Quick Meal Ideas

Updated on June 23, 2009
A.H. asks from Canton, OH
31 answers

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

1 mom found this helpful

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answers from Cincinnati on

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!



answers from Cleveland on

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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answers from Fort Wayne on

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


answers from South Bend on

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


answers from Indianapolis on

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.



answers from Cleveland on

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!!!!)



answers from Canton on

I know what you mean on both problems. I have 3 kids now(15, 11 and 2) and expecting #4 in October. I am not trying to push anything on you but if you want, check out my website or email me and I'll send you some recipes that are about $2-3 a serving. I am a Pampered Chef consultant and the meals are actually pretty good. My kids are picky and the have eatten almost all of these recipes. You do NOT have to have all of the Pampered Chef products to do these recipes. They are really quick and easy to try. The website is www.pamperedchef.biz/dorothybeckley and my email is ____@____.com Thanks and good luck.



answers from Indianapolis on

One thing I will offer before I get started is the following: I learned to do pot roasts, chicken and dumplings, meat loaf, turkeys, hams, ribs, and my baked stew on the weekend. I also learned to buy in bulk, it is cheaper. We had lovely family dinners on Saturdays and Sundays and the leftovers were great for other things during the week! A turkey or ham on Sunday means leftovers that can be sliced up, shredded, diced, and frozen for other meals during the week and saved on lunch meat! My kids loved to eat a cold meat loaf sandwich! Sliced turkey or chicken layered with even Stove Top dressing and left over gravy in a casserole dish topped with bread crumbs makes a nice casserole during the week, and so does a bag of noodles, two cans of cream of chicken, cream of mushroom or cream of onion soup with the meat added and sprinkle bread crumbs on the top, (you can add chopped veggies or peas to it) too. A round steak cut into one inch stips and browned will make for great strogenoff and mexican meals during the week as well!

I also learned to chop of veggies like celery, green pepper and onion and put it in freezer containers or baggies in half cup or one cup measurements and kept them in the freezer so all I had to do was grab them out to add to my quick recipes like meatloaf, chili, stew, etc. Kept the stuff from going bad in the frig and cut down on the throw aways!

We always had things like fresh fruit, cut up veggies, and plenty of cheese slices and pickles. My children got those for mid-morning and mid-afternoon snacks from the time they were little and so they would walk by the fruit bowl and grab an apple or a bunch of grapes, a box of raisens or a couple of pickles to munch on when they got older. It was great because they enjoyed a variety of veggies like broccoli, cauliflower, zuchinni, cooked or raw! And popcorn and an air popper for in the microwave! My children would take popcorn over chips every time. We had a variety of toppings for the popcorn, grated cheese, cinnamon sugar, etc in shaker containers.

For inexpensive meals that are quick I can offer the following:

Chicken or Tuna salad. I boil up chicken for this and bone it myself, but you can use the canned stuff. There are several ways to go with this but it works. Take the meat, dice up some celery, green pepper, onion and egg, boil up macaroni, mix all of them together with Miracle Whip and chill it. Sometimes I use a can of sweet peas in it too. You can serve it on a lettuce leaf to dress it up. Since you have older children in the house they can help you chop the veggies and can peel the eggs. You can do it the night before while fixing something else and use the next night. You can use turkey instead.

A bag of frozen ravoli and two jars of sauce make a really fast meal. It is ready in half an hour. A $1.00 bag of salad from Aldi's and you are done!

Take two boxes of Kraft type macaroni and cheese, a can of peas, boned chicken or tuna and some onion for additional flavoring if desired. Cook up the macaroni and cheese add the peas and meat. Put in a flatter casserole dish, sprinkle on a little grated cheese and or bread crumbs. You can also cook this up and put in diced ham, brown up ground beef or use turkey. Unfortunately I prefer to make macaroni and cheese from scratch a box of macaroni, two pounds of cheese sliced and layered in the dish makes me happier but it takes a lot longer to fix!

You can make up scalloped potatoes, potatoes au grautin, etc. (and can used boxed ones if desired) and add cubed ham, boned chicken, or turkey.

You can take ramen noodles, cook up, brown up a tube of sausage and ground beef mixed, a bag of frozen mixed veggies, dump them in a dish and mix.

