10 Cheap Poverty Meals That Taste Like a Million Bucks

Biscuits and Gravy

AUTHOR: Dolores Quintana

Poor people have a reputation for being able to stretch their money as far as possible. They must be very creative to continue eating when the cash runs low.

Sometimes a food considered "slop" and fed to prisoners and the poor, like lobster, eventually becomes an expensive culinary delicacy.

These 10 foods show that you can have great-tasting meals even if you don't have a lot of money. Let's get started!

1. Tamales From An Old Lady's Trunk


A commenter told how he fell in love with tamales sold on the street. He told a story about how he met a "tamale angel" in Central California that left a hole in his soul that no restaurant has ever been able to fill.

This happened because he was approached by a Mexican grandmother who didn't speak English in the supermarket's parking lot that sold him tamales from her trunk, which changed his life.

Another user agreed and said that tamales from an older woman's truck are hands down the best that you will ever taste. He said that while working in construction in Las Vegas, the tamale ladies would show up, and for a half hour, all work on the site would stop so all workers could buy their tamales.

Mexican food is frequently inexpensive and delicious. A taco fan jumped into the conversation and offered that the best tacos he's ever had came from what was essentially a tarp on wheels.

2. Biscuits Need Gravy

Biscuits and Gravy

If you want to talk about inexpensive and easy-to-prepare meals, biscuits and gravy should be a part of that conversation. Forum members went wild praising the meal, and let's face it, biscuits and gravy is a meal. It might not be evident to everyone, but biscuits and gravy are easy and inexpensive but incredibly filling.

Fat and carbs go a long way in curing hunger pangs. If you want to, you could make your butter and have buttermilk as the by-product, making the biscuits even better. If you were to add some sausage to the gravy, you would have made some Appalachian-style biscuits and gravy. Don't miss out on such a wonderful and sustaining but easy-to-prepare meal.

3. Our Daily Bread

Rosemary Bread
Corrie Cooks

Bread is the food that has feed peasants for centuries. It's filled with carbs that give you energy and feed your brain what it needs to work. Without bread, humanity might not have survived the most challenging times.

One forum member waxed enthusiastically about how wonderful and nourishing bread is and said that no matter where the bread came from, it could sustain the life of a low-income family or be the most bespoke baked good.

Still, it didn't matter. Everyone loves bread. He rhapsodized how comforting a warm loaf of bread with butter is. It is simple, honest, and filling. A second user told the story of living on a diet of nothing but bread, butter, and peanut butter for a couple of years when he was too poor to afford much else.

As a twenty-year-old, he didn't expect that when he made it in life, he would still love bread as much as he does, but it's true. He prefers a bread basket to the expensive meals at restaurants and will eat through two or three of them before the meal arrives.

4. PB & Pickles

Peanut Butter and Pickle Sandwich

The Great Depression was a time of severe deprivation, and one of the meals that kept people going survived that time. We're talking about a good old peanut butter and pickle sandwich. Yes, you read that correctly. In the thread, users shared their enjoyment of the sandwich, which is peanut butter slathered on bread with crispy and sour pickles in the middle to counter the sweet taste of the peanut butter.

He didn't know it, but the sandwich originated in the Great Depression and was a staple food item during those dark financial times. The PB&P was sold at lunch counters back then, and several of the users who mentioned the sandwich with fondness were Generation X or Boomers who learned to eat the sandwich from their parents or grandparents who lived through that era.

5. Butter Your Noodle

Buttered Noodles

Another favorite of the forum is the classic buttered noodles. It's just noodles and delicious fat, which makes for a satisfying dinner when you don't have much in the bank. People said many great things about buttered noodles and suggested adding cracked pepper and parmesan cheese to make it tastier.

The Italian pasta dish Cacio e Pepe is similar because it uses parmesan and adds a little pasta water to make a classic. If you want to go even further, another poster stated that you could raise the level by adding marmite or vegemite to the buttered noodles, and "then you would be cooking with gas."

