14 Cheap Meals to Make When You’re At The End Of Your Budget

When you’re halfway through the month and you’ve already spent all of the money in your food budget, you need some cheap meals to get you through and fill your family’s bellies! Here are 14 cheap meals for families to make when you’re at the end of your budget.

Cheap meals to make when you've reached the end of your budget.

Cheap Meals to Make

We’ve all been there: You get to the middle of the month (or maybe not even that far!) and your grocery budget is gone. You frantically look through grocery receipts from the month and wonder how it went so fast. Because surely your cash must have just fallen out of your pocket the last time you were at the store! Sadly, it’s true; Your budget for the month has been used up and there isn’t anything else left to spare.

But, of course, you still have to feed your family! It’s times like these that I’m thankful that we know to keep a hearty pantry stockpile on hand at all times because you never know when you might need to use it.

— Read more about stockpiling here and here.

When that time hits, you’ll want to have this post on hand for cheap meal ideas.

The cheap meals that follow are frugal, use many pantry staples you probably already have on hand, and could save you from having to spend more on groceries anytime you’re stretched too thin.

* Please make sure to scan the comments section for more ideas or add your own cheap and frugal meal suggestions!

14 Cheap Meals to Make With Pantry Staples

Pancakes with Strawberries

1. Homemade Pancakes 

Homemade pancakes alone can make a filling supper, however, you can always add extras to make a well-rounded meal! Top with Homemade Pancake Syrup, berries or cooked fruits if you have some on hand or in the freezer and add a side to bulk up the meal and make it stretch further. We like to use home canned peaches, blueberries, or other canned fruits because we almost always have these in the pantry from last year.

If you have some kind of ground meat you can make Homemade Sausage Patties or these Turkey Sausages. Or, of course, you can always make a big pile of scrambled eggs on the side if you have chickens!

Slow Cooker

2. Cooked Whole Chicken

I love making a whole cooked chicken because you can use every part…all of the meat and then use the carcass to make broth for soups or other things (even things like Homemade Soy Sauce!). Or use the leftover meat to make one of these 7 Simple Chicken Dinner Recipes for $7 Or Less.

I’ve also stuffed a whole chicken with garlic, lemon, some salt and pepper, and placed it in a dish with a little white grape juice and then baked it until cooked through. It’s so good and usually lasts us for a couple of meals!

3. Vegetable Soup

This veggie soup is one of my personal favorites (although my husband isn’t a fan of soup so I don’t make it as often as I’d like). Use the carcass from your whole chicken to make broth and toss in any veggies that you have on hand. Add in some herbs and spices and you’ve got a soup! If you have leftover chicken or any kind of meat, toss it in too. Otherwise, just stick to the veggies. You’ll still get protein from the bone broth so the meat isn’t really necessary.

If you have leftover chicken, this Roasted Veggie Soup is one of my favorites. If you’d rather make something with beans (another frugal pantry staple!) this Bean with Bacon Soup is always a hearty, satisfying hit.

4. Homemade Mac and Cheese

For a kid-friendly frugal meal, Mac & Cheese is always a crowd pleaser! You can make your own with the recipe above using just 3 ingredients or you can make something with a little more richness and depth like this Baked Mac and Cheese dish.

If possible, try and buy cheese in 5lb blocks, shred it, and freeze it for later. This will be much less expensive per pound than the smaller bags of shredded cheese at the store and even the smaller blocks unless you find a super sale.

Taco Salad

5. Anything made with Home Canned Beans!

I love my home canned beans! They take dried beans and make them easy to prepare and serve. For a full list of meals using canned beans, check out this post: Recipes Using Canned Beans.

Of course, you can use store-bought canned beans for these recipes but home canned beans are even less expensive since they are made with dried beans which tend to be cheaper per pound. Here’s another post of mine on Cooking Dried Beans.

6. Tacos with Homemade Tortillas 

The only thing more frugal and filling than homemade tacos is making them with homemade tortillas! Gluten free? You can still enjoy a frugal taco supper by making Homemade Corn Tortillas or Homemade Gluten-Free Tortillas. As of the last time I checked, store-bought gluten free tortillas were $6 for a pack of 6 so you can definitely save a lot of money by making your own!

