When it comes to being broke, the kitchen can become a battlefield. A war between your fridge and your finances is constantly thrashing, and what the hell are you going to eat?!
If your favorite food on earth is dried ramen noodles, you probably aren’t too worried about dinner plans. But, if you are a burgeoning foodie like me, ramen every night just isn’t gonna cut it – for nutrition and sanity reasons.
Chana Masala, the ultimate pantry-based dinner savior.
As you might guess, the power of being broke and eating food lay in the groceries you buy. You can approach groceries two ways:
First is the hyper-planned, Type A approach, which includes the dreaded task of budget meal planning. Breaking down every day into breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks (or whatever your personal diet dictates) can result in a lot of duplicate meals, but it also results in meals. Isnt it great to know you get to eat multiple times per day? This process will ensure that, and guarantee that you have all of the groceries you need to make the food that you want.
The other approach is hard to pass up: sale chasing. You know when you go in the grocery store and all of a sudden, all of the food on the planet is on sale? And you really want to buy it? But don’t have any clue how you’ll use it? This is how I end up shopping 90% of the time, but I wouldn’t feel comfortable without my two favorite cooking websites to assist me. All I need to do is keep my pantry basics well-stocked and the week becomes an adventureland of food. This option comes with a little more anxiety but also results in a ton of learning about food and cooking!
Remember that time I made black bean brownies less healthy by inventing Black Bottom Black Bean Brownies?
Two Amazing Resources for Budget Meal Planning
I like to think that I have the ability to be a beast in the kitchen, but the truth is that I’m just resourceful. Having been raised by the Internet, any question I have about life goes right into Google. As a result, I have learned that there are a staggering number of food-related websites, and not all of them are great. In fact, most of them just offer duplications and re-hashings of the same recipes and kitchen tips.
Two websites have been able to break the mold and keep me fed without forcing me to spend a whole bunch of money on extra groceries.
For inspiration: Feastie.com
Feastie is where beautiful meal plans are born. People who like to eat seasonally will appreciate this tool. If you have an abundance of a particular ingredient and want to find something to make with it, Feastie will take the ingredients you put in and show you tons and tons and tons of recipes that include both. Then, you just need to fill in the blanks. Oftentimes, you’ll have everything you need on hand, or will only need a box of dried pasta, or a stick of butter – minimal investment.
It’s also an exceptionally fun way to learn new recipes. If you have no idea what you want to make, but know that it has to include eggplant, or celery, or eggplant and celery, all you have to do is enter the ingredient and/or check the box next to it and go! Every recipe on the internet with eggplant and celery is literally at your fingertips.
Eggplant! Celery! Your dreams have come true!
A great feature of Feastie is the ability to organize your results by diet limitations and meal type. So that eggplant-celery dessert for your lactose-intolerant friend… Hopefully doesn’t exist because wow that sounds gross, but you get what I mean.
This is also great for those sale-shoppers who found the most beautiful cantaloupe they’ve ever seen for only $0.50, and have no clue how people use cantelope in things. Punch it in, and all of your questions will be answered!
For desperation: Supercook.com
I admit: I saved the best for last. I forced you to read over 500 words just to get to the
money shot best website for budget meal planning.
Supercook is a web app that has you input everything – yes, everything – in your fridge and pantry. Then, because magic and technology, it will tell you every single recipe that you can make with the ingredients you have on hand.
Let that sink in. If that doesn’t blow your mind and change the way you cook – use it. I don’t care if it’s right now, or the next time you’re out of dinner ideas and don’t want to go to the store. It will – I repeat, will change your life.
I’ve made things I’d never even heard of before they popped up on my list. I’ve made chicken adobo, the national dish of the Phillipines; Chilequilas, a Latin American classic made from eggs and leftover corn tortillas; curries and salads and soups galore from whatever I had on hand, and it was amazing.
Supercook is an incredibly fun and educational way to save money. My friends think I am a kitchen wizard because of this website, and until now, I’ve been content to let them continue doing so. After a couple of years, I broke down and had to share. Supercook is just too good to keep to myself!
An Internet of Recipes Made Searchable
Both websites pull recipes from the same places: big sites like AllRecipes.com and Epicurious.com, etc., as well as hundreds if not thousands of food blogs and indie food websites. That means, food blog lovers – you’ve been warned. This is the ultimate rabbit hole for people who sit awake at night obsessively scrolling through Gluten-Free Goddess while munching on a white bread sandwich. (Yes, that was most definitely autobiographical.)
Each website has its own ways of allowing you to save and store the recipes that work with the direction of your budget meal planning. I usually end up saving each recipe to Evernote, but I get super obsessive about digital recipe organization… If anyone ever wants to talk at great length about how to organize recipes, please, please don’t hesitate to look me up.
I hope this helps make budget meal planning a little less scary! These two websites changed the way I look at weeknight dinners, as well as helped me implement budget meal planning into a regular thing. This not only keeps my wallet in check, but saves me from becoming suddenly starving and without a plan, which historically always ends up with me making bad food decisions.