6. Spam: King Of Canned Meats

Shutterstock Sheila Fitzgerald

Several commenters mentioned Spam as an excellent ingredient for a satisfying and economical meal. One favorite idea was rice with Spam. A forum member who was once unhoused said that when he was at his poorest, he could always scrape up some rice and Spam, which would fill his stomach and allow him to carry on.

You can add Spam to almost any meal, and it will improve it. Spam fried crispy in a pan and added to any meal makes it unique. Fried spam sandwiches are a blessing to people who don't have much money between paychecks or who are subsisting on government aid.

Spam is popular in Hawaii and the Pacific Islands for a reason. This humble canned meat worked its way off the U.S. Navy ships and into several cultures. Spam and musubi are a favorite in Asian and Hawaiian cuisine.

7. A Favorite Of College Students Everywhere

instant Ramen noodles

No matter what brand you favor, instant Ramen noodles are a godsend to people strapped for cash. Several commenters described their favorite way to make the noodles into a more substantial meal.

One recommended adding two eggs to the noodles while they are boiling and then sour cream and hot sauce. A second preferred a different brand of instant ramen noodles called Indomie. They said, "It's a religion, not just food."

A third person told a story about his college days when a snooty economics teacher claimed that once his students started making lots of money, they would abandon cheap food like instant ramen. They confessed that he still sends this same teacher a thank you note and a package of instant ramen every year to prove a point.

The variety of instant Ramen noodles is magnificent these days, and people make special trips to Asian markets to get the Ramen they crave. In the not-too-distant past, the standby brand Maruchan was all that was available, but today, the sheer number of brands is mind-blowing and probably making some people hungry.

8. Crafty Mac-N-Cheese

mac and cheese

Another pre-made meal that is a favorite of thrifty people is Kraft Mac-N-Cheese. Like the fans of instant Ramen, Mac And Cheese advocates find many ways to make it an incredible meal cheaply. Usually, it's about adding some much-needed protein to the meal.

Some add hotdogs. Some add crispy Spam. Some even recommend adding a cheese slice and tons of black pepper to make it even more delicious. But this poster suggests "Thick n' Creamy with Hillshire Farms Lit'l Smokies. It's perfection."

9. Lentil Me, Lentil You


This yummy legume is another meal recommended by people with a limited amount of spare cash. A forum member stated that lentils are not as appreciated as low-cost food as they should be. You can take the humble legume and flavor it in many different ways.

Lentils can be used to make soup, eaten with spices with rice, and are the base for several flavorful Indian recipes. They can be bought dried and in bulk which is a great way to save money. There's nothing terrible about lentils; they can help you stretch your budget or expand your culinary horizons.

10. Hamhocks Ahoy

Cooked pork hocks with brown sauce and scallion sliced on top
Corrie Cooks

One cut of meat that is relatively inexpensive is the ham hock. When boiled and paired with rice, beans, and bread, it makes for a finger-licking good meal. It is a popular dish in the Southern states where they are cooked and served with cornbread, another cheap but incredibly delicious staple.

Some people cook ham hocks with great northern beans, and you can make a huge pot and eat it for days. But, again, it's a poverty meal that is luscious but not as well-known as other meals on the list. 

A forum member added a pro tip: add Frank's hot sauce. It's the dish that allows poor people to eat like kings. But, he said, "The vinegar and heat step it up to something magical."

This thread inspired this post.

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7 thoughts on “10 Cheap Poverty Meals That Taste Like a Million Bucks

  1. I still to this day, miss my Mom's biscuits and gravy. Nobody makes them like she did, she always used the bacon grease to make the rue and she never used water, always milk for the gravy. Talk about Good Eatin, Yum.

  2. Thought I was about the only person on earth that ate PB & pickle sandwiches. Personally I use butter then the peanut butter and bread n butter or dill pickle's.

  3. I was a farmer boy in Iowa --- 8 brothers -- 5 sisters ----- we ate what we reaped --- gardened and animals. I am an old man but I still enjoy cooking and eating, using items from this list ---- thank you very much.

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