Ask the Readers: What Is Your Favorite Frugal Food?

By Ashley Jacobs on 19 March 2013 (Updated 26 March 2013) 136 comments
Photo: Jeff Belmonte

Editor's Note: Congratulations to Liza, KK, and Elena for winning this week's contest!

Tasty food doesn't have to cost a lot. You can save on fresh ingredients at the grocery store, or save time by cooking in large batches, or get creative with leftovers to make a meal last — whatever it takes to get your favorite food on the table!

What is your favorite frugal food? Is it a dish you make yourself, or an ingredient that you often use? Do you have a recipe to share?

Tell us about your favorite frugal food and we'll enter you in a drawing to win a $20 Amazon Gift Card!

Win 1 of 3 $20 Amazon Gift Cards

We're doing three giveaways — here's how you can win!

Mandatory Entry:

  • Post your answer in the comments below. One commenter will win a $20 Amazon Gift Card!

For extra entries:

  • You can tweet about our giveaway for an extra entry. Also, our Facebook fans can get an extra entry too! Use our Rafflecopter widget for your chance to win one of the other two Amazon Gift Cards:
  • a Rafflecopter giveaway

    If you're inspired to write a whole blog post OR you have a photo on flickr to share, please link to it in the comments or tweet it.

    Giveaway Rules:

    • Contest ends Monday, March 25th at 11:59 pm Pacific. Winners will be announced after March 25th on the original post. Winners will also be contacted via email.
    • You can enter all three drawings — once by leaving a comment, once by liking our Facebook update, and once by tweeting.
    • This promotion is in no way sponsored, endorsed or administered, or associated with Facebook.
    • You must be 18 and US resident to enter. Void where prohibited.

Good Luck!

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Guest's picture

Potato soup made with homemade stock. I save the bones from whole chickens I cook and put them in the freezer until I'm ready to make the stock. Stock I make in bulk and freeze as well, just thaw when ready to make soup.

Guest's picture

baked mac n' cheese

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Tina in NJ

My favorite frugal food has to a roasting chicken. A big one (oven stuffer). We have dinner right out of the oven, then I pullthe meat off the rest of the bones. This is cubed and used in casseroles, enchiladas, and/or soup. If I'm feeling ambitious the bones go in the slow cooker to make chicken broth for said soup. When I get a "free" turkey around the holidays, I do the same thing, only it takes two slow cookers for the turkey bones. This stretches a chicken to up to six meals for my family.

Guest's picture
Ernest

Boneless pork chops are often $4.00 a pound or more while a whole pork loin will often be on sale for $1.99. I shop for meat on the first Wednesday of the month and receive a 10% Senior Discount, so now we are talking around $1.80 a pound. I very nicely ask the butcher to slice it into 1/2" thick chops which I store in freezer bags two to a bag. (Hey, it worked out OK for Noah.)
EZ Skillet Pork Chops. Sautee' two seasoned boneless pork chops in an iron skillet until they have nice color and remove. Sautee' seasoned frozen peppers and onion mix until onions are opaque. Add pork chops back to pan and a can of diced tomatoes WITH juices. Cover, reduce heat and cook for about 25 minutes adding water or broth if necessary. Serve with brown rice for extra nutritional value. Serves 2.

Guest's picture
Betty D.

Lentils! For about $1 a bag, you can't beat them. Easy to cook, and they taste delicious.

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Olivia

My current favorite is roasted mixed root vegetables as they've been on sale in our area. Carrots, potatoes, and beets, peeled, chunked, drizzled with olive oil and roasted with a head of garlic. Parsnips, sweet potatoes, and turnips added sometimes, and red peppers if we can get them. Love the colors.

Guest's picture

Vegetarian chili is my favorite frugal food to make. The ingredients are readily available year round, they don't cost much, and it usually provides plenty of leftovers. It's easy to make it for meat lovers if you have the extra cash. You can use vegetables you grow yourself (and freeze/can) or from the store. It's also versatile, top a baked potato with chili, place chili over mashed potatoes, chili over rice, and I hear Ohio folks put chili on their spaghetti too.

