15 Cheap Meals You Can Make At The Last Minute

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I have 15 cheap meals you can make at the last meal minute if your pantry is stocked with a few things. Yesterday, Mark was coming down with something and didn’t feel well. First of all, he never gets sick, I think he has been sick maybe three times in all our married life. Well, you know how grandma used to make chicken noodle soup if we had cold or flu symptoms, right? Well, I grabbed the soup pot and filled it with water, then some cans of chicken, freeze-dried celery, carrots from the refrigerator that were on their last legs, so to speak, and some freeze-dried onions. If you add the spice Sweet Basil (spice jar) to soup, it’s fabulous. Here’s the deal, if you have just a few items in your pantry, refrigerator, freezer or veggies fresh from the garden you can make several cheap meals at the last minute.


Please remember, you don’t need to buy a special cook book to use your food storage. If you have some cook books in the cupboard, pull them out and use your favorite recipes using freeze-dried vegetables or dehydrated veggies. Dehydrated food needs more water to hydrate it, but they work great in soups. I’m not going to lie to you and say freeze-dried foods taste great when hydrated in a fresh salad, nope, it’s not going to work for me. Let’s be real here, they are great for some dips, soups, stews and we can sneak them in a few chicken salad recipes.

Yesterday, I must admit I thought I was out of freeze-dried celery, you know to make the chicken soup. I swear I’m OCD with my food storage. It has to be in alphabetical order so I can look at a glance what I have stored.  Luckily I saw three #10 cans of the freeze-dried celery. After I made the soup, I ordered two cases of #10 cans of freeze-dried celery to refill the pantry. I absolutely hate going grocery shopping, although I did go the other day and picked up some case lot sale items. Here are some items I suggest you store, and I will tell you the cheap meals you can make if these are in your pantry.

Now, if you have a large garden and you produce enough to pressure can or water bath your food that’s awesome. Now that I just have two to cook for, it’s more economical to purchase a case or two of canned vegetables, plus a few #10 cans of freeze-dried vegetables or dehydrated vegetables, whichever fits my budget. Yes, freeze-dried vegetables are more expensive than dehydrated, but they typically have a longer shelf-life and you can eat them right out of the can if you had to. Plus, they use less fuel to cook them. Please remember we need to store water in order to be prepared for the unexpected and to make soups, for instance.

Who loves the smell of soup simmering on the stove or in the slow cooker, I know I sure do. I could totally be a vegetarian, but Mark loves meat in just about every soup, chili, stew or casserole.

Cheap Meals In The Pantry

Spices-My Favorites

Chili powder, Sweet basil, garlic powder, onion powder, salt, pepper, parsley, Cayenne pepper, cinnamon, to name a few.

Freeze-Dried Cheese

Of course, freshly grated cheese tastes better, but in a casserole, you can’t tell the difference. I buy the Colby Freeze-dried cheese, but all of them are great in casseroles. Hydrated freeze-dried Mozzarella is great on pizza as well.

Freeze-Dried Onions

These are great added to any soup, chili, stew or casserole.

Freeze-Dried Celery

These are great added to any soup, chili, stew or casserole.

Dehydrated Carrots

These are great added to any soup, chili, stew or casserole.

Dehydrated Potatoes

I hydrate these and fry them. I make potato soup with all of the vegetables I can put in the pot.

Canned Corn

These are great in soups or as a side dish.

Cans of Green Beans

These are great in soups or as a side dish.

Cans of Your Favorite Fruits

I used to can and preserve so many bushels of fruits, it’s not in the cards these days. I buy canned peaches, fruit cocktail, Mandarin oranges, to name a few. I keep a few cans in the refrigerator because they taste better cold. Do I love fresh fruits, oh yes, but I have to keep within my budget and case lot sales save me trips to the store. I still buy fresh fruits, but I need my pantry stocked, it’s who I am.

Cream of Chicken Soup

I still buy this soup because I have tried every recipe that is “healthy” and homemade and I don’t like any of them. I have to have cream of chicken soup even if I can’t pronounce some of the words. It’s how I roll.

Cans of Chicken

Great for soups, white chili, sandwiches, and casseroles.

