cheap from scratch meatloaf meal with ketchup glaze

Cheap Meals That Are Easy, Fast … Good!

As food prices continue to soar, I am more convinced now than ever that given the right recipes, we can cook wonderful cheap meals—from scratch at home—and have them on the table in the time it would take to decide on a restaurant or take-out, drive there, place the order, wait for it, pay for it, and drive back home to face marginally acceptable fare.

Today, I want to share with you my family’s favorite “right recipes,” each one built on ground beef (or ground turkey) using ordinary ingredients—plus my recipe for Master Mix! That will make sense as soon as you check out the first recipe below, Upside-Down Hamburger Pie.

cheap from scratch meatloaf meal with ketchup glaze

If you can get the meat on sale, fabulous. But if not—and even if you opt for a $7 pound of lean organic ground beef—each of these entrees will still come in under about $12 total, and feed six hungry people. That’s about $2 per serving.

See what I mean? Cheap meals, eas, fast … good!

Upside-Down Hamburger Pie

This is a family favorite at our house. This cheap meal is delicious, it’s comforting, but even more than that, kids love it! I’ve been making this since our boys were little, and that’s a lotta’ years. It never disappoints and comes out perfect every time. Don’t you love that kind of cooking confidence?

Served with a salad, Upside-Down Hamburger Pie makes a great meal. I hope you’ll give it a try soon. I’m going to predict it will find a regular spot in your meal planning.

A plate of food on a table, with Pie
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4.50 from 8 votes

Upside-Down Hamburger Pie

This is a family favorite at our house. First, it's delicious but more than that, it's comforting and kids love it!
Prep Time20 minutes
Cook Time20 minutes
Total Time40 minutes
Course: Main Course
Cuisine: American
Servings: 8
Calories: 352kcal


  • 1 large onion chopped
  • 1 lb ground beef
  • 2 tspn olive oil
  • 1 4 oz can diced green chilies
  • 1 10 ¾ oz can tomato soup
  • ½ tspn dried oregano
  • ½ tspn salt
  • ¼ tspn ground black pepper
  • 1 cup grated cheddar cheese
  • 2 cups Bisquick or Master Mix (see NOTE 1)
  • cup milk or water if using Master Mix (see NOTE 2)


  • Preheat oven to 400 F.
  • In a large frying pan or skillet, sauté onions in the olive oil, add beef (or turkey if you prefer) and brown well. Drain off excess fat, if any.
  • Add drained chilies, tomato soup (do not dilute); oregano, salt, and pepper to taste. Heat through. Set aside.
  • In a separate bowl, mix the Bisquick and milk (or Master Mix and water) into a dough. Roll out to the size of the skillet in which you've prepared the meat mixture. Place this on top of the meat mixture.
  • Move the skillet into the oven for 15-20 minutes, or until the biscuit top is lightly browned. (If your skillet has a wood handle, wrap the handle with aluminum foil).
  • Remove from the oven and allow to cool for 10 minutes.
  • Carefully place a heatproof platter or plate on top of the skillet. Carefully, holding on to both the skillet and the platter, turn it over so that the entire contents of the skillet are upside down on the platter or plate.
  • Top with grated cheese, return to oven until cheese is melted. Don't take your eyes off of it as this will happen quickly!
  • Remove from oven. Allow to cool for 5 minutes. Cut into pieces and serve, pie fashion.


  1. You have the option to use Bisquick or homemade Master Mix, which can make yourself for a lot less money! You will find the recipe and instructions for Master Mix at
  2. If you use Bisquick, use 2/3 cup milk here. If you use Master Mix, use 2/3 cup water here.


