Raised by a single mom who was putting herself through college, Melissa d’Arabian knows a few things about pinching pennies. Her first cookbook Ten Dollar Dinners is packed with healthy, budget-friendly recipes that don’t taste “cheap.” Inspired by her Food Network show of the same name, it’s also loaded with valuable tips that will teach you how to shop smarter, waste less food and plan your own meals that won’t break the bank. We caught up with this busy mom of four to get a few cost-cutting kitchen tips.
Books for Better Living: If you could only have three staples in your pantry, what would they be? Why?
Melissa d’Arabian: Whole grain pasta, quinoa, white beans. I favor shelf-stable proteins that are versatile, satisfying, inexpensive and can take on many different flavor profiles.
BBL: Fish is extremely healthy, but it can be expensive. What are your tips for eating fish on a budget?
MD: Nowhere is it more important that you let supply and demand work in your favor than in the fish department. Fish is incredibly perishable, so when a grocery store receives a bunch of one kind of fish, they lower the prices, often more than 50 percent off! My strategy with fish: I swing by the fish counter every visit to the grocery store and buy what is on sale, and cook it that night or the next. Tip: If the fish counter sign says “previously frozen” ask them if they have some still frozen, and buy yours frozen to thaw when it’s convenient for you, not the grocery store.
BBL: Your kids go back to school soon. What’s one of their favorite brown-bag lunches?
MD: This is the year of the thermos with my kids for some reason! Whole grain pasta topped with whatever is leftover from the night before is a real favorite. Or, I’ll make some Crisper Draw Pasta, using up whatever is about to head south in my fridge. Another option: Chop up leftover chicken or fish and toss with grated veggies, quinoa and a drizzle of salad dressing, and the girls have a protein- and nutrient-filled cold or hot lunch. And, a little note that says, “I love you!” or “You’re special!” of course. It’s super budget-friendly and guaranteed to please.