You could also use any of these homemade tortilla options to make various kinds of wraps based on what other fillings you have in your fridge if you don’t have typical taco fillings. Or use them to make enchiladas with homemade Enchilada Sauce.

If you’re making traditional tacos, don’t forget to make some Homemade Taco Seasoning! You can make Homemade Taco Sauce also.

lasagna

7. Stretching a Buck Lasagna

This is such an inexpensive lasagna to make since you only use what you have on hand! Don’t have the pasta? You can make it with just veggies instead! Layer whatever veggies you have on hand or slice rounds or zucchini and use in place of noodles.

Looking for a frugal spin on a traditional lasagna? Learn How to Make Ricotta Cheese from milk and vinegar and use in place of store-bought ricotta in your lasagna.

8. Goulash

This was a frugal staple that my mom always used to make when I was growing up. It’s so easy to prepare and you can use any pasta that you have on hand! This recipe works great with canned, fresh, or home-canned tomatoes depending on what you have on hand. My kids absolutely love it when I make this recipe, they don’t care how frugal it is!

Looking for something a little different? Try this Cheesy Goulash Recipe instead.

breakfast hashbrown casserole

9. Hashbrown Casserole

Skip the expensive store-bought hashbrowns and make your own for this frugal casserole dish! This one also calls for homemade sausage so you can save there as well. This casserole is another hearty meal that takes a few simple ingredients and makes them stretch to easily fill everyone’s bellies and maybe even have some leftovers!

10. Simple Squash Bake

If it’s summertime and you have a lot of veggies in your garden, this squash bake is a good meal to make. You can add in sliced potatoes and tomatoes and onions too if you have them on hand.

11. BBQ Drumsticks (made with homemade BBQ Sauce)

Drumsticks are a good source of frugal meat, especially if you have someone in your household that doesn’t consider it a meal unless there’s meat on the plate! In addition to the recipe above you could also fry the drumsticks with some garlic salt or I’ve also fried them with a few of my Homemade Sun-Dried Tomatoes for a flavorful main dish.

12. Anything with homemade Refried Beans or Refried Black Beans

I already mentioned using whole, home-canned beans to build a frugal meal and make your food (and money) stretch. Just as frugal (and tasty!) are homemade refried beans! Use them in homemade tortillas to make bean burritos or simply top with some cheese and veggies or a little ground beef if you’ve got some to make a frugal but filling meal in a bowl.

13. Breakfast Burritos using Homemade Tortillas

This is another easy meal to put together and I love this one because you can make it in advance and freeze them, which makes them great to grab and go on busy days. Or, instead of breakfast burritos, make these Freezer Breakfast Sandwiches with homemade Buttermilk Biscuits instead!

13. French Toast Casserole

Use up your old stale bread (or make your own Homemade Bread or Homemade Gluten Free Bread) to make this make-ahead French toast casserole. Serve alone with some fruit, syrup or jam on top or serve with homemade sausage patties.

More Tips & Recipe Ideas to Help Stretch Your Food Budget

There are so many ways to stretch your meals (and your food budget!) Some require a little more creativity, but most of them are simple and straight-forward and super flexible, meaning you can make do with whatever you already have on hand.

For example, in the summer when the garden is in full swing, there are tons of meals you can make using garden produce.

Of course, during those lean times, it’s also important to skip expensive store-bought products like condiments and other pre-packaged items. We have a big list of Make Your Own recipes you can check out for cheap alternatives!

This has been a huge money saver in our home. Last year I was able to get a bunch of tomatoes for very cheap and I made enough homemade ketchup to last for an entire year. Since my kids go through so much ketchup, it’s been a big money saver!

More Cheap Meals to Make

Of course, what better way to find cheap meal ideas than to ask our community! A while ago, I asked on our Facebook page for you to share your favorite cheap meals to eat when your budget is stretched. Here are some frugal meal ideas from you, our readers!