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Marc

For me, it's the incredible, edible egg. Inexpensive, nutritional, and able to be incorporated into a snack or meal at any time of day. Who doesn't like breakfast for dinner?

Guest's picture
Toco

Anchovy pasta.
Pasta,garlic,olive oil, canned anchovy fillet, bunch of chopped parsley.
If you have canned tuna, even better.
Super simple, low cost. But very tasty.And satisfying.

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Razorbacks92

Pinto beans in the crock pot! We do it at least once a week. No meat, just spices!

Guest's picture

I love using grains and legumes that I buy in bulk. It's easy to take these and make cheap meals, as well as homemade flours!

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Bethany

Pasta...Let's admit it carbs are delish, even if they aren't in vogue.

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KF

Chili! Super simple and cheap. Plus you can do it all in one pot.

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Liza

Hands down: Chickpeas! I get them in cans for as low as 65 cents at my local grocery store and can't get enough of them. They're delicious, nutritious, and versitile. My favorite recipe is to toss them with some flour, cayenne pepper, and oil in a frying pan and use them in a salad. Their texture is unique and they're a great source of protein!

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Natalie B.

Lentil Casserole: chopped veggies, broth or bouillion, bag of lentils all in a casserole dish for an hour or so. Tasty, fulfilling, cheap!

Guest's picture
Nancy

My favorite frugal foods are:
--Bean enchiladas. I cook up a large batch of dried beans (pinto or black) in the crockpot and freeze in separate containers or bags. I buy enchilada sauce when it's on sale or make my own. In addition to the beans I add a little leftover beef, pork or chicken if I have any. Leftover sweet potatoes make a tasty addition, too. I buy cheddar and jack cheese in large blocks on sale, grate it in my food processor, and freeze it in 1 or 2 cup bags. I also freeze tortillas. Then I have everything I need for a frugal meal that my whole family loves.
--Omelets. Eggs are inexpensive sources of protein and very versatile. Omelets are a good way to use up bits of vegetables--red pepper, scallions or onion, fresh spinach. Also a good way to stretch a little bit of bacon, ham, or sausage.
--Fried rice. I buy rice in bulk for savings. When I make a rice side dish, I cook extra to use for fried rice (or rice pudding) the next day. I use leftover pork or chicken, or a few shrimp which I generally have in the freezer or a combination. I add assorted vegetables I have on hand (chopped or julienned broccoli stem is good, along with carrots, green onions, peppers, peas) or some from a bag of frozen mixed vegetables.
--"Garbage" soup. I save odds and ends of vegetables (onion ends; carrot ends, peels and tops; celery leaves and ends; cabbage) in the freezer for soup stock which I make when I have a carcass left from a roasted chicken or turkey. I make up the stock and then turn it into soup with leftover chicken or turkey and vegetables and fresh herbs from the garden. I throw in some sausage or cooked beans if I have them. I add rice, pasta, or frozen tortellini at the end and accompany the soup with cornbread or cheesy biscuits. I often have enough soup left to freeze for future meals. It can be used as a main dish or it can be a first course when the I have extra hungry people to feed or need to stretch a meat main dish to serve more people.

Guest's picture
laurie

I haven't made real "garbage soup" since my kids moved out! You've inspired me to give it another go. My husband always said "I don't know what it will taste like, but I'm sure it will be good. And it'll be different the next time."

Guest's picture
Christie

My favorite frugal food is usually pork ribs! Our local store has them for $1.19 a pound sometimes and we stock up and roast them for pulled pork, chimichangas, and other recipes. Our other favorite frugal food is chicken breasts. Our local meat market has them for $1.89 a pound when you buy 40 pounds, so usually my mom and I split that and then have few hours of prep for weeks of chicken breasts all ready to go! With either pork or chicken in the fridge, we can make almost anything for dinner quickly.

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Guest

homemade hummus - I often skip the tahini because I don't use it in anything else, but I always have chickpeas (would be even more frugal if I started with dried, but I can usually find canned for pretty cheap), garlic, lemon juice & olive oil on hand.

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Nancy

Did you know you can freeze tahini, where it keeps up to a year. It expands when it freezes so leave an inch of headroom in glass or plastic containers.

