Top 4 simple tips to create budget-friendly meals with ease

Real Simple's Jenna Helwig shares simple strategies for saving on food at home.

January 16, 2023, 1:24 PM

Cooking at home can be a great way to cut down on food costs, but understanding the elements and how to make the best use of ingredients is an important step to staying on track.

Jenna Helwig, "Bare Minimum Dinners" cookbook author, recipe developer and food director at Real Simple, shared a few tactics that make the most of any budget.

Get Creative with Basic Ingredients

"When you stick to basic ingredients and stay away from specialty items, your grocery bill will be significantly cheaper," Helwig said.

There are a bunch of basic, affordable ingredients to add to a shopping list and recipes that can be used in different ways throughout the week. Helwig suggested items like oats, eggs, marinara sauce and canned beans "because there are endless recipes to use them in creative ways and you'll never get bored cooking with them."

Big Batch Breakfasts for Easy Mornings

"To keep mornings stress-free, make frozen smoothie packs, overnight oats, breakfast burritos, and breakfast sandwiches on the weekends and freeze them. During the week, simply get them out and zap them in the microwave or blender if needed -- breakfast comes together in seconds," she said. "The real savings come in when you eat breakfast at home and don't stop somewhere on your way to work."

Cook Budget-Friendly Meals with What's in Your Freezer

"Cooking your freezer is such a great way to save money. Buying frozen fruit and vegetables rather than fresh is often a cheaper route, and you can buy meat in bulk and then freeze some to use later," Helwig suggested. "Products like frozen pizza dough mean you can make a pizza in less time than it takes for delivery."

Flavor Boosters to Stock Your Pantry

Introduce items to your pantry that pack a punch of flavor with things like anchovies, miso, fish sauce, tahini and flaky sea salt.

"A little of these go a long way to making basic foods taste amazing," Helwig said.

An earlier version of this story was originally published July 27, 2022.