Cans of Tuna

Great pantry item for sandwiches, salads, and casseroles.

Cans of Roast Beef

Great for stews, soups, chili, sandwiches, and casseroles.

Cans of Cooked Ground Beef

Great for tacos, soups, stews, and casseroles.

Cans of Cooked Ham

I like cans of ham over the freeze-dried ham because once you open a can of freeze-dried ham it has to be used within two weeks, or at least the brand I bought in #10 cans have to be used within that time period. So I buy smaller cans.

Tomato Powder-Tomato Sauce-Tomato Paste-Diced Tomatoes

I have every type of canned, or freeze-dried tomatoes you can buy. I love fresh tomatoes from my garden in the summer, but I have to have some cans of different tomato products to make to make soups, casseroles or chili throughout the year. Add some spices, veggies and you are good to go.

Better than Bouillon-Vegetable-Chicken-Beef

I add a spoonful of this awesome stuff to all my soups and stews. They sell it at the grocery store and even at Costco.

Boxes of Chicken Broth-Beef Broth-Vegetable Broth

These are easy to grab from the pantry to make soups and stews.

Beans-Navy Beans

These are great for soups and stews or as a side dish.

Beans-Pinto Beans

These are great for soups and stews or as a side dish.

Beans-Kidney Beans

These are great for soups and stews or as a side dish.

Beans-Garbanzo Beans

These are great for soups and stews or as a side dish.

Beans-Refried Beans

I eat a bean burrito every day, no cheese, but I love salsa with them.

Tortillas-Make them or freeze them

I buy corn tortillas and flour tortillas and freeze them. I love to make homemade ones, but I don’t always have time to make them.


I used to make salsa, but now I buy it and I have 12 jars in the pantry at all times. I could eat salsa on just about everything.

Spaghetti Sauce

I used to bottle my own spaghetti sauce, now I buy it. It’s fairly inexpensive and I love having several jars on hand ready to open and serve with pasta. I can make spaghetti sauce from scratch with my tomato products, but sometimes I have very little time to do this.

Enchilada Sauce

My favorite is green enchilada sauce, mild.


I love pasta, I buy all types, like vermicelli, lasagna, elbow, you name it, I have it.


I could eat beans and rice every day, I love sticky rice.

Cheap Meals

  1. Spaghetti sauce, cooked pasta, and green beans.
  2. Lasagna with canned cooked ground beef, pasta, spaghetti sauce, and cheese. I never use Ricotta because I never have it on hand.
  3. Tortillas with refried beans and hydrated freeze-dried cheese or no cheese.
  4. Red Chili, all you need is a soup pot, some beans, and tomatoes with some spices, and onions.
  5. White chicken chili, cans of cooked chicken, freeze-dried onions, white navy beans and freeze-dried Mozzarella cheese Linda’s white chili
  6. Chicken noodle soup, freeze-dried celery, dehydrated carrots, freeze-dried onions, cans of cooked chicken and seasonings. Linda’s chicken soup
  7. Beef stew with cans of cooked roast beef or cooked ground beef, diced tomatoes, freeze-dried onions, freeze-dried celery, dehydrated carrots and your favorite spices.
  8. Canned ham with navy beans, freeze-dried onions, dehydrated carrots and freeze-dried celery make a great pot of soup.
  9. Bean burritos, tortillas with refried beans, hydrated freeze-dried onions, freeze-dried cheese, and salsa.
  10. Scalloped potatoes and ham, using cans of cooked ham, freeze-dried onions, cream of chicken soup and dehydrated potatoes (after soaking in water, then drain and cook).
  11. Chicken and rice casserole, using cooked chicken, rice, celery, onions and cream of chicken soup. Linda’s casserole
  12. Tuna noodle casserole, tuna, cooked pasta and cream of chicken soup. Brings back memories, right? I grew up on this stuff.
  13. Tacos with cans of roast beef, cans of chicken, or cans of cooked ground beef. Add some freeze-dried cheese, salsa and you have dinner.
  14. Bean soup, grab a soup pot and add your favorite beans that you like with some cooked rice and vegetables. Soups by Linda
  15. Macaroni and cheese, boil your favorite pasta, add some freeze-dried cheese with a little butter and milk and you have a family favorite. Linda’s Mac and Cheese

I hope my list inspires you to keep your pantry stocked so you can make some cheap meals and survive any disaster, and save money at the same time.

