Cooking on the cheap
July 29, 2008 7:21 AM   Subscribe

Cheap home-made food for a group of people?

What sorts of inexpensive meals could my friends and I make that are also reasonably healthy? This would be for 5-8 people. We've already done a big batch of scrambled eggs and toast one day, spaghetti and home-made meat sauce another.

I'm considering a stirfry and rice next time. What other cheap meals can we make that can either be prepared in advance or won't take a lot of time to make that night?

Difficulty: It should also be filling (no ramen...). We do have access to Costco and Super H Mart as well as Trader Joe's, Whole Foods, and normal grocery stores.
posted by to Food & Drink (30 answers total) 31 users marked this as a favorite
Any baked pasta dish- lasagna, mac n' cheese, baked ziti.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 7:24 AM on July 29, 2008 [1 favorite]

Chile, chilli, chili or however you want to spell it. Cheap if you use canned beans, even cheaper if you have the time to use dry. You can make it with meat - beef, turkey, chicken - ground or in chunks - or without. It doesn't need to be spicy hot at all, although cumin is a must. Pretty quick to throw together as well, although it's better if it simmers awhile or sits overnight in the fridge. In short, I think it meets your requirements.
posted by mollweide at 7:30 AM on July 29, 2008

How about:

Tomato-based lentil soup with bacon (use canned Italian tomatoes). Crusty baguette on the side.

Two roast chickens. Make stock from the carcasses and use in above soup.
posted by Morpeth at 7:32 AM on July 29, 2008 [1 favorite]

Sloppy Joes: Ground beef with ketchup, basically, with maybe some garlic, onions, mustard, lemon juice, adn brown sugar
American Chop Suey: Elbows or Shells, Ground Tomatoes, and Ground beef.
posted by mkb at 7:35 AM on July 29, 2008

Burritos, tacos, etc.

Split pea soup.

posted by hattifattener at 7:37 AM on July 29, 2008

1. Set some brown rice to cooking.
2. Carmelize a couple onions.
3. Boil some lentils in stock with seasoning (curry powder, garam masala, turmeric, a bay leaf) for just a few minutes. Keep them a little firm, not mushy.
Mix everything together. Salt to taste, add in some balsamic vinegar (or pomegranate molasses, if you have it). Takes as long as it takes the rice to cook.
posted by crush-onastick at 7:41 AM on July 29, 2008 [1 favorite]

Go to the store and purchase whatever root vegetables are cheap (potatoes, parsnips, carrots, beets, etc...). Toss in Olive Oil, salt, pepper and roast in the oven. Put these over rice, couscous, etc...

I do this one all the time. Very filling, and can be done with whatever is in season to keep down costs.
posted by soy_renfield at 7:49 AM on July 29, 2008

Shepherd's Pie made with ground beef.

If you're not adverse to casseroles with Campbell's soup you can make Chicken and Rice casserole. I make mine with a can of Cream of Mushroom soup, 1.5 cup rice, 1.5 cup water, and an envelope of Onion Soup Mix. Stir. Put the chicken breasts on top, sprinkle with black pepper and paprika. Cover with foil and bake at 350 for one hour. You can find more recipes on the internet. The flash frozen chicken breasts at wholesale clubs aren't that expensive. Or look for boneless, skinless chicken breasts on sale. Pork chops also work.

Also Tuna Noodle Casserole is cheap and good. I make it all in a big pot on the stove. I never stick it in the oven. I make mine with a cream of mushroom soup, sauteed onions, a little milk, thawed frozen peas, penne pasta, albocore tuna, and plenty of fresh grated parmesan.

If you have a crockpot you can slow cook pinto beans all day. Add cumin and other spices to the pot you like (a little chili pepper, green chilis, etc.) Top burritos with Monterey Jack cheese and other toppings you like. Serve with yellow rice. I love the yellow rice in the bag with the spice packet. It's cheap and feeds many.
posted by LoriFLA at 8:29 AM on July 29, 2008

this may be more complex than you're willing to take on, but we've been eating a lot of something i don't really know the name for recently - it's kind of between a vegetable pie and a quiche. for 5-8 people you'd need to make two.

in a nutshell:
- make some pastry (this doesn't take long, but it's better to do it beforehand so it can cool)
- line two dishes with the pastry
- fry a chopped onion per pie (more if you want)
- cook whatever veggies you have (boiled diced potatoes are good, so is broccoli, sweetcorn kernels, mushrooms; tomatoes are out for being too soggy).
- put the cooked veg and onion in the pie, so it's full (level, not heaped). some tuna chunks from a can can also be good here.
- mix up 4 eggs per pie with salt and pour over
- some grated cheese on top would be nice; you could also put pastry over the top i think, although i've not tried that
- cook in a medium over til done (maybe 45 mins?)

it sounds more complex than it is. you just stick anything that's not too wet in a crust and use a bit of egg to bind it all together. you can also buy pastry ready made, which saves a bit of time.

disclaimer - we get veg from a local market and live in a country where that kind of thing is cheap. maybe this kind of food is expensive in the usa because fresh veg are expensive? if so, apologies.
posted by not sure this is a good idea at 8:29 AM on July 29, 2008

that should be medium oven - 200C.
posted by not sure this is a good idea at 8:30 AM on July 29, 2008

This is a favourite in my house, turkey is far cheaper than chicken in the UK.

