Favorite Frugal One-Pot Meals
by Reader Contributors
If you’re looking to save both money and time in the kitchen, our frugal readers share their favorite frugal one-pot meals that are sure to please your budget and schedule alike.
Dear Dollar Stretcher,
I feel like we spend too much time at our house loading and unloading our dishwasher or washing dishes by hand. A lot of it is due to the multiple pots and pans I use each night to cook dinner.
I was hoping your frugal readers could share their family’s favorite inexpensive one-pot meals. So many I find on the internet use ingredients I normally do not buy because of our tight grocery budget. I greatly appreciate any suggestions.
Chicken and Broccoli Casserole in a Slow Cooker
1 cup long grain rice (I use a mix of brown and wild rice, but plain brown also works fine)
3 cups water
2 tsp chicken bouillon granules
10-3/4 oz. can cream of chicken soup
16 oz. bag frozen broccoli
2 cups chopped chicken breast
1/4 tsp. garlic powder
1 tsp. onion powder
1 cup grated cheddar cheese
Combine all ingredients in slow cooker. Cook on high for three to four hours.
Little Time But Plenty of Flavor
One of my favorites is to throw together in a slow cooker potatoes that are peeled and cut into chunks, a diced onion, Kielbasa or smoked sausage that is cut into pieces, sauerkraut, and a dash of Worcestershire sauce.
Adjust amounts according to the number of servings needed. Layer vegetables first, put half of sauerkraut, then meat, and then rest of sauerkraut. Cover and simmer on low setting all day or high for about three to four hours. Feel free to add other items, such as cut up carrots, if desired. The sauerkraut and Worcestershire add plenty of flavor, so there is no salt or spices needed. The sausage will be so tender.
Betty in Spring Hill, FL
Related: Avoiding Dried Out Slow Cooker Meals
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Easy One-Pot Chili
1 lb. bulk breakfast sausage
1 bell pepper, diced
1 small onion, diced
3 15 oz. cans kidney (or other, if preferred) beans, drained
2 15 oz. cans diced tomatoes, Italian seasoned
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp. cumin
1 tsp. garlic powder
1 Tbsp. paprika
1 Tbsp. chili powder
1 tsp cayenne (optional)
Break up the sausage into small pieces as you brown it in a large pot on medium heat. Drain and add bell pepper. Allow pepper to cook for a couple of minutes and then add onion and cook for two more. Add beans, tomatoes and spices. Simmer on low for 45 minutes or more. I like to serve with tortilla chips to eat alongside or scoop up the chili.
If you like a lot of liquid in your chili, you can neglect to drain one or more of the cans of beans. I use kidney beans because they stay firmer than pinto or black beans. If you like your chili hotter, use hot breakfast sausage and/or increase the cayenne. For milder chili, use mild sausage and leave out the cayenne. Of course, you can adjust all the spices to taste before serving.
I find the sausage on sale at $3/pound (or less), canned goods at $.50/each, a pepper and onion can be had for less than a dollar combined, and the spices I buy in bulk at a Middle Eastern grocery quite cheaply. The total cost for this meal is about $7.
J.H. in Mesa, Arizona
Frugal Meal in a Wok
One of my favorite meals is made in a wok. I usually use pork or chicken, onion, bell peppers, broccoli, cauliflower, thinly shredded cabbage, or other vegetables I have on hand. Sometimes, I even add some pineapple. If the meat is already cooked, I add it near the end along with the cabbage or any cooked vegetables. I add garlic or other spices and end with a small amount of bottled sauce, like Orange or Kung Pao, and stir well.
You can adjust the amount of ingredients to the number of servings. The main thing is to have all the food sliced or shredded before you start cooking. Then with some oil in a hot wok, I start with the items that will take the longest to cook. Be careful of oil splatter when adding the first ingredients or anything very moist. Stir often so items don’t burn.
Try This One-Pot Shot
Since I do not know the size, ages, and tastes of your family, this will be a one-pot shot, with hopes that it may assist.
Brandy Butter Orange Beef Pot
1 lb. chuck steak, cut into 1-inch pieces and tossed in flour with salt and pepper to taste
2 tablespoons unsalted butter or same of olive oil
juice of one large naval orange
zest, finely grated, from same orange
1 lb. potatoes, cut into 1-inch chunks
1 lb. carrots, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 large yellow onion, cut into quarters
2 cups low-salt veggie stock (veggie stock cubes work well)
Brown floured beef and onion in a large, heavy pot. Add brandy (optional), orange juice, and zest of orange. Cook over a low heat until tender, probably 30 minutes. Add veggie stock with potatoes and carrots. Cook over low heat until tender. If you like, thicken before serving with a quick mix of corn starch and water.
I serve this one-pot wonder with fresh, whole grain sesame-seeded rolls. Dessert is a fresh fruit salad with a naval orange, banana, seedless grapes, and pears or Granny Smith apples. A squeeze of a lemon halts browning of pears or apples and adds a zesty finish.
Patricia of Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
Spice Up One-Pot Meals with Easy Sides
Hearty soups, stews, pot roast, and chili make great one-pot meals. You can make them special with various biscuits, cornbread, rolls, or muffins.
Get Your Daily Veggies
One of my favorite frugal one-pot meals is vegetable soup with smoked sausage or ground beef. Butterball smoked sausage is less than $3 at Walmart and I use store brand canned goods, which average 68 cents. This recipe feeds a family of four.
2 or 3 cans mixed vegetables
1 can tomatoes (crushed or diced)
1 small can tomato sauce
1 pkg. smoked sausage (or half of a pound of ground beef)
1/4 to 1/2 cup diced onion
1 1/2 cups water
Cut up sausage and saute (or brown ground beef) with onion. Add all ingredients in a large pot. Add desired seasonings. Cover and cook on medium until hot. Serve with saltines or cornbread.
