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Low Cost Cooking

I am volunteering to cook for a women's shelter once a week, and need to cook on a budget, something, I'm not good at. Anyway, what are some basic inexpensive main dishes? I'm thinking,,,meatloaf, spinach manicotti, quiche, soup. Ideas please. Thx.

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  1. Lasagna
    Shepherd's Pie
    Macaroni and Beef Casserole
    Veggie Soup

    1. Bean based soups would be great in the winter, something like a really simple pasta e fagioli. Baked spaghetti or any kind of baked pasta are also inexpensive. Also, keep an eye out on sales circulars. Stores get great deals sometimes that they pass onto the customers to get them in the store.

      1 Reply
      1. re: chowser

        Another advantage to bean dishes is that it avoids any religious issues when it comes to meats (such as seafood, beef, and pork).

        Could be important if you don't know the religion of your guests.

      2. Also Chili - or other bean based dishes.

        1. A big yes on the soup. Wonderfully inexpensive for a big bang of flavor and nutritional value. Root veg at this time of year is very affordable, since your shelter is probably on a shoestring budget. Also (and I may be stereotyping - forgive me) soups are an opportunity to get some high-quality nutrition (through vegetable use) to a population that may not have the time or resources to think about such things. When in crisis, it's hard to do so. Soups are also perfect for making in large quantities, depending upon the extent of your need.

          The other thing I can suggest is chicken and dumplings - also easy for large quantities, affordable, and a good source of protein and carbs...and a satisfying comfort food.

          1. I used to participate in this group where the volunteers would purchase food out-of-pocket and prepare dishes for the homeless men and women on Friday night. I am a student, so my budget is seriously constrained. When I participated in the street outreach, I consistently found that I could not prepare any main dishes at all, simply because I don't have enough money in my budget to buy all the ingredients to make a main dish that will nourish anywhere from 50-100 people. I was limited to spaghetti and other heavy carb dishes, such as fried rice.

            I often prepared side dishes in bulk instead.

            STEAMED VEGETABLES. A couple of times I brought steamed vegetables. A homeless fellow told me that the homeless men and women do not get enough vegetables and fruits.


            DESSERTS. Desserts are often a luxury for the homeless. The men and women I interacted with absolutely loved desserts: cakes, pies, cupcakes, etc.

            1. I cook for a women's shelter and a soup kitchen. Nutritious and inexpensive meals that can feed tons of people that I would recommend are: Beans & rice, baked ziti, tuna casserole, Asian style noodles and veges, soups, hot dogs and beans & mac and cheese.

              Also, let your local supermarket butcher know that you would be interested in great deals, and tell them why. I get fabulous deals from my supermarket for things that I normally couldn't afford in bulk. I don't know how many people you are cooking for, but meatloaf and spinach manacotti may become expensive for a large group.

              Good luck and enjoy!

              1 Reply
              1. re: Main Line Tracey

                I admire you and ChefGirl412 for your work.

              2. split pea soup with carrots,onion,potatos and flour dumplings--hearty,healthy and economical-

                1. Rice, beans and root veggies will be your best friends. Also winter greens like cabbage, kale, escarole, etc. They can be combined in tons of ways:

                  Rice casserole
                  Cabbage rolls
                  Stuffed potatoes
                  Potato or rice croquettes
                  Soups (chunky or smooth)
                  Baked beans
                  Veggie burgers

                  1. Wow, thanks for all the great suggestions! Wouldn't dishes with eggs be economical too, like vegetable cheese strata ? At most, there are only 20 women at a time at the shelter.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: ChefGirl412

                      Oh, with only 20 women, you have a lot more options. Have you seen the threads on the Bittman no-knead bread? If you had the right container, you could make a few of those and that would be a great addition to soup. Stratas, frittas would be a great option, too, and you could use anything that you found on sale. Also, if you talk to local grocery stores, I'll bet you could get them to donate food that they want off the shelves.

                    2. I am making a pilau right this minute. It is quite economical and stretches chicken quite away. It is a rice casserole and I am sure there are a number of recipes out there especially in the south. Mine is bacon browned and removed from the casserole, then chopped onions, peppers and celery added to the fat with the rice and cooked until the veg are tender and the rice becomes translucent. Then add tomoatoes and juices, shredded chicken (or chopped) crushed red peppers and an appopriate amount of stock and cooked about 25 minutes. Then sprinkle on the reserved crisp bacon and serve. Very comforting and satisfying.

                      1. my favorite cheap meal is soup, i make a kind of taco chili inspired dish with suteed onions and garlic,hamburger, tomatoes, black beans, corn, and spices. No real recipe, just toss all those in with some beef broth and season with chili powder,and whatever else i have on hand.

                        1. I have volunteered at soup kitchens for more than 10 years and we have found that the limited use of meat and lots of starches are the bets way to provide nutritious tasty food at a reasonable cost.
                          chicken and noodles
                          spaghetti or other pastas
                          mashed potatoes and pans gravies
                          mac and cheese
                          poultry(chick-turkey)and noodles/dumplings

                          I have found that if you cultivate a relationship with local butchers/grocers, as they are usually extremely willing to help you. Possessing basic knife skills and the willingness to buy large chucks of roasts and other primals and cut them yourself will save a lot of money that you can use on other meals.

                          1. Our local supermarket donates (at the end of the day) the rotiserie chickens that were not sold to a local food pantry. Once a week, some people from our church ask for them and make casseroles, soups, salads etc for the same food pantry.

                            1. Here's a previous post from Main Line Tracey on this subject as well: http://www.chowhound.com/topics/31808... Keep up the great work!

                              1. Turkey dishes will be economical. You will be able to get several dishes out of a turkey. We do a Turkey Tetrazzini (noodles, turkey, creamy parmesan sauce, a little mushrooms) for a crowd that a family member does for big church suppers--everyone loves it. You can also do turkey enchiladas or enchilada casserole, pot pie (make in baking pans with just a top crust, and of course a hearty turkey noodle soup with the carcass, the neck, wing tips and giblets for the stock.

                                1. I like the turkey suggestions - heck you could probably roast a turkey or some other large piece of meat economically with that many people. Pulled pork might be good.

                                  How 'bout also considering something with chicken thighs, which are very affordable. Perhaps sesame chicken, or something similar to a paella? The types of things that might seem a little different, but can be affordable on the scale of serving to 20 people.

                                  Good luck - as Sam said - you deserve our admiration. I'm sure you will be blessed by the experience as well.

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: GDSinPA

                                    shredded chicken thighs work really well in an enchilada casserole, which can also be economical and nutritious. just boil them and shred w/ fingers when cooled; simmer w/ a little of your enchilada sauce to flavor the chicken. use black beans instead of refried if you want to make it extra healthy.

                                  2. THANK YOU ALL for the input - really helped a lot !