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Looking back to when I was a kid, I am amazed sometimes that my parents were able to feed me as well as they did. We were well below the poverty line, but I do not remember a time when they took assistance until I was well into my teenage years. I never went hungry though and in fact, we often had more than we needed since my Dad shopped only once a month. As I’ve gotten older, I have come to understand that the reason we ate so well is because they were good at making cheap pantry meals and meals that stretch.
Now, as I near forty, with my own kids to feed – and I swear teenage girls eat more than boys sometimes – I have learned the value of those cheap pantry meals and of the meals that stretch that my Momma used to make.
They are the backbone of a cheap menu plan.
Cheap Pantry Meals that Stretch
2020 has kicked a lot of us in the teeth financially and because of this, we may be finding ourselves in situations where we need to make either cheap pantry meals or meals that stretch and sometimes both.
My own family is included in that as I am trying to reduce costs and the amount of time I have to spend outside looking for ingredients.
I am immunocompromised. It’s quite literally dangerous out there for me.
This means I am trying to cook as much as I can from my own pantry and I am trying to do it on the cheap.
Cheap Meals that Feed A Lot of People
Or maybe you simply don’t have the money to buy fresh foods or ingredients. If you were living paycheck to paycheck before the CoVid-19 pandemic hit, you are likely having it even rougher now.
Take heart though. You can feed your family very easily from what is already in your pantry or fridge. You only need to get creative when you’re looking for cheap pantry meals or meals that stretch.
The pantry meal ideas below aren’t all going to be 4-star foods that you might be used to.
But they will feed you and more importantly; they will feed your children and they will do it cheaply.
Tips for Making Meals that Stretch
Making meals that stretch is making sure that you have three things.
The first is a pantry that includes the basics needed to cook. Building a frugal pantry with the right ingredients ensures that you’ll be able to cook what you want when you need to.
A few of these ingredients are:
Having both will make making cheap pantry meals that stretch so much easier on yourself.
Finally, you’ll want to make sure you have a menu planner to help you keep track of everything. I personally prefer printable menu planners such as THESE, but use whatever works for you – even if that is just a pen and paper.
Meals That Stretch
Tuna Noodle Casserole
Call back an old favorite from your childhood and make the cheap pantry meal tuna noodle casserole. At it’s base, all you really need it canned tuna, boxed macaroni and a can of peas.
If you have the ingredients and you would rather dress it up, you can take a look at my Grown Up Tuna Noodle Casserole recipe HERE. It can be made into a cheap pantry meal by using canned chicken or canned tuna quite easily.
Plus, it is incredibly filling so it feeds up to 6 people quite easily.
Chicken Alfredo Lasagna
You wouldn’t normally think of a chicken Alfredo lasagna recipe as a pantry meal, but it can be converted to use pantry ingredients very easily.
Season the jarred sauce with garlic, onion and oregano or Italian seasoning and everything except the cheese will come from the cabinet.
Chili and Cornbread
Chili is a staple in Texas homes and mine is no different. While you should have meat – hamburger or steak – in a good pot of chili, it can be made without it if needed.
It can also be used with many other ingredients to help make it in to a meal that stretches even more so. My Dad used to put egg noodles in his bowl, but crackers, cheese and other ingredients can all be added.
Tomato sauce, diced tomatoes, onion, peppers and seasonings, still makes a pretty good pot of food.
If you want to replace the protein but don’t have a meat to add or you just want o stretch it even farther, go ahead and add beans.
I won’t tell anyone you added beans to your chili. 😉
Serve it with THIS homemade cornbread recipe on the side and you’ve got a pantry meal that only uses a few fresh ingredients.
Spaghetti and Homemade Garlic Bread
I admitted in my post 84 World War 2 Money Saving Tips that I hate spaghetti, but its such a cheap pantry meal that I don’t keep it off my menu plan.
Even better is that spaghetti makes such a large meal that it will stretch to feed a large family.