  • Mini Ground Turkey Meatloaves, made in muffin tins so extras can be frozen for later. – Patricia S.
  • Pinto Beans and Rice. – Robin C.
  • Beans and Cornbread. – Julie S.
  • Chili (to be used for taco meat, chili dogs, etc). – Karen B.
  • Cabbage Casserole (Cabbage cut into small bite size pieces add cooked hamburger (or not), salt, and pepper to taste, then add tomato soup. Cook at 350 for 20-30 minutes). – Betty W.
  • Navy Beans, fried potatoes, and cornbread. – Mary Beth W.
  • Biscuits and Gravy or Toast and Gravy. – Mary J.
  • Pasta with steamed veggies and butter. – Barbara P.
  • Grits and Cheese with eggs on top. – Cindy A.
  • Grilled Cheese and Tomato Soup. – BethAnn H.
  • Lentil Soup. – Kate J.
  • Pork Noodle Soup (Uses one pork chop (plus the bone), a handful of vegetables, soy sauce, a handful of noodles, salt and pepper to taste.) – Kathleen M.
  • Tuna Melts – Faith F.
  • Scrambled Egg Skillet (With almost anything tossed in: left over veggies, meat, whatever little bit of cheese you might have left, potatoes. Add salsa or hot sauce to jazz it up.) – Tammy M.
  • Poorman’s Dinner (A package of hot dogs pan fried up with potatoes and onions and a can of green beans …served with baked beans if you have them.) – Catherine R.
  • Sweet potatoes and steamed seasoned veggies – Kristine M.
  • Gumbo with red beans and rice. – Annette W.

(You can read even more suggestions, over 300 of them, here on our Facebook page.)

What are some of your favorite meals to make for yourself or your family when the budget is stretched thin? Share them with us and add to the ever-growing list!

merissabioThis blog post of 14 Cheap Meals to Make When You’re At The End Of Your Budget was originally published on Little House Living in March 2015. It has been updated as of June 2022.

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52 Comments

  1. Hamburger Gravy. Simple dish that stretches and my family loves it. Ground hamburger cook completely, add lots of water and any spices you have on hand like onions, garlic, sage. In a pot cook your veggies, any thing you have available, once cooked add to your meat. Thicken with starch or flour to make your gravy. Pour this over cooked rice or mashed potatoes or what my mom did when I was a kid was over a piece of bread.

  2. When I seem to have more month than money,I usually try and think of things that use potatoes,eggs,milk and bread. I have these on hand all the time and I can use any bits and pieces I may have leftover with them. I do not always use all of those things..but they give a strong base to work with. It just takes creative thinking..and possibly a few good cookbooks!

    1. Completely agree! I can whip up some eggs and fry some potatoes and call it breakfast for dinner… Practically free when you have chickens.

      And yummy

  3. We made lots of homemade hamburger helper when our budget get stretched thin…ner. Because who are we kidding? At the moment our budget it ALWAYS thin. 😉

    We chop up some onion and garlic and cook it up with some hamburger. Once it’s cooked up the way we like we add our noodles and milk/water (whatever we have on hand or can afford), season it to our liking (and make sure to add some cornstarch or arrowroot powder!) and let it simmer until the noodles are done. Then just turn off the heat, mix in a little grated cheese and VOILA! Just as tasty as the box and INFINITELY healthier. The cost difference is negligible too, since you aren’t buying the box and most of the other ingredients are staples and could just be lying around.

  4. Tuna Stuff:Can of drained tuna, can of drained peas, can of cream of chicken soup, minced onion, some milk or water. Mix all and heat through. Serve over rice.

  5. Pizza pizza pizza! Anything can be a topping, from roasted peppers to left over rotisserie chicken or a random meatball. No sauce no problem we like to use our canned tomatoes drained cut up and sprinkled on top then use the juice for something else. My sister and I will bring our leftovers together on a Friday and the results never disappoint!

  6. LV your site. What i would like to know is. I’m a 66 yr. old window (1-yr.) just me 1-dog,3-cats. The only income is from my SS.How would i go about doing stockpiling. I’m on a very low budget after all the house hold bills are paid. So i have to make it go for 4-weeks. I use to do this when my husband was a live,but now i don’t go thru a lot of things as fast. I do try to pile up on non-food items cause they will last a LONG time. But when it come to food I’m not sure how to go about it. Right now I’m not into cooking meals just for one. I’m in the county so i have to drive anywhere from 15 – 40 miles to the city to do my shopping. I do a lot of shopping @ Aldis (learn that from my daughter). Any help will help. Thank You.

