According to statistics from the Pew Research Center, 60 percent of American families with kids under the age of 18 rely on both parents maintaining employment to make ends meet. This number has risen dramatically since 1960, when only 25 percent of households required two earners to sustain the family. However, the rise in dual earners comes as no surprise as more than 75 percent of Americans reported living from pay period to pay period.
Budgets are tight, and families need two earners to keep the household together, pay the bills and, above all, to put food on the table. According to the report, “Household Food Security in the United States in 2016” by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service: “An estimated 12.3 percent of American households were food insecure at least some time during the year in 2016, meaning they lacked access to enough food for an active, healthy life for all household members.”
For many families bills come first and food comes next. But good health depends on nutritious foods and adequate caloric intake. Many families struggle with putting enough food on the table, but our relationship with food and the foods we choose also affect how much we pay and perhaps how we allocate our financial resources.
Budgeting should be a priority for all families when every penny counts. Knowing how to divide up the finances allows families to understand how much they have left to pay for meals and groceries. However, healthy and nutritious meals don’t have to break the budget. If you shop smart and rely on recipes that make the most of every ingredient, you can fill the plates on the dinner table and satiate those empty bellies while still staying in your financial means.
When both parents are working all day and dinner must be prepared in a crunch, time is of the essence. Here are 5 recipes for low-cost meals that are quick, easy and inexpensive.
One of the least expensive meats is also the most versatile: chicken! Save money by buying a whole chicken or choosing dark-meat only pieces. However, if your budget is a little more flexible, you can opt for chicken breasts, which work fantastic in almost every recipe. Look for family sized packaging, as it is typically budget priced. When you get home, take all the pieces from the package and place them in individual freezer bags so you have easy to thaw portions.
- 4-6 chicken breasts or thighs (the number depends on your household size)
- 1 jar of salsa (your choice)
- Shredded Mexican cheese (or any variety)
- Sour cream (to top)
This is one of the easiest recipes out there; you’ll find different variations of it on the internet. When making this dish, prepare the rice first to use as the base in the casserole dish. You can use minute rice or regular.
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Line the bottom of a greased casserole sheet with the cooked rice. Lay the chicken pieces on top and pour the whole can or jar of salsa over the chicken. Add shredded cheese to the top and bake for about one hour. Check the internal temperature of the chicken to ensure that the pieces are cooked fully. Top with sour cream and enjoy!
What’s the cost?
Chicken $6.24 ($3.12 per pound for boneless chicken breasts)
Salsa $3.50 (or less depending on brand)
Cheese $4.25 (depends on brand)
Rice $3.00 (5 lb bag…MANY meals!)
Sour Cream $2.00
TOTAL COST: $19.03
The Quick version?
This recipe also works in a slow cooker. Make the rice separate, however. Just place the uncooked chicken in the slow cooker, top with salsa and cook on high for 4 to six hours or on low for around 8 hours. Chicken should be fork tender when ready. Top with cheese and sour cream and serve with the rice.
One of the heartiest and yummiest recipes for fall and winter (or anytime) is homemade Chicken and Noodles. The best part? This is one of the easiest recipes that you’ll ever ‘crock.’
This recipe is from Angela over at Cookpad. So what do you need? Just a few simple ingredients:
1 pound of chicken
2 cans of chicken broth (or stock),
2 cans of cream of chicken soup
1 bag of egg noodles.
1 stick of butter is used in Angela’s recipe, but this can be optional
What’s the cost?
Chicken Broth $3.00 (about $1.50 per can/generic)
Cream of Chicken Soup $3.00 (about $1.50 per can/generic)
Egg Noodles $2.00 (depends on the brand)
TOTAL MEAL COST: $11.12
Like all crock recipes, this one cooks while you’re away. Just add one can of chicken stock (or broth), one can of cream of chicken soup, and the chicken into your crock. Cook for about six or seven hours on low or four hours on high (until chicken is fork tender). About 15 to 20 minutes before you eat, add in a bag of egg noodles, simmer until tender and…done!
Serve with cooked carrots, a small salad or your favorite veggies. Corn muffins also go great with this southern recipe!
Ground beef is the cheapest way to buy beef, but it still isn’t the cheapest option. Opt for ground turkey to keep meals low fat and lower budget. If the recipe calls for ground beef, grab the turkey instead. Here are some of the easiest and cheapest ways to cook up your beef alternative.
Fun Turkey Fact: Did you know that female turkeys prefer a longer snood (the fleshly head ornamentation on wild turkeys), according to a study from the Journal of Avian Biology.
Turkey Pot Pie
Need a full dinner in one dish? Opt for pot pie. While you can make a homemade crust—as you would for any other pie—to keep this recipe simple, opt for frozen crusts. Here is everything you need for a great hearty meat pie:
- 1 pound of ground turkey
- 2 pie crusts (frozen)
- 1 can of turkey gravy
- 3 or 4 whole carrots sliced
- 3 potatoes (any variety) cubed
- 1 can of cream style corn
What’s the cost?
