Groceries can be expensive, even if you’re not buying anything fancy. So when a redditor asked how to make $50 in grocery money last the week, the community came through with tons of cheap (and often healthy!) meal ideas.
Before we get into the grocery-shopping specifics, an important note: If you’re having trouble affording food, that’s what food banks and food pantries are for. Many people who qualify to use one don’t realize it. You don’t need to be unemployed or on SNAP benefits; you just have to meet the eligibility requirements for your local pantry, which are often quite accepting. If you don’t know how you’re going to make it through the week on the food budget you have, food pantries are for you.
Here are some grocery options that provide the most nutrition for the least money.
Rice (and beans)
Grains are an affordable staple, and rice is one of the cheapest to buy and easiest to prepare. (Compare it to, say, wheat, which is usually made into flour, bread, or pasta before it gets to grocery store shelves.) With rice you can make a variety of dirt-cheap dishes:
- Rice and beans (with or without extra meat and veggies; top with salsa or hot sauce)
- Fried rice (with eggs, veggies, or other add-ins)
- Rice with stir-fried anything
- A rice bowl: Combine a scoop of cooked rice with an assortment of whatever leftovers or salad fixins you have in the fridge.
- Add rice (or grains of your choice) to turn a salad into something that can actually keep you full for hours.
Beans, lentils, and other legumes deserve a spotlight of their own. They’re great mixed with rice, but they can also work with other grains or even replace grains entirely. Legumes are high in fiber and are relatively high in protein (for a vegetable, anyway). They also make a nutritionally complete protein when paired with rice or other grains.
Meats tend to be more expensive than grains and veggies, but they also pack a lot of protein and tend to be filling. Some of the redditors on the thread recommended avoiding meats; others swear by them.
If you do buy meat, chicken thighs are one of the most cost-efficient, especially if you enjoy eating the skin. Remember that even though chicken breast is thought of as more “healthy,” that’s because it’s lower in calories. When you’re trying to stretch your grocery budget, a food that’s cheap and high calorie is just a good use of money.
Other affordable meats include whole chickens (if you don’t mind cutting them up or roasting them whole), stew meat, and ground beef, especially the higher-fat options (remember, more fat is a good thing).
Look at the price per pound on everything in the meat section, and choose accordingly. Don’t know what to do with a new-to-you cut of meat? Serve it with rice, of course.
Don’t pass up the produce section. Besides cheap staples like onions and carrots, and marked-down produce that’s about to go bad (a steal if you can get it at the right time), there’s a hidden gem: potatoes.
Potatoes are cheap, and have some of the best nutrition per dollar according to some calculations. Especially if you eat the skins, you’ll get some vitamins and fiber while having a good cheap source of starch. Cooled leftover potatoes also contain resistant starch, which may help you to feel more full.
Canned and frozen veggies
Veggies don’t have to be fresh to be healthy. Often, the stuff that’s in the canned aisle or the freezer section is the cheapest, because the farms and companies that make it don’t have to account for veggies bruising or going bad between the farm and the store.
These veggies are perfectly nutritious, too—they often have more vitamins than their fresh counterparts. Grab whatever is cheapest, and season it with whatever you have around (butter and garlic salt are great). And throw some veggies into whatever else you happen to be making—maybe your rice and beans.