I feel like almost everyone has been financially broke at some point.

Maybe you were a starving college kid. Or maybe your parents tried hard to cloak the fact you were poor as a child. It wasn't until I left home and started looking back, that I realized my family was certainly lower-middle class when I was growing up. Emphasis on lower.

I was the firstborn of five, so I didn't get the hand-me-down jeans that my brothers had to wear (with holes in the knees patched multiple times by my mom to stretch the jeans well beyond their useful lifespan), but my "new" clothing frequently came from the second-hand store. My mom was an expert on feeding five hungry kids on a tight budget.


Poor kid food isn't always that bad.

Some of the "poor person" foods I ate back then, I still enjoy today. Are they gourmet? Heavens, no. Are most of these foods/meals meeting nutritional needs, as far as vitamins and nutrients? Probably not. Will you laugh and judge me? I don't care. These simple meal ideas are budget stretchers, and they remain on the menu rotation at my house even today. My kids eat them without complaint, they're cheap, easy to make, and they fill your stomach.

  • Bread noodles. We made these last night (image at the top). The dish is super easy and very affordable. Boil a bag of wide egg noodles and set aside. While the noodles are boiling, melt a stick of butter in a large frying pan. Rip up pieces of bread and sautee them in the butter until they become browned and slightly crispy/chewy, then toss the cooked noodles back into the buttery crouton mix. Top with some grated parm if you'd like and a little salt and pepper.  My kids LOVE bread noodles and you could easily serve them with a side of mixed vegetables or whatever to kick up the nutritional value of the meal.
  • Beanie Weenies (aka Weiners and Beans).  Cut a pack of hotdogs into thin slices and put them into a large saucepan. Add a few cans of Pork n' Beans (drained) and heat on medium until hot. The result looks like a gross hotdog/bean soup, but my kids love it. I like to add a capful of vinegar for a little bit of zing.
  • Rice and Raisins.  I kind of forgot all about this dish until the topic of cheap meals came up on our show. When I mentioned this to my co-host, she was like, "what are you talking about?", having never heard of rice and raisins. We ate this frequently when I was a kid and it's just like it sounds. Boil some rice. Throw in a cupful or two of regular raisins. It's served in a bowl with milk poured on top and perhaps a little cinnamon and sugar.
  • Chicken Dumpling soup. There are countless well-respected recipes on how to make chicken dumpling soup. Our cheap and easy method is not one of those. Call this the down-and-dirty dumpling recipe. We use a couple of packets of Lipton chicken noodle soup mix. While that is heating on the stove, prepare your dumpling dough (two cups of flour, one egg, salt, and milk, mixed to a thick consistency). While the soup noodle/broth mixture is boiling, drop small spoonfuls of the dough into the mix and boil for five minutes or so.

The classic budget foods.

Bread noodles, beanie weenies, and rice and raisins are likely less well-known than other classic budget foods like mac and cheese, Hamburger Helper, grilled cheese sandwiches, spaghetti, or tacos. But with food prices so inflated right now, feel free to give them a shot next time your money is tight.

Got an unusual "cheap food" meal that you ate as a kid? Do you still enjoy today? We'd love to hear about it! Email: mornings@billingsmix.com

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