Linda’s frugal recipes

My favorite soup pot

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18 thoughts on “15 Cheap Meals You Can Make At The Last Minute

  • September 15, 2017 at 7:56 am

    Linda, I pray that your husband will be all well very quickly. I also want to THANK YOU for all the wonderful information that you share. You are a great blessing, and I ask the Lord to bless you and your family richly!

    • September 15, 2017 at 9:40 am

      Hi Lillace, thank you for your sweet kind words. I love your name! I work really hard to try and help people so your comment today made me so happy. Mark is getting better, thank you, my friend. Hugs, Linda

  • September 15, 2017 at 10:25 am

    Hi, Linda. I seldom see a typo in your posts but your grandma making chicken noodle soap made me giggle ;o) Prayers for Mark! I’m fascinated by the idea of freeze dried food. There’s a survival shop not too far from me that will freeze dry my food for $20.00 a session so I’ve been reading up. One advantage over dehydrating for me is that they claim nutrition is preserved. I’m not crazy about the commercial freeze dried food I’ve tried so I’m tempted to try this method. I’ve seen pictures of a sliced ham dinner where the ham looks exactly like it would right out of the oven. In your experience do you think this is marketing or will it be a disappointment?

    • September 15, 2017 at 11:29 am

      Hi Debbie, I have a typo? Thanks for telling me! I’ll go check it out. LOL! Thank you, SOAP, oh my gosh, thanks for telling me. I wrote this post at 2:30 this morning. Mark proofed it and we both missed it, thanks for telling me! I love it! Keep me posted on the freeze-dried session, that sounds awesome! I saw a commercial one that had like 6 small trays but it took 24 hours to freeze dry the foods. The machine was too expensive and too complicated to hook up all the tubes and pressure stuff for Mark and me. Thanks again, Linda

  • September 15, 2017 at 10:55 am

    I do not have any access to places that sell this stuff locally…if the church doesn’t sell it at the Bishop’s Storehouse, I can’t access it. I’d have to order everything. I’m interested in the freeze-dried celery, etc. What “store” do you recommend? Is shipping prohibitive? We live in Northern Nevada and do travel to the SLC Utah area maybe once every 3-5 yrs. A trip in the not-too-distant-future could be scheduled. I wouldn’t want to buy cases but individual #10 cans first to see if we like or even can use it. I need to branch out my food storage. Since our basement flooded this past winter, we lost alot of stuff. Having done the cleanup and repairs, etc., we’ve come to realize we need to rethink our personal grocery store in the basement! Thanks for all your advice! I look forward to reading your blogs. :o)

    • September 15, 2017 at 11:22 am

      Hi, Robbie, I bought my freeze-dried celery from Honeyville Grain (.com), The shipping $4.99 per order not per item. I used to teach classes at Honeyville Grain, so I know their products. They have dehydrated and freeze-dried. I’m sorry to hear about your flooded basement. I’ve had to help people haul stuff out of flooded basements years ago. I’m glad you like my article, I work really hard to share items I use and recommend. Thrive Life is good as well, but I opted for Honeyville this time. Linda

  • September 15, 2017 at 12:28 pm

    Hi Linda, I was happy to read this as I do most of the things you have suggested:) we buy case lots too of the things we use often like beans and fruit. I am interested in getting more freeze dried things such as vegetables. I’ll have to check out the Honeyville Grain option you recommended. Do they have the meats as well? My husband is gluten intolerant so that’s puts a bit of a different spin on our storage, no 100 pounds of wheat for us.
    I am so glad I found your blog. I have been poked by your posts to get busy and have been helped immeasurably but all your suggestions. Thanks so much for your efforts.

