20+ Essential Dirt Cheap Ingredients That Go A Long Way

20+ Essential Dirt-cheap ingredients that can make a ton of different meals

Today we’re discovering the secret method for getting yourself to eat out less. It’s not that secret, really, the main idea is to have certain foods at home that enable you to cook up a delicious meal in very little time. I tried to put them in a handy list that can be easily transformed into a shopping list. Here’s our list of cheap ingredients that go a long way when you’re on a budget.

Essential Dirt Cheap Ingredients That Go A Long Way

Ready-made and processed foods

  • Soups

can easily be made into sauces – the best for this intent are mushroom, chicken, and celery.

  • Tomato sauce (jarred/canned)

even if you can’t cook anything, you can still cook a pasta with tomato sauce from a jar.

Veggies and fruits

  • Chickpeas, beans, and lentils

can be used for loads of things, like salads, soups, as a side dish, etc. They take a long time to cook, so it’s best in most cases to get canned ones.

  • Tomato puree/concentrate

if you’re out of tomato sauce, it can be used for pasta (for recipe, check out our post about weird meat-less recipes), plus it has numerous other uses.

  • Carrots(fresh)

are super, and I mean super, cheap. Stock up on them and recipes with them – my wife for example makes mean carrot soup with ginger.

  • Salad.

If you’re like me, you never have the time to wash, cut up, and prepare a salad, so I am a big fan of salad kits, but they can get a little bit expensive. I suppose you could buy plenty of salad, get it cut up and ready, and store it in the fridge.

  • Tomatoes

tend to be super-cheap, and they are also very healthy. Buy them in bulk and make pasta sauce or juice, or just cut them up fresh to make a simple salad. Tomato from the farmer’s market is much tastier than the one in supermarkets.

  • Potatoes

it’s really cheap and can be cooked, baked, fried, mashed, or mixed. The most basic recipe is to boil a few potatoes in salted water and cooking them for about 30 minutes.

  • Other frozen and canned vegetables.

Buy as needed, and stock up when it’s discounted.

Meat, fish, and alternatives

  • Tuna (pref. canned)

is great to combine with tomato sauce and pasta for a quick meal. Like other fish, it’s a great source of protein, and it offers a significant flavour.

  • Sardines (pref. canned)

Make a great snack when mixed with mustard, and can be used similarly to tuna.

  • Eggs

are dirt cheap, nutritious, and healthy. They can be eaten for breakfast, lunch, or dinner, and there are numerous ways of preparing them. They can even be frozen.

  • Cheese.

Everybody loves cheese, but it can be pricy at times. Buy it when it’s discounted, grate it, and  freeze. You’ll have cheese for the next couple of months. Isn’t that just grate?

  • Chicken

Chicken is like cheese, buy when discounted and freeze for later. Chicken is generally the cheapest of all meat. I love a good roasted chicken. You can do an oven roasted chicken with root vegetables for like $6. I buy these little 2.5lbs chickens and they are delicious (and usually about $1.50 a pound)

is awesome if you like the taste. You can keep it covered in water in the fridge for up to a week, just make sure you change that water every day.


  • Pasta,

especially dried one is easy to prepare (10-15 minutes of cooking) and can be combined with meat, fish, vegetables, and pretty much everything else.

  • Rice

is great to be bought in bulk as it doesn’t go bad for ages. Normally, it takes some time to cook it, so if you eat a lot of it, get one of those rice cookers. Black beans and rice:

  • Cook up some instant rice (about 2 servings is perfect)
  • Toss in a can of black beans. For anything else I rinse them, but I like the bean brine for this.
  • Pour in some spicy V8
  • Add spices to make it hotter/tastier: red pepper flakes, garlic, onions (onion powder will do), your favorite hot sauce, and I usually put in some of this cajun rub from Weber. I put it on everything, it’s fantastic. Oh and salt, especially if you used low sodium beans or V8.

Feeds 2 and I can throw it together in 15 minutes.

‘Taste enhancers’ that are Cheap

  • Onions

are the core basics of many foods – from soups to pasta, you can always just fry half a sliced up onion and cook it along for better taste.

  1. Garlic

is almost the same as onions, and you can even use them together. It also has many positive health effects.

  • Soy and fish sauce.

You will need these to make anything asian. They don’t cost much and can be used for non-asian foods as well.

  • Essential seasonings

– as I had written in previous posts, simple seasoning can save the day when it comes to cooking. Even if you’re eating pasta or rice every single day, you can make it different by adding oregano, rosemary and other herbs de provence to the meal while cooking. Curry is another great example, but for another type of foods (soups, sauces).

  • Salad and barbecue sauce

can be used in things like sandwiches. If you happen to just make some plain chicken, you can add some sauce and make it into a finished meal.

So, it’s your turn. What would you add to the list?


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