Seconding the chilli suggestion. In my house we cook up a chilli and save half for the next day, serve it with something different to break the monotony - rice, over potato wedges or in wraps.

If we're feeling really frugal then we buy one load of mince and make it into chilli x2 and spaghetti bolognese x1.
posted by Ness at 8:32 AM on July 29, 2008 [1 favorite]

Another inexpensive meal is baked potato bar. Bake a bunch of baking potatoes. Set out toppings: heated canned or frozen chili, broccoli florets, cheese sauce, chopped bacon, shredded cheddar, chives, sour cream, butter, etc.
posted by LoriFLA at 8:33 AM on July 29, 2008

a traditional chilean dish is to cook up a pile of lentils and add some chopped-up fried bacon. tasty and filling. you need to plan a head a little to soak the lentils, but they don't take that long to cook (an hour or so; not as bad as beans).
posted by not sure this is a good idea at 8:34 AM on July 29, 2008 [1 favorite]

You know whats good for a dessert-ish offering is poached and/or grilled peaches. Poach peach halves in white wine until soft then slice. Serve with a little bit of sprinkled goat cheese (not feta, something like chevre) and drizzle with a balsamic vinegar reduction (and maybe a sprig of mint for garnish). Takes like 15 minutes. You can grill the fruit halves after for a minute or two for better display. Pears work well too.
posted by elendil71 at 8:39 AM on July 29, 2008 [1 favorite]

Vegetarian lasagne does a great job too - cheaper than mince and you can prepare it in advance if you need to. That and a big bowl of salad keeps everyone happy.
posted by Augenblick at 8:52 AM on July 29, 2008

My regulars (which is nthing some the above): chili con carne, lasagna (beef, tuna or veg), shepherd's pie, quiche lorraine (or any other make-it-up-on-the-spot-quiche, and I particularly like cherry tomato, tuna and spinach), empanada (pork, chicken or tuna). For dessert, it's usually a big tray of tiramisu.
posted by neblina_matinal at 9:01 AM on July 29, 2008

Baked Risotto with bacon and peas.
1 x tbsp olive oil
2 x rashers of bacon
2 x leeks sliced
1 x tbsp thyme
2 x cups arborio rice
5 x cups of stock
1 x cup frozen peas
4 x rashers of bacon - EXTRA
.75 cup grated parmesan cheese
2 x tbsp chopped mint
Heat the oven to 200C or 390F.
Heat the frying pan (skillet) so hot that that when you spit in it, it sizzles to nothing (alternatively, you can flick some water in it, but it's not so satisfying).
Add oil, bacon, leek, thyme and fry for 5 minutes. Spoon into ovenproof dish. Add rice, stock and stir. Cover and bake for 30 minutes.
Take off the cover after about 20 minutes and put the peas in. Put the cover back on and return it to the oven.
In the meantime make some crispy bacon (Hey! the oven is on, do it in there) for about 8 minutes on a tray.
Pull the sucker out, add the parmesan, mint, salt and pepper and stir it in until it's creamy.
To serve, place in bowls and crumble over the crispy bacon.

1) Pumpkin & Fetta: Omit the bacon and add 300g (10oz) peeled and chopped pumpkin
2) Asparagus & Lemon: Omit the bacon and add 1 x tbsp lemon rind + 2 tbsp lemon juice + 400 g (14 oz) asparagus
3) Chicken & Spinach: Omit the bacon and peas, instead stir through 3 cups of shredded chicken, 50g (1.5oz) baby spinach leaves at the same time as the the parmesan.

© Donna Hay : the instant cook. It's a great time-saving cookbook.
posted by tellurian at 9:18 AM on July 29, 2008

An old standby is make-your-own burritos. Just cook up some rice, some beans, some protein (ground beef, tofu). Make an assembly line with tomatoes, cheese, salsa, avocados/guacamole, sour cream, tortillas.
posted by lunasol at 9:23 AM on July 29, 2008 [1 favorite]

Jumping on the Mexican food bandwagon: Fajitas. Tortillas are inexpensive. Red, yellow, green peppers, a nice onion and some chicken (or tempeh or beef or whatever, really), a packet of spice and you're good to go. Serve with garnish like sour cream, salsa, cheese, guac if you so desire. My bf and I make these from time to time and usually have enough left over from one recipe for a few days. It's inexpensive and can be adjusted for a bigger group.
posted by zombiebunny at 9:47 AM on July 29, 2008 [1 favorite]

My go-to meal (besides soup, which you can find plenty of recipes for) is terriyaki chicken with veggies and rice. Here's my way, which relies on convenience.