You can use rice in a lot of dishes with chicken, turkey, tuna, ham, or beef (they even have the flavored rice packets like gumbo). The cheesey rice and chicken casserole is good because again you can cook it up in like 20 minutes, add the meat (and veggies if you want, we like broccoli in ours) and throw in the microwave for a few minutes together to heat the meat if it is cold because it was leftover and melt the cheese topping down a little. Left over rice makes a nice rice pudding which is good for breakfast or dessert. You can always throw in a little applesauce and raisens for a different flavor! My kids loved it hot or cold.

Stir fry is quick and filling too and you can get a bag of chinese noodles or use ramen noodles instead of rice.

It doesn't take long to make tacos and you can chop up the onions, green pepper, and tomato, we like chopped olives on ours as well, shred the lettuce and use the bags of cheeses while the meat is cooking. We used to just put the veggies and cheeses in bowls and you could help yourself to what ones you wanted and it was easy to put the leftovers in sandwich bags afterwards for quick clean up. Use the left over meat (and beans if you like them on your tacos) with corn chips the next day for a "walking Taco salad" for lunches and you can add the veggies from the bags.

Another fun type dinner, lunch, is to make up a casserole dish of browned hamburger meat, velveta cheese, and a jar of salsa, heat in the microwave and stir every couple of minutes until the cheese has melted and serve with tostido chips. I usually put a dollop of sour cream on the top.

My kids liked "Gravy Train" a simple dish of ground beef with a little onion (I used to drop in green pepper too chopped really fine so they didn't see it but the taste was there!) browned, milk gravy with corn starch for thickening, over mashed potatoes, rice, or bread. Makes up in about 20 minutes.

Baked potatoes (which cook up quickly in a mircowave) can be openned up, slightly mashed up and served with cheese, meat, and veggie toppings for a quick change of pace and make a nice meal. I know people who use chili on them too.

Suddenly Salad, cook up the salad mix, add boned chicken, turkey, or tuna. Serve a fresh salad for extra veggies.

If you have a freezer you need to purchase frozen pizzas and the extra cheese to sprinkle on for additional topping (which can also be frozen). This is a lot cheaper than purchasing take out pizza and frankly it doesn't take any longer to heat the oven than it does to order the pizza and it is cooked in about the same amount of time as it takes to deliver it. When they have pizza on sale like 3 for ten dollars it is really a lot cheaper!

Chili is great because you can have chili one night, chili dogs for lunch, and chili mac another night, or serve it over a baked potato (not my favorite but the husband liked it and so did the son).

Chicken can be cooked in a covered dish in the microwave in like 20 minutes, make sure to put some water in the bottom of the dish and turn after the first 10 minutes. This chicken can be used with any of the above recipes or can be used with spaghetti noodles (which cook up fast) and can be served with spaghetti sauce or you can get the Alfredo noodles in the packets for like a dollar each and cook these up while the chicken is cooking. You can use the Alfredo kind with frozen broccoli and can add diced tomatoes to really dress it up!

While stew and chili can take time to make originally they can be divided down into serving containers and freeze well.
Crock pots are good for many things as well and since it simmers all day you don't have to worry when you get home. I just don't like roasts cooked that way or pork chops.

Grilled cheese sandwiches, and there are a variety of ways to make a grilled cheese sandwich, and a can of soup are always quick and nice. One sandwich is white American cheese and orange American cheese, break down the cheese slices in half and layer on the one slice of bread then sprinkle on some garlic powder, oregeno flacks, and red pepper flakes then put the second slice of bread on it and cook in the sandwich maker and serve with tomato soup, tastes like a good cheese pizza sandwich!

Hamburger helper (and you can use ground turkey or chicken in them instead of beef and it is cheaper if you purchase the tubes of ground turkey or chicken (frozen kind) than beef, is always quick and filling.

Instead of lunch meat slices make up chicken salad, turkey salad, egg salad, or ham salad yourself. Yes, it takes about half and hour to make up if you have to bone the chicken but you can get cans of it at places like Aldi for cheaper and when you add the pickle relish and Miracle Whip it makes up into a good sandwich for cheaper than the lunch meat. I used to buy bulk bologna and have the meat counter grind it up, take it home add pickle relish and Miracle Whip and make "sandwich spread". It goes a lot farther than a slice of bologna! You can do the same with ham, chicken or turkey.

