My Favorite Meals for When I Need to Save Money

My Favorite Meals for When I Need to Save Money

Groceries are damn expensive now, even the basics. Honk if you walked out of the supermarket with one measly bag of food that cost $US50. Food shopping is one of those instances where I get mad about it (nothing will stop me from complaining into the void), but in the end, I have to find a way to cook smarter.

Make proteins work for your budget

Though eating meat will make your grocery bill climb quickly, you don’t need to go without. I eat a variety of proteins, and I think that’s the key to both decreasing my spending and keeping meals interesting. When buying meat, I recommend dividing it into smaller quantities, so you can use one item—say, a bag of shrimp or a pound of ground turkey—for two or three different meals. Then use the accompanying ingredients to bulk it up. The following recipes include seafood, meat, and plant-based options. All of the recipes are scaled for two servings, so divide or multiply the measurements as needed.

Air-fried tofu with beet salad

Air fried tofu is experiencing major popularity in my household these days. I like to use this recipe for coating firm tofu in nutritional yeast and air frying it until crispy on the outside and tender on the inside. The beet salad is a simple preparation and always leaves me convinced I should be eating more beets.


  • ¼ red onion, thinly sliced
  • 3 tablespoons white vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 container firm tofu, drained
  • Neutral oil to coat
  • Nutritional yeast to coat
  • Sprinkle of salt
  • 1-8 ounce pack steamed and peeled beets, quartered
  • 3 cups of spring mix (or any salad greens)
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1. Add the sliced onion to a deep salad bowl along with the vinegar, sugar, and salt. Mix it around to coat the onion and let it “pickle” in the liquid while you prepare the meal. 

2. Slice the drained tofu into four thick planks. Dab them dry with a paper towel. Spray or drizzle a neutral oil to coat the tofu and sprinkle them with salt. Pour nutritional yeast onto a plate and press the tofu into it until completely coated. Air fry the planks at 400°F for 10 to 15 minutes, or until crispy on the outside.

3. Add the beets and spring mix to the bowl of onions and toss with the olive oil until coated. Plate the crispy tofu alongside the salad and serve.   

Khao Tom Goong (Thai shrimp and rice soup)

This soup is great for any time of day, so don’t hesitate, even if it’s 8am. I’ll buy a pound of raw, deveined frozen shrimp from Trader Joe’s for about $US12 and use it for several meals, including this one. It’s filling, satisfying, and you can use leftover rice to keep the preparation quick.


  • 1 teaspoon cooking oil
  • 1 clove garlic, chopped
  • 8 raw, tail-on deveined shrimp, thawed (if frozen)
  • Pinch salt
  • Dash fish sauce
  • 1 cup chicken broth (or any broth)
  • 1 cup rice, cooked
  • Garnish with chopped cilantro, fried garlic, and sliced ginger

1. Heat the oil in a medium pot with the garlic on low heat. Once the garlic starts to gently sizzle, add the shrimp. Sprinkle in the salt as you flip the shrimp. After a minute or so, when the shrimp is halfway cooked, add a dash of fish sauce and the broth. 

2. Add in the rice and allow the soup to come up to a simmer for two minutes. Serve the soup topped with plenty of fried garlic, cilantro, and ginger.

Frozen dumplings and broccoli

This recipe is barely a recipe. Besides adding sauce to the broccoli, it’s pretty much exactly what it sounds like: dumplings and broccoli. Somehow, I find it to be a meal I always look forward to. It’s vital that you use frozen dumplings you actually like. Once again, I frequent Trader Joe’s for the affordable frozen gyoza, but if you can, I recommend stopping by an Asian supermarket for well-priced, delicious dumplings.


  • 1-16 ounce bag frozen pork gyoza (substitute any filling)
  • 2 cups fresh broccoli florets
  • 2 tablespoons Bachan’s Original Japanese Barbecue Sauce (substitute soy sauce)

1. Place a steamer basket in a large pot with a half-inch of water in the bottom. Add the frozen dumplings to the steamer and cover the pot with a lid. Steam the dumplings over medium heat for five minutes.

2. Open the pot and dump the broccoli florets over the dumplings and replace the lid. Steam the contents for another five minutes. The broccoli should be cooked but slightly crunchy, and the dumplings will be cooked through. Toss the broccoli with the sauce (or leave it on the side for dipping). Plate the dumplings with the broccoli on the side. 

Pantry pasta

When you’re looking for a recipe that sticks to your ribs without breaking the budget, pasta is a reliable ally. This is a simple recipe where any protein can substitute in, and the “sauce” is butter. You can use any bean to pair with your pasta, but I use peas here because I always have them in the freezer. If you’re looking for a red sauce pasta idea, try my dairy-free vodka sauce recipe.


  • Cooking oil to coat the pot
  • 8 ounces ground turkey
  • 1 shallot (or quarter-onion), minced
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 4 mushrooms, chopped
  • ? cup frozen peas
  • ½ teaspoon garlic powder
  • 4 ounces any pasta, boiled (I like rigatoni for this)
  • 2 tablespoons salted butter

1. Add oil to a medium pot, enough to coat the bottom, and heat it over medium-low. Add the ground turkey and break it apart into small hunks while it cooks. When it’s halfway cooked through, add the shallot, garlic, salt, and mushrooms. 

2. Cook the mixture until the shallot has softened and the mushrooms are plump. Add the peas and garlic powder. Stir and allow the peas to heat through. Add the cooked pasta with a spoonful of the pasta water, turn off the heat and add the butter. Toss gently until the butter melts. Serve in bowls.

Hot chicken sausage and veggies

As I mentioned earlier, I find it easier to stretch protein when it’s presented in smaller bits. It’s more of a mind game, and I play it on myself. Serving a three-ounce steak will look meager on the plate, but chop it up and mix it with things and you’ve got a hearty helping. You can use any sausage you like, but I like chicken sausage for this because it doesn’t feel as heavy as pork. 


  • Cooking oil to coat the pan
  • 2 links of pre-cooked chicken sausage
  • 1 medium onion, peeled and sliced
  • 1 red bell pepper, deseeded and sliced
  • 4 mushrooms
  • ½ teaspoon garlic powder
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon hot sauce
  • ½ tablespoon soy sauce
  • 1 cup cooked rice

1. Slice the sausages in half lengthwise. Then cut them across into half-inch wide chunks. Peel and slice the onion into strips. Deseed the pepper and cut it into strips about the same size as the onion. Quarter the mushrooms. 

2. Coat the bottom of a medium pot with a neutral cooking oil. Heat it over medium-low heat and add the sausage pieces and veggies. Sauté everything until the onions begin to sweat and soften. Add the garlic powder and salt, and stir to incorporate. Stir in the hot sauce and soy sauce to coat. Serve the hot chicken and veggies over rice. 

The Cheapest NBN 50 Plans

Here are the cheapest plans available for Australia’s most popular NBN speed tier.

At Lifehacker, we independently select and write about stuff we love and think you'll like too. We have affiliate and advertising partnerships, which means we may collect a share of sales or other compensation from the links on this page. BTW – prices are accurate and items in stock at the time of posting.


Leave a Reply