-Cook some rice as usual.
-Cook some chicken tenderloins in a wok with a little olive oil and seasoning salt. When the chicken is almost done, cut it into bite-sized pieces.
-Add a mix of cut veggies and some pineapple chunks to the wok. (I use Costco's frozen "Normany Mix" for almost everything. it has broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, squash, and zucchini.) I cover my wok with a large lid and let the chicken and veggies cook toggether on medium-low heat.
-Add the rice and a generous amount of terriyaki sauce and cook over mediumm heat while stirring frequently. When everything is hot and well sauced, you have a one-dish meal.

Extra bonus optional step: I add a final step by pouring it all on my flat electric griddle, set to high. I spread it out evenly and let it all get a little crispy as I mix it occasionally. I just find it easier to brown everything on the griddle than in the wok because of the amount of heated surface.
posted by Fuzzy Skinner at 10:04 AM on July 29, 2008

Chicken Lugaw (better known as congee)

Stock pot or dutch oven
3 tbsp oil
fry up chopped garlic, slices of ginger, 1 onion until onion is translucent
put in chicken drumsticks or thighs (1 per person)
Let it brown on both sides but not fully cooked
add 3 cups short grain rice (that has been rinsed)
add 2 cups chicken broth, 3 cups water
cook until you get a rice porridge - add salt and pepper to taste
Top with chopped green onion.

Any congee/lugaw/jook recipe would be great for your question. Also, ramen can be super filling if you add things to it like eggs or vegetables and slices of leftover meat.
posted by spec80 at 10:29 AM on July 29, 2008

Easy beef vegetable soup...fry up some crumbled ground beef along with a diced onion or two...meanwhile add a small can of tomato paste, a bay leaf or two, some beef bouillon and some chopped veggies and/or a big bag of mixed vegetables to a big pot full of water. Bring to boil. Add the ground beef when it is done. Simmer along with whatever spices you like-cumin and red pepper are good, or oregano and basil-also plenty of black pepper plus salt to taste. Continue to simmer for awhile-or, even make the day before to let the flavors meld.

Not too long before you are ready to serve, add pasta in whatever form floats your boat. Elbow macaroni is good, but other shapes are fine. Continue to simmer till pasta is done.

Serve! (This is particularly good with peanut butter and honey sandwiches.)
posted by konolia at 10:56 AM on July 29, 2008

Cheap and super delicious is Chicken Parikash. Hungarian and delicious, it's simple easy to make in advance and can be made in serious bulk. A great way to make it stretch is serve it over spatzle, which is also cheap, and great way to fill up.
posted by banannafish at 11:26 AM on July 29, 2008

Tomato soup (puréed tomatoes, unions, garlic, carrots, + whatever veggies are on sale) poured over cooked white rice. Very filling and bloody awesome. Made a 10 litre batch yesterday and it's even better today.
posted by monocultured at 11:51 AM on July 29, 2008

Pizza! I buy either the $.79 boxes by Jiffy, or goto the bakery at your supermarket and ask for some uncooked french bread. They sell that for a buck or so a loaf, and one loaf rolled out will make a big pizza. Then just throw on toppings of choice! You can go easy and do just olive oil and garlic, or you can make or buy sauce and put on any toppings you want. If I want a variety I will hit up my supermarket's salad bar, where I can fill up a tray with lots of toppings and pay by the pound - beats having to buy a full package of everything. You can break the dough into a number of smaller balls too, so everyone can make their own.
posted by boulder20something at 11:53 AM on July 29, 2008

Look into braising large pieces of inexpensive cuts of meat (pork shoulder or butt for example, or short ribs) in a crockpot. Easier than pie, and you get a lot for a little. The meat gets super tender and tasty and you get a delicious sauce out of it too.

Just season the piece of meat with salt and pepper, brown on all sides in a pan or in the oven (optional), then put in the crock with some veggies like onions, carrots and celery. Then cover 1/3 - 1/2 way up the piece of meat with stock, wine, beer (Chimay is good for this) or just water (season more to taste). Throw in a bay leaf. Set to low and cook for 6,8,10,12 hours, whatever. Gets even better if you let it cool, skim off the fat from the liquid, and reheat it. Want to make it even better? Salt the meat 1-3 days in advance. Serve with rice, pasta, veggies, spaetzle, mashed potatoes or anything really. Delicious.
posted by AceRock at 12:45 PM on July 29, 2008

King Ranch Casserole
Chicken Matzo Ball Soup with Challah
posted by batmonkey at 1:43 PM on July 29, 2008

Pulled pork sandwiches! This is the easy version of pork shoulder butt in the crock pot (as described by AceRock). In the AM, you dice an onion, throw in the pork, and cover with a bottle of BBQ sauce. At dinner time you come home, remove the pork from pot and shred, bring sauce to boil and thicken, then add sauce to pork. Yum.

Should be noted: pork shoulder butt, at $2.99/lb and 3.5 lb to serve eight, is more expensive than say roasting chickens ($0.99/lb and you'd better buy 2 4 lb birds to guarantee satisfactory amounts of meat for 8 as a main course).
posted by crazycanuck at 8:56 PM on July 29, 2008

Corn on the cob!
posted by sanitycheck at 12:35 AM on July 30, 2008

Thanks so much for all the suggestions! I"ll print the list out and we'll get cooking!
posted by at 7:59 PM on July 30, 2008

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