My 6 Favorite Kitchen Bargains

This recipe is from Good and Cheap.

Good and Cheap cover 2nd edition

Good and Cheap is a gorgeous cookbook for people with limited income, particularly on a $4/day food stamps budget. The PDF is free (ahora en Español!) and has been downloaded more than 15,000,000 times. I have more cookbooks, too!

When I talk about my cookbook Good and Cheap with someone who isn’t on food stamps, the most common misconception I hear is that people with limited incomes can’t possibly make some of the recipes — after all, surely they don’t have (say) an immersion blender!

But in my experience working with low-income families, I’ve found that blenders, food processors, and electric mixers are actually fairly common; the bigger struggle is getting good food on the table consistently. Even so, there are no absolutes. In 2014, there were 46 million Americans on food stamps. Among 46 million people, there’s every kind of person and every kind of situation you can imagine.

So this post is for everyone who has a gap in their kitchen setup, and a little money to fill that gap. I thought, “if I had less than $100 to spend on improving one of my readers’ kitchens, where would I get the most bang for the buck?” I figured we’d skip the super obvious — a chef’s knife, cutting board, and a set of pots and pans — and move on to stuff you might not have thought was affordable.

Please don’t feel compelled to buy anything. After all, your great-grandmother didn’t have any of these gadgets (except the cast-iron skillet). But when it’s time to treat yourself, or maybe time to give a gift to a friend, consider the ideas below.

Disclaimer: Amazon pays me a small commission if you buy something after clicking one of the links below. However, this doesn’t affect the price you’ll pay — they just take it out of their profit. Also, prices vary day by day, so I’ve listed them as the ranges I’ve seen.

$6-$13: Microplane grater/zester


For the money, this is my single favorite kitchen tool. I use it pretty much every day to grate hard cheeses or whole spices like nutmeg, zest lemons and limes, and even shred vegetables like zucchini or fennel. By comparison, I only use my conventional box grater a few times per month.

(In Good and Cheap, I recommend buying hard cheeses like Pecorino Romano because they’re so much more flavorful than more familiar cheeses. That means you use less cheese to get the same “amount” of flavor, which ultimately saves money even though you’re using pricier cheese. Pecorino is similar to Parmesan, but stronger and usually less expensive.)

I read a funny story a few years ago: apparently the Microplane was originally designed for woodworking, not cooking. Who knew?

$15-$20: Ceramic paring knife


Instead of steel, the blade on this fantastic little knife is ceramic. That’s why it’s white. It’s much, much sharper than any affordable metal knife, and never needs sharpening.

The only real downside is that ceramic is brittle, so you have to be careful not to drop the knife, otherwise it can chip or even break. (I’ve never broken mine, but my mom snapped the tip off hers after a couple of years.) They also come in different colors for only a small amount more. Mine’s red!

$28-$35: Food processor


You don’t need a blender and a food processor, just one of the two. If you already have a blender and you’re short on money, just stick with it!

But If you’re buying something new, I prefer a food processor because it’s better at completely pulverizing hard food like nuts. When I got a food processor, I donated my blender to a friend.

Honestly, I don’t think it’s important to get a good food processor or blender. Here, I just picked the least expensive model with good reviews — so I haven’t used this one myself. I have a 7-year-old KitchenAid that was twice the price but gets worse reviews.

Several readers who cook for just 1 or 2 people have recommended a Cuisinart Mini-Prep instead because it’s small, light, easy to clean, and just a few bucks more at $32. It might be a bit too small to make, say, two large smoothies, but otherwise should get the job done nicely. (The Mini-Prep doesn’t come with as many blades as a full-size unit, but the standard chopping blade is the only one I ever use anyway.)

Blenders are pretty common at thrift stores (and sometimes you can find food processors, too); if you see one in good shape for $10, buy it instead of what I’ve linked here.

