We all have to eat. But it doesn’t mean you have to settle for less-than-great food if you don’t have a lot of money. Here are 13 ideas for really cheap meals for broke people:

Rubber Chicken

It isn’t called rubber chicken because it’s rubbery! But rather because it keeps bouncing back for more meals. One whole, large chicken can feed a family of four for at least four meals.

Meal 1: The Chicken Dinner

The first meal is to eat part of the chicken. It can be a rotisserie chicken, or one you cook at home either in the oven or a crock pot. Add some veggies and a starch and you have a meal. When you are done, remove all the excess chicken from the bones and put it aside. Also, save all the bones for meal number three.

Meal 2: Chicken On A Salad

The second meal will take some of the chicken from meal one and arrange it over a bed of lettuce. Add whichever veggies you have on hand, perhaps some salsa, and you have a nice, main-course salad.

Meal 3: Chicken Soup

Take the carcass from meal one and put it in a big pot. Cover with water and add salt and pepper. You can also add any vegetables you wish, like onion or celery, for flavoring. Bring to a boil and simmer on low for a couple of hours. Strain out the solids and you have a nice chicken stock. Use the chicken stock as a basis for chicken soup: add vegetables, some pasta or rice, and you have a filling meal.

Meal 4: Chicken Burritos

The last bit of chicken can be wrapped up in tortillas with some warmed beans, leftover rice and a bit of salsa–a great quick meal!

Rubber Beef

Chicken isn’t the only meat that can bounce back. Beef can also work the same way.

Meal 5: Beef Roast

The crock pot is your best friend for cooking inexpensive cuts of beef. The long cooking time will reduce the toughest piece of beef into a tender blend of flavor. The first of the rubber beef meals is the beef roast dinner. Get a cheap roast from the store and cook it in the crock pot with a cup of cooking liquid (water, broth, or wine) and some vegetables. Save the leftover meat for meals six and seven. Or you can use recipes like this one.

Meal 6: Beef Burritos

Much like the leftover chicken, you can combine the leftover beef into burrito filling. Add rice, a can of black beans and a dash of pepper for some nice sizzle!

Meal 7: Beef Barbecue

Shredded beef lends itself really well to barbecue sandwiches. Just add whatever sauce you wish to the meat, and serve it on a bun. Add homemade coleslaw to the sandwich for extra zing.

All Wrapped Up

Wraps are a great way to go cheap: they provide a source of carbohydrate while holding all your fillings together. We’ve already talked about beef and chicken burritos, but you can go even cheaper…

Meal 8: Bean Burritos

A very filling and inexpensive meal can be made with tortillas, refried beans and whichever toppings you prefer. Chopped tomatoes, cabbage, lettuce and other shredded vegetables will round this out for a very healthy meal.

Meal 9: Egg Wraps

Eggs are an excellent source of protein and are extremely inexpensive. Scramble up some eggs with some vegetables, and you have a great dinner (or breakfast!)

Noodles and More

When people say “cheap” and “noodles” in one sentence, they generally mean spaghetti. But this doesn’t mean you have to settle for bland.

Meal 10: Sesame Noodles

Sesame noodles can be made with long pasta, sesame paste and a bit of chili sauce, thinned with broth or water. Add a little onion, cilantro and cucumber for bursts of flavor.

Meal 11: Zippy Spaghetti

The cheapest commercial spaghetti sauces are also the most bland. Hit your dollar store for spices and give that sauce some taste! Garlic, oregano and basil are standard additions, but a zip of red pepper or chili sauce will warm your tummy.

Catch-alls

One of the best ways to stretch your food dollar is to make sure nothing gets thrown away. That means you have to have a way to deal with little bits of leftovers that are not enough to make a full meal. Here are two catch-all ideas for using that last bit of food.

Meal 12: Fried Rice

Fried rice is extremely flexible and forgiving. Heat up whatever leftover veggies or meat you have in a bit of oil, then add leftover cooked rice. Make a well in the middle and scramble an egg, then mix it all together for fried rice.

Meal 13: Magic Casserole

If you’re more in the mood for comfort food, you can make Magic Casserole. Take one leftover meat or protein, add one leftover starch (noodles, rice, or potatoes), one binder (a can of ‘cream-of-something’ soup, leftover gravy or sauce), a vegetable (whatever is available) and a crunchy topping (crushed potato or tortilla chips, fried onions or nuts). Mix everything but the topping together, put it in a casserole dish, add the topping, and bake until heated through.

Cheap meals don’t have to be unhealthy, bland or pre-prepared. Cooking from scratch and using every bit of food is the best way to stretch your food dollar.

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Featured photo credit: Two women - one is African American - eating hamburger and drinking soda in a fast food diner; focus on the meal via Shutterstock

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