One-dish meals make clean-up time easier, and if you have the right cookware, you can even serve some one-dish meals straight out of their cooking dishes. Even on a budget, you can feed a family of four relatively easily from a single dish, especially if you check for weekly sales at your local grocery store.
Cut your favorite meat, potatoes, and other veggies into chunks less than 1 inch wide at their thickest point. Add chopped onions, a little oil and any of your favorite spices, and spread the items out in a baking dish. Cover the dish with foil and bake at 375 degrees Fahrenheit for 45 minutes, and then sprinkle in a little whole-grain flour to thicken any juices that have come out. Stir everything up, then continue baking until the meat reaches an internal temperature of 160 degrees Fahrenheit. Based on U.S. average grocery prices as of June 2011, you can get a pound of lean ground beef or boneless chicken for less than $3.50, a pound of potatoes for $0.68, and other veggies for less than $1.50 per pound.
In a casserole dish, cake pan, or individual stoneware bowls, spread a layer of canned sauce, then a layer of small noodles, such as bow-tie or penne. Top the noodles with another layer of sauce. Add some chopped veggies such as zucchini or shredded chard if your kids will eat them, then then cover tightly with foil and bake for about 30 minutes at 350 degrees. Top the dish with shredded mozzarella or Parmesan cheese and bake uncovered until the cheese melts and the noodles are soft. You can usually find pasta for less than $2 per bag or buy bulk for less, and choose on-sale sauces at less than $3 per jar. A 6-ounce package of mozzarella should cost less than $3 as well, leaving $2 for veggies, drinks or additional savings.
Inexpensive doesn't have to mean dull, especially if you have time to watch your cooking pot. Add some oil to a pot over high heat and stir in uncooked rice. Keep stirring until the rice absorbs the oil, then add a can of room-temperature chicken broth, a little at a time, stirring frequently and adding more as the rice absorbs the liquid. After about 10 minutes, stir in chopped onions, mushrooms, spinach and tomatoes. Continue adding broth and stirring until the rice is soft. Stir in a few teaspoons of grated Parmesan cheese immediately before serving. Rice and each veggie should cost less than $1 each, and two cans of chicken broth are less than $3. Parmesan should cost less than $2 if you purchase the dried variety rather than fresh.
Purchase $4 worth of your favorite fresh veggie combinations and $2 worth of cashews, almonds or other nuts or seeds from your grocer's bulk food section. Substitute a can of chick peas for approximately the same price if you have nut allergies. Splurge on fresh, not dried, pasta noodles, which should be approximately $3 in most areas. Stir-fry your veggies and nuts in a large pan, using sesame or any other cooking oil you have on hand. Stir in the noodles as the veggies begin to release their water. Add juice, ranch dressing or water if the mixture gets dry, and cook until the veggies are slightly soft but not soggy.