July Food Stamp Challenge — Day Twenty, Backup Plans

by Katy on July 19, 2011 · 45 comments

Today is day twenty of the July Food Stamp Challenge, and I want to impress upon you the importance of having a backup plans for when that perfectly planned dinner falls apart. It might be a change in plans, or a burnt meal, but either way, life just threw you a curve ball. These are the times when it is so tempting to order a pizza, Chinese take out or pack the family up for a restaurant meal that’s sure to bust your carefully constructed budget.

Backup plans can be as simple as scrambled eggs with toast or a pre-made frozen dinner that not exactly cheap, but certainly less expensive than eating out.

You just have to be willing to switch direction to eat (and serve) a less than perfect meal. A meal might just be better than what you originally intended.

Do you have a stock backup meal that’s saved your ass more than Kevin Costner saved Whitney Houston in The Bodyguard?

In order words, is there a backup meal that makes you sing, “And I, ee-aye will always love yoooo?!!!” (Sorry. Nope, not really sorry at all.)

Please share your backup meals in the comments section below

Katy Wolk-Stanley

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without”


{ 45 comments… read them below or add one }

Christa July 20, 2011 at 12:28 am

Not terribly innovative, but I try to keep canned black beans and tortillas on hand for burritos. And if we’re really desperate there’s always cereal for dinner.


Kristen@TheFrugalGirl July 20, 2011 at 2:45 am

I usually keep some bratwurst and buns in my freezer….very easy to throw on the grill and WAY cheaper than takeout for 6 people.


Jennifer July 20, 2011 at 3:40 am

I always buy a loaf of nice bread (at the end of the day when they’re cheap!) and freeze it for a later date. That, combined with the beans (white beans, chickpeas, black beans) we cook from scratch and then freeze means there’s often an almost-readymade meal of bread and dip whenever I don’t feel like cooking.


Katherine July 20, 2011 at 3:43 am

We have pesto frozen in 1 cup portions and pasta on hand as our back up. Not a bad option for when dinner goes bad!


Stephanie July 20, 2011 at 4:06 am

Our backup meal is pancakes or waffles with scrambled eggs. The batter doesn’t take long to put together, and nobody can say no to breakfast for dinner!


Amber @ neuronmommy.com July 20, 2011 at 4:10 am

I always have canned tomatoes, olives, capers and pasta on hand. I can throw in any veggies I may need to use up too. If dinner goes awry it makes for a simple, easy and quick pasta dinner.


Jessica July 20, 2011 at 4:36 am

I am also in the breakfast for dinner boat. French toast is always an option.

I also love crepes and use them as the wrap for all sorts of meals. Try them instead of tortillas some time with your bean mixtures. They are particularly good with curries. Of course the traditional cheese and ham combo cannot be beat. Be sure to cook up some extras for dessert – a little butter and sugar is divine.


jana July 20, 2011 at 5:08 am

My backup meals are either pancakes and eggs or pasta with sauce. Nothing too exciting but at least we’re not hungry.


Cate @ Liberal Simplicity July 20, 2011 at 5:24 am

This is something we really need to work on. My husband and I are awful about just going out for takeout on nights when, for whatever reason, dinner doesn’t work out. The kitchen is usually pretty messy when I’m done cooking, so if I’ve already made dinner and it’s inedible, neither of us are inclined to cook something new, even something easy like breakfast. I guess we need to pick up a box of frozen pizza or something for the freezer!


Joe Zollars July 20, 2011 at 5:52 am

I like Katherine have pasta and frozen pesto as my backup meals. I also usually have the stuff for at least two other pasta dishes on hand. one can never go hungry in my home. the problem I run into is having enough of something quick to make when company decides to show up unexpectadly.


Bellen July 20, 2011 at 6:04 am

Backup meals are, like most, pasta or pancakes. However, I don’t remember having to use a backup meal in years. Perhaps because I have a weekly menu plan (a certain protein for each day), a well stocked pantry and a slew of tried and true recipes I use. Also, I defrost items for dinner the night before – that used to be my nemesis.


Tina (Tightwad Mom) July 20, 2011 at 6:25 am

Plan B (or C) at our house is usually quesadillas, pancakes and eggs, or
cream of garbage soup (http://tightwadmomsfrugalforum.blogspot.com/search/label/soup). It’s never fancy, but beggars can’t be choosers. I’ll try to disguise it’s plainness by serving it in a pretty pan or dish. It’s all about the presentation, baby!


