When you're a busy mom with a hectic schedule, it's hard enough to get dinner on the table every night. Add a strict budget to the mix and you may feel overwhelmed trying to think of nutritious, easy, inexpensive meals that your kids will love too. Don't fret -- with a little resourcefulness you can turn inexpensive pantry staples into easy, satisfying meals for you and your family.
Rice and Beans
You can use these two basic staples in a variety of different ways for thrifty, easy-to-make family meals. Try black beans and rice mixed with your favorite spices for a nutritious burrito filling, or chickpeas simmered with canned tomatoes, curry powder and basmati rice for an Indian meal. Canned beans and prepared pouches of rice will get dinner on the table quicker, but dried rice and beans are a more affordable options. Cook large portions of dried beans and rice on weekends or during free time and store in air-tight containers for busy evenings.
Soups require one pot and a few basic ingredients, making them hard to beat for simplicity and affordability. Look for store-bought soup mixes to make cooking even easier. For a nourishing, homemade meal, simmer lentils or beans with fresh vegetables and spices and serve with bread or crackers. Soups can also be a great way to utilize cooked meat leftover from a previous meal. Add diced chicken or beef to broth or water, veggies and seasoning to stretch your dinner and your dollar.
Casseroles, also called hot dishes, come together quickly and use simple, inexpensive ingredients. Tuna noodle casserole, which uses cheap canned tuna, egg noodles and other basic pantry staples such as a ranch-flavored seasoning mix combined with cream cheese, provides a comforting, high-protein meal suited to kids' palates. Try other combinations of noodles or rice, cheese, eggs and meat, or turn favorite kid-friendly meals -- like hamburgers and tacos -- into casseroles by layering the ingredients in a dish and popping it in the oven. Serve casseroles with a mixed green salad and a creamy dressing for a more balanced meal.
Pasta-based meals are a great option for moms on a budget. Boxes of dried pasta can be boiled and ready in less than 10 minutes. Pour jarred sauce on top and serve with a side salad for an instant meal. Cooked meats like ground turkey or beef add protein to a pasta dinner, while frozen, microwaved vegetables add instant vitamins. Make a pasta dinner even cheaper, by replacing half the ground beef in a spaghetti meat sauce with canned lentils, which replicate the texture of ground meat and add plenty of nutrients to your meal.
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