Eating at home is generally the healthier way to go and it’s also the more inexpensive option. The average cost of a three-course meal for two at a mid-level restaurant is around $45. However, if you cook that same meal at home, you could easily make it for less than half of that price.
So why doesn’t everyone cook at home all of the time? Well, aside from restaurants serving as a form of entertainment, they also save time and provide us with a bit of a break from all of our day-to-day tasks.
To make cooking more of a fun, creative process and less of a chore, many people try out new recipes on a regular basis. Some recipes contain 20, 30, or even 40 ingredients, and sometimes these ingredients come with a high price tag. Even though a recipe may only require a single teaspoon or a pinch of an ingredient, flavors like vanilla extract or fresh garlic can really add up.
Food prices are also on the rise — the food index rose .4 percent in July alone. According to the BLS, this is the fifth increase of at least .4 percent in the past 6 months. Certain food items are seeing even more of an increase. To help cut costs on these and other food items, we can use substitutes.
This list of food items contains items that have been priced especially high. You can help save on your grocery bill by occasionally swapping these items out for cheaper alternatives.
1. Ground Beef
From meatloaf to burgers to spaghetti, there are endless meals you can make with ground beef. The only problem is that ground beef prices are higher than ever. According to data published on CNS News, “the average price for all types of ground beef per pound hit its all time high — $3.884 per pound — in the United States in July.”
In pastas, you can substitute a frozen bag of spinach for one pound of ground beef and make a meal that’s still tasty for a much cheaper price. Tuna fish, lunch meats, and dark meat chicken can also be used as substitutes in some recipes as well. Check out this recipe from All Recipes, where you can easily substitute the ground beef for spinach.
- 1 pound ground beef
- 1 onion, chopped
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 small green bell pepper, diced
- 1 (28 ounce) can diced tomatoes
- 1 (16 ounce) can tomato sauce
- 1 (6 ounce) can tomato paste
- 2 teaspoons dried oregano
- 2 teaspoons dried basil
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
Directions: Combine ground beef, onion, garlic, and green pepper in a large saucepan. Cook and stir until meat is brown and vegetables are tender. Drain grease. (Instead, sauté spinach and vegetables.)
Stir diced tomatoes, tomato sauce, and tomato paste into the pan. Season with oregano, basil, salt, and pepper. Simmer spaghetti sauce for 1 hour, stirring occasionally.
Although mainly for pies, other desserts, and fruit salads, cherries do have their place in quite a few recipes. The only problem is that the price of cherries is incredibly high. Depending on where you live, you could pay upwards of $6 for a one pound package of fresh cherries.
For fruits salads, grapes are a perfect substitute and as of June, the average price of a pound of seedless grapes is less than $2.50. For pies, you may want to go apple and pay around $1.40 per pound or opt for canned cherries. Try swapping grapes or apples for the cherries in this fruit salad recipe by Martha Stewart.
- 1 pint of raspberries
- 1 pint of blueberries
- 1/2 pound of Bing cherries
- 2 medium oranges peeled, pith removed
- 2 tablespoons eau de vie (sub sugar)
Directions: In a large bowl, combine the blueberries and raspberries. Working over parchment paper, pit the cherries, discard the pits, and add the fruit to the berry mixture. Section the oranges and add them to the bowl.
Pour the juices that have collected on the paper into the bowl, add the eau de vie, and gently toss. Divide among four bowls and serve.
Bacon has so many functions. You can eat it as a breakfast side item, use it to add more flavor to dishes, use its grease to tenderize meat, or crumble it up as a topping. These days, however, bacon is especially expensive. As of June, the average price of bacon was over $6.10 per pound.
Inexpensive lunch meat hams, like Buddings brand ham, serve as a great substitute for some dishes. You can also use bacon bits, which generally cost less than $3 for a 3 ounce container. Most bacon bits are made of real bacon, so you can use them in omelettes or as a crumble topping on chicken. Although pound for pound, the bacon seems cheaper, bacon is perishable and contains a great deal of fat. Since bacon bits are “bits,” they stretch farther, last longer in the fridge, and they are not so greasy.
Here’s a chicken recipe from Food.com where you can easily swap out the bacon for bacon bits and no will will really even notice.
- 4 boneless chicken breasts
- 8 slices bacon, crumbled (I used the already cooked bacon)
- 4 slices mozzarella cheese
- Seasoning salt
- Garlic salt
Cheese Sauce (Cornstarch Package Directions)
- 2 cups milk
- 2 tablespoons cornstarch
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon pepper
- 2 cups mozzarella cheese, shredded
Directions: Season your chicken and cook for about 10 minutes on medium-low heat or until easy to pierce with a fork and no longer pink. (If you have a George Foreman grill it may be quicker.)
Place chicken in a slightly greased baking dish. Sprinkle crumbled bacon equally over the chicken. Place one slice of mozzarella cheese over each breast. Place chicken breast in oven on 220 degrees Fahrenheit.
Mix your cornstarch and milk together in a small saucepan. Add your pepper and salt. Cook over medium heat stirring often until thickened (2 minutes). Remove from heat and add shredded mozzarella cheese.
Remove chicken breasts from oven and cover with cheese sauce. Serve with a side dish of your choice. I used mashed potatoes covered with the same cheese sauce.
Other swaps like margarine for butter and dry spices instead of fresh cut spices can also help you save. Recipes can be followed exactly, or they can serve as a guide. Don’t be afraid to mix things up a bit.