$11-$15: Immersion blender


Like countertop blenders and food processors, I think immersion blenders (used to make soups and purées) are basically all the same. Well, not the same, but all good enough for the purpose.

Sure, you can get a really nice immersion blender for $35, but the one I have looks like this basic $15 model. Mine is old and yellowed, but it still works great, so I can’t tell you to spend any more than this!

You’ll notice that this one only has a 3.5-star average rating, but if you read the 1-star reviews, you’ll see they’re all from people who were trying to make soap. So don’t use it to make soap! Only soup.

Hmm, business idea: t-shirts that say MAKE SOUP, NOT SOAP.

$18-$27: Cast-iron skillet


There are a few reasons cast-iron skillets are back in fashion:

  • they last forever
  • they’re much less expensive than nonstick pans
  • they hold heat amazingly well
  • they can go straight into the oven

With my crustless vegetable quiche, for example, if you sauté the onions in a cast iron pan, you can make the rest of the quiche right on top and put the whole thing in the oven. Fewer dishes!

On the other hand, cast iron is really heavy, and it has special cleaning instructions (not hard, just unusual).

Again, check thrift stores (or antique shops, or the back of your grandparents’ garage) for even better deals than this — 80-year-old cast iron is arguably better than new.

$10-$12: Good and Cheap: Eat Well on $4/Day


Ha ha, just kidding! You don’t really need to buy my book. After all, the PDF is free (ahora en Español!), and thanks to my generous supporters, we’ve shipped more than 211,000 copies of Good and Cheap to organizations that work with low-income families. Maybe you can find a copy in your community! (Then again, 211,000 copies is just 0.5% of SNAP recipients, so we have a long way to go.)

If you’re having trouble making ends meet, I’d rather you spend that $11 on a few days of groceries!

Of course, if you want to buy my book, I’d be honored. 🙂
And my publisher would be happy, too.

TOTAL: $78-$110 (or $88-$122 with Good and Cheap)


  • Stephen says:

    Thank you so much for writing this book and creating the tempting recipes. The world needs more people like you.

  • Dejah says:

    Leanne, I don’t mean to rob you of any of your probably needed revenue. However, having been on food stamps myself while my husband was out of work during the Great Recession–that just *happened* to have been when he *happened* to retire from the US Navy after completing 20 years service–I can say that most people on food stamps would be far wiser to check onto their local thrift store to find many, if not all of the items mentioned above. Granted, they won’t find ceramic knives, but there will be food processors and stand up blenders, and cast iron pans by the dozens.

    A Christmas gift might bring a ceramic knife, but in the meantime, a dollar store will yield two sharp paring knives that are cheap and can be replaced as they dull–two for a dollar. Honestly, THINK about the advice you are giving and the audience you are giving that advice to and the level of true desperation they live with. You really don’t appear to grok it. That $4/day feeds *a family.* My $5 fed a family of 5.

    To my fellow friends who are or have been on food stamps: learn how to sharpen knives (hint: on Youtube). It’s a worthy skill. You will never have a dull knife and you can buy a cheap, decent knife at the thrift store, sharpen it up and have a great knife. Forever. No expensive ceramic knives necessary. Just a cheap stone and a cheap steel and your skill. You can have a small business sharpening knives. People do it all the time. Think about it.

    • Elle says:

      She pretty much says that none of the items are necessary, and even mentions that some can be had from thrift stores.

      Yes, some (but not all) of those who read this blog are living in “true desperation”, but there are others whose circumstances are only temporarily restricted, and people who may be more financially able but simply want to save money on meal preparation. Should she communicate with only one group to the exclusion of all others?

      Over the years I’ve been both desperate and the complete opposite. i appreciate her efforts to make suggestions for food prep aids. Just because someone is poor does not mean they have to be infantilized, that they can’t aspire to better things or that they’ll be in despair of being presented with a random gadget they can’t afford. They are as capable of thinking “No, that’s not for me” or “That’s cool, can I find a cheaper one?” as anyone else. And further, they have friends and relatives who may be able to give them things as gifts, or they may want to eventually get it for themselves when able.