    • September 15, 2017 at 3:28 pm

      Hi Rita, I have purchased freeze-dried meats from Thrive Live. The only ones I can recommend are the ground beef and the chicken. The sausage and ham are great as well, but once they are opened they must be used within two weeks as I remember. When looking at the meats make sure you are not buying seasoned meat as your husband may have issues with that. I only buy vegetables and fruits with no other ingredients. I do not purchase meals as I can make just about anything if I have pasta and can of cream of chicken soup. LOL! I did buy some cooked ground beef in cans from Pleasant Hill Grain. They do not have a long shelf, kind of like cans of chicken and tuna. BUT, they are great for two people like Mark and me. They only have salt and pepper and the beef. The freeze-dried meats I rarely open because they are expensive but I have tried all of them from Thrive Life. Of course, if they have new ones I have not. The great thing about freeze-dried foods is that you can eat them right out of the can. I have read they are more nutritious because of how they are processed. I hope this helps. Thanks for commenting and stopping by! Linda

  • September 15, 2017 at 3:52 pm

    I buy from Emergency for many years….great products….always buy what is on sale…..have a great variety in storage and I use something daily….rarely if ever have I paid for shipping. They have their own brand and carry all of Mountain House products which are the best. Go to their site
    Be Prepared.com and sign up for their free daily postings of sales and often at the bottom will be 2 emergency prep articles that are very informative….I print them out for future reference. You can be a Group Leader and get % off your order and if you request a free item be included with your order, they will send an item. Maybe you can get your church or friends to meet once a month or so (our LDS group has been meeting about 7 yrs. and we have covered so many topics…get lots of info from YouTube to share.d) Call 800-999-1863 for their free catalog.

    • September 16, 2017 at 2:27 pm

      Hi Sandra, I have purchased food storage from Mountain House in pouches, they used to say they had a shelf life of 7 years and now they are stating 25-30 years. I have purchased many things from Emergency Essentials, it’s a great company. It sounds like you live in a great area. I have lived here 12 years and this area has had one meeting. I’m speaking at the church here at the end of the month for 50 minutes. You can’t cover a lot in 50 minutes but I’m fine with it. I tried teaching this area six years, not too many were interested so I started my blog. I believe God wants me to teach the world because I will reach more people. I know that’s why I was blessed to be asked to write my book. I will forever be grateful for that. I do not take that gift lightly. I love hearing you are having great luck where you live. That is so awesome! Linda

  • September 15, 2017 at 3:53 pm

    Oops, that should have been Emergency Essentials for many years……

  • September 26, 2017 at 11:51 am

    Linda, where do you get cans of “cooked ground beef” that you mention? Do you can your own ground beef or do you buy freeze-dried>
    I’m new to your website and I love it. It keeps me motivated to add more things to my food storage.

    • September 26, 2017 at 12:00 pm

      Hi Diana, I have pressure canned ground beef but now that I just have two of us at home, I buy it from Pleasant Hill Grain. I have a lot of freeze-dried beef as well. I bought the freeze-dried from Thrive Life. Here is a link for the cans of ground beef: https://pleasanthillgrain.com/preparedness/storable-foods/meat-fish-poultry I stopped buying fresh meat because we rarely eat meat, but Mark like hamburger in his spaghetti sauce or whatever. LOL! Freeze-dried lasts much longer but is very expensive but worth having a case or two as our budget allows. Linda

  • February 22, 2018 at 11:50 pm

    Hi Linda,
    We would probably love to get together and chat for a few hours, as I too have used a lot of food storage in daily meals. Just love how every time I meet someone that cooks with food storage, they have their own unique take on it and thus it’s fun to learn from them; as well as share with them. I was blessed for 10 years, to teach a 3 hour class on integrating food storage into daily meals for 2 university community programs. Now just teaching the 50 minute class for churches like you mentioned…..really have to pray hard because that’s a small amount of time to cover a subject I’ve had so many successful experiences in!!!

