HOME > Chowhound > General Topics >


Food Confessions, Desperate Times Bring Desperate Meals

I've been scraping for change for gas money broke all week. So broke that I've eaten XO sauce sandwhiches all week. Yes, chinese XO sauce on wheat, and oh two days I had some scallions on them. Not bad.
God bless condiments.

Mind you I am partially broke because I buy expensive condiments on whim.

So what desperate meals have you conjured up in times of need?

xo sauce if you don't know what it is: http://chinesefood.about.com/library/...

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. Not to further fuel your condiment habit, but have you tried Lee Kum Kee's Spicy Szechuan sauce? pretty good with plain noodles. Healthy if you add a cheap vegetable to the boiling water.

    1. In fourth or fifth grade I didn't have a spoon to eat my vegetable soup with at school so tried bending an orange (for Halloween I think) big flat lollipop to use to at least get the veggies. I'll never forget the taste of sweet orange vegetable soup... and it's not a good memory.

      1. Raleigh, please check out the Home Cooking Board...there's a new thread about Delicious Dollar meals and there's also one about sprucing up Top Ramen noodles. Condiments are pretty cheap as you say and so are a can of beans, usually around 59 cents and they offer great nutrition...you could add salsa to black beans for a tasty meal along with any cheese scraps you might have on hand.

        1. Lots of gohan (steamed rice) with small quantities of anything else--such as ume and vegetable pickles. Has worked for most Asians for centuries.

          1. During the Depression, folks used to make "tomato soup" out of the complimentary ketchup and hot water at the automat. Add some free salt, pepper, and crackers and you have a classic desperation meal.

            I'm sure you could assemble something similar at your local fastfood chain.

            1 Reply
            1. re: monkeyrotica

              That was my dad's idea of teaching me survival skills. Go into a diner, order a cup of tea, don't use the teabag, add ketchup and pepper, you've got soup. Of course, back in his day a cup of tea didn't cost $4.50!

            2. When I was little, my favorite easy meal was rice porridge (not jook but poh-veh where it's just watered down rice), soy sauce, sesame oil and some tuna or canned chicken. I haven't had it in a long time but I think I'd still like it.

              1 Reply
              1. Actually not a desperation meal, but one of my childhood faves (and still favorite quick meal) is pasta with olive oil and Cavendar's Greek Seasoning. Mmmmmmm, oily garlicy MSG goodness.

                1. Not nearly as resourceful, but about seven years ago a buddy and I were both left unemployed when our drunk chef finally managed to tank our restaurant (hey, you can only lose $50K per month for so long) and McDonald's was serendipitously running a special of 2 Big Macs for $2. We called it the Scottish Feast.... oh, I feel so dirty. The humanity!

                  1. My SO used to buy our son a hotdog at the zoo or kiddie museum. Son would eat hotdog, plain. SO would fill bun with relish and eat that! Two lunches for the price of one. Gross, I know.

                    1. I have a dessert entry in this Food Confessions/Desperate Meals category! This was an after-school snack sometimes as a kid when the cupboards were bare:

                      saltine crackers with jam on top
                      My 'research' determined that pineapple jam on crackers is very delicious! Haven't had it in many, many years, but I'm sure I'd still like it. Oh the humanity is right!

                      1. Mayonnaise sandwiches. Only if you have real mayo though.

                        4 Replies
                        1. re: nagrom

                          Like, homemade mayo?! You mean you have no money but can make an emulsion of egg yolks, oil, lemon, vinegar, cayenne etc. etc.? Homemade mayo seems to me a luxury that outstrips the financial constraints herein listed. Wheras Ramen, at five for a buck on sale, could save a life. (Although I agree that mayo sandwiches are pretty darn tasty given the circumstances to appreciate them!).

                          1. re: diropstim

                            I think they meant not mircale whip.

                          2. re: nagrom

                            Mayo (Best Foods) sandwiches were often my staple when I was a poor university student. On good days, it was mayo sandwiches w/tomato.

                            1. re: OCAnn

                              BLTs without the B. I still eat them all the time.