Hope some of this will help you with quick and maybe a few healthy types of meals.

We have a lot of potatoe salad, macaroni salad, cole slaw, and three bean salad in the summer with our hamburgers, chicken patties, chicken nuggets, or sandwiches instead of chips. Yes, it can take an hour to make originally but I make big bowls so it lasts a couple of days. Again the older children aren't to young to learn to help by chopping veggies, peeling potatoes, and peeling eggs. We do it together and since I dice the potatoes before I cook them they only need to boil for about 20 minutes, it takes longer to hard boil the eggs! Deviled eggs are a good side dish with any meal and leftover makes great egg salad (if you add a little relish) for sandwiches.

We also have a lot of jello and jello type salad and pudding in the summer months. Jello squares are easy to make and a good snack item since it won't matter if they are at room temperature and don't melt. You can always add fruit to the jello for a quick and easy desert that isn't all that unhealthy.

We also learned to take a rainy weekend day or a really cold day in the winter to bake up cookies and make things like Amish Friendship bread and freeze them for the month. It is a fun afternoon together and believe it or not my son is a better cook than my daughter is!

Hope some of this will come in handy and it didn't make you crazy reading it!


answers from Columbus on


Some quick Cheap meals.

1. Get the $4.99 Frozen cheese pizza - Meijers - Buy your own toppings and add them and a little vit of olive oil with some italian seasoning. Tastes like gormet pizza without the cost

2. Pasta with Alfredo sause. Boil Pasta - 5-10 minutes.
Make alfredo sauce - Microwaze 1 thing of cream cheese 30 seconds- throw in a pot. Add 3 cups whole milk. - Add garlic powder and salt to taste. Whisk until it boils. Add Mozzerella cheese - continue to whist until it thikins . Add to pasta. You can substitute heavy cream with the milk and the boil time will go down.

Good Luck




answers from Indianapolis on

This is not a quick meal idea but may help anyway. Plan your meals for the week - purchase your supplies. Cook and freeze all your casseroles and dinner items except for fresh fruits and salads. Microwaving a casserole can take as little as 10 minutes, while your meal is microwaving you can prep your salad and fruit. It can all be accomplished in less than 20 minutes. It not as expensive as frozen entrees and you know what you're getting because you cooked it. Much healthier.



answers from Steubenville on

hi..just a few ideas..a couple meals you can make in advance and freeze..things like taco meat ( for tacos or a taco salad), spegetti sauce, and sloppy joes. Buy a big tjing of ground meat, cook it all one day, put it together, and freeze for up to a month or two. also crock pot meals i have found are great. specially if you have older kids at home during the day. A roast in the crock pot with some water, salt and pepper..set on high if its frozen for bout 3 hrs, or low if not.. have potatos, onions, carrots already chopped up in a bowl in fridge, ask one of the kids to add it about 2 oclock. When you get home, drain alot of the water and add 1-2 jars of gravy. i cook mine all day, the longer it cooks, the meat just gets more tender. as for keeping food in your home, being a mom of 2 teenage boys and a pre-k boy..food just disappears..good luck..:)



answers from Cincinnati on

I like to say I am a second generation queen of the 20 min meal plan. I love to cook, but I agree, when you work and get home later it's impossible to make everyone wait that long for dinner. So here are some of my staples:

Taco salad
hamburger meat or soy meat crumbles 1lb (4 people)
taco seasoning (I like Ortego)
cheddar cheese
(refried beans optional)
black olives
sour cream and salsa
(guacamole optional)
tortilla chips and corn chips
You set out the ingredients and everyone adds what they like to their dinner salad. My family loves this and it's quick and easy with the meat being the only cooked item.

Pasta night
I either make spaghetti with sauce or macaroni and cheese (not out of the box) This takes about 20 minutes...10 to boil the water and 10 to cook the pasta. I then serve it with a green salad or green beans or peas.

Hamburgers and/or hotdogs
I grill them so this takes more like 40 min., but in the winter I use the george forman grill and then it's 20. Serve with french fries of chips and corn on the cobb or sliced tomatoes and cucumbers.

