Learn How to Cook and Eat Well for Free

We all need to eat. Sometimes (or most of the time) we find ourselves in situations where eating out or buying ready-made meals is not an affordable/available/wanted option. One of the best ways to reduce costs is to learn how to cook and actually do it. Cooking your own meals can help save money when you’re travelling (especially in locales where eating out is expensive), stretch funds during fieldwork (especially on weekends towards the end of the season when your funds have dwindled), and if you have a limited income to begin with (hello fellow graduate students!). Unfortunately, many of us don’t know how to cook or where to begin. Luckily, I have found an amazing, free, and delicious resource to get you started. Follow along this curated habits post to learn more. 

Over the years, I asked the great home cooks I know how they learned how to cook. Many of them said the same thing: They found a solid cookbook. This makes sense. If you don’t know what you’re doing and someone who does gives you instructions, you follow them. If it works, you keep following them. The nice thing about a solid cookbook is that you can trust the recipes. While finding recipes on the internet is super easy, trusting them is a whole other story. Sure there are reviews and ratings, but it can quickly get overwhelming. For those of you who want (and need) to learn how to cook, while saving money, I have found a great resource for you. The cookbook is called ‘Good and Cheap‘ by Leanne Brown and you can download it for free here or buy it on Amazon!

Good and Cheap 2D

To give you a little background, this cookbook was created by Leanne Brown in an effort to provide a resource for people who have very limited budgets, especially individuals receiving SNAP/Food Stamps benefits  (about $4/day) in the USA. The cookbook was part her final project for her Master’s degree in New York University’s Food Studies program.

There are so many reasons why I am a huge fan of the book and project. Here is a short list.

  1. While the book is free to download, you can purchase a print copy and a second copy will be given to a family in need. Check out her impact map here.
  2. The pictures are great! This is actually really important. Images can get you excited about what you’re making and what you will eventually eat. These images are captivating, but also realistic in terms of the product you can expect. Don’t worry too much about epic Pinterest like fails here.
  3. This cookbook provides emerging budget cooks with a key skill—strategy.

This cookbook teaches you how to make strategic choices that will not only save you money, but get you in a resourceful mindset. The first pages are filled will solid, foundational tips for your frugal cooking and eating journey. Here are a few of my favorites:

My intent was to create satisfying food that doesn’t require you to supplement your meals with cheap carbohydrates to stave off hunger. I strove to create recipes that use money carefully, without being purely slavish to the bottom line. For example, many recipes use butter rather than oil. Butter is not cheap, but it creates flavor, crunch, and richness in a way that cheap oils never can.

My Philosophy, Page 7, Good and Cheap by Leanne Brown

As a butter lover and I was super excited to read this. She speaks the truth!


If possible—and admittedly this can be difficult for people living on their own—reserve part of your budget to buy one or two semi-expensive pantry items each week. Things like olive oil, soy sauce, and spices (p. 166) are pricey at first, but if you use just a little with each recipe, they go a long way. With turmeric, coriander, cumin, and fresh ginger root, you’ll suddenly have a world of flavor on your shelf.

Start Building a Pantry, Page 8, Good and Cheap by Leanne Brown

At the end of the book, she offers a list of spices that you can prioritize to buy. This advice can be useful in a number of situations including:

  1. Figuring out what to buy for the fieldwork pantry that season.
  2. Packing some spices with you as you travel so you don’t have to buy them along the way.
  3. If you’re starting to learn to cook and have absolutely nothing but Cup O’Soup in your pantry.

broth - anjulu ayer

Photo Credit: anjuli_ayer via Flickr

In almost any savory recipe that calls for water, homemade broth or stock would be better. To make broth, start by saving any vegetable bits that you chop off and would normally throw away, like onion tops, the seedy parts of peppers, and the ends of carrots. Store them in the freezer until you have a few cups, then cover them with water, bring to a boil, and simmer on low heat for a few hours. Add salt to taste, and you have broth! To make a hearty stock, do the same with leftover bones or scraps of meat (preferably all the same kind of meat). Since you’re using stuff you’d otherwise throw away, broth and stock are effectively free.

Make Your Own Broth and Stock, Page 11, Good and Cheap by Leanne Brown

Broth and stock are incredibly useful for providing flavor, warmth, and some oomph to a dish. If you make it yourself you’re giving great mileage to food items you have already bought. I also freeze broth in sealed plastic bags so I can use it in the future.

Cornmeal Veggies
Cornmeal Crusted Veggies, Page 63 from Good and Cheap by Leanne Brown.

In addition to offering strategies, many recipes are designed to be flexible so you can substitute ingredients based on season, availability, and preference. If you have been meaning to learn how to cook and save money, I would definitely check out Good and Cheap.

If you know of any good and cost-effective resources for emerging cooks, feel free to share in the comments section below.

PBJ Granola Bars
Peanut Butter and Jelly Granola Bars, Page 26 from Good and Cheap by Leanne Brown

Photo Credit: Leanne Brown




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  • Thank you for this posting, I’m always looking for new recipes and I’ll definitely check this book out. I’m a big butter lover as well and I add butter to almost everything. There is nothing better than a big plate of good old German Kartoffelbrei (mashed potatoes) with some milk, salt, nutmeg, and a big chunk of butter. Yummy.

Smiti Nathan

I’m an archaeologist that travels around the world for both work and pleasure. I have a penchant for exploring ancient and modern places and the people, plants, and foods entangled in them. I write about archaeology, travel, and productivity.



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