Budget Meal Plan: $50, 5 Meals, 4 People
Our own Robin Bashinsky cooked up a week's worth of tasty dinners for four—for a total of just $50. Download his grocery list here.
Robin Bashinsky is a self-proclaimed supermarket tightwad—a master at cutting costs even if it means driving to five different stores, making patrons wait for the clerk to ring up his half teaspoons of spices, and bearing the judgment of onlooking parents as he buys one beer at the gas station, daughter in tow, for steaming mussels.
We challenged this Test Kitchen skinflint to serve four people five meals for only $50—and keep the meals interesting. Click through the following slides to find his week of budget cooking.
The greens can simmer while the pork cooks (they can be done ahead and reheated). Start the grits and gravy around the same time; you don't want the grits to sit or they'll get too firm. You'll use the liquid from a can of tomatoes for the gravy here, then reserve the tomatoes for Spinach and Onion Pizza.
You'll use the tomatoes reserved from the pork dinner here. Purchase one pound of pizza dough and use most of it here; the rest becomes grilled flabreads for the dal dinner.
This is basically an all-out assault on the bulk bins, as well as our modern take on the rice-and-beans dinner. Spices, dried lentils, and rice are cheap ingredients, especially when you buy in these small quantities. Chiles are also a thrifty flavor booster; you should be able to score the two here for a nickel. Your vegetable peeler will get you nice carrot ribbons. And you'll use your leftover pizza dough to make the flatbread.
You may not think of seafood as budget-friendly, but mussels certainly are. If you can't find a 16-ounce beer (a "tall boy"), you can use a 12-ounce beer plus ½ cup broth or water. If there's wiggle room in your budget, pick up some crusty bread to dunk into the beer broth.
Using the cilantro stems for the base of the sauce (instead of throwing them in the trash) is a flavorful way to stretch a buck or two. If you can't find skin-on boneless chicken thighs, purchase bone-in and bone them yourself or have the butcher do so.