The frugal and healthy sides of me force me to cook even though I don’t actually like to cook. I use the microwave as much as possible so that I spend less time in the kitchen.
Many years ago, I discovered rice/pasta side dishes that are frequently on sale for $0.88, and they’re microwavable. I mix in some kind of meat then cook a vegetable in the microwave. They normally last me three to four meals.
When I first started this cooking method, I cooked a garlic butter rice package then added a can of chicken to it. When I got tired of it, I switched to cooking a fettuccini alfredo package and adding a can of chicken (usually $1.99).
I recently wanted to eat some canned tuna fish (which I don’t actually like, but it’s cheap and healthy), and I added it to the cooked fettuccini alfredo. It was better than my old method of mixing tuna fish with mayonnaise (which I also don’t like). I always thought it was weird that I was able to eat two terrible things when I mixed them together. In recent years, I added pepper and garlic salt, but that only helped a little. The fettuccini alfredo was strong enough to almost completely hide the flavor of the tuna fish.
A couple of times, I microwaved a fried rice package. Instead of cooking a bunch of eggs and mixing them in, I scrambled two eggs each night and mixed with a fourth of the rice. It was pretty tasty. It’s going to be even easier now that I know how to scramble eggs in the microwave.
My favorite package is the red beans and rice. I used to cook a package of sausage to add, but I reduced to half a package to help both my wallet and stomach. After my sausage is thawed, I cut it in half, and I re-freeze the other half in a container. My sausage is usually $1.88 to $2.50, so using half makes my meat about $0.25 per meal.
With my traditional $0.88 sides, I needed to cook my sausage on the stove then add it to the red beans and rice that I cooked in the microwave. For a while, I couldn’t get the packages of red beans and rice. Another brand started going on sale for $0.99. That brand is not designed as a side, and the recipe actually had me include the sausage in the microwavable mix! I was pretty excited about not needing to cook the sausage on the stove anymore. I adjusted the recipe by not adding as much water, and it turns out perfectly.
I love the creamy garlic shells, and I sometimes have them as an actual side instead of mixing something into them.
So, I can spend about $3.03 which lasts me four meals for $0.76 each. Have you previously considered turning sides into main dishes?
Updates: For years, I added meat to the side dish after cooking because I wasn’t sure if the meat would affect the cooking of the pasta or rice. Now, I break up the canned chicken or tuna fish into the dish before adding the liquid and rice/pasta mix. It comes out perfectly, and I didn’t alter the amount of liquid or cooking time. The flavor is actually a little better.