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Jerry

Favorite frugal food (not healthiest) is frozen thin crust pizza from the supermarkets. I usually try to score them for less than $4 if I can. The reason why I prefer thin crust is that they cook up faster (10 minutes, saving some oven time and electricity/gas) and they have more consistency across brands (versus the rising dough versions which vary wildly). But do try to pair it with a salad and some fruits...

Guest's picture
Garrett

Every other week I make a batch of quinoa, black bean and corn salad. It's seasoned with cumin and chili pepper, and for whatever reason it satisfies my hunger better than most any other food. Quinoa isn't the cheapest ingredient, but it's an inexpensive meal accounting for all the snacks between meals I can skip.

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Jamie

PB&J

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MK

Ramen Noodles - Great to add leftovers or veggies.

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Elena

Pasta with tomato sauce is my favorite frugal food

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Carla

Tofu. It's super versatile, and super cheap. Break down a block and firm tofu, sautee with some olive oil, veggies, and spices for a scrambled egg-like dish. Or blend smooth tofu in a smoothie to make it extra filling. Or slice it and bake it to replace meat in a sandwich (marinate first for flavor. I like soy sauce and lemon juice with pepper).

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Mary Happymommy

I like anything with eggs (scrambled eggs or omelettes). They're easy to make and frugal.

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David

Wild-caught frozen salmon that I cook in a steamer.

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Casey

Homemade pizza dough. You can top it with anything and it costs pennies to make.

http://saltedplates.wordpress.com/2013/03/05/homemade-pizza-dough/

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Mallory R

My favorite frugal food is sweet potato home-fries with an egg on top. Cheap, delicious, and healthy!

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Becky

Tuna Salad

1 1/2 cups of pasta
1/2 cup celery chopped
1/4 cup onion chopped
1/2 cup light mayo
1 can or pouch of tuna

Cook pasta as instructed. Mix celery, onion, mayo and tuna. Drain pasta and rinse pasta in cold water. Add salt and pepper to taste (I used seasoned salt and seasoned pepper). Inexpensive, healthy and tasty.

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Jody Keene-Walter

The ever versatile potato is our favorite frugal food. Make them fried, mashed, baked, boiled, scalloped, french fried, or into soup and that's just for starters. They can also be served as the main course if baked and topped with fixings. Yum.

Guest's picture

Any soup our pasta is easy.

Tagliatelle in olive oil and butter with cherry tomatoes

1) Cover the bottom of a sauce pan with olive oil and place on medium heat.

2) When the olive oil is shimmering add the onions and stir cooking until they soften. Add about 3 tablespoons of butter and the tomatoes which have been quartered. Yes, I worship Paula! Once the butter melts and you have coated the onions well, stir in the about a teaspoon each of the spices. Carefully taste and adjust the spices. Salt and pepper if needed.

3) Add half of the cold, leftover tagliatelle and garlic and toss to thoroughly coat with the oil and butter mixture. Add the remaining half of pasta and toss to coat and mix the two portions of pasta well. Allow the pasta to warm up with the pot on the stove.

4) Once you place it in your bowl just sprinkle some cheese over it as I did here!

So much better than fast food and tastier!

3) Add half of the cold, leftover tagliatelle and garlic and toss to thoroughly coat with the oil and butter mixture. Add the remaining half of pasta and toss to coat and mix the two portions of pasta well. Allow the pasta to warm up with the pot on the stove.

4) Once you place it in your bowl just sprinkle some cheese over it as I did here!

So much better than fast food and tastier!

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Jennifer

Lentil soup in the crockpot. Lentils + whatever veggies need to be used up + whatever spices I have on hand. It makes a ton of soup for less than $3.00.

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Shari C

Ground beef! Cheap and versatile. Can't beat it :)

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Nancy B from Many LA

One of my favorites is eating breakfast at dinner. We have our own chickens, so the eggs are cheap AND plentiful, cook some grits (cheap), bacon or sausage, and toast and we're good to go!

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Kate

Lately I've been loving red lentils - they're cheap, fast and delicious!

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Michelle

Tacos using leftover chicken or any kind of meat.

