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Inexpensive Dinner Choices…


Last night, my husband and I went shopping in our pantry and made Spanish rice, pinto bean, and spicy sausage goulash. I would say it was good but I pride myself on honesty so I’ll just say it was… edible. This meal didn’t have me worrying about exceeding my daily recommended caloric intake since I wasn’t likely to return for a second helping.

We’re still working our way through those 37 meals hidden in our pantry and freezer and it’s likely to get a whole lot worse from here but I’m ready for the challenge.

Before you express concern for our health, we are still purchasing perishable items like greens and dairy products and my parents having been sharing the fruit from their apple and orange trees.

So here’s the question…

These are desperate financial times, what is your cheapest (and somehow still healthy) dinner?


  • Reply Melanie |

    Looots of beans. Canned black beans, ro-tel (generic, or you could just use diced tomatoes), and a little cheese (or none) is pretty good.

    Brown rice is cheap and healthy…you can add the beans and rice together, mash, and pan-fry to make bean burgers. Use canned chickpeas with some garlic and curry powder and you can do falafel.

    Self-rising flour + milk or yogurt = biscuits. No need for bisquick.

    Also, when I was a meat-eater (and this may sound totally gross)…1 can of chunk light tuna in water + instant mashed potatoes + yellow mustard = yum! All generic.

    Dry goods are your best bet…oatmeal (can be dressed up sweet or savory…add pb for sweet, raisins, whatever…butter/salt for savory…I like it with BBQ sauce, but you might think that’s gross too because I know it’s weird.

    Instant potatoes can be watered down and frozen veggies or canned veggies added to make potato soup, just add garlic powder and salt, and it’s not too bad.

    When all else fails, a 10 pound bag of potatoes can feed you for a while…dice and pan-fry for home fries (which can be a meal). Oven roast them…turn them into “fries” and serve alongside your bean burger.

    Sorry if this was long…hubby and I have seven years experience in eating healthily while super-poor.

  • Reply Ryan |

    One of my favs in good times and in bad is a little dish we call “Zucchini, Rice, and Hamburger”, which is, as you might have guessed, a mix up of a zucchini and hamburger sauce over rice 😉

    I brown a pound of lean (7% fat) ground beef and season with garlic salt and pepper. Then I pour in one can of Del Monte zucchini and tomato sauce plus two cans of low salt tomato sauce. Then simmer while you wait on your rice maker to finish a healthy blend of brown and white rice. Pour sauce over rice and enjoy with kimchee!

  • Reply T'Pol |

    Here is a quick dish for two, which we call Menemen: 1 bell pepper or, 3-4 Italian peppers, 1 large tomato, a little oil and eggs ( I usually use 2 eggs for one person). Slice the peppers and start cooking them with a little oil and a pinch of salt. When they are halfway done, add diced tomatoes cook for 2-3 more minutes. Make small holes in the pan and crack the eggs into these. Cover the pan and cook the eggs to your liking. Takes no more than 15 minutes to prepare, easy to make, filling and healthy if you are not already eating too many eggs. These ingredients cost very little in my country.

    If you do not use cheese, cream or too much oil when preparing the sauce, pasta is usually healthy. I chop whatever vegetable I have on hand, add some diced onions and garlic to it and sautee them with a little oil. When the mixture is tender I add diced tomatoes. Healthy pasta sauce…
    Also pasta and tuna with a little oil is another option…

  • Reply JayneM |

    My favourites require no meat: such as kidney beans (chile con carne or tacos) or risotto with pumpkin and leek. Amazing how creamy pumpkin is in risotto! Also tinned fish is a great cheap alternative; tuna pasta bake or nicoise salad or pink salmon patties like Mum makes.

    But on the subject of pantry shopping: my biggest tip is to take out all those gourmet sauces and odd christmas gift baskets extras that you have from christmas past and USE THEM. I had enough chocolate sauce (go figure) to last us six months with gourmet sauce on ice cream every night for the kids. I still have enough chilli sauces, hot mustard and gourmet curry to last us for a looonnnnggg time. Usually we save this kinda stuff for “a special occasion” and then throw it out a few years later. Life’s too short – use and enjoy I say!

  • Reply andi_blackwell |

    We eat a lot of cheap food, usually reducing our costs through meal plans and what we find on sale. I think my favorite is still grilled cheese with tomato soup.

    Another good one is “dressed up ramen.” You take a package or two of top ramen and add all the veggies in your fridge that are about to go bad. If you like, you can even scramble an egg and drizzle it in for added protein. I think I’m going to make that tonight!

  • Reply Abigail |

    1. Make 1.5-2 cups of rice, put it in a large bowl.
    2. Stir in salsa until all of the rice is covered.
    3. Drain two cups of beans (any kind) and a can of corn.
    4. Stir these into the rice.
    5. Add garlic, black pepper and red pepper to taste.
    6. Optional: Stir in grated cheese while rice is hot enough to melt it.
    7. Serve in tortillas or (my preference) eat from a bowl with tortilla chips.

