Welcome to week six (or sixty, who knows) of quarantine! Today on the blog we have some super easy, cheap meals that you can make using minimal ingredients. Normally, I would call this “pantry cooking”. Today, we call it “quarantine cooking”.
Fun fact, I am neither a chef nor a food photographer. So get ready for some novice food photos of our super cheap meals!
Real life dinners using real life pantry items.
I’m no gourmet chef and I certainly don’t have the time to prepare fancy meals. These cheap meals use only things that were found in our pantry or our fridge/freezer. Fresh ingredients are kept to a minimum. Why? Because this pandemic sucks and I don’t want to go to the store more than absolutely necessary.
These recipes are pretty normal feeling for us. We are vegetarian, so add in meat where you would like. But if you’re out of meat or can’t find anything in the store, this is a perfect time to have meat-free Mondays.
When you go to the grocery store less often and they have less in stock than normal, you might find yourself with a wide variety of things that don’t match your recipe. In that case, you’ll need to substitute.
I come from a long line of substitute-savvy women. Both of my grandmothers are very resourceful when it comes to cooking. My mom famously “makes do” whenever the ingredients get too intense or too many. And I love it. It’s good food I can’t turn down.
So don’t think you need every single ingredient. Just adjust as necessary.
Take Pantry Inventory First
Before you start cooking and meal planning, take pantry inventory first. Some of our cheapest meals come from random things we find in our cupboards. Here is a full post (with printables!) on how to do that HERE.
The ULTIMATE Cheap Meal
Before I get to all of these actual recipes, let’s chat about what our ultimate frugal, cheap meal is.
BEANS AND RICE!
Yep, regular ol’ beans and rice. But they actually taste good. They’re easy, tasty, and cheap. What’s not to love?
2 C White Rice
2 C Dry Black Beans
1 C Salsa of Your Choice
Cook beans and rice separately and according to package directions.
Once cooked, stir together in a big bowl and add in salsa. Eat with tortilla chips if you’re feeling fancy.
This makes about 6 servings.
Cheap Meal #1 – Meatball Subs
– 1 batch lentil meatballs (or meatballs of your choosing)
– Hot dog buns, hoagie rolls, or bread
– Marinara or other red sauce
– Shredded cheese
– Prepare and cook meatballs according to the directions
– Warm marinara sauce in a sauce pan and add in meatballs. Stir to coat.
– Open hot dog buns and ladle in meatballs and generous amounts of sauce. Top with shredded cheese.
– Optional: Place subs on cookie sheet and broil for 2-3 minutes on low to get cheese melty.
Notes: these meatballs freeze well after cooking (minus sauce)
Cheap Meal #2 – One Pot Pasta
For the printable recipe, see my post HERE.
– 1 bag of pasta (we use rotini or shells)
– 1 can coconut milk (NOT light coconut milk)
– 3 Tbs curry paste (we use red paste)
– 1 bag frozen mixed veggies
– 1 can diced tomatoes
– 1 small yellow onion diced
– 2 cloves of garlic minced
– 1/2 C water
– Pinch of salt
– Siracha to taste
– 1 cup frozen and thawed spinach – optional
1. In a large stock pot or dutch oven, saute onions until translucent.
2. Once the onions are cooked, combine the garlic and curry paste in the pot. Cook for an additional 3 minutes. If it starts sticking to the pot, add a tablespoon of water or stock at a time.
3. Add in the pasta, can of coconut milk, water, and the can of diced tomatoes with their liquid. Stir and bring to a boil.
4. Cook pasta for 8-10 minutes. It should be al dente or softer.
5. At the end of the pasta cooking time, add in the frozen veggies, salt, siracha, and spinach. Cook for an additional 3 minutes, covered.
6. Serve warm. Store leftovers in airtight containers. Lasts appx. five days in the fridge.
Notes: Season however you like. If you don’t have curry paste, try curry powder, cumin, and turmeric. Not a fan of curry flavors? Do an Italian blend instead.
Cheap Meal #3 – Zucchini Casserole
This recipe is super yummy! It’s a quick casserole and you get your daily veggies in, too.
We swapped the Parmesan cheese for sharp cheddar and enjoyed the results. If you don’t have Bisquick, you can use any pancake or waffle mix you have on hand.
Recipe from A Pretty Life in the Suburbs
Cheap Meal #4 – Curry
Curry for us is a staple meal. You can use frozen produce, fresh produce, or a combination of the two. We love using a bag of frozen mixed vegetables.
Find the recipe HERE.
Cheap Meal #5 – Bean and Rice Baked Tacos
These hefty tacos are delish. The bean and rice filling gives these tacos a “stick to your ribs” quality.
- 2C dry rice – cooked beforehand in 4C water or vegetable broth
- 1lb dry black beans – cooked beforehand according to package directions
- 6 Tbsp taco seasoning (or more depending on how taco-y you like it)
- 1 C frozen corn
- 1 can diced tomatoes, drained (we used fire roasted, alternatively you could use salsa)
- 10 soft taco size tortillas
- 1 C shredded cheese for topping
- Pre-heat oven to 350F. Spray two 9″ x 13″ baking dishes with oil so the tortillas don’t stick. Set aside.
