Dining on a dime can begin to feel like your own personal Groundhog’s Day; you eat the same bland foods—chicken, rice, salad—over and over again until you can’t tell one meal from the last. But did you know there’s actually a pretty simple way to spice up your low-budget menu?
Believe it or not, all you need in order to eat yummy food without spending a lot of dough is a simple box of spaghetti! Paired with just a few ingredients, you can make the kind of savory meals you’d normally see in any restaurant—for a fraction of the price!
When you’re on a budget, spaghetti is a fail-safe for dinner— It’s cheap, easy, and you can make a lot of it! It’s also pretty boring… but it certainly doesn’t have to be. There are tons of creative meals that start with just one box of spaghetti…
1. Pizza spaghetti casserole: Yes, this is a real thing! And you only need a few additional ingredients—hearty tomato sauce and cheese—to combine two of your favorite comfort foods: pizza and casserole…
If you have some sausage, mushrooms, or pepperoni lying around—basically any pizza topping—you can throw those into the dish, too. Then, bake the entire thing at 350 degrees for a breezy six minutes…
Voilá! You just whipped up a pizza spaghetti casserole like Nana used to make! Somewhere, an Italian grandma kisses her fingertips every time one of these comes out of the oven.
Shared Food / Facebook
2. Crack chicken spaghetti bake: With just a few pantry staples, like cream of chicken and Velveeta cheese, you can have a dynamite spaghetti meal in your future. Not sure how this all comes together? Well…
It’s pretty easy to make. First, mix two cans of cream of chicken, Velveeta cheese, and a cup of chicken broth in a saucepan. Pour that on top of your pasta, add shredded chicken and bacon bits if you have them, and then more Velveeta.
Now, bake it at 350 degrees for 30 minutes. When all is said and done, you’ll have a heaping casserole dish filled with chicken, spaghetti, and cheese. Be careful, though: it’s addicting!
3. Spicy peanut noodles: This Thai-inspired dish involves peanut butter, peppers, soy sauce, some herbs… and of course, your standard box of spaghetti noodles! You’ll need to put in some leg work for a sauce, but it’s worth it…
You can buy a Thai peanut sauce to save time, but it’s pretty easy to make it yourself. Just combine a half-cup of peanut butter with one or two tablespoons of water; then add soy sauce, Sriracha, lime juice, ginger, garlic, and sesame oil and mix.
Stir-fry your favorite veggies and toss everything—sauce and all—with your cooked spaghetti noodles. In no time, you’ll have delicious peanut noodles that will literally spice up your dinnertime!
4. Spaghetti bundt cake: Every kid dreams of eating dessert for dinner, but now you can actually do it totally guilt-free! All you need is milk, eggs, cheese, spaghetti, and a bundt pan.
First, line your bundt pan with the cooked noodles. Then toss it with one-and-a-half cups of milk, two cups each of shredded mozzarella and sharp white cheddar cheeses, some Parmesan, and three large eggs.
Let it bake at 425 degrees for 35 minutes and voilá! You’ve got yourself a delicious spaghetti bundt cake that you can slice up and serve. Sure, it’s not technically a dessert, but it’ll seem like it!
5. Million dollar spaghetti: Meat may not always be a staple in every budget-eaters fridge, but if you have a hankerin’ for some ground beef, then this spaghetti recipe might be the one for you. You’ll also need cream cheese and ricotta…
Brown a pound of ground beef and set it aside. In the same skillet, cook onions, garlic, spinach, carrots, and grape tomatoes. Bring the beef back to the party, along with half a cup of marinara sauce, then pour it over half your spaghetti in a baking dish.
Tastes Better From Scratch
Mix cream cheese, sour cream, and ricotta and dump it onto your beef-topped spaghetti. Then add the rest of the pasta, cover it with foil, and cook it at 350 degrees for 30 minutes. Now you can eat like the one percent with a slice of “million dollar spaghetti!”
6. Spaghetti alla puttanesca: Anchovies are any kid’s worst nightmare and the one pizza topping most likely to have even your biggest pie enthusiasts fleeing. But combined with spaghetti, onions, and some tomato paste, they make for a flavorful, yet simple, dinner!
First, you’ll want to sauté garlic and onions and add three or four cans of anchovies to a sizzling saucepan. Then stir in two tablespoons of tomato paste, a can of crushed tomato, half a cup of white wine, some oregano, red pepper flakes, a pinch of sugar, and olives. Let it all simmer…
Hank Shaw / Simply Recipes
While that’s simmering, cook your spaghetti al dente. Once done, mix it with your anchovy sauce. Now you’ve got a dish that would make chefs at the Olive Garden bow down!
