I've always been a fan of cheap meals that I can easily make at home, such as spaghetti and casseroles. Why? Because I'm cheap, and they're tasty and easy to make.
With the recession unfortunately still around and unemployment rising, finding ways to cut costs and make less expensive meals at home are some of the easiest ways to save money. I have a friend who refuses to go to an Italian restaurant because he figures he can make any pasta sauce just as well at home, and spaghetti is one of the cheapest ingredients around.
You don't have to be starving in college anymore to eat these meals.
Other cheap meals making a comeback are ramen noodles (my favorite being Top Ramen and the meal it provided for a quarter) and Spam, If you want to get fancy with ramen noodles, there are even recipes for salmon ramen with fresh vegetables, Top Ramen on spinach salad, and Top Ramen pizza. I was happy with butter and Parmesan.
While casseroles have probably been popular in every decade since the oven was invented, in the 1970s they experienced a renaissance during the difficult economy as Americans looked for ways to lower meal costs. They came to popularity during the Depression.
The tuna noodle casserole was popular, requiring only a can of soup, tuna and peas mixed in a casserole dish. Here's a tuna casserole recipe that has a little more to it, with potato chips optional. But the words "tuna casserole" eventually led to disdain for the casserole as cooks sought fresher ingredients. But now with more people cooking at home, they're making a comeback as a way to quickly put together dinner, put in the oven and relax.
Spaghetti is easier, requiring as little as sauce from a jar and boiling water for 10 minutes. There's a reason why spaghetti fundraisers are common -- they're cheap. And if you want to spend a few hours cooking with fresh tomatoes and other ingredients, then there's nothing better than homemade spaghetti sauce. I have an awesome family recipe for spaghetti sauce, and there's almost always some of it in our freezer. You never know when you won't have anything in the pantry for dinner, or no money in your wallet, and need a quick, tasty meal.
Aaron Crowe is an unemployed journalist in the San Francisco Bay Area. Read about his job search at www.talesofanunemployeddad.blogspot.com