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Cut-price protein: Money-saving family dinners for under $9

This delicious dinner saves my family’s food budget (and battles).

Compilation image of Nicole with her money-saving recipe and hand holding out fanned cash
Money-saving recipes can help you budget at times when finances are tight. (Source: supplied/Getty) (Samantha Menzies)

This is part two of a two-part series on the money-saving family-friendly recipes that are saving both the food budget and the food ‘battles’ in Nicole’s household. Read part one here.

At dinner time in my household I often find myself catering for six different tastes (and temperaments) of ‘customers’ aged as young as five. As you can imagine, preparing six different meals is an expensive option, so I’m always looking for affordable recipes that everyone will eat.

I shared one such success in part one of this series: my version of a 1970s-style cheesy, tuna pasta bake, which feeds a whole family for just $7.42.


Also by Nicole Pedersen-McKinnon:

Here is another crazy-cheap, delicious and nutritious meal that both kids and adults enjoy.

Cut-Price, Quirky Carbonara

This entire meal comes in at just $8.75 and is popular with under-8s. I take my cut-price cooking inspiration for this crowd-favourite dinner from an incredibly ‘rich’ fettuccine carbonara that I devoured on the Amalfi Coast of Italy. But I have evolved it so much that any Italian would no doubt be horrified. And it has a secret ingredient: cheap chicken stock.

It began when - experimenting to replicate the insanely deep, salty Italian sauce - I threw in a couple of cubes of the jus from a cooked supermarket chicken. The idea was to substitute the traditional white wine in the carbonara and make a cheaper non-alcoholic version (I don’t boil the sauce in this recipe, so there would likely be alcohol left otherwise).

The chicken jus as an alternative gives a rich and salty depth and also saves upwards of $6.

Here’s my six-step carbonara concoction:

1. First, finely dice four rashers of bacon (150g) and fry up with a halved clove of garlic (just fish it out later) or a squeeze of garlic puree – whatever is cheapest.

2. Whisk together four eggs, a cup of milk and 1/3 cup of finely grated parmesan cheese in a medium bowl with plenty of salt and pepper.

3. Then crumble and stir in one bog-standard, circa-20-cent chicken stock cube.

4. Cook 500g of curly fettuccine until al dente. Curly works best because the sauce both sticks to it and cooks quicker around it - because how you do the next step will make or break your budget meal.

5. Line up your bowl of sauce and your frypan of bacon then drain the pasta and add it straight back to the cooking pot. Then immediately but gradually pour the sauce over the hot pasta while lifting, stirring and turning like there’s no tomorrow.

(Notice the ingredients are very similar to another child-friendly dish: scrambled eggs. You don’t want this to scramble but to gently cook through while staying creamy. This will probably take less than a minute)

6. Don’t stop stirring, add the frypan of extra goodness and serve straight away. Garnish with a bit of extra parmesan and fresh parsley (that you are now hopefully growing).

What cost is the quirky carbonara?

Here’s what this dish costs (all ingredients bought from Woolworths):

  • $2.00: 500g curly fettuccine

  • $1.40: 150g cooking bacon

  • $2.40: 4 eggs

  • $0.40: 1 cup milk

  • $2.15: 70g parmesan

  • $0.20: Garlic clove/squeeze

  • $0.20: Chicken stock cube

Total: $8.75

My signature carbonara might be a little unorthodox but it’s low cost, high success and in all my family’s banter about the cheeky chicken stock, the kids have basically missed that they are getting cheap-and-cheerful protein.

Nicole Pedersen-McKinnon is the author of How to Get Mortgage-Free Like Me, available at Follow Nicole on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

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