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Cheap Meals


I mentioned that money is extra-tight this month, and I’ve really been making a conscious effort EVERY.SINGLE.DAY not to spend money. It’s weird really. You know how once something is “forbidden” it’s suddenly all you can think about?

For example, I’ve been pining over the idea of doing a little garden. I have the blackest thumb known to man, but I like to try to plant flowers from hanging baskets in the back yard and see how long they’ll live (my record is about 2 years, but most only last a matter of months). I also used to have a pretty good herb garden and I’d love to get that going again, as I’ve been missing fresh rosemary and basil in our meals. Sorry to those of you in freezing weather, but we’re probably past our last freeze here in Tucson so it’s the PEFECT weather for planting stuff! But that all costs money – soil, seeds (and/or starter plants), maybe some new pots, etc. Sigh. That stuff’s all been put on the back burner for the time being (maybe next month when things aren’t so tight I can squeeze an extra $20 from our budget for gardening stuff).

But that’s not all. It’s probably no surprise that the area where my shopping urge has manifested itself the most is with food. Oh, food. But unlike last time (in January), where I justified extra grocery shopping trips as a necessity, this month I’m really, really trying to be good. No extra trips to the store. Use up everything at home first. Figure out creative ways to make meals with things we already have. Eat stuff out of the freezer. You get the point.

And I have to say that so far I’ve been proud of myself. Here’s a look at some of the cheap meals I’ve made lately to try to stretch our grocery bucks to the limit.

Side note: I am NOT a chef, nor am I even a very good cook. So I’m not giving recipes here, I’m just giving ideas of cheap foods I’ve made. If you want a recipe, do yourself a favor and google one because I have no advice to offer on the cooking front. : )

Black Bean Burgers

Okay…..this meal came THISCLOSE to being just tossed in the trash. I was all proud of myself to use all ingredients we had on hand, many of which were begging to be used up (e.g., leftover beans and cilantro from a previous taco dinner). But when I read the directions I missed the part where it said to put everything in the food processor except the beans!!! Instead, I food processed everything to a pulp, then wanted to cry as I thought there was no way the burgers would hold together. I seriously stood there with the glop mess next to the trash for a good 30 seconds contemplating my options when I finally decided just to try the bean mess. The original recipe called for cooking it in a little bit of oil in a skillet. I immediately nixed the idea (0% chance the burgers would hold together), and instead opted to bake them in the oven. God must have smiled down on me because, lo and behold, the burgers held together! They didn’t look pretty, but they tasted just as good as if I hadn’t pulverized the beans into a nasty-black colored pulp.


Uh oh, caught a little hand trying to still the cheese!IMG_0790

Much better! Well…still not the most appetizing-looking, but you get the point. And it tasted great!

Pantry Foods

I haven’t always been this way, but in recent years I’ve tried to make more of an effort to eat FRESH and NATURAL foods.  So although it is not the norm for us to essentially eat-out-of-a-can, I do still have many canned foods in the pantry. And – what can I say – they’re cheap. I’ve found myself resorting to a meal-in-a-can a couple of times this month so far, particularly for quick lunches. The two main things we’ve had so far are canned soups (seriously, these needed to be eaten because they’ve been hanging around forever, but I know the sodium content & ingredient list is awful and I never buy them anymore) and tuna fish sandwiches (something about canned meat creeps me out). No disrespect intended to those who love these foods. I think our knowledge about food nutrition has come a long way and these are totally normal foods that I ate all the time as a kid, but not something I want to be feeding my own family on a regular basis. But I also hate waste and these are foods we already owned, so might as well eat them up. Highly unlikely that I’ll be replacing any of these canned meals, so it almost feels like a free lunch.

Vegetarian Meals

One of the best ways to stretch a buck is to make vegetarian meals since veggies often cost way less than meat. This can be tricky for us carnivores, though, because it often doesn’t feel as filling or you might get full initially but then be hungry again an hour later. But I make a couple of vegetarian meals that are particularly hearty. One is eggplant parmesan. It’s a bit prep intensive, but I always double the recipe and freeze half for a quick meal sometime down the road. Plus the eggplant is thick and hearty – I’d even call it “meaty.” Plus super tasty. I also like to cook up some  frozen cheese tortellini as a super quick veggie meal. In my local stores I can get a bag of cheese tortellini for $2.50 and its enough to feed my family of 4. I boil the noodles, add some marinara sauce, and stir in spinach over the heat so it wilts before serving. This is another great idea for a quick lunch, but it can be dressed up for dinner with a side, too (steamed broccoli pairs well).

