Posted on: April 9, 2020 at 3:33 pm

During the 1930s, the Great Depression hit. It was the worst economic downturn the industrialized world had ever experienced, and as the stock market crashed and banks all over the country failed, millions of Americans lost their jobs [1].


During those difficult times, families everywhere were forced to tighten their belts and cut back on expenses wherever they could. For most people, that meant minimizing their grocery bill. This led to some pretty ingenious culinary creations since they had no choice but to use the few ingredients they had on hand or could afford. 

In today’s uncertain economic times when layoffs are happening all across the country, cooks in every state are looking to their grandparents and great-grandparents for inspiration on how to provide dinner on a budget.


The following recipes have been passed down through generations, and they will not only have your family running to the dinner table, but they’ll be easy on your wallet, too.

Read: How to Make Balsamic and Parmesan Roasted Cauliflower (GF, Vegan Recipe)

1. Meat and Potato Patties

Meat was always more expensive item, so those in charge of supper would look for ways to stretch whatever they had with cheaper ingredients. Adding potatoes into the mix is a great way to achieve this since potatoes are inexpensive and offer nutrients such as vitamins C and B6, manganese, phosphorus, niacin and pantothenic acid [2].

Served with a rich tomato sauce alongside a green vegetable like brussel sprouts or steamed broccoli, these patties make for a hearty, nutritious, well-rounded meal. 


Get the full recipe here.

2. Hearty Navy Bean Soup

Beans are the perfect option if you’re looking to fill your family up on a budget. They are high in protein, fiber, folate, manganese, vitamin B1, magnesium, and iron, making them one of the most nutrient-dense foods you can buy on a budget [3].

Be careful of the type of ham you purchase, however, since processed meats tend to be high in nitrates, and studies have linked the consumption of processed meats to various diseases, including cancer [4].

Look for meat that does not contain nitrites, or omit it altogether and add extra herbs and spices to up the flavor, maybe even some of the leftover chicken from the night before.  

Get the full recipe here.

Read: Slow Carbs, Not Low Carbs, Are the Secret to Dropping Pounds and Unlocking Stored Fat

3. Surprise Spice Cake

Who says you can’t have dessert on a budget? This cake is moist, rich, and packs a tonne of flavor- your family will never guess that the secret ingredient is a can of tomato soup! With only five simple ingredients, this recipe is a cinch.  Adding soup into the mix gives it a beautiful red tinge, and replaces some of the fat that would normally be added into a cake like this.

Get the full recipe here.

4. Country Potato Pancakes

These little pancakes, or latkes, make a delicious side dish for just about any meal. Crispy on the outside, and yet soft and tender on the inside, they are simple to put together and are certain to be a crowd-pleaser. 

To make this recipe a little healthier, you can pan-fry or bake the cakes as opposed to deep-frying them. This will make clean-up easier, too.

Get the full recipe here.

5. Dandelion Salad

You probably never think twice about those pesky little weeds that pop up on your lawn every summer, but dandelion greens are actually very nutritious. Like any leafy green vegetable, they are an excellent source of vitamins A, C, and K, as well as vitamin E, folate, iron, calcium, magnesium, and potassium [5].

This recipe suggests adding grapefruit or tangerine sections along with a hardboiled egg to the salad, but really, you can dress it up however you like.

Get the full recipe here.

Read: Want to Help Bees? Leave the Dandelions Alone This Spring

6. Sausage and Potato Supper

Potatoes are the superstar in this meal again, which is like an “everything but the kitchen sink” kind of recipe. You can throw whatever vegetables you have on hand in here, and if you don’t have sausage, you can substitute whatever protein source you prefer.

Get the full recipe here.

7. Rice Pudding

This is comfort food at its finest. A bowl of creamy, warm rice pudding makes the perfect end to any meal. It keeps well, so it can be made in large batches and reheated later, or cold and packed in a lunch box.

To make this dish a little healthier, try substituting the sugar for a bit of liquid sweeteners like honey or pure maple syrup, and use whole grain brown rice instead of white. If you prefer not to use dairy milk, an unsweetened milk alternative, like almond, oat, or soy, could be used instead, although it may not be as creamy.

Get the full recipe here.

Read: 6 Cast Iron Skillet Bread Recipes That Are Actually Good for You

8. Cabbage Soup

Cabbage is the perfect vegetable when you’re trying to reduce your grocery bill. It’s cheap, it keeps well in the fridge, and it packs in a lot of nutrients, containing more than half of your daily recommended intake of vitamin C, and 85 percent of your recommended intake of vitamin K [6].

This recipe uses ground beef, but you could easily use any other ground meat in its place. To cut back on the sugar, try using a combination of tomato paste and honey or pure maple syrup instead of ketchup.

Get the full recipe here.

Read: Science Shows This Cabbage Leaf Wrap Can Bring Joint Pain Relief

9. Meatloaf

Meatloaf is a classic, and when done right, it can be moist and full of flavor. To make this recipe healthier, try using lean ground beef (beware of using extra-lean, it may be too dry), and replace the refined sugar with a more natural sweetener like honey or pure maple syrup.

Get the full recipe here.

You can also make a delicious vegetarian version using green or brown lentils. You can find that recipe here.

10. Slow Cooker Baked Apples

This is the perfect way to use apples that are slightly past their prime. Making these in the slow-cooker means that you can go about your day while the crockpot does most of the work, and the smell of sweet sugar and cinnamon bubbling away will fill your entire house.

Get the recipe here.

11. Vinegar Pie

This is the ultimate depression-era dessert. While usual pies often contain expensive fruit, this pie is made with only seven ingredients, almost all of which you already have in your house. The name vinegar pie may not sound appetizing, but it has become a staple in many households across the country.

The vinegar gives the pie a tartness that would normally be provided by fruit, like apples or lemons, and has a texture resembling custard. Most people who try it agree if they didn’t know vinegar was the main ingredient, they would have had no idea that it was in there! This may not be the healthiest thing you’ve seen on The Hearty Soul, but who said dessert always need to be that way. Enjoy!

Get the recipe here.

Keep Reading: 32 Anti-Inflammatory Breakfast Recipes Worth Waking Up To

Brittany Hambleton
Team Writer
Brittany is a freelance writer and editor with a Bachelor of Science in Foods and Nutrition and a writer’s certificate from the University of Western Ontario. She enjoyed a stint as a personal trainer and is an avid runner. Brittany loves to combine running and traveling, and has run numerous races across North America and Europe. She also loves chocolate more than anything else… the darker, the better!

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