7. Cream cheese baked spaghetti: What do you get when you mix a pack of cream cheese with half a cup of sour cream? Something delicious, that’s what! Combine those two and set it aside. Now, sauté some onions, garlic, salt and pepper in a pan. Add ground beef and let it brown…
To your meaty brew, add a tablespoon of tomato paste, then half a teaspoon of basil, oregano, and pepper flakes. Let those simmer for 10 minutes; in the meantime, spread your cream mixture over a baking dish of cooked spaghetti.
Pour the meat mixture over your cheesy spaghetti, top it with more cheese, and bake it all at 350 degrees for 20 minutes. Make sure you grab a napkin, because this meal has mouth-watering side effects!
8. Asian stir fry noodles: Vegetables like peppers, shallots, mushrooms, and peas are kitchen staples; they also tend to be super-affordable. Why not put ’em to use as part of a simple spaghetti recipe?
Drop those aforementioned veggies—along with a teaspoon of curry powder—into an oiled skillet and cook them until they’re tender. In a bowl, combine one cup of chicken broth, a quarter-cup of soy sauce, a tablespoon each of minced garlic and hot chili oil, and a teaspoon of ginger…
Now throw some cooked spaghetti onto your veggies and then add the chicken-broth sauce. That’s all it takes to have this Asian-inspired pasta dish sitting on your dinner table! You can even swap out the vegetables if you’d like.
Alpha / Flickr
9. Bucatini Amatriciana: Everyone loves bacon, and this spaghetti dish puts it on full display. Just grab a can of peeled and diced tomatoes, and you’re on your way to some good cookin’.
First, chop the bacon into bite-sized pieces and fry it in a skillet. Add a pinch of pepper and pepper flakes, as well as two cloves of garlic and three-quarters of a cup of diced onion. Top it with a 12-ounce can of crushed tomatoes, and let it simmer for 20 minutes.
Cook up your spaghetti—al dente is best for this dish—then top it with the contents of your skillet, bacon and all. Congrats! You’d make Emeril Lagasse proud with this number.
10. Chicken Parmesan pasta: A couple of chicken breasts can go a long way in making a delicious meal, but when you add spaghetti, cheese, and a little lemon zest into the mix, you’re sitting on a main course gold mine…
Spritz your chicken with a bit of lemon juice, lemon zest, salt, and pepper and brown them in a skillet with butter. In a separate pot, mix five cups of milk, Italian seasoning, bouillon cubes, and more pepper…
Great British Chefs / YouTube
Then, create a roux—a fatty sauce base—by mixing a half-cup of flour and five tablespoons of butter. Stir in your milk mixture into it, whisk away any lumps, and bon appétit! Top your spaghetti and chicken with the sauce and you’re all set.
11. One skillet pasta bake: You only need a single skillet for this recipe. Make sure it’s one that can go in the oven, though, else you might burn your house down. (We recommend cast iron.) Ready? First, sauté up some sausage, garlic, and onion…
Add pasta, a can of diced tomatoes, two cups of water, some Italian seasoning, and a pinch of sugar. You like cheese? Good! Load a bunch of mozzarella on top. Sliced, shredded, cubed—it doesn’t matter!
Let it all simmer on low, then place it on a low-set broiler. Blast it with heat until that top layer of cheese is brown and melty. Carefully remove it from the oven and add more cheese and fancy toppings. Now, how easy was that?
Now that you know how to make delicious dishes that save you tons of money, what about meals that also save you tons of time? For example, if you don’t like waiting for that pot of water to boil for your pasta, use a frying pan full of water instead!
2. If you love eating pasta but you live alone and you hate the idea of having all those leftovers, you can easily boil pasta for one in your microwave. Cover the pasta in water and microwave it, pausing to stir every minute or so until it is just perfect.
3. Not sure if your pan is hot enough to start cooking? Test it by flicking a drop of water on the surface. If the water forms two dancing beads then the pan is ready for you to get to work. Make sure to wipe out the water before you start cooking.
4. Onions are often the base of so many of our favorite dishes. However, as we all know, they can be a hassle to prepare. That’s why this hack is so ingenious: Dice up a bunch of onions at once and save them in the freezer. Next time a recipe calls for some chopped onion, you’ll be ready.