“Steak” Quesadillas

We’d had a pot roast a few nights prior that was huge. I’d eaten leftover roast for a few days and was sick of it, but didn’t want to waste any of the leftovers. So on this particular day, I sliced up the roast, sprinkled it with some taco seasoning (pro tip:  I buy the bulk jar of taco seasoning from Costco instead of individual packets from the grocery store. It’s much cheaper per oz. and then you can just use what you need instead of being committed to a full packet), and called it steak fajita meat. LOL. Obviously I could tell that it wasn’t the real thing, but I got no complaints from the girls and even hubs was tricked into thinking I was serving a new meat (he’s not a huge fan of leftovers). Mwhahaha!!!!!!!


Here’s the roast meat all sliced up and sprinkled with taco seasoningIMG_0738

Cooked in a tortilla with some cheese, beans, onion, and bell peppers (another pro tip: I buy bell peppers when they’re super cheap in summer, then slice them up and freeze them so it’s easy to take out just a few and cook as needed). I add spinach or lettuce after its been cooked for a little boost of greens.

Chicken Everything

Okay, no pictures to share of this, but can I just say how many different chicken meals I’ve cooked lately? First, chicken is one of the cheapest meats around. Second, it’s just so easy to spice up in so many different ways! From regular grilled chicken to bbq chicken, chicken on a salad or in a wrap, chicken smothered in honey mustard and cheese, chicken stir-fried and served with noodles and peanut sauce, chicken dunked in wing sauce and served with ranch, etc. etc. etc. Lots and Lots of chicken dishes. It’s getting comical. Hubs asked the other day, “What are we having for dinner? Let me guess, chicken!” Yuuuup! Though you’re welcome to cook if you want something different ; )

So there you have it. These are some of our cheap, quick, and easy meals that I’ve been relying on lately. And anytime I can cook once and eat twice (or three or four times!!!) is always a good thing to me, so I’ve been loving trying to find ways to rollover and repurpose already cooked foods into a new meal. Good stuff!

What cheap meals are you loving lately? Feel free to link to any recipes you use!


  • Reply Nicole |

    Way to go! I can definitely relate to being able to justify excess spending on groceries. It’s also one area I’m working on cutting back on too. I love you ideas, and agree with trying to cook once and get multiple meals out of it. One of my favorite is baking a ham, you can get great deals on hams this time of year bc of Easter. We’ll eat ham with sides the first night. Then I take some of the leftover ham and dice it up to make a ham/broccoli/rice casserole. You can also always use ham in omelets for breakfast. Then once you’ve got most of the meat off your ham bone, throw it in a crockpot with some beans and veggies to make soup. Whew, so many ideas from just one ham. Sorry to write a book, your post just really resonated! Keep up the good work. 🙂

    • Reply Ashley |

      I’ve actually tried to do this before and it didn’t taste right to me. Not sure if it was something in my head or if one of my seasonings was “off” (they do have a shelf life and I tend to push mine to the limit, lol). When my current taco seasoning is gone, I should definitely try this again though!

  • Reply Theresa |

    Try Eggs and Lentils! (but not together.) Lentils have protein, lots of fiber and are very affordable. I make a very good lentil soup and I have also made lentil tacos. Curried lentils are very good but my kids won’t eat them-too spicy. I pay $3.50 for a dozen organic eggs and a quiche type dish can be a very satisfying lunch or dinner. I am also trying to eat down the freezer and pantry this month.

    • Reply Ashley |

      Where do you live??? Just curious because I feel like the Tucson areas tends to be on the cheaper side for food, but I definitely don’t think I could find a dozen organic eggs for $3.50. We pay a little extra to get the cage-free eggs (though I know that term is deceiving since the chickens are often still kept in gross, crowded, and dark quarters), and pay $3.50/dozen for those. I think organic in my area tends to be closer to $5.00+/dozen.
      Regardless, these are still good cheap meal ideas!

  • Reply Den |

    We do brinner – which is breakfast and dinner combined! Pancakes or waffles or French toast with a side of sausage or bacon…..very cheap and easy to make!