Calories: 352kcal | Carbohydrates: 22g | Protein: 17g | Fat: 22g | Saturated Fat: 9g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 1g | Monounsaturated Fat: 9g | Trans Fat: 1g | Cholesterol: 58mg | Sodium: 543mg | Potassium: 271mg | Fiber: 1g | Sugar: 5g | Vitamin A: 177IU | Vitamin C: 2mg | Calcium: 194mg | Iron: 2mg

Master Mix

Here it is, my homemade version of Bisquick—which is so much cheaper and better than Bisquick. This recipe makes 30 cups of mix so make sure you start with a really big container! So many cheap meal possibilities.

Homemade Bisquick biscuits with freezer jam
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4.67 from 3 votes

Master Mix

Here it is, my homemade version of Bisquick—which is so much cheaper and better than Bisquick. This recipe makes 30 cups of mix so make sure you start with a really big container.
Prep Time30 minutes
Cook Time1 minute
0 minutes
Course: Baking
Cuisine: American
Servings: 240 2 biscuits
Calories: 79kcal


  • 5 pounds all-purpose flour, about 17 cups
  • 2 1/2 cups powdered dry milk
  • 3/4 cup double-acting baking powder
  • 2 tablespoons cream of tartar
  • 3 tablespoons salt
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 4 2/3 cups solid vegetable shortening like Crisco
Makes: 2inch round


  • Sift dry ingredients together.
  • Cut in shortening until the mix looks like cornmeal, using a pastry blender or two butter knives.
  • Store at room temperature in a large container that has a tightly fitting cover (like Tupperware) in a cool dark place like the pantry, for up to six months. Makes 30 cups.


You can substitute Master Mix for any recipe calling for Bisquick. Just make sure you substitute water for any milk required in the recipe (because the milk is already in the Master Mix!)

One dozen biscuits

  • 3 cups Master Mix
  • 3/4 cup water
Blend and knead a few strokes. Roll out and cut biscuits with a round biscuit cutter, into squares or diamond shapes. Bake 10 minutes at 450 F.


Use the same measurements as for biscuits. Drop into hot liquid of choice. Cook 10 minutes uncovered and an additional 10 minutes covered.

One dozen muffins

  • 3 cups Master Mix
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 cup of water
Mix water and egg; add dry ingredients. Add optional items such as blueberries, chocolate chips, nuts, and so forth, as desired. Bake in muffin cups for 25 minutes at 450 F.

Four dozen drop cookies

  • 3 cups Master Mix
  • 1 cup white granulated sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1/3 cup water
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup nuts or chocolate chips
Place Master Mix, sugar, egg, water, and extract in a large mixing bowl. Mix until all ingredients are well incorporated. Fold in nuts and or chocolate chips. Drop by spoonfuls on a prepared greased baking sheet, about 2 inches apart. Bake 10-12 minutes at 375 F.

9-inch round coffee cake

  • 3 cups Master Mix
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 2/3 cup water
Blend all ingredients and pour into a greased 9-inch cake pan. Cover with topping: 1/2 cup brown sugar, 3 tablespoons butter, 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon. Optional: Add 1/2 C nuts or raisins to the topping mix. Bake at 400 F for 25 minutes.

18 medium pancakes or 6 waffles

  • 3 cups Master Mix
  • 1 1/2 cups water
  • 1 egg
Blend only until barely incorporated. Prepare pancakes or waffles as usual.

One 8-inch square gingerbread

  • 2 cups Master Mix
  • 1/4 cup white granulated sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/2 cup molasses
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
Beat the egg together with the water and molasses. Mix well with dry ingredients until all are incorporated. Pour into a greased 8-inch square cake pan. Bake 40 minutes at 350 F.

One 8-inch square cornbread or muffins

  • 1 1/4 cups Master Mix
  • 3/4 cup cornmeal
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tablespoon white granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup water
Mix all ingredients until fully incorporated. Pour into greased pan or muffin cups. Bake 25 minutes at 400° F.


