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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Find more frugal recipes and tips in my cookbook.