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Viral chef makes meals under $10 to demonstrate how you can get the most bang for your buck

He whips up inexpensive hearty meals by repurposing frozen and boxed ingredients from The Dollar Tree or elevating the everyday packaged ramen.

Viral chef makes meals under $10 to demonstrate how you can get the most bang for your buck
Cover Image Source: TikTok/thundermane328

Alanya Williams was 10 years old when he started cooking, inspired by his mom's thrifty but delicious feasts for him and his siblings. Today, he still draws inspiration from his childhood as he whips up inexpensive hearty meals by repurposing frozen and boxed ingredients from The Dollar Tree or elevating the everyday packaged ramen. Williams, who is now 44 and currently works as a cook at an assisted living facility in Southern California, has amassed more than 442,000 followers on TikTok through his budget-friendly videos that help creative home cooks get the most bang for their buck. 

"A lot of things I make on my page, I learned from my mom," Williams—who goes by Thundermane328 on the video platform—told Insider. He revealed that he used to ask his mom why she no longer makes some of his favorite dishes from when he was a child, to which his mom would reply: "Alanya when I made those meals, that's when we were really struggling." But to him, he told her, "those were gourmet meals." Today, Williams practices the resourcefulness he learned growing up to bring delicious, affordable meals to his growing TikTok audience.

Williams, who has worked in kitchens for more than 30 years, credits his grandmother for teaching him the value of ingredients. He recalled consulting her once as a teen after spending nearly $200 on prepackaged foods like frozen dinners and snacks. To his utter shock, the groceries ran out within just a couple of days. "She said, 'You're buying the wrong things—you don't buy stuff like that, those are little snack things, but [they're] not going to stick to you. You're going to always be hungry and you're going to run through it fast,'" he told Good Morning America. Instead of buying snacks, she suggested that he spend his money on "bags of rice, a bag of potatoes, tomato paste, tomato sauce, ground beef, mixed vegetables" and other ingredients to prepare meals like soup, stews, casseroles and more.

Williams has held her advice close to his heart throughout his culinary journey and its also a huge influence on the family-friendly dinner ideas he now shares with his followers on TikTok. "One day we were in the Dollar Tree, [and] I was like, 'Hey, look—you can get this,'" he recalled telling his wife. That moment spurred the idea to make a video series of recipes using just those products and keeping the entire meal cost under $10. In his now-viral meals, Williams uses canned vegetables, flavor starters like hamburger helper, pouches of pre-cooked chicken and other value food products to prepare affordable dinners.

"No matter what kind of food a person is going to cook, any kind of [cuisine], I say there's four seasonings to have," he said of his go-to base for flavor. "Lawry's seasoning salt, onion powder, garlic powder and pepper. That will season anything—any kind of meat, beef, chicken, pork, lamb—it's like the starter kit." Williams revealed that ground beef is one base protein he relies on the most for his money-saving meals. The ingredient, he said, "could stretch in so many ways—especially when you just fry it up." For example, a half-pound of ground beef can cook down in a skillet on low heat until very crumbly.

Add a couple of pieces of vegetables to this mix, along with a spoon of flour and two cups of water, "lightly season with some salt and pepper—it will make a big skillet of ground beef and gravy—you can take a scoop and put it over a bed of rice," Williams explained. "That's not even a third of the meat that you use and those are meals that stick to you. You can feed like five or six people and then you could turn around and make soups with that with that same half a pound of ground beef—or sloppy joes." He encourages home cooks trying to stay on budget to get comfortable with using staple ingredients and figuring out smart ways to make the most of them.