"Canned beans and ramen noodles night after night"
June 16, 2018 12:15 PM   Subscribe

Budget Bytes is a weblog/recipe collection I use every single week. It has priced-out ingredients for each recipe and often recipes stay under about $1.50/serving, which is nice for those of us on tight budgets.

Personal favorites include: Cowboy Caviar and One Pot Chili Pasta.

Note: This post is inspired by theora55's comment that suggests "Post stuff. I love going to the front page and seeing a link to something that may not be earth-shaking or controversial, but opens the world a little. doesn't have to be profound."
posted by thegears (68 comments total) 264 users marked this as a favorite
 
Oh, hey! This was recommended to me when I was trying out a majority vegetarian diet a few months back. I sort of fell off, but I did get a number of awesome vegetarian recipes from this site. I really, really loved the lasagna soup.
posted by codacorolla at 12:38 PM on June 16, 2018 [1 favorite]


I love Budget Bytes! One of the favorites that I cook again and again is African Peanut Stew (it's vegan). I love the casual tone and that the recipes are usually pretty simple as well as cheap.

As a non-expert cook, one thing I've learned to keep in mind with BB recipes is that they're usually about featuring the main ingredients in conventional ways rather than disguising or transforming them into something completely unexpected, so if it's a recipe that calls for peas and you hate peas, move along to something with ingredients you know you'll love. (Ask me how I know this)
posted by rogerrogerwhatsyourrvectorvicto at 12:39 PM on June 16, 2018 [5 favorites]


Cheers (from a SNAP recipient)!
posted by Samizdata at 12:39 PM on June 16, 2018 [12 favorites]


Yay Budget Bytes! Beth is awesome, as are her book and Instagram feed/stories!
posted by Celsius1414 at 12:47 PM on June 16, 2018 [1 favorite]


One of the two or three recipe sites that I find to be consistently excellent in practice (the other two are Serious Eats and Simply Recipes). I really like this site because the recipes are super-practical but often very flavorful.
posted by lunasol at 12:58 PM on June 16, 2018 [3 favorites]


I’m also a fan of the site! That Cowboy Caviar recipe looks yummy, too...I’ll have to try it.

If I had one pony request for the site, it would be to also include the price-per-calories (or, alternately, the calories-per-serving) for the recipes. I appreciate that a “serving” might cost only 60 cents, for example, but if it only contains 100 calories, then it’s not terribly cost-effective if you’re really trying to maximize your food budget while getting the daily caloric intake you require.

(For reference, if you pay $2.50 for a gallon of milk, that’s 16 cents per one-cup serving, which is about 100 calories.)

That’s not to say that maximization of food per dollar is the ultimate goal, but it’s be nice to also have the additional info for budgeting.
posted by darkstar at 12:58 PM on June 16, 2018 [1 favorite]


I mention it almost every time budget cooking comes uo but GOOD AND CHEAP is free for a pdf and is designed around SNAP budgets
posted by The Whelk at 12:58 PM on June 16, 2018 [20 favorites]


I love Budget Bytes! I like Sweet Potato Chorizo Skillet and Banh Mi Bowls (although you could justifiably gripe that banh mi bowl is a contradiction in terms.)
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 12:59 PM on June 16, 2018 [1 favorite]


Her meal prep recipes/guides are great too.
posted by lunasol at 1:01 PM on June 16, 2018 [3 favorites]


My sense, for what it's worth, is that Budget Bytes is aimed at people who are don't want to spend a fortune on food but not at ultra-price-conscious cooks. It's probably a step up, cost-wise, from something like Good and Cheap.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 1:03 PM on June 16, 2018 [2 favorites]


This is awesome! Thanks!
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 1:08 PM on June 16, 2018


I love Budget Bytes and haven't checked it out in a while. Thank you for the reminder!

