Thursday, July 26, 2012

Another 3 Weeks of Cheap Dinners, Ready in Less Than 15 Minutes

I wanted to expand our 15 minute dinner database, and add the great ideas that readers sent me. The original 15 minute database can be found here.

The criteria for making it to the 15 minute dinner database are:

1. Meal must be able to be completed and served in 15 minutes or less. Quick tip: If your boiling water, don't forget to fill your pot with the hottest water possible and put the lid on.

2. Ingredients for all meals must be under $100.00 for the week. The budget is $120.00 if you are also doing breakfast and lunch for the week. I post our weekly meal plan and shopping list every Saturday (look to the top tabs of this blog for a listing of each weeks menu).

3. Meals must not require traditional recipes. Even though a formal recipe takes the same amount of time to prepare, there's a mental block that occurs when you think of preparing a recipe versus throwing something together quickly. Plus, the "throw together" method encourages you to substitute ingredients and change the recipe a bit.

I should note that this is not the healthiest meal plan to follow. This is to replace an unhealthy lifestyle of fast food and eating out. This plan is significantly healthier than that. We plan to do better in small increments over time, and our Saturday meal plan and shopping lists will follow that. Currently, I'm working 10 1/2 hour days (with commute) and Jon's schedule is unpredictable. This is the best way that I can make our meals work without giving in to the temptation of going out.

Sides:  Frozen Vegetables or salad. We started eating frozen vegetables instead of salad to get more nutrients and to reduce the calories that we were getting from all of that salad dressing. We buy 5 bags of frozen vegetables from Wegmans once every two or three weeks. Each bag costs about $.99, and we cook them in the microwave with a tablespoon of water in a covered container according to directions.

1. BBQ Chicken Sandwich:

Make this meal either on the night of your shopping day, or the day after. Pick up a rotisserie chicken (Safeway has 5.00 rotisserie chickens on Fridays), or make an extra roasted chicken if you practice dinner date nights (more info on dinner date nights can be found here). Pull apart the chicken with two forks to shred, mix with barbecue sauce and microwave for 30 seconds. Spoon onto kaiser rolls (or bread, toast, bagels, frozen dinner rolls, hamburger buns, etc). Serve! If you have leftover chicken- reserve for meal #2.

2. Chicken Fried Rice:

You can either boil minute rice for about 10 minutes, or use microwave rice, which cooks for 90 seconds. As your cooking the rice, heat oil in a pan, cook up frozen diced onion (you can buy these in the frozen food aisle for about 1.00), frozen peas, leftover chicken from Meal #1 (or you can chop up a Tyson's frozen chicken breast, or you can use canned chicken). If you have extra time (and the motivation), you can chop up some celery (if you do and plan to make meal #3 after, reserve some of the celery for that). Break an egg or two into the hot oil and scramble quickly, add drained rice, chicken, and veggies to the oil and mix together. Add a pat of butter until melted and a bit of soy sauce (go slowly!!!!!) You can add more at the table but too much soy sauce can ruin this quickly).

3. (Pantry Meal) Tuna or Canned Chicken Salad: 

Mix either canned chicken or canned tuna into spoonfuls of mayonnaise until you get the consistency you like. You can also microwave a frozen Tyson's grilled chicken breast and dice it up to use instead of the canned chicken. Add salt and pepper to taste, a little handful of chopped frozen onion (don't even bother defrosting, they thaw quickly and help to keep your sandwich cold), chopped celery (if you plan to make meal #2 after this- reserve some of the chopped celery for that meal). Serve over your salad greens, on bread (or bagels, toast, English muffins, hamburger buns, crackers or whatever you have in the house). This is a great pantry meal if something interrupts your shopping day, or if you miscalculated your meals and need a quick fill in. You almost always have mayo in the fridge, combine with canned chicken and put on crackers and you're good to go!

4. Grilled Cheese Sandwich and Tomato Soup:

Heat pan on medium heat with a pat of butter, microwave the tomato soup in two separate bowls. Spread butter on outsides of bread and put cheese in between two slices (any cheese you have around), take a look around your fridge and add any extra ingredients you would like, such as sliced tomato, precooked bacon, or ham. Fry in pan, flipping after about 3 minutes, until cheese is melted.  Serve sandwiches with soup.

5. Broiled Steaks (or Grilled):

Buy small thin steaks (which are also cheap!), stick under the broiler and flip after a few minutes until the desired doneness. Another option is to grill them outside quickly. While steaks are cooking, combine creamed corn and a can of regular corn in a bowl, cover, and microwave for about 3 minutes. This creates a quick and delicious chunky creamed corn. Serve with A-1 sauce, or Worcestershire sauce.

