Saving Money in the Kitchen–Cheap Meals

This week most of the meals I served our family of 11 were below $5.

Now, a few disclaimers. First, I have five children age six and under, girls who eat like birds. That makes a big difference. Secondly, we have two deer and a cow in the freezer that were free (aside from labor). Another huge difference.

Nevertheless, every woman can find creative ways to stretch the food budget and feed her family for less without sacrificing too much nutrition, especially in lean financial times.

I normally make a grocery trip once a week. But this week, our budget was tight and so I determined to “make do” with what I had bought last week, with the exception of a small run for a few perishables.

It has been really fun and challenging to see how far I could stretch everything. As a side note, a little pre-planning can help to ration out things better.

I’ll share a few “tips and tricks” I used in the hopes it encourages and inspires you to be able to make cuts, when necessary, in the kitchen department!

Approximate spending: $180 for two weeks (including one night with 4 other guests)

*Chicken casserole

I had 2 small, frozen chicken breasts, a wilted stalk of celery half an onion, 4 mushrooms and some rice.

Boiled the chicken in water with celery stalks, a bit of oil/butter and onion. I sauteed the (finely chopped) mushrooms with some garlic, then made a creamy sauce in that pan with oil, some of the broth and milk (I think I used half and half). Browned the chicken and put it in the blender, chopping rather finely. I poured everything over rice (which I cooked in the chicken broth) and it was SO yummy. Served with salad. I had cheers all around. (I set about 1 cup of excess rice in the fridge for later.)

*Deer roast stew

One night I made deer roast in the crock pot (with potatoes), served with left over pinto beans and green beans and cornbread.

I only had a fist-sized portion of meat left over and some broth and potatoes, but the stew I made the next day was delish once I added that leftover rice in the fridge, with a few stalks of celery and some garden-canned tomatoes. It fed us all with some still left.

*Homemade hamburger helper

I like this one because you can stretch it with so many things. I used a little ground meat (can’t remember, deer or beef), cooked with a sliver of onion, and mixed it with cooked macaroni noodles and 2 or 3 cooked, diced potatoes. I also sneaked just a handful of cauliflower in for health 😉 Made the sauce with ketchup, brown sugar, vinegar and seasoning.

Rationing.

On some occasions, I have found that instead of using all of an item, half gets us by and the other half is saved for another meal. For example, we stir-fried vegetables several times this week using a small pack of zucchini, squash and cauliflower. A half of each, a half onion, a few mushrooms and it stretches pretty far instead of cooking it all up and then having the soggy leftovers grow old in the fridge.

I stretched the milk with some half and half and water one day, used more water than milk in the cornbread (there was no difference), and honestly, we could all do with less meat and more bean protein, so I’ve tried to remember that a small portion of meat is OK with other sides in abundance.

A few of our breakfasts this week:

Oatmeal casserole (oatmeal, honey/molasses/brown sugar, butter/coconut oil, flavoring, eggs, milk, etc….virtually anything you want to put in, and bake.)

Oatmeal cereal: oats, milk, yogurt (plain), frozen fruit, flavoring (optional), granola (optional)  Mix and store in fridge overnight.

Oranges slices and raisin bread.

Breakfast casserole: eggs, sausage, grits, milk, cheese (optional), onions/bell pepper (optional)

Cereal. It’s cheap at Aldi.

I’d love to hear your fun, frugal ideas! Sometimes I know I repeat the same ones, but if you’re like me, I need reminded!

Yep, it’s definitely time for a grocery run, don’t ya think?