(Hearty black bean quesadillas have so far been my favorite!)
posted by lazuli at 1:10 PM on June 16, 2018 [2 favorites]


It looks like it's a nice site, but it's not really hitting the budgeting lows if it's advising the purchase of boneless skinless chicken breasts so much, and not just getting a whole chicken.
posted by conifer at 1:11 PM on June 16, 2018 [6 favorites]


I love Budget Bytes! She is focused on easy, fast, tasty, and cheap. She prices out all the ingredients so you can see exactly how much they cost, so if you would rather use a whole chicken, go for it. For most beginning cooks, a whole chicken is neither easy nor fast, while boneless chicken breasts are both.
posted by hydropsyche at 1:17 PM on June 16, 2018 [25 favorites]


I spent about three years on an extremely minimal income, sometimes flat broke and sometimes on what we called “Food Stamps” back then. $120 per month of those coupons, and I became a wizard at min-maxing my food budget.

Which boiled down to augmenting the box of government food I got every month with highest-calorie-per-dollar staples (dry rice, beans & peas, corn oil, etc.) and the cheapest vegetables that were also reasonably caloric (carrots, cabbage, onions, zucchini, cauliflower).

It would have been awesome to have had that Good and Cheap resource back then.

Nowadays, Budget Bytes is more my style. But even so, every now and then (and more often than I’d like), that old economic insecurity fear rears it’s head and I start doing those calories-per-dollar calculations while I’m looking at food labels...
posted by darkstar at 1:19 PM on June 16, 2018 [1 favorite]


The Kielbasa and Cabbage Skillet is one of our favorites. We sometimes eat it with whole wheat egg noodles and other times we just eat it.
posted by hydropsyche at 1:20 PM on June 16, 2018 [1 favorite]


She also does awesome stuff on meal prepping, which is loved by one of my friends who lives alone.
posted by hydropsyche at 1:21 PM on June 16, 2018 [2 favorites]


Have used this site for a while and this recipe of a Hoisin stir fry with spicy peanut sauce has been requested over and over again by my family (although we sub tofu for the meat). It's become one of our mainstay recipes each week.
posted by jeremias at 1:22 PM on June 16, 2018 [3 favorites]


Oh gosh this is so fantastic. I wish I had something like this back years ago when I was on SNAP. My go-to meal back then was ramen noodles cooked in a wok with some sort of greens, corn, ground beef (or sometimes sausage if it was on sale), onions, garlic, bell pepper, jalapeño, and I can’t remember what else. We typically had some rainbow chard growing in the backyard of that particular house, which was nice. I have no idea if this was healthy but it did fill me up and was cheap.
posted by gucci mane at 1:43 PM on June 16, 2018 [2 favorites]


Her Lemony Cucumber Couscous Salad is so good I made it twice last week. It's perfect with anything you want to grill or by itself.
posted by Flannery Culp at 1:53 PM on June 16, 2018 [1 favorite]


She also does awesome stuff on meal prepping, which is loved by one of my friends who lives alone.

omg THANK YOU for pointing to this section! And thank you for this post, thegears!
posted by lalex at 1:56 PM on June 16, 2018 [1 favorite]


I really like her recipes! The pictures are often good too and I find the results are pretty reliable.
posted by SpaceWarp13 at 1:58 PM on June 16, 2018


Yes! I love Budget Bytes so much!
posted by augustimagination at 2:00 PM on June 16, 2018


It looks like it's a nice site, but it's not really hitting the budgeting lows if it's advising the purchase of boneless skinless chicken breasts so much, and not just getting a whole chicken.