    Have written down your list of the 15 meals even though I make some of them the same way as you do.
    Here’s a question: I usually don’t add canned meat until the last minute just to heat it because I find it gets stringy/dryish. Does that happen to you??
    I like to try new combinations. My neighbor gave me some of her bottled sweet relish, so I asked her how she likes to use it. She puts tuna, cooked pasta, sweet relish, miracle whip together for a main dish salad. Well I was skeptical because not really into sweet foods for main dishes…..but I tried it and surprised myself because I did like it. Usually I make tuna salad with chopped celery, sliced black olives, green onions, pasta, tuna, and mayonnaise as a quick meal. But now like making my neighbors sweet tuna salad too!!!
    A few years ago I started cooking with lentils, and can I just say WOW………my meat-eating-men LOVE lentil tacos, they will eat about 8 to 10 of them and not miss the no-meat at all. Also: italian lentil wheat stew (very popular sample when teaching a class), chocolate lentil cake, mexi lentils n’ rice (best to use brown rice for this one), and red lentil tomato soup for a few examples. My sister hates lentils but she loves the chocolate lentil cake since she can’t taste them. Oh, also, a few years ago a good friend gave me a recipe for Lentil Apple Cake…….can I just say oh soooo good.
    Thank you for your site and all the work you put into it, I’m enjoying it tremendously. Janet

    • February 23, 2018 at 7:35 am

      Oh, Janet, this is so funny, I grew up putting sweet relish in tuna sandwiches! I agree with you on the cooked canned meat, it’s already cooked so you only have to add it at the last minute. Of course, if it’s a casserole it goes all together before baking. I love hearing you taught three-hour classes for ten years on food storage, etc. You rock! It’s fun to learn new ways to use pasta and tuna. I have never used black olives in my tuna salad, I love this new idea (for me)!!! I used to cook lentils, I better get back into that, thanks for the reminder. I have never made a cake with them, wow, I love it!! I love your comment! Linda

    • February 24, 2018 at 5:24 pm

      Janet, oh my gosh, these recipes could be a post!! Oh, I love it when I get new recipes! I love corn tortillas, what a great tip!! THANK YOU, Linda

  • February 23, 2018 at 8:49 am

    Linda….I’ll try the sweet relish on tuna sandwich…..we grew up with a tuna sandwich being tuna/chopped dill pickles/ celery/ bit of fine chopped onion/mayonnaise. Thank you for the advice on adding the canned meat.
    Sending you 2 lentil recipes; also you can look up the lentil taco recipe on Taste of Home…..truly I thought my men would hate them, but they loved them: we put warm lentil taco mix on a corn tortilla, top with grated cheddar cheese, a bit of salsa, sour cream, squeeze fresh lime juice, cilantro-lettuce mix. My son found a recipe for heating corn tortillas without using oil: heat nonstick fry pan on high, dip corn tortilla in water, shake a bit, put in hot pan, heat on each side to evaporate the water and they are soft/ready to use….Wowza huh??? My guys double up the corn tortillas and load on the lentil taco mix. I’m always hunting up new recipes for beans and lentils (so far have about 20 lentil recipes that get repeated often).

    Learning sooo much from your site, thank you Linda.

    Chocolate Lentil Cake
    2 c. COOKED lentils, cooled to lukewarm
    1 tsp. vanilla
    2 eggs
    1/4 c. oil
    1/2 c. applesauce
    3/4 c. water
    1 and 1/2 c. sugar
    2 c. unbleached flour
    1/4 c. dry milk powder
    1/3 c. dry baking cocoa
    1 and 1/2 tsp. baking soda
    1/2 tsp. sea salt

    Preheat oven to 350°. Generously grease, then flour an 11x15x1 baking pan. In blender, Blend ’til smooth: cooked lentils, vanilla, eggs, oil, applesauce, water; place in a large mixing bowl. In separate bowl: mix: sugar, unbleached flour, dry milk powder, cocoa, baking soda, salt. Add dry mixture to liquid mixture; beat 2 minutes. Pour/scrape into the prepared pan, smooth batter evenly. Bake about 20 minutes, or until top bounces back at touch. Remove from oven, cool cake in pan.
    E Z Fluff FROSTING
    2 large egg whites, room temperature
    2 to 3 dashes salt
    1 tsp. vanilla
    Beat to soft peaks. Then on highest speed of your mixer: continue to beat egg white mixture while you very very slowly drizzle in 1 cup of light corn syrup. Mixture will be light and fluffy. Enough to frost this cake….(this kind of frosting doesn’t last more than a day or two, so you could opt to just use any favorite frosting if you wish)