For more ideas, check out Simple Cooking to Save You Money

50 Responses to “Saving Money in the Kitchen–Cheap Meals”

  1. Laura says:

    Hello Kelly! It’s so funny, if you could see what I’m picturing inside my head as I read your posts…and you describe your portions (not potions!) as being skimpy, tiny, a handful…because that is what I call MY portions for my family of 6…including three boys (8,7,and 4) who eat insane amounts of (nourshing)food and are NOT overweight…Something I have recently started making on occasion are falafel. Here is my FABulous falafel recipe: 1 bag dry garbanzo beans in a largish pot or bowl covered well in water. Let soak overnight. In the morning, add more water if it’s low. About 2 hours before mealtime, drain the beans well, and in four smaller batches, pulse 1/4 of the beans, 1 small onion (or slice), black pepper and salt, and an egg. After things are pretty pasty, toss in a shake of parsley. Dump into a bowl. Repeat. When your mixture is done, use a meatball scoop and make meatball sized balls and roll them in some kind of flour. Chill for a bit. Heat some coconut oil or butter in a pan and fry the balls til crisp and browned, turning once(or deep fry if you can). Serve hot on a flat bread/tortilla with lettuce, tomato, cheese, dressings or other condiment. REALLY good and at $1.86 for a bag of beans, who can go wrong?(this should give you about 50 bean balls). Or, make patties and fry like turkeyburgers, OR make the mixture and add to ground beef or turkey to stretch it…
    Last year we were given a whole turkey. So, I finally got around to roasting it…We ate three-four meals off that one bird…I also made turkey patties out of the cooked meat by pulsing it in the food processor with an egg, some onion, spices, and some l.O. rice…fry til crisp and eat like a chicken patty on a bun with lettuce and tomato and mayo. I ALWAYS boil the carcass…and make some sort of soup with the broth.
    Don’t know how you shop, but I really like shopping at some of the Mennonite/amish bulk stores out in the country…they are often really cheap for staples like flour/sugar, rice, beans, oatmeal and so on…and the lady I used to shop at also had butter (1.95/lb) and real block cheese for cheap and farm eggs for 1.50/doz…and I really liked buying from another family enterprise…The only thing that is getting hard are milk/cheese (I avoid cheap substitutes), and fresh produce. I want to feed my family as healthy as I can, and yet fresh fruits and veggies can be soooo expensive! I lucked out and found 5lbs of grapefruit the other day for under $3…SO I got 2bags! We try to grow/buy in season and freeze, but it’s not easy and hard to gauge how much you need…
    Another stretch recipe? We were given an 8-10lb ham recently. I roasted it, pulled it apart and froze 3 containers with 2-3lbs each. It works great to add just a cup of diced ham to eggs for breakfast. Another way is to dice it in a pot of rice cooking in broth/milk with some peas/shredded carrots or something…when it’s done, add a dollop of sour cream, some shredded cheese and mix til melted and blended, goes well with a salad and apple crisp:)
    I have a feeling we cook the same way, Kelly…I learned from my mother that most recipes have underlying foundations and if you can learn what those are, you don’t need lots of recipes…just build the foundation and garnish upon that with what you have in stock:)

    • Word Warrior says:

      I think we might cook the same way 😉 I recently made a ham soup similar to what you described…a handful for flavor and the rest potatoes/rice, etc. Love your ideas!

  2. Vanessa says:

    One breakfast idea that I use a lot is making homemade instant oatmeal packets (saw this on moneysavingmom.com)–1/2 c. oats, 1 tbs. brown sugar, cinnamon, raisins, nuts etc. Put all ingredients in zipper bag or container. When ready to use add 3/4 c. milk and microwave about 2 min. or cook on the stove. For young children, recipe can be cut in half.

    I make a bunch every couple of weeks. I like having a quick and easy breakfast and the kids like the change from our regular breakfast menu.

    • Word Warrior says:

      That is a great idea…anything easier for the kids to fix themselves in the morning while I’m stumbling around looking for my coffee is a winner 😉

      • Cissy says:

        LOL, I try to empty my fridge entirely before I hit the store, too! Helps avoid stuff mouldering in the back. But even my under-6 year olds polish off half a chicken thigh each when we have meat!

        Vanessa, Why do you make up the porridge in packets? Ziplocks are expensive! I keep the ingredients (quick oats, brown sugar, cinnamon, cardamom) on top of the fridge next to the microwave with a spoon in brown sugar jar, scoop in the oat jar. Then I make a big bowl (still cooks for two min, stir, two min), and scoop it out into smaller bowls to serve. Everyone then chops their own fresh or dried fruit into their bowl at the table. I try and buy and dry my own fruit in bulk in season, but it doesn’t always last a year. When we have them, I also use WIC jarred baby food fruit in porridge. Frozen fruit (thanks again to WIC!) simmered to make a compote is delicious on there, too.

        Burgers made with sweet potato and cannellini beans are delicious.

        I make felafels, too! But you don’t need to cook the chickpeas. Just soak them overnight, then grind half in the food processor to a paste, the other half leave somewhat coarse. Per cup of dried chickpeas add 2 cloves of garlic, a tsp each of cumin and coriander and 3 tablespoons of flat leaved parsley, 2 tablespoons of flour and a small onion, shape and fry. Parsley is the original dark green leafy vegetable, and it grows like a weed in our garden during summer. In the winter I buy it, because you get such a big bunch, and it’s so tasty!