Pizza night
I make my own pizza and the kids love to help. I takes about 10min to make and 15-20 to cook.
1 cup warm water
1 pkg yeast
1 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar
2 Tblsp oil
2.5 cups of flour
You dissolve the yeast in the water and then add the rest of the ingredients. Stir until you have the dough (you may need to add a little flour if it's too sticky). Let this sit for 5 min. While the dough sits cut up your favorite toppings. Spread out dough on greased pan, add sauce and toppings, put on the cheese, sprinkle with Italian seasoning, and bake at 350 for 15-17 minutes.

Stir fry
Cook the rice (20 min)
While the rice is cooking cut up chicken or beef for your stir fry (we even use the Morning star farm soy meat strips sometimes). Saute this in a hot pan with oil for the desired doneness. Add in your favorite stir fry veggies or even a frozen bag of mixed stir fry veggies. Add a little soy sauce, ginger, and garlic to taste.

Chicken nuggets, french fries and frozen peas. I use this meal when I am zonked and don't want to cook at all. I just pop it all in the oven and voila 20 minutes later a meal.

Put salmon skin down in a greased baking dish. Spread dijon mustard over the salmon and then coat with teryaki sauce. Bake at 400 for 20 minutes or at 300 for 30 (this will carmelize the teryaki sauce). Serve with rice and asparagus/green beans/broccoli or your favorite green veggie.

Trout (or other fillet fish)
put panko bread flakes or flour with salt and pepper in a pan. Coat trout and fry for a few minutes on each side. Serve with starch (potatoes) and veggie.

I hope this helps. I have more, but I figure this might give you some ideas. The real trick is to start with the item that takes the longest to cook and then make the rest of dinner while that is cooking and then everything is on the table and ready to go at the same time. Keep it simple during the week. The kids won't care and in fact tend to love the easier things anyway. Good luck!



answers from Columbus on

There is a book called "once a month cooking". It teaches you how to plan, prepare, store 30 meals at a time. Its a wonderful technique for your situation. I do a modified version - do chicken meals when chicken is on sale, beef when beef is on sale. Even if you do 15 meals at a time, it will make dinner time alot easier. You would need to spend a Saturday or Sunday preping and cooking. Your whole family could help and get it done in 1/2 a day. The book has you buy everything. Then prep and cook in 1 day. I like to prep the night before (chop onions, etc) and then assemble meals.



answers from Lafayette on

I have the time crunch issue, too. But add in a picky eater who won't eat any meat but chicken!
I agree with the crockpot idea. Throw it in before you start your day, and by dinner time it's ready.
I may not always serve a "well balanced" meal, but it's quick, easy, cheap, and satisfies everyone! Some of our quicky meals are...

grilled cheese and baked fries
grilled cheese and a mug of soup
FFY ( Fend For Yourself) everyone makes there own quick meal
"clean out the fridge night" line up leftovers on the counter. Have a buffet, fill your plate, microwave it
"pick a can" dinner...go to shelf, pick a can, heat n eat (soup, ravioli, spam, etc)
I make a double batch of taco meat for taco night, and save the leftovers to put in chili. Can be frozen, too. Chili leftovers become nacho topping...put chili on top of corn chips or on lettuce. Top with cheese, sour cream, salsa.
Have breakfast for dinner! Eggs, omelets, tater tots, sausage, pancakes, juice, oatmeal.

Have fun!



answers from South Bend on

One thing we have done is buy a rotisserie chickens and bar-b-que sauce and buns. Pull the meat off of the bones and shread it. Put in a crockpot with the sauce. Cook on low till heated through (be sure to stir it every once in a while). Serve on buns with your favorite sides.



answers from Indianapolis on

A., If you don't have a crock pot get one. It takes a little planning, but you can have your meal as soon as you get home if you put it in the crock pot in the morning before you go to work.