Megg July 20, 2011 at 6:26 am

Breakfast for dinner is often a backup for us. Sometimes, however, we are all too tempted by take-out 🙁 Working on this!
Also, when we’re not too terribly hungry at dinner we will have a bowl of cereal, or toast, or something light like that.


Barb @ 1 Sentence Diary July 20, 2011 at 6:53 am

Backup plan at Chez 1Sentence is usually breakfast for dinner, especially pancakes or a large dutch baby.

I also keep Trader Joe’s potstickers in the freezer, which cook in a few minutes. These have saved my patootie on many occassions — if dinner doesn’t work out, potstickers and a vegetable are good enough to replace it. And if company comes unexpectedly, the potstickers go with nearly everything and help to stretch the food a bit farther.


Karen July 20, 2011 at 7:22 pm

What’s a Dutch baby? Breakfast for dinner is also our back- up plan.


Anna July 20, 2011 at 7:12 am

We have two main backup meals: eggs with toast and grilled cheese with tomato soup. We always have those supplies around with some apples or canned fruit to throw on the side.


Susan July 20, 2011 at 7:23 am

We have breakfast for dinner at least one night a week. My backup is soup with grill cheese sandwiches or just sandwiches with some chips, carrots or fruit what ever I can find.


No Debt MBA July 20, 2011 at 7:52 am

We always try to keep extra staples around. So usually the worst options are pasta with what ever toppings we have on hand or beans and rice. Eggs and toast or cereal are also lazy/busy night go-to meals for us.


Bobbi July 20, 2011 at 8:09 am

Beans on toast! My husband is British and I picked up this back-up meal from him. Canned baked beans over toast doesn’t mess up the kitchen any further if there’s been a meal failure, because we heat the beans in the microwave. I try to add a few baby carrots on the side or something like that to balance out the meal. It takes less than 5 minutes and is comforting.


fiwa July 20, 2011 at 8:58 am

Breakfast food is always my backup plan. Maybe because it’s comforting to have breakfast food at night? I usually go for grits though. Cooked right they are rich and creamy, like coarser polenta. Add a little butter and cheese…. yum.

And that Whitney Houston song? Watch out if it comes on when I am out in public, because I loooove to “emote” to that song. I figured out I could clear my inlaws out of a room in seconds a few years back with that song, and it’s been a favorite ever since. 😉


Dusti McLain July 23, 2011 at 8:14 pm

yes! cheese grits are a hit at our house. A big plus is that it is something my vegetarian 14 yr old will eat. this and some eggs and fruit and everyone is happy.
for surprise company, I keep stuff on hand for taco soup. Black beans, kidney beans, corn, tomato sauce and diced tomatoes, broth (chicken or vegetable) and some seasonings like chili powder, cumin, cilantro, garlic and onion in a crock pot. you can add ground meat if you want. My sister in law uses dry ranch dressing mix and the prepared taco seasoning powder but I like to keep the sodium down. We usually serve this with rice and let people add cheese or sour cream if they like.


Paula in the UP July 20, 2011 at 9:10 am

I usually have the fixin’s to throw together a couple different casseroles that me and hubby both like. We also usually have brats or hamburger that we pre-form into patties and freeze individually that we can grill up in a pinch.


chppie July 20, 2011 at 9:16 am

I try to keep the ingredients for tuna or fish curry on hand. It takes 5 minutes to make. If it’s not a meal failure day then I can make it while the rice is cooking. I’m trying to keep frozen rice so that I can get it down to a 5 minute meal.

I’m also a fan of potstickers in the freezer. If you’re really tired you don’t have to fry them, you can just add them to some stock or even water and serve them as boiled dumplings or soup dumplings. I add either a quick cooking green or some frozen peas or edamame for color.


Elaine July 20, 2011 at 9:24 am

I just thought of this: whole wheat pasta and the leftover pasta sauce that I put in the freezer last night. I don’t like either one, so instead of tossing otherwise perfectly good food, I’ll save it for drop-in company! HAH! That’ll teach them!


Jean July 20, 2011 at 9:52 am

Our “Plan B” meals are either grilled cheese sandwiches or something with tuna—sandwiches/melts/salads/casseroles/whatever. There are always a couple of cans of tuna in the cupboard.


Ann July 20, 2011 at 10:36 am

We used grilled cheese sandwiches as backup. We keep sliced sourdough bread in the freezer and usually have enough cheese (goat, blue, cheddar, mozzarella, american) to make some interesting combos. If there is leftover meat (chicken, steak, bacon etc), we add that in – tomatoes, either sundried or fresh…

We have a panini grill that makes it very easy. I just plug that sucker in and by the time the sandwiches are assembled, it is ready to go.

