Money & The Economy

Optimize Your Dollar: Five Easy Ways to Save on Dinner

optimize your dollar 1

Noticing that cash crunch from your lowered paycheck this week? Here are five quick and easy ways to save money at meal time.

  1. Breakfast for Dinner: My family loves homemade breakfast. Trouble is we don’t usually have enough time in the morning for more than cereal and juice before heading out. So we move breakfast to dinner once a week. A box of pancake mix, some butter and syrup and you’ve got the fixin’s to fill up even the hungriest teen. Add a side of seasonal or frozen fruit (here in the desert it’s citrus time) and some bacon or sausage and you’re set.
  2. Breakfast for Dinner Part Two: Still thinking about breakfast? Might I suggest baked eggs? This one is soooo easy. Throw it together and into the oven for 30-40 minutes, help the kids with their homework while it’s baking, and then time to eat. There are no hard and fast rules to make this: I use 2-3 eggs per adult, 2 for less hungry kids, stirred with a little milk, salt & pepper; sprinkle some hash browns in the bottom of the pan (if you have them, some people line the bottom of the pan with slices of bread); bacon or other meat if you want (cooked first and crumbled); some cooked vegetables (we like to take frozen broccoli chopped up, cooked in microwave 5-6 minutes and drained—I use about 1/3 cup per person); pour the egg mix in and cheese for the top. Use oil, butter or spray Pam in your pan and bake at 350 until puffed up in the center.
  3. Make your own pizza: Around here there are pizza specials where for under $10 you get a medium pizza, enough for a couple adults or several small children. Otherwise, pizza can be a pretty expensive treat. Why not make your own? Jiffy makes an inexpensive and easy to make crust but there are others readily available, you can also make your own pizza sauce (can of tomato sauce, tomato paste, seasonings including garlic and oregano) or you can buy sauce at the grocer.  In both cases watch for these to be on sale and stock up (they have a long shelf life—if you buy a yeast product, pay attention to the ‘use by’ date.) Add your toppings and bake.  Look for your favorite toppings to be on sale too, most, including shredded cheese, can be frozen for later use. This is a great meal where the kids can help.
  4. Hamburger Helper: Many families like the quick easy meals that can be prepared with the Hamburger Helper type mixes. My friend with five kids shared her tip to make one package feed the clan: she cooks separately, additional pasta and then stirs it into the pan mixing together. She said this is the only way to get enough food into the hollow legs of her growing boys and does the same with macaroni and cheese mixes. A second suggestion is to use ground turkey either alone or mixed with regular hamburger. At our local Costco I can buy a five pound chub of ground turkey for $7. I let it thaw enough to cut and then portion it out. At this point you can cook it all up and freeze in portion sized bags for later use (shaves ten minutes off cooking later and you can throw it in the microwave to thaw). If your family doesn’t like ground turkey plane you can easily mix it 50-50 with the cheap hamburger, which will have plenty of fat to add flavor.
  5. Nail Soup. Do you remember this children’s story? A traveler enters a very unfriendly village and sets out a pot filled with water over a fire. The curious villagers come out one by one and the traveler explains that he is making a magic soup that uses nothing but his special nail. As it simmers he tells them how great it will be, if only he had a pinch of salt which one woman decides she can share. After tasting it again he remarks how wonderful the soup would be, if 100_0897only he could add a carrot or two, which another villager remembers she has in the house. The story goes on, adding potatoes, then some meat, etc., etc. until the pot is filled with a delicious simmering soup. The traveler shares it with the villagers who find it amazing and happiness abounds. That’s the soup we make at our house. What’s in the refrigerator? Some leftover chicken or ham, pick it off the bone and throw in the pot. Got a few potatoes? Peel and add. Carrots or cauliflower? You got it. Our soup is never the same but it’s always delicious. As I was typing this article I made a pot for dinner tonight. In the freezer I discovered a chunk of leftover turkey from Thanksgiving, still good, but a little frosty looking. Cut it up added an onion and some potatoes. Today I have a sweet potato and kale. Both made a fine addition to the soup. I add just enough water to cover and today used a couple of chicken bouillon cubes for seasoning.  Cook the potatoes until soft so they can be mashed up a little. Often I add a can of creamed corn (just before serving) to thicken. You 100_0901can add milk for a creamier sauce. You can make it with pasta (I cook pasta separately and add at end so it doesn’t get mushy.) And, as my family likes to remind me, if it’s kind of bland tasting, ketchup makes it better. This soup takes a little more time to prepare and cook but you can put together it at night and cook in the crockpot.

So there you have it. Five easy ways to stretch your dollar at dinner. Using any one of these suggestions should save a family of four at least $10 per meal over everyone ordering a kids meal at the local fast food store.

NOTE: I am not a nutritionist so make absolutely NO claim about the nutritional value of these meals. As a mom I will say our family does try to eat a well balanced diet.

If you have suggestions to stretch your shopping dollar or questions please let me know.

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Teresa Wendt

A stay at home mom who runs a household, manages the finances, cares for a young adult autistic son, and cooks from scratch. Traveling from Arizona to Alaska summer of 2013. Visit my blog at and follow along.

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  1. Teresa, you’re just so darn sensible….& informed!!This was a delightful reprive from my ‘obsession issues’…..Back in olden days when Phoenix & Tempe had open spaces between & before ‘ready made’ pizza crust was born, we had a build your own pizza nite & used the canned jumbo biscuits flattened. Discovered that mashed sweet potatoes make an excellent thickner for homemade chicken soup. This is a timely subject, but not sure how to contact you to learn & share.

    1. Thanks Jan for your comments. I love the idea of the biscuits. Our family is gluten free so we haven’t had those in a very long time. But we do appreciate using leftover potatoes as thickener.

      I thought my brain would explode if I didn’t start thinking about things beyond politics so I asked if I could do this weekly stretching your dollar column. I am very interested in writing about other money saving tips. The economy might be improving but many families are still feeling the pinch.

      I have a public facebook page where it’s a little easier to interact if you are on FB. I can also send you my email address. After reading many of your posts and agreeing with you, I expect we’ll be a mutual fan club 🙂

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