Frugal Tip: Have a BackUp Meal Plan

Normally, I plan out my menus for the week. This helps in a number of ways, particularly in budgeting. If I’m building from what’s in the cupboard and adding just a few ingredients, I can make do with less. Usually, this entails cooking from scratch which has proved to be the most frugal way to feed my family.

However, there are times (like lots of contractions and packing and moving) when my head just isn’t in the game. Recently, I’ve been able to fall back on a generous neighbor and my parents. Can you say McDonalds, Chipotle, and Culvers?

But, this doesn’t work all the time. And, we can’t really afford take-out everytime I am indisposed. I am realizing that we have to have a back up plan. So, here are my ideas for quick and cheap meals that you can easily keep stocked in the pantry. These are also simple enough that hubby and older kids can prepare these without a recipe.

* pasta salad – FishKids like this simple. One pound of penne, cooked according to package directions, tossed with oil and vinegar, garlic powder, Italian spices, and parmesan. I serve it on a bed of lettuce for adults and top with chopped tomatoes and olives.

* beans and rice – cooked white rice, drained and heated black beans, grated cheese, salsa, sour cream, and tortilla chips

* cheese quesadillas – flour tortillas, buttered, filled with cheese, folded over, and fried until crisp. Serve with salsa and sour cream.

Have you got a cheap and easy meal? Share it in the comments! I need all the help I can get!

For more frugal tips, visit Crystal’s blog every Friday.

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  1. Zimms Zoo says:

    Those are great ideas. We use mac-n-cheese and hot dogs. Sometimes pancakes, because that is another thing that the kids can make.

    Also if I can get some dough in the bread machine, they can handle making cheese pizza.

    Thanks for all the great tips. I don’t always get around to commenting but I love it all.

  2. supermommy says:

    I just made this last night:

    1 lb pasta (any kind)
    1 lb ground beef (browned)
    1 jar pasta sauce
    minced onions
    Italian seasoning (to taste)
    sprinkle with freshly grated parmesan

    I served it last night with homemade pitas that I brushed with olive oil and garlic salt. Very simple and filling.

  3. quesadillas are a favorite of ours too. he’ll even just eat tortillas, salsa, and cheese without bothering to melt them.

    i had one of those moments on Tuesday b/c i didn’t have any meat laid out and i couldn’t find the ingredients for the veggisaurus meal i had on the menu (we’re packing and half of the kitchen is in boxes). so i just improvised and did pizza subs. i pulled a french bread loaf out of the freezer. thankfully i had pepperonis (so preserved they probably never go bad) and pizza sauce to make a great last minute, easy meal! 🙂

  4. My go to quick fix is Tuna Casserole. So easy and done in 10 minutes.
    boil 1/2 bag of extra wide egg noodles, drain
    add 1 can tuna (drained)
    add 1 can cream of celery soup
    add 1 can peas
    heat through

    I serve with a can of peaches or pears and bread and butter and a tall glass of milk… may be too much carbs, but it works for us!

    I can keep the ingredients in the pantry without any of it going bad.

    (This makes enough for the two of us plus leftovers for me).

  5. I am blessed that my kids LOVE this dish-in fact, they prefer if the veggie mixture has lima beans in it-go figure.

    I usually have the ingredients in the freezer and it goes together so quickly I believe it’s almost faster than waiting in a drive-thru lane.

    Veggie-Potato Skillet

    28 ounces Potatoes O’Brien
    16 ounces frozen mixed vegetables
    1 cup shredded cheddar cheese, or Mexican blend

    1. Spray pan with cooking spray or use olive oil. Heat over low heat til oil is warmed. Turn up heat, add potatoes. Cook for 4 minutes (or longer) until they just start to brown.

    2. Add vegetables; continue cooking until all is heated throughout. Turn off heat; sprinkle cheese over mixture. Cover and let sit for 3-5 minutes, until cheese is melted. Serve immediately.

  6. ~Steffie~ says:

    In your area there might be a place like Dinner Thyme that allows you to come in for a few hour session and make a few weeks of freezeable meals for events like births/moving/weddings etc. It is not budget friendly do do this often as some weekly plans cost around 130, but for a temporary fix for a stressful situation I have found it to be very helpful.

    When I was pregnant with my son I made two or three dinners a day for two weeks and froze the other two. By the time I was out of commission from contractions/maternity leave I had a really nice stockpile of frozen dinners to fall back on!


