When parents don't have a lot of extra cash to spend on food, they have to get creative. For many kids, they don't realize until they're older that their parents pulled a fast one on them, making them think they were eating like royalty when really they were dining on a dime.
Of course, that just means their parents cared enough to give them the best childhood they could. Get ready to feel some feels as these folks recall the childhood dish they loved, that only existed because their parents had to make due with what they had.
(Content has been edited for clarity)
Mom Made It Exciting
“My mom made this concoction of mac and cheese, canned tuna, and peas at least twice a week.
She called it ‘deep blue cheese ‘n peas.’ Since I grew up in Kansas, it was exotic! Considering the total cost of that meal is less than $3 and it fed three of us for two meals, it made a lot of sense.
I tried making it for my wife once after explaining it to her, and it was met with a resounding, ‘No!'”
If Grandma Eats Them, They Must Be Good
“We always ate cheese sandwiches.
It was just American cheese and bread, sometimes mayonnaise too.
My mom would always say, ‘Grandma eats cheese sandwiches every day. She’s probably eating one right now!’
For some reason, that made me want to eat them.
Make Potatoes Exciting? Challenge Accepted
“What I fondly refer to as ‘the summer of potatoes.’ My dad was a teacher and was off for the summer, so he cooked dinner all summer. One year, he cooked potatoes every day, but in different ways. He was always on the lookout for a new potato recipe.
It wasn’t until I was an adult buying my own groceries that I realized how cheap potatoes were. We had to eat potatoes because they were affordable, and he didn’t want dinner to be boring.”
We Always Want What We Can’t Have
“We ate ‘hard tack.’
That’s flour and water, mixed and hardened to stale biscuit consistency in the oven.
My mother would cut it into cookie shapes and give it to us as dessert, or as treat in our lunches, and admonish is us if we ate more than two or three pieces.
I realized later she did that so that on nights when we had no food in the house except for flour, we could still eat all the hard tack we wanted. That way we’d feel like we were having a special celebratory meal of cookies.
Someone told me hard tack was eaten in the 1800s by British sailors and soldiers who were on long voyages and needed food that was cheap and long-lasting, until was replaced by the invention of canned foods. I have no idea how my mom heard about it.”
Only Mom Knows The truth
“I’m the youngest in a big family. Some of my siblings and I were arguing once about our mom’s ‘dragon soup,’ as we all remembered it having different ingredients.
Finally, we went to her to settle who was right. She was confused for a minute and then said, ‘Oh, that? It was never the same. I called it that because at the end of the month, I’d be dragging whatever cans of vegetables we had out of the pantry, and throwing them in a pot together.”
Their Sandwich Of Choice Could Bring A Tear To Your Eye
“This is actually my dad’s story, but I feel like it belongs here. My dad is 75. Setting: The Bronx, mid-1950’s.
My grandfather and my dad had a lunchtime routine on the weekend. They’d walk down to the deli and get basically the dollar menu item of the time – a hard roll hollowed out, slathered on the inside with a thick layer of butter, and stuffed with raw onions.
It might sound disgusting, but my dad has made it for me before…and it’s completely disgusting.”
The Whole Family Had The Chicken Blues
“My mother made a lot of chicken when I was a kid. I loved it at first, but after eating it six days of the week (we had pork chops sometimes, usually on Sundays) for 15 years, I really got sick of it.
I was poking some fun at her one day not too long ago, about how much she just loved chicken. I never saw her eat it anymore and I asked her why. She admitted that she actually hates chicken, but it was cheaper than any other type of meat.”
At What Point Does It Become More Water Than Minute Maid?
“I’m pretty sure this is common, but my mom used to buy the canned Minute Maid concentrate, then dilute it with way more water than necessary to make it last longer. It was pretty much orange-flavored water at that point.
On a somewhat less serious note, when she was upset, and we asked her what was for dinner (actually, not sure if it was just because she was upset or if this was an actual serious response), she would respond (in Chinese), ‘The northwest winds.’ Essentially, she told us to go out into the backyard, open our mouths and swallow the air so that we would feel full.”
Not Sure About The Squirrel Part, But Those French Fries Sound Incredible
“In my childhood we ate a lot of deer, rabbit, and squirrel.
Because we had to.
My mom would dip the squirrel in flour and fry it in butter until it was browned, and then simmer it in gravy with ‘merrill’ (morel) mushrooms and onions (or ‘ramps’). She would do the same with deer as well.
We always had a HUGE garden. I can say from personal experience that there is nothing that tastes better than french fries made from potatoes that have been out of the ground for less than 20 minutes. A close second would be sweet corn pulled directly from the stalk and roasted, husk on, over hot coals of a wood fire.
