Nickel & Dine is a budget column by Rebecca Firkser, food writer, recipe developer, and expert budgeter. This time, Rebecca is teaming up with our friends at Walmart to share tips for easy summer entertaining, featuring her signature flavor-packed, time-saving recipes plus a few of her must-have hosting items from Walmart—order ‘em online for pickup or delivery.
When cooking on a budget, the best tool in your arsenal is a well-stocked pantry and refrigerator. There are a few items that should simply always be in the kitchen (looking at you, olive oil and salt), but there are also budget-friendly proteins and flavor-boosters I use daily—more on those in a minute. If you’re trying to spend less on meals and on cooking in general, I recommend adding some of my top 10 budget-friendly kitchen staples into your weekly or monthly shopping cart, from ingredients to equipment. (Bonus: If you’re shopping online or in-app at a retailer like Walmart, you can find everything you need in one place for easy peasy in-store pickup or delivery—no need to spend visit multiple stores.) I’ve also included some recipes along the way, so you can make good use of these affordable standbys.
1. Rice, Pasta & Other Grains
A few types of grain deserve a permanent spot in any pantry. From a budget perspective, my top picks are rice (white or brown, long- or short-grain) and pasta (any shape or size). These will work in dishes throughout the year and, of course, have a very low price tag—shopping affordable brands like Walmart’s Great Value, you can find rice for less than $0.30 per pound, and pasta for less than $0.85 per pound.
2. Parchment Paper
Whether you’re baking a tray of brownies or need a less-messy method for roasting meat and vegetables, parchment paper is a must-buy item. I only go through a couple rolls a year, so buy it once and you’ll be set for quite a while. And here’s a tip to make it last even longer: When baking less-messy treats like cookies, the parchment won’t get too dirty, so you can reuse it a few more times if you’d like.
3. Beans & Other Legumes
From pinto and navy beans to chickpeas and lentils, dried legumes are one of my favorite budget-friendly kitchen staples. Typically less than $1.25 per pound (the equivalent of about three cans of cooked beans), they’re a major bargain. While most lentils cook within 20 minutes, some dried beans can take a couple hours on the stove; so of course canned beans—often less than $1 per can—make a time-saving alternative. Dried or canned, these filling vegetarian-friendly proteins lend themselves to everything from warming pots of beans and greens to summery dinner salads.
4. Food Storage Containers
A huge tip when it comes to cooking on a budget is making enough to have leftovers for tomorrow—and obviously you’ll need somewhere to store them. I prefer clear food storage containers so I can just look into the fridge when I’m hungry and easily see which leftovers are which. It’s helpful to get a set of containers that come in multiple sizes, and if you buy multiples of the same set, be sure to get the same brand so the containers can neatly stack inside each other. Even better? When these containers are freezer-, dishwasher-, and microwave-safe, you don’t need to use dishes when eating your leftovers (unless you want to, of course). These containers are also great for storing bulk goods (think: nuts, grains, and more), and buying bulk is another great way to cut grocery costs.
5. Canned Tomato Products
Whether whole peeled, diced, or in paste form, canned tomatoes are a no-brainer in any kitchen. From pasta to sauce to stew, tomatoes add a sweet acidity that lifts any dish—but for significantly less than their fresh counterparts. Chopped or whole canned tomatoes can cost as little as $1 for a 28-ounce can, or just $0.50 for a 6-ounce can of highly concentrated tomato paste. Here’s a budget tip: If you don’t use the whole can in one dish, tomatoes are easy to freeze (paste can be stored in a zip-top bag, and the other juicier products can go into food storage containers and be frozen for months). You may want to splurge on a peak-season heirloom tomato in the middle of summer, but for most of the year, canned tomatoes actually have a more robust flavor than fresh.
6. Garlic, Onions & More
Alliums like garlic, onions, shallots, scallions, leeks, and chives mean instant flavor, and they’re usually not too expensive. Garlic ($0.50 a head) and onions (less than $4 for a 3-pound bag) in particular are pretty cheap considering how much flavor they add to a dish. Unless you’re regularly cooking for a household of 10 people, I wouldn’t recommend ordering alliums in bulk on your weekly or biweekly shopping order, but it is sensible to buy multipacks of garlic and bags of onions, as they’re usually cheaper per item than singles.
7. Dish Soap
No one likes to do it—or if you do, you’re welcome to come to my house!—but the dishes must get washed. That’s why dish soap is always on my monthly grocery order. I love fresh, citrusy-smelling soaps that aren’t too perfumy but are tough on grease, like Walmart’s plant-based liquid dish soaps: lemon verbena (my fave), lavender, and eucalyptus, which are all USDA certified bio-based products for under $3 for an 18-ounce bottle. They’ve got the same scents for other cleaning products, and since I like the lemony one so much I’ll usually add a bottle of Great Value Our Promise All-Purpose Cleaner to my cart.
Depending on the brand and total quantity, a single egg can cost as little as $0.17—quite a deal for such a filling and nutrient-rich ingredient! Even cage-free eggs like this 18-count of Great Value Cage Free White Eggs from Walmart won’t break the bank for a grand total of less than $5. Eggs can, of course, be the star of a meal, as in omelets or frittatas, but they also make a great supplement to whatever else you’re cooking. A fried or 6-minute boiled egg brings a welcome boost of protein and richness to any combination of carb and vegetable.
9. Lemons & Limes
Fresh lemons and limes are always in my kitchen, because that pop of floral acidity from their juice or zest works wonders to brighten any dish. I like to add a $5, 2-pound bag of each (or a mixed bag) once or twice a month to my online cart: It’s cheaper than buying single pieces of fruit, and when stored in the refrigerator they stay fresh for weeks.
10. Trash Bags
Of course, we can’t forget about another necessary part of the cooking process: taking out the trash. Leak-, tear-, and puncture-protected trash bags are life-savers in a busy kitchen like mine, especially when preparing a big meal, where the trash bag is constantly pushed to its limits with ingredients that poke and prod.
Whether you’re shopping online or using their app, our friends at Walmart have easy solutions to help you get all the goods you need for summer hosting. Shop their signature Great Value, Marketside, and Great Value Our Promise brands for guaranteed high-quality fresh and frozen food, household and pantry staples, and everyday cleaning products at affordable prices. To streamline your shopping experience, check out all that Walmart has to offer here.
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