Serving: 0.0625cup | Calories: 79kcal | Carbohydrates: 9g | Protein: 1g | Fat: 4g | Saturated Fat: 1g | Cholesterol: 1mg | Sodium: 93mg | Potassium: 123mg | Fiber: 1g | Sugar: 1g | Vitamin A: 12IU | Vitamin C: 1mg | Calcium: 46mg | Iron: 1mg


Here’s my family’s all-time favorite recipe for a cheap meal of meatloaf. This is the way your grandma made it, trust me on this. This is the recipe that made the house smell great, that went perfectly with mashed potatoes, and which you knew you could eat every day of your life and never get tired of it.

A close up of food on a plate, with Meatloaf
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4.62 from 13 votes

Best Meatloaf Ever

Here’s my family's all-time favorite recipe for meatloaf. This is the way your grandma made it, trust me on this. This is the recipe that made the house smell great, that went perfectly with mashed potatoes, and which you knew you could eat every day of your life and never get tired of it.
Prep Time20 minutes
Cook Time1 hour
Total Time1 hour 20 minutes
Course: Main Course
Cuisine: American
Servings: 6
Calories: 494kcal



  • 2 eggs
  • 2/3 cup milk, whole or 2%
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 3 slices dry bread, crumbled finely
  • 1 1/2 pounds ground beef
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 1/2 cup shredded carrot, extra fine, or chopped in blender for picky eaters
  • 1 cup shredded Cheddar cheese


  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup ketchup
  • 1 tablespoon prepared yellow mustard


  • Preheat oven to 350 F.
  • Whisk eggs, milk, salt, and pepper in large bowl. Add crumbled bread and stir until dissolved.
  • Mix ground beef, chopped onion, Cheddar cheese, and carrot into bread mixture.
  • Transfer to a 9x5-inch loaf pan. Press firmly into pan.
  • In a small bowl, combine brown sugar, ketchup, and mustard. Spread over meat mixture.
  • Bake until no longer pink in the center, for an hour. Check at one hour with an instant-read thermometer inserted into the center. It should read 160 F. Do not over bake. Servings: 6


Calories: 494kcal | Carbohydrates: 22g | Protein: 29g | Fat: 32g | Saturated Fat: 14g | Cholesterol: 158mg | Sodium: 1192mg | Potassium: 500mg | Fiber: 1g | Sugar: 15g | Vitamin A: 2145IU | Vitamin C: 2mg | Calcium: 243mg | Iron: 3mg

Instant Pot Spaghetti with Meat Sauce

This method for spaghetti with meat sauce is going to knock your socks off! What’s so great is that the pasta turns out perfectly, but more than that it comes out infused with the flavors from the meat sauce. And it hugs each strand of spaghetti, clinging to it the way it’s supposed to! I find this so much better than preparing the pasta in a separate pot, then pouring the meat sauce over the top to serve.

A dish is filled with pasta
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4.60 from 22 votes

Instant Pot Spaghetti with Meat Sauce

This is the best thing to come out of my kitchen in a long time. I'll never make spaghetti and meat sauce any other way. And once you try it, I'm predicting that you won't either.
Prep Time10 minutes
Cook Time8 minutes
Instant Pot coming to pressure10 minutes
Total Time28 minutes
Course: Main Course
Cuisine: Italian
Servings: 4
Calories: 581kcal


  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • ½ onion, chopped fine (optional)
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced (optional)
  • 1 pound ground beef
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon onion powder
  • ½ teaspoon garlic powder
  • 2 cups water, divided
  • 24 ounces marinara, spaghetti or tomato-based sauce
  • 8 ounces dry spaghetti
  • Parmesan cheese, grated for serving


