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Easy Cheap Dinner Ideas for Inflation-Heavy Times

Being a grown-up is so expensive these days. Maybe you’re out of work, paying off student loans, scrimping to pay for child care or setting aside money for a new car or a Tuscan vacation. Whatever the reason, so many of us are looking for ways to save money, and as food prices continue to rise, it’s not always easy. But it’s not just a magazine slogan, you really can eat well and spend less. In short, do what you can to get your pantry in order, reduce your food waste and aim to eat mostly vegetarian or make recipes that really “stretch” a cut of meat.

Here are just a handful of the recipes on New York Times Cooking that rely on affordable pantry staples, are mostly vegetarian and will give you the biggest, most delicious bang for your buck.

Chili, that miraculous mash-up of flavors and textures, is the ultimate penny-pinching meal. First, enjoy it as it is intended, then serve leftovers on top of a baked potato, a tray of nachos, a hot dog, or try it Cincinnati-style, over spaghetti, for a real dose of comfort. You can use pretty much any ground meat — turkey, chicken, beef, vegan alternative — in Eric Kim’s chipotle-flavored chili, and throw in a can or two of beans to make it last for multiple meals.

Raw zucchini is an unsung delight of summer. Here, Ali Slagle smashes it, which encourages the lime and salt to season the vegetable all the way through. It’s then showered with toasted chickpeas and peanuts that have been seasoned with lime zest and citrusy spices like coriander. Serve it with whole grains, tortillas or pita, yogurt, feta or another crumbly cheese, salad greens or soft-boiled eggs.

Recipe: Smashed Zucchini With Chickpeas and Peanuts

Here, Roy Choi transforms prepackaged, dried ramen noodles with butter, a slice of American cheese, chopped scallions and an egg for a rich, filling and totally delicious spin on the dorm-room classic. “Never eating instant ramen any other way again,” one reader wrote. Hard agree.

Ali Slagle’s cozy version of stuffed shells, the classic Italian American baked pasta, lends itself well to interpretation. Add crumbled, browned Italian sausage, chopped spinach or fresh or dried herbs to the ricotta filling. To save time, use your favorite store-bought marinara sauce.

Recipe: Stuffed Shells

Arroz mamposteao, or Puerto Rican stewed rice, beans and sofrito, is a beautiful way to use up leftovers as the dish actually tastes best when made from day-old rice and prepared beans. So make a double batch of rice for your Monday night stir-fry, set aside some of your Sunday beans and put it all to excellent use.

Recipe: Arroz Mamposteao

Sarah DiGregorio’s clever riff on the school cafeteria classic calls for the addition of white beans so you use less meat, but it happily retains that nostalgic tangy-sweet taste. This recipe also comes together in a snap — 20 minutes, from start to finish.

Recipes: Smoky White Bean and Beef Sloppy Joes

Peppers are at their peak right now, and this vibrant recipe from Lidey Heuck makes excellent use of them. Use whatever kind of ground meat you wish, sautéed vegetables and leftover rice or other cooked grain for filling, then top with mozzarella and bake until bubbly.

In this 25-minute recipe from Ali Slagle, farm-fresh tomatoes and cold butter come together to make a glossy pink sauce that tastes like the halcyon days of summer. (Whatever you do, don’t use out-of-season tomatoes.) Leftovers make a great room-temperature pasta salad.

Recipe: Tomato-Butter Pasta

Unrefined coconut oil is the magic ingredient in this superfast dinner from Genevieve Ko. Using it to brown the leftover rice, cook the eggs and sauté the bok choy and green beans imbues the entire dish with a subtle tropical flavor. Sure, unrefined coconut oil can be a little spendy, but it’s a worthwhile pantry staple that can be used in almost every stovetop and baking recipe in place of vegetable or canola oil.

This soul-filling dish from Romel Bruno was inspired by the hamburger skillet macs that became popular in the 1970s when beef prices were high and families wanted to stretch a pound of meat. (Sound familiar?) This version calls for Italian pork sausage and kale, but feel free to use turkey, chicken or vegan sausage and any green vegetable you like.

Recipe: Cheesy Stovetop Mac With Sausage and Kale

Skip the drive-through, and make — and customize! — these tidy little vegetarian burritos at home. Kay Chun calls for preparing your own refried beans by seasoning with caramelized onion, bell pepper, garlic and smoked paprika in place of the traditional pork drippings, but there’s no shame in using canned refried beans instead. Hot reader tip: Make a double batch of burritos, wrap in foil and freeze for your future too-tired-to-cook self.

Recipe: Bean and Cheese Burritos

Colu Henry’s popular riff on the classic Italian stew is not only a crowd pleaser, but it’s also a great way to use up any about-to-go-to-waste vegetables in your fridge. If you’ve squirreled way a Parm rind in your freezer, toss that in while it simmers for an even more flavorful broth.

Recipe: Pasta e Ceci (Italian Pasta and Chickpea Stew)

This hearty recipe from Yewande Komolafe is inspired by “tomato eggs,” a dish popular in Lagos, Nigeria, and across West Africa, in which eggs cook in a spiced tomato and vegetable stew. Yams or plantains are traditionally used, but here, firm yellow plantains are ideal because they hold their shape while absorbing the flavors of the other ingredients.

We know it’s midsummer, and we know some of you will protest, “Who wants to eat hot soup in 90-degree weather?” But sometimes a craving calls, and there’s nothing you can do but yield to it. Eric Kim’s magical combination of tomato soup and grilled cheese comes together in 30 minutes, for when you want a warm, comforting meal without the fuss.

Recipe: Quick Tomato Soup With Grilled Cheese

In this lightning-fast dish from Ali Slagle, soy sauce, turmeric and cumin provide loads of flavor, while searing the tofu over high heat creates crisp, nibbly edges and tender, squidgy centers. Don’t be afraid to experiment: Try out different spices, add vegetables, beans or cheese for a complete meal, and serve with toast, tortillas, salad or potatoes.

Recipe: Tofu Scramble

Let’s be honest. Eating a plain old tuna salad sandwich can feel a little like you’re a kid whose mom forgot to go to the grocery store. But! Adding a few special seasonings — celery, red onion, fresh (or dried) herbs and squeeze of lemon juice — then topping with potato chips, as J. Kenji López-Alt does here, makes it something special, or dare we say, delicious.

When it doubt, quesadilla it. (Yes, we used it as a verb here.) This recipe from Melissa Clark shows us how to make the ideal quesadilla, one with crisp and lacy edges and a molten center. Top with a fried egg, or add leftover refried beans, meat or roasted vegetables. One word of warning: A nonstick pan is a must for this technique to avoid cheese glued to the pan.

Recipe: Crispy-Edged Quesadilla

And finally. The baked potato. On its own, with a pat of melting butter and sprinkling of salt and pepper, it’s a humble ode to perfection, but it’s also the ideal conduit for leftover chili, masala, beans, dal, roasted vegetables … you name it. Our favorite reader tip: “As my Oklahoma grandmother taught me, I rub the skins with bacon grease and salt. Give it a try.”

Recipe: Baked Potatoes

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