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Ruby BB

stir fry made with whatever veggies can find in the fridge & whole wheat spaghetti for the noodle base cuz i always have some of that in the pantry.

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meaghan

Quesadillas with peppers, onions, chicken, and guacomole. Everyone loves cheese and it is easy/fast on the stove or in the microwave-and kind of? healthy too!

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Amanda

Any type of beans - I use canned chickpeas for homemade hummus and dried bulk kidney beans for red beans and rice. They're cheap and add nutrition to any meal, so I always keep dried or canned ones around.

Guest's picture
MM Brown

I love lentil brown rice casserole: onions, garlic, oregano or fresh herbs, homemade vegetable stock or bouillon, dried lentils and uncooked brown rice (rinsed, of course), salt and pepper, and usually a splash of white wine from the homebrew my partner's grandparents give us. Everything gets mixed into a casserole dish and goes into the oven for an hour. Then, when it comes out, we top it with a little cheese and pop it under the broiler for a few minutes.

The dish usually costs less than $5 and serves us for multiple meals. Because the rice and lentils cook in the oven, it's also a major timesaver. Last week, we made it in the crockpot. Even better!

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Guest

Eggs! So versatile & last a while too

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Gina

Split pea with ham soup! Super cheap and easy. Bag of dried split peas, ham hock from butcher, onions, carrot, celery, garlic, sprinkle of thyme and, if I feel like splurging, a ham steak cut into chunks. Cooks fast, makes a huge pot, freezes amazingly well.

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Shari Czerwinski

Ground beef-cheap and versatile. Can't go wrong!

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Jennifer

Stir fry, one chicken breast bought on sale, rice that you buy in bulk, and broccoli mixed with some sauces you have on hand. Not only inexpensive but quicker and healthier than fast food and only one pot to clean.

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Guest

Pancakes! Scrambled eggs and toast are a close second. Oh, and oatmeal.

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Lynn Blumenstein

I buy dried beans, bulk, from my local food coop when they are on sale. I submerge them in water overnight, then switch to fresh water to cover and slow cook them until they are done, together with onions and thyme.

After they cool to room temperature, I freeze them in individual containers. Then I defrost/microwave them whenever I feel a need for hearty, healthy satisfying beans.

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Amy

Buying a leftover ham after a major holiday. Major discounts!

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Roy Schoppert

Whole wheat flour pancakes. Very easy to make and they taste better then any packaged pancake mix that you can buy!!

Guest's picture

matzoh ball soup....

Use all your left over veggie scraps to make a lovely veggie stock. The mix matzoh meal and 2 eggs, 1T of oil. Chill mixture for 15 minutes. The form in balls and drop into veggie stock. Delicious, quick and inexpensive.

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Happy Love

Buttermilk pancakes with scrambled eggs for dinner.

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Diana

Pasta.....bowtie pasta with cottage cheese and bacon pieces
mixed in...all warm and gooey.

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Kate

Lentils are my go-to frugal base ingredient for soups, chili, hot or cold salads, pasta sauce... the list is endless.

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Kelli

I like frugal staples like pasta and rice. I usually make a big batch once a week and am able to not only enjoy it that same day but have leftovers to create other meals during the week.

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Laura Jacobson

Oh spaghetti for us...always cheap and easy to make!

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NJGill

Ramen noodles with a spicy sauce:

Peanut Ramen Noodles
Prep Time: 10 min
Inactive Prep Time:--
Cook Time: 5 min
Level: Easy
Serves: 4 servings Ingredients
Kosher salt
2 pkgs chili flavored ramen noodles
1/4 cup crunchy peanut butter
1/4 cup seasoned rice vinegar or lemon juice
1 tablespoon soy sauce
2 to 3 teaspoons chili sauce (recommended: Huey Fong Chili Garlic Sauce)
OPTIONAL: 1 tablespoon Kraft Asian Toasted Sesame Dressing

Directions
Bring a large pot of water to a boil over high heat. Add a generous amount of salt and stir in the noodles. Cook
according to package instructions; drain and rinse well under cold running water.
Meanwhile, whisk the ramen flavor packets, peanut butter, vinegar, soy sauce and chili sauce in a large bowl until smooth. Add the drained noodles, and with tongs, toss until coated with the dressing. Serve immediately or chill in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours.

