butter and noodles
Julie Hambleton
Julie Hambleton
December 16, 2023 ·  6 min read

15 People Share Their Favorite ‘Poverty Meal’ From Childhood That They Still Eat Today

Whether it is a meal you grew up with or one you resorted to while on a tight (aka non-existent) student budget, chances are you’ve got one or two really cheap meals that you still crave sometimes. Last year, someone posted a thread on Reddit asking people what their favorite poverty meal is that they still eat, despite being in a better financial position. These were people’s answers. (1)

People’s Favorite Poverty Meals, According To Reddit

No matter what financial position you grew up in, most of our parents at least at one point or another turned to a super cheap, simple meal just to get food in their cranky kids’ stomachs. Tens of thousands of people shared on Reddit their favorite poverty meals their parents made that they still sometimes eat today. Here are a few of the top ones:

1. Butter Noodles

Whether it’s because you couldn’t afford anything more or you were simply a highly picky eater, chances are we’ve all eaten this meal every once in a while.

“And if you were lucky to have parm and garlic, then you’re eating good.” wrote one user. (1)

2. “Ghetto Mac”

Several users referred to this meal. Essentially, it is pasta including anything you happen to have in the fridge or cupboard. An everything-but-the-kitchen-sink sort of meal.

“It’s where you make some pasta and add in whatever you can find in the fridge or cabinets. Cheese, lunchmeat, spam, spices, etc. No two meals were ever the same.” (1)

4. Cheese Quesadillas

Take tortillas and cheap cheese and you’ve got a quick, inexpensive meal. And really – who doesn’t enjoy melted cheese sandwiched between some type of carbohydrate?

“I’m Mexican. For us, it’s usually quesadillas without meat, rice and black beans as the sides.” (1)

5. Steak Fingers

If you know your way around the grocery store, you’ll know how to make your money work well for you. This woman’s mom sure knew a thing or two – perhaps we can all learn a tip or two!

“Grew up poor, but my mom sure knew how to stretch a dollar. She would make steak fingers out of the cheapest cuts she could find. Tenderize, fry them up make gravy out of the drippings and serve with mashed potatoes. The whole meal probably cost less than 5 bucks in 70s dollars, and I’m telling you nothing tasted better. I made it for my kids when they were growing up and they still ask me for it sometimes.” (1)

Read: YouTuber Explores How Much Food the Human Stomach Can Hold

4. Squash and Eggs

Depending on where you live and what time of year it is, squash isn’t always a cheap option. However, if you grow it yourself, there will always be plenty of the veggie to go around.

“Grew the squash and eggs are cheap enough, or trade with the neighbors. You just cut the squash into thin round and cook in a pan with a little oil until they’re just soft. Scramble the eggs with the squash, add a bunch of pepper, some salt. Sometimes we ate it over noodles or rice.” (1)

5. Beans and Rice

This is quite possibly one of the cheapest meals you can make. What’s better, it’s full of protein and very filling. Perfect for a household full of growing children.

“I remember a big pot of beans living in the fridge. Hungry? Get some beans. Don’t like what was for dinner? Get some beans. Upset stomach? Beans.” (1)

6. Peanut Butter Sandwich

Who doesn’t love a classic PB sandwich? Bread and peanut butter are two of the most inexpensive items you can buy. Perhaps if you were lucky you could get some jam on there, too.

“Nothing beats a good ole-fashioned PB&J, hold the J.” (1)

7. English Muffin Pizza

Can’t afford the local pizzeria? English muffin pizzas – tomato sauce, mozzarella, and any other toppings you have on hand – make a great “poverty meal” substitute.

“A jar of pasta sauce, English muffins, mozzarella and toppings of your choice. The pasta sauce is the most expensive part, and if you make it, and the English muffins at home, each mini pizza is like 30 cents.” (1)

Read: Human steak is real and scientists say it’s “technically” not cannibalism

8. Toast

Toast with some butter (or peanut butter, if you prefer) is one cheap, quick staple that can tie you over to your next proper meal reasonably well.

“If you have butter or something to slap on top even better, but a few pieces of toast usually satisfies my hunger for a decent amount of time.” (1)

9. Potatoes, Sat, and Margarine

Potatoes are another cheap staple food that is actually really, really good for you. Bake or boil them with some salt and margarine or butter, and you’ve got yourself an effective way to fill your stomach.

“Cheap ingredients found in almost every home and easy to make. Also, the starch in potatoes makes you feel full for pretty long.” (1)

10. Soup or Stew

Soup or stew can be one of the cheapest meals you can make. Similar to the “ghetto mac” above, you can put just about anything in it. As a bonus, it can be really good for you!

“My grandma (who grew up during WWII) taught me that you can make soup from almost anything. At least once a week I just throw a bunch of scrap veggies, left over meat, rice and whatever other random bits are left over from the week’s meals into a pot with some stock, boil it all together and bam.” (1)

11. Pancakes

Pancakes are as cheap as they are delicious. At their most basic, they’re flour, water, some sugar, baking soda, and egg – and even then eggs you can technically leave out.

“Cheap to make and filling, can be eaten with whatever is in your fridge.” (1)

12. Dal

You can buy a lot of lentils for very little money. They are also a great source of protein and other minerals. Add some vegetables and spices, and boom – you’ve got a full, healthy meal.

“Aside from turmeric you can buy all the ingredients for less than $2 a pound. Dal is magic. Lentils in general deserve more love. They are SO GOOD FOR YOU, and are delicious. They make a great meat substitute if you’re broke or just want to go meatless.” (1)

13. Steamed or Fried Rice

Rice is another backbone ingredient that is super cheap and easy to dress up. Stir in an egg and some veggies and it’s a complete meal.

“Steamed white rice, crack a raw egg in it while it’s scorching hot, stir aggressively and dash with soy sauce. if I have some, some roasted seaweed in that shiz. Super cheap breakfast but oh man is it filling/delicious.” (1)

14. Saltines and Cream Cheese

Saltine crackers and cream cheese are ingredients you can find almost everywhere. They’re inexpensive, and when you put them together, it’s actually a pretty tasty combo.

“Saltines and Cream cheese, if you haven’t had a chance try it yet!” (1)

15. Cereal

Whether it’s boxed cereal or home-cooked oatmeal, cereals are inexpensive and can fill you up on a budget. Oatmeal gets extra bonus points because you technically don’t even need milk to make that one.

“A bag of generic cereal is like 5 or 6 bucks. that’s easily 10-15 meals at least. A gallon of milk where I live is 3 bucks. And that’s good for like 10 bowls of cereal. That comes out to less than a dollar per meal. Add in a banana or toast and you hit at a dollar per meal. super cheap” (1)

Clearly these people have mastered eating (decently) well on a budget! What’s your go-to “poverty meal”?

Keep Reading: What Food Product Came Out the Year You Were Born?


  1. What’s your favorite poverty meal that you still eat regardless of where you are financially?Reddit