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4 Cheap Ways to Hack Boxed Dinners

A Guide to Cooking While Broke

We've all been there at one point or another. The grind of living off of boxed dinner and processed foods is starting to wear on you. But fresh food is either too expensive or out of your skill level. Maybe you are stuck between buying meat and paying your student loan bill this month, maybe you live in a dorm without a real kitchen, or maybe you are a busy parent trying to hide to the fact that this is the fourth night of boxed mac and cheese in a row. Whatever your situation, these cheap and simple hacks can make boxed dinner go from depressing to delicious! 

Use frozen veggies.

Fresh veggies can be a money pit as they often go bad in your fridge before you ever get the chance to use them. This can be especially true if your local grocery store only sells the higher priced organic varieties. Frozen veggies are a cost effective alternative and a great way to include some green in your diet.

Boxed mac and cheese hack: Boil frozen asparagus or peas right in the water with the pasta for a nutrient boost. Stir in the cheese mix as directed or substitute shredded cheese if desired.

Instant Ramen hack: Frozen packs of stir fry veggies are a great mix in with instant ramen noodles. Stir fry the veggies based on package instructions or fry them up in some soy sauce for a meal worthy of a Chinese take out box.

Use additional spices.

Why limit yourself to the boring and flavorless sauce or cheese powder packets in the box? Adding garlic powder, black pepper, or even chopping up some canned jalapeno slices can really add some interest and flavor your food.

Tex Mex boxed mac and cheese hack: Add a tsp of chili powder, garlic powder, onion powder and black pepper. Mix in a can of drained black beans. Serve with a dollop of sour cream on top for a fancy touch.

Boxed mashed potato hack: add a tbsp of dried chives, garlic powder, and salt and pepper to taste. Mix in some shredded cheese or a little cream cheese for a richer, creamy texture. Bonus: serve with frozen peas or corn for a more complete meal.

Combine boxes for fun combos.

Why not raid your cabinets and combine some of those boring boxed meals for something not so bland? Craving a meatball sub but can't afford to go out and get fresh meatballs or sub rolls? Make a taco with a can of spaghetti and meatballs for a fun twist. Be creative. Nothing says delicious like a taco shell stuffed with Italian food!

Pasta and Tomato soup hack: take a packet of Knorr broccoli cheddar or cheesy bacon pasta and boil it with a can of tomato soup instead of water for a creamy and delicious pasta soup. This can also be done with a rice side for tomato and rice soup with some flair.

Spaghetti taco hack: canned or boxed spaghetti makes a perfect filler for a hard taco. Serve with some shredded mozzarella cheese on top. Fun for kids of all ages. 

Bake it.

When you are looking for something really fancy and reminiscent of restaurant food, you can bake those boxed dinners with a buttery crust on top. By crushing up Ritz crackers or potato chips and mixing them with melted butter, you can take your meal to the next level.

Baked boxed mac and cheese hack: crush Ritz crackers to a fine crumble, mix with melted butter, a tbsp of paprika and some black pepper. Put mac and cheese in an oven safe or microwave safe container and spread the crumb mixture across the top. Bake at 350 for 15 minutes or microwave for two minutes. Best results will happen in the oven.

Baked cheeseburger macaroni Hamburger Helper hack: Crush potato chips into a fine crumble, combine with melted butter, a tsp of mustard powder and some black pepper. Place your cheeseburger macaroni Hamburger Helper into a oven or microwave safe dish and spread the crumb mixture on top. Bake at 350 for 15 minutes or microwave for two. Best results will happen in oven.

Hopefully, these tips will help take your pantry from looking like a wall of boring boxes, to an endless stream of possibilities!

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