Guest's picture
Linda

My favorite frugal go-to for years has to be ramen noodles. Used as a base, I can add anything else that's lying around.....veg, left-over meats, or whatever....and come up with a tasty meal. A great comfort food.

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Andy

Crepes. The flour, eggs, and milk can be purchased on sale for extra frugality.

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Will

My fav is Margarita Popsicles...or
Tequila Lime Chicken...or

Any recipe that gives me a reason to bust out the tequila. =)

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Kristine E.

Definitely a frittata. Eggs and fresh veggies are so cheap and it's a delicious dish!

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Sarah

My favorite frugal food is pasta! You can throw in any other ingredients you have on hand (frozen veggies, leftover fresh spices, etc) and whip together a quick cheap meal.

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Angela

It would definitely have to be rolled oats. I love making different combinations of oatmeal flavors with them. And, it microwaves in a minute or so!

Guest's picture

Eggs. Cheap protein, can be versatile.

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suzemagoo

SOUP! Any kind, any time, hot or cold!

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Ana G.F.

Chickpeas salad: boiled chickpeas - canned are fine - finely chopped onion, tuna fish - canned is fine - and a sprinkle of olive oil. Mmmm, so good!

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Shannon

Homemade mac and cheese, being meatless it saves money over regular meals

Guest's picture

spaghetti! i bought target brand sauce and pasta with coupons (1 dollar total for a jar of sauce and box of pasta). I jazz it up by sataying some mushrooms, green peppers, sometimes corn or squash and ( whatever vege i have at home) and add it to the sauce. extra nutrition and tastes fancy. sprinkle with cheese and cilantro, who needs the restaurant.

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Stefanie

Pasta - with whatever veggies are in season on top! So good all year round, the flavors always change with the seasons. I stock up on pasta - especially WW/ high fiber - when there are good sales and coupons.

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Margaret

My dad was Filipino so growing up our default belt-tightening meal was fridge fried rice. Some eggs, some leftover rice and whatever leftover veggies and proteins were in the fridge or pantry. The beautiful thing was if there were no "leftovers" a can or bag of mixed veg and the basic rice and eggs could serve the full family.

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Evelyn

Mac 'N Cheese. I have gotten a box for as little as .25 cents each. If you feel like splurging, you can add cut up hotdogs or Spam.

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Lisa

Homemade chili!!!

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Amanda Sakovitz

Tacos are my favorite frugal food. They are quick and inexpensive to make

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Gemma

Homemade english muffin bread ...hubby would buy a loaf for almost $4! I make two loaves for like a dollar! Epic win as my two girls would say...

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Giang Nguyen

Beans, eggs, bananas, and lentils are my favorite frugal ingredients!

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MELISSA HANSSON

My husband makes the most delicious hoppin' john. It's so good and so cheap, full of rice and black eyed peas with just some bacon for flavor. Plus there are always leftovers.

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Brenda Faulkner

Meatloaf - great food and cheap for a family to eat.

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Catseye

Potatoes! Love them baked or fried. When you bake them, you can top them with pretty much whatever you like and they will be tasty and filling.

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Paige

Chicken Mozzarella

Take some boneless, skinless chicken breasts, spice them to taste, and slice them with a knife right in the middle (so that you're cutting long-ways). Stuff the center with shredded mozzarella, bake for about 10-15 minutes, take it out, cover it with pasta sauce (either home-made or store bought, your choice. Also spiced to taste), and place sliced mozzarella on top. Bake another 10-15 min, or until center is fully cooked.

Guest's picture
Elaina

Take three 6" corn tortillas sauté each in a small fry pan with a little butter. Set aside.
Prepare you favorite cole slaw. Heat a can of your favorite refried beans.
Fill each warmed tortilla with refried beans. One tablespoon of cole slaw. Top with a taco sauce or salsa. Mexican cheese may also be added. Roll up and top with more taco sauce.
Served with extra beans and coleslaw on the side makes mine a "Delicious Poor Man's Dinner"

Guest's picture
Guest

Eggs! As a kid I thought they were gross and refused to eat them. Then I got my own place and realized protein is expensive!! Now I eat them almost everyday and eat meat very sparingly. They are cheap, versatile and delish.

