cooking in a panda panOne of 5 ways to increase your travel fund is to spend fewer nights out. As I mentioned on Dan’s post, knowing how to throw together a meal can help you do just that. In my travels I’ve noticed some common themes among the peasant foods (many of which I grew up on) around the world – they are cheap, hearty, and easy to cook and expand upon.

Cooking your own meals is one of the best ways to save money whether you’re at home saving for your next trip or on the road already. You can learn a lot from the locals in any country by taking notice of the staple foods and how they’re prepared, while at the same time learning about the culture around you.

1. Grains: Quinoa

This South American grain was known to the Incas as “the mother of all grains” and has a high complete protein content (~15%). Quinoa can be prepared much like rice (1 part water to 1 part quinoa), mixed with an assortment of spices, and goes great with chopped onions, tomatoes, next to a plate of beans.

plate of quinoa

Using whole grains you can even make no-knead bread or go with the always-easy grain to cook, rice.

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2. Beans: Chickpeas

Hummus, falafel, chana masala, the list goes on and on. Also known as garbanzo beans, chickpeas are high in protein and fiber, like quinoa. Chickpeas are cheap and can be cooked and mashed in almost an endless number of ways.

chickpea salad

Chickpeas are legumes like beans, lentils, and peanuts – all of which have a high protein content and are very easy to prepare (boil and and add to it).

3. Fruit: Guacamole

The basic ingredient of guacamole, the avocado, is high in fiber and unsaturated fats making it a filling and healthy meal. The nice thing about guacamole is that it doesn’t require cooking and all you need other than avocados are onions, tomatoes, chilies, and cilantro. You can try adding lemon or lime based on your tastes and get creative with your own recipe.


Grab some chips or bread and you’ve just gotten your grains and 3 fruits in one sitting.

Add Some Spice

I once heard a world-famous chef (don’t recall which one) say the only difference between him and everyone else was he knew what spices to use and how much to add to a given dish. There is one common feature you’ll find to many international staples – spices, and lots of them. Most spices are cheap and can pack a punch of flavor to many of these peasant dishes which tend to be bland on their own (especially grains and beans).

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assortment of colorful spices

Start from the bottom up and build your meals on the foundation of most peasant meals around the world – grains, legumes, and spices. (I could also add soups based on staples to the list as well.) Eating out all the time is one of the worst things to do on your staycation and a fast way to go through your money when traveling. It turns out that these and the other 5 easiest foods to cook are also some of the cheapest and can generally be bought in bulk.

You can combine these foods with countless spices to create unique flavors and save a substantial amount of money so can save money for traveling and show off your cooking skills on your next trip.

[photos by: massdistraction, bricolage.108, Seitti, Oberazzi]