A side dish can make or break a meal. It’s also an opportunity to seriously increase the wow factor of the average family dinner. It can be tempting to overspend on this portion of the meal, particularly if company is coming over. But the truth is, trying to get too fancy with side dishes can send your food budget out of control quite quickly. Here are several money-saving side dishes that pair simplicity with flavor, frugality and flair.


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Spicy Black Beans:

Full of antioxidants at an affordable price, black beans bring protein, color contrast and style to the budget cook’s repertoire. One attention-grabbing way to serve them is to mix cooked black beans with a small jar of hot pepper jelly. It’s a trick I learned from my favorite Mexican restaurant. They serve them this way on their signature soft taco plate.

String Beans:

Even if you’re not growing your own, string beans are affordable and can be used in side dishes ranging from rustic to elegant. Sliced into section and sautéed with garlic and sesame seeds, string beans pair well with mashed potatoes and gravy, along with your meat of choice. They can also be used in casseroles for holidays, or enjoyed whole with veggie dip.

Jewel-Toned Root Vegetables:

Pair peeled and cubed beets with the same form of sweet potatoes in a baking dish. Toss with olive oil and cover with aluminum foil before baking at 375° for forty-five minutes. The result is an earthy, succulent side dish that’s jam-packed with color and nutrition. The colors look amazing with a green salad and make a significant statement on a plate.

Savory Quick Bread:

There are many savory quick bread and muffin recipes online, but one of my favorites is beer bread. It tastes great with homemade soup or a spaghetti dinner, and is an affordably fun dinner side to serve when company comes over. You can also put this recipe in a quart-sized canning jar and add a gift tag for a rustic hostess gift.

Cabbage:

There are several ways you serve cabbage. Traditional coleslaw is one of the most popular with the budget crowd, but there are other ways to prepare this cancer-fighting vegetable. Sauerkraut is certainly affordable, and can easily be preserved. During the summer, we enjoy a peanut-lime cabbage salad with dry-roasted peanuts, jalapenos, red pepper, purple onion and cilantro. It’s a full-flavored, low-fat dinner side that pairs well with grilled pineapple, pork chops, tuna steaks or tilapia.

For those trying to keep food costs under control, these side dishes provide a significant amount of budget support. All are cost-conscious, relatively simple to prepare and varied enough to suit a number of different palette preferences.