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Monique

Steel cut oats! I buy them from the bulk foods section and cook a pretty big batch to eat throughout the week. I love adding different nuts, fruits, spices, and even shredded coconut. And it makes a delicious, filling, satisfying breakfast.

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Lisa

Potatoes are about as cheap as anything you can buy and can be fixed a hundred and one different ways!

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Laura

Eggs! Eggs are versatile, cheap, and a great source of protein. You can enjoy eggs in any meal, and you can be creative enough with them to avoid monotony. Frittatas, huevos rancheros, egg drop soup, omelettes, hard boiled as a snack or on a salad - the list goes on!

Guest's picture
Therese

I like to make chicken stock from the leftover carcass of a whole chicken. I use it when making soup or cooking vegetables or rice. Delicious!

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Joe

Roasted whole chicken. Filling, versatile, and you can use the carcass to make stock.

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Tabathia B

spaghetti is my favorite frugal meal, grab some spaghetti and some pasta sauce

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Diane

Red beans & Rice~ cheap, yummy & filling~!

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BRB

Combining all the scraps and leftovers into something new and tasty makes me feel accomplished and frugal!

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Guest

Split pea soup!

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Guest

Honey Nut Cheerios is my preference, but I can get much more for my money by purchasing the Safeway brand of Honey Nut knockoff, and get way more cereal for much less money. The ingredients are nearly identical, so buying the cheaper cereal saves me a lot of money. Another highly frugal yet nutritious food I buy is bananas. Bananas are said to be the perfect food. I buy them very green, in bunches of 4 or 5, then slice them up on my cheap cereal, along with a handful of store brand raisins. Overall, I have great luck with buying store brands and generics. Food manufacturers really rip people off: Take one big potato for 2 cents, slice it into chips and sell that same potato for $4 a bag. No way.

Guest's picture
Lynda

spaghetti with jar sauce

Guest's picture

We've got a LOT of beans. Cans and cans and cans of beans. I've experimented a little, and have come up with a frugal, simple, and quick meal -- bean burritos. I cook the beans on the stove -- throw in some minced onions and some cinnamon (yes! my secret ingredient), mash them up, spoon them onto a tortilla with some shredded cheese, and you're good to go. Jalapenos and sour cream are a bonus! :)

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Thomas Murphy

grilled cheese is my favorite frugal food

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Sarah

Potatoes with rosemary, thyme, garlic and olive oil

Guest's picture

Chick peas. I use them as a meat substitute in stuffed peppers and chili. I make hummus with them for sandwiches. They're even healthy and inexpensive dog training treats. :)

Guest's picture
chris

Muesli for lunch:
I mix a half banana, half apple, 1 cup of yoghurt, 4 ESP shredded oats or muesli mix or other muesli components and take in a jar for lunch to my office.

If I have other fruit, great. Other than kiwi all is good for the mix. Kiwi will make it bitter.
If I have frozen fruit, great. They will keep it cold till lunchtime, even if I don't have access to a fridge.
If I have brown bananas, great. I freeze them in pieces and use some pieces for the mix.

Guest's picture
Josh Ray

Breakfast tacos.

Delicious, cheap, nutritious, easy.

-Roast sweet potato, potato, onion, garlic, and jalepeno together.
-Make scrambled eggs
-heat tortillas on stove
-top taco with salsa, avocado, and cilantro.

-black beans are good with it too.

Guest's picture
random dude

Simple Sandwich:
1. Apply dressing of your choice on wheat bread slices
2. Grill Tofu slices in Olive oil and insert in between slices
3. Top veggies if you want and switch dressings to avoid sammy fatigue

Guest's picture
Rebecca B. A. R.

I totally love "pasta and tomatoes"--just cooked pasta with a homemade sauce of diced tomatoes with olive oil, basil and sometimes oregano. We usually have it once a week--plus it is vegetarian.