These suggestions may be higher in fat in some cases so those types shouldn’t be used for every meal. Adding side vegetables, salads, or fruit will help to balance them out. If calories or fat content is an issue, choose low or non-fat ingredients when possible. Low fat and no fat cheeses have come a long way and no longer taste and look like plastic. No fat margarine tastes great. Use the spray bottled no fat margarine for corn on the cob and other veggies or toast. You’ll use less. The only low fat product I will not buy is Miracle Whip or Mayo. To me, it has the consistency of school glue and not much flavor. I buy the full versions but use as little as possible.
Many of these meals are also quick and very easy to make. You can find others by searching recipe databases on the internet or buying low cost meal cookbooks. Some good deals can be found on eBay, in thrift stores and at garage sales.
The problem with the super cheap frozen pizzas is that they don’t have enough cheese and the toppings are poor. Buy these when they’re on sale for under $1 and add a bit of your own shredded mozzarella. Buy the store brand cheese. Unless you have access to fresh mozzarella, the bagged cheeses are pretty much all the same. Save the rest of the cheese for another use. Add some sliced pepperoni and any other toppings you like. This is a low cost alternative to ordering out for Friday night pizza.
Crescent roll stromboli
Use two cans of crescent rolls. The store brand is just as good as name brands. Unroll the dough without breaking it into the triangles and slightly overlap the two rectangles to make a large rectangle. Use a rolling pin or glass, and gently roll over the dough to seal the perforations. Use a sharp knife to cut strips into the long sides on both sides. The strips should be about 1 ½” wide and 3” inches deep but leave about 1“ uncut on each end. Place filling into middle of the rectangle but leave about 1” on each end clear of the filling. Filling suggestions are below. Or fill with fruit pie filling, brush the top with butter (or use your spray bottle) and sprinkle with sugar and you have a quick dessert. Now take one strip from the left side and give it one twist then place on top. Do the same with the first strip on the right side. Alternate sides until all strips are on top. Pinch ends so filling won’t leak out. Bake at 350 degrees for 20-25 minutes or until golden brown.
This is very filling and will last through two meals unless you have a large family. Add sliced fruit or a salad to round out the meal. Some filling suggestions are listed below but you can be creative with your own combinations.
Reuben - ½ pound shaved corned beef, 1 cup or more sauerkraut, a few slices of Swiss cheese, Thousand Island dressing drizzled over the sauerkraut before adding cheese
Broccoli, Ham and Cheese - ½ pound deli or lunch meat ham, shredded or sliced cheddar cheese, frozen broccoli florets, ¾ cup (defrost in microwave and cut up large pieces), Dijon mustard
Mexican - !/2 pound ground beef, browned and drained, Mexican or 4-cheese, shredded, 1 can of refried beans, 1 6oz can of taco sauce or salsa. You can top this after baking with sour cream, jalapenos, tomatoes, shredded lettuce, etc
Pizza - 1 pkg of sliced or diced pepperoni, chopped onions and green pepper, 1 small can of mushrooms, Shredded mozzarella cheese,1 6oz can of pizza sauce
Chicken Parmesan with Penne Pasta
2 skinless, boneless chicken breasts
½ cup Parmesan cheese, 1 clove of garlic minced
3 tbsp of margarine
¾ box of penne pasta
Cut up chicken into bite sized pieces. Heat water for pasta and cook according to package directions. Use a large frying pan and melt one tbsp margarine. Add chicken, garlic, and salt and pepper. Saute until done, about 6 minutes. Drain and sprinkle with a few tbsp of the parmesan cheese. Let the cheese melt onto the chicken while hot Drain the pasta and add the other 2 tbsp of margarine. Add the chicken and the rest of the parmesan cheese and stir until coated. Add a canned or frozen vegetable to complete the meal. This dish will serve four easily.
