The Ultimate Frugal Casserole Formula

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I know, I know. Casseroles sound very “50s Housewife.”

But when you’re on a budget, casseroles are a great way to make a little bit of food stretch further in a tasty way. I often use leftovers that aren’t enough to feed the whole family as an ingredient in a delicious, thrifty casserole.

And, to make it even better, there’s a formula.

Here’s the formula.

This is inspired by and loosely based on Amy Dacyczyn’s Universal Casserole recipe from The Complete Tightwad Gazette.

  • 1 cup of protein
  • 1-2 cups of veggies
  • 1-2 cups of carbs
  • 1 1/2 cups of sauce
  • Spices
  • Topping

It’s honestly that easy.

Your protein might be leftover meat, a can of tuna, ground meat, lentils, or beans.

Your veggie can be any tasty thing you have that will go well with the meat. You can use either frozen or canned green peas, green beans, cauliflower, broccoli, or mixed vegetables, just to name a few.

Your carbs can be pasta, rice, potatoes, or whatever grain you have kicking around in abundance.

Your sauce is the “glue” that holds the whole thing together. It might be white sauce, gravy, a can of condensed cream of whatever soup, tomato sauce, or cheese sauce.

Casseroles are pretty yummy when they have some kind of tasty, crispy topping. This might be bread crumbs and butter, cracker crumbs and butter, shredded cheese, those little cans of French-fried onions – whatever tasty thing you have on hand.

Season it with whatever spices you have that are appropriate – Italian seasonings, garlic salt, chili powder – whatever you think sounds good with your concoction.

How to make a casserole

To make your casserole, combine your cooked meat, your frozen or canned veggies, your cooked carbs, your spices, and your sauce.

Bake at 350 for 30-45 minutes, or until your sauce is bubbling. Then add your topping and bake it for another 5-10 minutes until it is crispy.

What are your favorite casserole ingredients?

Does your family have a favorite casserole? Can you share it or a link to it in the comments? Do you use leftovers or fresh items for your casseroles?


The Ultimate Frugal Casserole Formula
Daisy Luther

Daisy Luther

Daisy Luther is an author and blogger. She's the single mom of two daughters and credits extreme frugality and a good sense of humor for her debt-free lifestyle. She is the author of numerous books, the editor of, and is the founder of a small digital publishing company in the emergency preparedness niche.

8 thoughts on “The Ultimate Frugal Casserole Formula”

  1. Daisy, these articles are great! Question: do you only add cooked meat to your casseroles, or is baking in the oven enough to cook through, say, ground beef?

  2. Karen Bates-Earnest

    recipe worthy of the Complete Tightwad Gazette by Amy Dacyczyn. Best frugal life book ever.. She also has universal recipes for muffins and soups. A good read, available at most libraries since it went out of circulation years ago.

    1. A lot of thrift stores have used books and I’ve seen Tightwad Gazette books sold there. Next time you shop secondhand, look in the book section and you might get lucky.

  3. We usually use pasta and ground meat, tomato sauce and cheese for topping. Mom used spaghetti and layered everything and called the dish “Roman holiday.”

  4. Our favorite is the same formula, but one minor variation: carbs on top! It’s “pot pie casserole,” and we use any meat (usually canned or leftover), any 2 cans of veggies, 1 can of cream-of soup, and then put drop-style Bisquick dough on top. You could use homemade biscuit dough, too, but we have a lot of the former on-hand, so that’s the easiest right now.

  5. We made a pretty good one the other night – a box of rotini ($1 a box for store brand), about 12 ounces of ground chicken ($2 a pound because we ground it ourselves, you could also use turkey or beef or cubed leftovers from another meal), a can of peas ($.89 per can at the moment with nothing on sale) and a big can of cream of mushroom soup ($2.50 for store brand). We cooked the chicken, mixed all together, put it in a casserole dish, and baked till the pasta was tender. Was pretty good, made six fairly decent sized servings.

    We probably could have used a small can of cream of mushroom soup and added water or powdered milk and water. Could have used a different veggie too or maybe two cans of veggies. The rotini gave it a nice texture.

  6. Jennifer Harvey

    Ours was even easier. Throw a can of cream-of-something soup in the slow cooker, add any meat/veggie leftovers that happen to be in the fridge, if those don’t include potatoes or pasta, add in a few handfuls of rice, leave on slow all day. Add some grated cheese in the last half hour of cooking.

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