Food is everything when money is tight. This has been my experience, and I’m sure I’m not alone. Food is what sustains, comforts, and gives a sense of stability and rhythm in the middle of chaos. Without it? Hope begins to disappear.
My experience has also been that good food at a good price means you must cook at home. Frequently. In fact, if you’re really strapped for cash every meal will need to be made at home, barring any outside-the-house freebies (like school lunches).
With that in mind, here are my top five recommendations of cookbooks for frugal cooks, based on the need to cook good cheap food. (Amazon links are not affiliate links. I am no longer part of that program.)
1. Good and Cheap by Leanne Brown
Written specifically to help those who are on America’s Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (once upon a time known as Food Stamps), especially those who have that as their only source of food, Good and Cheap starts off with principles to help you stay within the narrow allotment that program provides. Some of the tips include:
- No juice (use agua fresca instead…the recipe is included)
- Reduce meat.
- Use fruits and vegetables that are on sale, and make that your focus.
- Make as much as you can from scratch (not as hard as it sounds).
I wish there had been more about menu planning, but that’s a small quibble. The book is very useful and the recipes are surprisingly delicious. Highly recommended for those on an extremely tight budget.
2. How to Cook Everything Vegetarian by Mark Bittman
This is a monster of a book, but it’s also the one that does the best job of not only providing vegetarian recipes, but explaining how to modify, substitute, and properly make all sorts of basic vegetarian dishes. It also has the best egg noodle recipe I’ve ever made.
3. Dining on a Dime by Tawra Kellam and Jill Cooper
More than a cookbook, this is the book that helped me find every cheap, tightwad recipe I’d ever heard of in my life. Its main focus is to save you money without necessarily giving up meat or rich foods. (Though that’s a lot trickier than it first appears.)
Also, it includes cleaning recipes and beauty recipes, as well as some ideas for homemade gifts, among other things. Lots of frugal stuff in this book.
4. The Healthy College Cookbook by Alexandra Nimitz, Jason Stanley, Emeline Starr, and Rachel Holcomb
If you’ve never really cooked before and have no idea how to work your way around a kitchen, this might be the book for you. Meant for young adults who have just left home and have no idea how to cook for themselves, it does an extra bit of handholding, while pointing out ways to eat cheap without resorting to Ramen noodles.
5. Betty Crocker Money-Saving Meals by…um, Betty Crocker
This one uses a bit more in the way of processed foods than someone focused on health might want to use, but if you’re in a hurry and have no energy, it’s better to have recipes like these and the ingredients to go with it than to pick up the phone and order a pizza.
Seriously, that’s the last bit of advice I’d like to give here. Know your energy. Work with it. And be mindful of everything you make, everything you eat, and everything you spend on what you make and eat. A tall order, but worth the effort, even if you fall short.
What about you? How did you save money on food during hard times?