by Bridget O’Donnell

One morning we unanimously agreed our coffee was too strong. Since that day, I’ve cut back to grinding almost half the beans for the same amount of water, resulting in a more palatable cup. A silver lining to this solution is that it indirectly saves money, too.

The week following our small change happened to coincide with Money Smart Week. In lieu of National Financial Literacy Month, New York State sent the public library assorted materials suggesting a few ways residents might save money. Tangentially, and/or maybe because of this coincidence, I couldn’t stop thinking about how much we spend on groceries. Aware of continuously rising prices (for everything!) I was determined to try to cut our meal expense and prep time while also sustaining the quality of food we eat. As I looked for insight into smarter spending habits, Googling ‘how much X-number of people should spend on groceries per month’, bargain shopping and budgeting, I’m pretty sure I chose this month’s cookbook for its title. Don’t judge, it’s never too late to learn how to start saving money. 

Title of Cookbook: Five-Ingredient Dinners: 100+ Fast, Flavorful Meals.

Author of Cookbook: America’s Test Kitchen.

What prompted you to check out this cookbook? Preparing a lower cost meal using minimal ingredients and ideally, less prep time was the real catalyst for borrowing this book.

What did you like about this cookbook? Using 5 ingredients to create a complete meal, though not necessarily for a special or allergen-free diet, sounded like a healthy challenge. In my mind, less ingredients should also be synonymous with less expense. 

Unfortunately, Jacques Pepin and I seem to have a different flavor pallet, and idea of “Quick & Simple.” Thankfully, there are a number of other cookbooks to choose from. I liked the layout and photographs in Jamie Oliver’s 5 Ingredients and gleaned healthy ideas from The Easy 5 Ingredient Pescatarian. This month almost highlighted Sabrina Snyder’s Dinner Then Dessert, but I was disappointed to see so many recipes for just the side or the main dish. We probably wouldn’t eat “Asparagus with Lemon and Ricotta” (pg. 73) as a meal, so I also prepared “Roast Pork Loin” (pg. 69) but reduced the recipe by half. Under this cookbook’s guidelines, 6-ingredients made enough food for two adults, two nights of the week and could have made more if I hadn’t reduced the measurements. Nice, but Five-Ingredient Dinners had a handful of recipes for complete meals that only called for one or two items we didn’t already have.

What didn’t you like about this cookbook/website? Five-Ingredient Dinners and similar cookbooks come with a disclaimer. Basic ingredients like water, salt, pepper, butter, and oils are not included under the “Five-Ingredient” umbrella because the authors assume you already have them at home. While I’d like to argue they still have to be bought and/or replaced, I also recognize and am thankful that those staples, used in moderation, can go a long way.

Some of the time-saving techniques suggested by America’s Test Kitchen don’t seem to enhance the taste and therefore don’t work for me. In general, I would rather blanch, steam or sauté vegetables than microwave them. I also prefer to prepare rice, pasta, dry beans and some fresh/frozen vegetables separately to ensure adequate cook time. This recipe suggests adding 4 cups of water to the skillet with all of the ingredients, except basil, and then simmering the contents for 15 minutes in order to cook the dry tortellini. Not only is water a commodity for us but the instructions on the soft pasta I added to the pot suggested three minutes as an approximate cook time. A small oversight on my part. (** Remember to read the entire recipe multiple times before shopping and again before starting to cook.) Having hesitantly followed the recipe almost to the T until this point required quick improvisation and wishful thinking. I strained the liquid from the skillet, but kept the reserves hoping it might flavor another pot of pasta or grains. Fingers crossed.

Favorite recipes (that you tried from the cookbook/website): Skillet Tortellini with Sausage and Cherry Tomatoes (pg.136).

FYI: If you were curious, the total cost of ingredients for this meal came to about $20. *Keep in mind, more than half of the uncooked ingredients are still available for another meal (that includes: garlic bulb, sausage, basil, and my addition – goat cheese).

Did you alter the recipe or make any substitutions? 


  • Brown sausage in casings. Slice into discs, then return to skillet and continue to break into smaller pieces.
  • 1lb sausage, ½ sweet, ½ hot 
  • Serve with crumbled goat cheese.


  • Grape tomatoes 
  • Dried purple basil (hand-picked and then dried during my 2022 CSA vegetable share)

Would you recommend this cookbook/recipe? Yes. This recipe turned out to be a charming dinner. In general, the cookbook reminded me of the 3-5 ingredient dishes I already make and encouraged me to create other meals within the same purview.

Tort sausage, tomato, goat cheese.
Tort sausage, tomato, goat cheese.


Books –

Dinner Then Dessert: Satisfying Meals Using Only 3, 5, or 7 Ingredients / Sabrina Snyder with Jenny Wapner; photographs by Colin Price.

The Easy 5 Ingredient Pescatarian Cookbook: Simple Recipes For Delicious, Heart-Healthy Meals / Andy DeSantis, RD MPH, and Michelle Anderson; photography by Darren Muir.

Fast & Easy Five-Ingredient Recipes: A Cookbook For Busy People / Philia Kelnhofer.

Five-Ingredient Dinners: 100+ Fast, Flavorful Meals / America’s Test Kitchen.

5 Ingredients: Quick & Easy Food / Jamie Oliver; food photography, David Loftus; portrait photography, Paul Stewart & Jamie Oliver.

Jacques Pépin Quick + Simple: Simply Wonderful Meals With Surprisingly Little Effort / photographs by Tom Hopkins.


Good And Cheap: Eat Well On $4/Day / Leanne Brown.  – This title was published in 2015 so the estimated cost shown for each meal is no longer accurate. Although out of date, this cheeky title offers a number of ideas for less expensive meals.

Similarly, Budget Dinners!: 100 Recipes Your Family Will Love / [Good Housekeeping] was published in 2010. Estimated costs provided throughout the book will not be accurate with today’s market prices.

Instant Bargains: 600+ Ways To Shrink Your Grocery Bills And Eat Well For Less / Kimberly Danger was also published in 2010. While estimates are out of date (i.e. ‘the average American family of four spends $8,513 per year/over $700/month on groceries’), some concepts are still valid and the resources still available offer data that reflects the current cost of living.

Websites –

Employee Benefits Security Administration / EBSA | United States Department of Labor.

Saving Matters / EBSA | United States Department of Labor.

“Family Budget Calculator” / Economic Policy Institute ( – Enter the County or zip code, click on “Go to the Family Budget Calculator” then, select the appropriate number of adults and children in your household from the drop-down menus.

In Google, search: “How Much Should I Spend on Groceries?” by Geoff Williams (

Quick Subject links to the Library catalog:

Low budget cooking.

Low budget cooking. (Vega, New Catalog)