- In a large bowl, combine your cooked rice, cooked black beans, corn and tomatoes. Make sure it is well combined.
- Add in the taco seasoning and stir to combine. Give part of the rice a taste test. Sprinkle in more if needed.
- Start to fill the tortillas like you would a taco. These babies are meant to be FULL. So be generous! Once filled, place it open side up in the baking dish. Repeat for the rest of the tortillas.
- Top with cheese and bake for 20 minutes. Then they are ready for you to enjoy!
- Notes: This feeds a LOT of people. So either bring your appetite or prepare for leftovers!
Cheap Meal #6 – Peppers and Onions Pizza
- 1 jar of marinara or red sauce
- 1-2 C frozen onion and peppers (from the grocery freezer section)
- 2 C shredded cheese
- 1 pack small pizza crusts (or one large pizza crust)
- Pre-heat oven according to the pizza crust package directions
- In a skillet, saute the pepper and onion mixture until heated through. Add spices if you would like.
- Spread marinara sauce across all the pizza crusts
- Top with cheese and the peppers and onion mixture
- Bake according to package directions and enjoy!
Cheap Meal #7 – Black Bean Burgers
I have been making this for a while now and I love them a lot! Just make sure to keep the bean to rice ratio around 1:1. I’m not sure where my original recipe is… but this one is really close.
Recipe from Kroger.
Cheap Meal #8 – Pasta Salad
Pasta salad is an awesome cheap meal that can be served cold and stored in the fridge for a while. It takes little prep to make and little effort to dish out to your family.
We enjoy this southwestern pasta salad. It gets made for all of the football parties and other gatherings that we went to pre-pandemic.
Recipe from Vegan Heaven.
Cheap Meal #9 – Banana Oat Muffins
Little Guy eats loads of bananas. Sometimes those bananas get a little too ripe for our liking. Banana oat muffins solve the snack time problem of no bananas and make a pretty great breakfast, too! It costs just pennies to make this super cheap recipe.
Cheap Meal #10 – Biscuits and Gravy
Is this my husband’s favorite meal? Yes. Does he want this for dinner on a regular basis? Also, yes. Good things it’s a cheap meal.
Homemade biscuits are pretty easy to make, so is gravy. But a can of biscuits and a packet of country gravy isn’t expensive!
Find my recipe >>> HERE
Cheap Meal #11 – Macaroni Bake (aka Fake Lasagna)
I love this version of fake lasagna! It is really really easy to make and to double. This recipe makes two 9×9 dishes. So put the extra mixture into freezer containers or plastic bags to freeze.
- 1 large bag elbow macaroni
- 1 jar pasta sauce
- 20 oz large container cottage cheese
- 4 C (or two smaller bags) shredded mozzarella cheese
- 4 TBSP Italian seasoning blend
- Cook noodles according to package directions
- Pre-heat oven to 350 F and lightly spray a 9″x9″ pan with oil
- Mix noodles, pasta sauce, cottage cheese, seasoning, and 2 C of shredded cheese together.
- Place half into the 9″x9″ pan you’ve prepared. Top with 1 C shredded cheese. Bake for 35 minutes.
- Put the other half of the noodle mixture into a gallon plastic bag. The remaining 1 C shredded cheese should be put into a sandwich size bag and tucked into the noodle mixture bag. Freeze the bag laying flat. Stays good frozen for up to 3 months! Thaw overnight and cook as written above.
Cheap Meal #12 – Chicken Noodle Soup Casserole
Doesn’t the name of this just warm you up? Chicken noodle soup casserole is hearty and comforting… and a cheap meal! I doubled this up to freeze half for later. Also, I substituted chick peas for the chicken, and cream of mushroom soup for both cream soups it calls for.
Recipe from Life in the Lofthouse.
Cheap Meal #13 – Bubble Up Enchiladas
Regular enchiladas are a lot of work (to me at least!). Bubble up enchiladas are biscuits, enchilada sauce, black beans, and cheese. Easy!
Find my recipe >>> HERE
Cheap Meal #14 – Whatever’s Left in the Fridge Stir Fry
Ever have those random veggies in the fridge or a half open bag of frozen vegetables left over? It’s kinda the story of our lives right now. Stir fry with rice is so cheap and easy to make. Plus, you’ll use up any random vegetables still lurking in your fridge.
Find my recipe >>> HERE
Cheap Meal #15 – Tortilla Soup
Is tortilla soup just a taco in liquid form? Maybe. But it’s also delish. We make our own tortilla strips out of leftover tortillas baked in the oven.
Recipe from Minimalist Baker.
Other Things We’ve Made
- Homemade Bread in our bread machine (we love ours! But, there seems to be some price gouging happening on Amazon for these at the moment, so no link.)
- Vegan Chocolate Chip Cookies (from the Post Punk Kitchen)
- Vegetable Broth from veggie scraps (my recipe)
- Garlic Bread – I buy the clearance French and Italian loafs from the Wal-Mart bakery for $0.50 or less! When I get them home, I slice them in half length-wise, slather each piece in butter, sprinkle on garlic powder and paprika. Then, I wrap in cling-wrap and foil, label the bread and freeze it for later. Thaw for 1 hour and bake (without any wrapping!) for 8 minutes at 350 F.