        Home made hummus is also a great lunch/snack food. Tahini is expensive, but lasts forever and you use a very small amount in each batch. This is the recipe I use http://www.taste.com.au/recipes/2774/reduced+fat+hummus

        Dahl is a delicious protein rich lunch and freezes really well. Saute two onions, then add two tablespoons of garam masala and a bag of lentils (red are tastiest, but brown are cheaper), a couple of big tins of chopped tomatoes and enough water to cover. Simmer until they’re cooked. I buy all my spices and lots of other supplies at ethnic groceries. SO much cheaper! And better quality, too, I think.

        I’m trying to conquer my bad habit of fleshing out meals with carbs. My new rule is that more than half the plate has to be vegetables (including beans and potato).

  3. Cindy says:

    I was just making my meal plan for the week. I hate lunch. That is all.

    • Word Warrior says:

      Cindy–I’m with ya. Lunch IS the hardest…so no brilliant ideas, huh? My favorite is “hodgepodge”…nuts, cheese, crackers, fruit. But that’s not always the most frugal. Soups cooked ahead (or extra for leftovers) are a regular around here.

      • Kim M says:

        I’m the same about lunch. I don’t want to stop for it! My newest thing is salad for lunch with thawed peas and carrot slivers,sunflower seeds, etc

  4. Darcy says:

    I would love to hear more about your portions!

    I have 9 daughters and almost all of them (except for the youngest two) eat just as much if not more than I do! My oldest (12) will eat double what I eat and still complain that she’s hungry (which isn’t fair since she’s as thin as a bone!). I have felt bad for the past two weeks because after almost every meal at least one of them say they are still hungry, but I just don’t have it in our budget right now to fix more. If I, as a pregnant mom, am satisfied with how much I eat, you would think those who are much younger and eating more than me should be full, right?!

    I cook much the same way as you mentioned. It’s funny because I have one daughter who is always asking me what something is called and I don’t have a name because it is something that I just threw together.

    • 6 arrows says:

      Darcy,

      I feel for you in your situation. It seems in my household, the skinniest ones are the ones with the hugest appetites, and get hungry the fastest after meals. A very large proportion of our household budget goes to food, and it has sometimes been very difficult to find places to cut in the non-food areas of our budget when caloric needs were especially high.

      I don’t know if this will help, but one thing I discovered was that cutting out all gluten-containing foods from my diet helped slow my metabolism enough (I am one of the skinny, ravenous ones in our family) that I can now eat more average proportions and maintain my weight, unlike before when I’d consume huge amounts of food, still be constantly hungry, and would actually lose weight. Our grocery bill is considerably less now just by my eating less, and I can do it without hunger.

      I wonder if your 12-year-old daughter may benefit from a gluten-free diet? She sounds a lot like I was at that age (and for most of my life) as far as food quantities, hunger, and physical build go. I have always been able to out-eat my brother, who is 13 months younger than I, even when we were teenagers, and you know what they say about teenage boys and their appetites for food! Nothing ever seemed to stick until I went gluten-free in my forties. I don’t have celiac disease (gluten intolerance), but there is such a thing now known as non-celiac gluten sensitivity that I suspect has been my problem. Perhaps your oldest daughter (and some of your other children who consume a lot of food) would benefit from a gluten-free trial?

      I’ll warn you, though, that gluten-free grains are expensive. However, with emphasis on naturally-occurring GF foods like fruits, vegetables and the like, there really doesn’t have to be very much reliance on the costly GF grains.

      Just some thoughts. Hope they’re helpful.

      • Darcy says:

        We already are gluten free due to the fact that three of my girls need to be. I agree that it is expensive which is why I’m struggling so much. I never had this issue until we went gluten free.

        • 6 arrows says:

          Sorry for the long reply above when you were already gluten-free!

          Am I understanding you correctly that your whole household is GF, and not just your three girls who need to be? If that’s correct, then my only other suggestion for cutting your expenses is to keep them gluten-free while allowing everyone else to eat as you did before making the switch to a GF household (if that is what you did).

          I can relate to the difficulty of trying to keep a contamination-free environment if you have both gluten-free and gluten-filled foods in your home, and the challenge of training the members of your household in how to maintain a contamination-free kitchen if you have tried that, or will try it. I guess it’s a matter of deciding which kind of strain is harder, the financial strain of everyone eating gluten-free, or the challenge of keeping contamination at bay, and the time constraints if cooking meals that include gluten for some family members, and no gluten for others.

