Poverty sucks, and so does disability. Not only do we not have a lot of choice of food, but we also don’t have the energy! However, it can be a vicious cycle of sorts. Making low-cost meals at the cost of your own health will eventually come back to bite you. I’ve been to the point of being so poor, that I couldn’t afford anything other than oatmeal, peanut butter and pasta. Grilled cheeses, if I was lucky.
Do you know what that does to a person?!?
A truly harrowing experience, to eat the exact same thing day in, day out… especially when you don’t like most of these things. Trust me on that last part!
Since I don’t know your specific financial situation, I have recipes that range from super-cheap to “slight expense but worth it” as well as rankings on how difficult I perceive them to be. Take the rankings with a grain of salt, as it may be easier (or more difficult) for you than for me.
Let’s take a look at these low-cost meals!
First things first
When it comes to making food on the cheap, especially when you are disabled, there are a few things to keep in mind.
- Rice is healthier than pasta
- Fed is best. Some days, fed is all you can manage, and that’s okay!
- Cheese is important, and it can change your meal
- Food diversity is good for your mental health
- Simplicity for most meals is preferable
- You do not need nearly as much meat as you think you do to make a tasty meal! Even the smallest minced meat portions at the store can be portioned into smaller portions.
- The freezer is your new best friend.
Sometimes, it may require some creativity to get a good meal out of what you have. Other times, it’s difficult to see what can be done with the money you can spend on food. That’s where I come in. Here are some of my favourite low-cost meals!
… Yes, some of them may sound like odd pairings. You’re probably right about that! However, sometimes I prefer odd pairings than yet another bowl of pasta!
In the land of low-cost meals, cabbage reigns. It’s a good vegetable, it’s less expensive than most other veggies, and it’s very filling! Not to mention, it’s quite healthy.
Plenty of rice, half a cabbage, and meat (minced pork or beef are my go-to). Add to that some tomato soup and a few spices, and it’ll be simply delicious!
That kind of casserole can make you a lot of portions – be sure to have a big container for the oven! and lots of bowls to freeze the remaining portions.
Much like the Cabbage casserole, it’s a great idea to mix in rice, whatever veggies you got, and some meat, then throw all of that in the oven.
Some things I’ve cooked up in the past:
- Rice, peas, carrots and minced beef
- Rice, carrots, celery and chicken
- Cauliflower and broccoli, rice, minced meat. Add cheese and broil at the end
- Rice, carrots, shredded mushroom (I don’t like the texture otherwise)
- Rice, peas and carrots, with a side of sliced and grilled hot dog sausages
To make it tastier, the water you put in for the rice and veggies to cook well should be seasoned with broth and some spices, depending on what you go for. It can also be a good idea to pre-cook the meat a bit in a pan, for more texture.
You can go about it two ways: with or without meat. Without meat, you can add it as a side dish to many things during your week, and that also lets you change the type of meat you pair it with. If you cook it with meat, it becomes a bit more of a main dish itself! It’ll depend greatly on your preference, and whether you don’t like repetitive meals or if you don’t mind it.
All said and done, these rice-based meals are pretty versatile. I’ve even eaten some in a pita bread with cheese!
If you’re not a fan of the oven, you can absolutely have similar results on the stove. Just cook up your rice (with broth in the water), your veggies, and your meat, then mix it together once it’s all done. Similar to a chicken fried rice, really, but with different ingredients.
Bologna Grilled Cheese
Okay hear me out. Unlike most low-cost meals, grilled cheeses have such versatility that it can really feel like a brand new meal every time. Gotta take advantage of that! Besides, a basic grilled cheese is amazing, but it can be lacking sometimes, especially if it’s your sixth one this week. That’s why you need to spruce things up a bit, but with what?
This is less of a recipe and more of a list of potential additions! There are plenty of things you can add to a grilled cheese, and you probably have quite a few of these things at home already.
- As the title suggest, bologna
- Pepperoni, salami and other deli meats
- Mustard or Dijon mustard
- Mayonnaise (seriously, I swear it’s good!)
- Hot sauce
- A tiny bit of tomato sauce (spaghetti sauce, pizza sauce, maybe even non-tomato sauces could be interesting!) you really don’t need that much, so it’s easy to do when you’ve made sauce yesterday, and you have a little extra in the fridge
- Cream cheese (fancy!), not to replace the other, melty cheese, but adding to it
- Leftover meats from another recipe, like chicken breast or thinly sliced beef
- Canned tuna or salmon
- Parsley and garlic (so, so good!)
- An egg
- Vegetables, like mushrooms or spinach, as well as caramelized onions
You could also substitute American cheese with shredded cheddar or mozzarella, if you’re able to afford some. It’s so much tastier that way, and shredded cheese can be a tasteful addition to so many other recipes!
