Swapping out recipe ingredients for less expensive options can be a great way to save money on groceries! Discover my favorite simple recipe substitutions that will help you trim your budget and cut expenses.
I share a lot about saving money on food- simple grocery saving tips, the meals we eat on our $350 budget, how our freezer is worth its weight in gold and lots more.
But I’ve never talked about how I use ingredient substitution in recipes as a simple way to save money!
Which is kind of crazy, since it’s something that I do all the time.
Money Saving Recipe Ingredient Substitutions
Tweaking recipes to work with the ingredients that you have on hand or that you can get less expensively is such a great, easy way to cut grocery costs.
Does it ever change the final product and make it not quite as good? Yes, sometimes. But, if done properly, rarely in ways that really make that much of a difference.
Here are the main ingredient substitutions that I use regularly to cut costs. I hope that they can help you too!
I used to substitute Crisco for butter. And while that is less expensive, because of the ingredients, I have chosen to not use Crisco anymore.
I do, however, sometimes substitute oil or applesauce for up to half of the amount of butter in recipes for baked goods.
Cream tends to be pricey, and I rarely use it in main dish recipes that call for it. Instead, I replace the cream with an equal amount of whole milk, and occasionally I’ll add a little bit of butter too.
Yes, the end result is not quite as rich and creamy, but to be honest, it’s still delicious and we don’t even think about it! Plus, we’re consuming fewer calories by using milk too.
If a dessert calls for cream, I evaluate what the purpose is. If it’s simply to make it creamier, I typically will just use milk instead.
However, if it’s something like ganache or Homemade Cool Whip, where not using cream would affect the end product rather drastically, obviously, I go ahead and use cream!
You might be surprised to know that I rarely use any cheese other than cheddar and mozzarella. (Well, I use Parmesan too, but in my mind, that’s a bit different than softer cheeses.)
If a recipe calls for another kind of cheese, I just sub whichever cheese I think would pair the best.
I realize that some kinds of cheese are the same price as cheddar and mozzarella, so it’s not necessarily less expensive in that sense.
But it simplifies things for me and I find that I save money because I never have cheese spoil like I did when I bought other varieties for a specific recipe and then forgot to figure out a way to use it before it went bad.
4. Fresh Parmesan
Parmesan in a jar is much less expensive than fresh parmesan or even pre-shredded Parmesan. I pretty much always used the jarred kind any time Parmesan is called for in a recipe.
The exception is something like Caesar Salad, where the texture of the jarred Parmesan just wouldn’t work well.
5. Ricotta Cheese
I love ricotta cheese. But at many stores, it’s more expensive than cottage cheese, so most times that is what I substitute.
If the cottage cheese is large curd or I think that the difference in texture will be noticed, I just blend it a bit.
6. Sour Cream
Did you know that you can use sour cream and plain Greek yogurt interchangeably in many recipes? In fact, I have even occasionally used just plain regular yogurt before in baked goods instead of sour cream.
For main dishes where you might taste the difference more, I’ve found that mixing half sour cream with half yogurt seems to do the trick. You barely notice the taste difference this way but it can save you money if one of these items is more expensive than the other!
7. Half and Half
If a recipe asks for half and half, I’ll just use milk. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever bought half and half in the 14 years that we’ve been married!
On the rare occasion that I think the extra richness of half and half would add something to the recipe, I make my own by taking 2 tbsp. melted butter and adding enough milk to make 1 cup.
I’ve never bought buttermilk either. Instead, I make my own. It’s super easy!
For every cup of buttermilk that you need, take 1 tbsp. white vinegar or lemon juice and then add enough milk to equal 1 cup. Let it sit for several minutes to thicken before using.
This homemade buttermilk works wonderfully in baked goods and it’s much cheaper too!
9. Chicken Breast
I rarely buy chicken breasts and instead most times I sub chicken thighs since they are cheaper. Plus, we like the taste of the darker meat more too!
10. Ground Turkey
You can swap ground turkey for ground beef in pretty much any recipe. And since ground turkey typically costs quite a bit less than ground beef, it’s a simple way to save money.
Ground turkey does taste a little different than ground beef though. But I discovered that if I do half ground turkey and half ground beef we don’t mind it at all and the taste is pretty much the same as full ground beef.
This won’t work in every recipe, but when it makes sense, I swap some of the meat for black beans. It’s a great, less expensive way to get protein!
12. Fresh Herbs
I love using fresh herbs! But unfortunately, unless you grow them yourself, fresh herbs are quite a bit more expensive than dried. And, often I have trouble remembering to use them up before they spoil too.