Maybe it's just NYC weirdness, but whole chickens are more expensive per pound than cut-up chicken pieces at my local grocery store.
posted by showbiz_liz at 2:02 PM on June 16, 2018 [9 favorites]


Yeah I can get trays of boneless skinless breasts for real cheap compared to whole chickens around here.
posted by The Whelk at 2:03 PM on June 16, 2018 [3 favorites]


I love Budget Bytes! Dragon Noodles and the black bean and corn quesadillas and any of the sweet potato dishes are in my regular rotation. She does a good job of having vegetarian or meat-optional recipes that are actually filling and crowd-pleasing.
posted by colorblock sock at 2:11 PM on June 16, 2018


Budget Bytes is my go-to site when meal planning, and has been for a few years. I love it, and glad to see it getting more attention here!
posted by minsies at 2:14 PM on June 16, 2018


The other thing about Budget Bytes is that the recipes are all pretty easy and completely reliable, which is also a money-saver, because I never make anything from there that doesn't work. And if you're an adventurous cook, that might translate to boring. But if you're just looking to feed yourself in a not-terribly-expensive, not-terribly-complicated, not-terribly-unhealthy way, it's really great.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 2:14 PM on June 16, 2018 [7 favorites]


I could have really used this about 12 years ago.


I probably also could have used food stamps.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 2:30 PM on June 16, 2018 [2 favorites]


More love for Budget Bytes from here -- and give her Greek Marinated Chicken recipe a try! It's been one of my tried and trusted recipes for a couple years now, and it is amaaaaazing.
posted by vers at 3:21 PM on June 16, 2018 [1 favorite]


I've never made a bad recipe from this site, and I've made a lot of them. Favorites (of both kids and adults) include Sticky Ginger Chicken, Bibimbap, 5 Spice Chicken, Chicken Arrabiata, and Sesame Chicken.
posted by helloknitty at 3:30 PM on June 16, 2018 [3 favorites]


Yeah, chicken breasts may be marginally more expensive than whole chickens (depending on your region, apparently), but when you're seriously broke, it's risky to try new recipes, and it's nice to have a site that you can rely on for good recipes.
posted by lunasol at 3:41 PM on June 16, 2018 [2 favorites]


We're not on a terribly restrictive budget, but saving money is saving money and some of these recipes look pretty excellent. So, thanks for the link!
posted by Foosnark at 3:43 PM on June 16, 2018 [1 favorite]


Wow that African peanut stew recipe looks great. Thanks, I didn't know about this site and now will be all over it.
posted by Kangaroo at 3:50 PM on June 16, 2018 [1 favorite]


As someone who is finally about to start living on his own again, this is extremely relevant to my interests. Thank you so much for this!
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 4:03 PM on June 16, 2018 [3 favorites]


Also a fan. Two recent favourites in my rotation not yet mentioned are the Scallion Herb Cream Cheese spread (makes lots, great on crackers or sandwiches) and the Tuna and White Bean Salad (I added cilantro to mine, on a tip from someone in the comments, and recommend it if you like cilantro.)

One thing I like about her is that (especially over time) she will explain the tradeoffs for things, like "I've also done this with chicken thighs, but this week I'm doing chicken breasts, because X." In any given recipe these mentions may be brief, but they've given me a lot more sense of what's swappable.

(I am in a place where keeping my food costs lower is good, but I am willing to trade a modest increase in cost for not having to deal with chicken bones most of the time unless I'm actually roasting a chicken.)

I also second the reliability of her recipes - I've had some that turned out not to be entirely to my taste, but nothing that was actually an issue to eat, and the instructions are clear and usefully informative.
posted by modernhypatia at 4:21 PM on June 16, 2018 [2 favorites]


> Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The:
"As someone who is finally about to start living on his own again, this is extremely relevant to my interests. Thank you so much for this!"

I most sincerely hope this is a good and looked forward to development.
posted by Samizdata at 4:42 PM on June 16, 2018 [3 favorites]


Taco Chicken Bowls are my absolute favorite of hers and a total staple in my kitchen. I've made them with chicken breasts, chicken thighs, and pork and all variations have turned out awesome. Plus you can switch up the salsa & beans to get pretty different results and avoid weeks of the exact same leftovers. It's incredibly reheatable and versatile too.
posted by augustimagination at 4:45 PM on June 16, 2018


Thank you!! My food spending has been out of control lately, and this is just the motivation I need to get back in line.
posted by greermahoney at 5:01 PM on June 16, 2018 [1 favorite]


I love Budget Bytes! I swear by her recipe for cilantro lime rice mentioned in Week 4 of the Snap Challenge. This recipe is slightly different, and better, than the actual recipe for cilantro lime rice on her site.