                          3. My son had a friend who loved Ritz crackers with raspberry preserves or jam--it's gotta be those 2 specific items, no substitutes..and I want to tell you that it REALLY tastes very good for a junky snack; great combo of sweet and salty.

                            1. When my sons went off to college, they each took a 50# sack of pinto beans and a 50# sack of rice courtesy of mom. No matter what happened, I knew that they'd have something to eat. It wasn't until many years after graduation that some of the stories began to emerge about what happened when they had to resort to their emergency rations, but each polished off their beans & rice ....... Friends of their have since thanked me for feeding them as well.

                              A combination of grains (wheat, rice, barley etc) and legumes (beans, peanuts, etc) will give you a complete protein, so in your reduced circumstances, you can still get your nutrition. Bean burrito, black beans & rice, peanut buter on toast are all examples of cheap, meatless complete protein combinations.

                              The depression-era "tomato soup" using catsup and hot water is greatly improved with the addition of non-dairy coffee creamer, also gratis. Secreting packets of (free)condiments = hot mustard & soy to enliven your rice dishes and jalapeno relish (McD) in your pinto beans. The list is endless. Start your stash now as hedge against your next famine.

                              1. weiners and beans....im acutally eating that right now

                                1. I used to eat both mayo sandwiches and saltines with jam because I liked them, not because I couldn't afford anything else. I guess I had simpler tastes then!

                                  1. Haven't done this in a few months, but one of my favorite "nothing else in the fridge" dinners is french fries topped with a couple of fried eggs and Tabasco sauce.

                                    2 Replies
                                    1. re: Bill on Capitol Hill

                                      Sounds tasty, but if there's nothing in the fridge, where do you get the french fries?

                                    2. I can't be the only grad student who lived on more than a few boxes of Kraft mac n cheese, without the benefit of milk, butter or presentable china :)

                                      2 Replies
                                      1. re: HillJ

                                        You weren't! (Only I was an undergrad). Other staples included stove top stuffing, cans of Chef boyardee cheese ravioli (99 cents each!!), and pasta with jarred sauce. No wonder they used to call me the hot pot gourmet!

                                        1. re: Offbalance

                                          Offbalance...we figured that the box of Kraft mac n cheese was .19 of goodness...sometimes we'd ditch the orange poweder and cook the mac for other "luxury meals"...man good times! :)

                                      2. Instant oatmeal with "stolen" creamers and long forgotten frozen fruit...

                                        1. Mashed potatoes (no butter, using creamers) with canned chickpeas and ketchup (packets).

                                          Egg on rice. Egg drop soup. Scrambled eggs. (You see the theme?)

                                          Rice porridge. Fried rice. Rice and beans. Rice with canned tomatoes, preferably the kind with chilies. Rice with soup mix. Etc.

                                          To the OP: are you a student? Because if you are, check out your school's activities calendar and look out for club meetings and/or guest lectures. There are often refreshments at these things. I once lived off scavenged food for a week while in grad school (ie, last year)...

                                          2 Replies
                                          1. re: piccola

                                            2 more tips for the possible hungry student (just left that mold).

                                            1. Become friends with the catering people at the school and find out where they are going for functions. It will most likely be free or you can raid it after the event is over. Eat like the University Prez, just after he's done.
                                            2. Become a manager w/ one of the sports teams on campus, and eat with them. A lot of the teams will have team meals catered by outside restaurants. Team meals where managers get to sit in with the team. Plus, when you travel, the athletic department feeds you and gives you a per diem allowance for food.

                                            1. re: ubermasonfan

                                              I just volunteered for school functions (alumni weekend, etc.) - the admin always fed us.

                                          2. i fondly remember one night in college i dined on a rice cake with a can of tuna and a cup of canned soup. hello sodium...

                                            i also took up a habit of dressing my salad with ketchup, or dipping baby carrots in ketchup, since all we had in our house was the fatty stuff. i shudder to think of it now.

                                            dark moments like these helped "build my character" into the chowhound i am today... when i now can decide what goes into my fridge...

                                            4 Replies
                                            1. re: amandine

                                              I've made salad dressing out of condiment packets from Chinese and other takeout food for a while. Soy sauce, spicy mustard and vinegar make a nice combo.

