10 Money-Saving Dishes Everyone Should Know How to Make

CC BY 2.0. Jessica Spengler

The experts at The Financial Diet weigh in on which recipes are most useful and economical.

Here at TreeHugger, we talk a lot of food and the importance of home cooking. Mostly we approach it from the angle of sustainability – being able to use the freshest, most local, and seasonal ingredients and avoiding waste by knowing how to incorporate leftovers into new dishes and how to store food properly.

There is another side to home cooking, however, that does not get as much attention, and that is its inherent frugality. By knowing how to cook, you can save a fortune over the course of your life. In the words of finance blogger Chelsea Fagan, co-founder of The Financial Diet website:

“How you eat and how you spend money on food is the biggest defining factor in most budgets, besides rent... Whether we know how to shop, go out to eat, order takeout, or don’t know how to properly store food – these things will define hundreds of dollars each month.”

Basically, if you’ve mastered home cooking, then you can also master budgeting – but if you don’t know how to cook, the budgeting part will be much more difficult.

Fagan and her fellow finance writer Lauren Ver Hage have come up with a list of ten things everyone should know how to cook for themselves (some are non-vegetarian). If you know how to make these things, you’ll be set for life. These recipes are:

1) Stir fry
It uses any vegetables in the fridge and it is super easy. Pair with noodles or rice for a satisfying meal.

2) Quiche
It requires only eggs, milk, some leftover vegetables or protein, and at least one kind of cheese.

3) Bean soup
There are endless possible combinations, it’s dirt-cheap to make, and easy to freeze.

4) Quick bread
These breads don’t need to rise, they’re almost impossible to mess up, can be sliced and frozen easily.

5) Garlic roasted vegetables
In Fagan’s words, “As a rule, garlic is God’s gift to us and proof that he wants us to be happy. It has no calories and puts a ton of flavor into whatever you put it in.” Toss any vegetable with olive oil, salt, pepper, and loads of minced fresh garlic, and roast at a high temperature.

6) Slow cooker protein
Throw in a cheap, tough cut of meat and you’ve got a fabulous meal. It can be made in bulk, frozen, and used in anything.

7) Roux-based pasta
With milk, butter, flour, and cheese, you can make the base for any creamy pasta dish. It’s very cheap, too.

8) Roast chicken
One chicken can make meals for a week.

9) Risotto
Almost any kind of liquid can be used to make risotto, and it takes well to leftovers vegetables and proteins.

10) Dinner salad
Use Fagan’s template to “construct the perfect hearty dinner salad out of whatever ingredients you like or have on hand.” She recommends greens of your choice + roasted vegetable + protein + fruit + cheese + extra goodies like nuts or dried fruit. I’d suggest mastering a great salad dressing recipe, too, that you make in a large batch and keep in a jar in the fridge.

For those of you who do not eat meat, what would you add to this list? I’d want to substitute the slow-cooker meat and chicken for homemade pizza and bean burritos, which are weekly staples in my home.

You can watch Fagan’s video here and find other great ones on The Financial Diet YouTube channel.