  • Set Instant Pot to "saute." Add olive oil, optional chopped onions and optional minced garlic. Allow to cook until tender and slightly translucent.
  • Add ground beef, salt, onion powder and garlic powder, breaking up the beef and stirring until it is no longer pink.
  • Turn Instant Pot Off.
  • Pour 1/2 cup of water and all of the pasta/marinara sauce into the pot. Stir to combine well, making sure to scrape any stuck-on bits from the bottom. 
  • Place broken spaghetti on top, half going north and south, half east and west in a criss-cross pattern.
    A close up of a bowl of soup, with Spaghetti and Sauce
  • Pour remaining 1 ½ cups water over the top of the spaghetti. Do. Not. Stir!
  • Apply Instant Pot lid, setting the pressure valve to "Seal."
  • Set Instant Pot to High Pressure for 8 minutes. It will take 10 to 12 minutes to come to pressure.
  • Open the pressure lease valve (quick release) as soon as the 8 minutes cook time is complete.
  • Open the pressure cooker and gently stir the spaghetti into the sauce. Look at that!
  • Serve immediately with grated Parmesan cheese, as desired.


  1. Chopped onion and minced garlic are optional. However one or both will add fresh, additional flavor.
  2. I have made this with regular spaghetti, thin spaghetti, and angel hair. All come out just great! 
  3. Use your favorite jarred marinara or other tomato-based pasta sauce. My favorite is Prego brand, however I have tested this recipe with a number of sauces (whichever one is on sale!) and find that the sauce does make a big difference in both color and taste. Some sauces are thicker than others, some more poignant in flavor. This is totally up to you. 
  4. The DO NOT STIR! instructions will keep the meat at the bottom and the pasta at the top of the pot for the entire 8 minutes of cook time. This is key! In a way the meat and pasta cook separately without you having to do any kind of separation technique. Just set the spaghetti on top. 
  5. Because I live at 5,280 ft. altitude, I adjust cooking time by one minute to 9 minutes. 
  6. Suggestion: Serve with a green salad and garlic bread. Enjoy!


Calories: 581kcal | Carbohydrates: 54g | Protein: 29g | Fat: 27g | Saturated Fat: 9g | Cholesterol: 81mg | Sodium: 1559mg | Potassium: 1016mg | Fiber: 5g | Sugar: 9g | Vitamin A: 737IU | Vitamin C: 13mg | Calcium: 64mg | Iron: 5mg

Asian Beef and Rice

Fast, inexpensive, and super delicious, here’s one more way to use a pound of ground beef to make a great meal.

A bowl of food on a tray, with Beef and Rice
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4.50 from 8 votes

Asian Beef and Rice

Fast, inexpensive, and super delicious—this Asian inspired skillet meal is just awesome!
Prep Time20 minutes
Cook Time10 minutes
Course: Main Course
Cuisine: Asian
Servings: 6
Calories: 390kcal


  • cups beef broth, or 2 cans 14-ounce
  • 1 cup long-grain raw rice
  • 1 pound ground beef
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 2 carrots sliced
  • 8 ounces fresh button mushrooms
  • 5 cloves fresh garlic, minced
  • ¼ cup soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons ketchup
  • 2 tablespoons rice vinegar, or plain white vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon finely minced fresh ginger
  • ½ cup frozen green peas, optional
  • 2 teaspoons Asian (dark) sesame oil


  • In a sauce pan with a cover, bring broth to a boil over high heat. Add rice, stir and reduce heat to Low. Cover and simmer about 20 minutes.
  • Meanwhile, heat oil in an extra-deep skillet over medium heat. Add chopped onion, carrots and mushrooms. 
  • Add the beef to the skillet and cook, turning and breaking up the meat, until it is crumbled and browned, 7 to 8 minutes. Drain excess fat, as necessary. 
  • Add garlic, soy sauce, ketchup, vinegar and ginger. Stir well and reduce heat to low. Add peas (if using) and sesame oil. Stir.
  • Add the cooked rice and stir until thoroughly combined. Serve at once, passing additional soy sauce at the table, if desired.