answers from Cleveland on

There are several things that you can do to speed dinner along during the week
1. Prep on the weekends, wash your veggies, portion out your meals that sort of thing. I do my shopping on the weekends and take about an hour out of my Sunday to plan my meals for the week and portion out food. Often times I make something that I can do double duty on during the week. For example, make a roast on the weekend buy one larger than you normally would and then shred the beef make a gravy and then during the week make a salad and some noodles, pour the beef and gravy over noodles...two meals in one!
2. Another place to look for quick and easy recipes is in the Betty Crocker and Philsbury cook books found in your grocery check out aisle. These are typically quick, cheap and have few ingredients. Kraft food and family magazines are good for cheap easy meals as well.
3. As far as cheap goes, within that hour that I do prep for the week I also take a look over the circular at my grocery store and choose meals based on what is on sale and usually i have a coupon too or I find one online. Going to the manufacturer's site for coupons often allows you to buy normally expensive brands for cheaper especially if they are also on sale in the store.
4. Take a look at ingredients often times the off or store brand is much more affordable than the name brand and are made basically the same. Even with a coupon I still look at the per ounce or unit price on the price tag and compare before I buy.

I understand that some of these things takes some time, but I have found if I can find an hour a week to do some food planning it has saved me time and lots of money later on.

Hope that helps some, have a great week,



answers from Youngstown on

My friend and I take about 6 hours a month (Saturdays might work well for you) and we cook freezer meals for the month. She has a family of 4 and I have 3 in mine, we spend about $40-$50 each on our monthly meals. Our kids are younger than yours, but still it is crazy to think we can cook for so little. We buy in bulk which brings the price down and use as many organic ingredients as we can. It makes for a slightly stressful day (especially if we have all the kids with us), but it is great to be able to pull out home cooked meals and pop them in the oven. We save on energy and time because we only have one huge mess per month to clean up. We have been doing this for a year and are working on sharing this with others. I have a blogspot that I will be posted some of my recipes: http://greenchronicle.blogspot.com/
I would be happy to share more details with you if you would like to contact me.


answers from Columbus on

Hi A.,
It's been said before, I'll say it again- try shopping at Aldi. My husband buys all the groceries because he's less of an impulse shopper and he takes a huge amount of personal pride in spending minimal grocery dollars. He starts out at Aldi and gets everything he can there (it's usually even cheaper than WalMart), then he stops at WalMart to finish off the list. There is an Aldi and WalMart right next to each other here in Columbus off Sawmill. I checked Canton and it's the same- Aldi and WalMart in the same neighborhoods.

I'm sure it helps too that my husband doesn't buy junk food or dessert items. The only time we ever have chips, soda, cookies, etc is if I stop somewhere specifically to buy them for a special event or to satisfy a specific craving. That way it's more of a treat, and that stuff is not just laying around all the time available for easy munching.

Regarding coupons- we actually never use them. If you're going to do coupons, I would suggest only saving coupons for the stores you're going to anyhow; the more trips into different stores that you make, the more opportunities you'll have for impulse buys, or to buy something that's on your list, but you'd save money if you bought it at Aldi or WalMart.

Finally, forget about name brands and attractive packaging and just shop by price per unit. By letting someone else do the shopping, I learned that there are very few items that you can really tell the difference between brands.

Hope this helps :)



answers from Kokomo on

I don't know how "quick" it is, but with a little pre-planning, we live and die by the crock pot. It solves the delimma of "what's for dinner tonight" when you are too tired to cook or on different shifts, like in my family.

I can quickly throw stuff in at breakfast and by the time we all meet up again around 6 dinner is ready ( and falling off the bone delicious). There are tons of Crock pot cook books that are very frugal. THe nice thing about cooking it all day, is you can afford to go with less expensive meat because it is so tender anyway. I am a huge fan of the FIX IT AND FORGET IT series. There are tons of different books. One of which I'm sure will strike a cord. Hope this helps.



answers from Indianapolis on

I always recommend the cookbook Desperation Dinners. All meals can be made in 20 mins or less - really! We use it and some of my kids' favorite recipes are from it. Almost all stovetop, very little baking. Recipes walk you through the most time-effecient way to prepare the meal. It also tells you how to stock your pantry with the foods you need to whip up something quickly (and cheaply).

Buy a used copy and save more money!



answers from Cincinnati on


2 - 9” pie crusts
1 can veg-all, drained
2 cans cream of potato soup (or other cream soup of your choice)
½ cup milk
¼ tsp. Pepper
¼ tsp. Thyme
½ - 1 cup cooked, diced chicken

Line pie plate with 1st pie crust. Mix all ingredients together and pour into pie plate. Cover with 2nd pie crust. This can also be made with only one pie crust to cover the mixture.

