Three Grocery Store Staples for Cooking on a Budget

Recipes for tight budgets.

For many families, food cost is one area of the monthly budget where there’s at least some wiggle room. Making small changes, like cutting out convenience foods and drinks – think small bags of goldfish crackers and juice boxes – is one way to save money. Dinner is another area where costs can be cut. Eating at home is a start for saving money at dinnertime, but then having some inexpensive family favorite recipes to add to your weekly or monthly meal plans can also help. Here are some of my favorites when it comes to cooking on a budget.


Chili is economical both for its simple ingredients and versatility. Keep the pantry items for chili stocked during the fall, so all you might need to pick up is the ground beef, onion and peppers to have a family favorite dinner.

Tired of chili? Add Fritos to make Frito pie, a perennial kid-favorite, or add spaghetti and cheese to make three-way chili. When there’s not enough chili leftovers to serve everyone the next day, take what you do have and pour it on top of baked potatoes for a quick dinner. Or, make a big green salad with tomatoes, olives, bell peppers and avocado, then add tortilla chips and chili for a taco salad.

When I’m in super-mom mode, I make a double batch of chili, and then freeze quart-size bags to pull out as a topping for hot dogs or nachos for quick dinners. All you moms who instinctively do this type of planning deserve a pat on the back. It’s taken me years to get it in my head that working harder the first time will give me a pay-off in the end.

This is one of my favorite chili recipes. It’s lighter on the ground beef and heavier on the beans, which I like for my kids. If your kids don’t like spicy foods, omit either the jalapeno or cayenne pepper. Remember to double the recipe and freeze batches to use for future dinners.

Family Favorite 3 Bean Chili

1 pound ground beef
1 medium onion, chopped
2 jalapeño peppers, seeded and chopped
2 tablespoons chili powder
2 teaspoons brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
2 (15-ounce) cans tomato sauce
1 (6-ounce) can tomato paste
1 3/4 cups water
1 1/4 cups broth or beer
1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
1 (16-ounce) can light red kidney beans, drained
1 (15.5-ounce) can small great northern beans, drained
1 (15-ounce) can pinto beans, drained
1/2 teaspoon salt

Cook ground beef and onion in a Dutch oven over medium-high heat, stirring until meat crumbles and onion is tender. Drain, then return to pan.

Add jalapeño pepper, chili powder, brown sugar, cayenne pepper and cumin; cook 2 minutes. Add tomato sauce, tomato paste, water and beef broth; stir well. Stir in beans. Bring to a boil; reduce heat, and simmer, uncovered, over medium-low heat 45 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in salt before serving.

Rotisserie Chicken

When the clock is ticking for dinnertime, you can always rely on a rotisserie chicken. The grocery store stand-by has a few advantages: it’s inexpensive, relatively healthy and is just boring enough to not cause a protest by either toddlers or teenagers.

I especially like the rotisserie chickens both at Whole Foods and Costco. If you’re thinking ahead, pick up a few to debone and shred or chop for future meals. If there’s no time for that, just pick up a chicken and serve with rice, salad and bread. Dinner is done.

As far as cost goes, you do save a little by roasting your own chicken – which you can do either in the oven or a Crock-Pot. But the cost saving is minimal and not worth it if you’re in a busy season of life.

Any recipe that calls for cooked, chopped chicken is a green light for rotisserie chicken. Using my own kids and my nieces as a focus group, I know that kids prefer simple. Casseroles may be comfort food for me, but they’re off the table for my kids.

So, I use rotisserie chicken simply. Chopped and seasoned with chili powder, cumin and a little salsa, you have the filling for chicken tacos, quesadillas or burritos. Sliced and seasoned with salt and pepper, you have a protein to mix with veggies and rice for a quick stir fry.

Here’s another way I like it – as a pizza topping. This inexpensive dinner comes together easily with Trader Joe’s pizza dough (find it in the freezer case) or a premade pizza crust from any grocery store. Another inexpensive – and fun – way to make this pizza is to substitute flour tortillas for the pizza dough. Let each kid make his or her own pizza using the tortilla as a base.

I have one child who picks and eats basil straight from the garden. My other two have put it squarely in the category of “green stuff,” in other words “not to be touched.” But even they like this pizza, once they’ve picked off the green stuff.

Chicken Bruschetta Pizza

1 cup chopped cooked chicken
2 tomatoes, seeded and chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
Salt and pepper, to taste
1 large prebaked pizza crust
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
1/4 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil

Heat oven to 450 degrees.

Combine chicken, tomatoes, garlic, balsamic vinegar and salt and pepper in bowl.

Brush olive oil over pizza crust. Bake 3 minutes; remove from oven. Top with chicken mixture and mozzarella cheese. Bake 7 to 9 minutes or until cheese is melted and bubbly.

Once out of oven, top with Parmesan cheese and fresh basil. Cut into slices.


Beans are synonymous with frugality. Dried beans are, of course, the cheapest way to go. But canned beans are also economical.

For kids, the prospect of staring down a plate of haricot verts and zucchini on a Meatless Monday might be doomsday. Instead, take that vegetarian night of the week to capitalize on tasty and healthy beans. Make a mixed bean soup with cornbread. Mash pinto beans and top with cheese and sour cream for a dip served with cut vegetables and baked tortilla chips.

Or, you can’t go wrong with a black bean burger. Serve it with sweet potato fries for a dinner so good even carnivores won’t miss the meat.

A vegetarian friend gave me this recipe that’s a favorite of her kids. She says her kids love these burgers topped with ketchup and pickles. This recipe makes eight burgers.

Black Bean Burgers

1 medium onion, diced
4 to 5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
3 cups cooked black beans, divided
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1 1/2 cups coarse breadcrumbs
2 eggs
1 1/2 teaspoons liquid smoke
3/4 teaspoon lemon pepper
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon kosher salt

Cook onion in 3 tablespoons olive oil over medium heat until onion becomes translucent and begins to brown. Remove from heat.

In a blender or food processor, puree 2 1/2 cups of the beans.

Mix pureed and remaining whole beans with onions, garlic, breadcrumbs, eggs, liquid smoke, lemon pepper, red pepper flakes and salt. Form the mixture into 8 patties.

On a griddle, heat 1 to 2 tablespoons olive oil over medium heat. Cook patties on the griddle until they start to crisp on the edges and are warmed through (just a couple of minutes). Serve on hamburger buns with your favorite hamburger toppings.

Categories: Food