Feed your family for $25 or less: Calgary chefs share their recipes

Do you have a favourite affordable dinner idea? We want to know your meal-making hacks to save money in this tight economy

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Cost of living stories

As part of our series Squeezed: Navigating Calgary’s high cost of living, we have explored the eye-popping price of groceries and spoken to families struggling to feed their families.

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We all have unique ways of trying to make groceries stretch. My personal hack is making a gigantic pot of Nova Scotia goulash when I can find ground beef on sale (mix hamburger, macaroni noodles and cans of tomato soup).

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Figuring there were better ideas out there — there definitely were! — I asked local chefs and food bloggers to share their favourite recipes that could feed a family of four for under $25.

We hope you will give these meals a try and share your meal ideas with us in the comments or email them to [email protected].


Chunky Pasta Sauce with Hot Italian Sausage

pasta
Karen Anderson’s recipe of chunky pasta sauce with hot Italian sausage can be made for under $25. Photo credit to Jeremy Fokkens. Food styling by Sylvia Kong. Photo by JEREMY FOKKENS /Submitted

Karen Anderson, author of the cookbook Eat Alberta First and founder and president of Alberta Food Tours shares this meal idea that is a fan favourite in her home.

“Everyone who has ever eaten this chunky pasta sauce with hot Italian sausage at my home has asked me for the recipe. There’s some chopping involved but leaving things bite-size instead of dicing really cuts down on the work. And, you pay yourself forward because the recipe delivers a huge batch, leftovers freeze beautifully, and it can be used in a variety of ways. Serve it over your favourite pasta with a hunk of bread and/or salad on the side, use it as the meat portion in lasagna or you can even add a few different cans of drained and rinsed beans and some chili powder for a quick and easy chili.”

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Chunky Pasta Sauce with Hot Italian Sausage

Makes: 6 litres

Takes: 3½ hours including 3 hours simmering time

Ingredients:

  • 2½ lbs. hot Italian sausage
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 2 onions, chopped
  • 3 – 4 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 2 large green bell peppers, chopped into bite-sized pieces
  • 1 large yellow bell pepper, chopped into bite-sized pieces
  • 30 – 40 cremini mushrooms, halved
  • 2 small zucchinis, chopped into bite-size pieces
  • 2 28 oz (796 mL) cans whole tomatoes
  • 1 13 oz (384 mL) can tomato paste
  • 4 cups (1-litre bottle) tomato sauce
  • 1 Tbsp dried parsley
  • 1 Tbsp dried basil
  • 1 Tbsp dried oregano
  • 3 – 4 dried bay leaves
  • 10 oz (300 g) package frozen chopped spinach

Instructions:

  1. Remove the meat from the sausage casings and brown it in a non-stick skillet on medium heat, breaking it up to a fine crumble as it cooks.
  2. Drain the fat from the pan and put the meat on a plate between layers of paper towel to squeeze the remaining fat from the meat. Set the meat aside.
  3. Heat the oil in a large stockpot on medium heat and add the onions. Cook until translucent and add the garlic and cook just until it becomes fragrant — about 30 seconds.
  4. Stir in the bell peppers, mushrooms, zucchini, tomatoes, tomato paste and sauce, parsley, basil, oregano, bay leaves and spinach and bring to a slow steady simmer for 2 to 3 hours. Voila! Enjoy hot off the stove then freeze the leftovers to enjoy another day.

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Mediterranean Rice and Chicken Bowl

Connie DeSousa and John Jackson were up for this food challenge. Along with operating several popular restaurants in the city, the duo launched the CHAR Hospitality Fund as their way to help the community with issues of food insecurity.

Connie and John went to the store and bought all of the ingredients for their Mediterranean rice bowl with marinated cucumber and carrots and zaatar chili oil. John says: “It was delicious and fed us and a few of our staff, so it would be great for a family of four.”

Mediterranean Rice and Chicken Bowl with marinated cucumber and carrots, zaatar chili oil

  • 500 g $11.10 – boneless skinless chicken thighs  
  • 450 g $3.99 – long grain and wild rice  
  • 100 ml $2.70 – chili oil
  • 6 pack $3.49 – baby cucumbers
  • 1 bunch $2.49 – carrots
  • $1.20 – spice and garnish

Total $24.97

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Thai Chicken Curry with Rice and Rice Wrapper Spring Rolls

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Fareen Jadavji-Jessa
Fareen Jadavji-Jessa made this Thai chicken curry. Photo by Fareen Jadavji-Jessa

Popular Calgary food blogger Fareen Jadavji-Jessa, who goes by the name Food Mama, shares her dinner idea that involves money-saving tricks:

“Protein is usually the most expensive part of any meal. Using a rotisserie chicken is always the best way to save money. If you use the whole chicken, it can go a long way.