      Part of being desperate in this society, working multiple jobs or spending too much time riding public ttransportation to get to those jobs, is being short on time. Some people would rather buy one good knife that never needs sharpening, versus making repeated trips to replace cheap knives and spending time sharpening.

      Even when I’ve been poor, I’ve valued quality over quantity instead of instant gratification and held out for nicer things instead of buying inferior products that will break down too soon and eventually need replacing. Let so-called desperate people make up their own minds what’s attainable for them. In a society where everything is cheap and disposable no one will value (and few will patronize) the neighborhood knife sharpener.

      • No trash says:

        Thank you! When you throw away those cheap dollar store knives, they don’t really go away. The end up in a landfill or floating in the garbage patch in the ocean.

      • Mary says:

        I wish more people thought like you. Thank you for sticking up for the humanity.

    • C says:

      Thank you for this, I will give it a try! My knives are so dull, and I thought it was a difficult skill to learn. Never thought of Youtube, so thanks!

  • Angel says:

    I have made so many of the recipes in this book and I have loved EVERY ONE! Thank you for showing folks they CAN eat well on $4 a day. I received a copy of your book when I signed up to use my food stamps at our local farmers market. It was part of an incentive program to get more low income families to come get fresh produce and live healthier. The town will match up to $10 worth of farmers market money to your $10 worth of food stamps, so I can buy up to $20 worth of produce for $10 in food stamps. I feel your book has been an important tool in liberating the underprivileged in our community from a life of purchasing and killing themselves with seriously over processed and nutritionally deficient food.

    • Leanne Brown says:

      Angel, this is so wonderful to hear! I love those farmers market programs and it’s awesome to hear how helpful it’s been for you 🙂

  • Angel says:

    BTW: I adore your jambalaya and I made it twice before I noticed that it was meatless! Best part is how very quickly that recipe comes together.

  • Mary Lynne says:

    I checked your book out at the pubic library and fell in love with your recipes and your mission. Thank-you for sharing your passion and bringing light to my kitchen. I recommended you and your book to all my friends on Facebook.

  • Erin Hicks says:

    Pretty simple comment actually: YOU ROCK!

  • Martha Barker says:

    I’m not on a tight budget or live pay check to pay check, so I guess I’m not the target audience here, but I do like to live pretty thrifty. I just happened to stumble on your website and I just want to say that I am so happy that people with a heart like yours exist.Thank you for making this available.

  • Bob McCarty says:

    I am not living in poverty, but after trying some of your recipes, I am definitely healthier than I was on those “value menu” fast food meals I was consuming day in and day out! Thanks for all your hard work offering healthier and cheaper options for those of us in the middle class!

  • Mary says:

    I have your book and use it throughout the week for my meals. I just want you to know how much the work you are doing is appreciated. Thank you. Most sincerely, Mary

  • Elisa says:

    Thank you so very much!

  • Janet says:

    Leanne, thank you so much for being you and creating Good and Cheap! My folks are in their 80’s on a very limited budget, and your cookbook has helped them! We consider you a blessing in our lives,

  • Jo Ann Setliff says:

    I got a microplane for $2 and complete cuisinart food processor for $7 at goodwill. You have to sift through a lot of junk but it is out there. Also 3 silpat mats for $2

  • Tonya Vanevenhoven says:

    Thank you for the wonderful resource! I have bought the book for each of my four adult children. They watched me “stretch the dollar” at the grocery store when we had one income (so I could be home with my babies). We didn’t qualify for food stamps, but I did use WIC. We grew a garden and used the farmer’s market when we could. Today’s young adults have high rent and student loans to pay off- the directions are simple and easy. I plan on giving this to our church library too!