          Here is a link I found that includes other ways of saving money on GF diets. http://celiacdisease.about.com/od/theglutenfreediet/a/ExpensiveFood.htm

          I’m sorry for your struggle, Darcy. I know it’s difficult. At times like that, it refreshes me to think of Philippians 4:19 But my God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus.

          I’ll keep you in my prayers.

    • Katy says:

      Sounds like a very fast metabolism. Skinny and always hungry are two big signs. There’s nothing wrong, just one of those people who can eat like a horse and look thin. My older son is that way, my brother is that way, my Uncle is that way. Sadly, I am not. Sigh. I remember my brother eating an entire box of cereal (with whole milk), and two boxes of nutrigrain bars for breakfast only to need a mid morning snack when he was a teen. All that and he was as thin as a rail. Now that he’s nearing 40 he can’t do things like that, but he can still eat a lot and not gain weight.

      I found, with my son, that I need to get him a lot of very healthy fats and protein. This helps fill him up much longer than carbs. Carbs will cause the “I’m hungry” monster to come up a lot. Yes, you need carbs, but try for complex carbs instead of simple carbs (white sugar, white flour, fruit, milk, etc). Complex carbs are things like whole grain breads and pastas, oatmeal, rice, broccoli, corn and legumes like kidney beans.

      A nutritionist I used use to give a simple rule for helping to remember which foods take longer to digest (longer to digest means they stick with you longer, thus you don’t feel as hungry as quick) when it comes to meats. The bigger the animal, the longer it takes to digest it’s meat. A chicken digests much quicker than beef. When my Mom was having blood sugar issues we moved her from turkey sausage to pork sausage (pigs are bigger than turkeys), from fish to chicken, and from chicken to beef. These changes made a HUGE difference in how she felt. It also helps people with high metabolisms. Their bodies use the foods faster, so you want foods that take longer to break down in their bodies so that it sticks with them longer.

      (I am not a medical professional, just sharing tips I have found work for my family. Please talk to your own medical professional before making any dietary changes.)

    • Word Warrior says:

      Darcy,

      A friend of mine, with growing boys and high metabolisms, would cook a huge crock-pot full of beans and leave it out all day for anyone to help themselves. May not be their favorite, but no one can complain about “starving” 😀

      • Darcy says:

        That’s a great idea! My girls are okay with beans, but I usually mix them with something else. I’ll have to give this a try this week.

    • Rebecca says:

      One thing that we have found to help our kids get through is that protein for breakfast/snacks goes a long way to help. We’ll throw peanut butter on a banana or with pretzels a couple hours after breakfast or before dinner, and that seems to really help. Maybe for you…?

  5. Kim says:

    I will buy a few turkeys and cook and can them for meals. I buy several boneless hams around Christmas and have them slice it half inch thick. I then take it and chop most of it for soups and casseroles. I leave some for ham dinner and some for chipped sandwiches. I also buy chicken buy the box at a local butcher for quite a discount and cook and freeze it into 3/4 pound packages. We add this to soups, casseroles, and rice for cheap meals. At our local IGA they offer ground sausage for a 1.29 a pound on sale and I like to buy 25 pounds and also freeze in 3/4 pound packages. This helps stretch our food budget quite a bit. I use a lot of potatoes, beans and rice as fillers on many meals. We eat a lot of pasta based dishes, too. We make pizza twice a week. Suppers have on occasion a fruit or vegetable as a side. My husband is on the list for any deer that may get hit on the highway. Many times one back leg is broken but the rest of the deer is in perfect condition. Check your local Sheriff and State Patrol to see if they have a list. Free meat is always good.
    For lunches I will make a thin soup with crackers and bread twice a week. We have egg, ham, or peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. We have noodles with cream sauce several times a week. We have rolls or bread available when someone is hungry. I make cookies and sweet breads for a treat. Homemade pretzels are fun and filling, too.
    Our breakfasts consist of cereal from Aldis, pancakes, biscuits and gravy, waffles, and oatmeal. These are all made from scratch and are either bagged or frozen for convenience. I’m not a morning person. 🙂
    Snacks are apples, bananas, air-popped popcorn, or salsa and chips. I don’t buy bags of chips or pretzels. They can eat these too fast and wipe me out of a lot of money in no time. 😉
    I plant a large garden and can all that is available. I try to find apple, pear and apricot to can. A lot of older and younger people who have fruit trees can’t use all the fruit and are willing to share.
    We basically eat the same meals for a two week period and then I start over. We eat seasonally: Soups in the fall, roast, casseroles and potatoes based in the winter and into spring. We then grill a lot in the late spring and summer and have lots of greens, salads, fresh fruit. I typically spend around 80.00 a week on groceries for our family of 6 (Larry, Me, 19, 15, 10,7, plus our grand baby).
    By Grace Alone,
    Kim

