How to Use Grains for Hearty, Healthy & Cheap Meals

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Welcome back to the collaboration between Mint and Brewing Happiness. I’m Haley, the girl behind Brewing Happiness – a blog about celebrating the small healthy choices we make in our lives, complete with recipes for everybody! I’m here to give you tips on living a healthy, happy life on a budget.

When I am at the end of my produce and my budget, I turn to my pantry staples. More specifically, I turn to my cheap grains (and other meal-bases) to create a hearty meal from nothing. Having cheap dried grains and pulses in your pantry will assure that you ALWAYS have a healthy meal ready to go. You can just cook your grain in water, top it with refrigerator scraps and add a sauce. VOILA, a meal is born.

I highly recommend keeping bags of frozen vegetables and protein, like veggie burgers or frozen chicken breasts, around so that you can always make a healthy and filling meal even if the fridge is empty. This will prevent you from ordering in or going out to eat when “there’s nothing left to eat in the house.” It’s your back-up reserve of food that will protect your wallet from hanger-based food choices.

The list I have put together is mostly grains, and they all cost under $3 per pound. So I suggest finding somewhere to buy in bulk, and stocking up on each of these. They can be stored in airtight containers for a year, so you aren’t at risk of them going bad.

Brown rice

The most common of the cheap grains, brown rice is a whole grain high in minerals and fiber. It’s great in stir-fry, salads, soups, burritos, and so much more.

RECIPES TO TRY: Masala Chickpeas with Coconut Rice or Oven Baked Masala Chicken Skewers


Barley is a whole grain, heartier and chewier than rice. It’s packed with protein and fiber, making it a great option for grain bowls or stews. It also cooks pretty quickly, so I like that about it!

RECIPES TO TRY: Sweet Potato Barley Stew or California Barley Bowl


Farro looks like rice, and is packed with protein and fiber like barley, but it is nuttier and heartier than both. I highly recommend adding this versatile grain to your pantry!

RECIPES TO TRY: Beet Farro Mediterranean Salad or Grilled Summer Buddah Bowl Salad


Oats are great for breakfast, they can be used in baking, or you can make a savory dish with them. They’re very versatile and totally filling.

RECIPES TO TRY: The Creamiest Apple Pie Oatmeal or Savory Oatmeal with Garlicky Kale


Is a small grain that looks and tastes similar to quinoa. It’s not the most popular because it can be temperamental to cook with and isn’t as nutrient-packed as some other grains, but it is probably the cheapest of the grains. So for that reason, I love it.

RECIPES TO TRY: Spicy Curried Cauliflower and Millet Bowl or Chickpea Shwarama with Millet

Buckwheat Groats

Despite the name, buckwheat groats are gluten free and they’re actually a seed rather than a grain. However, you can cook them and use them in a similar way to any grain, or you can make them into a nice porridge. They’re very versatile!

RECIPES TO TRY: Customizable Nourishing Buckwheat Bowl or Golden Raisin Buckwheat Breakfast Porridge


Couscous is not gluten free and not even a grain. It is made of flour and water – similar to pasta, so it makes a great base for a meal. I love couscous because it cooks VERY QUICKLY, so it’s always ready when I want it to be.

RECIPES TO TRY: 30-Minute Crispy Tofu & Squash Autumn Bowl or 10 Minute Winter Couscous Salad


Lentils are a pulse (a small seed), not a grain. However, they are cheap, protein-packed, and contain tons of fiber so they make a great base for a meal. That’s why I’ve included them in this list!

RECIPES TO TRY: Lentil and Sweet Potato Vegetarian Chili or Lentil Sloppy Joe Stuffed Sweet Potato

Use this list as a guideline for stocking your pantry, so that when time and money is tight you always have a healthy base for a meal. I find having a well-stocked pantry helps me avoid eating out and keeps my food budget down. Hopefully it helps you too!

Follow along!

Over the next few months I’ll be covering a variety of ways to be healthy on a budget. Keep an eye out for those and head over to Brewing Happiness for healthy recipe inspiration in the meantime!

Save more, spend smarter, and make your money go further