Friday, December 2, 2011

Five Meals Fast Enough to Compete with the Drive Thru (or darn close)

Cheap Eat Challenge, Part 2: Watch as our family of 6 eats on less than $10/day.

I realize that for some people it's part of the holiday experience to do your shopping and then stop at the mall food court or take the kids to McDonald's or whatever.I'm totally okay with that.

However, for me, feeding my kids at a restaurant adds stress to an already stressful time. Not to mention the fact that spending money on food I generally dislike adds more spending to an already spendy time, which for a cheapskate tends to add even more stress to a stressful time.

And yet, who wants to go home at the end of several hours of whining, meltdown holiday shopping and prepare a meal? Not most of us. Chick-fil-A starts looking mighty appealing. Still, every time I give in to that urge (especially when it's after we've reached the zone known as Meltdown Absolute), it ends up being not only costly and unhealthy, but slightly depressing. I go home with tense shoulders, a sort of full, but very unsatisfied belly, and kids who are surely still sniveling about something.

Below you'll find some super duper fast meals that can be made in less than 10 minutes and that are, generally, healthy, hot, and comforting. Most of them only take a touch of grocery shopping foresight. And, although they might incorporate more pre-prepared foods than I usually advocate, they're a good step better, a good step cheaper,and usually more satisfying than curly fries and a burger (unless, like I say, that's your holiday shopping thing).

1. Angel hair with marinara. This is one of my favorites. Angel hair (not just 'thin' spaghetti, but 'angel hair' takes only 2-3 minutes to cook in boiling water. Throw on a jar of Preggo (or the lovely generic equivalent) and you're done. Have a wee bit more energy, try this 5-minute from almost-scratch sauce. We love it and it's a food we all find comforting at the end of a long day. Really rough shopping excursion? Heck, treat yourself and serve it on paper plates. You'll still be saving money over fast food.

2. Soup with crackers or croutons. My kids (and husband) really really love the Aldi tomato soup from a can. It's not saintdom or anything, but it works and it beats a Rally burger in the health and fitness department. If you want to have something a little nicer (I usually do), there are good soups in boxes like these V8 ones that Kip and I actually really like. They're more expensive than Aldi cans, but they taste pretty good and there's more variety. (Broccoli is Kip's favorite. I like that one as well as the roasted pepper and tomato varieties, which are all we've tried).

3. Eggs with a spinach salad. Eggs are so easy and so quick--scramble them with some cheese or make them over easy. If you have some baby spinach on hand you can make a green drink or a 2-ingredient salad easy peasy. To throw together a salad, just add some dried cranberries or some oranges or apples or raspberries and then a nice fruity vinaigrette. Seriously, it tastes so good to eat something like this after being stressed and tired. No, it's not creativity incarnate, but it works. And you better believe your 2-ingredient salad will have more on it than that "cheap" "salad" you get from McDonald's.

4. Burritoes. I like to keep the burrito shells on hand. If you've got leftovers, you can use them to make a quick wrap. Anything from rice to sprouts to beans to meat to corn to whatever can be stuffed into them with some sour cream or another dressing or sauce to liven it up if it needs livening. If you really don't have any leftovers at all, you can open a can of pork and beans or refried beans and serve it with salsa and cheese (I did this all the time in college. Gourmet? No, but fairly healthy and better than Hot Pockets (which just make me gag to think of) and better than a frozen burrito. And also open to possibility if you've got even little bits of fun cheeses or whatevers to throw in. You can even make wagon wheels with cream cheese and bits of veggies or meat. Burrito shells are just really versatile and therefore nice friends to have around.

5. Croissants or some other variety of refrigerated bread in a can wrapped or topped with cheese, meat, or veggies. Along the lines of #4, these are just nice to have around if you're in a pinch. They can fill folks up if you're having soup or a salad, but these canned breads can also be made into a meal by being wrapped around some type of leftover meats or cheese or hot dogs or tuna or cream cheese with whatever thrown in because cream cheese and refrigerated croissants make everything right. If you've got the refrigerated biscuits, you can press them into muffin tins and then fill them with stuff. My favorite filling suggestion is this: shredded chicken (canned chicken would work) mixed with BBQ sauce, and then topped with shredded cheddar. It's seriously super good. Have a salad on the side, or even a can of corn, and you're still a bit ahead of the fast food game (of course, you're more ahead with a salad, but we needn't tell Kip that).

I've made a little shopping list for you, so that you really don't have to think at all. Have this stuff on hand and you'll be able to throw together a meal, usually in less than 10 minutes and with only minimal brain function necessary.

Shopping List for the Tired, Desperate, and Cheap:

1. Marinara (or other favorite) sauce
2. Angel hair pasta
3. Canned or boxed soup--something that actually sounds appealing or you'll be sure to stop off at the next KFC
4. Burrito shells
5. can of refried beans
6. Jar of salsa
7. Several cans of tuna
8. Several cans of chicken
9. Shredded cheese--mozzarella or cheddar tend to be the most versatile
10. a few boxes of cream cheese
11. Eggs--plenty of them
12. Baby spinach or romaine lettuce or even a bagged salad of some sort, though those are pricier
13. Salad dressing of choice
14. Apples or oranges or those cutie tangerines (they always save the day)
15. can refrigerated croissants
16. can refrigerated biscuits
17. BBQ sauce, Ranch dressing, salsa, or other condiments that can perk up a meal for you.

Now go forth, shop, and come home to something hot and more healthy than what might have been. Then put your kids to bed and have a hot apple cider.


  1. What a great list! It isn't perfect but in a pinch it will do right? Throw some carrot sticks in there or a can of fruit and you have a more complete meal. I always feel better when we just come home and make do rather than spending a bunch of money feeding us all fast food that we don't really like anyway.

  2. True true. And it is nice to have some veggies or fruits around to throw into the mix (and get on the table really quick for people to munch on). I often come home and slice an apple and then get dinner rolling.



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