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12 Ways to Jazz Up Frugal Foods

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Okay, I’ll admit it. Frugal foods can be boring. As in, really, really boring. But, the thing is, frugal foods don’t have to be boring. With a few shakes, squeezes and sprinkles – and a full scoop of creativity – you can elevate boring foods to exceptional frugal masterpiece meals.

When I first started down the path of eating penny-pinching foods, I was skeptical of how long I could go on punishing myself. Because eating some of the thrifty foods I served certainly felt like a punishment. The bland, monotonous, frugal foods were driving me toward a breakdown.

However, I was determined to stick to my budget in order to reach my finance goals – which left me with one option: Figure out how to make cheap foods exciting.  

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12 Ways to Make Boring, Frugal Foods Exciting

Budget foods – especially healthy budget foods – aren’t prone to being full of flavor and exciting tastes. Let’s face it, the staples of a frugal diet – rice, beans and oatmeal – are pretty darn plain on their own. The trick that I learned for being frugal without sacrificing taste is how to take these inexpensive foods and make them flavorful…without adding too much cost.

Challenge Yourself to Save Money

Using my tips, you can challenge yourself to liven up your frugal foods.

If you are looking for a bigger challenge – one that will test how low you can go with your food budget – then join my Frugal Food Challenge!

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#1 Spice It Up

Spices have long been the cure for boring food – and they can be pretty cheap. Salt and pepper are a must, but other spices I always have on hand are cinnamon, cumin and Italian blend. Curry and Everything Bagel seasonings are also on the top of my list. I encourage you to seek out affordable spices that you can use on a variety of dishes to concoct cheap meals.

For example, chicken thighs and rice is one of the basic frugal meal ideas. What you spice it with, however, makes all the difference. Use Italian seasoning and a sprinkle of cheese for one meal and then season it with curry spices for a totally different taste later in the week.

Pro Tip: At the grocery store, the cheapest spices are often on the bottom shelf, below the more expensive, name-brand options. Find more dirt cheap shopping tips like this one in my article, Groceries on a Budget.

#2 Mix Up the Meal Plan

Making the same old frugal foods over and over and over is a reliable way to get burned out on your budget eats in a hurry. You need to mix it up! Don’t succumb to following the same meal plan week after week. Embrace creating a variety of meal plans that are full of different flavors.

Just be sure to write down your favorite frugal dinner ideas. This will help you easily make weekly meal plans without too much stress.

Pro Tip: Save your favorite frugal recipes in one place so that you have a wealth of protein-rich menu items to choose from within easy reach. Printable recipe cards are included in my Meal Planning Kit.

#3 Plate It Beautifully

One of the best ways to make boring healthy foods more enticing is to simply make them look better on the plate. This will be especially useful for a Frugal Date Night. Don’t just slop your beans and rice into a heap, artfully place them on the plate – then drizzle a bit of Greek yogurt onto it or garnish it with fresh herbs for a touch of sophistication. (Who knew beans and rice could be so classy?!)

This trick can be used for everything from peanut butter (make a design on an open faced sandwich) to black bean soup (add a sprinkle of fresh herbs to brighten it up).

Pro Tip: Need inspiration on plating your food like a pro? Use these tips from chefs!

#4 Bring On the Sauce

Everyone knows that you can give your economical foods a little flavor boost with a favorite sauce. You can keep it affordable with common sauces, like ketchup, mustard and hot sauce – but fancy pre-made sauces can get pricey. Instead, try your hand at making your own sauces.

You can put your slow cooker or instant pot to use to make heaps of money saving sauces and condiments. Homemade sauces might be healthier too – and are perfect for jazzing up frugal family meals.

Pro Tip: Not all sauces need to be cooked! I like using Greek yogurt as a base for my creamy sauces because it offers health benefits, too!

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#5 Reinvent Your Meals

Rather than making the same meal time and time again, use the same frugal ingredients to concoct something different.

For example, instead of making beans and rice with peppers, make peppers stuffed with beans and rice. You can also make a boring salad a not boring salad by serving the same ingredients in lettuce wraps instead of in a bowl with chopped lettuce. The simple ingredients in homemade chicken noodle soup or nearly identical to hearty chicken noodle casserole.

Pro Tip: If you struggle to come up with creative ideas using basic ingredients, try the Allrecipes Dinner Spinner app.  