“Using a rotisserie chicken, cut the majority of the chicken into chunks for a Thai curry. Any of the chicken that is not able to be cut into chunks, set aside for rice wrapper spring rolls. Save the carcass to make broth.

“For the curry, use a jarred curry sauce. This has everything you need from the coconut milk to the spices so you don’t have to buy everything individually. It saves a lot of time and a lot of money. A bag of frozen vegetables is usually under $4 and provides enough for one meal. Add everything together and let it simmer on the stove. To serve with this, a couple of cups of rice is perfect. I usually throw this in a rice cooker.

“To the shredded chicken that was not used in the curry, add one chopped onion and some cilantro. Using rice wrappers, cut each into half and dip into water to soften it. Add the chicken mixture and roll. This can be pan-fried and is perfect with the Thai curry.”

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Sheet Pan Gnocchi

gnocchi
Sheet pan gnocchi by Maria Koutsogiannis Photo by www.foodbymaria.com
Maria Koutsogiannis, owner and founder of the website FoodByMaria, suggests this sheet-pan recipe as an affordable and easy week-night meal. 

“This Sheet Pan Gnocchi meal is perfect for families on a budget. It’s affordable but nutritious. Great for serving a family of four, and the best part is that it only takes minutes to prep, the oven does all the hard work for you. Sometimes we panic thinking that affordable has to mean out of a processed box, which can sometimes be the case, but this FoodByMaria recipe aims to make you feel good while not breaking the bank!”

For the sheet pan

  • 19 oz can lentils, drained and rinsed
  • 1 pint baby tomatoes, halved
  • 1 yellow or orange pepper, chopped in ½-inch pieces
  • 1 small eggplant, chopped in ½-inch pieces
  • 1 red onion, chopped in ½-inch pieces
  • 2 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 500 g store-bought potato gnocchi
  • For the Greek dressing
    ½ cup olive oil
  • ½ Tbsp dried oregano
  • ½ tsp salt
  • ¼ tsp pepper
  • of one lemon
  • ½ tbsp red wine vinegar
  • 2 small garlic cloves, pressed

Topping

  • 112 ½ g plain goat cheese
  • ½ cup chopped fresh herbs (mix of parsley, dill and mint)
  • olive oil
  • (optional) handful of black olives

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Directions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 400 F and line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.
  2. Mix the Greek dressing ingredients together and set aside.
  3. To the sheet pan add: rinsed lentils, chopped baby tomatoes, chopped pepper, chopped eggplant, chopped onion, gnocchi and chopped garlic cloves.
  4. Drizzle the Greek dressing over the ingredients on the pan and toss to ensure everything is very well coated.
  5. Bake for 25 minutes, tossing at the 15-minute mark. After 25 minutes crumble the goat cheese over top of all the ingredients on the pan and bake for 5 more minutes.
  6. Serve immediately topped with a mix of fresh chopped herbs, a drizzle of olive oil and a handful of fresh black olives if desired.

Beet Borscht

Culinary teacher and creator behind Culinary Calgary, Erin Boukall suggests this recipe for a “cheap as borscht” dinner for your family. Boukall suggests using local produce that is in season to reduce costs by cutting out the middleman.

beet


We know the rising costs of groceries, mortgages, rents and power are important issues for so many Calgarians trying to provide for their families. In our special series Squeezed: Navigating Calgary’s high cost of living, we take a deep look into the affordability crisis in Calgary. We’ve crunched numbers, combed through reports and talked to experts to find out how inflation is impacting our city, and what is being done to bring prices back to earth. But, most importantly, we spoke to real families who shared their stories and struggles with us. We hope you will join the conversation, as these stories roll out.

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This week: Scrimping and Saving: Food Insecurity in Calgary

Still to come: 

  • May 27 to 30 – Priced Out: The Rising Cost of Housing
  • June 3 to 4: The Cost of Doing Business

Our series so far:

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