Large Meals...Small Price


I am a mom of 6 (soon to be 7) small children, and we have my 18-yr-old nephew (aka: The Garbage Disposal) living with us.

Does anyone have any good recipies for A big family on a tight budget?


You can’t go wrong with a stew.It can make 1 potato, 3 carrots and some scraggy old meat go a long way. Use what you have available, and just cook it all really slow. For a bigger family add more liquid, and cut the pieces up small, add some pulses i.e. pearl barley/lentils cos they swell up good.


I think chili is cheap - This is my kid friendly receipe:

2 pounds ground beef
2 cans of beans
1 large can of tomatoes diced
2 cans of Tomato soup
1 can of water
chili powder

Brown the beef, drain & add the rest & simmer.

You can use more beans & less beef or stretch it out by serving on top of spaghetti noodles.

Jell-o is a great dessert … for fun I layer the colors.

Also - eggs are cheap… will your kids eat omlets? (sp?) Or even a big pan of scrambled eggs with cheese? When I was a kid we had breakfast for dinner all the time. You could make pancakes to go with … delicious.

I buy Jiffy pizza dough mix in a box… I think it’s 49cents. You just add water & let it sit for 5 minutes and then roll it out, top & bake. The kids could make their own pizzas with sauce, cheese & some bits of ham or veggies. (1 box of Jiffy mix is enough dough for 2-3 little kids if they aren’t big eaters.)


Soups and stews are an excellent idea, they fill you up, and they’re healthy. Beans and rice are real cheap too. I make an easy casserole of beans and rice with sliced sausage, then top with a bit of shredded cheese and heat till the cheese is melted.

Fideo is super cheap. We get three, sometimes four 5 oz boxes of the stuff for a dollar. It’s vermicelli noodles cut into two inch pieces. You heat the noodles in hot oil till they’re browned a bit, then add canned tomatoes and cooked seasoned ground beef (I’ll throw in some peas or zucchini for a bit of green), cover and let it simmer till the noodles soak up all the liquid. My husband loves the stuff. It’s Mexican comfort food.


we always like pot pie or shepherd’s pie, made in your largest baking pan (or two pans for a big family). I used to use chicken backs and necks, boil them with saved celery tops, vegetablet trimmings etc. cool, remove the meat from the bones, toss the veggies, strain the broth, skim the fat off. Make gravy from the broth, mix meat with canned or thawed frozen mixed veggies (peas, carrots, corn, limas). Top with either mashed potato, mashed turnip, drop biscuits from Jiffy mix, or role out pie crust and cut shapes from cookie cutters for something fancier. (I had a chicken cookie cutter). Bake until topping is browned and gravy bubbles.

Or you can use shredded leftover meat, or browned ground beef. pork steaks or pork neck bones can be browned in the oven and then boiled to remove and tenderize the meat as well for soup, pie etc.

I saved all veggie trimmings, leftovers, bones and carcasses from chicken or other meat to make stock, and made a pot each week. Strained, skimmed and frozen in quart plastic containers gives you a nutritious basis for soups and stews quickly, more flavorful and less sodium than canned, and cheap or free because you were going to toss that stuff anyhow. The gelatin from the bones oozes out and makes the broth rich in protein. Roasted meat, turkey or fowl, or even roasting soup bones, makes them richer and adds flavor to the broth.

Pork neck bones simmered in your spaghetti sauce from canned or your garden tomatoes also yields some of that gelatin and meat shreds to give the sauce more flavor and protein, stretching the sausage or meat you might want to add.

Save and grate all cheese ends too, even if they get a little hard (just as long as there is no visible mold) and freeze to add to spag sauce to richen it.

A trick from large families from most cultures is some starchy food served with or before the meat to take the edge off the appetite. Yorkshire pudding, pierogie, kuchen, cottage cheese and noodels, mac & cheese, ravioli, rice pudding and similar foods serve this function. A cup of soup, canned fruit or salad does the same thing. I am not a fan of jello but if you are going to serve it, do it with fruit as a salad before the meal to take the edge off the kids’ appetites.

