10 cookbooks for frugal foodies

Food prices are going up and up… But is your food budget keeping up? It seems like we have to sacrifice something — be it taste, health or time — to keep our spending in check.

Enter the Frugal Foodie. The recession had more people cooking at home, but it also brought a renewed interest in foods that are not only cheap, but healthy and tasty as well. Frugal cookbooks offer more than recipes that use inexpensive ingredients and use up leftovers — they up the ante with gourmet flare and lessons in home economics.

Need some inspiration? Here are some titles to get you started:

10 frugal cookbooks

Dining on a Dime by Tawra Jean Kellam and Jill Cooper
Formerly known at Not Just Beans: 50 Years of Frugal Family Favorites, this guide offers entertaining anecdotes along with its 540 recipes and 420 money-saving strategies spanning three generations. The guide is meant for beginners as well as experienced cooks, and even goes beyond food with recipe ideas like slime and face paint for the youngsters. The authors aren’t just expert cooks — they’re moms who have dug themselves out of steep debts. (To get you started, they offer tips and recipes at their website, Livingonadime.com.)

Help! My Apartment has a Kitchen by Kevin Mills and Nancy Mills
Need a gift for a beginner cook? Writer Nancy Mills figured if she could teach her college-age son to cook, she could teach just about anyone. Still popular two editions and fifteen years later, this guide promises “100 + Great Recipes with Foolproof Instructions” that range from cooking to home economy. While not specifically targeted at frugal cooks, the guide covers everything from a tips on preparation and kitchenware to recipes for every course and “Menus for Entertaining”– all with budget in mind.

Since penning their first book, this mother and son duo have gone on to publish other titles such as Help! My Apartment Has a Dining Room and Chocolate on the Brain.

The Frugal Cook by Fiona Beckett
The subtitle says it all: “Buy Cleverly, Waste Less, Eat Well.”  Now in it’s second edition, British food writer Fiona Beckett’s collection of inexpensive and tasty ideas gets the nod for its simple layout and recipes you don’t have to be a chef to prepare. From hearty meals to entertaining, the book covers the gamut of meal ideas plus offers tips to use up leftovers and how to be more energy efficient.  (Hint: look for the red cover to make sure you’ve got the latest edition, and check out Beckett’s blog The Frugal Cook.)

The Frugal Foodie Cookbook: Waste-Not Recipes for the Wise Cook by Lynette Rohrer Shirk and Laura Starr
One chicken, five courses? Yes — it’s possible. Classically trained chef Shirk and baker Starr team up for this collection of recipes to help frugal families eat well. From “Bankable Breakfasts” — including roasting your own coffee — to “Pull-Purse-String Parties”, this book offers tips and stories along with the recipes. There’s even a section on “Thrifty Gifts” to stretch your giving buying budget as well. (You can also find recipes and tips on Starr’s blog, The Frugal Foodie.)

Easy One-Pot: Frugal recipes for busy cooks by Ryland Peters & Small
Love cooking but hate cleaning up? What sets this cookbook apart is its focus on one-pot meals — but it isn’t just about the soups and stews. This collection also includes stir-fries and pastas (like Classic Pad Thai), risottos, side dishes, a selection of casseroles and even desserts (such as Fig and Honey Croissant Pudding). If you don’t have a slow cooker, many of these dishes can be made on the stove top too.

Quick, Cheap Comfort Food: 100+ Fresh Recipes for Meals in a Hurry by Victoria Shearer
What’s even better than comfort foods like pancakes and chicken pot pies? Try comfort foods that don’t take a lot of time or money to prepare. This cookbook is geared for busy chefs with one pot and slow cooker meals and meals that can be made in advance and whipped out of the freezer on a busy night. Most recipes are take less than 30 minutes to prepare, and many even come in at less than $3.00 per serving.

If you’re looking for more, Shearer’s other titles include Leftover Makeovers and Make Ahead Meals.

