Ted: Learning to Cook on a Tight Budget

“Plan to cook meals that are great for leftovers and make more servings.” – Ted

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When unforeseen expenses struck Kitchen Hero Ted and his partner, they had to find a way to make it through two weeks with only $5 for food each day. Whether utilizing the vegetarian recipe option or adjusting serving sizes for leftovers, Ted used every feature of our meal plan service to successfully navigate an extremely tight budget. Cook Smarts didn’t only help him with healthy budget meals during a stressful season, but gave him a loving community he could turn to for support in his time of need.

Name: Ted Willis
Age: 36
City, State: Knightdale, NC
I cook for: myself, my partner, and friends for social gatherings.
Outside of the kitchen I: am a teacher by day, musician / actor by night, and an advocate for mental health awareness.
If I could have any superpower, it would be: a timelord.
I cook because: it is a therapeutic way to express myself when I am faced with my own depression and anxiety.
Favorite CS meal so far: Any meal that introduces me to a new ingredient or a cooking technique (but those Honey Chipotle Chicken Thighs, though . . . YUM!)

What has been the biggest challenge about cooking on a budget?

Cooking on a budget takes planning and time, two things that I struggle to have and / or manage. I’ve also only been cooking for a year now, so I am learning how to manage a food budget, as well as shop and prepare.

As a teacher, I am used to having to do things on a budget; but before I met my partner, I was not used to budgeting my food expenses. Unfortunately, there are times in our lives that something will occur that we do not see coming, and it requires money that may be budgeted elsewhere, and without the time allowed to prepare ourselves, we can find ourselves in desperate situations.

What are your tips and tricks for making a meal stretch farther than usual?

  1. Go veggie! As much of a carnivore as I am, this was hard, but you can find flavor and sustenance in meals that combine several vegetables and spices.
  2. Slow-cooker meals can be cheap and last a long time.
  3. If you can’t go vegetarian, then use cheaper meats, like chicken thighs.
  4. Adding rice or pasta to a soup or stew will make the meal heartier.
  5. Plan to cook meals that are great for leftovers and make more servings. This one is a tough one for me, because I don’t like eating the same thing over and over again.

How has Cook Smarts’ meal plans been a part of your journey through tough financial situations?

Cook Smarts was our blessing through our financial struggle, but not so much the meal planning (although it played a sizable role) as the Cook Smarts’ Kitchen Heroes Community. This community of members has been a great resource of advice and information, so I reached out and told others about what was happening in my life and what I needed help with. Within one hour, I already had enough advice to help me and my partner plan out two weeks of food for under $75 through meals from the archives based on the advice we received from the community of kitchen heroes.


“No matter what stresses I may encounter in my life, and the life I am building with my partner, I can turn to my friends in the Cook Smarts’ Kitchen Heroes community. There are no judgments, just love, and that is more than one person can ask for.”


What advice would you give someone who is navigating a tight monthly meal budget?

I could easily say things like “Don’t stress,” but that really isn’t something that sets a goal for a person, nor is it appropriate to say to someone who deals with mental illness like I do. Stress is a natural response to adversity, but try not to let your stress keep you from setting attainable goals.

Now, this advice comes from the performer in me, but if you are truly concerned that one day you will find yourself in a situation that you will need to tighten your food budget, then practice it. Set a goal of spending that is lower than average and see how you manage it. It is important to have the knowledge of how to manage on a tighter budget when you don’t have to worry about it. That way if / when the time arises that you find yourself in an extremely hard time like we did, you can allow yourself to stress with the skills needed to get through it.

What are new cooking joys or perspectives you have discovered in the face of hardship?

The greatest joy that I discovered is that we are not just members of a meal planning service. We are lovers of kitchen artistry. No matter what stresses I may encounter in my life, and the life I am building with my partner, I can turn to my friends in the Cook Smarts’ Kitchen Heroes community. There are no judgments, just love, and that is more than one person can ask for. To my Cook Smarts friends who helped me and my partner through that difficult time, we cannot express how much your kind words, thoughts, and advice meant to us!


Ted, thank you so much for opening up and sharing your story! We are overjoyed to know that our Cook Smarts community has been a source of true love and support for you and your partner. Your engagement, honesty, and advice enrich what we do more than you know.

To join Ted and cook meals like his favorite Honey Chipotle Chicken Thighs, check out our meal plan service. You can get started for free!

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Kitchen Hero Ted: Learning to Cook on a Tight Budget | Cook SmartsKitchen Hero Ted: Learning to Cook on a Tight Budget | Cook Smarts

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