Meal Planning Monday ~ Splurge Meals

This week’s blog post is by Heather McCurdy of Real: The Kitchen and Beyond.

Every frugal meal plan needs a splurge here or there. This week I want to share some splurge meals we love and how we still keep them budget friendly, or relatively so. We like to plan a gourmet meal every week that costs a little more but still has a frugal trick or two.

This week I am going to do something big and share my favorite splurge meal that I recently pulled out of the archives of my memory. In the 8 years since I started creating this dish it has always gotten rave reviews and I HAVE NEVER SHARED IT. This is your lucky week and you cannot fail to see why as you read on. I use cheddar when I am making potatoes with this meal, and mozzarella when I am making pasta.

chicken ricotta with asparagus

Chicken Ricotta


  • 3 chicken breasts
  • 1 – 15 ounce ricotta
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 4 slices bacon (we use beef)
  • 8 ounces cheddar or mozzarella, shredded
  • 4 tablespoons red wine vinegar


  • Preheat oven to 350.
  • Dice garlic.
  • Thinly slice chicken into tenders.
  • Fry bacon, set aside on separate dish but leave grease in pan.
  • Add garlic and chicken to bacon grease.
  • Saute until chicken is almost cooked through. I usually have to do this in 2 batches so I use half the red wine vinegar for each pan.
  • Add red wine vinegar.
  • Finish cooking and transfer chicken, garlic, and drippings to a baking dish.
  • Cover chicken with ricotta.
  • Sprinkle shredded cheese over top.
  • Crumble bacon and sprinkle over top cheese.
  • Bake until cheese is melted.
  • Serve over pasta or with potatoes.

Serves 4 adults or 2 adults and 4 (younger) kids.

Tips to Make ‘Gourmet’ Chicken Frugal

  • Slice the chicken smaller. Chicken tenders or thinly sliced stretches farther as people tend to eat less, which is actually a healthier thing.
  • Serve with a simple pasta, rice, or potatoes.
  • Buy your cheese and ricotta when it is on sale, or with a coupon. Either can be frozen before using. Mix ricotta well after thawing.
  • Buy bacon on sale and freeze it until ready to use.

White Fish and Roasted Pepper Salad

White Fish and Roasted Pepper Salad

We know fish is a healthy addition to our diet and we all love it. The problem is that it can get quite expensive. I like to find recipes where I can add fish but make a smaller amount stretch farther. A great way we get fish into our diet is with this White Fish and Roasted Pepper Salad. It is the perfect quick and easy meal since it only takes 15 minutes on the grill, and is very light, refreshing, and healthy. Hello summer and hello frugal.

Tips to Make Fish Frugal

  • Buy your fish pre-frozen. Just double check the ingredient label to make sure there are no weird ingredients like carbon monoxide. Yeah, really. I prefer wild caught so I really buckle down and only buy on a sale.
  • Whole Foods has some of the best prices for high quality wild caught fish. Many times it is flash frozen and cryovac’ed which makes it fresher than being shipped in fresh.
  • I love to plan this meal when there is a good sale on green salad mixes.
  • Skip store bought dressings and make your own if you don’t want to go the route of the simple lemon dressing.

Black Bean and Salsa Meatloaf

Black Bean and Salsa Meatloaf

Oh beans, beans, beans. They get the short end of the stick in our house, but finally I am winning the family over. A favorite way we eat them is actually mashed up and mixed into Black Bean and Salsa Meatloaf. You can say YUM again. Pair this meatloaf with rice or potatoes and a vegetable for that perfect and frugal comfort dinner. Make sure you keep the meat lean as you will lose less volume in cooking. A can of beans is cheaper than a pound of ground beef.

Tips to Make Meatloaf Frugal

  • Substitute 1 pound of ground meat for 1 can of black beans, drained and mashed.
  • Buy salsa on sale.
  • Buy ground meat on sale and freeze. Sales on ground turkey are sometimes the best. I buy those trays and throw them straight in the freezer.

Bean Burritos

Bean Burritos

Dinner on the run never looked so simple. In this Bean Burrito recipe I give tips on prepping ahead of time so that evening sports rush doesn’t involve a drive thru. My bean burritos are so easy and so good my kids asked for them again two days later. Oh, and they love it with the avocado. That’s a win for me. Plus using beans means that you can still get protein without the meat and without the expense of meat.

Tips to Make ‘Fast Food’ Frugal

  • Buy your rice on sale and with a coupon.
  • Buy beans on sale and stock up or buy the dried and bagged beans and pre-make then throw in the freezer.
  • Plan this meal when you see avocados are on sale.
  • I keep it easy by using pre-washed lettuce. I love buying the organic bags of lettuce at Whole Foods when they are $2 a bag. Burritos for dinner then leftovers for a taco salad the next day for my lunch.
  • Buy cheese on sale and freeze.
  • Buy salsa on sale and with a coupon.
  • Buy or make your own tortillas or wraps.

Chicken Cheddar Ziti

Chicken Cheddar Ziti

We love our pasta. This is a favorite dish when we have leftovers. I will use chicken sausage, leftover chicken, or cook a few extra drumsticks just so I can make this dish and pop it in the freezer for a busy day. Using leftovers to create another meal is one of my favorite frugal food tips. Chicken Cheddar Ziti is a meal my family can eat any day and changes up the traditional pasta dish just perfectly.

Tips to Make a Freezer Meal Frugal

  • Buy pasta on sale. Keep an eye out for coupons and match the sale with the coupon for free or almost free pasta.
  • Buy cheese when it is on sale. I like to freeze it if I get a great deal. It isn’t greatest for eating after frozen but works just as well in cooked dishes.
  • Use a few chicken sausage links, leftover chicken, or boil chicken drumsticks then strip the meat off them.
  • This dish works with just a little sauce but buy it when it’s on sale and stock up or make your own.
  • I watch for ricotta to be on sale and if I have a coupon, even better. I stash the ricotta in the freezer and then thaw and stir well before using.

Who says eating frugal has to be boring or from the box? You just have to get creative with your ingredients, and you can eat like a frugal gourmet. What’s your favorite gourmet meal? How are you going to ‘frugal’ it up?

Heather writes at Real: The Kitchen and Beyond where the food is (mostly) real and the making’s easy. She believes any one can cook. Just follow the steps, starting at #1. Read, follow, taste, venture out. Don’t be afraid to fail, then try again. Her other hats are homeschooling, editing fiction, ghostwriting, and culinary marketing. Oh, and she believes life is always better with dessert.