Let’s not forget my last grilled cheese tip: substitute American cheese with mozzarella or cheddar cheese and add maple syrup (why yes, I am Canadian!)
My favourite thing to do is to use leftover food from earlier days. First, it’s already prepared, and second, it’s a negligible amount that won’t be missed. You really don’t need much to add to a grilled cheese, just a thin layer of whatever you’re adding!
Pasta and… Cream of Broccoli?
At some point, there is such a thing as too much pasta! However, having pasta with a completely different taste to it can make it go down easier.
You should boil the pasta first, then heat up the soup and add the pasta to it. In the case of cream of broccoli, I like to add some butter!
While my usual is broccoli, there are a lot of types of creams out there. Mushroom or celery could also have interesting results, although I have not tried those.
I like this recipe better as a side dish. Pair it with a grilled cheese or some grilled bologna, or maybe a cheese and ham omelet! In a bind, it’ll do fine as a meal in itself, too.
Why are boiled eggs so good? And I could eat devilled eggs for days!
Anyway. If you like boiled eggs, you can add those to SO many things. Slice them up and add them in your sandwich, cut them up and put them in a cold salad or a warm rice meal. Take two or three, sliced in two and salt + peppered, as a protein with a side dish!
I would sometimes eat a cold, hard boiled egg as a snack, just like that. It’s a thing.
Since a dozen eggs can be expensive, it’s important to make sure you don’t let them go to waste. If you get close to the expiry date, boil ’em up and use ’em!
Don’t like boiled eggs? That’s fine, I gotchu!
If you have a muffin tin, you can oven-bake as many as 12 eggs at a time. Crack the egg into the muffin tin, add toppings (veggies, deli meats, spices, cheese, whatever you fancy!) and rinse and repeat. You can switch up the topping mix every 3-4 eggs for variety, too.
Keep in mind that these eggs keep in the fridge for 3 days maximum, but they can be frozen and kept for later. If you can afford English muffins and sausage patties, they could be made into egg sandwiches then frozen for later!
Cooking is difficult and it requires a lot of energy. Sometimes, you may need easier, ready-to-eat meals. Low-cost meals come in all kinds, including pre-made! Take a look at the frozen foods section and check out the value packs of frozen items such as pizza pops, corndogs, hashbrowns, and pre-made meats like stuffed chicken breasts, sausages in bulk, and more.
Even if it’s not a full meal, it’s easier to prepare a little side dish with them, and it’s a different flavour added to your mix. Most value packs here are about 10$ a piece, and it’s a pretty big bag for the price, so it’s definitely worth it.
There are so many options to choose from in pre-made frozen foods, I can’t really tell you how to mix and match it all. However, I can say that pasta or plain rice can feel less redundant when you use them as a side to these, and it’s a simple enough addition. If you got the means, you can even add some mashed potatoes.
… If nothing else, these frozen foods can make a low-cost meal in themselves. Remember, “fed is best.” If the choice is between eating 3 corndogs and not doing anything because you’re out of energy, just make sure you’re fed.
The best staples to keep at all times
When it comes to low-cost meals, it can take a little bit of planning ahead, and mostly, you need to make sure that you have some specific things in your fridge/pantry. Keep in mind, however, that most ingredients in a recipe aren’t irreplaceable… Sure, swapping an ingredient for another may change the taste entirely but it will still be very good! Just different.
My list of important stuff:
- Ramen packs
- American cheese, shredded cheese if possible
- Butter, margarine if necessary (butter is so expensive!)
- Any meat you can afford (bologna, minced meat)
- Oatmeal, peanut butter, oat bars, very low-cost items that can pack a punch and get you through the day. That will vary form person to person
- Make sure that you have a few condiments and spices like parsley.
- If you can’t afford garlic, maybe you can get garlic salt!
- Canned tomato sauce/soup, canned vegetables like peas and carrots
- Frozen, ready-made food that can be popped into the oven (or microwave, even) at any time
Make sure to freeze extra portions of meat, deli meats, bread (I had to buy many loaves at a time) and any vegetable that could go bad.
And yes, this is more of a wish list than a “everybody can have these” list. I’m painfully aware of that. However, compared to some of the “low-cost meals” websites out there, this is a pretty low-end list, and I think it’s a lot more realistic. If nothing else, at least these recipes are less complicated!
Be sure to keep some slight variety in your meals, if you can. I swear, the blandness and repetition of the food eventually gave me a second depression… and I wasn’t even done with the first one!
If you can’t afford much, consider taking a look at food banks and food donation centers around you. I really hope you can get yourself out of this crappy situation soon!
Take care ❤