Wait for what?
If you’re like us, you’ve probably said those words at the grocery store checkout recently.
Staples like eggs and milk are increasingly expensive (egg prices rose 92% between March and April, according to a USDA analysis by the Food Institute). Peanut butter is being recalled, and things like sugar, beef, and poultry are getting harder and harder to find.
The USDA’s Food Price Outlook 2022, the consumer price index for food that measures inflation, was up 1 percent from March 2022 to April 2022, and food prices were 9.4 percent higher than in April 2021. And the agency predicts that prices will continue to rise this year.
So what should a person do?
For example, learn to think differently about ingredients. You may have laughed at canned chicken or frozen broccoli, thinking they are only good fresh. But with a slight change of perspective and a dash of food knowledge, you can see the potential for green chicken enchiladas with a side of oven-roasted broccoli.
Read on to find out what we’re doing with five inexpensive, versatile foods always in our pantry or freezer.
We get it; opening a can of meat can be unpleasant. We don’t recommend digging into it with a spoon (but feel free to if that’s your thing – we’re not judging), but we’d like you to give the compressed poultry a shot.
You can use it in most recipes that you would use for shredded chicken, although we don’t recommend adding it to soups as it can break down a bit in the boiling liquid. I like to use it in quesadillas for a quick lunch or whip up a chicken salad by adding a dash of mayonnaise, celery, onion, and pepper (I don’t add salt to canned foods as they tend to be higher in sodium than their fresh counterparts). If you’re feeling a little creative, make a baked bread roll with this savory crescent-shaped chicken square recipe from Pillsbury.
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Frozen pork shoulder
If you want to feed many mouths or cook once and eat for a week, it’s hard to beat pork shoulder (plus, the USDA predicts the price of pork will rise less than other meats).
Besides being a big cut, pork shoulder is more forgiving than low-fat cuts like pork chops, which can dry out quickly. You can cook pork shoulder in a slow cooker, pressure cooker, oven, grill — pretty much anywhere — and it will be delicious. Our two favorite preparations for the public are pulled pork sandwiches and carnitas.
Try this easy one from Tastes Better From Scratch for uncomplicated pulled pork. If you want to impress, you can’t go wrong with pulled pork with spicy Hatch Vinegar BBQ Sauce from the “Pig Beach BBQ Cookbook”.
Slow cooker carnitas is finished off on the grill (those crispy bits are the best part!) in this recipe from Gimme Some Oven.
Rice is great because it shines alone or as part of a dish. That means you can easily buy in bulk to save even more money. Rice tops the list with honey, vinegar, and Twinkies in the things that don’t expire.
Dress up white rice with garlic and chicken stock in this garlic butter rice recipe from Cooking Classy. For simple meals, try stew and beans, Cuban rice with chicken, or this easy chicken and sausage jambalaya.
Whenever you can, we recommend making double the rice you need and refrigerating half for a day or so, as the secret to making delicious fried rice at home is cold rice.
Beans are an inexpensive and easy ingredient to add weight and nutrition to any meal (even breakfast — add some pinto beans to your burrito, and you can cut back on eggs while keeping protein levels up). They’re full of fiber, which most of us need more of, as well as iron, magnesium, potassium, folate, and a host of other goodies.
We usually choose canned beans because we are busy, and they are ready to cook much faster. But if you have the time and inclination, dry beans are cheaper than their canned cousins, giving you more control over flavor and texture.
If you’re looking for a dairy-free option, this creamy vegan pasta from Love and Lemons is where it’s at. Use white beans in this ham and white bean stew from Bon Appetit. Black beans, corn, avocado, and spicy herbs combine to create a delicious and hearty black bean salad from The Spruce Eats.
The frozen variety is just as nutritious as fresh vegetables and lasts indefinitely. We stock sacks of peas, corn, broccoli, diced potatoes, sweet potatoes, and blends like bell peppers and onions. I rarely take my frozen vegetables from microwave to plate because mushy, bland food is not my thing. For example, frozen broccoli florets are transformed in the oven. The ice cream melts to soften them, and a dose of Parmesan cheese and lemon juice makes them a savory, bright side dish you’ll come back for again and again. Try this recipe from The Kitchn for a guide.
About once every two weeks, we make a succotash by mixing small portions of corn, edamame (you can try the traditional lima beans, but my family doesn’t eat them), red bell pepper, and onion in a skillet. I start with a little water to revive the vegetables, add butter or olive oil and turn up the heat to give the whole dish a toasty finish.
Other staples we love:
Canned tomatoes are great for easy chili or pureed tomato soup.
Tofu is a cheap alternative to meat. It absorbs flavors and is great in skillets and soups.
Tortillas and taco shells turn anything into a meal. Whether it’s a combination of meat and lettuce to make a lunch wrap or chicken, cheese, and sauce to make an enchilada platter, tortillas are among the most versatile staples in my house.
Canned tuna is low in fat and protein, and omega-3 fatty acids. I eat it with a little mayo, chopped pickles, and onions for a quick tuna salad, while my kids love it in an old-fashioned tuna dish.
Pasta is obvious, but sometimes that’s the best choice. Turn egg noodles, ground beef, and low-sodium mushroom cream into stroganoff. Add lemon, butter, and Parmesan cheese to the penne. And who can resist an easy spaghetti bolognese?