    • Reply Ashley |

      I LOVE to do this (I always just call it “breakfast for dinner”)! We actually had the neighbor kids over last week to play with our girls and it was the first time EVER that we had other kids over at a meal-time. I didn’t have enough of what I’d been planning to make for everyone, so I switched game-plans and did breakfast foods. We had french toast, hash browns (from potatoes, not the frozen kind), and scrambled eggs and the kids LOVED it, plus it cost pennies to make. Very fun!

  • Reply Gwen |

    This is a budget friendly stew with an amazing flavor. We double the poblano pepper and skipped the herbs. The only potentially expensive part would be the spices, I bought mine for pennies in the bulk spice section of a grocery store. (Sprouts.) Also, instead of cans of chicken broth, I get “better than bullion” (most grocery stores have it, I get mine at Costco), which makes a ton of broth. http://www.skinnytaste.com/2014/11/slow-cooker-moroccan-chickpea-and.html

    • Reply Ashley |

      Yes!! I love to use bullion instead of canned chicken broth. SOOOO much cheaper and tastes the exact same. I haven’t tried a stew like this before, but it sounds great – thanks for the link!

    • Reply Ashley |

      MMMMmm, another great link! You’re right that I don’t have fish sauce on hand, but I find that whenever I have to buy some I can easily locate lots of recipes that call for it so I can use it all up (lots of Asian-inspired meals, which is one of my faves anyway!)

      • Reply Gwen |

        Fish sauce is very pungent and a little goes a very, very long way-so you’ll probably have the bottle for a very long time. The cheapest place to buy it is at an Asian Market. While you are there, I’d suggest getting cans of coconut milk and curry paste (The curry paste has a very long shelf life in the fridge) and you’ll have the essentials for chicken coconut curry, which is a great way to serve chicken.

        • Reply Ashley |

          Oh man, you’re speaking my language! I need to google the nearest Asian Market!

  • Reply Kayla @ Shoeaholicnomore |

    I made pigs in a blanket and macaroni and cheese the other night. No it’s not the healthiest, but darn cheap! The hot dogs were $1 for 8, the biscuits were $1 for 8 (the kind in the can), and the macaroni and cheese in a box (about $.50). Plus it made enough for about 4 meals.

    • Reply Ashley |

      Can’t argue with the price! Whenever I do mac & cheese I try to “healthify” it a smidgen by serving it with steamed broccoli mixed in. That way its kind of the best of both worlds because I’m adding a veggie to the noodle meal, and adding cheese to the broccoli! Two birds, one stone. ; )

  • Reply Jenna |

    Perogy Lasagna is a huge hit around here.
    Super inexpensive and quick to pull together.
    1 bag frozen perogies [your choice flavour]
    1 can spaghetti sauce [your choice flavour]
    grated cheese
    layer spaghetti sauce, frozen perogies, spaghetti sauce, cheese.
    place in 350 degree oven for a 45 to 60 minutes. until cheese is bubbly.
    add a salad & entire meal is about $5 to $6 – there will be leftovers.

  • Reply Sue |

    For your gardening idea – here is what I do. There is a website called Wintersown (don’t know if it is winters own or winter sown) and you print out a form, send it in a self-addressed stamped envelope and they send you all kinds of seeds for free. This year I got about 10 different types of tomatoes, lettuce, white squash, and a ton of flower seeds. I was very impressed!!!

    • Reply Ashley |

      WHAT!?! I’m SOOO going to do this!! Thanks for the tip, that’s very cool!

  • Reply hannah |

    congrats on trying so hard, you are being really creative! I wanted to point out that you should look up recipes online for your seasonings, such as taco seasoning, fajita seasoning etc.
    The stuff from the store is full of chemicals and msg, and is much more expensive per pound vs mixing it yourself. There are lots of good recipes and it is easy to mix up and store in a jar.
    I’ve been doing that for years, next up is finding a homemade bbq sauce that we like, so far we haven’t found it. But homemade bbq sauce is SO much better than storebought full of corn syrup and junk.

    • Reply Ashley |

      That’s a great point! I’ve been making my own salad dressings for years, but haven’t thought to do my own BBQ sauce. Let me know if you find a recipe you end up liking so I can try it out!

So, what do you think ?