At the end of a busy day, the last thing you want to do is cook a complicated dinner with lots of steps and ingredients. Not only are such meals time-consuming, they can also be tough on your wallet. With a bit of preparation and planning -- and the help of some kitchen tools, such as pressure- and slow-cookers -- you can cook quick, easy dinners for your family that won’t break the bank.
When cooking with beef, save both money and time by using a pressure-cooker. These appliances seal in juices and cook in a contained space at high temperatures, so you can purchase less-tender -- less-expensive -- cuts of meat. Pressure-cookers also cook in a fraction of the time required by oven or stovetop cooking. At the supermarket, look for bone-in cuts, which often cost less. Buy in bulk to save even more money; simply wrap and freeze the rest for later use. Prepare a cheap yet hearty “meat and potatoes” dinner by browning an inexpensive chuck roast with onions, garlic and baby carrots from a bag. Add a splash of premade stock and some cut potatoes to the pressure-cooker and braise the beef until it’s tender.
When cooking with poultry, save money by purchasing a whole chicken. It takes just a few minutes to butcher and costs much less per pound than boneless, skinless pieces. Once you’ve removed the meat, throw the carcass in a pressure-cooker with some water and an onion to make your own stock. Once it’s cooled, freeze the stock until you’re ready to use it. Poultry cooks well in a slow-cooker. For an Asian-inspired meal with a very quick prep time, simply layer sliced onion, smashed garlic, a carton of pre-cut mushrooms and your family’s favorite chicken pieces. Add brown sugar, cider vinegar and soy sauce and cook on low all day. About half an hour before serving, pour in a bag of presliced, prewashed cabbage and turn the heat to high. Make this meal even easier by loading the slow-cooker the night before and storing in the refrigerator.
Seafood may be quick-cooking, but it usually isn’t cheap. To stretch your dollars, turn a small amount of inexpensive white fish, such as cod, into a rich chowder. Thaw a frozen fillet in the fridge overnight, then simmer it with a handful of diced potatoes and carrots, and a carton of stock. Just before the fish and veggies are done -- about 15 minutes -- add milk for a creamy texture. For more seafood flavor, cook with a small can of diced clams and their juices. Save time by cutting the vegetables ahead of time and refrigerating them until it’s time to cook. Serve a bowl of chowder with a fresh green salad, along with your family's favorite bottled dressings.
One of the easiest ways to save money is by eliminating animal protein at dinner a few times a week. Plant-based sources, such as beans, seeds, nuts and tofu, provide healthy protein and cost less per pound than most meats. Make a quick, easy stir-fry by combining a frozen bag of precut veggies with cubed firm tofu, both of which cook very quickly. You don’t even need to thaw the vegetables. Season with a splash of soy sauce and add a sprinkle of sesame seeds. For a quick and cheap Southwestern meal that requires very little prep time, warm leftover rice and a can of pinto beans in the microwave and sprinkle with preshredded cheese. Roll the mixture in whole-wheat tortillas -- or let the kids try their hand at rolling their own -- and serve with avocado slices, sour cream and chipotle dressing.
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