      1. Having been single most of my adult life I understand the struggles of cooking for one and doing that on an almost none existent food budget. I always had things like pasta (various kinds and I kept them in sealed glass containers to keep bugs out),canned beans and tomato sauce on hand. I like to bake, so I always have the basics for baking. I would cook up as small of portions I could cook. Then freeze half for another meal. Like spaghetti sauce. I would freeze things like flour, coffee beans and popcorn kernels. I could buy in bulk but still keep them fresh.

    1. Hello! I am a stay-at-home-mom and we, my husband, child and I had lived in a duplex for several years while my husband paid off our truck loan, our credit card debts all the bills and all the insurance payments on 2 cars, and all the gas money, the internet and etc:
      1. My supermarket and their Warehouse-style counterpart store both have “Discount carts”, that is, the supermarket takes out foods that are not as fresh as the new arrivals, and so they package them up in bags for the discount cart and discount them to 99cents a bag. That is the way I get different vegetables such as bell peppers, tomatoes, and spicy peppers to roast in the oven to make salsa. I can buy mushrooms for cheap and slice them and store them in bags in the freezer, along with sliced zucchini and carrots. I can make applesauce with the apples from the discount cart and freeze or jar that, too. I can take the best of the strawberries and cut out the bad spots and put those in a bag and freeze them. I have enough bags of these to make several soups and strawberry fruit smoothies.
      2. The discount cart is where they put packages that dropped or got damaged in shipment. Sometimes, say, a box or two of cake mix falls off the shelf and the cardboard box breaks open, but the contents in the sealed bag are undamaged. SO they tape up the cardboard package but discount it to about 50%-70% off their price. This means I can get a bag of rice that is regularly $7 for a 5-lb bag discounted at $1.50. After I finished it, I cleaned out and dried out a very big 80-oz jug of juice and now I store my rice in it (to keep the bugs out). I refill with those bags of rice from the discount cart and rarely run out. Rice is a staple for so many ethnic foods. I can always make fried rice with stir-fried onions, chopped carrots and celery with a dash of soy sauce and one scrambled egg for very cheap any day of the month.
      3. I have several ethnic cookbooks to help me cook all those vegetables I get from the discount cart. Be on the lookout for bags of dried lentils as they are cheaper than canned, they mix with rice and spices found at the dollar store. You can buy good spices in those little cellophane bags found in the ethnic food aisles at your store. get a good cookbook and learn how to cook with spices – they help make small meals taste good. I cook a lot with rice and potatoes by simply adding meat and spices, but I am equally fine with vegetarian meals. I have food allergies, so I don’t eat every meal with bread. Be on the lookout for things in the discount cart such as canned tomatoes, noodles, canned beans of all kinds, dried beans, and canned fruits. You can do quite a lot with fresh vegetables and rice with a good ethnic cookbook and a good vegetarian cookbook.
      3. I get things like spices, jars of sauces, and condiments from the dollar store because when it comes to brand-names the generic brand of ketchup, mustard, and soy sauce, vinegars, and worchestershire sauce are fine with me. I also get off-brand resealable bags, soaps, and oddly, off-brand laundry soap from the dollar store.
      4. If I splurge a little, I go to stores like “Big Lots” to get better toilet paper, real brand-name shampoos, and really good olive oil.
      5. Ramen noodles are really just an ingredient or a base for other meals. I “doctor” ramen noodles by cooking the water for them with leftover salsa from eating out and adding shredded cheese for a salsa noodle. I can take leftover takeout food such as beans and rice from the Mexican restaurant, and reheat it in a fry pan, add scramble an egg with it, and with the leftover salsa I have Huevos rancheros for breakfast.
      With all these things, I can actually do quite a lot with a small budget.

      1. Great ideas. Our food prices are a bit higher in Canada, but I will go into the city and shop in ethnic stores to get cheaper staples and naturally gluten free ingredients. Ethnic recipes from poorer countries tend to be economical.