When I make this, I go ahead and make two to put one in the freezer (or for you, you might need four since your family may need two pot pies at one meal). I do this for a lot of things - meatloaf, lasagna, etc. Take a weekend day to make a few things that go in the freezer and that way each week you will have something to pull out and plop in the oven. Your two older kids are old enough to get something that is premade into the oven so that dinner is almost ready when you get home from work. You would just need to toss together a salad or other veggie and it's done!



answers from Cleveland on

Hi A.,

Please forgive duplication, I haven't read all replies.

Use the crock pot so you can prep the night before and eat as soon as you get home.

Bagged salad is a good quickie dish. Costs more than tearing your own lettuce, but watch for sales. Use it up quickly (sounds like that wouldn't be a problem--LOL!).

plant a garden. It is not too late for this year. Seeds are cheap--look at Big lots, dollar store etc.

Think of meat as a condiment, not the main event in your meal, so do stir fries with lots of veggies, then serve over brown rice (more nutritious than white) if you can get your crew to eat it. you can prep/chop/dice the veggies the night before or ask older kids to do it before you get home from work. Or soup with a little meat, lots of veggies.

Beans/legumes are very cheap especially if you buy them dry and soak/cook them yourself. The crock pot is a star at this. Think beans and rice; bean tacos, refried beans, lentil soup, chili with lots of beans and not so much meat. They are also very filling and may cut down on the urge to snack (notice I said MAY...I think teen boys INHALE food).

Cook double or triple batches when you can (maybe on weekends?) and then freeze the extras.

For snacks--can you get them to snack on fruits and veggies? I think those are more filling than stuff made with white flour, sugar, etc. Probably healthier. May also be cheaper; watch for sales. Aldi's is a good place to shop if you have one nearby.

Go to the library and check out some cookbooks, maybe you'll find one on Cheap foods. Taste of Home cookbooks usually have a section on cost-cutting recipes. Think "peasant food", maybe some ethnic cookbooks (Mexican, Italian, Indian) will spark your creativity. If you find one you really like, then it is worth buying or asking for it for b-day etc.

Borrow the Tightwad Gazette books by A. Dacyczyn (spelling may be wrong). She has recipes but also other good thrifty money-saving ideas--maybe saving $ somewhere else will free up more $ for food.

Instead of lunch meat, buy a turkey breast or potroast on sale, cook in crockpot and use that for sandwiches. Probably much cheaper per pound than lunch meat, and fewer additives.

Another tack to take--does your community have free food for kids during the summer? We live in Ashtabula Ohio and there are free breakfasts and lunches available for any child up through age 18. I think it is an off-shoot of the school lunch program but there are no income requirements for the summer food program. The meals are at schools, housing projects, churches, parks, etc and the food must be eaten there. You just have to get the kids to the meal site. Might that be an option at least for your older two? You mentioned "getting the kids" after work but also said the older ones were home, so I am a little confused about who is where. Maybe they could ride with friends, and you pay the friends' parent a little gas money?

Your teens are old enough to be able to put a chicken in the oven to roast before you come home. They can also bake biscuits or muffins, make a salad, microwave frozen veggies, etc etc.

Hope that helps. Good luck!

K. Z.



answers from Toledo on

I love my crockpot. You spend 15-20 minutes in the morning and it's ready to eat when you get home. Mine has a programmable feature that lets you control the temp and cook time, then resets to warm until you turn it off. You could go to www.recipezaar.com and search for crock pot and whatever ingredients you have on hand to get some tried and true recipes. My current favorite is crock pot falafels - just as good as the fried stove top version. Or try www.crockpot365.blogspot.com - she has a new crockpot recipe for each day.

As for snacks - I have 2 baskets for my kids (3 and 5). The one in the pantry holds granola bars, pretzels, nuts and crackers - all in pre-portioned baggies (that I put together). The one in the fridge holds yogurt cups, fruit, cheese, etc. - again, prepped and pre-portioned. This lets them grab something when they're hungry, but not overdo it. They know they can have 1 snack from each basket each day.

