The Cheapest, Bestest Dinner Ideas, IV

We’re taking a short break from breakfast today and talking soup instead.


Do you remember the children’s story, Stone Soup? Some soldiers who were super hungry couldn’t get the tight-fisted villagers to help a stranger out so they cleverly opened the clenched palms one ingredient at a time. As a kid, I thought that was merely a great way to pull one over on everyone. As an adult, I’ve realized that soup is one of the best ways to whip up a meal with little or nothing around the house.

Well… that and casserole. But I grew up in a house where ‘casserole’ became almost as dirty a word as ‘meatloaf,’ so I tend to avoid those mixed-leftovers things.

My top favorite non-casserole extra-food-mix meal is Chicken Tortilla Soup. I found a great recipe over at and it’s been my go-to whenever we haven’t had it for a while.

My secret for this is to use leftover chicken (fried up in the obligatory spices), extra-chunky salsa, and have the other ingredients on hand. Keeping tortilla chips around, alone, will help prepare you for at least three other meals. And I’ve already talked about the wonders of pre-shredded cheddar cheese.

If you buy the super-huge bottle, you can make this every week!

The other staples I have around are oil (of course!), minced garlic, cumin, chicken broth, frozen corn, lemon juice, chopped onion (frozen), chili powder, and salsa –whoa! I keep everything ready for this meal!

Chicken Tortilla Soup


Skinless, boneless chicken breast or pieces – about 1.5 lbs
1/2 tsp oil
1/2 tsp minced garlic
1/4 tsp ground cumin
2 (14.5 oz) cans chicken broth -about 4 cups
1 cup frozen corn kernels
1/2 cup chopped onion
1/2 tsp chili powder
1 Tbsp lemon juice
1 cup chunky salsa

Tortilla chips, sour cream, shredded Monterey jack or cheddar cheese, guacamole or chopped avocado

Necessary Materials

Cutting board and knife
Measuring spoons
Measuring cup
Soup pot
Can opener
Grater, if cheese is not pre-shredded


  1. Cut the chicken breast or leftover chicken into bite-sized cubes.
  2. In a large soup pot over medium heat, cook and sauté chicken cubes in the oil for 5-10 minutes.
  3. Add the garlic and cumin and mix well.
  4. Add the broth, corn, onion, chili powder, lemon juice, and salsa. Reduce heat to low and simmer uncovered for about 20-30 minutes.
  5. Serve the soup in individual bowls. Top with crushed tortilla chips, sour cream, shredded cheese, and guacamole or avocado -according to taste.

The sour cream thickens the soup and balances out that spicy kick from the chili powder and salsa. Even my son who hates sour cream adds some to his soup because of this.

Besides the appeal of the flavor and the healthy factor, I think my kids like this meal because they get to smash a bunch of chips in their hands and then stir everything in mad scientist-style.

This is an easy, cheap, healthy meal that takes about half an hour to make if you have all the ingredients ready to go. I like to make it in general, but also get a hankering whenever I have a cold and/or the weather is cold.


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