budget talk

Budget Meals with Pizzazz

Last week I told you about ways a Budget Smart Cook can add certain ingredients to jazz up foods. This week I thought I’d focus on actual recipes and foods that most people rely on when they’re watching their pennies.

When someone says budget meal, spaghetti or any type of pasta, always is the first thing that jumps into my head. I also like pasta because it’s fast and easy to put together. And while you might immediately think spaghetti and a red pasta sauce, you can vary things now and then.
For a change of pace, pick a white sauce. One of my favorites is the Ragu low fat Alfredo sauce. It’s great with penne, spaghetti, even a base for macaroni and cheese. I often add vegetables like broccoli and red peppers to it and serve it topped with cheese. Sometimes I’ll even add chopped cooked chicken. This pairs well with the broccoli and I call it pasta divan. And don’t just think of Italian dishes, lots of great Asian dishes can be made using spaghetti. I like to toss it with soy sauce and add stir-fried vegetables like carrots, peppers, and then top it with roasted peanuts.

Macaroni and Cheese
And no, you don’t always have to rely on the stuff that comes out of the box. You can buy a box of macaroni noodles for less than $. And, as we all know, pasta fills you up, so a box goes a long way. I make my own cheese sauce or use the alfredo sauce I mentioned above. I often add sun-dried tomatoes and sometimes I’ll add Mexican spices and use pepper jack cheese.

Tuna Noodle Casserole
A classic and kids love it, but how about jazzing it up with mushrooms, or even some curry powder?

Fish Sticks
Another favorite with the children, but for the adults, they can be bland and repetitious. One thing I’ve come up with is fish tacos. I use mayonnaise and add some taco seasoning and spread it on either hard or soft tacos. I put the fish sticks on top and add lettuce and tomato. Even coleslaw works well too.

I always keep a few boxes of cornbread in the panty and I’ll add cheese and a can of chilies or shredded pepper jack cheese. I’ll serve it on top of chili. Another couple of ingredients I like to add to the mix is chopped basil and sun dried tomatoes. The best thing is it always looks homemade.

Meat and Potatoes
Sometime cheaper cuts of meat aren’t that exciting to serve or eat, so jazzing up a side dish is a must. One of my favorite ways to jazz up mashed potatoes is to add other low cost ingredients. Caramelized onions are my top pick. You need to allow about one cup of chopped onions for every pound of potatoes. Just sauté the onions in oil along with some garlic, a pinch of salt, sugar, pepper, and thyme. Cook for about 20 minutes over a medium high heat or until they’re golden brown. Another favorite of mine is cheese and diced chilies. And should you have any leftovers, you can use any of these varieties as a topping for a Shepherd’s pie.
And while we’re on the topic of potatoes, I started to make this quick and easy dish about ten years ago. It sounds plain, but if you like baked beans, cheese, potatoes this one’s for you. Plus, it’s a big hit with children. In fact, they love making this dish too. Bake a potato, cut it in half, scoop out all the potato and put it into a bowl. Mash the potato with butter/low fat spread, milk, and enough cheese to taste. Put the empty baked potato shells on a baking sheet. Take a can of baked beans and spoon the beans into the empty baked potato shells. Top with mashed potato and then top with more shredded cheese. Bake them in a 350-degree oven for about 15 minutes or until everything is heated through and the cheese is bubbling.

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