With rampant inflation and skyrocketing prices at the grocery store, it’s getting harder and harder to eat for cheap. To get by, many are returning to their childhood staples, cheap processed foods like blue box mac and cheese, hamburger helper, and top ramen.
Although they add a bit of nostalgia to dinner time, the cheap stuff gets stale fast. However, there are ways to spice up these tried and true meals to make them tastier and more filling.
The r/frugal subreddit is an excellent resource for eating well without paying much money. While scrolling through the community, I discovered a question asking users to share their tips for turning cheap classics into meals fit for kings.
Add Extra Cheese to Your Blue Box
The original poster (OP) mentioned adding extra Kraft American Singles to your standard Kraft Blue Box Mac & Cheese. The extra cheese makes it a little thicker and enhances the cheese flavor.
Others mentioned adding shredded cheese and even cream cheese for a higher-quality meal.
Another user said adding ajun spice or sriracha hot sauce to your Mac & Cheese adds a kick that changes the whole meal.
If you want a spicier meal, consider a sprinkle of hot sauce. It also adds a bit of variety if you’re tired of the same old bland thing all the time.
It’s cheap and easy to enhance your top ramen with frozen veggies.
“A bag of frozen peas and carrots is like a dollar. Add a 1/4 cup to your ramen to make it healthier,” shared one user.
The mixed veggie bag, which has corn, green beans, peas, lima beans, and carrots, is also a great choice.
Taco Bell Saves the Day
One user advised saving the little sauce packets Taco Bell offers and adding them to canned beans or chili for extra flavor. You could also use them as seasoning if you make your own tacos at home.
This fantastic food hack may also work for Mac & Cheese.
Although eggs are far more expensive than they used to be, they’re still a relatively inexpensive form of protein. Adding egg to your ramen makes it a complete meal.
“I like adding a raw egg and mixing, the temp of the water heats the egg without cooking it, making the soup all creamy. It’s so good,” shared one user.
Another advised adding a fried or soft-boiled egg to ramen.
One user shared a hack they use to make meals more filling for their toddler. “Puree some cooked white beans and carrots and stir into mac and cheese,” they advised.
The beans add extra nutritional value and make the meal much more fulfilling.
Add Fresh Veggies
Another user said they add cheap fresh vegetables to Hamburger Helper meals for extra nutritional value.
“You can add diced tomatoes and peppers to Hamburger Helper,” they advised, adding, “I use the spicy Rotel tomatoes because I find they are often on sale in my area.”
Another said they add fresh tomatoes and onion to their mac & cheese.
Sauteeing onions before adding them to mac & cheese is also a great way to enhance the simple blue box.
“My mother used to sauté onions to almost black color, and they add so much flavor to plain blue box Mac n Cheese,” shared one user.
One user changed the flavor of their mac & cheese by adding chicken stock. Chicken bouillon cubes are relatively inexpensive. Adding a little to your mac & cheese can make it almost taste like a different meal.
Adding a small amount of spicy brown mustard to mac & cheese can add a little extra something to the bland meal.
The user who offered this interesting hack said yellow mustard wouldn’t cut it. Brown mustard is more expensive, but it should last a while as you don’t need to add a lot.
A Little Meat with Your Knorr
Knorr offers a wide range of rice and noodle sides. One user advised adding some canned or cooked meat to these sides to transform them into full meals.
I used to love the cheese & broccoli noodles, and I’d eat that as a complete meal by itself. However, adding a little chicken or tuna would help make it a more nutritious dinner.
Transform Mac & Cheese Into Tuna Casserole
One user shared a frugal food hack their mother used to create an entire meal from a simple kraft blue box.
“Add a can of cream of mushroom soup and a can of tuna,” they advised, saying you could also add corn and peas. “My mom used to call it “Tuna Casserole.” We never knew it was a cheap way to feed the family.’
Gourmet Ramen in Just a Few Steps
One user shared how they turned their cheap Top Ramen into a gourmet meal with just a few add-ons.
“I make a little broth with a chopped-up onion, carrots, and some frozen peas. Let that stand on simmer for like 15 min, then put in the noodles and the spice packet. If you add some grated ginger and some of that Vietnamese garlic pepper paste, it’s a gourmet meal,” they shared.
The directions on the Ramen packet say to cook it in water, but one user found cooking it in chicken stock instead makes it a better meal. They said they also added a splash of sesame oil for an even tastier meal.
Another user shared that they cook rice with chicken broth instead of water.
Creamier Mac & Cheese
The user who adds chicken broth to Ramen offered another excellent tip for mac & cheese: add yogurt. They said adding plain yogurt or even extra milk to the mix makes the mac & cheese creamier.
In addition, they spice it up with paprika or chili powder.
Transform your Top Ramen into a gourmet noodle dish.
“I cook top ramen noodles, drain them, then throw them in a skillet or wok with some veg oil, use half the seasoning that comes with the soup, add garlic, onion, and frozen vegetables,” shared one user. “It’s more of a noodle dish rather than soup.”
They added that the meal typically costs about $1.5, as they have most of the expensive ingredients like oil and garlic on hand anyway.
Another does something similar with different ingredients.
“I cook my cheap ramen noodles until done, then I scramble two eggs in a bowl with veggies and seasonings. Then I’ll throw the egg mixture and the cooked ramen into a skillet together. It’s super filling and really good,” they shared.
Meat & Cheese
Make your mac & cheese more filling by adding meat.
“Add ground meat or kielbasa to Mac, along with smoked paprika and garlic powder,” shared one user.
Others mentioned the tried and true method of adding hot dogs to the mac & cheese for those who really want to revisit their childhoods.
Give your Ramen a boost with canned chicken. This cheap chicken offering is typically used in chicken salads but can offer a protein boost to cheap ramen noodles.
One user said it’s best to cook them separately. They advised to drain the chicken and add half the ramen seasoning packet to it while heating it, adding the other half to the noodles as you typically would. After cooking, combine the two for a meal fit for a king!
Bacon makes everything better, including mac & cheese!
One user shared that they add bacon crumbles or chunks of ham to their blue box to transform it into a complete, hearty meal.
Better Baked Beans
Canned baked beans are cheap but often missing something.
“Add a chopped sauteed onion, a bit of mustard (I have powdered, but it could be just regular mustard), and a bit of molasses,” advised one user. They added that they typically eat the beans with hot dogs or sausage.
Cheap Processed Food Can Be Tasty
Creativity goes a long way in preparing great meals out of low-cost grocery store staples. Redditors in this thread showcased that you can eat well using cheaper items as a base.
Try some of these frugal food hacks if you’re on a budget. You may find a new meal to add to your weekly rotation.
Melanie Allen is an American journalist and happiness expert. She has bylines on MSN, the AP News Wire, Wealth of Geeks, Media Decision, and numerous media outlets across the nation. She covers a wide range of topics centered around self-actualization and the quest for a fulfilling life.