  • Dan says:

    I discovered the PBS video about your “Eat Well and Cheap” book while searching for simple casserole recipes and I was quite intrigued. After watching, I was inspired to purchase your book. Thank you for sharing the PDF version for free. I think an amazing idea for a sequel to your book, would be to walk through a budget, planning, and shopping phase for a person living on aid, sharing life stories. Respectfully, Dan

  • Merritt McKeon says:

    I made your burger recipe with the half beans and veggies and half meat. I used homemade hummus and ground turkey and bread crumbs, cooked soft veggies (puréed onions, carrots and celery) and an egg. I made it into a meatloaf and served it with mashed potatoes and topped the meatloaf with catchup and hot sauce,
    It was delicious and made awesome sandwiches the next day.
    I also love the pierogie recipe. I sometimes use the recipe for soup noodles they are flavorful and sturdy
    , thank you for writing this lovely book.

  • Sheherazahde says:

    30 years ago I bought a Rada paring knife from a door to door salesman for $5. That same knife cost $6 today. I have used mine so much that the blade is no longer straight but it still cuts well. I have a simple wet stone for sharpening it.
    I misplaced mine once and panicked and bought a set of 3 to make sure I would always have one on hand. These are my favorite knives, thin, sharp, and easy to clean and sharpen. The cast aluminum handles are so much more durable and easy to clean than wood or plastic. And the stainless steel blades don’t chip or break like ceramic.

  • Jennifer says:

    This is hands down my favorite cookbook of all time. I have the PDF on my phone, purchased a copy in the grocery store, and sent a copy to a friend. I’m not on food stamps but I enjoy the minimalist, eat-local and creative vibes of this book. Thanks for what you’ve done!

  • Bradley Mack says:

    This is one of the most clever cookbooks I own and I tell people about it often. I checked it out from out local library many times and then one appeared in our neighborhood book box. I think I jumped 3 feet up in the air to have my own copy. There are so many good suggestions beyond the recipes on how to maximize groceries. Thank you!

  • I happened on a link about your budget cookbook at a Farmer’s Market page and remembered you from the first fundraising. I downloaded the two of your PDF versions and am reviewing them. I looked at the prices to buy, but will have to wait. I wasn’t able to print from the cookbook (I have been looking for a pancake recipe so I can use up the blackberry syrup I finally made.) so, I tried to print that one… twice. I think I tried to print the version on the recipe page as well, but still don’t have a copy. Will just write it out and try it. Printing the page helps me remember where the recipe came from. — I hope you are doing well and still involved in poverty issues as a “wealthy” cookbook author. 🙂 It’s hard to remember so far back, but I think you were the first person to actually make a good cookbook for low-income families. Other than that, I think USDA is/was the only effort around. It was beautifully done. I still have to check on your Amazon pages, but wanted to leave a memory of this event, for me and for you.

  • Chaline Beekmans says:

    Fantastic cookbook, I’m excited to try the recipes. I’m celiac so I use a rice flour blend that I make from Clic white rice flour. I’m curious how the substitution will turn out. I’ll let you know. 🤞🏻☺️

  • Faith Echtermeyer says:

    and another really important reason to use cast iron is it provides the trace amounts of iron that you need in your diet. Teflon, aluminum, etc. do not do this.
    Remember Iron Deficiency Anemia?

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Leanne Brown

Hi, I'm Leanne Brown. I’m a bestselling cookbook author. I want to help you find peace, healing and freedom through cooking.

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Good Enough cover

My newest creation, Good Enough, is a self-care cookbook that offers personal and vulnerable storytelling, delicious recipes, and encouraging advice to teach you how to accept yourself, love yourself, and find peace through the act of cooking. Learn more here!

Good and Cheap cover 2nd edition

Good and Cheap is a gorgeous cookbook for people with limited income, particularly on a $4/day food stamps budget. The PDF is free (ahora en Español!) and has been downloaded over 15,000,000 times. For more info, see All About Good and Cheap and Donation Impact.

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