Nutritious, flavorful ways to make it on a limited food budget | Restaurants

Nutritious, flavorful ways to make it on a limited food budget |  Restaurants

In these inflationary, supply-chain-challenged times, some of the greatest weapons for survival on a limited food budget are recipes that turn inexpensive ingredients into sustaining dishes.

If you’ve grown up living on your own cooking, this article might not contain much by way of revelations. But many people don’t know how to make their daily bread, so to speak, and every cook can refine their arsenal of go-to recipes.

At the suggestion of reader and cook Barbara Jezioro, here’s an assortment of ways to feed yourself without paying so much money for โ€œconvenienceโ€ food that drains your wallet faster than it fills your belly.

First, though, if you’re really in a jam when it comes to your food budget, see if you can make choices that make it easier to balance.

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Where are you shopping? Farmers markets and farm stands offer the best values, so learning about your local choices can help. Folks with SNAP or food stamp benefits can use the Double Up Food Bucks program at farmers markets and stores like the Lexington Co-op Markets. They can get $2 in fresh produce for every $1 in SNAP benefits, up to $40 in fresh vegetables and fruit per day for $20 in benefit dollars.

Wondering if you qualify for SNAP? The only way to be sure is to fill out an application, because factors such as partial employment make it too complicated to summarize here, and the numbers scale by family size. That said, some rough outlines might help. If you’re an unemployed, single parent who makes less than $16,725, you might be able to receive up to $459 a month in grocery money. For a family of four including a wage earner, income of less than $39,756 qualifies, and the family may be able to access up to $835 per month.

Wegmans, Tops and Whole Foods are relatively expensive. Among grocery stores, check for lower-cost options such as Aldi, Price Rite and Niagara County Produce. Or groceries catering to immigrants, including Buffalo Fresh, Asian Food Market, Super Bazaar and Ni Hoowa, especially for produce, grains, vegetables and spices.

On to the cooking. Some of Jezioro’s go-tos:

Pasta Primavera: Greens, onion, julienned carrot and zucchini, red peppers, mushrooms, cooked in microwave with Italian seasonings, oil and a bit of butter. Mix with cooked spaghetti and grated cheese.

Ground meat: Grilled meatballs with pita, sliced โ€‹โ€‹tomato, onion, yogurt sauce. Meatloaf has always been a dollar stretcher.

Roast chicken: Supermarkets sell roast chickens as loss leaders. One becomes three meals. You can make a roast chicken dinner, chicken salad with the rest, then boil the remainder for a bit of broth that becomes soup with noodles and vegetables.

Vegetables: One of your goals as a survival cook should be learning how to cook your favorite vegetables into meals, not side dishes. An excellent free resource is Leanne Brown’s โ€œGood and Cheap: Eat well on $4/Day,โ€ a cookbook that’s a sort of Swiss Army knife for tackling unfamiliar ingredients and dishes that the author has made available to all.

Start with โ€œHow to Cook Dry Beans,โ€ and you’ve unlocked one of the great sustaining meals: beans and rice. Nutritious, flavorful if done right and pennies a serving.

potato pancakes

Andrew Galarneau’s potato pancakes, made using not only his mother’s recipe, but her skillet as well.

Derek Gee

Consider fried potatoes, as potato pancakes, or home fries. These preparations do require an investment of time. This is not microwave cuisine. But the main ingredients are cheap as dirt, so the return is well worth the investment.

Refrigerator pickles require only a big jar, vinegar, spices and water, and can turn into a stream of home-picked vegetables into the winter.

refrigerator pickles

Refrigerator pickles require only a big jar, vinegar, spices, and water.

Sharon Cantillon

Lentil or bean soup, or the Levantine dish mujadara, a hearty vegan platter of rice, lentils and caramelized onions.

Smothered oxtails and other smothered dishes from the soul food canon are a genius move that turns a few pounds of gnarly meat into a pot of rich gravy that can feed scores, ladled out over rice or potatoes. This recipe is inspired by the outstanding work of Angela Davis of Kitchenista Diaries.

Grill a vegetable, turning it into dinner. Raw zucchini and summer squash can easily be turned into a refreshing, nutritious salad with toasted almonds and lemon vinaigrette a la Michael Symon.

Summer squash salad with almonds

Summer squash, zucchini, and toasted almonds in lemon vinaigrette soar in Zucchini Crudo, a recipe from Michael Symon.

Buffalo News file photo

Turn excess tomatoes into shakshuka, then repurpose the leftovers with more vegetables into tomato stew.

Roast cabbage: Core a head of cabbage and slice into 1-inch slabs. Put in a single layer in baking dish, dot with butter, salt, pepper and a couple teaspoons of dried whole spices such as caraway, cumin, fennel or even that old jar of pickling spice. Throw in any old apples you have left laying around. Cover with foil and bake at 425 degrees until caramelized, about 75 minutes. That cabbage can flavor a whole heap of pasta.

Ramen: Five-for-a-dollar packet ramen can become the base of meals. Add vegetables, any leftover meat or crack an egg into the simmering noodles. Or do the Korean thing, which is now my thing, too, and stir in a slice of processed American cheese to make cheese ramen.

If you need help finding more recipes or executing these, I’m here to help at

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