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
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.
Pan-Seared Salmon for One
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.
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.
Crispy Turmeric and Pepper-Spiced Chicken Wings
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.
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.
Crunchy Pickle Salad
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.
Whatever you decide to create in your kitchen, get creative, and enjoy the process. Happy cooking!