If you’re like us, you’ve probably said those words at the grocery checkout recently.
Staples like eggs and milk continue to get more expensive (egg prices were up 92% between March and April, according to a Food Institute analysis of USDA data). Peanut butter is getting recalled and things like sugar, beef and poultry are becoming harder to find.
The USDA’s Food Price Outlook 2022, the agency’s Consumer Price Index for food which 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 prices will continue to rise this year.
So what’s a person to do?
For one thing, learn to think about ingredients differently. You may have sneered at canned chicken or frozen broccoli before, thinking they’re only good fresh. But with a little change of perspective and a dash of food knowledge, you’ll see the potential for green chicken enchiladas with a side of oven-roasted broccoli.
Read on to discover what we do with five cheap, versatile foods that are always in our pantry or freezer.
We get it, opening a can of meat can be off putting. We’re not recommending you dig in with a spoon (though feel free if that’s your thing – we don’t judge), but we’d like you to give the compacted poultry a chance.
You can use it in most recipes that you’d use shredded chicken, though we don’t recommend adding it to soups because it can disintegrate a bit in the boiling liquid. I like to use it inside quesadillas for a quick lunch or whip up a chicken salad by adding a touch of mayonnaise, celery, onion and pepper (I don’t add salt to canned foods since they tend to have higher sodium levels than their fresh counterparts). If you’re feeling a bit creative, make a baked sandwich with this savory crescent chicken square recipe from Pillsbury.
Perfect every time:The only pasta salad recipe you’ll ever need
Frozen pork shoulder
If you’re looking to feed a lot of mouths, or just want to cook once and eat for a week, then it’s hard to beat pork shoulder (plus, the USDA predicts the price of pork to increase less than other meats).
Besides being a large cut, pork shoulder is more forgiving than lower-fat cuts like pork chops, which can become dry quickly. You can cook pork shoulder in a slow cooker, pressure cooker, oven, grill – pretty much anywhere – and it’ll be tasty. Our two favorite crowd-pleasing preparations are pulled pork sandwiches and carnitas.
For a straight forward pulled pork, try this easy one from Tastes Better From Scratch. If you’re out to impress, you can’t go wrong with pulled pork with tangy Hatch vinegar barbecue sauce from the “Pig Beach BBQ Cookbook.”
Slow cooker carnitas are finished off in the broiler (those crispy bits are the best part!) in this recipe from Gimme Some Oven.
Rice is right up there with honey, vinegar and Twinkies in the things-that-don’t-expire category. Which means you can easily buy in bulk to save even more money. Rice is amazing because it shines on its own or as part of a dish.
Dress up white rice with garlic and chicken broth in this garlic butter rice recipe from Cooking Classy. For easy meals, try one-pot rice and beans, Cuban rice with chicken or this easy jambalaya with chicken and sausage.
Whenever you can, we recommend making double the rice you’ll need and storing half in the fridge for a day or so since the secret to making great fried rice at home is cold rice.
Beans are a cheap and easy ingredient to add heft and nutrition to any meal (even breakfast – just add some pinto beans to your burrito and you can use fewer eggs while keeping the protein level up). They’re full of fiber, which most of us need more of, as well as iron, magnesium, potassium, folate and loads of other goodies.
We usually opt for canned beans because we’re busy and they’re much quicker to cook with. But if you have the time and inclination, dry beans are even cheaper than their canned cousins, and allow you more control over the flavor and texture.
Use white beans in this ham hock and white bean stew from Bon Appetit. If you’re looking for a dairy-free option, this creamy vegan pasta from Love and Lemons is where it’s at. Black beans, corn, avocado and tangy spices combine for a delicious and hearty black bean salad from The Spruce Eats.
The frozen variety are just as nutritious as fresh vegetables, and last infinitely longer. We stockpile bags of peas, corn, broccoli, diced potatoes, sweet potatoes and mixes like peppers and onions. I rarely take my frozen veggies from microwave to plate because mushy, bland foods aren’t my thing. For example, frozen broccoli florets are transformed in the oven. The ice melts to soften them, then a dose of Parmesan and lemon juice makes them a savory, bright side dish you’ll keep coming back for. For a how-to guide, try this recipe from The Kitchn.
About once every two weeks, we make a succotash by combining small portions of corn, edamame (you can try the traditional lima beans, but my family won’t eat them), red pepper and onion in a skillet. I start with a bit of water to revitalize the veggies, then add butter or olive oil and turn up the heat to give the whole dish a roasted finish.
Other staples we love:
Canned tomatoes are great for easy chili or pureed into tomato soup.
Tofu is a cheap alterative to meat. It soaks up flavors and is great in skillet meals and soups.
Tortillas and taco shells turn anything into a meal. Whether it’s a combo of meat and lettuce to make a lunch wrap or chicken, cheese and sauce to make a platter of enchiladas, tortillas are among the most versatile staples in my house.
Canned tuna is low in fat and high in protein, plus has omega-3s. I eat it with a dab of mayo and chopped pickles and onions for a quick tuna salad, while my kids love it in an old-school tuna casserole.
Pasta is an obvious choice, but sometimes that’s the best choice. Turn egg noodles, ground beef and low-sodium cream of mushroom into stroganoff. Add lemon, butter and Parmesan to penne. And who could resist an easy spaghetti bolognese?