  7. Soups are always my food budget stretcher. I can cook up a whole chicken one night. Then make broth from the carcass and use the leftovers picked off the bones for soup. Make some homemade bread (I use the dough setting on my bread machine then bake in the oven) and your family will think they have a gourmet meal. Another favorite is sausage bean soup. Sausage, couple cans of favorite beans, stewed or diced tomatoes and either veg or beef broth. Add whatever seasonings you like and you have a quick, cheap soup.

  8. Love the hash brown casserole idea. Thank you for these. Hubby and I are retired military and are pretty prepared. I’m always looking for good homemade recipes.

  9. When my food budget gets tight, especially in the winter months, I rely on foods my Italian Grandmother’s cooked up during the Great Depression. I make simple marinara sauce from any canned tomatoes I have from my garden or store bought that are on sale. Some nights its just plain, other nights I add peas, other nights mushrooms or beans. A bit of sauteed garlic/and or onion adds great flavor with any italian seasonings I have on hand. Pasta is cheap and 1lb makes enough for dinner and a great lunch. Plus adding other sauteed veggies makes it healthy too!

  10. Thank you so much for your post about how to make frugal meals. It came just when I needed it too. Lots of great new ideas, that I will use this week. The middle to the end of the month are always hard weeks for us, as we are on one income. I’m a stay at home Mom to our 6 year old. So glad to know I’m not the only one pinching pennies, and when you find change in the clothes dryer, you feel RICH! So glad I”m not the only one. 🙂

    Keep the wonderful frugal ideas coming. Love your blog! Wendy

  11. Stir fried rice with what every veggies you have on hand left over meat or scrambled eggs. This also makes a good breakfast.

  12. Rice (mainly white) is a big staple at our house. If you let it soak in the cooking water, you only need 1 and 1/3 times as much water as rice — not 2 times as much. I soak for at least 30 minutes, but you can even do it overnight (not more than 8 hrs), though if you go for overnight then you might want to refrigerate if it’s hot out. Boil, then simmer 15 min, then let sit (still covered) 5 or 10 minutes, fluff, and serve.

    Also, I make red lentils a lot, since they’re cheap and fast. 1 cup dry lentils is enough for multiple meals for 3 adults. Rinse in ~5 changes of water. (I hold the sieve over a big bowl and swish it around while the water runs, then dump the water and repeat.) Then I leave them over the bowl to drain while I heat up some oil and peel some garlic. I fry 1/2 a tsp of cumin for under a minute, then add either a chopped medium tomato or some canned tomato. After the tomato disintegrates some (5 min?) I add the lentils, water, and garlic (no need to chop the garlic). Simmer until done, about 20 min, add salt, take out the garlic.

    You can add a leafy green in the last few minutes of cooking, or add other spices, etc. It’s a very adaptable recipe. Also, how much water you add depends on what consistency you want. I make them thick, so I add enough water to be a bit under an inch above the lentils. Oh, and simmer the lentils as low as you can; they like to boil over if they’re at too high a heat! It’s not the end of the world if that happens, though, haha. 🙂

  13. I love this post and find it really encouraging! I recently wrote a post about how to buy one week of food for one person for $10 now that I am reading this post I realize that these items could also be frozen or put in the pantry as stockpile items for lean months! I would love to hear what you guys think!

  14. Chili Mac- one box of swirly noodles and 2 cans of amour chili with beans. Cook noodles. Drain. Add chili. Cost less than 5 bucks! Feeds approx 4-5.

  15. Quesadillas are my favorite in-a-pinch meal. I just fill the tortillas with whatever I have on hand: cheese (of course), rice, beans, spinach, diced tomatoes… the possibilities are endless. We ate these for a week!

  16. My Burmese friend makes a very nourishing and filling soup from by using a large pot with 2 to 3 quarts of both or water. Into that add 1 cup of rice. Let this come to a boil and then simmer until the rice is completely dissolved and it looks creamy. You can add bits of leftover meat or fish, leftover veggies or fresh diced or grated veggies. Season with salt and pepper and whatever else your family likes. This makes 1 cup of rice and a few leftovers make a really good meal. It’s also comforting and nourishing to eat when you are ill.

    1. The rice part is called congee and I make it all the time in my crockpot. Just as you said, you can add so many things to it. I cook my rice in chicken broth to soak up that flavor and then add so many different things: leftover meat/fish/veggies, homemade kimchi or muchae namul, cooked egg, stir the congee into soup to make it more filling, pour milk and sugar on top, roll into a tortilla with cheese and other fillings…the list just goes on and on.