I also make her Soap de Fideo regularly. It is quick and incredibly tasty.

Recently, I've been on a kick of making the Cheeseburger Salad with Animal Sauce Dressing.

Budget Bytes is a recipe site that I can rely on to provide solid recipes, that are usually quick and don't require any exotic or hard to find ingredients. Often, I can whip her recipes up with what I already have on hand in the refrigerator and pantry. It is a great resource.
posted by JennyJupiter at 5:01 PM on June 16, 2018 [2 favorites]


This is brilliant - thanks so much!
posted by Salamander at 5:58 PM on June 16, 2018


My issue with the site is that pricing out the ingredients doesn't work when you need to start off buying a whole can/jar/bag of a thing to get to the portion they refer to. You generally need to have enough money for the initial start in order to get on the road of it being useful. People who are truly poor don't have that.
posted by Catbunny at 7:31 PM on June 16, 2018 [3 favorites]


Yeah, Beth did a SNAP challenge a few years back and had a number of good insights and comments about the difficulties inherent in poverty greater than what she currently deals with. She hits a sweet spot of cheap, fast, and good, but that means she's never really going to be the absolute best at any one of the three: and sometimes, that's what you need.

Personally, I learned to make scones from her assorted scone recipe. The Spinach Pie in particular was a regular favorite back before my partner moved down and I started doing less cooking--they've got different tastes and actively enjoy time-consuming, fiddly recipes, so I haven't revisited a lot of these in quite a while.
posted by sciatrix at 9:06 PM on June 16, 2018 [1 favorite]


My favorite recipe from this site, by far, is the Pressure Cooker (whole) Chicken and Rice. We always have more broth than she calls for but we just keep it all in there and the rice comes out with a bit of a creamy risotto texture. I always recommend this recipe to new pressure cooker owners who are trying to figure out what to make.
posted by notheotherone at 10:40 PM on June 16, 2018 [1 favorite]


Calories you say. Cheap fruit pies. About $1 can get you 1000 calories easy. Bum tip.
posted by zengargoyle at 10:52 PM on June 16, 2018 [1 favorite]


Cooking pasta in the same pot as the sauce is one of those things that seem entirely mind-blowing the first time you hear about them. But on second thought, of course it is a thing, and a completely reasonable one. I'm going to try this the next time I make a heavy meaty sauce…
posted by Vesihiisi at 2:34 AM on June 17, 2018


Same pot... (bachelor chow warning). Pasta goes in pot, sauce in bowl, bowl floats on top of pot while pasta cooks acts like a drop lid. Tongs, strainer, paper towel insulation... Hot bowl, hot sauce, hot pasta. Done in minutes with little effort or cleanup. (bonus: toast garlic bread in the same time).
posted by zengargoyle at 4:34 AM on June 17, 2018 [3 favorites]


Catbunny, generally the items you need a jar or bag of are very cheap, like a bag of rice.

I love Budget Bytes! I've tried tons of them, all delicious and easy so far.
posted by agregoli at 9:29 AM on June 17, 2018


I discovered baked oatmeal through Budget Bytes, and I love making Blueberry Banana Baked Oatmeal, Banana Coconut Baked Oatmeal, or going with the basic idea of either of those and just subbing in chocolate chips. (I often reduce the sugar by 1/2 or so for the recipes linked.) It's so convenient to be able to make a filling breakfast and have leftovers on hand for the week, and it freezes well too. I've made it for friends with small children too and have heard v good feedback. And finally, it's also a welcome leftover-bananas alternative to banana bread.

I haven't tried cooking anything else on her site yet, so keep the vegetarian recommendations coming!
posted by soleiluna at 9:43 AM on June 17, 2018


I realize that generally they are pretty cheap. Cheap is relative, however.

