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6 ways to make cheap food taste delish

Inexpensive foods are a bargain only if you'll eat them. Here's how to boost their flavors.

By MSN Money Partner Feb 18, 2014 1:12PM

This post comes from Maryalene LaPonsie at partner site Money Talks News.


Money Talks News on MSN MoneyIf you're living on a tight budget, you're probably well-acquainted with the bargain bin at the grocery store. You're constantly on the lookout for the cheapest foods possible, even if that means they're boring, bland or a bit past their prime.


Here are six ways to make that cheap food a little more appetizing without resorting to buckets of salt.


Home kitchen © Eric Audras, Getty Images1. Marinate meat

Chuck roast, pork shoulder and chicken pieces are some of the cheapest cuts of meat available. However, they can be, at best, boring and, at worst, tough and chewy.


Fortunately, marinades are a cheap way to add flavor as well as improve texture. You don't want to marinade delicate meats or fish too long, but feel free to leave that chuck roast marinating in the fridge overnight.


Give this technique a try with an easy lemon herb chicken marinade.


2. Sauce it up

Beans, pasta and rice are all super cheap staples, but they can be bland with a capital B. Instead of serving them up plain or with butter, experiment with sauces to incorporate extra flavor.


The easiest add-in may be stirring in pan drippings from a main dish meat, if you have one, or using a canned sauce. You probably already know about adding a jar of spaghetti sauce to a box of cooked pasta, but don't be limited by what's traditional.

For example, try this creamy dill sauce over some rice.


3. Mix in a high-flavor ingredient

Sometimes, a little bit of a more expensive and flavorful ingredient goes a long way.


Consider the capers in this rainbow rice recipe. Capers aren't cheap, but they're packed with flavor, and this hearty -- and cheap -- rice dish calls for only 2 tablespoons of them.


Bacon is another prime example. Cook up a couple pieces and crumble onto salads or soups to give them a little bit of wow. Or chop and fry bacon to be added to pasta and veggies for a delicious pasta carbonara. Bacon can even make beans extra tasty as proven by this red beans and rice dish.


Other high-flavor ingredients include:

  • Herbs and spices.
  • Infused oil.
  • Roasted red peppers.
  • Robust cheese.

You may pay more for these ingredients, but a little goes a long way. If they make your cheap meals more satisfying and your family more likely to eat them, paying for some flavorful mix-ins makes sense.


4. Puree veggies that are past their prime

I can't lie: Fresh veggies are definitely more appetizing and more nutritious. However, that doesn't mean you should turn your nose up at the reduced-price rack. If your budget is so tight that fresh produce is out of the question, less than perfect greens are better than none at all.


That said, I wouldn't recommend eating them raw. But you can certainly puree or otherwise cook up veggies to disguise their imperfections. Take this potato soup recipe, for example. Rather than stirring in the spinach at the end, puree it up with the rest of the soup.


There are plenty of other sneaky ways to incorporate pureed vegetables into your meals to provide extra fiber (keeps those growing kids feeling full longer) and added nutrition. In fact, some cooks have made an entire career out of this technique.


5. Use bargain fruit in smoothies, sauces and jams

Just as you can puree past-their-prime veggies, you can whip up some yummy foods with slightly blemished and bruised fruits.


Making breakfast smoothies seems to be the most obvious method to use bargain fruit finds, but sauces and jams are options too. For example, in the fall, some stores are practically giving away bruised apples. Grab a bag or two because they are perfect for making Crock Pot applesauce.


6. Tweak your technique

Finally, you can make your cheap foods taste better by tweaking your cooking technique slightly.


Consider these flavor-boosters:

  • Brown cuts of meat in a skillet before adding to a slow cooker.
  • Roast veggies rather than boiling or steaming.
  • Cook rice with chicken stock rather than water.
  • Brown butter to be used in recipes and sauces.

These are simple adjustments, but they can dramatically improve the flavor of your ingredients and meals.


Those are my strategies for making cheap food taste delicious. What do you do to keep the cost low but the flavor high?


More on Money Talks News

21Comments
Feb 18, 2014 2:12PM
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I stretch ground beef by adding a pound of food processed mushrooms to it. I get no complaints when doing this with tacos or sloppy joe's. May as well food process the onion and add some peppers if you like, like we often do.
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I stretch the ground beef with beans.


Italian dressing is a great marinade for meats.

Feb 19, 2014 5:42PM
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a can of garbanzo beans ground up in the blender makes an excellent puree, and quite affordable
Feb 23, 2014 2:50PM
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One of my favorite comfort foods; it's cheap, easy, quick and good.


1 package instant ramen noodles (Top Ramen, for instance)

1/4 cup of frozen Asian seasoned vegetables

1/4 cup leftover chicken, pork, beef, or turkey

1/4 tsp dark sesame oil

1/2 tsp chili and garlic sauce

Feb 23, 2014 8:57PM
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 I Save all my chicken and turkey bones in the freezer and when I have enough to fill a big stock pot add a simple little cheese clothe bundle of dry herbs some celery and carrots and onion .Let it simmers for awhile strain it pick them over for the meat and get several quarts of liquid. I then just add frozen veggies and add different things and made it so it never tasted the same and it is cheap to make 
Feb 24, 2014 12:09AM
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I buy bags of dried beans - black, garbanzo, kidney, pinto and cook them all for about ten hours in separate pots. I figure a $1 bag of beans is equal to 4-5 cans for the same price and I know there are no additives. I could, of course, check the labels, but...I abhor reading lists of things I can't pronounce, especially if I know that I'm going to buy them anyway because they are needed for tacos or something.
Feb 23, 2014 6:03PM
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Tony Chachere's Cajun Seasoning. Goes in everything short of Blue Bell home-made vanilla ice cream.
Feb 23, 2014 10:48PM
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If you can make a cut of beef taste better with meat tenderizer,  does it also tenderize your insides when you eat it?  I used to use that stuff you sprinkled on years ago, then stopped when I heard about it may not be safe....I also heard you can put it on a bee sting and it takes away the pain and swelling.  Ever hear of that?
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And this article aims at what type of Americans?  Middle Class & Poor.? Sorry about SNAP, so here's some advice on some questionable vegetables that can be made edible !   ;-)
Must be nice to have a meal that could feed a 3rd world nation.

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WE AND ALL THE KIDDOS AND FRIENDS OF KIDDOS LOVE THE WAY OUR FAMILY MAKES TACOS. WE BROWN THE GROUND BEEF THEN ADD SOME MINUTE RICE TO HAVE MORE FOR EVERYONE AND IT TASTES SO GOOD. YOU CAN ALSO ADD SMALL POTATOES LIKES LITTLE HASHBROWNS ONE BROWN GOOD THEN EAT AWAY IN TACOS OR BURRITOS
Feb 23, 2014 3:42PM
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Anyone can be a good cook all you need is Tesco sauce Good Cooking.
Feb 23, 2014 2:53PM
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Slap on a little Ranch dressing.... it would even make a dog turd taste great!
Feb 23, 2014 2:10PM
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These are the Obozo Cope and Change recipes - can't afford much when all you have left is change .Just have to cope with what you can afford ..
Feb 23, 2014 9:46AM
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They already make cheap food that tastes great.  It's called the "Dollar Menu"....  ;>)
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