    Italian Lentil Wheat Stew
    Tip: cook cracked wheat and lentils ahead; chill; then freeze in measured amounts until needed. Makes a healthy fast food. Every time I made this for one of the samples in my class, it was totally gone by end of the evening…..student approved. I think this is the best recipe to use when introducing people to wheat and lentils. Very tasty.
    1/2 lb. to 1 lb. (Jimmy Dean is a good brand, on sale)
    1 onion, finely chopped
    1 to 2 cloves garlic, minced
    2 to 3 c. cooked lentils
    1 and 1/4 to 1 and 1/2 c. cooked cracked wheat
    1 can (14.5 oz) crushed tomatoes
    1 can tomato sauce (8 oz.)
    up to 2 c. of water (use tomato sauce can)
    1 T. italian seasonings + 1/2 tsp. dried crushed basil
    salt and pepper to taste

    In a large pot: brown sausage, onion, and garlic. Add cooked lentils, cooked cracked wheat, crushed tomatoes, tomato sauce, water, and seasonings. Bring to a boil, turn heat to low, cover; simmer 15 to 20 minutes. Makes 6 to 8 servings. Leftovers chill/freeze well.

    Here’s a good tasting meatless pattie. My guys like this so that’s always a good sign! I had a gentleman from Kansas call me out of the blue, he found my site online before it got hacked so bad that I took it offline for good…..he flew out to do a video on my wheat adventures to present to the Kansas Wheat Council….well this pattie totally surprised him in taste and texture. One of my sons made Idaho french fries as one of the sides for this meal, since we live in Idaho LOL. Lots of fun!!

    Golden Wheat Patties
    1½ c. cooked cracked wheat (white wheat)
    1 large egg
    3 T. dry milk
    3 T. dried chopped onions
    1 T. unbleached flour
    1/2 tsp. garlic salt
    1/2 tsp. sea salt
    1/4 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
    1/4 tsp. soy sauce
    1/8 tsp. liquid smoke
    3 T. water
    2 T. oil or olive oil (may need more)

    Mix all ingredients. Heat oil on medium. Place 2 T. mix at a time in hot oil, smooth with back of spoon to form small patties. Cook 4 to 5 minutes on each side. Drain on paper towel. Makes about 15 patties.

    One more recipe, this is getting so long…..

    Pinto ‘Pecan’ Pie
    Tastes similar to pecan pie, but has no pecans, although I’ve seen recipes for this with pecans added, but we like it ‘plain’. A very popular, tasty pie…..

    1 unbaked Wheaty Pie Shell (see below)
    2 large eggs
    1 tsp. vanilla
    1 and 1⁄4 c. cooked plain (no onions or garlic, etc.) pinto beans with liquids
    1 c. packed brown sugar
    1⁄2 c. white sugar
    1 stick butter, must be well-softened but not melted
    1 and 1⁄4 tsp. cinnamon
    1⁄2 tsp. each: ginger and nutmeg
    1⁄4 to 3⁄4 tsp. salt (depends upon whether the refried beans have salt)

    Preheat oven to 375°. In blender or food processor, mix until smooth: eggs, pinto beans and liquids, vanilla. Scrape into a mixing bowl. Stir in the brown sugar, sugar, softened butter, spices, salt; mix thoroughly. Put into unbaked pie shell. Bake for 20 minutes. Reduce heat to 350° and bake 25 more minutes, or until a knife in center comes out clean. Remove from oven, let cool on rack. 8 servings.

    Wheaty Pie Shell
    We have tried the ‘all wheat flour’ pie crusts and sorry, it’s too wheaty….this coming from someone who absolutely loves wheat cooked in it’s many forms!

    1 and 1⁄2 c. unbleached flour
    1⁄2 c. whole wheat flour
    3⁄4 tsp. salt
    2⁄3 c. lard (or shortening)
    1 T. vinegar
    about 6 T. cold water

    Mix flours and salt. Cut in lard or shortening. Add vinegar. Then add water 1 T. at a time just until a ball forms. This is enough for 2 single pie crusts, or one double crust. For single crusts baked without filling: prick the bottom and sides thoroughly with a fork. Bake at 425° for 10 minutes, or until golden browned as desired. For single or double crust pies baked with a filling: bake according to time and temperature recommended for filling used.


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