Crunchy Dijon Drumsticks
6-8 chicken drumsticks
3 tbsp Dijon mustard
2 tbsp parmesan cheese
1 tsp melted margarine
Remove the skin from the drumsticks. Melt the margarine and add to the mustard and cheese in a small shallow bowl. Coat each drumstick in the mustard mixture and then roll in cracker crumbs. Place in ungreased baking pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes for medium to large drumsticks. Add boxed macaroni and cheese and a vegetable.
This is one of the few prepared foods that is a good buy and tasty too. One pan is around $10 and can easily feed a family of four for two meals. Homemade is better, of course, but time-consuming and costly. The frozen product is a great substitute and is wonderful for days you don’t feel like cooking. Add a salad or a vegetable and you have dinner.
Chicken Corn Chowder and Ramen Noodles
2 cans of chicken corn chowder
3 pkgs of chicken flavored Ramen noodles
Cook noodles according to package directions but drain. Heat soup in microwave. Pour soup over noodles and serve. Super easy and kids love this dish!
Sea Monster Noodles
4 hot dogs
4 pkgs chicken flavored Ramen noodles
A few drops of blue food coloring (optional)
Take each hot dog and slice it into quarters but only about a little less than half way up length-wise. Boil the hotdogs and the “legs” will curl. Cook noodles according to directions and drain. Add a few drops of the food coloring and stir well. Place the noodles on a plate. Sit the hotdog so it stands up on the “sea”. Add eyes and mouth with mustard to the hot dog. Kids will eat this up!
Getting kids to eat veggies is sometimes difficult but not if you get silly with your food. Kids love fantasy games and will enjoy thinking up other names to call vegetables and won’t remember they don’t like veggies.
- Canned corn is skeleton teeth.
- Broccoli are little trees.
- Mashed potatoes are clouds.
- Peas are little bowling balls.
- Add a ranch dressing for a dip for raw carrots, celery and broccoli.
- Ants on a log. Celery stalks with peanut butter and raisins.
Cook instant or regular oatmeal according to directions. Make it a bit thicker than usual. Stir in 3 tbsp of bacon bits. Cool, then form into patties. Fry in a 1 tbsp butter until crispy on outsides. Serve with maple syrup and sliced apples.
Place two cups of crumbled corn chips on the bottom of a baking dish. Add 1 large can of chili with meat and beans. Add ¼ cup chopped onions if desired. Sprinkle 1 cup of shredded cheddar cheese on top. Put 2 more cups of crumbled corn chips on top. Bake at 350 degrees for 25 minutes. To each serving, add shredded lettuce and diced tomatoes. Add a dollop of sour cream if desired.
Dinty Moore Beef Stew with Noodles
Cook one package of wide egg noodles according to package directions and drain. Heat a can of Dinty Moore beef stew in the microwave. Pour stew on top of noodles and serve.
Open Face Egg and Ham Sandwiches
Scramble 6 eggs and add ½ cup of diced lunch meat ham. You may also add diced onions and green pepper. Scramble until done. Divide and spoon onto 4 slices of toast. Place one slice of American cheese on top and microwave for 15 seconds. Add sliced bananas to thawed frozen strawberries for a side dish.
Cabbage and Bacon
Slice cabbage into thin strips and saute in 2 tbsp margarine with 3 tbsp bacon bits. Serve this with the recipe below.
Chopped “Steak” with gravy
Use 1 pound of ground beef. Use the 88% lean or lower and drain well. If you drain the grease well, the meat will have a better flavor than more the more leaner mixes. Form into large thin patties and broil or grill. Drain. Mix one package of mushroom gravy, heat according to package directions and pour over patties.
Ham, Green Beans and Potatoes
2 large cans of Italian cut green beans
1 pkg lunchmeat ham
6 medium new potatoes
2 tbsp margarine
3 tbsp honey
1 tbsp Mrs Dash (my favorite spice; it adds so much flavor and most don't know what is in the dish)
Salt and pepper to taste
Wash and chop potatoes into bite sized pieces. Boil in water for 10 minutes. Drain, transfer to large pot and add the margarine. Pour both cans of beans into the pot without draining. Cut the ham into bite sized pieces and add to pot. Add the honey and Mrs Dash and heat thoroughly.