6. Ravioli and Summer Squash:

Boil precooked frozen cheese ravioli. While ravioli is cooking, heat oil spray in a frying pan on medium heat. Quickly slice up zucchini and summer squash, add olive oil and the vegetables, add a bit of frozen chopped onion. Drain the ravioli, mix with vegetables and oil and serve.

7. (Pantry Meal) Pepperoni Subs:

Combine pepperoni and some spaghetti sauce in a small bowl and microwave (about a minute and a half), spoon onto hard rolls (or toast, frozen dinner rolls, or even bagels), top with mozzarella cheese (or cheddar cheese if your weird like my husband, I won't judge), and eat up!


8. Chef Salad:

Stack sliced ham, provolone, and salami on top of each other, roll up and slice into pinwheels, pile onto your salad greens, add whatever you have floating around: green pepper, onion, grape tomatoes, chopped or sliced cucumbers, add Italian salad dressing, shake in a bit of cheese (parmesan and mozzarella), mix up and serve. If you're making this, plan to use your leftover cold cuts in other meals. You can use them in sandwiches for lunch, or add them to the grilled cheese sandwiches in #4.


9. Ashley Smith's Mexican Wraps:

Heat a frying pan on medium, spray with oil, add a can of shredded chicken, a half can of corn, a can of rotel diced tomatoes (with chilies if you're into that), microwavable Spanish or Mexican rice, sour cream or cream cheese, and mix until combined. Spoon into soft tortillas, sprinkle on cheese and serve! You can add any extras you have around like jalapenos, black beans, salsa, hot sauce etc.

10. Chipotle Style Bowl or Burrito:

Either make microwavable white rice, or if your organized, make minute rice the night before while you make that nights meal, then drain and stick in fridge. I like the minute rice in this because I can taste the difference with microwavable rice. Microwave two frozen Tyson's grilled chicken breasts and dice up. While making chicken, heat a small amount of oil in pan on medium high heat. Add frozen green peppers and onions (I buy a club pack of green peppers and a bag of onions every few weeks and slice up to freeze and use as needed), and cook until hot. Add rice to pan, adding a splash of lime juice, a pat of butter and a sprinkle of cilantro (all optional), transfer mixture to bowls, top with chicken, lettuce, shredded cheese, sour cream and salsa or hot sauce.


11. Chinese Stir Fry:

Heat a small amount of oil in a frying pan on medium high heat. Add a handful of frozen stir fry veggies, and two frozen Tyson's grilled chicken breast. Microwave white rice (or boil minute rice the night before and store in fridge) for 90 seconds, add to pan. Remove chicken breast from pan, and dice up. Return chicken to pan and continue cooking until everything is hot. Add in Asian sauce of your choice (I like Wegmans General Tso's Sauce). Dish onto plate and serve.


12. Chicken Parmesan Sandwiches:

Either microwave chicken patties or frozen Tyson's grilled chicken breasts, top with a spoonful of spaghetti sauce and mozzarella cheese. Place on toasted hamburger bun, serve and enjoy.

13. Santa Fe Beans and Rice: (inspired by Natasha Gaiski)

Either heat microwavable rice for 90 seconds, or make minute rice on the stove top. While cooking rice, spray cooking oil in a pan and heat on medium. Add some corn (canned, frozen, half can, or just whatever you have leftover is fine), some Mexican style diced tomatoes (Rotel, or an off brand), and half a can of black beans. If you have frozen chopped onion in the fridge, add a few, but it's optional. When the rice is done, mix the rice into pan and sprinkle with shredded Mexican cheese. Serve and Enjoy!


14. Tortellini with Peas and Cheese:

Boil either refrigerated or frozen tortellini according to package directions. During the last minute, add a few handfuls of frozen peas. You just want the peas thawed, not cooked. Drain and return to pot on low heat, add butter and parmesan cheese to taste.


15. Sloppy Joes:

Brown grown beef on medium heat. When brown, drain, return to pan and add a can of sloppy joe sauce. Spoon onto hamburger rolls.

16. Meatball Subs:

Microwave frozen precooked meatballs. Heat spaghetti sauce, mix together, spoon meatballs and sauce onto sub rolls (or toast, bagels, hamburger buns... whatever you have available). Top with mozzarella or provolone cheese and serve.


17. Swedish Meatball with Egg Noodles:

Microwave frozen precooked meatballs. Boil water and cook egg noodles according to package directions. In a small bowl, microwave a jar of beef gravy (around 12 oz.) and 1/2 cup of sour cream. Combine with meatballs and serve on egg noodles.

18. Chicken Rice A Roni with Vegetables and Chicken:

Prepare Chicken flavored rice a roni according to package directions. While cooking, microwave frozen Tyson's Grilled Chicken Breast. Dice Chicken. Add chicken and a drained can of mixed vegetables to rice a roni.