5. Speaking of chopping up stuff and saving it for a rainy day, you can also put any leftover chopped scallions you have into an empty water bottle and store that in the freezer. They will keep for two to three months, which is plenty of time to use them all!
6. Poached eggs are a delicious addition to any breakfast or brunch. That said, they can be a real bother to cook. This hack solves all that! Pour a bit of white vinegar into the boiling water to make the egg easier to handle and to keep it from getting stuck to the sides of the pot.
7. This is a hack everyone who cooks needs to have in their back pocket. Moisten a paper towel and put it beneath your cutting board before you sit down to chop. The moist towel will keep the board from slipping around!
8. If you love cooking and eating a nice homemade dinner, but you feel like you never have time, look no further than this hack. Store chicken breasts in a bag of your favorite marinade and freeze them. Then, the next time you need dinner, just defrost and go!
9. This hack can turn any meal into a truly gourmet dining experience. Chop up some of your favorite herbs and store them inside of ice cubes trays filled with olive oil. These frozen herbs and oil will elevate the flavor of almost anything you make.
10. Microwaving leftovers is easy, but it can also be a real crapshoot when it comes to quality. To make sure last night’s dinner tastes just as good tonight, place a moist paper towel over your plate before microwaving it. The steam will make everything delicious.
11. Recipes that require sticky ingredients like honey or molasses are often delicious, but they are tough to prepare using measuring cups. Coating your cups with cooking oil or olive oil can solve that problem!
12. Working on a recipe that calls for you to crack a couple of eggs? Easy enough! All you need to do to avoid getting tiny bits of eggshell inside of your bowl is to make sure that you crack the egg on a flat surface and not on the edge of the bowl itself.
13. Accidentally drop a piece of eggshell into your bowl? In order to get out tiny bits of cracked eggshell from your mixing bowl, simply wet one of your fingers with water and gently touch the shell shard. It will easily stick to your finger!
14. In some recipes, you might be instructed to separate your egg yolks and your egg whites. You can do this using the egg shell itself, but that can be a real mess. How about trying this hack instead? Simply use an empty water bottle to suck up the yolk and transfer it to another dish.
15. Peeling garlic is such a hassle. The delicate outer skin sticks to everything—and that includes to the garlic bulb itself! If you want to peel garlic quickly, all you need to do is put the garlic in a bowl with a lid and shake it very hard. When you’re done, you’ll have naked garlic.
16. You probably already have salt and pepper mills in your kitchen, but to really up your culinary game, you’ve got to try investing in salt and pepper pots. These containers make it easy to grab pinches of spice to season as you cook.
17. Is there anything more frustrating than going to make a dish that requires softened butter, only to find that the only butter you own has been chilling in the fridge? Good news! Heating up a glass and covering the butter with it will soften it in a matter of minutes.
18. This is a delicious time-saving hack for anyone who loves whipping up a nice pasta. If you want to add some veggies into the mix, simply strain your pasta over frozen peas! This will cook up the peas quickly without adding an extra step to the cooking process.
19. Before you set out to chop up something very finely with your nice kitchen knife, wipe the blade with a touch of olive oil. This will help keep the stuff your mincing from getting stuck to the surface of your knife and getting in the way.
20. There are so many hacks out there that supposedly prevent your brown sugar from becoming hard, but this is the only method you actually need. Seal your brown sugar and store it inside of the refrigerator. It really doesn’t get any easier than that.
21. If you’re looking for ways to keep you chocolate chip cookies nice and fresh, try this hack. Simply pop a slice of bread or a marshmallow into your container of cookies to help keep them moist. It really works!
22. Hard-boiled eggs are a delicious and healthy snack. However, preparing them can make them ridiculously difficult to peel and keep them in just one piece! If you’re looking for a way to enjoy this snack without the hassle, try steaming your eggs together instead.
23. Preparing squash is a huge part of cooking in the autumn months. It’s delicious and so good for you! Unfortunately, it’s tough to cut into. If you want easier access to this squash, go ahead and microwave it first to soften it!
24. Cutting up bell peppers is so annoying! Sure, they are yummy and provide such a singular flavor, but those darn seeds get everywhere. However, if you lay the pepper on its stem and follow the rounded edges with your knife, you can free the edible parts of the pepper without sending seeds flying.
25. One of the best things about cooking with a cast iron skillet is how each meal you make helps season the pan over time. You don’t need to ruin your pan by using soap to clean it, either; just cover the bottom with salty water and let it boil. This will remove almost any food debris.