Cooking from Scratch on a Budget


Bronze Wordsmith
May 17, 2018
I’ve always loved to cook, and when I went to college, I knew that cooking would be a challenge. For starters, there’s space. For my first two years I lived in a dorm without a dedicated kitchen. Secondly, there’s the challenge of time. But the surprising thing was, I learned that cooking from scratch actually saves more time and money! When I eventually moved into an apartment with a kitchen, I decided to go all-in on cooking from scratch to save money.

If you’ve been considering cooking from scratch as a means to save on money (and time), this post is for you. I’ll be sharing my favorite tips and methods for cooking on a budget. Let’s go!

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Cook Multiple Servings

Cooking single servings of a specific dish leads to wastage, in terms of ingredients and time. When you cook a large batch of food, you’re making better use of your time and ingredients. This might be a bit of a challenge if you get tired of a specific dish easily. But you should try this out. Eventually, you’ll learn to appreciate what you cook – even if you’ve eaten it for the third meal.

One of my favorite benefits of this cooking technique is that I can go on autopilot when it comes to deciding what to eat. I tend to get engrossed in school work and my other activities. When I have food in the fridge, I don’t have to worry about what to eat at that given time. I simply open the fridge and pull out the first thing I touch.

Cooking large batches also has another surprising benefit: I like having guests over, and cooking large batches means I’m never without food to serve my guests!

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Prepare a Meal Plan

Speaking of going on autopilot, here’s another technique I like to use to make cooking (and eating!) less of a hassle. I make a detailed week-long menu. Sometimes, I like to make a two-week menu plan. These plans are really detailed, they cover breakfast, lunch, dinner, and even in-between snacks and coffee. Having a detailed plan helps me focus on the things I need to be focusing on: namely, school and work.

It might seem extreme, coming up with a menu plan this detailed, but it’s not impossible. Plus, our parents have probably been doing this since we were kids. So take a cue from mom and dad and make a menu plan to save on time and money!

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Buy Ingredients with Long Shelf Lives

I love lettuce and avocado. I can’t get enough of ‘em. But here’s the catch: they don’t last very long (I can get a few extra days out of my lettuce by wrapping it in a paper bag, but it still spoils faster than most veggies). When I buy lettuce and avocados, most of it ends up getting spoiled, so that’s a pretty big waste of money.

Instead, I’ve focused on ingredients that last longer, like frozen spinach and strawberries, tomatoes, and potatoes. Broccoli and cauliflower also spoil quickly, but I found the frozen varieties tend to keep pretty well.

Meats tend to keep well, as long as they’re frozen. But I like to get cured meats to be extra-sure that my stash will last long. And there’s always the canned goods option. If you go this route, make sure you buy the low-sodium variety. And there are even some with no preservatives. These are definitely the best-canned options.

When I get ingredients with long shelf lives, I can be assured that they won’t spoil anytime soon. That means I can get maximum use out of them.

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Do as Much Food Prep in a Single Day

Without a solid strategy, cooking from scratch can be costly. And by costly, I don’t just mean expensive money-wise. It can also be expensive time-wise. Simply put, cooking takes quite a bit of time – especially when you’re cooking for a week, or even two. I found the best way to maximize my time is to do as much of my food prep and cooking in a single day. It might take long (I sometimes spend an entire afternoon doing this, and I fully acknowledge that some of us might not have that type of luxury) but spending an entire afternoon doing food prep is better than spending fifteen minutes every day or so.

Those constant interruptions can really hamper your productivity. So do as much preparation as you can in a single day. Your time (and even money) savings will be more than worth it.

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Learn How to Multitask

I know mono-tasking is now the common buzzword. And for the most part, I agree. When it comes to work, I’m a committed mono-tasker. When I try to focus on multiple tasks at once or try to work on more than one project at a given time, I end up having accomplished nothing.

But when it comes to cooking, I found that I can do multiple things at once. When I need to chop onions, I can also chop other veggies for other recipes. (But don’t do this with meats – you don’t want any cross-contamination between meats and veggies.) And while I’m simmering a stew, I can work on the next dish.

Those times when I’m waiting for something to cook are also great opportunities to get some reading done. Since my stove and oven have built-in timers, I’m not worried about getting distracted.

Multitasking in the kitchen is another great way to save on time and effort – and those things are just as good as money!

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Invest in Decent Storage

Getting decent and high-quality food storage doesn’t cost a lot of money, but it’s surprising how some people overlook this. Putting a saucer on a bowl of food and calling it “storage” doesn’t count. There are a lot of resealable and airtight containers available online, often in sets. Using these storage solutions will help keep your food fresh longer, and minimize food wastage.

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