Vegetable Soup with Ground Beef
Homemade vegetable soup with ground beef is not hard to make and for the most part can use pantry ingredients. All you need is some hamburger and a great recipe.
Fresh vegetables are best but if you do not have fresh, canned vegetables can be substituted.
Most kids love chicken nuggets but at a time when they may not be available, learning how to make homemade chicken nuggets is a great option and other than the chicken and eggs, the ingredients come from your pantry.
This homemade chicken fingers recipe also makes amazing chicken nuggets. Just cut the chicken to nugget size and follow as directed.
Kicked Up Ramen Noodles
Ramen noodles aren’t exactly healthy but in moderation and without the seasoning packets, they’re fine.
And they can be made into a rather tasty pantry meal.
Open 1 packet of ramen noodles for each adult member of your family. For kids, figure on them eating 1/2 packet each.
Toss the seasoning packets that come with them. Yes, I realize it’s a waste but the seasonings that are with them are too full of sodium to be eaten in a healthy diet.
Cook the noodles in regular chicken broth with a bit of salt, garlic, pepper and onion powder until they are done to your liking. Remove them from the pot and set aside.
Next, prepare your chosen vegetables in the chicken broth. Canned corn and green beans work well if you don’t have fresh vegetables or stir fry vegetables. Frozen peas and carrots work very well too.
Add the noodles back to the pot then add one to two cans of canned chicken (or fresh if you have it), add the noodles back and heat until hot.
Chicken Fried Rice
I love chicken fried rice and it’s a great way to make a meal that stretches. It’s one that I have made for many, many years and it still tastes just as amazing as the first time I made it.
THIS is the recipe I use. The great thing is that you can sub the meat with almost anything you want.
The only change I make to that recipe is to use far less soy sauce than called for. I use less than half of what it calls for. Otherwise, it’s far too salty tasting.
Taco rice is one of our favorite cheap pantry meals because it’s a meal that stretches and because it tastes great!
It’s super simple too. Cook ground beef in taco seasoning and mix into white rice (be sure to add water if it’s too thick). Stir in more taco seasoning and salsa if you’d like.
Serve with tortilla chips, on tortillas, with cheese, sour cream, black olives or whatever else suits your fancy.
Red Beans and Rice
Red beans and rice is a staple pantry meal. You only need a few ingredients and some seasonings and you’ve got a very cheap pantry meal that will stretch to feed quite a few people.
Any food with rice in it will stretch very easily since even 1 cup of rice makes a ton.
Chicken Noodle Soup
Who doesn’t love a tasty bowl of chicken noodle soup? Plus, the health benefits are great!
Plus it’s made mostly with pantry ingredients and can stretch to feed quite a few people.
Sausage Gravy and Biscuits
No frugal menu plan is complete without sausage gravy and biscuits. All you need is a great buttermilk biscuit recipe and gravy fixins.
If you don’t have sausage, biscuits and gravy will do just fine with a little salt and pepper.
Roasted Green Beans
It may not seem like it, but a simple roasted green beans recipe can be made into a cheap pantry meal very easily.
Add things such as bacon or even chicken with a can of corn mixed in and while it won’t be what you’re used to, it will feed your family, help to keep them healthy and won’t cost much.
Cheddar Bacon Mashed Potatoes
You know those yummy bowls from KFC? They’re quite easy to make at home from pantry ingredients and they’re super cheap to make.
You’ll need a great mashed potatoes recipe – I use my cheddar bacon mashed potatoes recipe found HERE – canned chicken, corn, cheddar cheese and jar gravy.
Cook or heat up the ingredients, layer in a bowl, top with gravy and cheese.
You might be surprised at how good it is. It works better with fried chicken pieces, but in a pinch, canned chicken or turkey will work.
If you have canned chicken, mayo and bread, you can make a basic chicken salad recipe. If you have it, add pickles, cheese or even fruit to help kick up the flavor.
While you don’t want to take away from what the meal itself is, adding those additions for flavor also helps turn it into a meal that stretches.
My family knows that I love enchiladas. For real, I could eat them several times a week and be perfectly okay with it.