Ground Turkey $4.19 (this is priced from a major retailer and is based on brand name)
Pie Crusts $3.00 (may differ by brand)
Turkey Gravy $1.50 per can
Carrots $1.00 (whole, unpeeled)
Potatoes $0.77 (assuming three potatoes or one pound)
Creamed Corn $1.50
TOTAL COST: $11.96
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Brown the turkey in a skillet and set aside. Peel and chop carrots into coin size pieces. Peel, cut and cube potatoes. Mix the carrots, potatoes, gravy and cream style corn in a bowl, then stir in the ground turkey. Pour your mixture into the pie crust, then add the top layer of the crust. Be sure to cut small vents on the top of the crust. Bake at 375 degrees for about an hour or until carrots and potatoes are fork tender.
Want something super-fast and easy? Grab canned sauce. It’s relatively inexpensive, especially when you buy those cans in private label varieties. Use one or two pounds of ground turkey (more for bigger families). Serve on your favorite hamburger buns. Mac and cheese, tater tots or just veggies and dip make a great side to this family dinner must-have. Here’s a quick recipe:
- 5 pounds of ground beef or turkey
- 1 can of Sloppy Joe’s sauce
- Hamburger buns
Just brown your meat in the skillet, drain off the excess fat then add in the sauce. Want a sweeter sauce? Add a tablespoon of brown sugar to the mix (this tastes great with ground turkey).If you’re feeling a little extra savvy, stir in a cup of shredded cheese (any kind will work!).
What’s the cost?
Ground Beef $5.69 (or $3.79 per pound/ground chuck)
Sloppy Joe’s Sauce $1.50 (per can)
Hamburger Buns $2.50 (estimate, and depends on the brand)
TOTAL COST: $9.69
Turkey & Potato Casserole
Fall is the season for hot dishes like casseroles, and ground turkey combined with harvest sweet potatoes may a great combo. This casserole is easy and delicious. Plus, you can add or delete ingredients to suit your personal tastes. The base recipe, though, comes from allrecipes.com (and user PattyJoJo).
Here’s what you need:
- 5 pounds of ground turkey
- 1 can of cream of tomato soup
- 1 (15 ounce) can of creamed corn
- 4 potatoes (use sweet potatoes for a fall flavor) peeled and cut
Preheat the oven to 350. Place the slices of potato on the bottom of a greased casserole dish. Brown your ground turkey in a skillet. Pattyjojo’s recipe advises that you cover the potatoes with butter and salt/pepper, then pour the creamed corn on top of the potatoes. Add the turkey. Then top with the tomato soup. Bake for one hour at 350 degrees. You can also top your casserole with shredded cheddar cheese!
What’s the cost?
Ground Turkey $6.30 (based on $4.19 per pound)
Cream of Tomato Soup $1.82 (based on generic brand)
Creamed Corn $1.50
Potatoes $0.77 (per pound, assuming one pound used)
Total Cost $10.39
Just Veggies, Please!
If your family is vegetarian or just wants to take a break from meat, there are a few easy recipes for you, too! One favorite is a simple Veggie Pasta Bake. This recipe was created by the team at Kraft…and it’s so tasty! Here’s what you need:
Veggie Pasta Bake
- 3 cups of pasta (Kraft recommends rotini)
- 1 Jar of Pasta Sauce
- One bag of Frozen Veggies (Kraft suggests frozen peppers and onions, but the choice is yours)
- ¼ cup of parmesan cheese
- 1 ½ cups of shredded mozzarella
Preheat your oven to 375 degrees. Cook pasta noodles according to the directions on the package, then combine the noodles with the veggies, pasta sauce and only 2 tablespoons of the parmesan cheese. Pour the mixture into a casserole dish (greased, please). Then top with the remaining parmesan cheese and the mozzarella. Bake for 20 minutes and serve!
What’s the cost?
Pasta $1.20 (per pound)
Pasta Sauce $2.00
Veggies $2.50 (estimate)
Parmesan Cheese $1.50 (for a three-ounce serving)
Mozzarella $4.22 (16 ounce bag)
TOTAL COST: $11.42
Change it Up: This recipe tastes delicious with frozen mixed vegetables or even just cauliflower or broccoli. Use veggies that you and the family will love to make this your own. You can also swap out the mozzarella for cheddar or other cheeses!
Dinner is often one of the most stressful times for families. Rushing home from work and then prepping a hearty, healthy, inexpensive and quick dinner isn’t always easy. Opt for chicken and ground turkey to save money, and choose family packs to get discounted prices. While you might not use all that meat at once, divide the pack into individual portions, store in a freezer bag and then put them in the freezer until you need the portions. Use slow cookers to prepare dinner while you work so you can come home to a nearly-complete meal. And if you really want to cut down on the prep work, cut veggies the night before and store in the fridge; all you’ll have to do is add them to the recipe!