Let me take a moment to set the scene: it’s three days until payday. Dinnertime is fast approaching and you are broke. Broker than broke, even. So broke that when you open your wallet, dust and a stray moth flies out. But still, dinnertime. The family has to eat something. So you check your pantry. You find a lone box of pasta and not much else. No meat. No sauces. What can you even do?
Does this situation sound familiar?
Trust me, I have been there. I have been so broke that I was hunting through my car cupholders for enough change to buy a $1 box of whole wheat pasta. It doesn’t happen as much now that I meal plan and budget, but occasionally I’m still thrown for a loop and things don’t work out as I expected. Sometimes we eat more than I planned for, or some of my ingredients meet an untimely end when a bag breaks. There are lots of little things that can happen to set back your food budget when it isn’t very large in the first place.
Thankfully, I’ve learned a few “bare minimum” recipes over the years so that I can still make the most of dinnertime even when I’m limited by my ingredients!
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Butter and Herb Noodles
This is a super simple recipe that can be used as is or with a few embellishments depending on what you have in the fridge or pantry. I always buy whole wheat pasta because it usually costs about the same as regular and seems to fill us up better, but you can use whatever kind of pasta you have on hand (or prefer.)
- 1 pound pasta
- 1/2 stick of butter
- 1 tbsp garlic, minced (optional)
- 2 tsp dried parsley
- Salt and pepper
- In a large pot, bring salted water to a boil. Cook noodles according to package directions. Reserve one cup of the pasta water and strain the rest.
- In a skillet over medium heat, melt the butter. If using garlic, saute until golden and fragrant. About one minute.
- Add the parsley, salt, and pepper to the skillet.
- Mix in the reserved pasta water 1 tbsp at a time until the mixture thickens. Discard any leftover water.
- Add the noodles to the skillet and toss to coat.
- Remove skillet from heat.
- Serve immediately.
Balsamic Vinaigrette Noodles
This recipe uses my favorite homemade balsamic vinaigrette dressing. If you have a bottle of store bought dressing, you can certainly use that to make it a bit easier. The homemade version costs pennies to make, so it’s definitely still the most frugal option.
- 1 pound pasta
- 3 tbsp olive oil
- 3 tbsp balsamic vinegar
- 2 tsp dried rosemary leaves
- 2 tsp dried thyme
- Bring a large pot of salted water to a rapid boil. Cook pasta according to package directions. Drain.
- In a large bowl, mix together remaining ingredients. Make sure the vinegar and oil are well incorporated.
- Add pasta to bowl and toss to coat.
This isn’t the most extravagant use of noodles, but it makes a ton of food. It feeds our family of three twice, and Mr. S and I are both big eaters. If you have any veggies in the fridge to use up, you can always tweak the recipe to include them. We usually only pull this one out when we are really low on food and ideas.
- 1 pound wide egg noodles
- 8-10 cups broth of choice
- 2 tsp dried parsley
- 1 tsp dried thyme
- 1 tsp dried rosemary
- In a large pot, bring broth and seasonings to a boil.
- Add egg noodles to pot and cook them according to package directions.
- Remove from heat.
Lo Mein Noodles
While most of us think of lo mein as a veggie-laden stir fry mixed in with noodles, you can technically make lo mein without any veggies at all. A more traditional lo mein sauce also consists of a mixture of dark soy sauce and light soy sauce, but we are using more easily obtained ingredients for this just to make it easier.
- 1 pound of lo mein noodles or spaghetti
- 3 tbsp soy sauce (preferably low sodium)
- 2 tbsp oyster sauce
- 1 tbsp sugar
- 1 tsp sesame oil
- In a large pot of salted water, boil the noodles according to package directions. Drain and set aside.
- Mix the soy sauce, oyster sauce, and sugar in a small bowl.
- Heat a skillet over medium high heat with a tbsp of olive oil. Add the noodles and toss a few times.
- Add the sauce mixture and cook, while stirring, until the sauce is completely incorporated and the noodles are evenly covered.
- Remove skillet from heat. Add the tsp of sesame oil and toss to evenly incorporate it into the noodles.
That’s it! My four super easy pasta recipes to try when your budget is tight. Let me know what you think of these in the comments below!