  17. Great post and comments. New ideas are always a great resource when money is tight. My meal ideas for times like this are: making a batch of no knead dough which uses only flour, water, salt and yeast. I make English muffins with it, pizza, and bread. I also make potato soup using a few potatoes, mashing half, adding butter, milk, thickening with cold water + flour. And cheese if i have a little bit. I also make an almost free soup using bits of all leftover veges and beef that I have saved from cooking from weeks prior. Usually I add a can of tomato sauce to this frozen leftover assortment and it is great. Making a loaf of bread is super frugal for breakfasts just served with jam or as toast. My mom used to make rice and tomatoes and fried potatoes. She used a can of tomatoes, with salt, pepper, bacon grease and a sprinkle of sugar which we ate over white rice. For a treat we would have biscuits with molasses or hot chocolate pudding. I think homemade dumplings or noodles in some sort of meat broth, thickened is also super cheap and filling. Some of my favorite meals are those my mom made at the end of her budget! Simple but good stuff.

  18. I keep the large cans of chunky soups in flavors we like, around $1.00-1.50 a can, and stretch them to serve our family of four by adding extra chicken or ground beef, canned tomatoes, frozen corn, or whatever I have on hand that compliments that particular flavor of soup. Fried egg sandwiches are also one of my favorite cheap meals. I’m glad someone mentioned hamburger gravy served over potatoes, we had that a lot when I was a kid because we butchered beef and had a lot in the freezer, I forgot about it even though it was one of my favorite comfort foods!

  19. My kids like this one…1 bowl of noodles, the kind that’s about .79 cents and comes with a sauce package…a small veg tab….I like cauliflower, corn, carrot, broccoli blend…add some cooked meat , chicken or pork…cut up in small to med cubes..aprox 1 chick leg or thigh…is good enough….cook a few minutes and serve. Because you’re using veg’s…this actually fills a large pan…and a few stomachs with very little money..

  20. The burger dog….I’m pretty sure I invented this one…a burger dog is a weiner wrapped up in hamburger meat…and of course you can substitute with ground turkey or that seasoned mystery meat next to the ground beef..fry it and serve on a stick like a corndog or in a bun likes hot dog…..also if you have a few bucks to spare on a treat. I like hot Cheetos with cone dip. The hot chocolate creates a nice hard shell around the hot Cheetos…. Trust me on this one…the combination is delicious.

  21. Diy sushi bowls. I cook rice with a can of salmon mixed in. Serve with cucumber sticks and seaweed. My kids make their own mini sushi rolls at the table.

  22. I always made mac n cheese with wieners that I sliced up and browned in a little margarine. Mix these together for a pretty darn good, and cheap meal.

  23. When I stock up on sales, say ground beef. I fry it all then portion it out for different meals such as taco salad, stew etc. I label what they are for and freeze. I allot them for times the budget is tight. That way I have easy fix meal ideas already half done and my budget gets a break!

  24. Save bacon grease. After cooking bacon, let the grease cool slightly, then strain into a pint jar. I use a small sieve, but you can also push a coffee filter an inch or so into the jar, then screw on the lid and strain the grease through that.
    That grease makes veggies taste wonderful, and if you have more month than money, you can use the grease to make gravy.
    Even without any meat, gravy served over hot biscuits (or rice, or potatoes) is very filling!

  25. What a wonderful list. There are lots of times when I have to figure out something for dinner on a whim. Too many trips to town eats up too much gas money. I learned living so far out, you plan ahead better. It’s not a simple task to just run over to the corner store. I typically have dried beef in the freezer and we just have dried beef gravy over toast a lot of times. (Sh*t on a Shingle to my family. LOL) It’s cheap and easy. And we actually like it.
    Thank you so much for sharing these ideas. I will have to remember these next time we get in a pinch.

  26. I made up an artisan bread recipe that bakes in a loaf pan, it has half whole wheat flour and half unbleached flour, salt, yeast, water. Great way to stretch the budget. I did try this with all whole wheat flour but even with extra yeast it was too heavy in my opinion (and I’m a lover of all things wheat, my fave breakfast being cooked cracked wheat with butter and honey) so I went back to the half wheat plan.