Pigs in a Blanket
1 pkg hot dogs
4 slices of American cheese
1 pkg of crescent rolls
Slice each hot dog lengthwise but not all the way through. Take ½ of a slice of cheese and fold it into strips. Place the strips into the slit of the hot dog. Wrap each hot dog in a crescent roll, starting with the cheese side down. Bake according to the crescent roll directions.
Vegetable Beef Stew/Soup
1 large pkg of frozen veggies (or use a bag of saved leftover veggies)
1-2 lbs of round steak (cheaper than stew meat already cut up)
2 cans tomato soup
1 can beef broth
2 tbsp Mrs Dash, salt and pepper to taste
Bisquick dumplings (optional)
Trim fat off the round steak and cut into bite sized pieces. Place in a paper bag with about ¼ cup of flour. Shake to coat. Heat oil in a Dutch oven or large pot. Brown the meat, then drain off oil. Add the tomato soup and beef broth and simmer over med-low heat for one hour or until tender. Add the veggies and Mrs Dash. Add 1 tsp of salt if desired. Heat until veggies are hot but don't overcook. Add the dumplings, if desired and continue cooking according to Bisquick package.
Chicken and Noodles
1 pkg of chicken thighs (thighs have the most flavor and are cheap)
2 cans chicken broth
1 pkg noodles
2 celery stalks
1 small onion
Wash the chicken and pat dry. Place in a large pot and cover with water. Wash the celery and carrot. Cut off the tops and bottoms, but don't peel the carrot as it has lots of nutrients. Cut into big chunks. Put these in the pot with the chicken (you'll throw them out later). Cut the onion in half and add one half to the pot. Bring 2 qts of water to a boil then simmer for about 15 minutes. Remove the chicken and cool. Remove the chicken from the bones and place the bones back in the pot. Simmer for an hour (this step can be skipped but it adds a lot of flavor). Strain the broth (throw out bones and veggie chunks) and wipe the top of the broth with a lettuce leaf to remove any fat/oil. Or chill in the frig first and scoop off the grease. Add the diced celery, carrot and the rest of the onion, diced. Add more water if needed. Simmer for 10 minutes then add chicken and noodles. Simmer for 10 minutes or until noodles are cooked, stir every few minutes.
Ground Beef Stroganoff
1-2 pounds ground beef (use the cheapest, then rinse it with hot water and drain)
1 can mushrooms
2 cans of brown gravy
4oz sour cream
1 pkg noodles
Brown the ground beef thoroughly and drain. Cook noodles according to package and drain. Add the mushrooms and gravy to ground beef and heat. Stir in sour cream and remove from heat. Serve over the noodles.
2 pounds ground beef
1 pkg shredded mozzarella
1 bottle pizza sauce (can use leftover spaghetti sauce)
Green pepper, onions, mushrooms (optional, use whatever you like on pizzas)
Pound the ground beef fairly well so it will stick together. Make a rectangle of the beef on a sheet of plastic wrap or waxed paper. Spread the sauce on the beef, then sprinkle the cheese and add any other toppings you like. Lift one side of a short end of the rectangle's paper, start rolling it up while peeling off the paper. When it is completely rolled, press the seam a little and then place the roll in a shallow baking dish. Bake at 375 degrees for 50 minutes
Ham, Peas, and Macaroni and Cheese
1 pkg of lunchmeat ham (rectangles)
1/3 pkg of frozen peas (don't use canned)
2 boxes macaroni and cheese
Prepare the macaroni and cheese according to the package directions. In the meantime, put peas in the microwave for 3 minutes on med-high. Chop the ham into bite sized pieces. Once macaroni and cheese is prepared, add the ham and peas and stir.
