Everyone knows that spaghetti is one of those “go-to” meals when money is tight. It’s easy to make, cheap to prepare, and even your kids will eat it without a fuss (for me, this is the holy trinity of good cooking.) However, if you are at all like our family, the economy is taking a heavy toll on our budget, and what was a shoestring grocery budget to begin with, has gotten even smaller. So, tonight as I was preparing a spaghetti dinner for my family, I had a few thoughts on how to create this family favorite for less.

1. Use up your noodles – I don’t know about you, but even though they all taste EXACTLY the same, I really like to buy differently shaped noodles. I’ll use up half a bag here, 3/4 of a box there, and I end up with a smorgasbord of noodle odds and ends in my pantry. While I will use traditional spaghetti noodles (I actually prefer angel hair), most of the time, once in awhile, I like to use up my noodles bits when I make spaghetti. Throw in all of your various shapes and call it “Confetti Pasta.” (Trust me, your kids will think it is the neatest thing ever.) My one caveat here is to pay attention to your noodle shapes and cooking times. If you are mixing together say penne and angel hair, you would want to wait a few minutes after dropping the penne, to drop the angel hair, as it has a much faster cooking time. Using this budget stretcher  will keep you from wasting good pasta, and will help clean out your pantry as well!

2. Stretch your sauce – I am always amazed at how far I can get a jar of spaghetti sauce to go…(I do make my own sauce on occasion, and even can some, but my husband and kids are perfectly happy with jarred sauce.) A great way to thin out your sauce without making it runny, is to wait until your noodles are boiling, and then add a ladle or two of the starchy cooking water to the sauce. The starch in the water will prevent the sauce from becoming TOO thin, but the water will help it go just a bit farther (and maybe feed another person!) Another trick to remember is that if you are using a jarred sauce, pour a ladle of the starchy water into the jar itself. This will help get all of the bits and saucy goodness out of the jar.

3. Skip the $2 buck garlic bread – I will admit that I love the foil wrapped, store-bought garlic bread. I love the spread….the crusty French bread…it is just plain good. However, during tough financial times, every penny counts, and sometimes the $2 bread is just not a priority at the store. You can use your regular sandwich bread, some margarine spread, and a can of garlic salt to make  a garlic bread that will do the job. Tonight, we used some of the left-over frozen hamburger buns we had from a bbq earlier in the summer. It seems to me that we always seem to have that sad little bag of frozen buns out in the deep freeze, and they almost always go to waste. Right now, we can’t waste anything, so the kids and I pulled a few out, buttered them up, sprinkled on the salt, and broiled them up. Tasty as can be. (Funny story- My four year old and two year old REALLY wanted to do the garlic salt. I let them under my supervision, but kids will be kids, and a few of the buns were more generously topped. When my husband bit into his bun, he looked at me and said, “Wow..I think my cholesterol just went up.” So, word to the wise…maybe don’t let your kids do the salt sprinkling.)

4. Use turkey – While ground beef is one of the ultimate cheap meats, sometimes ground turkey can be even cheaper. I have found the 1 lb. rolls of frozen ground turkey for just a dollar. Ground beef  is very rarely that cheap. I have used ground turkey lots of times, and even my pickiest eaters gobbled up their platefuls. I often spot the one dollar rolls of ground turkey at Wal-Mart.

5. Go meatless- While this suggestion would not go over at my house, it is still a suggestion worth mentioning! If your family likes vegetables, simply chunk up a jar of store-bought sauce with some sauteed onions, peppers, celery, carrots, mushrooms…whatever you have on hand or can pull out of your garden!

6. Skip the noodles – Again, while noodles are very cheap, free is even cheaper! If you have a backyard garden (or a friendly and generous neighbor, family member, or friend with one), you can use several types of squash in place of the noodles. Spaghetti squash is the obvious choice here. It is easy to prepare, and will get even your pickiest eaters to eat squash. I’ve told my daughter that it is just noodles, and she didn’t put up a fuss. My husband doesn’t care for squash, and will eat spaghetti squash happily. Another option is to cut zucchini and yellow squash into long thin ribbons (you can use a vegetable peeler or mandolin), and use them as noodles. You can give them a quick poach or steam, or saute them first, and then use your favorite sauce. Younger children and squash adversaries may not be gung-ho for this option, but personally, I find it to be delicious!

7. Don’t forget to make extra- Spaghetti is a very likable left-over. If you make even just a bit of extra noodles, you can make whatever amount of sauce you have left work. Adding a bit of parmesan or mozzarella cheese can make even a skimpily sauced spaghetti edible. Spaghetti also freezes well!

Even when you’re making a budget meal to begin with, never forget that there are ALWAYS ways to do it for LESS! Happy saving!