5 Simple Zero-Waste Frugal Dinners Under $12

A large pot of bean and vegetable soup, a very frugal dinner

Each frugal dinner in this post serves four people, thus proving that a zero-waste, less-waste, insert-sustainable-label-here lifestyle need not cost a fortune. While living a lower-waste life may consume more time—cooking a meal requires more work than ordering clam-shells of take-out, for example—it should save money. After all, not buying stuff you don’t need costs, well, nothing.

I based the prices for these five meals on what I paid this past weekend while shopping at the farmers’ market and bulk bins and also researched two stores near me on Instacart. I erred on the side of higher prices for this post and so “shopped” in one store that charges a little bit above average and one quite expensive store with very high quality. Had I done my research at a discount store or picked ingredients on sale, my imaginary bills for these dishes would cost less.

By the way, if you think the farmers’ market costs more than the grocery store, you may want to do some comparison shopping. I bought two beautiful, large organic bunches of celery and one bushy bunch of kale for a total of $5 on Saturday. I can’t find that kind of quality for that price in any store near me.

Wooden crate filled with seasonal produce of tomatoes, eggplant, red onions and zucchini. Seasonal vegetables cost less than imported vegetables and make more frugal dinners.
Buying food in season reduces the cost and increases the nutrition

Not-too-Spicy Black Beans

I knew the Not-Too-Spicy Black Beans were economical but didn’t realize just how economical until I bought a bagful of bulk beans on the weekend and did the math for this post. For this dish, in addition to the beans, you’ll need fat, an onion and some garlic, jalapeños, salt, lime juice and cilantro. Serve it with rice or the sourdough discard tortillas in my cookbook. Yum!

Price for this frugal dinner: $5.04

This price includes 2 cups of cooked rice. The $12 budget I’ve allotted can easily cover the cost of a side green salad.

Go here for the Not-Too-Spicy Black Beans recipe.

6 cloth produce bags sitting on a dark wooden table top. The bags are tied shut.
Our bulk stores once again allow customers to fill up with reusables, which are safe to use during Covid

Pumpkin Dal

I’m working on a sourdough discard pumpkin quick bread at the moment and have extra pumpkin purée on my hands—’tis the season!–so I’ll whip up a pot of this dal this weekend. I’ve served this dish at Thanksgiving to my vegan and vegetarian guests and they love it. It calls for lentils, onions, spices, tomatoes and the star ingredient, pumpkin. As with many Indian dishes, this dal tastes even better on the second day. Enjoy any leftovers!

Price for this frugal dinner: $11.92

When calculating this price, I included a whole sugar pie pumpkin and an entire bunch of cilantro. In reality, you will have lots of each left. Think about making this pumpkin pie and, if you made the above spicy black beans recently, you already have cilantro on hand for this dal.

Go here for the pumpkin dal recipe.

Pumpkin dal in a large Dutch oven sitting on a concrete background
Pumpkin dal

Minestrone Soup

These recipes themselves cost less than $12 to cook for four and they also reduce food waste, which costs the average American family of four $1,800 per year. For my imaginary soup, I chose pinto beans for my protein and fresh produce that I typically buy: onions, tomatoes, carrots, celery and potatoes. But use whatever vegetables you have on hand to ensure your family eats them.

Price for this frugal dinner: $11.94

This pot of soup will likely serve more than four and like the dal, the leftovers will taste even better on day two.

Go here for the soup recipe.

A large stainless steel pot of minestrone soup sitting on the oven
Giant pot of minestrone soup

Grateful-for-What-I-Have Vegetable Fried Rice

Not only does this recipe save you money—even with my very expensive farmers’ market eggs from pasture-raised hens which I happily pay extra for—it saves time if you’ve already cooked the rice. So if the black beans sound appetizing, you may want to cook extra rice for those so you’ll have extra rice for this. Use whatever vegetables you have on hand so they fill tummies, not trash.

Price for this frugal dinner: $11.91

I grow my own green onions (a.k.a. scallions) and the price of an organic bunch ($2.69) shocked me when I looked it up. I did include that $2.69 price tag in the tab, however. But you can regrow green onions easily in a pot of soil placed in a sunny window or outside (I live in a temperate climate) or directly in the soil outside. Go here for more info.

Go here for the fried rice recipe.

A pot of rice and various vegetables arranged on a tabletop. These will go into fried rice, a very frugal and versatile dish.

Sourdough Discard Pizza

The sourdough discard pizza on my blog has been a top post for months now. It renders a chewy crust with a soft interior and puts a large dent in your discard jar!

Now, if you top this pizza with loads of fancy cheese, it will cost more than $12. But think of the cheese as a condiment—you need only so much for flavor. Or you can forgo the cheese altogether and use homemade cultured nut “cheese.”

Cashews aren’t cheap but with 1 cup of organic cashews, you can make more than enough cashew cheese for a few pizzas. Add some vegetables and you have gourmet pizza that costs much less than takeout.

