Meals Made Simple: Q&A With the ‘$5 Dinner Mom’
Making healthy meals doesn’t have to be difficult, pricey or time-consuming. Erin Chase, the blogger behind 5 Dollar Dinners, knows this and has perfected the art of cooking for her family of six without spending more than $5. Here, we got her secrets to whipping up healthy, inexpensive one-dish wonders.
Ideas That Spark: Why $5 dinners?
Erin Chase: Five years ago while I was going over my family’s budget, I found that groceries were one of our biggest expenses. This was around the same time that gas prices -- and therefore grocery prices -- soared. I needed to find a way to feed my family healthy, tasty meals that didn’t cost a lot. I started estimating the cost of each meal I prepared and set a goal of keeping them under $5.
ITS: What are some of your secrets for making delicious affordable meals that everyone enjoys?
EC: A great dish for me is one that I can put together without any thought! That basically means that I can have the three older kids talking to me and the baby fussing all at the same time and still manage to get dinner going. Having a $5 goal forced me to find ways to buy quality ingredients for the lowest prices possible. I plan meals around sales and stock up on ingredients when they’re on sale. I freeze meats and some produce like fruit so that I don’t have to pay full price for them in between sales cycles. I can’t imagine how much money I would have wasted at the grocery store over the years had it not been for this drive to make meals for less than $5.
ITS: How do you get your kids to try new dishes?
EC: It’s easy to fall back on “no-thought” recipes that you know everyone in your family enjoys. I try to challenge myself to make a new recipe at least once a week. The rule at our dinner table is that the kids have to take one bite of a dish before deciding whether or not they like it. Most recipes are so well-liked that they end up in our regular meal rotation. But I also know that any dish with sweet potatoes or carrots (two of my kids’ favorites) is sure to be a hit.
ITS: How do you find time to shop and cook with four kids underfoot?
EC: I shop with as few children as possible or ideally alone. Sometimes that means heading out the door first thing on a Saturday morning and other times it means heading to the store after dropping off the kids at school. Anytime that I get a free moment during the early or mid-afternoon hours (during homework time, when the kids are playing quietly, or when the baby is napping), I head to the kitchen and start pulling out ingredients, chopping veggies or getting meat out to thaw. Then I map out when needs to be done to ensure dinner is on the table by 6 p.m. Having things prepped and ready to go eliminates some of the mental clutter (the questions like “Do I have the right ingredients? Or “How long does the dish need to cook?”). Being one step ahead during the afternoon witching hours helps the transition to dinner go smoothly.
Ready to give $5 dinners a try? Start with this Chase family favorite:
6 submarine rolls ($1.49)
2 cups spaghetti sauce with meat ($1)
1/2 cup sour cream or ricotta cheese ($0.10)
1 egg white ($0.10)
1 teaspoon Italian seasoning ($0.05)
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cup mozzarella cheese, divided ($1.25)
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese ($0.25)
Side salad: Lettuce, vinaigrette ($1)
1. Preheat oven to 350 F.
2. Slice off the tops of the sub rolls and scoop out the bread from the inside.
3. Spoon spaghetti sauce into the rolls.
4. In a mixing bowl, combine the sour cream or ricotta cheese, egg white, spices, salt and 1 cup of the mozzarella cheese. Spoon over the spaghetti sauce.
5. Sprinkle Parmesan and mozzarella cheese on top.
6. Replace the top of the roll.
7. Place into a foil pouch and bake for 25 to 30 minutes.
8. Serve with a side salad.