If you’re on a tight budget, trying to live simply, or if you’re just frugal by nature, I’m sure you have bemoaned the cost of feeding a family these days. In past blog posts I have talked about food you can regrow from scraps, and saving money with coupons. Today I want to add to that food budget saving toolkit by sharing with you all some of my favorite cheap meals that you and your family will love.
*Make your own chicken stock for FREE: This isn’t a meal, I know, but chicken stock is the foundation for a ton of recipes, and it’s kind of expensive. A few years ago I learned how easy it is to make it yourself and I have been doing it ever since; I call it “liquid gold.” When your family eats chicken, hold on to those bones! Same goes for veggies that are not so fresh, but not actually rotten (I keep 2 large zipper bags in my freezer). As an added bonus, you can control the sodium in your stock and it’s free of preservatives and artificial ingredients!
– Roughly three chickens worth of bones
– Assortment of vegetables (fair warning: broccoli doesn’t smell good when it’s cooking away for hours, and your house will stink for days, so think twice about including broccoli)
In a large stock pot, combine the bones, vegetables, and a generous sprinkling of salt. Add enough water to cover everything, and simmer, covered, for about 4 hours. After four hours, allow the stock to cool and then remove the solids. Pour through a fine strainer into 3 cup containers, and freeze until ready to use.
*Rice and Beans: Last fall my church accepted a challenge from Venture Expeditions to spend an entire week eating rice and beans for our evening meal. I was amazed by how much money I saved. We still had our normal breakfasts and lunches, but dinners of rice and beans lowered my grocery bill by $60 that week. Since then, we have continued to include Rice and Beans in our regular dinner rotation. Here are two favorite recipes I found during Hope For Dinner:
Best-Ever Black Bean Soup with Cilantro Lime Rice from Iowa Girl Eats:
-1 Tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
-1/2 small onion, minced
-2 garlic cloves
-2 teaspoons chili powder
-1/4 teaspoon cumin
-2 cans seasoned black beans, drained but not rinsed
-1-1/2 cups water
-1 cup chicken broth
-4-5 dashes green Tabasco sauce
Toppings: sliced avocado, salsa, sour cream, cilantro
For the Cilantro-Lime Rice:
-1 cup long grain white rice
-2 cups water
-1 Tablespoon canola or vegetable oil (I used olive oil, it’s the only one I keep around)
-1/2 teaspoon salt
-juice of 1/2 lime
-3 Tablespoons chopped cilantro (my fam isn’t into cilantro, so I kept this on the side)
Directions: Heat oil in a large soup pot over medium heat. Add onion, season with salt and pepper, then sauté until soft, about 10 minutes. Add garlic and sauté for 30 more seconds, stirring constantly. Add chili powder and cumin then sauté for 30 more seconds.
Add drained beans, water, and chicken broth, bring soup to a boil, then lower heat slightly and simmer for 15 minutes. Scoop 2 ladle-fulls of soup into a blender or food processor then blend until almost smooth. Alternatively use a hand-held immersion blender to process 1/3 of the beans in the soup pot. Add blended soup back into the pot then add hot sauce and stir to combine.
For the Chipotle-Lime Rice: While soup is simmering, bring water, oil, and salt to a boil in a saucepan. Add rice, place a lid on top, then turn heat down to medium-low and simmer until rice is tender, about 15 minutes. Stir to fluff then add lime juice and chopped cilantro.
To serve, scoop cooked rice into bottom of bowls then top with hot soup. Top with sliced avocado, salsa, sour cream, etc.
*Cauliflower “alfredo”: Pasta is an inexpensive meal, but pasta sauces aren’t healthy, and they can be kind of expensive. This “alfredo” sauce made from cauliflower is healthy and so, so delicious:
Creamy Cauliflower Sauce from Pinch of Yum (bonus other dishes with this sauce on the blog post) – size adjusted my me:
-4 large cloves garlic, minced
-2 tablespoons butter
-1 head of cauliflower, cut into florets
-3 cups chicken stock
-1 teaspoon salt (more to taste)
-½ teaspoon pepper (more to taste)
-½ cup milk (more to taste)
Sauté the minced garlic with the butter in a large nonstick skillet over low heat. Cook for several minutes until the garlic is soft and fragrant but not browned (browned or burnt garlic will taste bitter). Remove from heat and set aside.
Cauliflower: Bring the water or vegetable broth to a boil in a large pot. Add the cauliflower and cook, covered, for 7-10 minutes or until cauliflower is fork tender. Do not drain.
Puree: Use a slotted spoon to transfer the cauliflower pieces to the blender. Add 1 cup vegetable broth or cooking liquid, sautéed garlic/butter, salt, pepper, and milk. Blend or puree for several minutes until the sauce is very smooth, adding more broth or milk depending on how thick you want the sauce. You may have to do this in batches depending on the size of your blender. Serve hot! If the sauce starts to look dry, add a few drops of water, milk, or olive oil.
*Goulash and Briar Patch Bake: These aren’t particularly healthy, but sometimes you just need a quick, easy dinner that’s cheap!
Goulash (don’t shoot me! I know this isn’t REALLY goulash, that’s just what we called it growing up)
-2 cups elbow macaroni
– ½ pound ground beef, browned (if you have a larger family, use a whole pound. As is this will serve 3-4 adults)
-1 can of concentrated tomato soup
Boil the macaroni until tender. Combine the pasta, beef, and soup concentrate (do not add water or milk). Stir together over low heat until heated through. Top with cheddar cheese.
Briar Patch Bake:
-2 boxes of macaroni and cheese, made according to package directions
– ½ pound ground beef (again, you can make this with a whole pound if you want it meatier or have a bigger family to feed)
-1 cup barbecue sauce
-1/2 of a medium onion, chopped
Cook mac and cheese according to package directions. While it’s cooking, brown the meat with the onion until the onion is tender and no pink remains in the meat. Add the barbecue sauce to the meat. In a greased casserole dish, layer ½ of the mac and cheese, ½ of the meat mixture, the other half of the pasta, and the other half of the meat (the meat mixture should be on top because the pasta will dry out in the oven without it). Cover and bake at 350 degrees for 30-45 minutes.
Bon Appetit! And be sure to share your favs in the comments!