  6. Mary Johnson says:

    That chicken casserole recipe is not enough for 11 people. 2 chicken beasts divided between 11 people is NOT enough protein, especially for growing children! I urfe you to consider Wic and food stamps, God would not want his children to go without.

    • Word Warrior says:

      Don’t be silly, Mary. One meal with two chicken breast is not going to deprive my family of needed protein (besides that, store-bought chicken is hardly “nutritious”). We get probably more protein than the typical family who lives largely off pre-packaged and fast food. Beans, fruit, nuts, etc…”His children” aren’t going without.

    • Laura says:

      Mary,
      I might agree with you if that was standard or the cream type fare, but understand, with small children, who eat like birds, you might have them eat 1/2 cp each, plus a bit of salad and 1/2 slice of bread…So some shredds of chicken, rice, cheese, etc will be plenty for them…After all that is still more food in one meal than most people the world over eat in a day…and when you combine having eggs for breakfast, chesse/peanut butter for lunch and plenty of water to drink, with some fresh veggies/fruits/nuts in there somewhere, it’s FINE. Besides, I used to get WIC when my first babies were small, and my WIC nurse told me that the cost of formula was high BECAUSE of WIC…(ieif the govt pays for it, and 80% of people “qualify” for WIC, they make enough money to keep it high), So if there was no WIC, formula would HAVE To be cheaper…or ladies would have to breastfeed more often…We got off WIC years ago and have no desire to go back on. Three cheers for Kelly! Who won’t use government money to feed her kids! Horray!(wink)

    • Laura says:

      I find it interesting that you say glibbly, “God would not want his children to go without”…yet throughout Scripture, there are countless times in history when those who were God’s people (either Jew or Christian) who did indeed have to go without…or very simple fare…like manna for 40 years…or the famine during Joseph’s time. Or the Apostle Paul shipwrecked and other trials…or Christians during WWII, trying to help the Jews, and the Jews themselves. The Love of God isn’t always manifest in the “bounty” we see that HE gives us, but often in the sufficiency of what appears to be the lack that we see…faith girl!

  7. Mary Johnson says:

    *I meant chicken breasts, not beasts. Also, urge not urfe. lol.

  8. Cissy says:

    Oh, I forgot my favorite snack! Roasted chickpeas! Crunchy, tasty, filling and CHEAP! Almost enough to make you forget you have teenaged boys in the house. Almost.

    Sweet potato and peanut soup and butternut squash soup are favorites, too.

  9. Calli says:

    Similar breakfasts: baked oats, stove oats, eggs of all kinds, and mixed grains with fruit (quinoa, chickpeas, orzo, etc). Eggrolls with eggs inside are also yummy, as are huevos rancheros (eggs with beans, cheese, and salsa basically).

    Similar lunches, but also baked potatoes, roasted butternut squash (pureed with some milk and poured over noodles is yummy), and vegetables with rice. On my bean cooking day the kids will eat pinto beans with salsa for lunch. (I opt for salad!) Or I will puree white beans to make a sauce for rice or noodles. We eat lots of quesadillas which use up leftovers.

    I aim for at least one fresh fruit or veggie with every meal and as many others (frozen, canned) as we can get in.

  10. natasha says:

    I don’t have any suggestions lol. my husband and I love to cook, so it’s painful for us to curb our food budget. If we played the lotto and won, I’d spend most of that money in the grocery store and I’d enjoy every minute. Meat is so expensive, at least where we live. I get so sick of eating cheap ground chuck and whole chicken. we don’t eat pork. Roasts have not been on sale in a long time. Next time beef drops i am buying a whole cow. Oh and I love good cheese like gouda, gorgonzola, gruyere, brie etc. I have to wait for them to go on clearance. I’ll have to try the oatmeal and eggs. My daughter loves oatmeal but hates eggs. I think it’s a texture thing.