                                              If you mix ketchup, mustard, a little relish and coffee creamers, you get something close to Russian dressing.

                                              My favorite packet mix so far has been peanut butter, duck sauce, soy sauce and hot sauce. Sometimes with a little vinegar.

                                              1. re: piccola

                                                Sounds really good-you certainly are creative! your last 'mix' makes me want to try it with bottled ingredients at home (not packages..), just have to figure out what duck sauce is(sweet I'd guess).

                                                1. re: morebubbles

                                                  Well, from what I understand, "duck sauce" is what we Canadians normally call "plum sauce" - that sweet yellowish sauce that comes with egg rolls and (obviously) duck.

                                                  1. re: piccola

                                                    Yes! ok, could have used this 'recipe' some time back when I bought a small bottle of plum sauce & didn't know what to do with it (I make spring rolls, but rarely). Thanks.

                                            2. Similar to the depression era tomato soup while in college we would order ice water with lots of lemons then make lemonade with equal since it would dissolve in the water. I also suffered budget issues in college and lived on generic mac & cheese with tuna.
                                              One funny thing however that we did was use my gas card that my dad alloted "$x for gas a month"(I can't remember the amount) and bought beef jerky and candy like crazy. Needless to say I often had to explain why I could not drive home for the weekends, but my roomates and I were full of candy!

                                              1. My fall back is either pasta, or white rice with those instant chicken/turkey/brown gravy.

                                                The rice + gravy makes it palatable to me. Not really nutritious, I know...

                                                1. Sh*t on a Shingle: Ground beef in a white gravy sauce over white toast.
                                                  But this actually sounds extravagant compared to what I read above.

                                                  1. A friend, during lean times, used to make rice, top it with homemade simple salad dressing then sprinkle with grated parmesan--guess she always had that!:) It's actually very good. Now it's a 'comfort food' for her.

                                                    1. BBQ Bread. Top whatever bread you have with BBQ sauce (I use Head Country) and microwave. Sometimes combined with bread and butter pickles.

                                                      1. Necessity, as they say, is a mother (only half the word). My improvised recipes for Hot Dogs Paprikash and Hot Dogs Au Vin were born in college in the dire poverty of the last few days before the monthly check from Dad arrived, and were comprised of the ONLY ingredients any of my friends and I had on hand. Strangely enough, 30 years later I still get an occasional email from an old college friend asking if I remember the recipes!

                                                        1. My favourite soup as a kid was called 'Butter Soup'. It was boiled potato and onion with a bay leaf, with homemade egg drop noodles. When it was all ready to serve, mom would add milk and some salt and pepper, and a big dab of butter.

                                                          Mmmmm. Butter Soup.

                                                          I loved this soup. Now that I'm putting my DH through university, I might have to revive this one...

                                                          1. When low on money in grad school--existed for a week on a large package of Velveeta and a box of saltines. Been on my "don't buy" list ever since.

                                                            1. With ramen noodle at $5 for a dollar and even a McDonald's double cheeseburger costing $1 each (in many places), it's almost unthinkable that someone would get that desperate.

                                                              But you know never know what can happen...sometimes, desperate situations come about. When you have money, buy a rice cooker. It doesn't have to be anything fancy. Just a $20 cheap one at Target or Wal-Mart. The one I have has a steamer tray for steaming vegetables (and as I've found out since, works great for dim sum).

                                                              Always keep a 5 lb bag of rice in the pantry, and perhaps some beans. If you can, keep some frozen veggies..either just the generic peas and carrots mix or Asian vegetables or whatever. Keep in the fridge as a last resort.

                                                              White rice with veggies and some soy sauce (which you can save packets of whenever you order Chinese takeout) is a very cheap, filling, and tasty meal. You can add other things into it, and yes, after a week or so of eating it, you'll get tired of it. But it's food.

                                                              Also, always keep some ramen in storage for financial emergencies. Again, you can add all sorts of things to it.

                                                              1. Ramen was a def stable when I was rock climbing
                                                                I also remember a time when canned tuna was still considered safe and cheap...we'd had it to cooked elbow mac and call it high living!

