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Your favorite easy, economical, from scratch, reasonably healthy meal

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So, i'm really really trying to start cooking real food- i'm super overwhelmed with life and so i can't make a big affair of it, i'll take shortcuts when i can, like buying premade pizza dough, etc, but i HAVE to get our finances in order and i HAVE to feed our family healthfully. i know others are in this position too, so i thought this might be a good topic to think tank, some of my faves-


Chili- can be vegetarian or throw in some chicken/turkey/gr. beef


2-3 cans diced tomatoes

3-4 cans beans (or equivalent reconstituted)

2 cans corn

Onions, peppers, whatever veggies are handy, diced

meat if you'd like

cumin to taste

taco seasoning to taste (i buy ours in the big costco sprinkle container)


mix up till it looks good, cook for a while, voila, brainless, easy, simple. ]

I like to serve ours with cheddar cheese, sour cream and fritos for dipping



Spaghetti and meatballs


whole wheat spaghetti- the costco kind tastes normal!

prepared spaghetti sauce

costco frozen meatballs


Serve with garlic bread and salad



Ok, i guess that's it. I'm not much of a cook :)

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I'm surprised there aren't replies on this one yet!


Check out my blog below for some of my recipes. It's a new blog, though, so I don't have much yet.


If it's budget you're mostly concerned about, I'd point out that even though canned beans are part of a low-cost meal if you're comparing it to other pre-prepared foods, cooking your own beans is still a fraction of the cost. I did the math earlier this week, actually, in preparation for a blog post and found that a can of beans is about 70-cents (generic) where I am, but I can make the equivalent amount from dry beans for 16-cents. You can prepare a big batch in the crockpot without much effort and freeze the beans in can-amounts (1 1/2 - 2 cups with a little bean water) so you still have the convenience of ready-to-go beans.


Also, making your own spaghetti sauce is not hard, cuts cost, and is more likely to be "real food" than jarred stuff. I saute onions & garlic (and mushrooms or zucchini or peppers, depending on what I have), then dump in crushed tomatoes (I find they have more flavor than tomato sauce) and Italian seasoning (buying herbs in bulk is way cheaper than buying little jars), and I add a little seasoning salt if it needs it. Sometimes I add olives. It also has no sugar this way, and most jarred sauces have sugar or corn syrup.


My blog below also has my pantry list you can look over if you need ideas. It's all healthy and simple and inexpensive, and I only cook with those limited items, but they are all ingredients and not prepared things, so they can be combined in lots of different ways.


My other cheap-food hint is to never buy bread. It is so cheap to make, and homemade bread tastes better and has few ingredients and no added weirdness.


I make this whole wheat bread and my mom has been making it for 20 years: http://articles.urbanhomemaker.com/index.php?article=83


For dinner bread I make this no-knead, super-easy bread:




Hope that helps!

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I don't know if this is in your budget at the moment, but I just bought a groupon for $24 that provides 12 months of meal plans [5 meals a week] based on 20 ingredients a week. I JUST bought it, so I haven't actually been able to access it and try them out, but I'm hopeful that it will help me to not waste so much. She claims to plan the meals so that the 20 ingredients are spread out over the week and all used up rather than going to waste in the fridge. And to provide suggestions for leftovers and things.


It's this deal: http://www.groupon.com/deals/the-fresh-20-baltimore-1

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Super easy and healthy? Whole chicken roasted, easy salad and baked potatoes/sweet potatoes. FWIW I agree w/ Mystie dry beans are much cheaper and not hard, but require a little planning. The crockpot is your friend as well. Check out http://www.crockpot365blogspot.com, I think she would meet your needs pretty well. She has a lot of meals like you mentioned, a can of this and a can of that, throw it in and cook it all day.

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A favorite in our family is teriyaki chickpeas from happyherbivore.com

It's a can of chickpeas (or you can used dried & cooked chickpeas) and teriyaki sauce. You're taking a shortcut with the canned teriyaki sauce, but depending on what brand you find it has no weird ingredients or you can make your own. I serve it with brown rice and a side of vegetables (broccoli usually). Here's a recipe from her site: http://happyherbivore.com/recipe/spicy-teriyaki-chickpeas/

But you don't have to add the other stuff. It's really good!

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Our favorite economy meal and a staple weekly meal here is brown rice and beans.

1/2 lb hamburger (optional) I only use once in awhile

Small onion

1 can black beans

1 can petite diced tomatoes

1 cup instant brown rice


Sauté onion and brown hamburger if using. Add beans and tomatoes, you can drain and rinse beans if you want but then you have to add a 1/2 cup of water. For me it depend on the beans. If you buy generic at Walmart I have to rinse them or they have a bad taste. Bring to a boil and add rice. Lower heat and simmer for 10 min. Sounds more complicated on paper, takes me 15-20 min to make!


Eta: I season with fresh garlic and salt and pepper or taco seasoning. It's great with whole grain tortilla chips and sour cream or added to tacos also.


I have made my own bread in the past and it really depends on what ingredients you buy wether it's cheaper or not. I found it to be about the same as buying a good quality wheat bread but I didn't buy in bulk and my recipe had flaxseed and other healthy grains that cost more. I also live in a camper so that plays into my decision a lot. If we move back into a traditional house I might resume making bread someday. Either way, don't be scared of it, it's not as hard as people think!

Edited by hsmom23
Eta seasoning
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Dh and I just found a new favorite - baked chicken with wild rice, grapes, and green beans. Start the rice, then take the pieces of chicken (seasoned w/ salt & pepper), pan fry the tops ,and bake as you normally would. When they're almost done, heat up the skillet you pan-fried in, and drop in a bunch of red seedless grapes and thyme. They'll go on top of the rice. Steam the green beans separately.