    One of our fast foods at end of money is creamed tuna over whole wheat toast, as we usually have cream of chicken soup and tuna in our pantry…..I add lemon pepper to it and a bit of garlic powder. And always keep an extra loaf of whole wheat bread in the freezer.

    I also had a policy in my younger years when we had little or no extra food stored because of such a tight grocery budget: I’d wait 2 to 4 extra days before going grocery shopping and create meals with what little was in cupboards, fridge, freezer. So amazing the things I learned……my kids say I can make a meal out of practically nothing.

    Then later I created a system from our basic food storage and supplies to eat healthy on under $1 per day per person. Because I based it on wheat, whole grains, dried beans, lentils…….amazing what tasty healthy meals I came up with!!! And to make it into fast food meals: I began planning, cooking, and freezing ingredients ahead. For example, Italian Stew: grab frozen cooked wheat, frozen cooked lentils, frozen cooked crumbled sausage, a bottle or can of tomatoes, italian seasonings, dried onions and dried garlic bits….. for a super yummy stew…..in fact when I made this stew for a few taste testers, not my family, they went back for seconds and thirds. Usually will serve it with popovers, or my homemade healthier refrigerator crescent roll recipe that I wanted to have to replace canned refrigerator crescent rolls…..it takes just a few minutes to put together and goes in fridge to raise overnight, no kneading and so better for us than the purchased kind would be, and inexpensive, and yes it’s part wheat flour, but soo good, sooo easy.

  27. I grew up in South Dakota in the 50s . My parents were early in the process of growing a business. With 5 kids we had many meals of creamed tuna on toast topped with butter. Also scrambled egg sandwiches dipped in ketchup. Now I’m 66 and mix canned drained chicken and cream of mushroom soup heated up and put it on toast topped with pats of butter to celebrate the old days. It’s really good. Many people have told me that’s poor mans food. I laugh because my frugal parents worked their way up to millionaires by the 1970s. It’s the little things that add up. And I love to eat creamed canned tuna or chicken on toast to remember my carefree childhood growing up in a small South Dakota town. We also ate powdered sugar plus a tablespoon of milk mixed up on saltine crackers for a treat. We ate apples off our tree. We were in heaven growing up on the beautiful long grass prairie to the sound of the ever present wind. In the fall everyone raked their leaves into the gutters and lit them on fire for hot dog roasts over the fires on the same day all over town.

  28. Greenbean casserole soup! From my counting change for gas years. I used all store bought canned items then. It was in the 1990s! Can of cream of mushroom soup. Add milk. Cook. Add browned ground beef, or other meat. Add a can each of drained potatoes and drained Green beans. Salt and pepper. Make it as thin as you need to or as thick as you can afford to.
    This came about when I had 30 bucks for groceries for the whole week for a family of four and that included having to buy diapers for a toddler. It was at the end of the week and I was rummaging thru what little was in my cupboards trying to figure out how to make an actual meal for four!
    Also, never forget basic grilled cheese. Have a can of tuna? Turn it into a tuna melt.
    Now that I’m older… highly recommend kitchen aid pasta maker attachment. Good healthy pasta… cheap! Attachment is pricey but if you can afford the initial expense, we’ll worth it.

  29. One thing I haven’t seen here yet is making egg noodles from scratch! A couple eggs from our chickens, and salt and flour made into a ball of dough, rolled out and dropped into a pot of chicken or beef broth, and throw in a handful of leftover meat and you’ve got a hearty soup that can potentially last several meals!

    I also make a wheat/oatmeal tortilla that is made from whole wheat flour and oatmeal! Make a small amount of oatmeal without any additives on the stove, allow this to cool. Now mix with wheat flour until it makes a ball you can roll out. Roll out the dough and place on a heated castiron pancake pan. (unoiled) allow to cook until brown on one side and flip to cook on the other side. Be careful not to cook too long on either side.

    I also make wheat yeast bread and that uses 4 cups wheat flour and 4 cups unbleached white flour. I have some potato flakes that are getting a little old so I have replaced half of the white flour with potato flakes and my husband can’t tell the difference!

