Fabulously Frugal: Easy meals when there’s more month left than money

Photo by monicore.

Frugal Friends, ever find yourself staring into the fridge, like a kid lamenting, “Why is there nothing to eat?” It’s like a culinary staring contest with an empty stomach.

But here’s the deal — you can absolutely whip up something delicious with the random odds and ends chilling in there. It’s like a kitchen puzzle: a scoop of leftover pasta, a couple of sad-looking veggies, and maybe some cheese that’s on its last legs. Throw it all together, do a little sprinkle of improvisation, and voila — you’ve just MacGyvered yourself a meal.

Many people are going to run out of money in December before they run out of month, so I’m sharing some of my meals that are a dollar per serving and take 20 minutes or less to make.  

Here are my nine favourite “there’s nothing to eat” cheap meals:

Baked potato with leftovers

A baked potato with a meagre ¼ cup of leftover meat (I’m looking at you, picked-nearly-clean rotisserie chicken) with gravy from a package or can, and some frozen veggies. Delicious, filling, and cheap.

Tired of pasta? ½ cup of sauce over a baked potato is a nice change.

Got a can of baked beans? Put them on a baked potato.

And baked potato poutine is great! Microwave the spud, top with cheese (a great way to use old or maybe dried-out cheeses), and add gravy. Yum!

Mystery fried rice

Photo by FOX.

The next time you make rice, make extra portions. Refrigerate the leftovers uncovered until cool.

To make fried rice: heat some oil in a deep frying pan over medium heat. Add a sliced onion, carrot, and/or other hard veggies. Once the veggies are soft, add things that take less time to cook, like frozen peas or mixed vegetables and some soy sauce. Keep stirring! While that’s on, grease a cereal dish, beat 1 egg per person in the dish with 1 tbsp of water, and then cover and microwave for one minute. Remove the egg, slice it up, and add to the pan along with the rice, and you’ve got egg fried rice.

Homemade soup

Using cubes of instant bouillon (the dollar store has these), make up a pot of stock — enough to feed your household. Once it’s boiled and dissolved, add anything from the fridge:

Half a can of tomato paste? Sure! Add some Italian seasoning to it; we know tomatoes are featured heavily in Italian cuisine, so it’ll go well together.

One hotdog left? Chop that baby up and add it.

Half an onion, a soft carrot, wilted celery… our soup is coming together!

Broccoli stems? Why not?

When it’s at a boil, toss in pasta of some kind. The pasta will cook and thicken your soup. No pasta available? Try mashed potato flakes for potato soup. Or a can or lentils or any kind of beans will fill out the soup and make it hearty. A big pot of soup with some toast or crackers will be great on a cold night!

Pancakes

If you don’t have a recipe, here’s the one I use: https://cafedelites.com/best-fluffy-pancakes/

You can make homemade syrup too! Try this recipe.

If you have a small amount of jam or jelly left in a jar, you can add it to this recipe by putting a small amount of water in the jam/jelly jar, stirring it to mix in the jam, and adding it. Be sure to reduce the amount of water in the recipe to reflect the volume of the jam/jelly and water mixture.

Or just melt jam or peanut butter in a bowl in the microwave and top your pancakes with that.

Tuna melts

A 60s recipe. We’re not expecting you to get out the love beads or listen to Janis Joplin while you make it (though it would be totally cool if you did!).

Make tuna salad, put on toast and top with a cheese slice or grated cheese (another excellent way to use up that not-so-fresh cheese.) Broil until the cheese melts.

Peas on toast

Make a basic cream sauce. (Recipe here.) Add frozen peas until they’re heated through. Put on toast.

Curried chickpeas on rice

Simple and very filling! Terrific on a cold night to warm you up! Serve over rice or potatoes. Recipe here.

You can skip the cilantro or used dried if you have it, and ketchup will sub for the can of tomato sauce (thin it with a little water). I tend to buy chickpeas (also called garbanzo beans) when they’re on sale and stock up. It’s always good to have a can in the cupboard for this meal when there’s more month left than money.

Dragon noodles

A great way to have a different spaghetti dinner:

Cook the pasta as usual. While the pasta is cooking, beat one egg per serving with 1 Tbsp of water and lightly fry it to make a pancake. When the egg is cooked, slice it and set it aside.

Drain the pasta and return it to the pot with the burner off. For each serving, add to the pot: 2 tbsp of peanut butter, 1 tbsp of soy sauce, a good squirt of hot sauce or a pinch of red pepper flakes, and 1 tbsp of sugar (brown sugar works best). Combine until the pasta is covered. Place in individual dishes for each person and top with the sliced egg.

Rice and beans

Photo by Mart Production.

Add spices from the dollar store to some canned beans and rice and you’ve got a fast meal on the table that won’t leave you hungry. Recipe here.

I don’t usually have a poblano pepper on hand, so a couple of shakes of hot sauce and any other kind of pepper is a good frugal substitute. If peppers aren’t on sale, add more onion or another vegetable. This is a good way to use up leftover veggies that are tired-looking, but not spoiled. Alternatively, frozen veggies are fine.


Here are some of the best deals for your weekly shop. Some of the ingredients for the buck-a-person meals are on sale this week!

Giant Tiger:

  • Russet potatoes, $0.99/5 lb
  • Margarine: Great Value, $2.68 lb
  • Pudding: Snack Pack, $1.67/4 pack
  • Head lettuce, celery, Dole garden salad or coleslaw mix $1.97 each
  • Price match the pineapples with Food Basics as they’re $1.88 there
  • Instant mashed potatoes, Idahoan $1.77 packet

Food Basics:

  • Bacon: Selection $2.88/375g
  • Cheese: Black Diamond, bricks or shreds, $4.88 package
  • Gravy mixes: Club House 0.99 cents each
  • (With the cheese that’s on sale and the potatoes from Giant Tiger, poutine baked potatoes is a cheap meal.)
  • Beans: Selection or Irresistible, including chickpeas, $1.49 each
  • Bread: Selection $1.99 loaf
  • Pork: Fletcher’s cottage roll $2.99/lb
  • Canned beans: Cedar Brand $1.49/can
  • Rice: Noor, premium basmati, $7.99/4.45kg

Walmart: 

  • Frozen vegetables, Green Giant, $3.99 bag. Bag sizes vary from 300-750g
  • Tuna, Clover Leaf flaked light, $1.27/can
  • (Price match these and buy at No Frills.)

No Frills:  

  • Eggs, Gray Ridge 18 pack, $4.99
  • Pasta, Italia Pasta, $1.25/750 gr
  • Facial tissue, Royale $3.33/6 pack
  • Gravy: Franco American canned, $0.79/can
  • Apples: store brand, $4.99/5 lbs
  • Peanut butter: $4.44/1 kg
  • (Peanut butter and sliced apples makes a great snack.)

Turkey dinner fixings:

  • Turkey: Metro, Loblaws both have Butterball turkeys at $1.93/$1.99 lb
  • Cranberries: Ocean Spray, No Frills, $1.59
  • Stuffing: Stove Top, No Frills, $1.25
  • (I’d suggest price matching the turkey at No Frills and buying the stuffing and cranberry sauce there too.)

Happy Holidays and Frugality to you all!


Kingston resident Sarah Cronk offers tips on money-saving strategies and the best deals to be found in local grocery stores in her bi-weekly Kingstonist column, Fabulously Frugal. Have any questions for Sarah or things you’d like her to investigate in terms of cost savings? Let us know! Email Kingstonist Editor-in-Chief Tori Stafford at [email protected].

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