How to Fix a Poor Man’s Meal – Delicious without High Prices

We may not be totally financially broke, but sometimes a Poor Man’s Meal can come in pretty handy.

There are days when everything comes due at once.  The insurance, the mortgage and the car payment are ready to be paid.  The electric bill is higher than budgeted.  It’s time for a feed run. You head to the mailbox and find the phone, gas, and credit card bill. Then you gasp!  The summer heat with no rain almost doubled the water bill!

All that is bad enough, but the tractor now needs a shiny new part, and you already tapped your savings last month for a new water pump for the truck. If anything else goes wrong, you will find yourself dangerously low on emergency funds.

You have cut back everywhere you can, and the only place left in the budget you can cut is the food bill.  And you would really prefer not to starve your family.  So, what do you do?

Easy – Fix a Poor Man’s Meal

a blue speckled bowl filled with chicken noodle soup

We all have had times like that. It can all too often feel like life is a rope of hardscrabble months. The bills have to be paid if we want to keep a roof over our heads.

If you find yourself in this position it may be time to fall back on a Poor Man’s Meal. To do this, all you need is a few ingredients and a lot of creativity!

What is a Poor Man’s Meal?

a blue bowl filled with corn chowder and topped with oyster crckers

This type of meal is based on creating a meal that costs very little to nothing to make. I learned about this type of meal from my Aunt Dot, who said she learned the term during the depression when both food and money was in short supply.

A Poor Man’s Meal is usually created from leftovers and basic ingredients. They also consist of just one or two main items. A basic chicken broth with a few pieces of pasta and served with a few crackers is the most basic Poor Man’s Meal.

Surprisingly, these can also be some of the most delicious meals you can make. Lefoverscan be served in their original form, or ‘re-mixed’ to create a different meal – such as chopping up leftover Roast Beef, adding barbecue sauce and making Chopped Beef Sandwiches.

Aunt Dot also taught me another way to serve a Poor Man’s Meal. She never served a huge bowl of any one thing.  Her secret, she said, was to prepare a little bit of several things, and somehow, there always seemed to be enough.  For Christmas one year, I cross-stitched her a sampler that simply said,

‘Enough is as good as a feast’

When she passed, I inherited that piece and it proudly hangs in my own kitchen.  It has become my mantra, and when things get tight, I look at it and know that I can offer my family a feast by having ‘enough’.

You can also create a Poor Man’s Meal by using what you can find in the pantry, refrigerator, or freezer.  Sometimes I get lucky and find a casserole in the freezer. Other times, I have to start from scratch and be creative. 

What to Fix for a Poor Man’s Meal

a green bowl filled with purple hull peas; an orange plate with three cornbread muffins

Peas and Cornbread

This is a very traditional meal for frugal homesteads.  It can easily be done with any type of pea or bean, but we love growing purple hulls and keep a freezer full of them.  Normally we cook them with bacon or salt pork, but when we use them as the main course, we add sausage instead.

Peas and Cornbread are not only delicious, but also filling.  I start by pulling a bag of purple hull peas and some link sausage out of the freezer. I get a soup pot and get started.  Chop up a small onion and sauté it in a tiny bit of vegetable oil. Add the bag of thawed peas.  Slice the sausage approximately 1/4” to 1/2″ thick and add to the pot.  Stir to lightly saute’.  Fill the pot with enough water to cover the peas.  Add seasonings, like salt, pepper, garlic powder and Tony Chachere’s.  Cook for a couple of hours over low heat until the peas are tender. Be sure to add water when necessary to keep the peas covered.

‘Leftover’ Soup

a loaf of sliced homemade bread next to a bowl of vegetable beef soup

Fix a Poor Man’s Meal by using leftovers. Corn chowder is a delicious way to do this with few ingredients.

Consider making a Vegetable soup. You just need to start with a beef or chicken broth, then add fresh or canned vegetables such as beans, carrots, diced tomatoes, corn, or any other item you have in the refrigerator or pantry.

Here’s an Easy Vegetable Soup you can make:

  • 1 Can Diced Tomatoes
  • 1 can Green Beans or Green Peas
  • 2 Potatoes, Diced
  • 1 medium Onion, chopped
  • 1 Carrot, diced
  • 1 stalk celery, diced
  • 1 can Whole Kernel Corn
  • Spices to taste – Salt, Pepper, Garlic Powder, Thyme, etc.
  • 2 cups Beef or Chicken Broth

Add all ingredients to a medium soup pot. Add broth. Allow to cook over medium heat until the potatoes are tender (approximately 1 hour).

Bean Soup

a jar of layered dried beans, an onion, and a can of ro-tel tomatoes

Most of us keep an assortment of dried beans in our pantry. These can be anything from Black-eyed Peas, Red Beans, Pintos, and more. You can also find bags of dried Bean Soup Mix in the grocery store that are relatively inexpensive. These usually have an assortment of between 8 and 15 types of beans.