    Well…I do make my own breads and pizza. I use my bread machine for the pizza dough and it’s super easy and delicious. I’ve been making yeast rolls in the bread machine too for my soups. I find I can use cheap flour for my pizza and rolls and cakes, and I save the good flour for cookies. We buy a lot of store brand items and I only buy items on sale, and when they go way down I buy a lot. Butter was on sale this week for 2.00$ a lb, and I bought 12lbs, if I was without my husband that day I would have bought 50lbs of butter at that price!

  11. Charity says:

    Well, I guess I don’t really have any great tips, although we have lots of meatless meals (but that will get me fussed at 😉 ) and when there are just little bits of this and that left from meals, then soup is made. A little leftover shredded pork, corn, pinto beans, rice, and a little seasonings and homemade stock form the freezer and we’ve got yummy soup for supper. I pretty much always have things on hand for homemade biscuits, cornbread, or yeast rolls and this really stretches and completes our meals in a frugal way. All of our four children eat like grown men and the oldest is only 6 years old, so I’m sure I’m going to have my work cut out for me on finding frugal ways to fill them up as they grow older, and as our family continues to grow. 🙂

  12. Katherine says:

    Get the book ‘Artisan Bread In Five Minutes A Day’. Oh my, oh my,
    what a gem, what a time saver, and what truly fabulous bread.
    I will never go back to the old way of bread making. Now we keep
    a variety of bread dough in our refrigerator and I’m ready for
    company or hungry teens on a day when there isn’t much in the pantry.
    Love your blog and God bless you for the good work you do.

  13. I cook meats with the fat in it, because it makes the meal healthier, more nutritious and filling. SO chicken is cooked with skin on and meat with their fat left intact. I like to add spices, garlic, onion and herbs for flavoring. I usually make stock with left over bones. IF you simmer those bones for 24 hours, your stock will be full of minerals and collagen that is so good and important for the immune system. I then add beans, veggies and greens to that stock. I store the stock only in the freezer and when I don’t have much to cook, I add veggies, and scrambled eggs to it, making Chinese egg noodle soup.

    Lunch here used to be sandwiches or pizza on corn tortillas, but we are now wheat free. So we eat a lot of fruits, veggies, peanut butters, eggs and left overs. Soup is a big one. Salads too! AVocados and salmon!

    I like to make chilli which is mostly beans, sometimes NO meat at all. I add some mushrooms or eggplants to it, depending on what is cheaper or available to pretend it’s meat. Add the normal chilli seasoning and my kids eat it all up!

    We never eat store bought cereal. I prefer to feed the kids eggs, sweet potatoes or fruit salad with ricota for breakfast. We eat a LOT of eggs.

    We pretty much live on $100/ week for food for a family of 6! My kids are 10 y.o. to 3 y.o. and they eat a lot. No birds here!! Or overweight kids! I don’t have a budget… we go with what God provides every week. So far He has always been faithful! He will do the same for you!

    PS for the hungry kids… make sure you are giving them FAT loaded foods, NO skim milk, or LOW fat yogurt. Kids need that fat to grow strong bones and teeth. And when they eat animal fat they are satisfied with less. Check out this video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p3ehzZ3yNyw&list=PL04292AB0B8535A24&index=6

    • 6 arrows says:

      Tereza,

      Thanks for the video link; I’ll have to watch it when I have more time. I have Sally Fallon’s book Nourishing Traditions, and there is a wealth of excellent information in that book.

    • natasha says:

      so nice to hear someone else preach about fat and how important it is to include it in our diet.

  14. I love that I keep stumbling upon posts about frugal meals… I have 6 kids age seven and under and even with the 9 month old only breastfeeding at this point, suddenly the leftovers aren’t left-over anymore. We try to help the kids realize whether they’re truly hungry or just ‘want’ more because it’s a meal they particularly like. I think everyone’s hitting a growth spurt at the same time because they keep asking for more. 😉

    Lunch is definitely one I still haven’t figured out. I don’t like to feel like I’m just making and cleaning up meals all day, so having lunch made ahead would be nice (we tend to do PB&J a lot, but that’s not really all that cost effective), but we also end up doing ‘hodge podge’ lunches, which consist of string cheese, boiled egg, apple slices with peanut butter, and maybe some homemade bread. Quick fix and easy clean up. And they feel like they’re having a fun snack, so that’s a bonus. 🙂

    Really enjoying your blog.

