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meals under 20 dollars
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Miss Your Favorite Restaurants? 6 Meals Under $20 to Try at Home

We are now months into a global pandemic that has shut down many of our favorite restaurants and forced us into a routine of eating the same meals and leftovers week after week. 

While some restaurants are open for takeout or delivery and a few states have loosened their stay-at-home orders to permit socially distanced outdoor dining, the safest place to eat is still your dining room table — no masks required! 

If you are keeping a close eye on your food budget, there are many ways to cut costs at the grocery store.

  • Stocking up on kitchen staples with items such as olive oil, herbs and spices, a variety of canned tomatoes, pasta, eggs, cheeses, and produce such as garlic, onions, and potatoes
  • If you eat meat, buy some ground beef and chicken breasts and place them in a freezer to easily pull out for an easy weeknight meal 24 hours before you need it, while saving space in your fridge
  • Refreshing your pantry during store sales, especially buy-one-get-one sales
  • Signing up for store rewards systems which can give deeper discounts and allow you to rack up points for purchases you would have made anyway
  • Buying the store brand instead of the name brand

With a well-stocked pantry and a socially distanced grocery run, you can spice up your menu with these fun meals that cost less than $20 to make. 

Tater Tot Casserole

Serves 8

We are starting our list with this casserole from New York Times food editor Sam Sifton because it is packed full of comfort food, which is a must-have when times get tough. Casseroles are a Midwestern staple and this one does not disappoint.

From crunchy tots to savory beef to creamy cheese, this is a great crowd-pleaser for the whole family. You can find the necessary two pounds of ground beef for about just over $4 per pound on average and the shredded cheddar cheese for less than $3. A quart of whole milk will run a little more than $2, but you can find a better deal if a store brand is available. 

This family recipe is also chock full of veggies including carrots, peas, corn, celery, and onion, all of which can be found for a dollar or so each. 

Get the entree recipe from the New York Times.

Pan-Seared Salmon for One

Serves 1

Sheltering-in-place by yourself? Quarantining solo? Cooking for yourself while your housemates eat boxed mac and cheese for the twentieth time? Check out this restaurant-quality recipe from Bev Cooks. While you can use frozen salmon, you can find a 1-pound fresh fillet, a nice mini-luxury, for less than $10. The vegetable add-ins are super cost-effective, including cherry tomatoes at about $3 and fresh capers, which you can find for less than $2 at Target

The rest of the recipe uses items you likely already have at home, including butter, salt and pepper, and olive oil, plus a few spices.

Get the recipe from Bev Cooks.

Momofuku Milk Bar Volcano

Makes 4 volcanoes

This recipe is for home chefs that are either experienced or adventurous or very patient. Creating the volcanoes is a journey all on its own. These mouth-watering pastries stuffed with scalloped potatoes, bacon, caramelized onion, and Gruyere are created over three separate recipes.

While the creation may seem daunting, the cost isn’t. The Gruyere cheese — you need less than half a pound — can be found for about $7, while a 1-pound package of Hormel Black Label bacon is less than $5. Almost all the other ingredients could be found in a well-stocked pantry, such as onions, garlic, flour, vegetable oil, and even potatoes.

For tips on how to approach this creation, check out the Serious Eats volcano deep-dive.

Get the recipe in the Momofuku Milk Bar Cookbook by Christina Tosi or online in a blog post by The Baker Chick

Crispy Turmeric and Pepper-Spiced Chicken Wings

Serves 8

Wings are an American institution. Even though you and your friends can’t kick back in a bar with some wings and a beer, you can create your own mouth-watering wings with the recipe from Bon Appétit.

Four pounds of chicken wings, at 2.23 per pound will cost just under $9. If you don’t already have black peppercorns or turmeric in your pantry, those will run about $2.50 and $2.70, respectively.

Get the recipe at Bon Appétit.

Pork Carnitas

Serves 10-12

Need some inspiration for Taco Tuesdays? This savory pork recipe is from RecipeTin Eats, a blog specializing in delicious recipes using everyday ingredients.  

The seasoned pork is made in a slow cooker to keep the meat juicy and tender. The meat rub consists of oregano, cumin, salt, and pepper and it’s thrown into the cooker with onions, garlic jalapenos, and a secret ingredient — orange juice. 

This recipe also freezes well and makes great leftovers. 

You will need a skinless pork shoulder, which costs between $1 and $1.50 per pound at your local grocer. A container of 100% orange juice will cost about $1.50 and still give you leftovers for breakfast. And the fresh jalapeno costs less than $1

Get the recipe from RecipeTin Eats.

Crunchy Pickle Salad

Serves 4

This light, vegetarian-friendly salad from Bon Appétit is perfect for the warm summer days ahead, served either as a side dish or on its own. And it’s customizable. While the recipe calls for half-sour pickles, you can substitute with your favorite pickle variety, whether it’s sweeter or full sour.

The most expensive ingredients in this salad cost less than $10 combined and the rest may already be in your pantry. A container of half-sour deli pickles costs less than $4 and leaves you leftovers for snacking. You can pick up a bag of pre-chopped walnuts for less than $1.50 and a fresh fennel bulb for about $2. A small container of red wine vinegar also costs around $2

Add the optional fresh bread for about a dollar from your local grocer to soak up the dressing. 

Get the recipe from Bon Appétit.

Whatever you decide to create in your kitchen, get creative, and enjoy the process. Happy cooking! 

Disclaimer: This blog post provides personal finance educational information, and it is not intended to provide legal, financial, or tax advice.