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Poor meals can come with many different names, including struggle meals, cheap meals, and a poor man’s dinner. No matter what you call it, the end results are just about the same. It’s a dish served for yourself or family and it only costs pennies. The absolute cheapest meal you can possibly think of when times are tough.

While it is cheap food to buy when broke, poor meals can also bring back some childhood nostalgia

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Growing up we didn’t have much money. My father was a long haul truck driver and my mother stayed home with us 3 kids. Every winter when the freight died down, our paychecks reflected it and we pushed through with trying to be as cheap as we could wherever we could.

[Related] Frugal family activities for a no-spend weekend

There was a year that my siblings and I recall quite vividly where we didn’t have cable, internet, or trash services for several months. We went without a lot of other things too, but my mom always made sure that there was food on the table and that our REAL needs were met. Even if it meant her plate had less so that we could have more.

It was rough, but we are here today to reflect back on it and honestly, it helped shape our characters a bit as we are all much more aware of money and finances.

[Related] How to explain finances to a 5-year-old

As an adult, I’ve had my own struggles with finances when we were unemployed after Army life and had to hustle for money for diapers or live off of ramen and eggs for a few meals to keep fed.

[Related] See how the SCRA can help active military families cut expenses so they can afford basic needs (like food).

It’s thinking back at my mom and how was able to keep us together and happy during those trying times that honestly motivated me through the rough times as an adult.

If she could do it then, I could do it now. She taught us how to be strong and manage through it all.

One thing we remember most about our childhood was the poor meal dinner that we requested to eat, often. We even called it, “Poor man food”.

It was boxed macaroni and cheese (the brand didn’t matter) and fried tuna patties.

Taking 1 or 2 cans of tuna, draining it and then mixing with 1 egg and enough flour to get a thick white paste. Flattening out round disks in a hot pan of oil. Smooshing it with a fork so it was flat and cooked it until it was crispy. This was eaten almost weekly in our home with or without steamed broccoli as a side dish.

It became more expensive and less common in our house once my younger sister was discovered to have a gluten allergy. At that point, we then had to switch flours, noodles, or make it from scratch.

To this day, I enjoy serving it to my family as I can. Of course, that is now more difficult due to my son’s dairy intolerance. If I was wiser, I may actually take notice of nature telling me to stop serving this dish. But the childhood nostalgia and comfort of eating my poor man food is overwhelming at times.

macaroni and cheese and tuna patties poor food

As I get older I notice more and more struggle meals popping up and people reminiscing about the foods of their childhood.

Things they ate when times were tough and food was scarce even if they didn’t know that they didn’t have money for food. So I took a poll and collected some of the most interesting sounding low-budget meals that I could find to share with you all.

Some of these ideas can help to feed your larger family for cheap or give a smaller family meal ideas that can stretch into leftovers the next day.

Here are some struggle meals from our pasts, aka recipes for the broke:

Beans and biscuits

Take a few cans of baked beans, and pour them into a casserole pan. Layer the top with BBQ sauce and a tube worth of biscuits on top. Then bake according to the directions of the biscuits.

Tuna Noodle Casserole

A can of condensed cream of mushroom soup mixed with a drained can of tuna drained can of peas, and cooked noodles are the base of this casserole dish. Anything else you want to add is completely extra and up to you. Can be served hot or cold.

You can view my Tuna Noodle Casserole Recipe here.

Pinto beans and cornbread

Cooking up some pinto beans from the bag or a can however you want them seasoned and flavored. Then serve with a side of cornbread. There were numerous replies stating that people ate this growing up.

Black beans and rice

I personally made this one not too long ago as a side dish for some Mexican pork chops we were eating for dinner. A can of drained black beans mixed with white rice and seasonings, it was that simple. That was the first time I made it, and won’t be the last. Some people eat this as a main dish when times are tough, and it’s not hard to see why- it’s both filling and cheap!

Hot dog and chili spaghetti struggle meal

Canned Chili over noodles

Take some of your favorite canned chili and pour it over some cooked noodles. If you have leftover hotdogs or can afford to toss a few franks in the pot, they really help to stretch the meal and make it awesome.

Gravy on Anything

SOS on toast, biscuits, and gravy, gravy and meat patties, the list goes on. It seems a lot of struggle meals growing up involve gravy. Butter, flour, water/milk/coffee mixed until thick and poured over something else can really be a frugal and filling meal option fit for any time of the day.

Eggs over Rice

Fry an egg sunny side up and top it over a nice pile of cooked rice. Bonus points for flavor if you cook the rice in chicken or vegetable stock.

Parmesan Rice with Veggies

Cook some white rice in a steamer, or per usual. Add in parmesan cheese and whatever easy veggies you have on hand. You can use the peas and carrots from a can or frozen bag and have this turn out great.

Black-Eyed Peas and Cornbread

This one is extra special and eaten in a lot of homes on New Years. Superstition and tradition state that if you start the year eating poor and be prosperous and gain wealth. 

Kielbasa Sausage and Potatoes

Slice the kielbasa into coins and cook in a skillet with diced potatoes, onion and bell peppers. Season to taste.

Poor Man’s Tuna Noodle Casserole

Mix a box of mac and cheese with a drained can of tuna. Some people state this dish is best with a can of cream of mushroom tossed in while others say adding peas makes it a million times better.

Egg Burritos

I’ll be honest- I make this quite often because it hits the spot and is super frugal! Scramble some eggs in a pan and add chopped green onion, salt, and pepper. Wrap it up in a flour tortilla and it’s done.

Sometimes, I get extra fancy and add in leftover taco meat or cheese, depending on what I have on hand.

Poor Man’s Stew

A little browned ground beef, mixed with veggies, beef broth, and some tomato paste. What makes it extra awesome is that you can freeze any leftovers and reheat for future struggle meals.

Recipe for Poor Man’s Stew Here.

Fried cabbage and egg noodles

A cabbage head is usually under $2, add in a cheap bag of egg noodles and whatever seasonings you have on hand and this is definitely a cheap family filling dish. Just chop up the cabbage and saute until soft in a pot, you can use oil or butter. Then add in some already cooked egg noodles and it’s done.

Canned Chili Over Mac and Cheese

A can of your favorite chili poured over the top of some boxed mac and cheese can be a filling and incredibly easy dinner to piece together.

Poor Man’s Spanish Rice

We eat this one a lot just because I love the easy process of making it and how good it can taste. Cook some quick rice as per directions on the box, but use half of the water requested. Substitute salsa for the rest of the water needed and continue cooking as normal. So if the box says to use 2 cups of water, use 1 cup of water and 1 cup of salsa.

Related posts that you may like:

31+ Dirt Cheap Dinner Ideas for Large Families perfect for finding delicious (kid approved) meals that won’t break the bank.

What Can You Buy With EBT? Know what you can and cannot buy so there’s no confusion at the register and you’re more empowered with knowledge while you shop.

How to Stretch Your Food Stamps to Last All Month. Great for those receiving hardly anything or barely enough. Find some frugal ways to maximize what you do get and use it to your advantage.

Need to use food currently in your house before buying more? How to do a pantry challenge to save money on groceries

So I’m curious to know, what was the poor man food or struggle meal at your home? Share in the comments below!

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