Quick and Easy Meals on a Budget
Written By: Annette Dahlke Schladweiler
First, start by making a list of your family’s favorite meals. These are the ones you should always have on hand, because sometimes life happens and you just need to know you can grab the quick and easy throw together meal that no one will fuss over (unless you have a toddler, because we know their taste buds change daily, LOL). If you can afford, and have the resources, to store bulk meat, consider buying a portion of a hog or a quarter or half beef; this not only supports your local meat shop and butcher, but also local farmers who are just trying to keep THEIR families fed as well. We buy bulk when we can, and then separate chicken breasts and freeze individually (if I find a fresh pack on sale, otherwise we use the bags of IQF).
Our Favorite SIMPLE Meals
- Macaroni and Cheese with a can of tuna tossed in, or cheapo kid hot dogs either on the side or chopped and put in. Warm up some veggies and you have a complete meal.
- Eggs and toast, french toast, or an egg bake – we have chickens, enough said. Currently no one in our neighborhood is lacking eggs, especially us. I think we have 6 dozen in our fridge, which is why we eat so many. But really, eggs are a fairly cheap protein option. Many people don’t realize, they are also freezable if you scramble them first, so when i get too overwhelmed we scramble and put them in 2 and 6 egg portion bags to freeze, those sizes are perfect for baking or making a meal. They last approximately 4-6 months.
- Spaghetti. A pound of burger, can of tomato sauce, can of tomato paste, and seasonings. Boil the noodles, warm up veggies and supper is served. This can also be made ahead and layered into a pan so that anyone who can cook a pizza can warm it up for when you get home.
- Chicken Alfredo. My recipe. Two smallish chicken breasts, chopped and cooked. Add 8 oz cream cheese, roughly ⅔ cup sour cream, about ½ cup white cooking wine and enough chicken broth to get it to the consistency you like. Sometimes we add in precooked mushrooms or broccoli, depending on our mood. Serve over Alfredo or penne noodles.
- Stroganoff. Ground burger, can of cream of mushroom soup, a little water or broth, and serve over egg noodles. And of course, veggies.
- Tacos. We love tacos. We also love enchiladas, either beef and rice or chicken and rice. Add a side of corn and black beans and you’re set! Make a little extra meat and sprinkle the meat over tortilla chips for a fun nacho lunch the next day. (I made simple enchiladas – meat, cooked rice and a little cheese in tortilla, roll up and put in pan. Cover with a mixture made with a can of cream of chicken soup, half cup of sour cream and about half the soup can of milk. Sprinkle on a little cheese and bake for 20 minutes.)
- Wraps and Sandwiches – we always have hard salami, ham or turkey, and pepperoni for lunch meats, PB&J, along with bread and soft tortilla shells. Make a sandwich or wrap and grab a jar of fruit. Easy lunch. We do this 2-4 times a week. NOTE For wraps, put a thin layer of cream cheese, sprinkle on shredded cheese and put 2-3 pieces of lunch meat. I have one kid that prefers pepperjack, so she skips the shredded cheese and just uses a piece of “her” cheese to go on her pepperoni and pepperjack wrap. And those little pickles with cream cheese wrapped in ham can be recreated as a wrap with cream cheese, ham and sandwich slicer pickles (just put between paper towels to get liquid off first.
- Use French Bread – grab french bread when it’s clearanced if you can. We cut, butter, season, and flash freeze for garlic bread. We also use french bread to make pizza – cut the bread in half lengthwise and hollow out, leaving at least a half inch of bread still in the loaf halves. Brown a pound of burger – for taco pizza add regular seasoning, for cheeseburger pizza add an 8 oz can of tomato sauce (sometimes we add bacon too). Put the burger into the two hollowed out halves of bread and sprinkle on cheese. Bake until the cheese is melted. Add a quick side salad or veggie.
Fix and Forget it Meals
- Crock Pot Chicken – throw a full chicken in the crock pot and season however you’d like. Use the leftovers to make soup and freeze, either in a large family batch, or smaller portions for lunch.
- Simple Pulled Pork – throw a pack of pork ends in the crock pot. You’ll probably want to drain off SOME liquid, but not all or it gets too dry (my husband learned this the hard way LOL). Put on a bun and serve with french fries, or over bread with mashed potatoes.
- Meatballs – this is not a super cheap meal option unless you find a good sale, so we make our own. A 3 pound tube of ground beef made into meatballs will last a long time. If you thaw meat, you CAN cook it and refreeze (but you shouldn’t just refreeze). Mix the meat mixture like for meatloaf, roll into 1” balls and bake at 350 degrees for roughly 25 minutes. Let cool, bag and freeze. We put foil on the cookie sheets, one time scraping burger bits off was enough to learn my lesson. You can reheat in crockpot or on the stove top.
- Soups – homemade soups are THE BEST and all cream soups start with essentially the same base. Here it is by ratio so you can more or less based on your needs (we do one of these per person).
- Cream Soup Base – in sauce pan put 1 Tbsp butter, melt. If you want more flavor use a little bacon grease to replace the butter. Add 1 Tbsp flour and whisk together (it will get thick, fast. Slowly add 1 cup broth (I use mostly chicken because of food allergies in the family), then one cup milk. For potato soup, precook your potatoes and add to cream base. For cheddar broccoli add chopped broccoli (blend up) and few handfuls cheddar cheese. For tomato soup, omit the chicken stock and replace with tomato sauce.
- Make a big batch of chili, or white chicken chili (use the leftovers from the crockpot chicken) to come home to. YUM!
Make Ahead Meals
Anyone who can make a pizza, can put these in the oven so they’re ready to eat.
- Tater Tot Hotdish
- Buffalo Chicken Bake
- Tuna Hotdish
- Oven Baked Potatoes – chunk potatoes and put in baking dish, cover with foil and cook like you would as potato packets on the grill, only in the oven! Usually 425 degrees for 45-60 minutes is about right.
My Go-To Sides
Quick and easy sides that kids can make themselves or for you to whip up when you get home are wonderful. These are some of our favorites…
- Lunch – carrot sticks, celery sticks, fresh or canned fruit.
- Supper – Potato (so many ways to make – chunk, cover and bake in oven; baked; mashed to name a few), Rice, Couscous, Quinoa, and we almost always have a frozen veggie along with potato.
Good for You Snacks – yogurt, fruit (buy on sale in season), string cheese (not individually packed), a few crackers, cottage cheese, parfait, hard boiled egg, homemade cookies, rice krispie or corn flake bars, homemade granola bars, a box of raisins
Final note. Portion control is a huge part of all this. Learning what the serving size recommendations are for each age group and start with about that or a little less. They can always ask for more. Also, sit down and talk about the day or events that are happening. This is a two fold win – they are learning to discuss and take turns, and it also forces them to slow down while eating. It takes roughly twenty minutes to start feeling full, so those who eat slower also tend to eat less because they are better able to read the bodies’ signals.
My background is child care, stay-at-home mom while my husband worked seasonally, and now homeschooling mom working full time as the only income. Budgeting and having a base of food has been a necessity for most of my adult life. We feed a family of 5 three meals a day for roughly $50-60 a month, it can be done, it just takes some planning. I will add that with my child care background and having to follow the food program, as well as having a child who was anemic at one year who was unable to tolerate iron supplements, I am a stickler for making sure that we meet daily requirements most days for food groups. I encourage my kids (and numerous other children I have cared for over the years) to try new things by letting them participate in choosing and making their meals.