  15. Carolina says:

    Lentils. They are unexpensive, healthy and filling. both brown lentis and pink lentis.If you combine them with rice, you get a proteine. Same thing with beans.
    I love to brown (with onions, garlic and maybe peppers) any kind of grounded meat, then add to it any kind of tomato (fresh, left over pasta sauce, canned, paste), just a little is enough, then add about the same amount of cooked rice or quinoa, and top it with several cans of rinsed, beans (if they have different colours they look better). You may add some cheese or cream. And if you add fresh cilantro to it, even better. When i have fresh cilantro i wash it, let it dry a little and then freeze in a zip log bag. When I need it, just take a little bit out, cut it in the cutting board (when it is frozen it cuts very well) and add it to the dish.

  16. Rebecca says:

    This is an interesting article for me (and to read through the comments). Right now we’re a growing family and our food “budget” has gone haywire. I’ve tried to search for cheap meal ideas, only to find that the $5 dinners serve 4… not going to work for our family. I’m not a very creative cook, even though I’ve been at it for a long time now… more of a “recipe follower” rather than a “throw it together” type person. Even after being a mamma for a long while now, reading all kind of ideas/blogs, I’m still completely stuck as to how to cut our costs. Does anyone know of some good (tasting) and cheap recipe sites available?

    • natasha says:

      try http://emeals.com/ They plan dinners for you based on what’s on sale at the store you shop at. Maybe that will help you get started. Dave ramsey recommended. I don’t know if it’s cheap enough for you but it would take out the hassle of planning and finding recipes.

    • Laura says:

      Seriously, you need to become a throw-it-together cook…It is much cheaper to know the foundations of foods, rather than religiously sticking to a recipe…It’s also easier to know how to substitute cheaper ingredients, and get a similar result…I use very few recipes, because all the basics are in my head. So, for our family of 6(4 kids), a week of meals might be: meatloaf/potatoes/veggie; homemade pizza with homemade crumble sausage/onion; Spaghetti/meatballs/salad; Ham/rice/veg casserole; roast chicken/potatoes/veggies/biscuits; chicken stew/dumplings….I can make all those without a recipe…except for maybe the bread items(crust, biscuits)…and they all are variable depending on how much I can spend. You see, a lot of recipes call for things like cream soup, seasoning packets, and such…All that gets expensive and bad for you! Knowing basics like how long it takes rice to cook, how long it takes potatoes to cook, how to roast some basic cuts of meat/poultry, how to make a good white sauce, how long it takes certain veggies to cook etc…how to make good soup stock and so on…keeping a large stock of bulk herbs/spices on hand for seasoning, and know how to cook from staples…my email is claybyfaith@yahoo.com if you would like to send a specific question…I LOVE discussing meals/planning!

      • Rebecca says:

        Thank you for the website ideas, and Laura, thank you for the encouragement! When I read through your list of your normal meals, they are similar to ours and I DO make most of those things from my head – I guess I took for granted how much I already do without thinking. I suppose when I say I am a “recipe-follower”, I meant more that I need a recipe for a new idea, as opposed to being able to look in my pantry and “throw together” something that I’ve never done before out of whatever is on hand. I am simply stuck in our norm and can’t figure out how to branch out in cheaper ways. We actually don’t eat much (though still some) processed and packaged foods. I am working on eliminating them in “2 degree adjustments” as my husband calls them. You encouraged me greatly by reminding me that maybe I just need to try based on what I already do and know. Thank you! 🙂

        • Laura says:

          A common one I make from time to time is a homemade version of “packaged” meals. Take a starch (pasta, rice, or potatoes), pick whether to make it creamy (milk-based) or herbed/tomatoey(broth/tomato/herbed base), see what veggies you have and would go with it (I wouldn’t do broccoli with mexican flavored:)(like creamy would go good with carrots, peas/beans, broccoli, herbed would do well with corn/peppers/onions kind of thing). Figure out what bit of meat you have left over (roast, chicken, ham, whatever). Chop veggies, set up to cook starches with right amount of water/milk, add veggies to cook along with em(I often saute some onion first, then add everything else).What carefully and when it’s cooked through, add your bit of meat, chopped up, and blend in thickener if it needs it, and add your cheese (if needed), and prep toppings (like sour cream, chopped tomatoes or whatever). I’ve done tex/mex rice kind of things, or rice/creamy chicken kind of things, or meaty/beef/tomatoey kind of things…all good. Just be sure to use meat stock to cook(or broth). One pot meals at their finest! Fried rice goes far too. Make extra (double) rice at one meal and the next day, saute onions in fry pan(2 med) with oil or butter, add shredded carrots, chopped celery, peppers or whatever you have or like (add some peas or broc florets for bright green!), fry em in with the onions for several minutes til they get toasty and wilty. Add 2-4 cups of cold cooked rice and chopped leftover meat(ckicken and ham work good). Add a couple glugs of soy sauce, some pepper, and a TBSP sugar. Stir and fry with extra oil (if dry) til hot, mixed and fragrant. Serve.