Add a salad and voila! Better than take out…


Mary Stubblefield July 20, 2011 at 11:48 am

Macaroni and Cheese is always a good back up but another one that is now a STAPLE in my house, about every other week or so, is the Allrecipes.com Quick and Easy Alfredo sauce recipe. We like to add canned chicken to it but don’t have to. It’s 6 simple ingredients and they all are normally on hand at my house.


Kris2 July 20, 2011 at 12:06 pm

BLTs. I always have bacon, lettuce and bread on hand and it only takes a few mins to throw together.

I also always have salsa on hand. When my local store puts their tortilla chips on sale for .99 I buy a few bags and save one of them in case of company and then when it does go stale, I use the chips for nachos.

We have had surprise guests in the past. When someone goes off road here in the winter you cannot leave them sitting there. We live in the country, so we have had a few families that went into the ditch during a blizzard near us and ended up as our guests until the storm let up the next day(or longer). It put me in a position to always have easy, pleasing to most, meals on hand. Just in case 😉


Jeanine July 20, 2011 at 1:20 pm

Our back up plan is breakfast for dinner or frozen pasta and a jarred sauce. Both of these options are usually meatless.

Sometimes, not very often, but sometimes, when dinner plans are thwarted, we forgo the meal entirely and use that time to reflect/pray/give thanks for what we have that so many don’t. It’s easier for us to do this with older children.

I have found that this gives my children a true sense of what it means to be without.

We never do this on purpose (although I’d LOVE to have set days to fast in my family), and it is seldom that it happens like this. I’m ashamed to say the last time it happened was because the incident that caused dinner plans to go kerplunck left us all so physically drained, no one cared if they hadn’t had anything to eat since lunch. We all drank about about a gallon of ice cold water, took baths and went straight to bed.


Kathleen Harris July 20, 2011 at 4:31 pm

To Barb @ 1 Sentence Diary: “a large dutch baby?” I don’t think that’s legal….

I’m with everybody else: breakfast/pasta/grilled cheese. My in-the-freezer staple is usually Trader Joe’s turkey meatballs. Warmed up in sauce or gravy, they can be served on bread or rice.


Kristin @ KlingtoCash July 20, 2011 at 4:47 pm

I keep spaghetti and a good jar of sauce in the pantry and a loaf of frozen garlic bread or bread sticks in the freezer. IF I’m feeling really saucy, I’ll make my own bread sticks. Dinner for $7 and I can get it on the table in 30 minutes. Cheaper and faster than delivery. Just make sure that you get a good jar of sauce. That really makes the difference.


Sharron July 20, 2011 at 6:22 pm

Like many other have mentioned, pasta is my go-to back up plan. I keep canned, diced tomatoes on hand. I saute an onion and garlic, add the tomatoes, a glob of frozen tomato paste (I buy the big cans and freeze globs of it), leftover wine if I have any, spices, grated cheese, and any other leftovers that might work. Add to a box of pasta, and there’s dinner. I also try to keep a large can of Allen’s Italian flat green beans on hand for a veggie. Heat up with olive oil and Cavender’s Greek seasoning, and you’ll just about swear they’re fresh from the garden.


Jean July 20, 2011 at 6:50 pm

Great minds think alike–our “go to” meals also usually involve a meatless pasta dish, or something made with canned tuna or canned chicken breast. A well stocked pantry can yield some amazing throw together meals pretty cheaply if you stock up when you see a sale. And breakfast for supper would always be a hit with my husband, and he would never think you hadn’t planned it that way just to please him! (I found out the hard way that canned chicken and tuna are also handy to have in the pantry during an ice storm–no power needed!) If there’s power and any ground meat in the freezer which can be quickly thawed in the microwave, a family favorite here is “hobo stew”–I have no idea how it got it’s name , but you brown the ground beef with chopped onion (fresh, dried or frozen, whatever you’ve got on hand) and add enough cans of pork and beans or baked beans or a combination to stretch the concoction for however many people you need to feed! Season with garlic, ketchup, barbecue sauce, salsa, again whatever you have that sounds good-great way to use up any little take out packets lying around in the cupboard. You can jazz this up however you want–if I have green peppers or celery lurking in the produce drawer I’ll chop those up and throw them in while browning the meat. I always thought of this as a “desperation” meal in my single mom days–it was quick and dirt cheap since the ingredients were things I always stocked up on when they were on sale, and desperate could mean no plan, no time or no money or all three, but my now grown children actually request this stuff and asked for the “recipe” after they had their own homes!


