$10 Family Meals: Casserole Edition

I was teaching this as a class for the family care ministry at church.

            I am not a food blogger. I want to get that established before we get started here. I took too few pictures of the cooking process and I don’t have some cute family story to tell you as we work through the recipes.

            What I am, though, is someone who wants to help save you and your family some money when it comes to your food budget. Many people want to get on a budget, but just can’t keep their food money under control. I fear that it is because many of us weren’t taught how to cook. We want to cook good, healthy food for our families, but when you get the recipe list, there are too many specialty ingredients to make the recipes.

            People have asked how I feed our family on a budget and how to know what everyone will want to eat. Here is the trick that I used and it helped. Put a piece of notebook paper inside your kitchen cabinet and start writing out the meals that you and your family like. Every time you try something new and you like it, add it to the list. Then when you are making your one- or two-week meal plan, you can look at the list when you are stumped on what to eat. Then you can go shopping for the ingredients to make those meals. That way you will have all of the ingredients on hand when you go to make dinner. If you aren’t feeling the meal you have on the menu for a particular night, you can swap out meals with something else on the list. You don’t have to go grocery shopping, because you have everything on hand.

            Here is what I am going to attempt to do. This is not an ad for Aldi, but I want to show you that you can make these three meals (that feed 4-6 people each) for right under $30 if you shop at Aldi. I will make some assumptions on ingredients you already have at home. If you don’t have these ingredients, it will put you just over $30 for these meals. Then you will have the basics in your pantry.

Not an Aldi ad, but seriously this is our 2 week shopping receipt.
Each meal costs $8.26 per meal! If you feed 6 people, it is $1.38 per person.

            The three meals that I will be making are a Southwest Chicken Casserole, a Cheddar Broccoli Chicken and Rice Casserole, and a Chicken Green Bean and Rice Casserole.

            Before we get started, here are the ingredients I am assuming that you have. You will need a canola/vegetable oil, salt, pepper, and non-stick pan spray.

            Here are the basic kitchen tools that you will need to make all three of these recipes. You will need a 9×13 baking dish, a 10 inch skillet, a 3 quart sauce pan, a cheese grater, a cutting board, knives to cut the chicken and vegetables, a can opener, a whisk, measuring cups (dry and wet), measuring spoons, and utensils for cooking (wooden spoons, thongs, etc.).

The cheese grater will save you lots of money and freshly grated cheese tastes so much better.

            The first thing we need to make is the homemade taco seasoning. I know you can buy the packets of taco seasoning, but this is much better in my opinion. You also have complete control over what goes into it. This recipe is very low sodium compared to the little packets that you buy. Also, this recipe will make taco seasoning for 10-15 pounds of meat, depending on how much you chose to use each time.

Taco Seasoning:

4 Tablespoon Chili Powder

4 Tablespoon Ground Cumin

2 Tablespoon Onion Powder

2 Tablespoon Garlic Powder

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon crushed red pepper

Mix together all of the spices and place them into an air-tight container. Use 2 Tablespoons of seasoning per pound of meat for tacos.

Typically, I think of it as two parts chili powder and cumin, one parts onion powder and garlic powder, and then a teaspoon each of salt and crushed red pepper. The onion powder will clump up on you, but you can place a cracker into the container or just do what I do and store it in the refrigerator.

            You will need to have the taco seasoning made, because you use in in three places when you make the Southwest Chicken Casserole. You will still have lots of taco seasoning left for many more taco nights to come for your family.

Southwest Chicken Casserole

Ingredients:

1 lb boneless chicken (breast or thighs) cut into pieces

1 onion (yellow or white) diced

2 bell peppers cut into slices

1 ½ cups of long grain white rice (not instant)

1 can of black beans (rinsed)

1 chicken bouillon cube

4 cups boiling water

1 8oz block of pepper jack cheese (shredded)

2 Tablespoons taco seasoning (divided)

3 Tablespoons of water

3 Tablespoons of vegetable oil (divided)

Pre-heat oven to 425 degrees and spray a 9×13 baking dish with non-stick spray

Prep your ingredients: cut up chicken into half inch pieces. Dice the onion and cut the bell peppers into strips. Open and rinse the black beans. Shred the cheese

In a 3-quart sauce pan, place one Tablespoon of vegetable oil over medium heat and add half the onion (sprinkle with salt) and cook on medium for 5 minutes. While the onion is cooking, heat up 4 cups of water in the microwave with the chicken bouillon cube. Once the onion is translucent, add in the rice and toast the rice for 2-3 minutes until the rice is toasted and fragrant. Add two cups of boiling water (with the bouillon cube in it) to the rice and stir. Bring to a boil Once the water has nearly boiled away (about 5 minutes) add the other 2 cups of boiling water. Boil the rice (stirring every so often) for another 5-6 minutes. Stir in the drained black beans, cover (aluminum foil will work if you don’t have a lid), remove from heat, and let sit for 10 minutes.

Okay, so that is more than 3 Tablespoons of water. Maybe closer to 1/4 cup of water.

While your rice is cooking, add 1 Tablespoon of vegetable oil to a 10-inch skillet. Cook your chicken over medium high heat until cooked (about 7 minutes and translucent inside). Sprinkle meat with 1 Tablespoon of taco seasoning and add 3 Tablespoons of water and cook until the chicken is covered with seasoning. Remove chicken and set aside in a bowl. Add another Tablespoon of oil to the skillet and begin cooking the onions about 5 minutes over medium heat. Add in the peppers and half a Tablespoon of taco seasoning. Cook until vegetables are tender (2-4 minutes). Turn off heat.

