Dinners Under $5 : The Basics

Sure, it seems easy to pull up to the drive thru window and pick up a bag of ninety nine cent burritos, or sandwiches, or whatever- but is it really cheaper?
I'll explain it with my family. We have five at home: the 6 yr old food critic, the 10 yr old comfort foodie, the 11 year old bottomless pit, and us (the parents who keep wishing we could lose weight but love to eat anyway). That equals out to between four and six dollar sandwiches, five orders of fries or rice, and five drinks. So for that 'fast and cheap' dinner, we may be paying $15 or more, not to mention snacks later when someone decides they're still hungry, or dessert!
To combat this, I had to find a way to feed them all, without breaking my food budget of less than $100 a week AND still be able to pack a lunch for my husband for work and provide for the occasional snack, drinks, breakfast for the two of us, etc.
The basis for the $5 dinner is this: Meat plus starch plus vegetables. (And sometimes bread.) One should note that there is no shame whatsoever in using a box or can of something to get your started with this. One of my favorites happens to be Jambalaya rice mix paired with sliced smoked sausage and a can of beans or corn thrown in for good measure. Get it on sale and you may be able to add a loaf of french bread- warmed and topped with margarine and garlic powder it's a lower fat version of the frozen stuff.
The main thing is to play with your recipes that you know the family likes, and worry less about how you made it and more about how it will taste and cost. My basic pantry staples? Mashed potato flakes, canned vegetables, canned tuna and chicken, rice and pasta. Stretching that two dollar can of chicken and dumplings is easy when you add a can of gravy, some leftover cooked chicken, and mashed potatoes.
It also helps to have a basic menu for the month laid out, but we'll get to that one later.
Just focus on what your family likes, and then try to make it a little less costly, and add a little more veggies to it. Have fun!


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