Hannah’s Guide to Cooking on a Budget

One of the hardest parts about adulting is cooking. It’s like, seriously?? I have to make myself food AGAIN?

Three meals a day is a lot harder to do when you actually have to cook them all.

It’s tempting to just do takeout. But it’s also expensive. And if you never learned to cook, it can be incredibly daunting.

The best transition step is to just get Trader Joe’s frozen meals that you can stick on the stovetop or in the oven. But there are much cheaper options if you’re willing to try them.

You could also just live off ramen (life hack: add some meat, eggs, and veggies to make it a real meal). But you might get a little tired of it.

And so without further ado – if you’ve decided you’re ready – I present your new grocery shopping list for the cheapest, healthiest, most varied options:

  1. Bananas: the cheapest fruit
  2. Tomatoes (Roma are particularly cheap)
  3. Eggs
  4. Zucchini squash
  5. tomato sauce
  6. turkey bacon
  7. frozen corn/peas/broccoli/cauliflower
  8. riced cauliflower
  9. cubed pork
  10. canned chickpeas
  11. sweet potatoes
  12. canned cream of mushroom soup
  13. spaghetti squash
  14. bread
  15. peanut butter (if you don’t mind the texture, the kind that’s just peanuts and salt is so much betterfor you)
  16. ground turkey
  17. olive oil (possibly the most expensive thing on the list)
  18. salt
  19. pepper
  20. garlic
  21. party pack of chicken
  22. your preferred shredded cheese
  23. breadcrumbs
  24. frozen chopped onions
  25. instant rice/quinoa
  26. spinach
  27. avocado
  28. milk
  29. oatmeal
  30. ketchup
  31. granola
  32. greek yogurt
  33. sliced deli meat
  34. tortillas

You don’t need to get all of these – this is just a good list of cheaper things to buy.

With these you can make:

  1. bacon spinach salad (tomatoes, spinach, avocado, turkey bacon, chickpeas)
  2. meat loaf (breadcrumbs, garlic, onion, tomato sauce, ground turkey, cheese, ketchup-you really don’t need Worcestershire sauce or other seasoning unless you really want it!)
  3. healthy meatballs and gravy (spaghetti squash – which mades a zillion servings and goes with any sauce, ground meat cheese and breadcrumbs for meatballs, cream of mushroom soup mixed with cream/milk
  4. oatmeal with chopped banana, granola, and peanut butter
  5. greek yogurt with granola
  6. banana peanut butter greek yogurt smoothie
  7. chicken parm (chicken, cheese of choice, breadcrumbs, tomato sauce)
  8. burger patties (ground turkey/beef and breadcrumbs) with avocado, tomato, and sweet potato fries
  9. frittata/omelette/scrambled eggs (eggs, milk, cheese, veggies of your choice, turkey bacon)
  10. avocado toast/egg sandwich (self explanatory)
  11. any variety of sandwich
  12. zoodles (zucchini noodes – spiralized or peeled) with tomato sauce
  13. baked chicken with rice/quinoa and roasted broccoli
  14. cauliflower fried rice with pork, egg, and mixed veggies (just stir fry it all!)
  15. roasted chickpeas (roast in single layer on oven sheet at 425! until hard!)
  16. sweet potato or regular toast with peanut butter and bananas 
  17. tacos with ground beef, tomato, avocado

Honestly, these recipes are really just the ingredients I listed together above. If they’re a bit more complicated, I linked recipes.

Some tips:

  1. Every (bigger; not things like peas) veggie is better roasted. Get oil and seasoning and lay the veggie out (if it’s something as big as a sweet potato, cut it into cubes) 1 layer thick. Put the sheet pan near the top of the oven and cook at 425 for anywhere from 30-60 minutes. It’s important to keep checking them depending on your oven and desired level of crispiness. You can get a ton of veggies for really cheap in the frozen aisle. Just make sure they’re defrosted first (microwave is fine) they won’t roast/season well starting from frozen.
  2. You can roast chicken basically the same way, even together with the veggies. But the fastest way to cook chicken is to slice up raw cubes and put them in a large pan for about 10 minutes, moving them around throughout. PSA: there is no such thing as “rare” chicken. If it looks raw inside, keep cooking it or cut smaller pieces.
  3. Zoodles can be cooked in a pan either with just oil, or with about 2 cups of water in the pan. It really takes about the same amount of time; it just comes down to a personal preference of wanting pieces to be browned/fried or not. Also, zoodles tend to be more watery than spaghetti squash, so they don’t work well with creamy sauces.
  4. If you’re squeamish about raw meat, there are frozen meatballs and rotisserie chickens you can buy instead that are a little more expensive.
  5. For meat, you’ll honestly be able to smell if it’s bad. I wouldn’t chance it past the expiration date – unless you freeze them before the expiration date. Just make sure not to defrost then re-freeze them multiple times. With eggs, they stay good long after the expiration date. If you’re unsure, fill a large bowl with cold water and place the eggs inside. If they float, they’re bad. Toss them. 
  6. If you don’t have a toaster, the fastest way to brown toast is actually to put some butter/oil on a pan and give it a few minutes on each side. You can also broil it in the oven but it’ll take longer.
  7. Anything you can make in the oven, you can make in a toaster oven as long as it fits. Sometimes you might need to cut down on cooking time since it’s so small, but it should be pretty much the same!
  8. Crockpots are a great investments and can be as little as $20. If you’re horrible at cooking, this is a great option. You can find a bunch of recipes here.
  9. Ground turkey will not stick together without breadcrumbs and eggs. If you are keto/can’t have breadcrumbs, you’ll need to use something like crushed pork rinds to substitute.

That’s about it! Obviously you can substitute pasta for any of the zoodle/spaghetti squash recipes. I’ve found if you meal prep once or twice a week you can get a ton of meals out of these options for very low prices and very little time commitment.

Happy cooking!