31 answers

Quick Meal Ideas

I kind of have two different issues. First, I would like to know of any quick, easy and cheap dinner ideas/recipes that you might have. We work until 5:00 or 5:30 and by the time we get the kids and get home and attempt to start cooking a meal, it's already 6:30 or later and by the time we actually eat it's about 8:00. I would like some ideas that are quick so we can actually enjoy some family time in the evening so it's not all spent on cooking and cleaning up afterwards. And my next issue would be for the Mom's that have older kids. We have a blended family and have 4 kids total (16yr old boy, almost 14yr old girl, 5yr old boy and 10mth old girl). I am having trouble keeping food in the house with the older two there during the day now that school is out for the summer. When I go grocery shopping every two weeks, I usually buy about 3lbs of lunch meat and 2-3lbs of cheese, quite a few frozen meals, hot pockets, chicken patties, mac & cheese, ramen noodles for them to eat during the day and I try to plan out 10-12 dinner ideas. I usually spend about $300 every two weeks and now that is only lasting about 8 or 9 days and then I have to go again. That would be why I am asking for cheap recipes. We've tried just getting fast food or pizza so we avoid the time it takes to cook a meal and to also avoid the mess but that always cost between $20-$30 and that is just too much to spend for one meal a few times a week.
Thanks in advance for any ideas/recipes

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I agree with the crock pot cooking and shopping at Aldis. For lunch, why aren't the kids making peanut butter & jelly sandwiches, so the whole family can enjoy lunchmeat or hot pockets for dinner? PB&J, a piece of fruit and maybe chips should be fine for weekday lunches. This saves money for affordable evening meals. You can vary the jelly or the chips or fruit so it is not the SAME thing every day. Alternate with a cheese and tomato sandwich or egg salad sanwich or crackers.
Save money on breakfast foods by geting you kids to eat oatmeal. Even the flavored ones are a good choice and store brands make them affordable. This would work for the youngest ones fine. Oatmeal is not just for cold weather, especially when you have an air conditoned home.
Eggs are also an affordable and quick alternative - if everyone enjoys them for dinner. If not, teach the older ones to make omlettes, scrammbled eggs, french toast or sunny side up eggs for lunch!

If you go to Kraftfoods.com (Ithink this is the web site) you can get lots of easy and quick meals. I subscribe to the magazine and it comes 4-5 times a year. Also, if you google quick meals, dozens of websites pop up and I've been to most of them Yahoo food, CD kitchen, Wokme.com, the list goes on and on. (By the way, the kraftfood magazine is FREE!!!!)

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kraftfoods.com is a FABULOUS website for meals. I can't rave enough about it. I use it ALL the time. Their recipes are SUPER fast and cheap! They use things you already have around the house. Their 1 bag 5 nights section is great too. I'm guessing you'd have to double the recipes, since most serve 4-6 people, but still! :) Most of the recipes are one pot or one skillet and are easy enough that even a kid (hint hint to your 16 and 14 year old) can make them.

As for the groceries well..they are going to eat more since they're all home more. I can remember eating when I was bored (I still do) when I was a kid. Maybe if you just buy enough for the week and tell them, when it's gone it's gone! Do your grocery shopping on a set day of the week and if they run out of lunch meat before then, well eat PB&J. They won't starve! :)

1 mom found this helpful

Do you have a crock pot? You could use it for all kinds of different meals, from roast, stews, chicken and dumplings, and the list just goes on. I recommend the style that has a removeable ceramic part that you put the food in to cook. That way you can set it up the night before, put it in the frig. and the next morning put it in the base, set it on low and forget it. When you get home you may have to heat up a couple of side dishes,(depending on what you cooked) but the main course is ready to eat.

1 mom found this helpful

If you do not have a crock pot/slow cooker, get one.
That way you can put the ingredients in before you go to work and it will be ready when you get home.
The best way to limit your prep time and expense is to plan ahead.
Use meat or whatever is on sale that week.
Any meal using pasta is usually less expensive.
If you have a "bread" store nearby where they sell day-old bread and snacks, shop there.
1)Here is a simple recipe for Savory Sloppy Joe's:
Brown 1 lb. of ground beef.
Sprinkle with 1 T. flour.
Add 1 can French Onion soup and stir until thickened.
Serve on buns with chips or veggies on the side.
2) This is my favorite slow-cook recipe:
1 lb. cut-up chuck (in bite-size pieces)Cut it yourself from a whole chuck roast to save money.
1 envelope dry Onion Soup mix
1 can Cream of celery or mushroom soup
1/2 cup water
Place all in crock pot.
Cook on low all day.
Serve over noodles or rice and a salad on the side.
Also, go on the Internet to find slow-cook recipes.
Don't forget, the more convenient food that you buy at the store, is the more expensive food.
In the summer, sandwiches and a salad, or soup and sandwiches are good.
You could try cooking soup ahead on the weekend/day off to eat the next week.
Buy a rotisserie chicken or two and make a couple of meals,
chicken salad for sandwiches, or use the cooked meat for a casserole that you can put together ahead of time and pop in the oven as soon as you get home.
Also, your teens are old enough to put things into the oven before you get home and/or put together a salad for dinner.
Get them involved.