Another fave was when we would open up a jar of everything we canned from summer, add in homegrown cabbage, potatoes, turnips, and onions from the root cellar and cut up deer steaks and barley. We’d throw it all together to make killer vegetable soup.
We did not really know we were poor, actually.”
The Barter System At Work Kept Them Them Swimming In Beef
“On the flip side, I’m always trying to save money as an adult, and here’s a meal my roommates and I used to make. I was freshly divorced and was working in a restaurant that ground beef daily for burgers and discarded the waste each night.
Thankfully, the grill cook liked fruit juice, so a few juices throughout the night from the bar turned into fresh ground beef for me. One time, I called my roommate and told him to go buy cheese. I got the ground beef and about five pounds of mashed potatoes (which also would’ve been thrown out) and we made three days worth of shepherd’s pie for $3.50.
That beef was a daily thing – meatloaf, burritos you name it. That stuff got us through some hard times, yo!”
His Favorite Meal Was A Lie
“I never really knew we were poor as a kid. We didn’t get to do a lot of the things other kids did, we didn’t go places other kids went, but we had a roof over our heads and a decent plot of land, so we were good with it.
Our mealtime fare was pretty basic, but the all-time special meal, which we had about once every other month, was Clams Casino. We had a bag of shells that we had collected, every now and then adding new ones as we found good ones at the beach. And mom would make up a prime batch of Clams Casino.
So years after moving out, I have my own place, and I am doing well. And I take this girl (man, she was beautiful) to this fancy restaurant down the shore. On the menu, I see Clams Casino. I am stoked. I hadn’t had it in over a decade. I tell her all about it. I order it. And then it arrives, steaming, five or six perfect shells with the blessed concoction awaiting my next move.
I pick one up, bring it to my mouth, and slurp it up. Immediately, I spit the foul, rubbery, demon-seed out on to the table. I was shocked and horrified.
What the heck! My mother never actually used clams in Clams Casino. Just a little bit of clam juice to give it flavor. My most special favorite meal growing up was…breading.
For the record, the date ended pretty much right there. She was thoroughly disgusted at my display. And I was too catatonic coming to grips with the shame that was my youth to notice. It was for the best, though. If you’re not the kind of girl that can laugh off something like that, it’s not going to work out.”
She Learned It From Her Mom
“My mom’s whole cooking repertoire is food for a poor family. She was one of seven kids of a grocery store manager and a school teacher in Omaha in the 50s, so once she had kids, most of her meals were pasta-heavy and her nutritional knowledge was basically ‘ground beef, starch, steamed vegetables, you’re set.’
My favorite is her – or I guess my grandma’s – shepherd’s pie. All she did was brown ground beef with salt and pepper, add some flour and water, put a little bit of mashed potatoes and paprika on top, and heat it in the oven. When I found out that most people put vegetables in it, I was shocked.”
“Everything my parents made was because we were poor. But the thing that stands out: pinto beans and cornbread. My dad would make that meal, or sometimes he would make the beans and my mom would make the cornbread. He would eat it with sweet pickles on the side – a habit I picked up from him.
That’s just a memory now. Dad passed away the day before Halloween last year; Mom stopped cooking anything she associates with him. It never seems to turn out right when I do it. I miss it, though.”
He Knew How To Eat Cheap In College
“There’s this Ashkenazi Jewish dish called kasha varnishkes that I would go crazy for whenever my mom made it.
It’s just roasted buckwheat (kasha), bowtie pasta, and sautéed onions. It’s still one of my favorite foods in the world.
When I went to college, I wanted to make it one night as comfort food, and I found out a giant pot costs like $5 max to make.”
Now We Understand, Grandma
“A bit of a long story, but worth it. My grandma was a kid during World War II. She often tells me stories about how difficult their life was during that time; I have heard some of these stories more than 10 times because she likes talking with her grandchildren, so I let her narrate them every time.
Her father was a hard-working man that always took care of his family, but when the Germans came, everything was gone. I’m not sure if you have ever read or heard about it, but the Great Famine of Greece claimed the lives of more than 300,000 people and it was exactly what the name suggests.
My grandmother always says that they were lucky: even though they were a large family, they also had a small garden and some food in the pantry; others had it way worse. They were actually dead poor to the point of not being able to afford or find food, and they knew it (remember, they were kids). Still, every single one of her six brothers and sisters never complained.
In order to show me how dire the situation actually was, she picked up a piece of bread (the amount a person would regularly eat with lunch) and slices it with a knife into 9 pieces, ‘Some days, that was our lunch. We’d put pepper or oregano on it for taste, or soak it in water when it was too hard and we couldn’t chew it.’
When I was a kid, my grandma would make me ‘egg-bread.’ This is basically slices of bread that you soak in egg-mix, like the one that you use for an omelet, and fry them. You could eat it plain, or put sugar on top with a few drops of water so that it soaks and the sugar doesn’t drop all over the place.