  17. Sherri says:

    I am a long-time reader but a first-time commentor. I really enjoy your web-site. Here is a favorite lunch idea that is very cost-effective–tortilla pizzas. We take a tortilla and spread on some pizza sauce (homemade from tomato paste), then we add pepperoni or whatever meat we have in the fridge, toppings and a small amount of cheese and then bake it until it’s warm and melted. Delicious, cheap and very quick! We also make mexican pizzas by using refried beans instead of sauce, then we add salsa, onions or hot peppers, beef and a little cheese. These are VERY good folded in half and grilled until warm. Top with sour cream if desired. Keep up the good work! We need voices like yours speaking loud and clear.

    • Word Warrior says:

      Sherri,

      Hi! Thank you for this reminder. We do this too and the kids love it. Especially refried beans (made from dried pintos)…they can really go a long way and are an easy/cheap way to add nutrition. You’re making me hungry.

  18. Natalie says:

    OK Kelly, I think Mary Johnson (the smart Wic-er-alec) is Kathy. Or is it Karen? Penelope? George? Just sayin…and the rest of you sweethearts, just ignore me. I’m sleep deprived.

    • Charity says:

      We better all be careful and watch our backs. They’re gonna be grabbing up their Obama-phones left and right to report us everyone! 😀

  19. Dana S. says:

    I’m sure this isn’t an earth-shaking tip, but we can stretch out money further when we have meat in a meal, and not its own dish. An example would be making hamburgers for us (we are only 4) would cost a lot more in hamburger than using hamburger to make spaghetti. I will buy a package of hamburger that’s 3lbs or so and mix it with turkey sausage or ground venison to make it go even further. Then I freeze part of it to use in another meal.

    There are a few exceptions, of course. A whole turkey is half the price per pound of just about any beef. I’ll cook a turkey and we’ll have it one night like its Thanksgiving, the next night as turkey manhattans, then as soup, and the rest gets frozen.

    Somehow, my daughters were introduced to ramen noodles. They have very little nutritional value, but a lot of salt. So once a week I’ll make 2 packages together. Then I’ll whisk an egg into it, making it “egg drop soup”. Then I’ll start throwing in any leftover veggies or bits of meat that are hanging out in the fridge. Before long, it doesn’t really resemble ramen noodles–but my girls haven’t figured that out yet. 😉

  20. Laura says:

    THe other day I made ham/cheese/broccoli pockets. Using homemade dough, I filled them with a creamy hame/cheese/broccoli mixture, folded over, pinched shut and baked. REALLY good!

  21. Word Warrior says:

    I’m closing the comments to this post because of the idiotic responses I keep getting about “not feeding my family enough”. I appreciate your perspectives and all, but I do not appreciate your assumptions and misconstruing of reality. Nor do I appreciate your interference into what you think is enough for my family without any idea of appetites and other food we eat.

    Perhaps it never occurred to you who have rudely offered your opinions about how little I love my children, chicken casserole made with 2 chicken breasts isn’t all we ate that day (it’s as if you assume that). Salad is also healthy and in fact, some people eat an occasional meal of only salad. And what if we were vegetarians? You don’t see my little people’s plates when I have served them a small helping of a dish and they leave food on their plates. You didn’t see the apples and bananas they had for afternoon snacks, the nuts and cheese for later in the evening.

    And the irony! Most children eat pop tarts for breakfast, off to school to eat some kind of fake food for lunch, chips, candy bars and cokes for snacks, then on game days stop for a burger or hotdog for supper. If their moms works, they likely eat out several more times during the week and/or eat boxed, preservative-laden, unnutritious food most of the rest of the week. Add to that they sit under fluorescent lighting all day, without the proper amounts of Vitamin D or exercise. Mine is not the blog you need to be sharing health concerns for my children.

    There are some things worthy of discussion, especially as I invite that on this blog.

    My love for my children based on a recipe is not one of them.

  22. […] Generation Cedar shares creative ideas for making cheap meals. […]

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