A Frugal Twist on 12 Classic Dishes Made by Mom
Whether preparing dinner for mom or creating memories with your kids, cooking is a loving way to celebrate Mother's Day and share traditional family meals year-round. The comfort meals prepared by mom are one of life's little pleasures, especially if she was a great cook. Many of the classic meals on American moms' menus are also pretty cost-savvy, and there are always a few extra tips for saving money and swaps for expensive ingredients.
The building blocks of lasagna, sauce, and noodles are cheap, and buying them on sale only sweetens the deal. Whipping ricotta with an egg and some salt keeps the cost of cheese down, and a little Parmesan goes a long way. Classic meat fillings can also hike up the cost, so instead, grab a packet of frozen veggies, season the same as you would meat, and layer them into the dish.
Thick gravy and crumbly crust are a winning combo in this dish that has become so symbolic of weeknight family meals. The most costly part of potpie is premium cuts of meat such as tender beef, turkey, or chicken breast. Increase the amount of veggies and use the meat sparingly to reduce the cost of this dish even further.
Burgers have become so ubiquitous and experimental that it's easy to find versions that cost more than a plate of filet mignon. A traditional home-style burger is a simple indulgence that can be made less costly by substituting half the ground beef with ground turkey. Prices for ground turkey are typically $1 or $2 a pound less than the cheapest cuts of ground beef -- and considerably less than the cost of pricey lean burger.
Crispy, salty potatoes are one of Americans' favorite foods, and surely something everyone remembers from childhood, even if mom only heated them up from the freezer bag. While tots are still delicious and often inexpensive, there's not much cheaper than a plain potato. Cutting a potato into cubes, seasoning, and roasting in the oven creates small morsels of crispy brown potatoes -- cheaper and a whole lot healthier than tater tots.
Generations past indulged in grocery store convenience foods such as canned green beans and premade broth. While even a can of condensed soup was transformed into a heartwarming meal when mom added her special touches, chicken noodle soup is cheapest (and best tasting) when homemade. Don't cut corners with rotisserie chicken and canned or boxed broth. Get a chicken, some herbs, and veggies and make your own.
Mashed potatoes are a familiar favorite on many American dinner tables -- made all the better with the addition of butter and cream. Using a ricer instead of a traditional masher achieves a creamier and lighter texture, allowing you to cut out or cut down by half the butter and cream, which are still the most expensive parts of the dish.
The seasonings for sloppy Joes, typically canned or in a packet, are inexpensive, but a meal that relies so heavily on pricey ground beef can add up. To cut that cost, take advantage of meat sales or substitute less expensive cuts of meat. Another way to reduce the cost per serving -- and sneak a little fiber into this fun meal -- is to add some coarsely chopped beans to the mix for bulk. To keep taste and texture intact, add up to one-third cup of cooked pinto or black beans.
Healthy and simple, grilled fish continues to be a common weeknight staple in many American homes. Seasoned just right -- with lemon and herbs, for example -- the flavor of the fish becomes secondary to its oily richness and meaty texture. Swap out expensive cuts of salmon or swordfish for inexpensive options such as tilapia or catfish. Many of these less costly fish provide similar nutritional benefits and create satisfying meals.
For many, hearty steaks and chops come to mind when thinking of home-cooked meals by mom. These expensive cuts don't have to be saved for special occasions, or ruled out for larger gatherings. Make the meat go further by slicing it up and tossing it with egg noodles or rice and serve gravy on the side. Bulking up the meal with other filling carbs can double the number of servings while still keeping the meaty flavor and texture in every bite.
Make this favorite indulgent dessert an inexpensive everyday favorite with one simple trick: Instead of layering ice cream between halves of a banana, freeze the banana until it becomes its own soft, sweet, and creamy ice-cream-like pop. Stick a popsicle stick through a peeled banana, roll it in nuts, and drizzle with chocolate, then freeze on wax paper. Once frozen, wrap the treats individually to store for up to a month. The flavors hit all the notes of a classic banana split, without the cost (or calories) of ice cream.
While not glamorous, oatmeal is a nutritious breakfast that has been a familiar breakfast staple among Americans for years. For big savings, skip the individually wrapped and flavored varieties. Buying plain oatmeal in bulk and flavoring at home saves up half on each serving. Homemade versions also allow for an endless variety of flavors, plus experimentation that could spark a lifelong love for cooking.
A routine meal in Italian-American households, risotto is an inexpensive, comforting treat. To make it even more budget-friendly, use a pressure cooker, which achieves a creamy and rich texture with only broth and rice, leaving out the expensive butter and cheese typically used to achieve risotto's trademark silkiness. Add of dab of grated Romano on top and no one will be the wiser.