Dusti McLain July 23, 2011 at 8:18 pm

my mom used to make something like the hobo stew but she layered canned biscuits on top adn baked it in a cast iron skillet. I always hated it but it was a hit with any men that happened to be eating at our house.
P.S. i ate it because we had 2 choices in my parents house: take it or leave it!


Jo July 20, 2011 at 7:36 pm

We use the standards mentioned already – pancakes, eggs any style, canned beans, and grilled cheese and soup. Two variations on the grilled cheese are (1) use a little mustard and sliced olives along with the cheese, and (2) open-faced sandwiches: slice of toast, slice of cheese, slice of tomato, and heat until cheese melts (add bacon bits if you have them). You can also make a super fast grilled cheese sandwich by toasting two slices of bread, adding a cheese slice or two, and microwaving for a very short time. Wrap in a napkin or paper towel so the toast doesn’t go soggy. No cleanup for this one.


namastemama July 20, 2011 at 8:10 pm

totally cereal. Tuna salad comes to mind too.


lizzie July 20, 2011 at 9:21 pm

Bean and cheese burritos – we fill them flauta style (just refried beans and cheddar, with some cumin) and bake them in a hot oven until crisp. A little chopped onion and green olive or two in there perks them up.
Other backups:
Faux fettucine Alfredo was one I picked up from my mom. Just some sour cream and chopped green onions on pasta. Parmesan if you have it. I like to add whatever fresh steamed veggie leftovers I may have.
Fried rice if there is leftover rice around.

If you can tell a dinner is a little shaky to start with, a nice pan of homemade biscuits or muffins can be made quickly and really fill in the gaps. Much is forgiven for the love of a hot biscuit.

My mother had two rules at her table: you must try one bite of everything new, and no complaints. Anyone who said something like, “this chicken is dry” or “these muffins are burned” was on duty to cook dinner the next night, without fail. It builds in some expectation of gratitude to the cook, and some understanding of how hard it is to cook every night!


Katy July 20, 2011 at 9:55 pm

These are all great ideas, thank you so much. Keep ’em coming!



Christine July 20, 2011 at 10:53 pm

I keep frozen turkey patties in my freezer –pan fry em right out of the bag for 4 min on med-hi heat on both sides and they’re done. Dress em up with salsa, cheese, sour cream, whatever you can find in the fridge. I’m also a big fan of beans on toast — it sounds weird until you try it, but they’re tasty, satisfying, quick and cheap!


Cat July 21, 2011 at 12:00 am

My new love for backup meals come from ‘Dinner is in the Jar’ by Kathy Clark. I have been working on this project for awhile and sometimes have to run to the jars for a quick fix!


Amy H. July 21, 2011 at 9:41 am

The staples that are always in my cupboard for backup are basmati rice and short-grain Asian rice. With some butter, cheese or yogurt and salt and pepper — or vegetables, or leftover soup, or deli ham or leftover proteins — I’m good to go. My husband doesn’t eat carbs, though, so his backup, which sometimes becomes mine too, is Costco’s frozen breaded popcorn chicken/chicken fingers. Not wonderfully healthy, but better than the McD’s drive-through!


Lynda July 21, 2011 at 12:59 pm

I’m a canner, so I always have lots of *plan b’s*. I have canned beans, sauces, stews, stocks, burger, stew meat, sausage meat, chicken. I also dehydrate…so I have the same things that I can, dehydrated! I have no excuses…if a meal fails, there’s always the food storage pantry.


Jinger July 21, 2011 at 2:48 pm

I’m trying to get away from the white diet…pasta, cheese and bread, so have been making burritos with homemade veggie chili, freezing them and taking one or 2 out for a quick meal. Right now I am eating from the freezer, fridge and pantry and made coconut shrimp and salad for supper.


Carla July 21, 2011 at 7:56 pm

I ‘plan’ for days like these. When I cook a meal that can freeze, I make as big a batch as I can, and I freeze the rest in foil containers (the ones that are like for take out and you can get at the grocery store for cheap). These heat up in 30 minutes in the oven from frozen, at 450F. And they make a great ready gift for a friend in need of a meal (a new mom, someone taken ill, etc.).

We also have white rice and canned beans for quick meals (as opposed to our usual brown rice and cooked beans from dry), or pasta with sauce I can in the summer (just put up 9 jars two days ago).


Lilypad August 4, 2011 at 1:53 pm

We have what I call “Lazy Mama” dinner ’cause it’s so fast and easy in a pinch: vegetarian refried beans topped with cheese, whole grain tortilla chips, salsa, and avocados. My husband adds canned chopped jalapenos to his.


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