19. Microwaved Baked Potatoes: (Inspired by Haley)

I just found out about this and am amazed. Stick two potatoes in the microwave and follow the instructions found here. Microwave fully cooked bacon, microwave broccoli pieces according to package directions, set out sour cream, cheddar cheese, salt and pepper. Have yourself a potato bar!


20. American Version of a Mediterranean Plate:

Serve up cold food that meet your nutritional needs that appeal to you. Try sliced apples, bananas, and pears, Triscuits, cheddar cheese cubes, hummus, pinwheels made with ham, provolone, and salami, cold broccoli, cauliflower, and carrot sticks, hard boiled eggs, yogurt, hard rolls, and butter. This makes a very simple, healthy light lunch or dinner.


21. Chili Dogs:

I don't know why, but hot dogs always creep me out. If you're like me but your significant other loves them, then try an all natural, preservative free hot dog. Cook the hot dogs (boil, microwave, pan fry or grill). You can heat either your own frozen chili, or a canned chili.  Place hot dogs in a bun and top with chili.

Ashley Smith's Mexican Wraps

Chicken Salad Sandwiches

Cheese Ravioli with Summer Squash


  1. The pictures above is so beautiful, and I can also share a good place of beautiful photos with you, cheap brand handbags for sale .

  2. You really lose credibility when you don't know the difference between your and you're and use the appropriate spelling accordingly.

    1. These are great. As I read a few of them, I thought, I would buy a jar of minced garlic and add a teaspoon to the recipe.

    2. These are great. As I read a few of them, I thought, I would buy a jar of minced garlic and add a teaspoon to the recipe.

    3. Thanks so much for posting such great ideas!

    4. Really Erin she loses her credibility on quick meals is she missuses a words spelling, she isn't teaching spelling or claiming to. Your comments loses credibility as being worth wasting time reading when that is what you take your time to type.

    5. Erin I don't think anyone really cares! If it really means that much you could've said it in a much nicer way than that. It's also a pet peeve of mine but you can still understand the context.

    6. That is a pet peeve of mine, too, Kammie.

  3. As a college student trying NOT to live off of fast food, and not having lots of time it is hard to to find things that are quick and easy without being repetitive. Thank you for taking the time to put these out here! :D

  4. I have both this list and the previous list bookmarked - I am also a college student that does not have a lot of time or money to cook! I went through both lists and made a shopping list - so ready to try these out!

    1. Me, too! :). I'm so excited for grocery shopping now.
      Oh, college. Sigh. We have one of the worst rated dining halls in the country; people don't come to Iowa for our food.

  5. My goodness, the whole point of her taking her time to post these recipes is to help you save time in the kitchen for those who don't have time. For those who say they are not healthy, well compare them to fast food which is terrible for you. You can't tell me that one of her hamburgers have more than 900 cal. C'mon! There's ways to make things healthier all of the time, but each of these recipes are definitely healthier and have less calories than eating out. For instance, every once in awhile I would go to Panera to get a Bacon Turkey Bravo thinking it was a better alternative to hamburgers etc...OMGoodness...over 900 calories!! Seriously?? Never again....So the recipes on here you could change a tad for yourself. For example, hamburger meat (you'll have to pay more) you can buy 97% fat free or buy turkey. You can boil or bake instead of fry, use the chicken breasts and shred those up instead of buying the pre done ones....etc.... These recipes are quick and easy..she did not title them as antibiotic free or whatever else because those meals would COST a ton more. So maybe think of that and try and not shoot her down for posting exactly what she said these and quick. I'm not trying to start trouble but if you have any ideas for quick and (cheap) because nothing is these days then maybe you start your own blog spot ya know like add a link to yours somehow. I think she's doing a great job and the majority agree!! :) Thanks everyone!!

    1. Good grief, Brenda - take a deep breath and go sit down! It's getting tiresome!

  6. I love this idea, and with three busy children, I will definitely be using some of these! I just have one comment: The EPA recommends that you always cook with cold water as hot water can leach metals from your pipes. Take a few more minutes and use cold tap water.

  7. Another time saver and healthier option I use is to make meatballs in bulk on a weekend - I use equal parts lean beef and turkey, add tons of bread crumbs, eggs, seasoning, portion out and bake in the oven. When done, I portion into single meal packages, and then freeze. Take one package out and dinner can be ready in minutes! You can use with tomato sauce for pasta, subs, or make a brown gravy and serve over rice. I've even done them with a teriyaki sauce and pineapple chunks for quick Asian meal. By making the meatballs yourself, you control the quality of the ingredients, and can have a healthier option than store packaged meatballs, which I find to be kind of gross.

  8. I love your posts! Trying to figure out what to eat as a college student is really a bummer. These are fast, cheap, and always have leftovers. Thank you do much!!!


Please feel free to comment and discuss here. You can also share your own tips and ask questions of the author. Complaints and constructive criticism are welcomed. Derogatory and hateful comments will be deleted.