                                                                1. I make something I call cracker soup. It's milk, heated with butter or margerine, and loaded with black pepper. Sort of like oyster stew without the oysters. Pour it over crumbled up saltine crackers.

                                                                  1. we used to make something called "vile toast" in london. cheap white bread put directly on an electric hot plate and flipped by hand-- you guessed it, too poor for a toaster-- then moistened with oil, butter, or marg, as available, & topped with "italian seasoning mix" from the corner store. then we'd go out in short skirts and make boys buy us beers-- the average u.k. worker used to get 30-40% of daily calories from "strong beer"-- i think we were at about 90% LOL.

                                                                    1. When I was in college and low on cash, I'd sometimes go to the local Chinese takeout place and order an eggroll and a small white rice, then I'd crumble the eggroll into the rice. It's a depressing meal. Almost equally depressing is Dinty Moore beef stew. A large can used to sell for a $1.85, or something, then I'd supplement that with a loaf of bread. I can still remember the large chunks of solidified lard when opening the can. My roommate used to make Ramen noodles daily. The smell of them, to this day, is sure to trigger my gag reflex. It's a very unfortunate food to have to resort to, imo, noodles in chicken flavored salt water.

                                                                      2 Replies
                                                                      1. re: wontonton

                                                                        I would've easily traded you my white bread w/mayo for some eggroll & rice!

                                                                        1. re: wontonton

                                                                          If you're in a fairly multicultural area with access to an Asian grocery, you can get a wide array of different ramen flavors and affordable prices. They often come with chiles or vegetables, sometimes seaweed. There's a really wide variety that's great to stock your pantry with for emergency times.

                                                                          Check the dates on some of them, though. I got sick once off a ramen noodle package from a crusty dusty old Chinese grocery store that I should have known not to buy anything out of. The palm oil that came with soup as an extra ingredient had gone rancid. Ugh.

                                                                        2. University days staple: crackers (stolen) at lunch or dinner from the cafeteria (where folks with the meal plan I had passed up ate actual food) spread with the PB I'd filched from the same place at breakfast-time.

                                                                          I once lived in an apartment that required rent from two and my room-mate dropped out of school and left me rentless. I managed for 2 months on Philly Onion Chip Dip, swiped from a frat party, spread on Ritz crackers, jasmine tea laced with (stolen) sugar and PB from a spoon-didn't want to waste those Ritz! I kept a pile of spoons at the door to the kitchen so that every morning on my way to the bathroom, I could throw them at the kitchen garage to drive away the mice before entering the kitchen myself. Heaven only knows what THEY ate...

                                                                          And if you think it sounds like a lot of theft, you are right and you may be interested to know I grew up to be a minister who does chaplaincy for the homeless. Now those conversations are a source of recipes for the desparate!

                                                                          1. What a great thread.

                                                                            - I'm sure time has allowed me to exaggerate this, but I swear I remember living for an entire month on one loaf of Wonder bread, a jar of Thousand Islands salad dressing, and a large bag of salt-and-vinegar potato chips. Weirdly, I never once got tired of those sandwiches: I really liked them.

                                                                            - I also remember the Canadian 7/11s briefly selling hamburgers: we would buy them and load them up with ridiculous amounts of condiments.

                                                                            - And similarly, so-called "whore's coffee." That's when you order a bottomless cup in a diner, then add your weight in cream and sugar, just to get the calories.

                                                                            I agree with amandine above: these are the moments that built our character. And I feel a kind of kinship with LJS - guess I'm reformed too ;-)

                                                                            3 Replies
                                                                            1. re: spigot

                                                                              If only the term "Freegan" had been invented in our youths! Sounds a lot more ethical than "stealing" and a lot more sanitary than "dumpster diving".
                                                                              Remember, I said "sounds" like, not necessarily "is". Though I don't figure we're going to see many freegans on the boards to debate the finer points unless they got their food from corporate cafeteria Dumpsters in Silicon Valley...

                                                                              1. re: spigot

                                                                                Then there's the Starbucks whore's coffee - order a plain cup (or espresso in a large cup), then make lattes with the condiment bar...

                                                                              2. Back in school I lived on ramen. I would throw out the little flavouring packet and use Better Than Boullion. To make it more nutritious, I'd throw in 3/4 cup of frozen mixed veggies.