The Giant $7 a Meal Cookbook: 701 Inexpensive Meals the Whole Family Will Love by Susan Irby
Promising to “Feed a family of 4 for $7 or less” (in the U.S. in 2010, that is), master chef Susan Irby offers more variety than your average frugal cookbook — minus the frills. The book collects material from her previous titles and offers some new ideas too. Many of the recipes are straightforward and don’t have a lot of ingredients or steps. The book ranges from basic fare like “Poppy Popcorn” to more sophisticated tastes like Prosciutto-wrapped Shrimp with Honey and Lemon. One thing cooks might miss: photos and illustrations, but that does keep the size and the cost down.

Supper for a Song by Tamasin Day-Lewis
Don’t let the title deceive you: this book offers more than dinner fare. There’s a whole chapter dedicated to baked goods and a “Happy Food” section with treats like White Chocolate and Raspberry Truffles. There are also whole chapters dedicated to kitchen challenges like different ways to use a chicken, how to use up old bread and what to do with a glut of fresh fruit.  While there are cooking and shopping tips with each recipe, this book doesn’t go into details on frugal shopping and meal planning so cooks who know the basics will get their money’s worth.

The $10 Gourmet by Ken Kostick
So you’re not feeding an entire family? While many frugal cookbooks advocate cooking large batches, celebrity chef Ken Kostick’s book offers restaurant quality fare for two — all for $10 or less (some are even less than $5.00). The recipes are a little more “upscale” than family-friendly meals, but each includes a shopping list and price breakdown.

Hosting a dinner party? Look to the book’s chapter on “3 Dinners for 6 for Under $30.” Kostick also shows you how to stock your pantry and fridge for less than $50 each.  (The book was published in 2009, so expect the prices to have changed.)

Gluten-Free on a Shoestring by Nicole Hunn
Stretching a food budget can be even harder with special dietary needs, as lawyer-turned-blogger Nicole Hunn discovered during the recession. Her quest to find lower cost (and tastier!) alternatives to pricy gluten-free goods prompted her to start her now popular blog, Gluten Free on a Shoestring. Her cookbook of the same name not only collects her uncomplicated, family-friendly recipes, it also offers savings tips specifically for people eating a gluten-free diet.

Before you try it

Of course, this list is just a small sampling of the many frugal cookbooks out there. How can you tell if one is right for you? Here are some questions to consider.

Can I try it before I buy it? In many cases, yes. Borrow a book from a friend, hit the library or visit your local bookstore to peruse the titles. Also, look for book excerpts or “sneak previews” online or see if the author has a blog or regular column somewhere — that will help you give a feel for their style and tastes. Online reviews and sites like www.goodreads.com can give you the inside scoop.

Is it easy to read? To keep costs low, some frugal cookbooks use few or no pictures and often have more than one recipe per page. If you like visuals and an easy-to-read layout, they might be worth paying a little extra. Books without photos do offer more recipes — a boon if variety and quantity are important.

Will I use the recipes often? Don’t expect a cookbook will automatically change your habits — look for ones that fit your lifestyle so you’ll use them often enough to make a difference. Pressed for time? Look for recipes that are quick and use fewer ingredients. If you’re more daring and love to entertain, look for books with a gourmet flare.

Also, don’t get too hung up on price breakdowns and shopping lists. Prices vary from place to place, and many items have seen hikes since the book was published.

Where can I get the best price? We’ve linked you to publishers’ websites where possible, but there are deals to be had through book sellers (especially online!) Comparison shop before you buy, and don’t forget to factor in shipping. Try used bookstores or charity shops too.

Eating well doesn’t have to cost a lot, but do expect to spend some time and energy to learn. Not every cookbook is suitable for every cook, so it make take some trial and error to find one that suits your tastes and schedule.

What’s your favourite frugal cookbook? Share your suggestions in the comments.

Photo ©iStockphoto.com/ tirc83

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