I have found so really good recipes on there. I just recognize that the site works best for those in a the right salary demographic.
posted by Catbunny at 10:30 AM on June 17, 2018 [1 favorite]


Whoa, I was just recommended this site last week by my sister, and found this thread while I was in the middle of waiting for my broccoli to roast for the Roasted Broccoli Salad with Almonds (and lo mein noodles, yum).

I also love seeing more posts that aren't "earth-shaking or controversial, but open(s) the world a little." Thanks to theora55 for suggesting that and thegears for posting!
posted by ITheCosmos at 11:09 AM on June 17, 2018 [4 favorites]


We all know cheap is relative. This is a strong site with good tips and delicious recipes. She ain't trying to solve anyone's finances.
posted by agregoli at 12:26 PM on June 17, 2018 [12 favorites]


Does anyone know of a UK version of Budget Bytes?
posted by mrbenn at 2:40 PM on June 17, 2018


Catbunny: I'm with you. The recipe for the Thai Coconut soup was fairly simple, but the Whole Foods curry paste and bouillon (and I'm guessing the coconut milk, too), along with "then just use your immersion blender!", is just not about eating cheap when you're poor. The money angle feels like a gimmick.

I don't have any complaints with the recipe, just how it's broken down as dollars and cents, when a lot of the value is just ... buying veggies.
posted by lkc at 3:28 PM on June 17, 2018


It’s called Budget Bytes. Beth, the proprietor, helps you fix healthy, tasty food and does so in a thoughtful way. It doesn’t pretend to be anything else.
posted by Celsius1414 at 3:34 PM on June 17, 2018


The cheap and effective tip I've worked out from the last year or so is to make mirepoix as a mix in advance. The ratio is 2/1/1 onions/carrots/celery, which works out to about about 3 large onions, 1 bunch of celery, and 1 bag of baby carrots. You can chop it, or run it through a food processor separately and mix it together in a big bowl, and then stick in an airtight resealable container.

I know 4 pounds of the stuff sounds like a lot, but it fits in a half-gallon container, keeps surprisingly well (i think the onions help preserve it), and cooks down amazingly. It goes in everything! Even if you're making top ramen, just spoon some of it in, and you get a fuller flavor and a bunch of veggies.

It also fixes the "needed 2 ribs of celery and now i have a bunch of leafy rubber in my fridge" problem, and the "I don't want to cut all this stuff up" problem. You can spend that time prepping other veggies or be quick and easy with a good base.
posted by lkc at 3:52 PM on June 17, 2018 [7 favorites]


I really love Budget Bytes and cook from it all the time. Not because of the money saving aspect, I have to admit, but because I am an a cook with very little time and somehow her recipes fall right into 1) the amount of ingredients I am willing to mess around with, 2) the amount of time I am willing to spend cooking, and they usually come out very well.

When I scan internet recipes for potential, a reasonable amount of ingredients and how quickly I can put it together are pretty important.

Her slow cooker meat recipes are the most reliable ones I've found. I made some terrible wasted meals in the slow cooker before I found her site.

I usually add a bunch more spices and salt and maybe extra veggies or cheese or whatever to her recipes because I know my household's tastes run that way.
posted by Squeak Attack at 5:26 PM on June 17, 2018


lkc, how long does your mirepoix last in the fridge?
posted by stowaway at 7:11 PM on June 17, 2018


I know 4 pounds of the stuff sounds like a lot, but it fits in a half-gallon container, keeps surprisingly well (i think the onions help preserve it), and cooks down amazingly. It goes in everything! Even if you're making top ramen, just spoon some of it in, and you get a fuller flavor and a bunch of veggies.

