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Old 02-16-2010, 10:29 AM   #1
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Cheap meals

Ever since I finished school in April I've been looking for a variety of cheap meals. I work in theatre and because of that I go contract to contract. Which tends to mean that my income changes all the time. My current contract ends on Saturday and I'll be unemployed until the end of March. I'm a vegetarian, I don't eat fish. Does anyone have any ideas how I can make budget friendly vegetarian meals? I'm starting to get annoyed by the amount of cheap recipes that are pretty much just onion, garlic and potato. I try to cook in bulk and freeze but I live in an apartment and I only have a small freezer above the fridge.

Any help would be fantastic.


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Old 02-16-2010, 10:43 AM   #2
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Beans can be cooked a million different ways. Pair it with rice and you have a complete meal. Very inexpensive. Google for bean recipes to see if there is anything that would fit your diet. Hummus is super easy to make at home from dried chickpeas... you don't even need the tahini to make it taste great.

Pasta is another versatile and vegetarian option. You can make your own sauce with an inexpensive can of tomatoes and whatever you have in your pantry, or opt for simply butter or olive oil with some spicing of your choice.

How about making your own bread and have sandwiches?

Do you eat eggs? There are tons of ways to make eggs, as well. A quiche can go a long way, or an omelet with whatever fresh veggies you have on hand. Eggs are probably one of the cheapest proteins around.


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Old 02-16-2010, 10:51 AM   #3
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Thanks so much, I do eat eggs and I love quiche. I've tried making my own bread before but I haven't in a while. I think I'll make some on the weekend. I love beans, I make homemade refried bean yesterday. I'm trying to make a list of foods that are cost effective so thank you for all your input.
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Old 02-16-2010, 10:54 AM   #4
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Beans! Bean soup, bean & rice burritos or tacos w/ fresh salsa and avocado (or guac obviously). Dry beans are cheapest. I would experiment with some small bags of beans, and find some that you like. Then when you find which beans you like best you get the biggest bag they have. I saw some pretty large bags of beans at Walmart, and there are no doubt bigger ones at Sams Club or other bulk stores. Flour and other staples like rice are usually considerably cheaper at the bulk stores too. Find a good basic bread recipe and have fun!
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Old 02-16-2010, 10:55 AM   #5
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Squash has always amazed me as being a very versatile vegetable, particularly with the multitude of varieties. Many kinds are able to be a substitute for a lot of other things, as well as being very tasty. And generally, they aren't very expensive.

I have also used fresh fruit as a flavor booster to many dishes, such as with rice dishes; diced tomatoes, green onion, pineapple, coconut, peaches or apricots add an exotic flavor and something different. Diced Apples or pears, craisins, dried cherries and raisins go wonderfully with cole slaw or salads.

For beans, in order to avoid any meat/fish product, but to get their flavor, try buying things such as BBQ rubs (seasoned salts and dried herbs with BBQ flavorings), Crab Boil seasoning, one or two drops of liquid smoke, and curry comes in dozens and dozens of varieties, many are inexpensive.

And if you have the time, and are somewhat ambitious, try making vegetable sushi, as a hobby.

Good Luck.
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Old 02-16-2010, 11:51 AM   #6
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Fresh fruits and veggies are often expensive, but you can usually get cabbage and, often broccoli and cauliflower for pretty cheap. Frozen spinach is cheap and pretty versatile as well. I make black bean and spinach burritos (with a little enchilada sauce)in bulk and freeze them). Carrots are another cheap veggie that can pack a flavor punch. As others have said, beans and rice are great as well.

A good way to add some flavor or variety to the same ole-same ole is through spices. You can buy small amounts of spice in the bulk bins at most supermarkets and they go a long way. Cumin is one of my personal favorites, and it really pares well with cabbage or cauliflower, especially with some fresh ginger. You can add half a teaspoon to a tablespoon of hot oil for cabbage and onions and eat it hot, cold or piled on a sandwich.
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Old 02-16-2010, 01:14 PM   #7
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Fresh fruits and vegetables aren't expensive if you're cooking for one. One apple or pear can go towards a salad AND serve as a desert for less than 80 cents. Canned pineapple is often a regular and popular item on-sale at least once a month. Just watch the grocery ads on whatever day they normally appear in your local newspaper.

Spaghetti squash will serve for two or three meals, making it a real value. Acorn squash is good for two meals, and in-season fruit such as tangerines and plums can be had for 3/$1. They're only expensive when you buy them out of season.
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Old 02-16-2010, 03:00 PM   #8
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Beans of all types (dried will be the cheapest) but even canned beans are a steal.

I usually buy the largest bag of black beans I can find. Cook them add salsa and cumin to flavor and then freeze in small batches (the gladware works perfectly for this). Then when I need a meal that can use a fiesta black bean touch I just thaw and heat. (bean burritos) (stir-fries).

Another economical item is TVP (Textured Vegetable Protein). You can buy it in health food stores and dollar per pound it's cheaper than any meat you can buy. It's great protein and an awesome addition to add to stews/soups to make them more filling and last longer. It never goes bad as long as its stored in an air tight container. Buy it in bulk and use as needed.

Pasta as others have said is something that can be bought in bulk and used on the cheap. I prefer whole wheat since the nutritional content is way higher.

Finally a cost effective way to save money is to do the following:

What you need:
5 x 7 cards with holes punched
5 x 7 card binder
a pen
a calculator
conversion table if needed - ie. oz to lb, etc.

Put the cards in the binder
Bring it to the store
When you buy something put the name of the item on the top of one card
Then underneath, put the:
date, store, price, units, price/unit (ie. this is where you may need the calculator)

Then keep doing it. You use index cards in a 3 ring binder because then you can shuffle them to alphabetical order before you hit the stores the next time.

To get you rolling, the first trips to the store, go thru the cards you have items for and write down the prices/units of all the items you have cards for already, especially if you are at a different store. You may also want to write down a few items the first time that you know for a fact you are going to buy later...
toilet paper
paper towels
peanut butter

not too many so you feel overwhelmed, but just a few, and price them on your next visit.

After you have done this for a while, you'll find some surprising things... I found that Tide laundry detergent (something I really like, and don't bend on), is cheaper at Ralphs grocery store, than Walmart, Costco, etc.

Saline solution for contacts is 70% cheaper at Costco.

Or at least these were true last I used the book, I need to get back on it.

If you do it diligently enough, you'll even be able to correlate times of the month or holiday weeks when certain things are cheapest.

It all goes to price/unit.

After a while, it'll be ingrained in your head which store to pick up what without looking, or actually if something is on sale, the numbers will be burned into your head whether it's a good deal and you can stock up. Once you start buying some of these things in bulk during good deals, you'll start seeing in your budget spreadsheet that your expenditures will drop... during the bulk building stage though, some numbers will increase of course.
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Old 02-19-2010, 12:07 AM   #9
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Thanks so much. When I see something on sale that I use a lot I try to buy an extra one or two. But I didn't really think of keeping a list of what stores have the better deal(s). That is pretty smart. I tend to buy beans dried instead of canned. I don't like the added salt. Also I'm trying to cut down on waste.
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Old 02-19-2010, 12:19 AM   #10
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A good one I like is just orzo, black beans, basil, parsley, salt pepper and some chipotle spice if you like that or have it on hand. Eat by itself or put in a tortilla if you want. It's good, cheap and I froze it for a couple days and it did fine. :)

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