Remove the lid from the sauce pan after 10 minutes and stir in half a Tablespoon of taco seasoning. Place rice into the greased 9×13 casserole dish. Cover rice with half of the grated pepper jack cheese and then cover the rice with your onions and peppers. Evenly place your chicken over the rice and vegetables. Cover with remaining pepper jack cheese.

Bake at 425 degrees for 15-20 minutes.

The next recipe that we will cook is the Cheddar Broccoli Chicken and Rice Casserole. In college I loved the frozen broccoli cheddar rice that I bought at our local Kroger when it went on sale. Thinking that I could make something like this on my own and save money, I created this recipe.

I know that some people may see all of the onion that I am putting in this recipe and shy away from it, but trust me you need it for the flavors to work well. Also, I use the stream in bag broccoli florets. That is because I grocery shop every two weeks. The frozen variety will be fresher than what you can buy in the store and it will just wait for me in the freezer. No additional prep needed for it. Since they are super cheap at Aldi, it is worth it for this short cut.

Cheddar Broccoli Chicken and Rice Casserole

Ingredients:

1 lb boneless chicken (breast or thighs) cut into pieces

1 12oz bag of steam-in-bag broccoli florets

1 onion (white or yellow) diced

2 Tablespoons vegetable oil (divided)

1 ½ cups of long grain white rice (not instant)

1 8oz block of sharp cheddar cheese (shredded)

1 chicken bouillon cube

4 cups of boiling water

Pre-heat your oven to 425 degrees. Grease your 9×13 casserole dish with non-stick spray.

Prep your ingredients: cut your chicken into half inch pieces, dice the onion, and shred the cheese.

In a 3-quart sauce pan, add 1 Tablespoon of oil and all of your onion (sprinkle with salt). Cook the onion on medium low heat for 8-10 minutes until it is starting to soften and brown. While your onion is cooking, microwave 4 cups of water with the bouillon cube for 6 minutes. Once onion is softened and brown, add in your rice and toast the rice (stirring frequently). Toast rice for 2-4 minutes until translucent and smelling toasted (like popcorn). Add in boiling water with bouillon cube and cook on medium high for 10-13 minutes until almost all of the water has been absorbed. Cover with a lid and remove from heat. Leave covered for 10 minutes.

While the rice is cooking, steam the broccoli (in the bag) for 5 minutes in the microwave. Once the rice is resting, place a Tablespoon of vegetable oil in your 10-inch skillet. Add in your chicken (add salt and pepper) and cook for 5-7 minutes until fully cooked.

In your greased 9×13 pan, place the rice in the bottom of the pan. Cover the rice with broccoli and then top evenly with cooked chicken. Cover with shredded sharp cheddar cheese.

Bake at 425 degrees for 15-20 minutes.

The last recipe is something I really love. If you like a traditional green bean casserole and wished that you could make a whole meal of it, this is your recipe. I would say that you could add a can of French-fried onions to the top of this recipe when you put it in the oven, to add that familiar crunch.

Chicken Green Bean Casserole

Ingredients:

2 lbs. of boneless chicken (breast or thighs) cut into one-inch pieces

2 15oz cans of cut green beans

2 10.5 oz cans of cream of mushroom soup

¼ cup water

1 ½ cups of long grain white rice (not instant)

1 chicken bouillon cube

4 cups boiling water

2 Tablespoons of vegetable oil (divided)

1 can French fried onions (optional)

Pre-heat your oven to 400 degrees Spray your 9×13 pan with non-stick cooking spray

Prep your ingredients: cut chicken into 1-inch pieces. Drain the green beans.

In a 3-quart sauce pan, add one Tablespoon of oil and rice over medium heat. Toast rice for 2-4 minutes. While the rice is toasting, boil 4 cups of water (with bouillon cube) in the microwave. Add boiling water to toasted rice and cook over medium high heat for 10-13 minutes until almost all the liquid has been absorbed. Cover the rice and remove from heat. Leave covered for 10 minutes.

While the rice is resting, add 1 Tablespoon of vegetable oil to a 10-inch skillet and begin cooking your chicken (add salt and pepper). Cook for 10 minutes. The chicken may still be undercooked at this point, but it will cook the rest of the way in the oven. While the chicken is cooking, put your two cans of cream of mushroom into a bowl and add the ¼ cup of water. Stir until smooth and pourable (add more water if needed).

Once rice has rested for 10 minutes and the chicken is cooked at least ¾ of the way, assemble the casserole. Place the chicken at the bottom of the casserole dish. Cover rice with your drained green beans. Place the chicken evenly over the rice and green beans. Pour the cream of mushroom soup evenly over the chicken, rice and green beans. Sprinkle with the French-fried onions if you wish to add them.  

Bake at 400 degrees for 18-20 minutes. Once out of the oven, stir the casserole together to blend well.

The far left one is this casserole. I was waiting to put them all in the oven at the same time.

            I hope that these recipes will give you some dinner ideas. It can be hard when you are on a budget and trying to figure out meals for your family. Also, all of these meals can be frozen and then re-heated. Just make sure that everything has completely cooled before you freeze it.

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