It's tough to be a foodie when you're broke. You see all your friends going to craft breweries and burger bars, and you can't even afford the garnish. It makes a guy or gal sad. It's the opposite of empowering, and definitely not the enjoyable moment the taste buds have been begging for. The thing is, you can still love food, and be a foodie, with what you have in your very broke pantry and in a super stripped down fridge and freezer.
Here are a few ways to get more bang for your buck and make some of those gourmet meals the New York Times is always so blithely telling people to make.
Play a round of Chopped. We've all watched the TV show with the weird baskets of ingredients, and everyone has a cache of canned goods or rice and beans. Have everyone in the house choose a can or a dry ingredient and one item from the fridge. Pick one protein together, then brainstorm recipes you can create. This gives everyone in the family agency over their food.
Don’t be afraid to work for better food at better prices. My family looks for coupons, sales on meat, and ethnic grocery stores that carry specialty ingredients at rock bottom prices. A huge bag of amazing produce at our local Hispanic market runs just over thirty dollars. No one can get that at Whole Foods. Discounted meats are usually at one end section of your grocery store meat area. They’re close to their use by date, but can be used or frozen the day you bring them home.
Scour Pinterest or food blogs for gourmet meals on a budget. There are tons of bloggers out there who work hard to create amazon meals for the smallest amount of cash. There are $25 a week challenges, ten dollar meals and more. Also look for blogs who cater to your family size. There’s no sense in spending for a family of five if there are only two household members. Look for small batch recipes that use ingredients you keep on hand. Or search for bulk packs or BOGO items that can feed a large group. Find ways to use frozen and canned items, as well. These foods get a bad rap on chef-y shows like Top Chef, but they can be just as nutritious and yummy as fresh if handled correctly.
Utilize the dollar store, Big Lots, and World Market. Want to make that high end mac and cheese with the exotic British crackers (also called savory biscuits) as a topping? Check these stores for the perfect crackers. Or teas. Or pickles. Often these remainder stores have great deals on exotic ingredients. Just make sure to check the freshness date to make sure it's still in range.
Pick a cuisine and try it for a week. Most ethnic, special diet, and "time of day" meals like breakfast lend themselves to buying just a few key ingredients and methods. Choose German, for instance, and stock up on sausages, cabbage and potatoes for inexpensive and filling meals all week. Plan a menu as creatively as possible by making it a game or a challenge. Stick to it!
The best way to cook great food on any budget is to meal plan. Pick a day like Sunday or Monday and start your weekly meals that day. Shop for food on the same day every week and use a list. This will keep the budget on track no matter what amazing foodie feast is in the cards. It's not always easy to be a foodie on a shoestring, but it can be done, and it can be just as much fun as craft beer night with friends.
Even without the brewpub.