                                                                                1. Sometimes I think back to my youth, and come to the conclusion that (a) my mother was a really awful cook or (b) we were broke.

                                                                                  At least once a week we ate dried pasta with warmed up tomato juice. When I hit about 11 years old it was 'Fend For Yourself' dinner nights and the only thing in plentiful supply was ramen noodles; I've had more of that stuff than one should consume in their lifetime. My favorite snack was Premium Plus crackers topped with margarine. I still sadly crave that one once in a while..

                                                                                  1 Reply
                                                                                  1. re: NovoCuisine

                                                                                    At our house we've shortened it to "fen night"

                                                                                  2. 20# sack of rice, onions and egg + oil and soy sauce, to make fried rice
                                                                                    (repeat through course of higher education, add additional veg on occasion)
                                                                                    Being willing and able to cook in a cheap pan made me a relative gourmet in the skint kid set . . .
                                                                                    wish I'd know about XO sauce . . .
                                                                                    : )

                                                                                    1. This has got to be one of the best topics ever.

                                                                                      I was never THAT broke (even as an undergrad), but out of sheer laziness and calorie-consciousness I made some pretty bizarre "meals."

                                                                                      Right now, at work, I'm eating half a tub of nonfat cottage cheese mixed with a sprinkling of raw multigrain hot cereal (basically oatmeal). The other half will be my lunch.

                                                                                      - Cooked frozen veggies with liberal dousings from a big economy-sized bottle of balsamic vinegar from Costco and Ms. Dash. Or anything canned, topped with vinegar. I guess I really like vinegar.

                                                                                      - Rice with sprinkling of rice wine vinegar and tons of the Japanese rice seasoning (forgot the name) on top. Sometimes with dried seaweed and crab sticks. Come to think of it, my aunt would feed me and my brother just rice rolled up in seaweed for dinner sometimes. Simple but oh so good and fun to eat.

                                                                                      - Rice mixed with butter and whatever you have (Spam for my family), heated. Mmmm.

                                                                                      - Bread and 1-2 slices of American cheese, with ketchup. I still do this. We don't have a toaster :(

                                                                                      6 Replies
                                                                                      1. re: janethepain

                                                                                        Oh and I forgot these:

                                                                                        - canned spinach - eaten right out of the can, with ketchup after a few gross bites (didn't know what else to do with it)

                                                                                        - ghetto pumpkin soup - take a can of unsweetened pumpkin, scoop some out into a bowl, add milk, stir, and microwave. This is actually good.

                                                                                        1. re: janethepain

                                                                                          to dress up your ghetto soup, stir in one of the following:
                                                                                          peanut butter
                                                                                          salsa/hot sauce
                                                                                          curry powder

                                                                                          1. re: piccola

                                                                                            Oooh, with curry powder sounds good. Peanut butter? Never would have thought of that one. I'd occasionally put in cinnamon and fake maple syrup though.

                                                                                        2. re: janethepain

                                                                                          i used to eat a lot of spam as a child and i still eat it every now and then for nostalgic purposes.

                                                                                          the japanese rice seasoning i think you're speaking of is called furikake.

                                                                                          1. re: ktown378

                                                                                            Furikake, that's right. I take it from your member name that you're Korean too. Yay for Spam.

                                                                                            1. re: janethepain

                                                                                              haha. actually, i am korean. but the k in ktown isn't for korea town. it's for my hometown here in central texas :D good guess though jane

                                                                                        3. My all-time fave rave: Ketchup and crackers. Followed closely by my second fave: Ketchup and the really CHEAP canned dough biscuits.

                                                                                          Another vote for Spam and for Mayo sandwiches with lots of salt and pepper

                                                                                          If you get a few spare dollars, there's always the option of going to a buffett with a big fat book, and sitting there all day from breakfast through dinner. That's the "eat one day a week" plan

                                                                                          2 Replies
                                                                                          1. re: wishbugger

                                                                                            Or you could be like me and eat plate after plate of Indian food at the London buffets (best-tasting food for the money) to the point where the waiters stare at you. At least you're full for the day.

