Frugal food tips that work are super important right now. Food prices are up in weird ways and many of us need to save money fast.
But often cheap food is unhealthy food. And some dirt cheap meals are false economies as they don’t fill us up and we get hungry again fast.
The answer – we’re told – is meal planning. But too many thrifty meal plans are so crazily complicated we end up wasting more money.
So the big secret to putting frugal family meals on the table day in, day out – without losing the plot – is to:
- find the easiest possible ways to cook good, honest cheap food that really does fill us up
- get smart about cutting every bit waste of we can
- and to ditch meal planning!
Yep, we need to ditch meal planning!! I’ll explain why shortly.
And then I’ve got super simple recipes for the cheapest meals you can make healthily.
PLUS lots of extremely frugal food tips and hacks for cutting food waste and getting your hands on healthy food cheaply and even for free!!
This is a big post – so do bookmark or save it – but it’s full of practical frugal food tips you can act on right away to eat good meals even on an extreme budget when you’re broke.
If you are after specific frugal food tips use the index below …
Table of Contents
Why You Should Ditch Trying To Meal Plan
We have all heard meal planning is the best way to save money on food. It helps some people but most of us are too busy to do it properly.
And you know what?
The whole idea of sitting down once a week and coming up with a fancy new meal plan is officially bonkers!!
We don’t need new recipes every week. And the more time we spend finding new stuff, the less likely we are to to put quick, healthy, cheap meals on the table every day.
If we set ourselves up to meal plan in this way, we will fail. And fill our shopping trolley with pricey packaged food and ready meals.
So what should we do instead? The simple answer is: Meal Looping.
How To Meal Loop Instead
Meal looping could not be easier and help us eat on a very tight budget.
We simply :
- list 5 or so quick meals
- you know roughly how to cook
- using common pantry staples
- & write a shopping list to support it.
We then just loop our way through it.
The more we loop them, the easier it is to make those meals fast on autopilot. Cooking them becomes a habit and habits make stuff easy.
And that means we’re much less likely to splurge on take aways, ready meals and food store binges.
It also means the whole family – even little kids – can learn to help cook the basic family meals.
As the family gets confident cooking the basic meal loop, we can add in more healthy cheap meals from the frugal recipes below but starting with what we know is key.
Meal looping – repeating familiar recipes – uses our brain completely differently to meal planning and that’s why we can stick to it.
Cheapest Meals You Can Make Healthily
To be extremely frugal about food we need to aim for a meal loop based on the cheapest meals we can make healthily which typically means recipes based on beans & pulses, brown rice, oats & potatoes.
Beans & Rice Recipes
Beans and rice recipes are classic frugal food but sound deadly dull.
They don’t need to be. With just a few herbs & spices we can transform beans and rice into tasty but dirt cheap meals even for large families.
So add a few of these protein rich, filling recipes to your meal loop :
Thrifty Meals With Pulses
We also need other super tasty pulse recipes in our frugal food loop.
We usually add variety to meals with different meat & carbs. But meat is pricey & many of us have cut carbs.
Rotating dirt cheap but protein & fibre rich pulses e.g. black beans, chick peas, lentils & white beans adds variety frugally and healthily.
Choose from these simple but delicious frugal recipes …
Sweet & Savoury Oat Recipes
Many families struggle now with diabetes but many low carb recipes are meat heavy so expensive.
Oats are a cheap low GI alternative and we can make savoury oat meals as well as delicious deserts …
If money is super tight and you’re super tired make real Scottish porridge with water not milk. It will warm you up and keep you going.
Frugal Potato Recipes
Lots us skip potatoes as they are high GI. But we can cut their sugar with one clever frugal food trick.
Boiling potatoes the day before we eat them then reheating actually slashes the sugar levels in spuds!!
- Potato pancakes: traditional Scottish tattie scones have no eggs or milk and reduced flour.
- Potato pastry: you can make quick savoury pastry for pies with potatoes & only a tiny bit of fat.
Or for an unbelievably frugal but filling meal when you’re broke you can even make potato peel soup!!
Get Smart About Using Less
A simple loop of cooked from scratch meals saves serious money. But we can save more money simply by getting smart about using less.
These tiny frugal food tips can incredibly save us hundreds a year.
Water Down Juice
Little by little dilute juice to get the vitamin C without the sugar spike.
Thin Down Milk In Recipes
In white sauce for macaroni cheese, lasagna etc water down milk with stock by a third to a half.
Dilute Cans Of Tomatoes
Stretch a can of tomatoes to 2 meals by diluting with stock.
Fine Grate Cheese
Recipes need less cheese fine grated.
Detox From Caffeine
Your head will hurt like hell for 4 or 5 days but cracking your caffeine addiction will save a fortune
Food Freezing Hacks
Freezers save us money on bulk buys & bargains but also slash waste.
The big secret is flash freezing as it lets us freeze leftovers, bulk buys & bargains in small usable helpings.
Get into the habit of checking the fridge and flash freezing anything about to expire including …
- Bread crumbs : grate crusts & freeze for crumble topping.
- Milk : surprisingly you can actually freeze milk if you’ve got a surplus.
- Eggs : … and even eggs!
- Bananas : freeze them for cakes & smoothies so they don’t go black in the fruit bowl & attract flies.
And for more help check out these frugal food freezing hacks :
Eat Up Every Last Scrap
We waste money just because we don’t eat everything we could.
These frugal food hacks for eating every last scrap save me £10 a week. That’s £500 – or $700 – a year!!
Always Eat Leftovers First
I’m a 70s kid and I’m sure the whole UK – from the Queen down – survived on cottage pie and chicken curry leftovers most of the week!!