#6 Add a Squeeze of Citrus

Citrus fruits – like lemons, limes and oranges – can enhance the flavor of most bland and boring foods. Just a little squeeze can brighten almost any dish and give food a clean taste. Seriously, use citrus on salads, vegetables, pasta and rice.

Instead of plain chicken fried rice, try a zesty lemon garlic chicken fried rice.

Pro Tip: To get your lemons to last longer, keep them in an air-tight bag in the refrigerator. Reusable silicone bags are excellent for food storage – and one of the items I recommend for Frugal Kitchen Accessories.

#7 Go Overboard with Garlic

Garlic is one of my go-to flavor enhancers that I use abundantly in several dishes. What I love about garlic is that it is cheap, healthy, and has a long shelf life. What makes it really great, however, is that it can add some zip to boring frugal foods. Garlic makes everything from better – from ground beef to Great Northern beans.

Onions and ginger – both of which are inexpensive, packed with health benefits and long-lasting – will also add a kick of flavor to your frugal food.

Pro Tip: Chopping garlic is a chore! However, you can chop a weeks’ worth of garlic while meal prepping and keep it in the fridge. Find more tips in my guide to Frugal Cooking.

#8 Sprinkle in Some Color

Just like platter presentation can trick your mind into better tasting food, so can a pop of color. To keep your thrifty foods interesting and enjoyable, spruce up your dishes with colorful fruits and vegetables.

You can even use fresh herbs to enhance bland-looking one pot meals or provide a little punch to a pasta dish.

Pro Tip: Broccoli, sweet potatoes, carrots and red cabbage are a few favorite colorful and cheap veggies that I put on my Budget Grocery List.

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#9 Join the Frugal Foods Bowl Craze

Food bowls are all the craze that is raging through restaurants around the world – and yet they can be made up of extremely affordable foods at home. According to many people, food just tastes better in bowls!

Consider adapting one of your frugal menu items to a fun bowl presentation and see if it works for you!

Pro Tip: Buddha bowls are one of my favorite dinners, but you can assemble just about anything in a bowl!

#10 Try Food from Different Cultures

If you are bored with your menu of frugal foods, try making something a little more foreign. Every culture has meals that can be made cheaply; even the French have cheap foods to make on a dime. So, go ahead and dabble in something different – it’s a fun way to jazz foods up!

Pro Tip: As you venture into different cuisines, remember to keep it simple and stay on budget! Don’t get lured into buying expensive one-off products; find meals that call for the basics.

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#11 Explore New Cheap Recipes

Sometimes the best way to shake up a boring foods funk is to dive headfirst into online recipes. There are hundreds – thousands – of recipes dedicated to cheap eats and delicious foods to make on a budget. You can start by perusing some of my favorite frugal meals and appetizers – or try one of my frugal recipes for cheap breakfasts, inexpensive lunches or budget dinners.

Pro Tip: Just looking at new recipes can spark an idea for exciting meals – and oftentimes, you will already have the ingredients in your pantry.

#12 Try Variations of Your Fav Frugal Meal

If you have become bored with your favorite cheap meal, don’t despair! Sometimes all you need is a little tweak to make the boring food desirable again. Substitute the type of beans you are using, swap dried herbs for fresh or eat it out of a bowl instead of on a plate.

Pro Tip: Coming up with fun variations to frugal foods can keep you on track with your budget and goals!

Organizing Frugal Foods

While boredom with cheap foods can derail your best attempts to eat on a budget, disorganization is a more likely culprit.

Get organized by prepping your meals in advance and stay on top of your food budget with my affordable Meal Planner Kit of Printables. Three essential frugal foods planning templates are included in the kit: A Weekly Meal Plan Calendar, a Grocery List and Recipe Cards to track your favorite frugal eats and cut down on wasting food, too!

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You can find more budget printables at an affordable price on my Shop Page – and you can find more frugal eats and cheap meal ideas on my Frugal Food Page.

BONUS: Frugal living isn’t just about food. You can get started with planning your personal budget with my FREE Budget Printable.

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Interested in more of my Frugal Food Tips? I round them all up (including my favorite Frugal Snacks) on my Frugal Food page!

We Want To Know: How do you keep from getting bored with simple foods? Share your tips and tricks in the comments!

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This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. yourspiced

    An excellent resource for a foodie like me. I love exploring new cultures, making new recipes, trying out new cuisine.
    Now more than ever while stuck at home, I am appreciating this helpful list so much more. Thanks.

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