To extend from this (bulk pre-mirepoix maker! My people!), I love doing exactly this and then cooking it down in advance. Just sweat it down with whatever oil you have (olive or vegetable primarily), then let it cool in your fridge, then take either some parchment paper or some ziploc bags and stuff them in there and freeze from there. If you're using parchment paper, basically lay down the mirepoix like you would burrito filling, then roll into a tube & crimp the ends.

From here you can just chop off a hunk of frozen mirepoix whenever you need it. (I also do this for caramelized onions & anything else I can pre-cook down like this, it goes a long way for making a basic meal feel richer/fancier)
posted by CrystalDave at 7:43 PM on June 17, 2018 [10 favorites]


Does anyone know of a UK version of Budget Bytes?

You might like Jack Monroe's work. Their website is Cooking on a Bootstrap, and they write for The Guardian off and on as well.

Origin story: How blogging about my £10 a week food shop helped me cope with life
posted by Secret Sparrow at 8:39 PM on June 17, 2018 [3 favorites]


Thank you're so much for this post. I've never heard of Budget Bytes before and it's something that I'll definitely check out.
posted by LeftMyHeartInSanFrancisco at 3:23 AM on June 18, 2018


I live alone and when I'm in a groove I make a Budget Bytes recipe every Sunday and freeze some of it. My freezer is full of containers of good, not terribly expensive homemade meals. I really like her chicken tikka masala and the taco bowls. So glad to see it on the blue; it really is the best of the web!
posted by sockermom at 3:29 AM on June 18, 2018 [1 favorite]


I really don't think that Jack Monroe's work is the UK version of Budget Bytes. Jack Monroe's work is explicitly for and about people living in poverty. Budget Bytes is for budget-conscious cooks, but I don't think it's primarily aimed at truly poor people. When Beth started the blog, she was newly graduated from college, with a lot of student debt, working a demanding job that didn't pay very much. I think that's kind of the target audience. I don't think it's primarily meant for people who are eating on the equivalent of ten pounds a week, although they might find some recipes that would work for them.

I think that, because there are a lot of pretty well-off people on Metafilter, we sometimes have a tendency to talk here as if there are two kinds of people: people who have enough money that their grocery budget is never going to matter to them, on the one hand, and "the poor" on the other. And in truth, most people in developed countries fall somewhere in between. Probably, most people on Metafilter fall somewhere in between, although you wouldn't always know it from the comments.

I have no idea what the UK version of this is, though. I'd actually be super interested to see what equivalent blogs from different countries looked like.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 9:04 AM on June 18, 2018 [2 favorites]


She is great. Her recipes are great. Baked oatmeal was a revelation. Dragon noodles! The chicken and rice is the thing I make most often in my Instant Pot.

I hear you about the chicken breasts, but she often talks about how she buys those only when she can find them on sale, when they can be pretty reasonable. (Unfortunately, if you're not great at breaking down chickens, buying whole chickens and using them that way can result in a lot of waste, also.)
posted by Linda_Holmes at 10:41 AM on June 18, 2018


I am really glad I checked this out, because I wouldn't have necessarily expected it to include so many vegan and vegetarian recipes. Thanks!

I don't have any complaints with the recipe, just how it's broken down as dollars and cents, when a lot of the value is just ... buying veggies.

As a vegan cook, I can say that fruits and veggies are the most expensive things I buy. It's a good resource. YMMV.
posted by mrgrimm at 11:50 AM on June 18, 2018 [1 favorite]


(seeds and nuts, actually, but those come from fruits and vegetables, mostly ...)
posted by mrgrimm at 11:51 AM on June 18, 2018 [1 favorite]


A whole chicken isn't cost effective if you aren't using all of it. If you have a series of recipes planned out to cover all parts of the chicken and then stock, yes, buy the whole chicken. Otherwise, buy what you intend to eat.
posted by tavella at 12:21 PM on June 18, 2018


Substitution tip for Sweet Potato Cornbread: I had to make a dairy free version recently and a can of full fat coconut milk in lieu of the sour cream and milk did splendidly!
posted by foxfirefey at 10:01 AM on June 20, 2018


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