I do not live close to my grandmother right now, but whenever I can, I try to visit my hometown even just to visit my grandma. Whenever I stay at her apartment, she is always bringing me stuff: fruit, ‘egg-bread,’ pie with herbs.
What I realized after all those years is that my grandmother does not want her grandchildren to go through what she went through as a child. She doesn’t want anybody else to go hungry. That’s why nobody ever leaves my grandma’s house without being completely stuffed full.
Some people that visit Greece wonder why the elders offer food to people that they’ve just met: my theory is that elders know what it means to be starving, and they think it’s their moral responsibility to make sure that everyone around them is well fed. Bless their souls.”
She Took Care Of Them
“Not a meal, and something I hated, but I didn’t realize why or that I was poor until years later.
I used to go to the school nurse with a stomach ache almost every morning. She would feed me saltines with peanut butter. I choked those things down with a carton of milk (I’m lactose intolerant) and went about my day, feeling better yet gassy.
I never understood why Mrs. Dickenson gave me peanut butter on crackers until I was about 25. It was then I realized I never got breakfast, and she was just making sure I was ‘comfortable’ until lunch. Each holiday season, she would deliver bags of groceries to our house or send us home with them (we lived across the street from the elementary school), and still I didn’t understand why.
I’ll never forget that sweet woman, even if I can’t stand saltines or creamy peanut butter to this day.”
Throw Me A Bone!
“My mother used to make ‘bone soup’ out of water, leftover bones from whatever meat we could afford, and some vegetables (mostly potatoes). She used to load it with cracked pepper, so we couldn’t taste that it had little actual food in it.
When I was older (in my late teens), I ended up working briefly in a butcher shop to save up for college. While I was there, they used to throw away a lot of bones and it made my heart sad knowing how many bone soups they could make, so I used to bag them up and advertise them as free.
I had people coming from across town to pick up a freezer worth of bones, and turned this swanky butchery into a pantry for people living in hard times. The owners weren’t super pleased but because it made the place look busy on weekends, they let me do it.
I actually drove past a year after I left, and they still had my sign up.”
Nothing Tastes Better Than A $1 Meal
“Chicken white meat. Very versatile, always on sale, easy to pair with whatever else was on sale. Plus, we don’t eat pork, my mom doesn’t eat red meat, and my dad doesn’t eat fish, so it was the logical option anyway. But it got boring day in and day out, broken up only with the occasional pasta dish. As I’m typing this, I realize this is my typical dinner routine too. I can’t or won’t justify the price of red meat or fish most of the time, so it’s a lot of chicken.
But my dad grew up extremely poor (way poorer than any tough time my parents had when I was a kid), so he would find restaurants we could afford to eat at once or twice a week, rather than eat chicken every day. Ground Round had ‘penny-a-pound’ on Wednesdays, where kids ate for only what the scale read, so we went there every week – they could feed three kids for a dollar or less. I think by the time Ground Round went out, my parents were still feeding us once a week on $1.35. There was a local Italian place that we still frequent that had $1.95 kids’ dinners a few times a week, and regular dinners were like $4.95. And, possibly my dad’s favorite, and my mom’s least favorite: once a week, McDonald’s had 20-cent hamburgers. My dad would stock up, fill the freezer, and eat them all week.”
Who Says Spam Is Always A Bad Thing?
“We ate what my dad called ‘ghetto spaghetti.’
My real dad was dirt poor because of his addiction issues. So he would get a can of Manwich (sloppy joe sauce), a box of noodles, mix it together and call it spaghetti. It was honestly delicious though, and very filling.
We also ate spam sandwiches a lot. It was just thinly sliced, canned spam on a single folded slice of bread. We could make one can and one loaf of bread last a whole week.”
Keep Dreaming, Kid
“When I was a kid, my dad lost his job and started gambling. For a whole winter, I had steamed and salted cabbage leaves. On other nights, it was microwaved egg with some mushrooms.
There was this old-fashioned diner in my city where you drove into the parking lot and waitresses would bring you hamburgers and fries on a tray that hooked onto the car’s open window. Then, as a family, you ate in the car. I had been to this diner once with some friends of mine when I was sleeping over at their place. This was the HEIGHT of excitement for me.
My parents couldn’t afford to take me there. So one night, they told me I was going to have a special supper. I sat in the passenger seat of our car parked in our driveway, and my mom brought me a plate of spaghetti to eat like we were at the diner. It was this very touching gesture, but I also knew it meant that I would never get to eat at the real diner.
So yeah, there I was, trying to eat spaghetti while alone in the car, staring at our garage door as it slowly got dark outside.”