                                                                                            1. re: wishbugger

                                                                                              There were several nights back in my single mom with a crappy job days that I fed my son the best of what was in the house and then ate ketchup and saltines after he went to bed. It's not a good memory.

                                                                                            2. I bought a large rice at the gross Chinese takeout and mixed it up with the salsa and black beans that have been in the pantry for months... about 5 dollars for 3 or 4 meals.

                                                                                              1 Reply
                                                                                              1. re: melon

                                                                                                Rice, salsa and cheese is something I love to eat. Even if I have other stuff in the house.

                                                                                              2. When we were growing up poor, we used to eat steamed rice topped with a fried egg. It's good with a little ketchup and soy sauce. I still eat it sometimes.

                                                                                                For something sweet, heat sugar (brown is even better) and water and throw in the old crusts of bread.

                                                                                                You can buy a lot of dried sphagetti and noodles for cheap and xo on noodles with scallions is probably better than xo sandwich.

                                                                                                A can of fried dace with black beans for 99 cents will stretch a lot of steamed rice.

                                                                                                1 Reply
                                                                                                1. re: josie888

                                                                                                  Mmmmm.... dace with black bean... haven't had that in a longtime, and you can probably have two meals of rice with that dace.

                                                                                                2. We were broke when I was little, and ate A LOT of scrambled egg burritos. My mom made it seem cool because we were having breakfast for dinner. Ah, childhood comfort food...

                                                                                                  1. A couple of years ago things were really tight, and right after Thanksgiving I bought a 10-pound turkey for $3 and two loaves of puffy white bread for $1. Had sandwiches & nuke plates for a few days, then cooked it off the bone, added vinegar, red pepper flakes, a few drops of smoke & some ketchup and made Carolina-style BBQ out of the meat, and added all the bits of veggies I had to the stock for soup.

                                                                                                    I had turkey 2 meals a day for 20 days straight. I still had some soup left (kept adding water and a boullion cube to stretch), but on the 21st day I snapped and called the local Chinese take-out for beef with green onion STAT.

                                                                                                    1 Reply
                                                                                                    1. re: weezycom

                                                                                                      Wow with that turkey you really got ur money's worth. I would have never even thought to stretch it quite that far.

                                                                                                    2. My college trick was to see how far I could extend a pound of ground beef with rice and tomato sauce. I turns out you can extend it pretty far.

                                                                                                      My most recent "No one's home and I can't be bothered to cook" dinner is a few ounces of Asian noodles (whatever kind is in the house, shrimp flavored preferably) tossed with a drizzle of soy sauce and a few chestnuts that come in a foil bag at the Asian grocery ($1/bag). Tastes better than you'd think.

                                                                                                      1. pastina with butter, cheese and black pepper, really cheap, comfort food!

                                                                                                        1. Plain, boiled, pasta drizzled with truffle oil, grated fresh parmesan, and cracked black pepper.

                                                                                                          I lived on it for what seemed like weeks!


                                                                                                          2 Replies
                                                                                                          1. re: TexasToast

                                                                                                            Hey TT..did truffle oil means desperate times? During my grad school days I woulnd't have dared to dream of such condiments :)

                                                                                                            1. re: HillJ

                                                                                                              Well, I was cooking with all I had!

                                                                                                              Like another poster above said, it's probably the cause of the desperate times!


                                                                                                          2. 1) You need a great big pot. Make a hearty soup (cheap bones, a couple each of onions, potatoes, carrots, celery pieces, a big can of tomatoes or tomato sauce, and plenty of dried beans, plus some pasta added toward the end of cooking). Cook slowly for three hours. I estimate current total cost at about $4 and you can eat this for 7-10 days. And don't be buying your ingredients at WholeFoods: find out where po' folks shop in your town.

                                                                                                            2) Eggs are cheap compared with meat. Make an omelet using anything you can scrape up.

                                                                                                            3) Re Depression delicacies, don't forget the Pine Float: a glass of water and a toothpick.

                                                                                                            1 Reply
                                                                                                            1. re: Querencia

                                                                                                              Querencia, great post. MFK Fisher has a similar recipe for a stew to tide you over. Rice dishes are also good--if you have a few condiments, you can do sweet or savory.