  • Reply Jenn |

    Western Omlettes
    Fry chopped onion and peppers (skip the oil if you have a nonstick pan).
    Beat 2-3 eggs (per person) and pour over cooked veggies.Cook on low until eggs set.
    Add an optional bit if shredded cheese if you like, and fold in half. Serve with whole wheat toast.
    You can repeat for each person, or what we do for our family of 4 is quadruple everything and make one enormous omlette and cut it into 4 wedges. Much faster. We have breakfast for supper at least once a week.

    Other suggestions:
    -grilled cheese sandwiches & canned tomato soup;
    -pasta + store sauce improved with fried onions/peppers/mushrooms/zuchini or whatever you have.
    -fried rice: beat 2 eggs/person and fry untouched in non-stick pan (or wok with a little oil). It will look like a big fried egg but with no separate yolk. On a cutting board cut egg into slices like fettuchini. Put leftover cooked rice (1-2c/person) in pan/wok, add 1/2c frozen peas per person and some soya sauce (amt varies depending how dry your leftover rice was). Toss for a few mintes to coat everything and cook the peas. Stir in the sliced egg and serve. Substitute depending what you have or need to use up. Mushrooms instead of peas, leftover cooked chicken or pork for the egg. We always make extra rice so we can have this the following night. We always make a big batch so we can all take if for lunch the next day – it rewarms well in the microwave.

    Have you checked out http://www.cheapcooking.com ?

  • Reply Nicole |

    Salsa Chicken:

    4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
    1 packet taco seasoning
    1 cup salsa
    1 cup shredded cheddar

    Grease a 9×13 pan. Place chicken in pan then sprinkle each side with 1-2 tsp. taco seasoning. Pour salsa over chicken breasts and bake at 375 degrees for 20 minutes. Sprinkle cheese on chicken then bake for 5 minutes more. Viola!

    Cheap and easy! It would go well with Abigail’s dish : )

  • Reply KimD |

    homemade soup – well it actually turns out more like a stew by the time I add everything to it 🙂
    left over chicken bones, celery, carrots, onion, spices, plus whatever veggies are on sale/handy. I normally put in chickpeas and rice too. I normally make a huge pot. It will last for a good number of meals.

  • Reply brooklynchick |

    Just a LITTLE meat (expensive) can make beans and rice so much better. Good bacon can really be stretched if you use the greasein cooking veggies and/or crumble just a bit into rice and beans. Also, do you like curry? My other “sauce” to keep things lively is rice vinegar/soy sauce/sesame oil/ginger. Delish.

  • Reply Debra |

    Dried Red Beans soaked and added to a crockpot in the morning with sausage, onion powder, garlic powder, salt/pepper. The rice gets made when we get home in the afternoon… SO nice to have dinner ready in a snap after a long day. 🙂


  • Reply April B |

    ‘dressed up ramen’! I do that too. I always put in frozen broccoli to make it healthier.

    A few nights ago we had baked beans with sliced hot dogs and leftover brown rice, with a salad on the side.

  • Reply Marianne |

    We started making this meal when we were broke but I still ask my husband to make it now cause I like it a lot.
    Tuna Pasta
    Fry up some canned tuna with olive oil, dried chilies and other spices to taste. Make spaghetti (or use leftover spaghetti noodles- it’s actually better this way), drain, and put pasta in frying pan with tuna and olive oil mixture. Fry together for a minute or two and then eat with lots of parmesan cheese. Yum.

  • Reply Martine |

    I like the site Suppercook.com, you enter the contents of your pantry or fridge and it gives you recipes based on what you already have.

  • Reply Mar |

    Veggie chili – saute whatever veggies you have (carrots, celery, sweet peppers, zucchini, onions, whatever) in a little oil. Add diced tomatoes (canned or fresh), a couple cans of drained and rinsed kidney beans, and chili powder. Let it simmer for 20 minutes or so. You can eat plain or topped with a little sour cream and shredded cheddar cheese. Healthy, delicious, and cheap, as well as a good way to use up left-over veggies.

    I’ve been making beef veggie soup lately using about a quarter pound of beef (rump roast, chuck roast, whatever). I sautee the beef to brown it and add some chopped onions, cut up veggies (Wegman’s has a 12 ounce bag of steamable mixed veggies that look like veggies – i.e., carrot slices rather than carrot cubes – that I’m using because it’s both good and pretty inexpensive at 79 cents), some tomatoes, a can of beef broth, and seasonings such as oregano, basil, and black pepper. The soup costs less than $2.25, since I’m using a small portion of meat and buying it cheap and we get about 5-6 servings per batch. It’s great for taking to work.

    Happy New Year!

  • Reply ClaireBelle |

    My favorite is edamame, brown rice, and tomatoes. I pick up the brown rice and tomatoes at Aldi, then go to Trader Joe’s for the edamame. I always stock up on the edamame, so it’s around when times get lean, or on especially cold winter days!

  • Reply emmi |

    Cheapest but still very tasty? Easily the slow cooker split pea soup, seasoned with chopped onions and some chopped up (very very cheap in the mystery meat section of our grocery) smoked pork jowl. The jowl is great as it is just smoked, not cured, so no overwhelming salt and no nitrates. It looks just like unsliced bacon, basically.

    Second would be homemade burritos where we make the tortillas from scratch and clean out the old veges from the fridge to fry up and use for the filling. But that’s much more labor.

So, what do you think ?