Years ago, coupons played a significant role in my money-saving strategies. However, once we paid off our all-consuming debt, I decided to ditch the processed foods and work more to improve our family's diet. That meant that coupons were no longer a great fit for me. (While there are health-food coupons, the practice of clipping every coupon that came down the pike was no longer the best one for me, either for time or nutrition.)
Instead I turned to a number of cookbooks that help me save money and feed my family well. These are some of my favorite resources — books that are fun to read as well practical for helping us eat well and stay in the black.
With six kids, a fairly limited income, and a Southern California zip code, I've gotten lots of practice at saving money on food costs. Eating well and cheap has been one of my pet ways to help us reach our financial goals. After all, your food budget is a line item that is more in your control than anything else. These six cookbooks have been a huge help in keeping my budget in check.
The Kitchen Counter Cooking School by Kathleen Flinn
The Kitchen Counter Cooking School is an exceptional primer for fledgling cooks learning courage and economy in the kitchen — and it's a great refresher course for the rest of us! A memoir-turned-treatise on cooking real food at home, this book recounts Kat Flinn's experience helping nine novices transform both their kitchens and how they looked at food.
I've had my teenage boys read this book so that it can fill in any blanks that I might miss in training them to cook well for themselves. This book is also on my list of yearly rereads. After a reread, I always feel newly inspired to make the most of what I have in my kitchen. I particularly love the chapters on simple meal prep and what to do with leftovers.
An American graduate of Le Cordon Bleu in Paris, Kat Flinn does a marvelous job of blending gourmet touches into everyday American life. Though peppered with a few actual recipes, this not a full-fledged "recipe collection," but rather a book to equip you to cook on your own, in many ways without recipes.
Jamie's Food Revolution by Jamie Oliver
The subtitle says it all: Rediscover how to cook simple, delicious, affordable meals. In this book, Jamie Oliver calls folks to a revolution — a food revolution. I remember years ago, when I was deep in coupons and the FREE processed foods I bought with them, I thought this guy was a nut.
Now that I've changed my kids' regular fare — and now that they prefer my cooking over fast food — I totally get it. This book is a great primer to help you learn how to make food at home, simply and deliciously. I love that there are chapters devoted to types of meals, like stir-fry, curry, pasta, ground beef, fish, and so on. So if you see a sale on a certain type of ingredient, you can easily head to that chapter and be inspired to cook it up.
Don't be discouraged when you see filet mignon in the first recipe. Ha! Filet mignon cooked at home is still cheaper than the same steak at a restaurant. Rest assured that the book is filled with many regularly budget-friendly ingredients.
Family Feasts for $75 a Week by Mary Ostyn
Mom of 10 (four by birth, six by international adoption), Mary Ostyn, of the blog Owlhaven, knows firsthand what it is to economize at the grocery store. This book contains 200 recipes that will feed a crowd, plus lots of great tips and ideas to help you save on food that you already buy. (Every recipe serves up to six and the weekly price tag of $75 addresses a budget for a family of four.)
This collection offers recipes for a wide range of international foods, particularly those you might pay for takeout, like Orange Chicken Panda-Style, Korean Vegetable Pancakes, and Spicy Ethiopian Beef. There are plenty of restaurant favorites you can make at home, thanks to this book, and save a bundle on dining costs.
Make the Bread, Buy the Butter by Jennifer Reese
We've all heard that homemade is cheaper than store-bought. But is it really worth it? How does that homemade buttercream pencil out compared to the canned variety? Jennifer Reese explores this question as it relates to many of the foods you regularly buy or make.
From bagels to prosciutto, and fried chicken to Camembert, this woman tackles a wide range of foods and gives the cost and hassle breakdown for each. Not only is the book enlightening, it's super duper entertaining. I disagree that burritos aren't worth making at home, but otherwise her recommendations are spot on, if not hilarious.
And the Wacky Cake recipe is awesome and easy.
Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day by Jeff Herzberg, MD and Zoe Francois
This is the flagship book of many Artisan Bread cookbooks that have followed and the one that popularized the no-knead method of bread baking. This is also the book that will save you a fortune on store-bought bread.
Be patient with me on the math here. A five-pound bag of flour has about 16 or 17 cups in it, depending on your method of measuring flour. That can make about 2 1/2 batches of the Master Recipe of Artisan Bread, or about 10 loaves of bread. At three dollars per bag of flour, each loaf of bread comes out to be about 30 cents! They're not huge loaves, but they do the job for the bread basket or sandwiches for two or three people.
This book is the key to easy, home-baked bread, and it's infinitely cheaper than what you can buy at the store.
Good Cheap Eats by Yours Truly (Jessica Fisher)
Now, I don't mean to be tacky by recommending my own book, but it really is one that we regularly use in our home. I truly believe in it as a tool for saving money — the book has 200 recipes and more than 100 money-saving tips to help you eat well and spend less on food. My parents, sisters, and in-laws all cook from it, as do I. Recipes like Poblano Enchiladas and Skillet Eggs have stood the test of time at our house — and help us avoid costly restaurant fare because it's so much nicer to eat at home!
I'd love to hear what your favorite budget-friendly cookbooks are — please share!