  7. keltic&swiss says:

    Just yesterday I got in the mood to make a couple batches of pizza dough in the breadmaker. Then I packaged sauce, cheese and pepperoni in little baggies…added some pizza dough and put all those little baggies in a bigger Ziploc and called them Pizza Kits and threw them in the freezer. I figured this will save me in the future on a frantic day! 🙂
    kelli –

  8. Garden Gal says:

    Tacos are a for sure cheap meal in our home – but I like to fry corn tortillas in canola oil – makes for a "sturdier" taco, probably not to healthy. I buy the big Lawry's taco seasoning at Costco so that lasts quite a while in the pantry.

    Spaghetti is another quick meal, but lately I've been using Italian sausage rather than ground beef. Again, I can buy it bulk at Costco & just keep it all in the freezer. It really makes a difference in the taste!

    Another cheap & quick meal (especially when it's hot out or you don't want to cook) is sub sandwiches with pickle spears & chips. I always keep several types of deli meat in the fridge (fresh from the deli counter not the packaged type), & some hoagie rolls in the freezer. Add some mayo, peppers, lettuce & tomato – voila – dinner!

    Happy frugaling. 🙂

  9. Egg dishes are quite thrifty and easy. Mac n cheese, pizza, grilled cheese, stuffed potatoes, pancakes, french toast. 😀

  10. Centsible Savings says:

    I love it when I’m able to get Pasta Roni free with coupons, or sometimes I grab a frozen pizza or two. Not exactly healthy, but it definitely works when that’s all you can do! I gave you a bloggy award!

  11. We love quesadillas and nachos for quick meals. We also make grilled cheese sandwiches and salad for a quick dinner. And breakfast for dinner is always and easy meal.

  12. JessieLeigh says:

    Love quick things you can cook on the fly!

    The favorite in this house (especially with the hubby) is:

    Hot & Sour Peanut Noodles

    1 c chicken broth
    1/4 c soy sauce
    1/3 c lime juice
    1/3 c peanut butter
    1/2 t garlic powder
    1/2 t red pepper flakes
    1 lb thin spaghetti

    Whisk first 6 ingredients together in large bowl. Cook pasta according to package directions. Toss hot pasta in sauce. If feeling ambitious, feel free to add meat and veggies! (Our fave combos are: pork & mushrooms; chicken, broccoli, & red pepper; mini shrimp & shallots.)

    This dish has a yummy Thai flavor to it and tastes like it takes a long time.

    (p.s. We're also Catholic and this dish ROCKS for those meatless Fridays in Lent!)

  13. Kielbasa, potatoes (canned), corn, green beans…dump it all in a large skillet and let it do it’s thing!

    Rotisserie chicken, corn on the cob, and rice.

    Leftover Rotiss chicken (if you have it) shredded and served with pasta and red sauce.

    Black beans, corn, salsa, sour cream served with cheese and crackers (we do this for lunch alot but also works as a light dinner around here).

    That’s all I can think of for now!

  14. FeelingFrugal says:

    When I need a quick inexpensive meal, I make a Veggie Pie.
    Most of the time, I usually combine whatever leftover veggies we have, with gravy, and beans.

    Here’s one I made the other day:

    2 Deep Dish Pie Crusts (defrosted)
    1 15 oz can of Butter Beans
    About 1 cup of diced canned potatoes
    2 Cups mixed veggies; carrots, peas, and corn
    About 2 Cups of veggie gravy
    Salt and pepper to taste

    Place everything into one pie crust, and then cover with remaining crust.
    Bake at 350 degrees until crust is lightly browned, or bake according to your pie crust instructions.

    I’m guessing this made about 4 servings 🙂

  15. You can use my favorite bean dip inside quesadillas or you can top nacho chips with this, tomatoes, cheese, etc. My kids love it!

    1 can fat-free refried beans
    1 cup salsa
    1/2 to 1 cup shredded cheddar cheese

    Cook all together on low in a saucepan until well combined. Serve warm.

    Another no-cook favorite around here is cold meat (or microwaved chicken fingers) inside a tortilla with cheese, ranch dressing, and lettuce. My kids and DH all love those. Some cut-up veggies and dip on the side make for a quick meal!

  16. I don’t know if it is cheap, but it isn’t expensive. I know it’s easy, I do it at least once a month, and my kids love it. A couple cans of soup and grilled cheese sandwiches. My kids love minestroni, so I feel like they got some veggies too.

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