Calories: 390kcal | Carbohydrates: 32g | Protein: 20g | Fat: 20g | Saturated Fat: 8g | Cholesterol: 54mg | Sodium: 1166mg | Potassium: 538mg | Fiber: 2g | Sugar: 4g | Vitamin A: 118IU | Vitamin C: 8mg | Calcium: 44mg | Iron: 3mg

Beef Lettuce Wraps

You might think of lettuce wraps as an appetizer in your favorite restaurant—possibly one of your best memories at this very moment! Good news! You can make this at home with healthy ingredients and feed the whole family for less than that one restaurant appetizer.

A bunch of food on a plate on a table, with Lettuce and Wrap
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4.58 from 7 votes

Beef Lettuce Wraps

Lettuce wraps are such a way to serve a healthy entree that even the kids will love!
Prep Time10 minutes
Cook Time2 minutes
Total Time12 minutes
Course: Appetizer, Main Course
Cuisine: Asian
Servings: 6
Calories: 274kcal


  • 2 teaspoons vegetable oil
  • 1 pound ground beef
  • 1 2-inch pc fresh ginger, peeled and finely grated
  • 2 scallions (green onions), chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes, optional
  • 1/4 cup hoisin sauce
  • 1/4 cup chopped peanuts
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • 1 head lettuce, Boston or Iceberg leaves separated, cleaned and dried


  • In a skillet over medium-high heat, add the vegetable oil and sauté beef until brown.
  • Stir in ginger, scallions, garlic, soy sauce, optional red pepper flakes, and hoisin and cook for 1 minute. 
  • Remove from the heat and stir in the peanuts. Season with salt and pepper 
  • Serve warm wrapped in lettuce cups.


Calories: 274kcal | Carbohydrates: 8g | Protein: 16g | Fat: 20g | Saturated Fat: 7g | Cholesterol: 54mg | Sodium: 580mg | Potassium: 358mg | Fiber: 1g | Sugar: 4g | Vitamin A: 1038IU | Vitamin C: 2mg | Calcium: 38mg | Iron: 2mg

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12 replies
  1. Sharon Deters says:

    Any chance you could add subs for allergies, like gluten, dairy, etc. Also several friends and I don’t keep wine or Asian add ins and in our small town we have no way to buy them. Is there something else we can use?

  2. Jackie B. says:

    5 stars
    The spaghetti recipe here is TERRIFIC; talking about low hassle and yummy! Definitely a different way to do it (husband was very skeptical) but works perfectly. Used ground Italian sausage instead of ground beef. Thank you, Mary, for another hit; looking forward to trying some of these others, too. Best regards.

    • Mary Hunt says:

      I totally agree. It is the best thing ever! I’ve been trying different pasta and the hubs and I agree our new favorite is 8 oz mini penne!

  3. Definitely worth it says:

    5 stars
    My mother-in-law gave me this master mix recipe 44 years ago, she fed a family of 9 on it & I’ve used it since to make economical meals for my family of 6. It’s great seeing it again. Everyone should try it.

    • Cutting in Shortening says:

      I really want to make the Master Mix but have always had trouble, cutting in shortening for various recipes. Might I be able to use my food processor to pulse the shortening into the mix?

      • Mary Hunt says:

        That should work. But you’ll need to do that in small batches … unless you have a commercial size food processor!

  4. Robyn says:

    5 stars
    I had periodontal surgery this week, and needed to eat soft food. For the first time in years, I made creamed tuna (over rice), added half a pack of peas, and it was plenty of food for three. My husband said I should make this every week, he liked it so much. The cost–1 can of tuna, 2 cups of milk, 1/2 cube of butter, peas, and a cup of rice–about $2.50 in all. Next week, I will try creamed chipped beef.

  5. Jan says:

    5 stars
    Exactly what I’ve been looking for given the semi-empty shelves at grocery store and soaring meat prices. Your posts are always so timely, Mary! Thank you!!

  6. Diane says:

    Mary, thanks for the recipes you provided here! I def will have to try the Master Mix idea. That is one I would use more frequently than the others!


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