I agree with the crock pot cooking and shopping at Aldis. For lunch, why aren't the kids making peanut butter & jelly sandwiches, so the whole family can enjoy lunchmeat or hot pockets for dinner? PB&J, a piece of fruit and maybe chips should be fine for weekday lunches. This saves money for affordable evening meals. You can vary the jelly or the chips or fruit so it is not the SAME thing every day. Alternate with a cheese and tomato sandwich or egg salad sanwich or crackers.
Save money on breakfast foods by geting you kids to eat oatmeal. Even the flavored ones are a good choice and store brands make them affordable. This would work for the youngest ones fine. Oatmeal is not just for cold weather, especially when you have an air conditoned home.
Eggs are also an affordable and quick alternative - if everyone enjoys them for dinner. If not, teach the older ones to make omlettes, scrammbled eggs, french toast or sunny side up eggs for lunch!

There are so many quick, easy things! A salad, grilled or pan seared meats (if you eat meat), and a side of veggies shouldn't take more than 20 minutes to a half hours to put together.

The real reason for my response, though, is my tip for staying on a budget. Aldi, Aldi, Aldi! If you have an Aldi store near you, you will find their prices to be a Godsend! Their products are really good, and they offer a fantastic deal if you're not satisfied with them for any reason. They will take any item back and often they will not only exchange it, but they will ALSO refund your money! Aldi is owned by the same family that owns Trader Joe's (one brother owns Trader Joe's, the other brother owns Aldi). They both carry their own brands, as opposed to national brands, and both stores have really good house brands. I've shopped at Aldi, and walked out with a cart loaded with food and cleaning supplies for well under $100. At any other store, the same amount of the same items would run me at least $150 - $175 or more. Aldi has been a blessing in this economy while I'm looking for work!

The slow cooker is your friend. :-) Spend a few minutes in the morning and dinner is ready when you walk in the door. I'm a SAHM mom and use it 3-4 days a week. I'm sure I'd use it more if I was gone everyday until after 5pm.

Whole chicken.... rinse with water, take innards out and put in crock pot. Add about a cup of sauce - could be pretty much anything: soy sauce, terriyaki sauce, Italian salad dressing, any fruity-type sald dressing, BBQ, etc. Put on lid, put on low and ignore for the day. The chicken will fall apart as you try to remove it. Good with a quick salad or nuke some veggies. After everyone has eaten, use your fingers to finger shred the leftovers and remove it from the bones. Store in ziplock and you can use later in the week for the tons of recipes that call for '1-2 cups cooked chicken'.

Chicken breasts (with or without bones) or pork chops.... you can put these in frozen, add sauce like above and ignore all day.

Pork or Beef roast.... put in crock pot, add enough water to almost cover, add whatever seasonings you want, cook on low and ignore all day.

You can use the less expensive cuts of meat and they will get nice and tender. Boneless chicken costs more than the ones with bones but with a crockpot the meat just falls off the bones so it's not a hassle or anything.

For saving money... the less something is processed the cheaper it is. Boxed mac & cheese cost more than buying pasta, cheese and milk separately (and takes the same about of time to cook - teens can easily do this). Cook extra at dinner so lunch the next day is leftovers instead of the more expensive stuff like hot pockets or frozen meals.

We had a teenage nephew live with us for a few weeks a few months ago so I know how much they can eat. It's staggering! If you're kids are home all day, have them cook so dinner is ready or almost ready when you get home. They could at least do something like stick a casserole in the oven or start the rice (again, normal rice much cheaper than instant). That's what we did with our nephew - he cooked a few dinners a week. His favorite was grilling chicken so we had it alot but it was cooking I didn't have to do. :-)

First I would like to point out that you have a built in solution to the fact that you don't get home to start dinner until after 5. If the older kids are home to eat all the lunchmeat and hot pockets during the day then they are also there able to start dinner before you get home. Sit down with them and ask for a list of foods they would like to eat, and then make a recipe notebook. Between the two of them they should be able to either prep the harder stuff like lasagna or cook it themselves with things like beef and noodles or cheeseburgers. Imagine coming home to find your potatoes already peeled and cut up just waiting to be boiled for mashed potatoes.
As far as them eating you out of house and home with the convenience foods, make it a little harder by getting things that aren't just heat and eat. A box of mac and cheese is a lot cheaper than a bowl of easy mac, and a real apple is a cheaper alternative to a box of fruit snacks. They'll whine and complain for a while, but they won't starve. If they don't stop whining after a week or two, put a sticker on each item in the pantry that tells the cost per serving and tell them they have to figure out a meal that costs less than 2.50 (the cost of a hot school lunch) with no waste. Within those parameters they can have whatever they want.
One thing that you can do if you are willing to is make one of your days off a family cooking day. Prepare big meals that can be frozen in individual servings and reheated through the week.

I always brown and season ground beef and then freeze it in quart bags. This is good for spaghetti, chili, tacos, sloppy joes, cheeseburger pie(bisquick recipe), creamed hamburger, etc.. I find having any meat already cooked makes meals go faster. Canned chicken for casseroles or soups. You should definetely buy a good book for quick/cheap meals. There are many out there. My kids like any kind of pasta! If your family likes beans, you can make dishes from canned beans and they are healthy, quick and cheap. Soups and casserole always stretch meat and therfore are cheaper. Here's an easy quick pasta sauce

2T butter
2T flour
salt and pepper to taste
2 cups milk
8 oz cream cheese
1 lb pasta

Melt butter in sauce pan. Add flour and mix well, cook for a minute stirring constantly. Add milk cook stirring constantly until thickened. Add cream cheese, stir until melted and blended. Meanwhile cook pasta. I usually do not drain pasta all the way, leaving maybe like a 1/2 cup water. Pour sauce over hot pasta. Add parmesan cheese on individual servings to taste. Total cost for whole meal should be about $3 dollars but you will want to add some veggies or meat.

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