To make a Bean Soup, just follow these directions:

  • 1 bag Bean Soup Mix, or an assortment of dried beans/peas
  • 1 can Ro-Tel Tomatoes
  • 2 cups Smoked Sausage, sliced
  • 1 small Onion, Chopped
  • Seasonings to taste (Tony Chachere’s, Salt, Pepper, Garlic Powder)

Place beans in a medium to large soup pot. Add enough water to cover the beans by at least 2” to 3”. Bring to a boil. Turn off the heat and allow to sit for approximately 1 hour. Drain, leaving the beans in the pot.

Add to the beans the remaining ingredients. Add enough water to cover the soup by at least 2” to 3”. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer until beans are soft, approximately 4 to 6 hours, stirring occasionally.

Note: Dried beans will absorb a lot of water. When you stir the soup, be sure to add water as needed to keep a ‘soupy’ consistency. Not too thin, but definitely not thick and threatening to dry out.

The Crowning Touch to a ‘Soupy’ Poor Man’s Meal

an orange plate with three cornbread muffins

Soups are truly one of the most frugal meals you can make. They don’t take a lot of time and can still be healthy. Now that you have your soup simmering, all that’s left is to make some Cornbread. Combined, you have an easy, delicious, and very cost-effective meal.  No trips to the grocery store – no money spent.

Recently, I fixed a big pot of Vegetable Beef Soup.  I always make double batch, especially at the first sign of cold weather.  When we have eaten what we want, the remainder gets canned.  Inevitably, about the time you get to the last jar, you end up with more juice and very few vegetables.  To add insult to injury, the jar is only two-thirds full. 

Instead of griping, we celebrate. That jar gets cooled and put in the refrigerator or freezer.  When we need a quick and easy meal, we whip up a batch of cornbread and warm up the contents of the jar. For dinner, we crumble up the cornbread into a bowl, and top it with the leftover soup.  Quick, delicious, easy, and frugal.  A perfect combination!

Homemade bread and biscuits are easy to make. In most cases, you already have the ingredients on hand. Crackers are also inexpensive.

Think Ahead – Make a List

shelf in a blue cabinet filled with jars and boxes of assorted pasta and dried beans

When grocery shopping, take into considerations those times you know you are going to have to cut the food budget.  Make sure you keep a few staples on hand.  Normally, we think of staples as baking goods – flour, sugar, meal, salt, baking soda and powder, etc. – and those are definitely must-haves in good times or bad. But there are other things to consider as staples.

Dried Beans – these can easily be made into a Poor Man Meal like peas and cornbread.  Red beans and kidney beans are great served over rice.  They also make great soup, or as a filler for Vegetable soup.

Biscuit Mix – whether you make your own or buy a box of Bisquick, be sure you keep a large sized box on hand.  By just adding milk and an egg or two, you can easily make pancakes, waffles, biscuits or dumplings. 

a plate of bow tie pasta topped with pesto sauce, grated parmesan cheese and two fresh basil leaves

Pasta – whether it is spaghetti, egg noodles or spiral, pasta can be made into a main dish, a side or a salad.  If things are truly tough, you can cook them in chicken broth and serve it with a sprinkling of fresh herbs from your garden. 

A pasta salad can be made with cooked, cooled pasta as a foundation.  Check the fridge for any vegetables – carrots, broccoli, tomatoes or anything else.  If you have an onion and bell pepper, chop that up and toss it in the bowl too.  A splash of Ranch or Italian dressing and you have a full meal.

Leftovers – this is the best money stretching Poor Man’s Meal there is, and it helps keep your refrigerator cleaned out as well.  Pull them all out and have a Smorgasbord offering.  Let family members pick and choose, heat it up and serve!

Eggs – scramble them, make an omelet, fry them or do anything else you want. Eggs are the foundation to quiches and breakfast casseroles

Sandwiches – and if all else fails, make a sandwich.  PB&J, fried egg, tomato and mayonnaise – sandwiches are an all-time quick and easy meal.  Don’t have any bread?  Make a batch of Aunt Dot’s Hot Rolls.  These make some of the best sandwiches you can eat!

Is money so tight you have to dig into the food budget just to make ends meet?  Don’t sweat it.  You can always fix a Poor Man’s Meal.  Just dig into your stores and get creative. 

And if you don’t have anything left to fix, just come on over here.  We always have

just enough to prepare a feast.

Julie Murphree is a blogger, newspaper columnist, and speaker on all things ‘Living a Simple Life on the Farm’. She is the author of \\\'The Farm Wife – Living a Simple Life on the Farm. She and her husband have 60 acres in NW Louisiana where they actively work on living as sustainable as possible.

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