The great thing about cheese enchiladas is that they are filling but also easily stretched. One of my favorite things to do is to add ground beef.
All you need to make a batch is the ingredients – most of which are pantry stable and a cheese enchilada recipe. From there, add ingredients as you can to make it into a meal that stretches,.
Homemade Mac and Cheese
One of my girls’ favorite things that I make is a version of homemade macaroni and cheese. First I start with a basic mac and cheese, then I add chicken, bacon and broccoli.
Top it with a little extra cheese and some crushed Ritz crackers and you have an amazing meal.
Even better, it serves my family of four with lots of leftovers so it is a great cheap meal that will feed a lot of people – and do it without a ton of work.
and if you want to switch it up? Check out this macaroni and cheese soup recipe.
Homemade Hamburger Helper
If you have elbow macaroni, pasta sauce and some hamburger, you can make a mock version of hamburger helper.
To spice it up a bit, be sure to add garlic, onion powder and maybe some Italian seasoning. Green peppers , onions and mushrooms are also great ways to stretch it farther.
My husband Steve’s favorite meal is beef stroganoff, but I don’t always have the stew meat to make it with in the freezer.
What I do when I need to substitute though is make a hamburger stroganoff. I start with THIS mushroom stroganoff recipe and add hamburger for the meat.
Most of the ingredients are common ones that most families already have. I do tend to double the recipe though as the sauce freezes well.
It makes it easy for me to send it on the truck with him.
Chicken and Dumplings
Laura’s favorite mean is when Mom makes chicken and dumplings. Te great part about them is that for the most part they are made with pantry ingredients.
Plus, a big pot of dumplings will easily feed a crowd.
Pot roast is a very simple meal that feeds a large crowd. Season it with whatever you have on hand, and use whatever veggies you happen to have.
If you have a beef roast in the freezer, , throw it in the slow cooker or an electric roasting pan with water, beef bouillon, garlic and onion slices.
When it’s just about fork tender, add carrots and diced potatoes and shred the beef.
It’s kind of hard to mess up a pot roast.
Beef Roast and Noodles
Whenever I make a pot roast, I always seem to have lots of leftover broth and veggies. This is great for me since it means I can waste less food and get a second meal out of it.
All I do is turn the roaster up to a boil then add egg noodles once it’s boiling.
What we end up with is a very delicious meal that cost me nothing more than the electric for the roaster and a bag of egg noodles that feeds a very large crowd if you do it in a roaster.
So much so that my girls and I can eat dinner for two nights and one lunch off just the “leftovers” with noodles alone.
Hot Dogs with Mac and Cheese
We all strive for simplicity; especially in an emergency situation like what 2020 has given us so far.
And it doesn’t get much more simple than plain old hot dogs and macaroni and cheese.
Quick, easy and kid-friendly. What more could you want?
Bacon and Eggs
Breakfast foods make amazing cheap dinners that stretch a lot and bacon and eggs is no different.
Most people have eggs and bacon in their refrigerators already making it perfect to use for a cheap dinner.
Just don’t forget to save the bacon grease. There are a ton of uses for bacon grease that can help you save money.
How to Find Recipes for Cheap Pantry Meals
Chances are good that your fridge, freezer ad pantry are full of ingredients you could use to make a cheap pantry meal.
The key to finding those pastry recipes is to take a recipe you normally use and find ingreditens that can be replaced with a pantry ingredient. For instance, chicken can always be replaced with canned chicken or canned turkey.
Opening up those options to yourself will increase the number of recipes you can cook for your family.
Looking for more ways to save money on groceries? Try these:
Learning how to make homemade cheese is not as difficult as you might think! This homemade mozzarella cheese recipe is super simple and tastes amazing!
Give your sandwich an upgrade with this amazingly easy (and delicious!) homemade mayonnaise recipe! This homemade mayo recipe is just 3 steps to perfection!
Skip paying high prices for butter and learn how to make homemade butter instead. This homemade butter recipe is so simple even a child could do it!