5 Cheap Pasta Meals for Families

By: Heather Kolich

No surprise here -- cheese is our favorite pasta pairing. See more comfort food pictures.

As rising food prices gobble up a larger percentage of our incomes, families are turning to less expensive food to put dinner on the table. Pasta is one of these. It's versatile, quick to cook and has a long shelf life. That means you can buy lots of pasta when you find it on sale and keep it in the pantry until you need it.

Whether it's the basis of a quick and hearty meal, the body of a casserole or a belly-filling addition to homemade soups, a pound of pasta goes a long way. According to the National Pasta Association, 16 ounces of a typical dry pasta cooks up to around 8 cups, and since the recommended serving size of cooked pasta is 1/2 cup, that means you can whip up 16 portions!

Advertisement

Work some affordable yet hearty pasta meals into your weekly menu planning with these five ideas.

5: Lasagna

With deep-dish heartiness, lasagna ranks number two among Americans' favorite pasta dishes, according to the National Pasta Association's American Pasta Report. Who can resist layer upon layer of pasta and sauce, interspersed with other fillings of your choice -- ricotta cheese, ground beef, sausage or vegetables like sliced eggplant, zucchini and mushrooms -- all baked together to gooey perfection? A dish of lasagna makes up to 12 portions -- plenty of yummy goodness to satisfy even the biggest appetites.

There are lots of tasks involved in building lasagna, so it's perfect for getting your whole family involved in the meal-making process. Designate jobs like browning the meat, mixing the cheeses, layering the pasta, and spooning on the sauce.

Advertisement

If you find the thought of making lasagna intimidating, try this Lasagna Made Easy recipe. For a traditional taste, turn your hand to Classic Lasagna.

For light and healthy pasta fare, see the next page.

4: Soup

If you don't have any small pasta shapes on hand for your soup, just break strands of long pasta into bite-size pieces.
If you don't have any small pasta shapes on hand for your soup, just break strands of long pasta into bite-size pieces.

Soup and pasta are a natural pairing for getting a lot of bang from your food buck, and soups are year-round satisfying meals. Plus, making soup gives you a chance to play with all kinds of pasta sizes and shapes. Use ditalini with fresh spinach and tiny meatballs in chicken broth for Italian wedding soup. Add tortellini or gnocchi to homemade vegetable soup for belly-filling value.

You can save even more money by making your own stock. If you've roasted a chicken or turkey, boil the remaining meat from the bones after you've carved away your servings. Then strain the broth and add some vegetables and rotini or tortellini for a tummy-warming winter soup. Check out Tortellini Soup, Sausage Vegetable Rotini Soup, and Chicken Rotini Soup for inspiration.

Advertisement

Make a meal for mere pennies with the pasta dish on the next page.

3: Casseroles

If you've got a box of pasta, a couple cans of condensed cream-of-something soup and some leftovers in the fridge, you've got dinner. First, start boiling water for your pasta. Egg noodles or sturdy pastas like gemelli, ziti, penne and rotini hold up well in casseroles. Then pull out the leftovers and start chopping! Dice or shred cooked, leftover meat (or substitute canned tuna or chicken) and cut leftover veggies like broccoli, zucchini or carrots into bite-sized pieces. You can also add chopped, uncooked veggies like onions, celery and spinach.

Cook the pasta in boiling water until it's almost done; it'll finish cooking during baking. Drain the pasta and stir everything together in a large casserole dish. Bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 30 minutes. Congratulations! You've just made a hearty, almost-free meal, and cleaned out the refrigerator at the same time!

Advertisement

If you're craving a traditional pasta meal, check out what we're serving up on the next page.

2: Spaghetti and Meatballs

According to the National Pasta Association, spaghetti is America's favorite pasta. Spaghetti noodles, named in Italian for their resemblance to a length of cord, are a good choice for many different types of sauces. Try tossing it with olive oil, fresh herbs and sautéed vegetables; butter and grated parmesan cheese; or a pesto cream sauce.

Probably the most traditional approach to spaghetti is to smother it in tomato sauce. Adding meatballs makes it a crowd-pleasing favorite meal, but instead of making a few large meatballs, opt for lots of bite-sized ones. Everyone gets plenty (lots of small bites feels like a feast), and small meatballs are easier for kids to eat. You can even sneak some extra veggies into your meal with this recipe for Spaghetti and Meatballs.

Advertisement

Spaghetti runs a tight race with macaroni and cheese as the favorite pasta among kids. See our revved-up mac and cheese suggestions on the next page.

1: Macaroni and Cheese

Introduced in 1937, 9 million boxes of Kraft Macaroni and Cheese were sold in its first year of production. Today, more than a million boxes are sold every day!
Introduced in 1937, 9 million boxes of Kraft Macaroni and Cheese were sold in its first year of production. Today, more than a million boxes are sold every day!
©iStockphoto.com/Lauri Patterson

Cooking with pasta doesn't have to mean cooking Italian. Think about that ultimate comfort food: macaroni and cheese. With a little imagination and a few additions, you can move this family favorite from side dish to main course. Before baking, simply stir in some diced ham and chopped broccoli, crumbled Italian sausage and roasted red peppers or whatever leftovers are in your fridge. You can also go meatless and use all those leftover veggies in your fridge or freezer, too. Check out this Creamy Cheese and Macaroni recipe for some other healthy additions.

If you favor the box-type mac and cheese, brown a pound of ground beef, turkey or whatever meat you prefer with some chopped onions while the pasta cooks. Make the macaroni and cheese according to the directions on the box, drain the ground meat and stir the two together for a fast and cheap kid-pleaser.

Advertisement

Find more great budget-trimming meals and ideas on the next page.

Lots More Information

Related Articles

  • CBS News. "'Nowhere to Hide' from Rising Food Prices." Jan. 15, 2011. (Oct. 6, 2011) http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2011/01/15/earlyshow/saturday/main7249451.shtml
  • Food Marketing Institute. "75 Facts for 75 Years." (Oct. 11, 2011) http://www.fmi.org/facts_figs/?fuseaction=75_anniversary
  • National Pasta Association. "FAQs." (Oct. 6, 2011) http://www.ilovepasta.org/faqs.html
  • National Pasta Association. "Pasta Shapes." (Oct. 6, 2011) http://www.ilovepasta.org/shapes.html
  • Roberto's. "Pasta FAQs." (Oct. 11, 2011) http://www.robertos.com/Pasta-Pantry/Pasta-FAQs.html
  • Scherer, Ron. "Food costs soaring in US after harsh winter." Christian Science Monitor. March 16, 2011. (Oct. 6, 2011) http://www.csmonitor.com/Business/2011/0316/Food-costs-soaring-in-US-after-harsh-winter.-Will-higher-prices-last
  • USDA. "Food Portions and Servings: How Do They Differ?" USDA Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion. Nutrition Insights. March 1999. (Oct. 11, 2011) http://www.cnpp.usda.gov/Publications/NutritionInsights/insight11.pdf