  30. I have a couple of easy recipes
    1. chicken mac as we call it lol…
    I use left over rotesserie chicken but you can use any kind of left over chicken you have on hand.
    2. 1 can cream of chicken or/ cream of mushroom …..whatever you like
    3. about half of a block of velvetta or any kind of cheese you like
    4. add about a 1/4 cup to 1/2 cup of milk to make it creamy
    You can add veggies to this we do add a can of corn just drain the juices if you do

    spicy potato soup
    1. cooked hamburger meat—-or turkey I have never used turkey but you can try if you like too.
    2. 4-5 potatoes diced
    3. 1 can of stewed tomatoes regular or you can use the Italian kind
    4. 1 can 8 oz tomato sauce
    5. 6-8 cups of water
    add salt and pepper….if you don’t want to add salt but make sure you add pepper
    cook til potatoes are tender

    I also make goulash

    goulash
    1. cooked hamburger meat with 1/2 onion, chili powder…I do not measure my chili powder I sprinkle it all over the meat and let it cook in..drain off excess great from meat
    2. cooked noodles we use elbow mac
    3. 1 can stewed tomatoes
    4. 1 can tomato sauce big can
    5. about 1/2 can water more if needed
    6. after all mixed in I will taste it and then I add some sugar about 1/2 tablespoon to 1 tablespoon ……then I will sprinkle more chili powder if needed….must do a taste test lol

    I hope someone enjoys these…..Happy cooking 🙂

  31. I may be in the minority here, but as someone who has lived at or below poverty for the majority of their childhood and almost all of their adult life, I’m going to suggest a few things that aren’t “meal” related.

    Firstly, groceries aren’t “sky-high” as the email that led me to this recycled article would have you believe. Sure, if all you do is shop a big box store (Walmart, Target, fancy grocers) and buy name brand, yeah, prices are insane. But if you’re like me, and the struggle isn’t new, you CAN still shop for around the same amount as before. I shop Aldi, Save-a-Lot, and Dollar Tree/Family Dollar, with the occasional trip out of town for farmers’ markets and ‘scratch-and-dent’ stores. (I’m in the NE Ohio area with a family of 4, including a daughter with dairy/gluten issues). I can usually get a week’s worth of groceries and paper goods for around $50-60. We tend to shop every few weeks, with tabs hovering around $150 or so, split over different stores. That’s the same amount I was spending pre-pandemic. Sure, some package sizes have changed, but so have our shopping habits. Overall, the difference in day to day “scratch” cooking has NOT changed as drastically as social media and the mainstream news/journalists would have you believe.

    Where possible, STOP shopping the big box stores and fancy grocery stores. Stick to generic brands when you can, and always always ALWAYS compare price per ounce, esp when considering pre-cut/bagged/portioned over whole or unprepared. I understand those options are there for convenience as well as for some folks who have disabilities, but those of us that CAN do for ourselves, should. If for no other reason than to have it available/affordable for those that need it.

    And don’t just make meals from scratch, but make other things like cleaning supplies, laundry soap, etc. This website has always been great at highlighting those options. And when you DO buy things like cleaners or soaps, water them down!!!!! Manufacturers rely on consumers not knowing how to do things. By diluting your cleaners and soaps, you can get 2-3x more per product, with the same results! Don’t believe it? Try it! I’ve been doing it for years. And you can clean sooooo many things using white vinegar, lemon juice, and baking soda. All of which can be bought cheaply and easily!

    1. When you have the option, yes, it’s much better to shop at farm stands, Aldi, Costco, scratch and dent, etc. We have none of those available here and the farmer’s market is excessively overpriced. Of course, I still believe there are plenty of bargains to be had but it also very much depends on where you live.

      1. I’m in the same boat – only one grocery store in my small rural town – prices are through the roof! Nearest farmers market is 15 miles away and expensive! Nearest “big” grocery stores are 45 miles away – with gas prices as high as they are we rarely go. So thankful I’ve been stocking up for years.

  32. My go-to quick and cheap dinner is cacio e pepe. Spaghetti with butter, finely grated pecorino Romano, ground black pepper and pasta water to make a sauce. Delicious, quick and cheap.