7 low-cost and quick meals

By glblguy

Mac and Cheese
Photo by: Zesmerelda

Each Monday here on Gather Little by Little I write about topics and techniques for saving money. This article is part of that ongoing series called Money Saving Monday Tips.

With 6 children in our house, it seems like we’re always on the run. Whether it be sports practice, Tae Kwon Do, school activities or church activities, most nights seem to busy. Trying to get dinner made and make it to the various activities on time can be a bit challenging. As a result, we use a few different dinner ideas that are not only quick and easy to fix, but inexpensive as well.

Breakfast for dinner

My personal favorite is breakfast for dinner. Eggs, bacon, sausage, country ham, toast, and biscuits…what could be better? Breakfast is a bit messy, but is pretty quick to fix, filling, and relatively inexpensive. We even do this sometimes when we aren’t in a hurry!


Sandwiches are our favorite standby. We always keep ham, turkey and cheese around in case we need to grab something quick, or even make a simple snack. The best part about sandwiches is that all but our youngest children can make their own and they enjoy doing it.

To change things up here are some different types of sandwiches we make: Bologna sandwiches, Tuna melts, Grilled cheese, Grilled Ham and Cheese, pimento cheese. I really like grilled peanut butter and jelly, but nobody else in my family does.


Spaghetti makes for a really great meal that can take less than 10 minutes to make. Whenever we make it, we always make extra sauce. Whatever we don’t use, we freeze. When you need a quick meal, all you have to do is boil the spaghetti and warm up the frozen sauce. Two key ingredients for me are Italian sausage in the sauce and Parmesan cheese sprinkled on top!

Quick tip straight from an Italian friend of mine: When boiling the spaghetti, place a little olive oil in the water to keep the spaghetti noodles from sticking.

Hamburgers/Hot Dogs

No quick meal list would be complete without hamburgers and hot dogs, especially during the summer. We always keep pre-made hamburger patties and hot dogs in the freezer. We’ve become pretty partial to kosher hot dogs such as Nathan’s or Hebrew National. They are more expensive, but taste better and frankly are made or higher quality products.

The best part of hamburgers and hot dogs is when cooked on the grill, there is little to no mess to clean up!

A fun twist on hot dogs is pigs in a blanket. Buy some Pillsbury Crescents and wrap them around the hot dogs. Bake in the oven until the Crescents are brown and you have pigs in a blanket.

Manwiches or Sloppy Joes

Manwiches (or Sloppy Joes) are always a quick and inexpensive option for dinner. Brown some hamburger, add a can of manwich mix, warm, place a little (or a lot) on a hamburger bun and you have dinner. I prefer to add a little cheese and maybe even some garlic salt.

To save even more money, you can make your own manwich sauce:

2 small cans tomato sauce
1/2 cup KC Masterpiece barbecue Sauce
1 large onion, chopped
1/2 of a large green pepper, diced (or put some red and some green)
Few sprinkles of Accent
salt and pepper to taste
1 Tbsp brown sugar

If you decide to go this route, I’d suggest mixing up a large batch and freezing the extra.

Macaroni and Cheese

Another meal that’s on my top 5 list, good old macaroni and cheese. I honestly like the Kraft Deluxe from the box. It’s quick, cheap and easy to make. If you prefer to go scratch though, here’s a good and quick recipe.

My ultimate favorite Macaroni and Cheese recipe is neither cheap nor quick, but it’s really good. Martha Stewart (whom I am not a big fan of) has an incredible recipe for macaroni and cheese.


Our kids love Tacos and turns out they are quick and low-cost too. We purchase soft taco shells in the deli area, buy some Old El Paso taco mix, cheese and various veggies and some hamburger meat or chicken. It makes a great meal, that can literally be made in less than 15 minutes. It is a bit messy though, so clean-up can take a little time.

Do you fix any of these meals when you’re in a hurry? What quick and low-cost meals do you fix? Share your ideas and recipes! Add a  comment!

19 Responses (including trackbacks) to “7 low-cost and quick meals”

  1. Laura Says:

    I’m so hungry after reading this post! Tacos and nachos are easy and delicious. Quick dinners allow us to unwind together from a busy day. Thanks for the manwich sauce recipe.

  2. Vanessa Says:

    We make Tacos and Spaghetti very often, it is usually on my monthly menu at least twice for each item.

    We make our own Taco shells though, well sort of, you can buy whats call ‘corn tortillas’ add a little oil to your pan and make your taco shell. It is very hard to explain, however very delicious and definetely fattening haha. My husband loves Mexican food so Taco’s is a staple around here. Maybe one day I’ll take photographs of how we do our taco shells and post them on my blog. It’s a very inexpensive way and you get a lot for your money. I think there is about 60 shells total and we pay average of 2.00 per bag we purchase.

    For my Spaghetti sauce it is tradition to make our own. My GrandMother is Italian and shared her recipe a few years before she passed. I make a huge thing of it about every 4 months and freeze it. Makes it very easy and in the long run cheaper than buying a $1.00 can every week.

    P.S. Your Italian friend told you right, olive oil will help the noodles to not stick together.

  3. Frugal Dad Says:

    I like these ideas because they are family-friendly and easy to make. Sometimes people post recipes that no one in my house would eat, not the case here!

  4. Dan Says:

    For low cost, go veggie! Unless you choose the most expensive ingredients, veggies are always less costly than meats. So, cook pasta with some kind of eggplant with gravy. Or rice mixed with peas, carrots, and onions in a creamy alfredo. Either dish is less costly than any meat.

    If you just can’t give up meat, use it as a seasoning, not as the main filler for your dish. A little sausage goes a long way in any pasta dish. Throw some in with spinache and penne and everyone will be happy for less than $0.50 per serving.