Price for this frugal dinner: $11.86

To arrive at this price, I doubled the pizza dough recipe, used an entire batch of cultured cashew cheese and for my toppings, chose roma tomatoes (1 per pizza), red bell pepper strips (1/4 of a bell pepper per pizza) and one caramelized onion divided among the four pizzas.

Go here for the sourdough pizza recipe.

Find more frugal recipes and tips in my cookbook.

5 Replies to “5 Simple Zero-Waste Frugal Dinners Under $12”

  1. Great ideas, and thanks for doing the math!

  2. I finally found read an article that explains why sourdough starter in a sourdough whole wheat bread is better for diabetics that that made of yeast. A bakery near where in Port Moody recently moved has us has been closed for months along time due to the premature birth of their baby. Micro-preterm babies, the 23, 24, 25 gestational week babies are my specialty so conversations are good. The baby is doing fine and they opened back up 2 weeks ago. So I rushed to get anything they had and I got their whole wheat bread, and rye seeded bread, 2 of the last 3 loaves left at 10 am on a weekday!. They told me they had “an old guy who is a diabetic who comes in for their whole wheat bread all the time”. I was hypoglycemic growing up as competitive skiing and track athlete so I learned young what white carbs would do to me, and so I avoided them all through my life, never taking sandwich’s for lunch to school. I was lucky to have my grandmother’s War time cookbook when sugar was rationed. Any new cookbooks I bought, I halved the sugar long before it was recommended by dieticians and never had an issue. I learned in organic chemistry 101 that all the sweeteners that were marketed to the masses were converted to glucose as soon as they were digested. I went with Agave for a bit as I had so many Hispanic friends and clients but even research into this has proved to have it’s pros and cons.

    Apparently early hypoglycemia pre-disposes one to diabetes later in life. I had a successful twin pregnancy which carries a 50% chance of gestational diabetes which I got. Gestational diabetes carries a 50% chance of Type 2 Diabetes so here I am. I did what I was told and lost 45 pounds in 1 year just by returning to the BC again. My status went to pre-diabetic for several months but it has gone back to diabetes again. So I have to be so careful with carbs and as always eat a lot of protein and never eat carbs without protein to slow the digestion of the carbs.

    The bakery where I am going now uses only sourdough starters for their bread. I knew I can’t eat sourdough white bread and so I was wondering about sourdough starter. The bakers did not know the answer which surprised me. They said Purebred, in Function Junction at Whistler, who went to Shark Tank for funding, apparently uses yeast. I was able to eat their sourdough whole wheat bread with no issues. So I was going to pose the question to you, however I tried one more google search this evening and I got the answer: sourdough starter means more lactic acid in the bread which lowers the glycemic index. Presto. I will let the bakers know tomorrow morning.

    I have killed sourdough starter before, but I am willing to give it a go with your instructions. However, in my search’s I have not found any recipes that use only whole-wheat flour, except for King Arthur’s which I ordered when I lived in the US. I am not going to order it from the US with that “shipping slightly higher in Canada” nonsense. Also the carbon footprint. Their recipe also suggested their whole grain improver which I searched into and I found I can use ascorbic acid. So I will try that recipe but I was wondering why their aren’t more. In my searches I also found articles that said as soon as you ad a none whole wheat bread flour: all purpose, bread, or white flour, it renders the whole wheat grains less digestible/accessible, so why bother?. I don’t want any other flours except whole grains. Even Flourist recipes do not have any recipes that don’t have other flours. Their milled flours from the Canadian prairie organically grown wheat fields are lovely but beyond my budget. I made your lentil soup with their lentils.

    I am also searching for recipes for amaranth atta, flours I am sure you know considered to be like or buckwheat and millet. I asked East Indian friends and Indish food truck cooks who advised where I can get it for reasonable prices in Burnaby and Surrey and for recipes that go beyond flat breads. I had 20 years of making tortillas in New Mexico and Colorado. They say the bread will be heavy but I am used to that. It is considered the flour for diabetics, with a slow digestive response and very low glycemic index. I am in.

    So if you know of any recipes. You must have a zillion readers with diabetes and fighting the scourge of white carbs coming at me is just as challenging as fighting the vortex of plastic seemingly coming at me since I took a no-plastic initiative 3 months ago. I have never liked sweet things, yet for some reason everyone seems to think I should be offered and “try” only one little something of a boardroom full of sweet pastries, or the staff meeting that will include free piazza!, which means I have to bring my own lunch. An apple crisp with more ++oatmeal maybe and a pain au chocalat once every few months with my girls!

    Happy Canadian Thanksgiving to you!

  3. Hi Anne Marie, Can you link the recipe for the soup photographed at the top of this article? It looks yummy (even if it doesn’t make the frugal challenge). I clicked on the photo but it just kept me on this article…so at a loss.TIA

    1. Hi Catherine,
      I’m sorry about that! I made that soup following my basic soup formula here: https://zerowastechef.com/2020/10/14/soup/ In that particular pot, I added cooked white beans (1.5 to 2 cups dried), almost an entire bunch of celery, onions, salt and olive oil to sauté the onions. Oh and I covered with water to simmer. It’s very simple.

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