                                                                                                            2. a bag of pasta costs $1.18 and a jar of pasta sauce $1.97 and that will make a singel person about 4 or 5 meals right there. also my SO likes ketchup sandwiches.. not in emergencies either.. like, all the time (see what i have to live with??)
                                                                                                              also, hot dogs and KD.
                                                                                                              Canned soup (not even the good stuff, i'm talking a 60 cent can of no name crap)
                                                                                                              homemade soup with leftovers and everything in the cupboard.

                                                                                                              1. More cheap eats:

                                                                                                                - Popcorn, popped on the stove and sprinkled with sea salt - filling and good roughage
                                                                                                                - Liver and onions - a small container of beef liver is so inexpensive - like 1.50 or so, and will last for 3-4 meals as it is so rich.
                                                                                                                - Chicken livers and mushrooms - saute with onions and eat with pasta or rice or bread.
                                                                                                                - French toast or pancakes
                                                                                                                - Scrambled eggs or boiled eggs
                                                                                                                - Potatoes can be had for cheap - a couple potatoes cut for fries and baked on a pan with olive oil, salt and pepper is tasty, easy and filling.

                                                                                                                1 Reply
                                                                                                                1. re: Seldomsated

                                                                                                                  More than one meal in college was popcorn. Cheap and filling.

                                                                                                                2. Mrs. Grass Noodle soup mix comes in 2 packs and has that special "golden egg" of fat. You can buy an extra bag of those fine noodles to add more noodles and make a very filling soup.

                                                                                                                  Growing up my favorite dish (verrry inexpensive) were dumplings made of 2 cups flour, 1 cup water, and salt - cut into boiling water and then fried in butter or with a little half&half poured on top. If you can afford a veggie with this, sauerkraut or a pack of frozen spinach cooked and added to the cream are good for over the dumplings.

                                                                                                                  1. In college, generic Max & Cheese. Only thing was that many times I wouldn't have any butter or milk, so it was just the Mac & Cheese with water added to the cheese packet. I would throw in some canned tuna and then pour Hot Sauce over it all (not Tobasco, since that was the expensive stuff).

                                                                                                                    1. Costco membership: $40/year

                                                                                                                      Benefit: minimum 4-5 food sample stations/store, times 3-5 rounds/day, = 15-30 "food elements" at about a dime a day (or at least until they throw you out).

                                                                                                                      3 Replies
                                                                                                                      1. re: broncosaurus

                                                                                                                        I have a friend who works at Costco. Apparently this little secret gem of a dining spot has become quite popular with the retirees around here. It's like a free mini-buffet, with built in aerobic exercise, what with moving from station to station. You can also take your stuff and go watch a giant screen TV. Oftentimes, there may be wine samplings.\ to top off the meal.
                                                                                                                        How can anyone possibly tops this?

                                                                                                                        1. re: wishbugger

                                                                                                                          wishbugger...from the looks of our weekend crowd, age has nothing to do with this secret!

                                                                                                                        2. re: broncosaurus

                                                                                                                          Friday afternoon seems to offer the most samples at a time. If you're there right before they close, they will give out large sizes of the samples to get rid of the stuff that's been prepared. Sometimes I like to see how far I can stretch a Costco roast chicken. I'll eat the legs and wings straight, make chicken salad for sandwiches with the breast, casserole or tacos/burritos with the thighs, boil the carcass for chicken soup. Look in their prepared foods case. One of the workers told me that's what they make with the leftover chickens that don't sell, chicken pot pie, soup, burrito, fettucine, but they charge $10-15 for those entrees.

                                                                                                                        3. Black beans are great and don't need pork or anything else to make them tasty. Turkey drumsticks used to be supercheap, maybe still are in some places. Huge packages of tortillas can be had at peon prices in Latino mercados (keep them in the freezer.) You can eke out a lot of meals based on these ingredients.

                                                                                                                          1. When I was in college, I had a roommate who, when hungry with few resources, stir-fried bologna and then added crushed ramen noodles (that may or may not have been touched ever so quickly by lukewarm water ... he liked the crunch, or was just really hungry) and the seasoning packet.