  5. Denise Says:

    Another food tip” buy tofu and put in in a zip loc bag in the freezer. When you take it out, it has the consistency of turkey-hamburger. Squeeze the water out and you can mix this in with your hamburger, half & half, for spagetti and tacos or you can use all tofu. Just add onion, garlic and other seasonings. I have been doing this for years. A block of tofu feeds four adults.

  6. Louise Says:

    My favorite quick and inexpensive standby meal is Italian Tofu Bake.

    1 lb. firm tofu
    1 cup spaghetti sauce
    1/2 cup shredded mozzarella
    1/4 cup grated parmesan

    Preheat oven to 350. Drain the tofu and it into 8 thick slices. Blot the slices with paper towels. Arrange in an 8″ square baking dish. Top with spaghetti sauce and spread evenly over tofu. Sprinkle mozzarella and parmesan over the sauce. Bake for 20 minutes or until cheeses are melted and bubbly.

    My kids adore this! I jazz it up sometimes with mushrooms, pepperoni, or “hots” (a hot pepper mix).

  7. Lee Says:

    This sounds like a lot of my meals. I like your extra tips and recipes to make the standard even better. I haven’t tried the Kraft Deluxe mac and cheese though, just the regular and the Velveeta shells. My kids are different in that they won’t eat tacos…I don’t know how they are kin to me! I love ’em. They’ll eat chicken in tortillas, as a substitute. That’s fast and cheap, too, especially if you’ve already got leftover chicken. Thanks,
    Great list.

  8. ThePassiveDad Says:

    Breakfast for dinner and spaghetti are wonderful cheap eats. My kids love spaghetti and could even eat it for breakfast. We make variations of pancakes, including Swedish pancakes. I’m hungry now:)

  9. Alisa Says:

    Thank you for the ideas!

  10. glblguy Says:

    Great additions everyone. Surprised at the number of Tofu responses. I really like Tofu, but myself and my 5-year old are the only two. Everyone else can’t stand it!

  11. Sarah Says:

    As I was thinking through my comment, I realized that all of my suggestions are Mexican food! We love to fix quesadillas, enchiladas, and taco salad. Quesadillas can be a full meal, if you add cooked chicken chunks, peppers, mushrooms, tomatoes, etc.–really anything you want, along with the cheese. They are great for quick meals.
    Enchiladas take more time but are relatively easy also. I posted my homemade recipe for them long ago. Everyone asks for the recipe bc they are so easy!
    And taco salad is basically the same as tacos, but I like it better because you can throw everything into one bowl and save on dishes. :-)

    Good practical post–I always like easy, fool-proof tips.

  12. Zee Says:

    I’m not much of a Martha Stewart fan either, but that homemade mac & cheese recipe looks wonderful – there’s got to be enough butter in there to choke a horse!

    I have to admit, Martha’s pretty good with the buttery and creamy stuff: my aunt sometimes brings Martha’s scalloped potatoes to Thanksgiving dinner. Those babies will clog your arteries faster than anything…

    Yumm… :-D

  13. Claude Says:

    I can’t believe no one said this before…

    when you cook pasta (especially spaghetti or tagliatelle or linguine or any long pasta), DO NOT put oil into the cooking water! NO NO NO!

    The oil stays on the pasta, and makes it impossible for the sauce to stick on the pasta… also do not rinse them with water after cooking, as that will take off all the starch off the pasta, and you have the same result -> sauce not going into the pasta!

    To cook pasta properly, have the salted water boiling all the time while cooking the pasta, then when ALMOST done (don’t wait til the end) take them out with a pasta grabber thingy tool, and put them into your sauce for just a slight bit of time, taking some of the salted pasta water as well! Let the pasta boil to aldente perfection in the sauce, and serve while still hot!

    That’s how you create the perfect pasta! no oil, no butter, no cold water!

    BTW parmesan cheese is a must for every italian pasta sauce!

  14. Monroe on a budget Says:

    I stopped buying store brand taco seasoning after trying out this recipe – Leanne’s Taco Seasoning at FlyLady.net:


  15. Bonnie Says:

    My favorite quick meals:

    Fetticine carbonara. Cook some pasta. In a pan fry up some bacon and mushrooms in olive oil/white wine. In a bowl mix together a bit of cream, egg and grated cheese. When pasta is cooked, toss in the pan and coat with bacon juices, then take off heat and pour in the egg/cheese mix, letting it cook and melt on the hot pasta.

    Breakfast Tortillas (good at any time of day and only uses 1 pan) Heat up some mini tortillas in a pan, then set aside. In the same pan, fry up some ham slices (or any meat you like), and scramble some eggs. Wrap in tortilla with dollops of dspicy guacamole. Also keeps well if you wrap in foil for lunch later.

    Bruschetta Salad: Toss together broken pieces of toast (I like to use sourdough or turkish bread), ripe tomato cubes and slow roasted garlic* with a drizzle of balsamic vinegar and olive oil.

    *Scrunch up foil in a bowl shape, and put unpeeled garlic cloves, salt and olive oil in bowl and roasting on a medium heat for an hour or so til the garlic is caramelized and sweet as candy. I roast a few heads at once to keep in a ingredient jar with the roasted oil to save time, and also because the garlic makes amazing garlic bread.

  16. Kyle @ Rather-Be-Shopping Says:

    Man, I’m hungry as well now! We do tacos quite a bit as well and found that ground turkey is a nice alternative to ground beef. We actually pay less for it and it’s much healthier, then when you add the taco seasonsing you can’t even tell the difference. Kids have never noticed.

  17. Anja Burden Says:

    I have a related thermometer which was my keepsake for my first journey to the US. I didn’t understand that we have to insert it to the chicken while it is cooking until I saw it being used in a movie.