Noodles, Protein, Veggies: Easy Dinners on a Budget

by Jessica Brita-Segyde

Weekday schedules are tight. Sometimes dinner sneaks up on you and you just need something easy. Carryout is always an option but the cost of convenience adds up quick! This blog gives you the best of both worlds – low-stress dinners that are also low-cost. All five are noodle-based and prepared in a similar way, but each brings its own unique flair to the dinner table.

Monday – Tonight we’re having Thai, a great choice for Meatless Monday. Start with store-bought Thai noodles (flat or vermicelli rice noodles). Prepare them according to the package directions. Thai noodles cook up differently than the semolina pasta in most Italian dishes. Translation: following the directions really does matter on this one. Next, fry some tofu and seasonal vegetables in a wok or frying pan with a coating of oil. High heat works best for fried tofu and stay close so you can stir often. Mix in some store-bought Pad Thai (peanut) sauce or curry sauce. Add a few crushed red peppers if you like heat. Throw it all together for a quick and affordable feast!

Tuesday - It’s been two long days since last weekend. You and your crew are probably hungry tonight. Fill up on comfort with good old beef and noodles, which could just as easily be switched-out for good old chicken and noodles. Start with egg noodles. These are usually sold in a plastic bag, not a box. Egg noodles can be flat or curly and you can probably find whole-wheat version if you scan the shelf. (Remember, we’re going store-bought here to save time.) Boil your egg noodles in beef or chicken broth while you make a quick gravy.

To make the gravy, melt butter over low heat in a skillet, add a scoop of flour, then gradually mix in a little milk until you get a nice, thick consistency. Then add precooked canned beef (or chicken), mix and bring slowly up to temperature. Serve the meat and gravy on top of the noodles with a crown of steamed broccoli on the side.

Wednesday – After last night’s super-filling meal, it might be time for a veggie detox. Your Wednesday night dinner will look like something straight out of an infomercial…but don’t knock it until you try it! The base of this dish is zucchini noodles. You can make these with a machine or by hand. If you’re working by hand (i.e. with a knife) it will take some time to julienne-cut several zucchini into long strips. That’s why a gadget like the Vegetti is helpful. The buy-in for this little kitchen extra is around $15, but once you have one you can turn all sorts of vegetables into a “noodle-based” dinner. Cut or process the zucchini into noodles when it’s still raw, then sautee the noodles with butter, garlic, and onions. Top with fresh parsley, cooked shrimp, and a lemon wedge. Yum!

Thursday – Have you ever tried Udon noodles? Tonight’s the night! Udon is a long, thick noodle traditional to Japanese fare and is made with wheat flour. Boil your noodles and serve them swimming in dashi broth or any good broth or stock you have on-hand. If you have bok choy or other fresh greens, chop the greens very small and add to the hot broth. Also add sauteed mushrooms, then top each bowl with a fried egg and/or some diced, cooked chicken.

Friday – It’s time for the big Friday finish. Friday nights are all about pasta, so get ready to dish out some hearty spaghetti and homemade meatballs. Yes, homemade spaghetti is nice but we’re going easy here. The boxed version is affordable and you can even get it gluten-free by the pound. If easy is what you need, opt for store-bought marinara sauce as well. It’s also inexpensive relative to its homemade counterpart.

Homemade meatballs are another story. Most home cooks find it much less expensive to make their own meatballs than to buy premade at the grocery store. Choose any ground meat. A 50/50 mix of ground chuck and ground pork is a great base for meatballs. Add some breadcrumbs for texture, then salt, pepper, parsley, and parmesan cheese (more or less depending on your taste). Form into balls with a two-inch diameter and sear in oil in a frying pan. When the meatballs are partially cooked, add them to your sauce and simmer in a saucepan for at least an hour or until the meatballs cook through the center. Meatballs should reach an internal temperature of at least 160 degrees Fahrenheit to ensure safe eating.

Enjoy one of these noodle-based dishes the next time you need an easy, affordable weeknight meal!

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