Easy and Cheap Dinner Ideas for Times of High Inflation
Being an adult is so expensive these days. Maybe you’re unemployed, paying off student loans, saving for childcare, or saving money for a new car or a vacation in Tuscany. Whatever the reason, so many of us are looking for ways to save money, and as food prices continue to rise, it’s not always easy. But it’s not just a magazine slogan, you can really eat well and spend less. In short, do what you can to get your pantry in order, reduce your food waste, and aim to eat mostly vegetarian or make recipes that really “stretch” a cut of meat.
Here are some recipes on New York Times Kitchen which rely on affordable staple foods, are mostly vegetarian and will give you the best value.
Chili, that miraculous blend of flavors and textures, is the ultimate budget meal. First, enjoy it as it is intended, then serve leftovers over a baked potato, nacho platter, hot dog, or try it Cincinnati-style over spaghetti for a real dose of comfort. You can use just about any ground meat — turkey, chicken, beef, vegan alternative — in Eric Kim’s Chipotle Flavored Chili, and add a can or two of beans to make it last for multiple meals.
Raw zucchini is a little-known summer delicacy. Here, Ali Slagle breaks it up, which encourages lime and salt to season the vegetable throughout. It is then topped with roasted chickpeas and peanuts seasoned with lime zest and citrus spices like cilantro. Serve it with whole grains, tortillas or pita, yogurt, feta or other crumbly cheese, green salads or boiled eggs.
Here, Roy Choi transform prepackaged dried ramen noodles with butter, a slice of American cheese, chopped scallions, and an egg for a rich, hearty, and totally delicious take on the dorm classic. “Never eat instant ramen any other way,” wrote one reader. Hard to agree.
Ali Slagle’s cozy take on stuffed shells, the classic Italian-American baked pasta, lends itself well to interpretation. Add crumbled and browned Italian sausage, chopped spinach or fresh or dried herbs to the ricotta filling. To save time, use your favorite store-bought marinara sauce.
What is Inflation? Inflation is a loss of purchasing power over time, which means your dollar won’t go as far tomorrow as it did today. It is usually expressed as the annual change in prices of common goods and services such as food, furniture, clothing, transport and toys.
Recipe: Stuffed shells
Arroz mamposteao, or Puerto Rican stew of rice, beans and sofrite, is a great way to use up leftovers, as the dish tastes best when made from day-old rice and prepared beans. So make a double batch of rice for your Monday night jumped upset aside some of your Sunday Beans and put it all to good use.
Recipe: Arroz Mamposteao
Sarah DiGregorio’s clever riff on the school cafeteria classic calls for adding white beans in order to use less meat, but it thankfully retains that nostalgic tangy-sweet taste. This recipe also comes together in a snap – 20 minutes from start to finish.
Peppers are at their peak right now, and this vibrant recipe from Lidey Heuck makes great use of them. Use any type of ground meat you’d like, sautéed vegetables, and leftover rice or other cooked grains for garnish, then top with mozzarella and cook until bubbly.
In this 25-minute recipe from Ali Slagle, farm-fresh tomatoes and cold butter come together to create a bright pink sauce that tastes like sunny summer days. (Whatever you do, don’t use out-of-season tomatoes.) Leftovers make a great pasta salad at room temperature.
Recipe: Tomato and Butter Pasta
Unrefined coconut oil is the magic ingredient in this super-quick dinner from Genevieve Ko. Using it to brown leftover rice, cook eggs, and sauté bok choy and green beans soaks the whole dish with a subtle tropical flavor. Sure, unrefined coconut oil can be a bit pricey, but it’s a worthy staple that can be used in almost any cooking and baking recipe in place of vegetable oil or of canola.
This soulful dish from Romel Bruno was inspired by hamburger skillet macs that became popular in the 1970s when beef prices were high and families wanted to stretch a pound of meat. (Sound familiar?) This version calls for Italian pork sausage and kale, but feel free to use turkey, chicken, or vegan sausage and any greens you like.
Skip the drive-thru and create – and personalize! — these neat little veggie burritos at home. Kay Chun calls for making your own refried beans seasoning with caramelized onion, bell pepper, garlic and smoked paprika in place of traditional pork jus, but there’s no shame in using canned refried beans instead. Burning Reader Tip: Make a double batch of burritos, wrap them in foil, and freeze them for your future self too tired to cook.
Recipe: Bean and Cheese Burritos
Colu Henry’s popular riff on the classic Italian stew is not only a crowd pleaser, but it’s also a great way to use up all the veggies about to go to waste in your fridge. If you baked a Parmesan crust in your freezer, stir it in while it simmers for an even tastier broth.
This hearty Yewande Komolafe recipe is inspired by “Tomato Eggs”, a dish popular in Lagos, Nigeria, and throughout West Africa, in which eggs cook in a spicy tomato and vegetable stew. . Yams or plantains are traditionally used, but here firm yellow plantains are ideal as they hold their shape while absorbing the flavors of the other ingredients.
We know it’s the middle of summer, and we know some of you will be protesting, “Who wants to eat hot soup in 90 degrees? But sometimes a craving calls to you and there’s nothing you can do but give in to it. Eric Kim’s magical combination of tomato soup and grilled cheese comes together in 30 minutes, for when you want a hot, comforting meal without the fuss.
In this super-quick dish from Ali Slagle, the soy sauce, turmeric, and cumin pack in plenty of flavor, while searing the tofu over high heat creates crisp, crunchy edges and tender, chewy centers. Don’t be afraid to experiment: try different spices, add vegetables, beans or cheese for a complete meal and serve with toast, tortillas, salad or potatoes.
Recipe: Tofu scramble
Let’s be honest. Eating an old tuna salad sandwich can feel like a kid whose mom forgot to go grocery shopping. But! Add some special seasonings – celery, red onion, fresh (or dried) herbs and squeezed lemon juice – then top with potato chips, as J. Kenji López-Alt does here, makes it something special, or dare we say , delicious .
When he doubts, quesadilla him. (Yes, we used it as a verb here.) This recipe from Melissa Clark shows us how to make the perfect quesadilla, one with crispy, lacy edges and a melted center. Top with a fried egg or add leftover refried beans, meat or roasted vegetables. A word of warning: A non-stick pan is essential for this technique to prevent the cheese from sticking to the pan.
Recipe: Quesadilla with Crispy Edges
And finally. The baked potato. On its own, with a dab of melting butter and sprinkled with salt and pepper, it’s a humble ode to perfection, but it’s also the perfect conduit for leftover chili, masala, beans, dal, roasted vegetables… you call it. Our Favorite Reader’s Tip: “As my grandmother in Oklahoma taught me, I rub the skins with bacon grease and salt. Try.”
Recipe: baked potatoes