Takeout is expensive, especially if you go multiple times and/or have multiple eaters.
Make a list of cheap, fast, go-to meals. You’ll thank yourself later.
My list includes:
- Pizza (frozen pizza counts!)
- Chicken on the bird (Costco whole, cooked chicken)
- Costco clam chowder
- Chili (sometimes with biscuits or cornbread)
- Taco salad
- Grilled cheese sandwiches
- Frozen burritos
- Ramen with vegetables (not necessarily made according to the package)
Cooking does not have to be that complicated, especially with the prevalence of so many frozen and pre-made options.
My tip today, however, is to not be afraid of making basic meals.
Don’t fear cooking!
There are a ton of easy meals that don’t take a lot of time, ingredients, or money to make. From the Poor Man’s Grilled Cheese Sandwich to French Bread Pizza to all the quick meals I listed on this very site, you have more than the drive thru to choose from come dinnertime.
You can do it. I promise.
Today’s meal was inspired by Thanksgiving leftovers. Through a combination of laziness and laziness, I haven’t purchased any extra food besides milk and bread since Turkey Day.
We actually had two Turkey Days this year. At the second one, we also baked a ham. My children have informed me that, if they have to eat another meal with ham hidden somewhere in it, they will voluntarily fast.
Slightly before that point, I used ham slices as a side for a new recipe I discovered over at Genius Kitchen: Leftover Mashed Potato Pancakes.
Leftover Mashed Potato Pancakes
2 cups mashed potatoes (approximately)
1/4 cup flour
Salt and Pepper
Dried onion flakes or powder, to taste
Garlic powder, to taste
Oil or butter, for cooking
Toppings: sour cream, shredded cheese, or ketchup
Mixing spoon or electric mixer with beaters
Griddle or skillet
- Mix all the ingredients except oil and toppings together in a bowl. If stirring manually (or using mashed potatoes that were a tad lumpy), use a potato masher.
- Preheat griddle or skillet to 325°. Add a small amount of oil or butter to surface.
- Pour about 1/4 cup batter in a round shape in the oil or butter. Repeat to fill griddle or pan.
- When one side is browned, flip and cook the other side. If too thick to cook the inside evenly, press down slightly with the spatula. Repeat with all pancakes.
- Set aside and serve with toppings.
I hadn’t made these before and felt pleasantly surprised at how they turned out. My kids all ate them (win!) and only complained mildly (a midway win).
I thought they tasted like hashbrowns with extra substance, and preferred eating mine with ketchup. When eating them for leftovers breakfast the following morning, I tried the sour cream and cheese and thought that tasted more like baked potato.
This is a great meal for using up leftover mashed potatoes, for keeping things cheap and easy, and for serving a dinner that’s fairly healthy as well.
I’m cheating a bit with tonight’s meal by not using an actual recipe.
Sometimes we get a bit hassled ’round dinner time and decide to go out to eat. Since we have four children who are too old to eat off our plates anymore, these trips end up costing $60 or more each time. Yowza!
Ever since a memorable night at Olive Garden when I was last pregnant (2013), I have always opted for something at home instead. Surely, I figure, for $60 we can think of an alternative meal.
I usually make a dinner from my list of meals I’ve shared on this blog. When not in the mood for one of those (again), I have a few quick and easy meals I can get from one grocery store visit.
Cue this meal! I think of it as Sausage with Rice-A-Roni. We’ll keep working on the name.
The cost is definitely worth it! One box of Rice-A-Roni is less than $2. The broccoli: $2. The sausage? $2.50. We’re talking a meal for the entire family for $11 (because I bought two of the meat and rice). ELEVEN DOLLARS!
Polish Sausage with Rice and Broccoli
1 pkg your favorite variety of Rice-A-Roni
1 full link sausage of your favorite variety
A head or two of broccoli (or a family serving of frozen)
Butter or oil
Salt and Pepper
Wax paper or EPA-safe plastic wrap
Knife for cutting broccoli
Wood Spatula or tongs
- Prepare Rice-A-Roni in the saucepan according to directions, using the butter and water.
- Follow directions for frying the sausage in the skillet.
- Rinse broccoli. Cut main parts of stalk off and discard. Place in microwave-safe bowl with some water in the bottom. Cover with wax paper and microwave for 4-5 minutes.
- Serve together. Season broccoli according to taste.
My kids made a face about this meal, so we may try different varieties next time. I think I’d have great success with Li’l Smokies, for example, but that raises the cost.
In all, however, making a meal for under $20 and in less than half an hour is a win in my book!
Tonight’s fare is an oldie but a goodie: French Dip Sandwiches.
I frequently have nights where it’s just about dinnertime and I need a meal, quick. Or, I have days where I finally squeezed in that grocery store trip and need to think up a week’s worth of dinners.
This recipe has very few preparation steps. Maybe you’re thinking it’s hardly a recipe idea at all, but I appreciate that I can make it with few ingredients and with little time.
French Dip Sandwiches
Sliced roast beef
Cheese, if desired
1 packet Au Jus Gravy mix
OR 1 recipe homemade Au Jus Gravy
Skillet or toaster oven
Cheese knife (if using cheese)
- Prepare Au Jus Gravy according to packet or recipe, by whisking it into water in the small pot and heating to boiling.
- While the gravy dip is heating, cut hoagie rolls in half lengthwise. Apply butter to each inside part, then fry over medium heat in the skillet. Set aside.
- Heat roast beef slices over low heat in the skillet or in the microwave.
- Top one half of the hoagie roll liberally with roast beef and a slice of cheese (if preferred).
- Serve each sandwich on a plate with a small cup of Au Jus.
Not all of my kids liked the taste of dipping their sandwich into Au Jus, but they were willing to try it. In the end, my pickiest eater took the roast beef off the roll and ate everything separately.
I like serving this quick, easy, cheap meal with common, healthy sandwich sides: carrot sticks, apple slices, olives, fresh tomatoes, cucumbers, etc.