As for frozen snacks and pizzas - they are very expensive for the nutritional value. You could take one day a month, let the older kids help you, and make a freezer full of homemade things... pizzas (or just the dough balls), breakfast sandwiches to reheat, burgers, hot pocket type snacks, etc. I've been known to do this and it helps so much. Also, when you do cook, make lots extra. Don't make 2 cups of rice, make the whole bag and freeze it in meal sized portions - 3 minutes in the microwave and you're ready to eat.

No matter what, remember that the less processed the food you buy is, the less it will cost. And, put those teens to work - they're old enough to help out in the kitchen.

I'm an at-home mom, who is a confessed food geek. I cook from scratch and don't buy convenience foods - I make my own. Feel free to email me privately if you have other questions.

Good luck.



answers from Columbus on

I have four kids--teenage girls mostly, all athletes. They eat a lot. One word---Aldis. Most people don't know this, but they are owned by the same company that owns Trader Joes. You can find junk there,true, but you can find healthy food without preservatives and dyes also. We cook from scratch a lot. Make your ingrediants in bulk during the week while you are busy doing something else---ie. cook a bag of rice, a bag of potatoes, etc., then during the week, add fresh vegetables for stir fry, or a crock pot chicken, and a salad, and you have a meal. Fresh fruit in a bowl on the counter always. Whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables, food without preservatives and made from real food---sometimes more expensive up front---but will make your kids more satisfied, their bodies won't constantly be searching for the nutrients they need, and so they end up not just mindlessly eating all your snacks. (I am not a purist like you think---i have tried the other route too---the cheap food like boxed mac and cheese, cheap bologna, etc. This is really cheaper). Don't get me wrong, they will still eat a lot. But if you have a few "snack" type foods so they don't feel deprived, what they are really looking for is something they can grab that has nutrition. We shop at Schwabels bakery outlet for whole grain bread (they have 12 grain bread for $.89), and The Andersons for cheap organic meats. I spend $300/two weeks.



answers from Canton on

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.



answers from Terre Haute on

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.



answers from Indianapolis on

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. :-)



answers from Columbus on

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!



answers from Cincinnati on

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!



answers from Cleveland on

The older kids need to have an activity to work on during the summer. It sounds like they eat out of bordom. Have them help with cooking food so that it is ready when you get home. Also be frank about the fact that you can't afford to go through food like that, its too expensive. And if that doesn't help, they need to go out and buy their bordom snacks.



answers from Cleveland on

I'm struggling with summer recipes myself but have some pointers on the teenagers. Your shopping list for them for the most part is VERY pricey, and they eat a TON. That's just kids at that age.

For lunch meat (i assume in that amount your talking deli meat) try buying a whole boneless ham and having the store slice it, (kroger does it just ask the meat guy) it's a LOT cheaper. Or skip it all together and buy some good old PB and J.

make enough at dinner for leftovers and stop buying all the frozen meals.

tacos are fairly cheap to make, and the meat heats up well, most kids are big fans of walking tacos as well (small bag of chips with taco ingredients tossed in). But they can make them easily and it's going to be cheaper than hot pockets and such.

cheap frozen pizzas are easy and generally go further than a hot pocket for less money.

canned ravioli and stuff is generally a big hit, or hot dogs, and again cheaper than some other things. (all I can say there though is EWWWWW, but kids love that junk)

you can also change the way you shop. go to the store weekly buy JUST enough to get through the week, they aren't going to starve, but explain to them this is it till whenever. They really don't need three frozen meals and two hot pockets a day on top of dinner, even if they think they do.

good luck.



answers from Indianapolis on

potatoes in the crockpot, rub them with olive oil, sprinkle with salt, wrap with aluminum foil and put in crockpot on low for 8 hours. Then just put out the toppings (cheese, broccoli, sourcream, etc...) simple and ready when you get home.
I have my teenagers start dinner for me, they can do simple things like peel potatoes, shuck corn, marinate chicken.
Go to Aldi's the food is good and cheap.

I have even gone so far as making lunches on Sundays and freezing them (this works for dinners too) then they are only allowed to eat what is in the freezer. Lunch meat sandwhiches I would make in the mornings (minus the condiments) then I know how much is being used. This helps on making them responsible, and talk to them about how much is spent and what is available, you have teens, they will get it. Let them be responsible and help you cook it gives them a sense of pride and ownership of the meals