1 jar of spaghetti sauce
1 package of pepperoni chunks
1 small can of mushrooms
1 8oz pkg cream cheese softened
Shredded mozzarella cheese
Diced and sauteed onions and green pepper (optional)
Put the sauce and cream cheese in a pot and heat on low until cheese is melted. Make sure all the cheese is completely melted and stir occassionally. Add the other ingredients except the cheese. Heat on med-low setting for 5 minutes. Spoon into bowls then top with a few spoons of cheese. It will melt in the soup. This is delicious and filling with a side salad.
Sauted Garlic Potatoes
Use 3 cans of sliced potatoes (often on sale) or 6 medium fresh potatoes, peeled and sliced thin. Put one tbsp of olive oil in a large frying pan and heat. Add the potatoes and 2 garlic cloves, minced. Salt and pepper the potatoes. Stir frequently until potatoes brown and are crisp on the outsides.
Sour cream, parsley potatoes
Peel and dice 8-12 medium potatoes and boil until tender. Drain. Return potatoes to pot. Add 3 tbsp margarine and 4oz sour cream. Mash all together but leave some chunks. Add 1 tbsp dried parsley and mix.
Peel 8 medium potatoes and rinse. Grate potatoes into hash brown type texture. Melt 4 tbsp margarine in frying pan. Saute potatoes until just turning crispy on outsides. Do not stir too often but flip in batches. Salt and pepper to taste.
This is my “famous” recipe and makes quite a bit. People always ask me for this recipe but are surprised when they see the ingredients. You can use it for two meals or a very large group for dinner.
10 medium potatoes
6 boiled eggs
1 cup chopped celery
1 cup chopped onion
1 tbsp sugar
2 tbsp vinegar
2 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper
1 tbsp chili powder
1 cup Miracle Whip (do not use mayo)
Boil potatoes and remove skins when cool enough to handle. Insides should still be warm. Dice potatoes and place in large bowl. Sprinkle the warm potatoes with sugar, salt, pepper and chili powder then sprinkle with vinegar. Stir mixture together. Let sit for at least 30 minutes but not more than one hour. Peel boiled eggs and chop until very fine. Add eggs, celery and onion to potato mixture and mix. Add the Miracle Whip and mix well. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes. If salad looks dry, add more Miracle Whip one tablespoon at a time. Potato and egg sizes can differ so you may need more Miracle Whip but be careful not to add too much. You want the salad to be coated but not dripping.
Easy Mock Caesar Salad
Romaine lettuce, washed and torn into bite sized pieces
Cherry tomatoes or diced tomatoes
Wedge of parmesan cheese, grated
Bottled Caesar salad dressing
We have this salad several times a week as a side dish. Buy the hard wedge of parmesan in your cheese section of the grocery store. It will last quite a long time if sealed properly and refrigerated. Only small amounts are needed for salads and other dishes. By using fresh cheese, you do not need to use as much so the price is lower than the processed cheese in the green cans. The difference in flavor and texture is so amazing, you may never buy any other type of parmesan cheese.
Cherry tomatoes cost a bit more but I find they last much longer so the slight difference in cost is worth it. It’s also convenient to wash and store the cherry tomatoes, then grab a few for salads.
8 ears corn on the cob
1 cup milk
2 tbsp sugar
Salt and pepper
My mother in law gave me this tip for the end of season corn on the cob when it’s not as flavorful. This recipe will reproduce the flavor of just picked corn.
Cut corn off the cob and place in large sauce pan with the milk and sugar. Stir well to dissolve the sugar. Simmer 15 minutes but do not let milk boil or foam up. If it start to froth, remove from heat and lower burner heat. Drain the milk and season with salt and pepper.
Most of these meals were designed with kids or teens in mind but hopefully you will find some ideas to use or find others that work for your family. This section turned out to be too long so I will add low cost desserts in Part 4.