baking And Have People Over To Sit At Our Table……….Now We Don’t Even Have a Table…
    One Of Our Children’s Name Was On Our Savings………GONE……I Trusted Her With My Life……Oh Well………………….That Is Life Isn’t It? Anyway Sorry To Go On Like That….It’s Just Sometimes I’m So Filled With Sadness……Thank You For Your Effort Of Trying To Show How One Can Hopefully Come Closer To Making Things Go a Bit Further……Bless You, Judith

  5. says

    Excellent list, Tara! What a great article! I use all these foods :) I would add a whole chicken to the list; I like to roast a whole chicken a couple of times a month. I drink milk and use it to make kefir, too. For fruits I’d add apples and bananas to the list, as well.

  6. says

    Thank you for this great post–such a fantastic resource. I most appreciate the captions under each food noting the simplest way to prep (gives my brain a break on those days I just can’t add one more complication).

  7. sharon says

    I would love to see pressure put on Congress to force a country of origin label on EVERY item, not a “distributed by” label, or the “sourced from” label, listing multiple countries… gimmeee a break Congress, I want to support American products, if only I could tell what they really were!! I recently was looking at a jar of pickles, and I could only see a “distributed by” label….. WHY????
    I cannot believe the difference in price for common items between stores.
    I cannot believe people are “fooled” by America’s largest food store, who does not have the best prices on much of anything: no selection, poor quality and just plain lousy produce, poor handling of meat. Ever walk in their stores and see carts of refrigerator goods just sitting in the aisles, with no one working them?? Yikes!! : besides, package sizes are smaller, so the price per ounce is actually higher..although, many items are now lacking price per ounce pricing.

    I see people paying a fortune for salad dressing, sauces etc. that are all simple and inexpensive to make from common ingredients. Please share tips…
    slaw dressing : mayo, sugar and apple cider vinegar
    Cocktail sauce: catsup, horseradish and fresh lemon juice
    1000 island salad dressing: mayo and chile sauce

  8. Shelby says

    Love this post- so great for college kids as we learn to cook on our own on a tight budget!

    My housemates and I love making overnight oats, another healthy and inexpensive breakfast. Just requires mashing half a banana, adding a little bit of yogurt, milk, and oats and soaking them in the fridge overnight. You can add any flavoring you want: peanut butter, pumpkin spice seasonings, even chai tea, and it’ll soak up the flavor overnight. Great time saver for someone constantly on the go!


  1. […] Eggs, dried beans, lentils, rice, oats, potatoes, cabbage, greens, squashes, sweet potatoes, onions, garlic, lettuce, carrots, bananas, and canned salmon are some of my favorite healthy cheap eats.  I heavily rely on most of these items weekly in my meal plans.  I wrote an entire post on this. […]

  2. […] We Got Real is a personal favorite website of mine.  Tara is a mom of two, and has a great sense of humor about following an unprocessed diet on a budget.  She also lists inexpensive food ingredients that can help stretch your budget. Some of my fav items on her list include: […]

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