We also had a human garbage can when my kids were small (teenage brother who lived with us). He still laughs about my buying the boxes of generic mac and cheese that were 5 for a dollar, and making a meal with TVP (some gross protein soy thing that was supposed to taste like ground beef or ground ham), with a can of stewed tomatoes. We lived on stewed tomatoes and rice, with one diced hot dog between the two of us as newlyweds (poor college students).

Beans are another great food, look for creative bean recipes: white chili with canellini beans, shredded chicken or turkey, cumin, cream of chicken soup, grated white cheese on top. Black bean chili, franks and beans stretched with some thin sliced smoked sausage or kielbasi to make it fancier, beans and rice, charro beans, every culture has good bean recipes.

If you are making any kind of stew with meat and veggies, or a meat or chicken thing in gravy to pour over rice or noodles, add a can of beans drained to stretche the meat–white beans for a chicken dish, red beans or pink beans for a beef dish (most kids don’t like kidney beans).

tip: never try to hide beans or veggies in a sauce or gravy by using the blender to fool your kids into eating them, they will never trust anything you cook for as long as they live.

ideas from DD
quesadillas, cut in wedges, tomato sauce for dipping, can be just cheese or with shredded chicken or ground beef. she even bought a quesadilla maker they eat them so much, a great after school snack, will even fill up your teenager.

she makes panini sandwiches on that thing (we use a George foreman grill).

individual pizzas with stale bagels or english muffins–make your own

baked potato bar (she does this if she has a bag of potatoes that have not been used up fast enough) bake them, put out chopped broccoli, grated cheese, crumbled cooked bacon or sausage, sour cream, chopped onions, she even uses leftover taco filling (her kids are getting to the stage where they will eat anything).

This was our desperation supper as kids: fritters, corn or apple made from pancake mix and powdered eggs and powdered milk, fried in oil, topped with syrup or molasses, served with applesauce or canned peaches and cottage cheese (all this was USDA surplus stuff handed out when auto workers were on strike or laid off).


LOVE this idea! :thumbsup:


With big boys (and girls, too) rice, potatoes, and pasta are your friends! My son and daughter are only 15 months apart, and could they EAT between the ages of 13-19!!! Rice in a thick chicken soup makes it go farther and fills up those stomachs that go down through the legs. Pasta and a sauce can stretch a pouind of hamburger. Potatoes with things poured over them (I think somebody mentioned potato bar) are festive enough for a party, yet inexpensive by comparison.


There is a lot of information at this site:

I will tell you ahead of time, Maggie, the “hillbilly housewife” of the name, is a strict fundamentalist, so you will want to be prepared if you explore her links, etc, but when it comes to thrifty cooking ( & thrifty living in general), she is the best…I have a lot of her recipes that I have printed out, just in case she shouldn’t be there any more!!


A couple of my inexpensive favorites are Black bean and rice enchiladas and a bean and ham soup. Anything that has beans and rice is going to be filling an inexpensive. The soup is made with a 21-bean mix and you can use a leftover ham shank to make the broth. PM if you’d like the recipes.


See if you can get the book The Complete TIghtwad Gazette from the library. I know you’d enjoy it. It has quite a few meal ideas/shopping tips and lots of other ways to save money (gifts, clothes, repairs, etc) and the author has a large family so it’s very relevant. If the library doesn’t have it, it’s worth the money to buy it! It’s not just dumb generalizations like “don’t buy name brands” that everyone already knows. For example, it might be wash out your plastic baggies and reuse them, or make oatmeal from scratch using her recipe, or store children’s clothes in certain boxes to organize hand-me-downs so they are more usable…just tons of little tidbits and useful information!


Dont’ forget the cottage cheese!!! I have never tasted anything as wonderful as lots of butter salt and cottage cheese on a baked potato!!! And it’s super good for you.


Chili serves 18+ for about $15
I have to make it in industrial sizes as you can see:
2 gallon size cans of chilibeans from Sam’s Club @3.46 each
1 gallon size can of chopped tomato from Sam’s Club @2.88 each
1/2 of a 5 pound tube of hamburger meat($7.95 per tube)
3/$1 chilli seasonings (you can use 1, 2 or 3 depending on how spicy you like it)
and if you have onion around the house…1 chopped and served on the side
serve with $.69 saltines (save-a-lot or other cheap brand)


Maggie’s site is one of the best, she is a true frugalist. :thumbsup: Her homeschool curriculum could be easily adapted.