Don’t cook the next meal in the loop until you’ve eaten your leftovers.
You can always pad them out with houmous, eggs, rice, bread or beans.
Or use these ideas to jazz them up:
Soggy Veg Soup
A few times a week our lunch is big bowls of quick soup made from leftover soggy veg in the fridge.
Cooked broccoli. Soft carrot sticks. Squashed tomatoes. Sad lettuce leaves. They all get blended up.
And that’s often 2 free meals a week.
Vegetable Stalk Soup
Most of us chuck out broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage stalks but they can be tasty & nutritious.
If you buy soup now, you can save £1 a week – £50 a year & a grand over 20 – just by eating up stalks!!
Eat Root Vegetable Tops
Most of us chuck away carrot, beetroot & turnip leaves but they can be cooked like cabbage & kale and are quick easy vegetables to grow.
Vegetable Scrap Stock
You can also make super healthy vegetable stock from leftover peelings we usually chuck out.
Freeze Bone Broth
OK so this sounds tricky but isn’t.
And bone broth is unbelievably healthy especially when we’re trying to get our energy back after sickness.
Making frugal bone broth takes 5 minutes effort and it then sits on the stove and does its thing. Once strained freeze in small portions to use in all your meals.
A Zero Waste Kitchen
Going zero waste in the kitchen is another fantastic frugal food tip.
These hacks make it easy :
- Create an expiry shelf : in your cupboard for anything about to expire so you don’t forget it.
- Have a use first tub in fridge : likewise in the fridge have tub for stuff to eat urgently.
- Find the food you don’t like in your cupboards : we all end up with food we’re not keen on. Swallow the frog. Find a way to make it edible and eat it today!!
- Save all your jars: save any jars food comes in as storage jars so you never need buy any.
Frugal Cooking Basics
Some cooking skills look hard so we avoid them. But a few frugal skills can save us – & our kids – a fortune.
Learn any of these you can’t do, fast:
- Pastry : 4 year olds can make pastry & pastry means you can make for under £1 leftover meat pies, heartwarming apple pies & blackberry pies with free fruit.
- White sauce : white & cheese sauce from scratch in 5 minutes gives you macaroni cheese, lasagna & gratin frugally & fast.
- Tomato sauce : is cheaper made with cans of tomatoes and can be super healthy with a few cheap gut healthy herbs & spices.
- Crumble topping : teach kids to make basic crumple topping & you can have a hearty pudding on the table fast for less than £1.
- Bread dough : you can make bread for as little as 5p a loaf. That’s a big saving. And basic dough can be used for pizzas, pittas & more.
Frugal Energy Use
To save energy – and cut energy bills – when cooking from scratch :
- Use a slow cooker : if you have one a slow cooker can be more energy efficient than your oven.
- Fill the oven: if you’re baking.
- Master single pot recipes : that you can add to your meal loop.
- Microwave : surprisingly recipes use less energy in the microwave. Check out these ideas …
Buy A Few Things In Bulk
Buying in bulk can save cash. If we don’t eat what we bought it won’t!
But if we stick to a meal loop we will get through common ingredients.
So once your meal loop is working buy in bulk core staples that last like:
- Beans & pulses
Don’t bulk buy anything with short shelf life or random special offers for ingredients not on your meal loop!
And be careful about over cramming cupboards. It’s easier to waste food when we can’t see what we’ve got.
Pick Fruit For Free
In the autumn it is still possible to pick all sorts of delicious immune boosting fruit for free.
It sounds tricky but foraging is easy :
- Blackberries : are easiest to pick & you can make heaps of yummy stuff from fresh & frozen blackberries.
- Damsons & sloes : part of the plum family these beauties are stunning in cakes.
- Elderberries : super healthy elderberries make amazing jam.
- Crab apples : these tiny sour apples go in all sorts of puddings.
Ask round locally for foraging tips & use your free food in these recipes :
Pick Your Own Fruit & Veg
On top of foraging free fruit we can save money on food at local PYO farms.
As ever focus on what you will eat & can actually store easily in bulk.
It is easy to store apples for months so they keep their crunch.
You can easily save a few pounds a week picking your own.
Going to the PYO farm in summer to pick berries is a fab family day out.
And filling your freezer with cheap immune boosting berries – you’ve flash frozen – is a smart way to save on food.
Grow Basic Vegetables
Growing vegetables doesn’t seem like a quick hack for frugal food.
But you can grow vegetables quickly even as a beginner.
Grow Vegetables From Scraps
You can have fresh collards in 5 weeks!!
Grow Spinach & Salad Leaves
The next quickest option is to grow spinach & salad leaves.
You don’t need a garden. You can grow them in an old ice cream tub in your kitchen.
And if you cut the leafs from the base when you need them, they will grow again & again.
Grow Potatoes In A Bag
Any potatoes that start sprouting can be grown in a reusable shopping bag of compost. Your own crop can keep the family fed frugally even when things get really tough.
Grow Herbs From Cuttings
You can easily grow herbs from free cuttings.
And there you go, 50 extremely frugal food tips that will help you prepare the cheapest healthy meals even when you’e broke. Lots of them are just little thrifty tips you can adopt right now to save money but it is also worth putting just a little bit of time to come up with simple food loop because this really is the biggest secret of healthy but dirt cheap meals for the whole family.
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Photo: Top view of baking background with flour and cooking supplies and Tomaten und Möhren Rice Salad with Black Bean and Vegetables, Mexican Rice wIth bean, pepper and Mushroom by Marco Verch under Creative Commons 2.0