So, generally, I just stick with dried herbs.
If you aren’t sure how much to use in a recipe, just Google! It’s pretty easy to find the fresh vs. dried amounts.
13. Shallots | Leeks | Scallions
I know that shallots, leeks, scallions and onions all have slightly different flavors. But for the sake of simplicity and cost, I just always use onions.
14. Fresh Lemon Juice
I very rarely have fresh lemons on hand. But I’ve discovered that bottled lemon juice works pretty well as a substitution in many recipes.
If a recipe calls for the juice of one lemon, you can use 2 to 3 tbsp. of bottled lemon juice instead.
15. White Wine
Apple juice, white grape juice, chicken broth and white wine vinegar all work as recipe substitutions for white wine.
16. Red Wine
Cranberry juice, red grape juice, beef broth and red wine vinegar all work as recipe substitutions for red wine.
I frequently swap out one variety of pasta for another. For example, if I don’t have macaroni on hand or was able to get rotini at a cheaper price, I will use rotini in this Beef Macaroni Skillet. I have also substituted broken-up spaghetti in place of macaroni.
Basically, I’ll use whatever I have on hand that seems to be the closest to whatever pasta is called for in the recipe.
18. Pine Nuts
The only recipe that I make that uses pine nuts is pesto, and I always sub sunflower seeds instead. They’re way cheaper and provide a mild nutty flavor. We think it’s delicious!
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Love these recipe substitution tips! I don’t always have an open bottle of wine. I love the idea of substituting cranberry juice for red wine because we almost always have cranberry juice on hand.
So glad these substitutions were helpful for you, Julie! I can’t tell you how often they have helped me cut costs or save the day when I am out of an recipe ingredient.
Good ideas here. I do about half of them. Have not tried the black bean swap in replace of some meat, but love the idea! Also mixing ground turkey idea is neat. I have been making turkey meatballs with this Great Value Chicken dippin sauce instead of ketchup. Not for money savings, but taste. Super Good flavor.
Glad this was helpful, Ashley! And I assume the Great Value sauce is like Chick-fil-a Sauce? If so, I thought you might enjoy knowing you can make your own by mixing together 1/4 c. mayonnaise, 1 tsp. mustard, 1 tbsp. barbeque sauce and 1 tbsp. honey. We really love it!
Linda Marie Paterson
I regularly make pesto in the summertime when we have basil growing in our
garden. It also makes a very inexpensive main dish in the summertime to serve a large crowd. To save money, I have never added nuts to my pesto and always get plenty of compliments. Our local newspaper did an article on pesto several years a go, and apparently not everyone chooses to add nuts. Thank you for sharing your wealth of information on how to maintain a frugal kitchen. I’m very grateful. God bless you.
Thank you for this post!!!
You are so welcome, Angie!
You can also mix cream cheese and milk together to sub for heavy cream. We do this all the time. It makes a great sub and doesn’t cost a fortune either
Oh, that’s a great tip, Rebecca! Do you just do half of each? Or just add a small amount of cream cheese to the milk?
I frequently use a lot of these tricks myself, but it’s funny the differences in the cost of groceries between the United States and Canada (Ontario, where I am specifically) sour cream here is typically much less expensive than yogurt (with the exception of homemade of course) and ground poultry here is much more expensive than ground beef, I never buy ground turkey because it’s typically 6 to 7 dollars per pound when it’s not on sale, and even when it is, it’s never cheaper than ground beef on sale (which so can find for 3.50 a pound if I’m very lucky). In fact the cost of meat here is so exorbitant that we eat 95% vegetarian meals (I have learned to make my own seitan, which I use in most things when we want something “meaty”). Weird, eh?
P.S I have been a follower of your blog for several years now and I love all your recipes and ideas, I make your chocolate cake at least once per month, so thank you for all you do!
So sorry for the slow reply, Caitlin! Somehow your comment slipped past my notice until now. Yes, the cost of groceries is such a funny thing. And I’m always amazed at how much it can vary even among different parts of the US. But $6-$7 a pound for ground turkey? Yikes! Yeah, I think I’d be passing on that! And I love how creative you are with figuring out how to eat vegetarian to help cut costs. I’ve never heard of seitan but Googled and am super intrigued. I found numerous recipes for it and think I may try it and see what we think.
And I’m so happy to hear that you love my recipes and ideas! Hearing that always is so motivating to me and helps me find purpose in what I do. So, thank YOU!