Grapes on rice sounded nasty to me until we actually tried it. It really is a good combination!

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Stir fry veggies and pasta

Use any veggies your family likes. Stir-fry until tender (adding broccoli last as it cooks fastest). Salt and pepper to taste. Serve over cooked pasta of choice. Top with real Parmesan. You can add cooked diced chicken if you family prefers.


Yesterday's lunch:

Garlic couscous, baby field greens with lemon juice, steamed California blend veggies. This meal took 8 minutes to cook.


Grilled Portabella mushroom caps serve with baked potato. Use your favorite grilling sauce on the mushrooms. While you have the grill going, add some sliced fresh pineapple to complete the meal.


Stuffed baked potato can be a whole meal. I use the big potatoes. While they are in the microwave I saute onion, bell pepper and diced broccoli to stuff into the cooked potato. I top with cheese and sour cream on occasion. Serve with green salad if needed.


Just about any veggie can go into soup. You can use beef or chicken if your family prefers it. Add rice or pasta if wanted.


One of my family's favorite fall meals is potato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches. Chop some onion and some celery. Peel and dice 3-4 potatoes. In soup pot saute onion and celery in a bit of olive oil or butter. When tender add potatoes and enough veggie stock or water to cover. Bring to a boil and cook until potatoes are fork tender. Add 1 cup milk to soup. Mix 2 tablespoons of flour in 1/4 cup milk. Ladle a spoonful of soup into milk/flour mix. Stir well then pour into soup stirring well. Soup will thicken. Add salt and pepper to taste.

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Quite surprising to me I've found my whole family loves tomato soup. I use plain pureed tomatoes basil, oregano, olive oil, a bit a salt, a bit of sugar/honey and garlic all to taste. We've been having that at least every 2 weeks because it is so easy and quick. It is of course good w/ cheese or without. I like it with some crackers or such. I've done garlic bread as well but as we are gf I just don't generally bother(I don't packaged gf bread because it is expensive and often not tasty and these days I'm not doing much baking due to the heat). Besides tomato soup is very filling, although you wouldn't guess it.

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This one is good, and relatively simple. The veggies take a little time to cut up, but not too long. Pine nuts are sort of expensive, but you don't need too many. And I suppose if you wanted, you could substitute walnuts.


Gemelli with vegetables and parmesan





2 tablespoons pine nuts

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 clove garlic, minced

1 medium zucchini, cut into matchsticks

2 medium carrots, cut into matchsticks

½ box (8 ounces) gemelli

½ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

½ teaspoon salt

Freshly ground black pepper to taste

Red chili pepper flakes to taste



Bring a large pot of water to a boil.

Toast the pine nuts in a large skillet over medium heat for 4 to 5 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from the skillet and set aside.

Heat the oil in the skillet over medium-high heat. Stir in the garlic and cook for 30 seconds. Add the zucchini and carrots and sauté for 6 to 7 minutes or until crisp-tender. Stir in the pine nuts and remove from the heat.

Cook the pasta according to the package directions. Drain and return to the pot.

Add the cooked vegetable mixture and the remaining ingredients and toss. Serve hot.



This one is yummy, too, although it involves a bit of prep work. When I made this, I substituted spinach for the radicchio, and omitted the tomatoes.


Barley Salad





2 cups water

1/2 cup uncooked hulled whole or pearled barley

1/4 cup minced fresh parsley

1/2 cup grated carrot

1/2 cup diced cucumber

1/2 cup diced provolone cheese

1 1/4 teaspoons dried oregano

1/2 cup shredded radicchio

4 tablespoons extra- virgin olive oil

Juice of one large lemon

Salt to taste

4 to 6 large beefsteak tomatoes




Bring 2 cups of water to a boil in a large saucepan. Add the barley, cover, reduce the heat, and simmer until tender about 20 to 40 minutes. Drain and rinse with cold water. Transfer to a large bowl.

Stir in the parsley, carrot, cucumber, cheese, oregano, radicchio, olive oil, lemon juice and salt. Mix to combine and set aside.

Cut the tops off the tomatoes and reserve. Hollow out the pulp, cube it and mix it into the barley mixture. Stuff the tomato cavities with the mixture and replace the tops.

Serve or refrigerate until needed. Bring to room temperature before serving.



We also have baked potatoes usually once a week, with various toppings. Tostadas or burritos are a staple here too. I second the homemade bread. It's really easy if you have a bread maker, but it's not difficult to do by hand either.

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My family loves baked potato soup. Basically I just boil potatoes as if I was making mashed potatoes, drain, then add enough milk to make the right consistency, and a little salt and pepper. Serve with shredded cheese, green onions, and crumbled bacon.


I do a lot of stir fries. You can get whatever veggies are on sale, and whatever meat's on sale, too. Slice up the meat (or tofu), put it in a simple marinade (soy sauce, ginger, garlic, oyster sauce, mirin or brown sugar) while you slice up the veggies. Stir-fry the meat, then add the veggies (remove the meat from the pan if you need the room). Add a little more sauce to the veggies. Combine together. Serve with rice. I have lots of recipes I use, but they're all pretty similar in technique. Just slightly different marinade/sauces. I like a lot of Asian food. By investing in basic seasonings (soy sauce, ginger, garlic, oyster sauce), I find I can whip up a stir-fry with whatever I have on hand. If your family likes Asian food, find a couple of recipes that have marinade/sauces you like, and adapt them to what's on hand, or what's cheapest. If you like it spicy, you can add red pepper flakes. With a stir-fry, you can stretch a small amount of meat into a big meal.



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