Lots of good advice here! I might also recommend the cookbook “Diet for a Small Planet” by Frances Lappe. It contains nutritious, filling (albeit meatless) dishes. Since meats can be expensive, meatless recipes can be a good way to keep the budget down. Most of the ones I have seen in this book come out pretty tasty.

Beans, lentils, and rice are your friends too, if you’re watching the budget.

Make things from scratch whenever possible.


Ooh, yeah, the cookbook “More with Less” published by the Mennonites is excellent too! It emphasizes not to repeat expensive protein in the same meal, like don’t make a casserole with meat, cheese, beans, and cottage cheese all at once. Lots of very yummy recipes based on beans, rice, etc that is filling and tastes good, but not expensive. I highly recommend it!


I had a delicious meal the other day. It was a bag of lentils that cooked in a slow cooker all day. All that was added was a taco seasoning packet and water. Used with tortillas, lettuce, and salsa to make burritos. Really cheap, fed the multitudes, and tasted good.


Sometimes throwing things together works fine, too and provides a lot of food…last night I browned some stew meat from the freezer, used some thickened beef broth, a little water, can of diced tomatoes, fresh but chopped green beans, chopped carrots and celery, corn kernels and small pasta…stuck a sweet onion inside for flavoring…spiced it with thyme, pepper and garlic…it was really filling and pretty good. I baked some wheat bread earlier in the day and it was a great meal, but just used up stuff I had in the pantry and crisper.


I tried this a few times with spaghetti sauce. “Who would notice some blended veggies or beans in spaghetti sauce?” I thought. It turned the sauce a weird orange. The kids had a sixth sense about it and wouldn’t touch it. I tried several combinations and Puzzleannie is right: it just never worked.


the Mennonites have two paper-back spiral bound cookbooks that are great, based on feeding a crowd with good, cheap nutrition, and emphasizing foods of the cultures where they do missionary work.

I always had one desperation meal that could be varied by seasoning: Italian, Mexican etc. Grated potatoes or frozen hash browns, cooked with onion, pepper, celery or whatever other veggies, to extend chopped leftover meat or browned. GB, kids called it Corn Beast Hash, because I usually added a can of corn (drained) for color and bulk. I like to use canned pimento or chopped red bell pepper for the color. Ratio of 1 cup meat to 2 cups potato, one cup of everything else. I had this huge cast iron skillet I used for GS camp, and family meals when I was doing something like this. I have done the same thing with rice, but my kids never liked rice as much for some reason.

That reminds me of another GS recipe that feeds a crowd, we used it at every campout and called it Farmer’s Breakfast, and I think I remember the proportions right. For a dozen eggs, beaten, grease a rectangle baking pan, deep ( the foil kind for roasting meat, but double it if it is going on a campfire.) but a metal one is better, a turkey roaster would also do. Line the greased pan with a layer of sliced bread (for some reason the recipe calls for Pepperidge farm but I don’t know why it would matter, it should be a fairly firm bread, not standard gummy white bread). Brown whatever meat you are using: bacon, sausage, ham, leftovers and crumble. Sprinkle the meat over the bread, pour the eggs over it all, top with grated cheese. Cover with foil. For the campfire it goes on a grill placed about 3 inches over the coals. With heavy-duty foil or a pan with a lid you can place hot coals on top to cook faster. Or just bake uncovered in a 325 oven until the edges are set, and just the middle is still a bit runny. Turn the oven off till the rest of the eggs set (no more than 10 minutes). Kind of quiche for a crowd. great way to use up stale bread.

I always saved crusts, half-eaten toast etc. in the freezer, diced into cubes for croutons or stuffing, or put through the blender for breadcrumbs.


I used to have a paperback cookbook from Bisquick which I gave away since I don’t use flour anymore, but it works with jiffy mix or any other budget baking mix. The basic recipe is I think a cup of mix and a cup of milk and an egg beaten together, pour over whatever the main ingredient of the pie is going to be, with the appropriate seasonings, baked in a pie pan. With meat, cheese, broccoli, spinach, chicken, tuna, tiny shrimp or clams it becames meat, veggie or seafood quiche. With fruit or berries cut up as for pie it is pie, or almost a deepdish cobbler.

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