Chicken Noodle Soup
My contribution is chicken noodle soup. I just made a pot of this for my son and his girlfriend yesterday, who were both recovering from a nasty 24-hour stomach bug and felt awful. It took me less than an hour from start to finish, and they were very appreciative of the homemade soup, which helped soothe their unhappy stomachs.
2 Tbsp. butter
1 large boneless skinless chicken breast
1/2 large or 1 small onion, diced
2 stalks celery, sliced
2 carrots, chopped
2 to 4 cloves garlic, minced (according to your taste)
6 oz. egg noodles
1 tsp. poultry seasoning
1 tsp. garlic powder
1/2 tsp. salt
8 cups water
1 Tbsp. Better Than Bouillon chicken stock concentrate
In a Dutch oven, melt butter over medium-low heat and then add chicken breast and cook until done. While chicken is cooking, chop the onion, celery, and carrots, and mince garlic, keeping it separate from the other veggies. Remove chicken breast and set aside to cool.
Turn the heat up to medium. Put the onion, celery, and carrots into the Dutch oven and saute, stirring often, about 5 minutes, or until the onions become translucent. Add garlic and sauté another minute. Add 8 cups water and bring to a gentle boil. Add noodles, poultry seasoning, garlic powder, salt, and bouillon. Stir to combine and turn down to a simmer. Allow to cook until noodles are soft.
While noodles cook, shred chicken. When noodles are done, add the shredded chicken and stir it in. Serve with garlic bread and salad for a filling meal.
Related: 10 Ways to Save on Meat and Poultry
1 pound ground beef, browned in a frying pan and drained
1 onion, chopped
1 cup frozen peas
4 medium potatoes, chopped
Salt and pepper
1 can tomato soup
Layer the potatoes on the bottom of a slow cooker. Add other ingredients (you can just pour the tomato soup over top). Cook on low 8-10 hours or high 4-5 hours.
Related: Grind Beef at Home for Big Savings
Enjoy an Elegant One-Pot Meal
Giada De Laurentiis has a recipe for Chicken Vesuvio that is delicious and can be made in just one pan. Chicken thighs are very inexpensive and flavorful. You can use your own homemade broth if you ever make it (and you can even save the bones from the chicken thighs from this meal to make a future batch of broth). I usually use frozen artichokes from Trader Joe’s.
I use my Le Crueset brasier, and after I’ve browned the chicken, I just place it in the lid of the pan (upside down) while I finish other batches or the potatoes. This allows me to return all the juices to the pan when I go to cover it to put it in the oven and saves me from having extra dishes, too. The recipe calls for wine, but I often just leave that out and use broth in its place. This is a favorite meal! And, it is easy to make extra and portion it out to bring to work for lunch the next day or to put in the freezer for later.
Wendy of Ballwin, MO
Always Start with Protein, Veggies, and a Starch
My approach to frugal one-pot meals is somewhat consistent, but the end results vary quite a bit. A meal consists of a protein, one or more vegetables, and a starch.
Any number of casseroles can be made using this combination plus a binder. An example might be some ground beef browned with onion and a bit of garlic for added flavor, some cooked spinach, some tomato sauce, and a topping made of cornbread mix. Another example is shredded chicken with broccoli and rice, all pre-cooked, and then layered with a gravy or sauce and baked. Another option is canned tuna mixed with peas, cooked noodles, and a cream soup and baked. A crispy topping makes a great finishing touch. Hard-cooked eggs, sliced or chopped, can serve as the protein as can beans and dairy products.
In addition to casseroles, similar combinations can be used to make tasty, filling, and nourishing soups. Save all leftovers. Consider using tomato juice or broth as the liquid. Try sautéing any fresh vegetables, which will go in the soup. It adds flavor. This may be a good time to add spices. Add as few as one vegetable or as many as your freezer container for leftover veggies has in it. Add in whatever cooked whole grain or pasta that’s available. Simmer until all fresh vegetables are cooked and flavors are well-blended. Add herbs, perhaps some fresh ones from your garden or windowsill, shortly before finishing. Some soups do well when blended to a smooth consistency. Serve by the cup as a snack or an appetizer or by the bowlful as a meal. Many are enhanced by a garnish of croutons, which can be homemade from day-old bread.
Another variation is fried rice or other grain(s). Start with the seasoning vegetables. Fry some onions. Add in some minced garlic and grated fresh ginger (kept in freezer). Move that aromatic combination away from the heat and add almost any vegetable to be quickly fried, such as slivered carrots, shredded cabbage, snow peas, or green beans. When that is cooked briefly, move it from heat and add some cold cooked grain. Stir well enough that each grain becomes coated with hot oil. Stir in previously cooked ingredients and already cooked meat if using and then stir in one or more eggs and soy sauce to taste. Top with chopped green onion.
Chicken and Veggies Skillet
A great standby recipe that I like to make is my Chicken and Veggies Skillet.
I take a package of chicken thighs and begin to sauté them in a little butter and oil in a large skillet. Then I throw in some cut-up potatoes, carrots, and celery. After putting the lid on, I cook on low-medium for a few minutes. Then I lift the lid, stir, and add a little more butter or oil and some water. I sprinkle with salt and pepper, put the lid back on, and cook for a while longer. Occasionally I check if it needs to be stirred or a little more water added (you just want enough water so the food doesn’t stick). It will be done when both the thighs and the veggies pierce easily with a fork.
I have always found this to make a great-tasting, nutritious, very easy meal in less than an hour. The juices from the meat mix together with the veggies and make a nice little sauce.
Reviewed March 2022
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