FAVORITE MEALS MADE BETTER
After a long day at work, it's tempting to stop and pick up dinner from a favorite takeout joint instead of making a meal at home. It's not just a busy schedule that makes this option so enticing; a lot of takeout foods are simply delicious. But eating takeout all the time quickly becomes expensive. Fortunately, many of the best takeout meals can be made quickly and cheaply at home.
Thai food tends to be loaded with unique flavors, so making it at home may seem intimidating. But novice cooks can easily make a pad Thai pretty comparable to $12 takeout. The sauce in a recipe posted on Tablespoon requires a couple of ingredients -- such as cilantro and bean sprouts -- not already in the pantry, but they can be purchased cheaply. Throw in some chicken or beef for added protein, or add more eggs and peanuts to make the dish more filling for less cost.
As delicious as the fast-food version may be, a burrito bowl is a snap to make at home using the same simple ingredients. This cheap dish can be customized in many different ways. A recipe from the food blog Damn Delicious includes a chipotle cream sauce, but extra salsa or a dollop of sour cream works just fine. Add a protein of choice, or none at all. Substitute quinoa instead of rice for a nutritious twist.
CHICKEN FRIED RICE
Looking for a really cheap meal? Chicken fried rice fills the bill. A quick version posted on MyRecipes is somewhat minimalist, with few ingredients, but can be customized to fit any taste. For a few pennies more, substitute brown rice for white -- or splurge on a bag of fragrant jasmine rice.
THAI BEEF WITH PEANUT SAUCE
It's hard to beat a good Thai peanut sauce, which can easily be made with peanut butter, soy sauce, brown sugar, sriracha, and water. Home cooks can substitute a cheaper protein in a recipe that calls for flank steak, or skip the meat entirely. Noodles or rice drizzled with peanut sauce and mixed veggies is a tasty alternative -- at a fraction of the price of takeout.
There's no need to stop for fried chicken when it can easily be made at home in either a skillet or the oven. What's more, homemade fried chicken can be prepared with healthier oils, and removing the skin before breading reduces fat and calories. Most ingredients are probably already in the kitchen.
TERIYAKI CHICKEN NOODLE BOWL
A recipe for teriyaki chicken and noodles requires making teriyaki sauce, but if the necessary ingredients aren't normally stocked in the pantry, it may be more economical to use a store-bought sauce. The chicken has to marinate for at least 30 minutes, so plan this meal for a night when you're not in a rush.
BLACK BEANS AND RICE
Black beans and rice is about as simple and cheap as a meal gets. Admittedly, the dish can be a bit boring, so try spicing it up with some extra veggies and spices. Diced tomatoes make a nice addition to an easy version posted on Allrecipes, as do lime juice, canned corn, and extra garlic.
THAI SHRIMP SOUP
Thai soups generally are easy to make at home. A takeout order of tom kha or tom yum can easily cost $6 to $7, even as an appetizer. But finding ingredients for a Thai shrimp soup recipe at the market on the cheap should be no problem -- and the cost can be cut further by substituting chicken or pork. Warning: The soup is addictive, so make extra and try to save some for the next day.
BEEF AND BROCCOLI
Beef and broccoli is a classic Chinese takeout choice that's oh-so-easy to make at home. Including prep time, a recipe from the food blog Oh, Sweet Basil can go from stovetop to tabletop in less than 20 minutes. A well-stocked pantry should have all the ingredients for this dish, although it does call for chili paste or sweet chili sauce. Don't have either? A Food.com user suggests a quick way to make your own.
Orange chicken is another Chinese classic. A recipe from the blog Crafty Morning takes about an hour to make, because the chicken needs to marinate. Many recipes have complicated sauces, but this one requires only three cheap and easy-to-find ingredients: barbecue sauce, orange marmalade, and soy sauce.
Pizza can be as simple as topping a few bagels or bread with tomato sauce and some shredded cheese, and baking in the oven (or toaster oven) for 7 to 8 minutes. Add fresh veggies sitting in the fridge as toppings. Making homemade pizza dough is similarly easy, although it can add considerable preparation time.
Homemade ramen may not be as cheap as the store-bought stuff that many college students subsist on, but it's far cheaper than getting quality ramen from a restaurant and has far less sodium. Most of the ingredients for a recipe from Damn Delicious can be found in any pantry. Yakisoba noodles are sold in the Asian section of many food markets, and spaghetti or other pasta makes an easy substitute.
SWEET AND SOUR CHICKEN
Unlike the restaurant version, a recipe for baked sweet and sour chicken from Mel's Kitchen Café calls for the chicken to be fried only briefly before baking in the oven, which helps reduce fat and calories. Baking requires patience -- it takes about an hour -- but it's well worth the wait.
Lo mein is mostly just noodles, so it can be even quicker and cheaper to make at home than waiting on delivery. Lo mein noodles are easily found at the grocery store, but spaghetti or vermicelli also works just fine. Toss in some veggies and, for some variation, use oyster sauce instead of soy sauce. Make it heartier by throwing in chopped chicken, pork, or even beef.
CHEESY AVOCADO QUESADILLAS
Quesadillas can be a budget-friendly snack, requiring only tortillas and cheese. Use a recipe that calls for some ground beef, refried beans, and avocado to make it a heartier meal but still far cheaper than ordering takeout. Avocado can be expensive, so the most budget-conscious home cooks may want to skip it.
SPAGHETTI AND MEAT SAUCE
Spaghetti is one of the cheapest meals on many restaurant menus, but that doesn't make it a bargain. Pasta bought from the market is cheap (especially on sale) and making your own meat sauce takes only some veggies, tomato sauce, and ground beef (or turkey). If available, toss in some fresh basil, oregano, and garlic for additional flavor, and sprinkle with a pinch or two of Parmesan.
An easy shrimp fajitas recipe begs for a grill but can also be made in the oven. Shrimp, bell peppers, onion, and taco seasoning combine to make a cheap, delicious, and healthy meal. Because the fajitas are cooked in foil, cleanup is as easy as tossing a takeout box. Serve over rice to make the fajitas more filling and economical.
Like most Mexican dishes, a taco salad from the blog 100 Days of Real Food uses mostly cheap and readily available ingredients: ground beef, beans, cheese, tortillas, tomatoes, onions, etc. Consider using lettuce in place of tortillas for a lighter take on this dish.
Philly cheesesteaks are a food cart favorite, but making them at home is easy with the right ingredients. Hoagie rolls, bell peppers, onions, and cheese are all pretty cheap (or already in the kitchen). Using a recipe that calls for chuck steak rather than pricier beef helps reduce costs. But cheaper cuts tend to get tough quick when cooked too long, so keep the steak on the rare side.
REFRIED BEAN TOSTADAS
For a truly inexpensive replacement for takeout food, try making refried bean tostadas with instructions on MyRecipes. They take about 20 minutes to make and require little more than tortillas, refried beans, and cheese. Add some ground beef or extra veggies to make this more of an entrée than an appetizer.
Making burgers at home not only saves a lot of money but allows some variety. A ground turkey burger shaves off some of the cost, and making sliders instead of full-size burgers can make a little meat go a long way. Vegetarians can use portobello mushrooms or make black bean burgers on the cheap.