With food prices rising every day, finding cheap meals can feel increasingly difficult. But there are many hidden gems on the shelves. The big one: Rice! Rice is one of the most versatile foods and is a staple in most homes. This iconic food is cost efficient at an average of $0.23 to $1.35 per pound, depending on the type of rice. It accounts for about 20% of all global calories consumed, making it the most commonly consumed food in the word by most accounts. Rice is also highly culturally ingrained in many places; common greetings in many places that mean “how are you” literally translate to “have you eaten rice today!” But what meals can be made with rice? Let’s discover some cheap rice meals!
The Economic Appeal
Rice stands out as a key player in terms of economic benefits. It has a relatively low price per pound—typically around $1-2, depending on the type of rice and where you buy it from—compared to other food options. For something that has a shelf life of years when dry (for white rice; brown rice is three to six months), this is an attractive price to pay. Cooked rice is good in the fridge for around three to four days or can be kept frozen for about eight months. Rice is extremely cost effective. When bought in bulk, rice often becomes even cheaper as it costs less per pound. If you cook a lot of rice, buying in bulk makes for considerable savings in the long run. Rice is also extremely versatile; it can be used in a variety of dishes as a main component, a side, or even dessert. It can also be reheated/recooked into new dishes. Rice is an extremely economical buy.
The first step to learning how to prepare rice is how to store it. Luckily, rice storage is fairly simple: store in a cool, dry place in an airtight container. This keeps moisture and bugs from getting inside and ruining your rice.
Efficiency in the kitchen is key and there are many ways to make cooking rice convenient and efficient. While it is common to cook rice with a rice cooker, you can also simmer rice on the stove with some water in a covered pot. For most varieties of rice all it takes is two parts water to one part rice, along with a watchful eye on the stove for equally satisfying results.
It is important to note that different types of rice have varying benefits, shelf lives, and preparation time. Brown rice is a whole grain rice meaning it contains all parts of the grain and is much more nutritious. Because of this, it also can take longer to cook. As previously mentioned, dry brown rice also typically only has a shelf life of three to six months. White rice has had the bran and germ removed, which are the most nutritious parts of the grain. This leaves it with fewer nutrients left, although it is softer and cooks quicker. Dry white rice typically has a shelf life of years, making it easier to store. Overall, it depends on what you want from your rice when choosing which one to use.
Breakfast of Champions
While rice for breakfast isn’t common in the western world, it’s a common part of breakfast in many places. In many countries, the distinction between breakfast foods versus lunch and dinner foods doesn’t exist, so rice at breakfast is very common. Rice porridge, or congee, is a common breakfast dish in China, Burma, Indonesia, Japan, and parts of Europe. Congee is made by boiling rice until it breaks down into a pudding-like consistency. On its own, it is only made with water so it is quite bland. However, there are many ways to make the dish savory or even sweet. Instead of boiling the rice with water, you could boil it with different stocks or add different flavorings. To make it sweet, you can add different fruits. This simple dish is extremely economical; a 3/4 cup of rice turns into 6 cups of rice porridge and you can even use rice you’ve already cooked. Congee is the perfect breakfast dish.
Fried rice is used in many recipes, but it can even be used for breakfast. Take a typical fried rice recipe and add sausage and eggs. You could add bacon or any other breakfast foods of your choice. Fried rice is another dish where you can use cooked rice from previous recipes, making it an easy and economical choice.
Lunch and Dinner Delicacies
With rice it’s very easy to create savory meals; it is a great standalone starch in most dishes. The trick is finding something to pair it with. Because rice is a strong starch, it is easy to pair with a protein and veggie for a balanced meal. A cheap option for protein is chicken; it is one of the cheapest meats, especially when bought whole. It is also very versatile. There are a lot of different spices that pair well with chicken and rice, and the pair leave a lot of room for experimentation. Rice is typical to eat with stir-fry and it is fairly easy to make. You can even take veggies, rice, and meat that you have already cooked in order to make stir-fry. Leftover rice is also easy to repurpose into fried rice. These are great ways to repurpose your leftovers to help save money while also making delicious meals.
The Sweetest Part Yet
Rice is typically seen as a savory food, but it has plenty of potential inside sweeter foods as well. A common rice dessert is rice pudding: rice mixed with water or milk and sugar! This dessert is super simple and offers up the opportunity to experiment with different ratios of spices such as cinnamon or nutmeg. You could even add different flavoring such as vanilla, almond, orange, or lemon. Experiment! Because this dessert only has a few ingredients, it is very cost-effective. It also keeps well when refrigerated.
A newly trending—but ever classic—sweet is horchata! While this is a drink, it is still a sweet way to use your rice. Horchata is a sweet rice based drink typically made with a cinnamon flavor. It’s made through blending white rice and cinnamon sticks. After blending, you let it soak in water—without straining the mixture. Then after about eight hours, you strain the liquid out using a cheesecloth or a fine mesh strainer. From there, you add milk, vanilla, sugar, and some more cinnamon. However, there are many variations to this classic recipe; you can add it to coffee, use strawberries, or do whatever you like to experiment with the flavors. Just like rice pudding, this sweet drink can be customized to your favorite flavors. And because of the limited number of ingredients, it won’t break your budget either!
In a world where budget-friendly meals are a coveted prize, cheap rice meals take center stage as a versatile and economical solution. From breakfast to dinner and even dessert, rice's potential knows no bounds, offering a bounty of flavors while remaining cost effective. As food prices continue their ascent, rice emerges as a steadfast companion for the budget-conscious and culinary enthusiasts alike.