19 Cheap Foods Your Parents Fed You That Actually Taste Amazing

Raising a family can be time-consuming and expensive, so it isn’t surprising that our parents didn’t always have the time or ingredients to serve up a Michelin-starred meal. Luckily, their budget-friendly dishes were often deliciously simple, and many have remained firm favorites into adulthood. Here’s a look at 19 childhood culinary creations that definitely aren’t just for kids!

Grilled Cheese

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Simple yet versatile and oh-so-satisfying, melted cheese between toasted bread never fails to disappoint! Time Travel Kitchen says grilled cheese sandwiches became popular in the 1920s and were used to feed hungry troops in World War II. Since then, they’ve become increasingly popular and remain an irresistible quick snack or light meal.

Mac and Cheese

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This childhood favorite is another cheesy and comforting dish that is delicious at any age! Whether it’s a creamy stovetop version, a baked casserole with a crispy topping, or a boxed variety, this dish is beloved by children, parents, and, well, everyone! The richness of the cheese sauce combined with the soft pasta creates a hearty and reliably delicious meal.

Tuna Noodle Casserole

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You can create this nostalgic dish using canned soup, tuna, vegetables, and noodles topped with a breadcrumb crust that’s then oven-baked. Parents loved this easy yet filling family meal because the ingredients were cheap and always at hand, while children adored the creaminess of the filling and the contrasting textures.

Spaghetti and Meatballs

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While not the easiest option, this simple dish was nonetheless a regular midweek meal and a consistent crowd-pleaser. The combination of savory tomato sauce, juicy meatballs, and spaghetti is basic yet incredibly flavorful, especially with added parmesan! Despite being hearty and fairly nutritious, it was great for feeding a family on a budget.

Scrambled Eggs

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Cooked with moderate heat and without oil, scrambled eggs are more nutritious than boiled or fried eggs, Healthline claims. Our parents also loved their versatility—invigorating them with cheese, meats, vegetables, and toast to make a complete, balanced meal that was filling and delicious (and still is!).

PB&J Sandwich

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Nothing says ‘childhood food’ like the timeless lunchbox staple of salty peanut butter and sweet jelly between soft, white bread. The creaminess of the peanuts complemented the other ingredients, and the result was an easy, cheap, and portable childhood lunch that many of us still indulge in today.

Tomato Soup and Grilled Cheese

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When grilled cheese alone wasn’t substantial enough, mom or dad sometimes whipped out some creamy, tangy tomato soup as the perfect accompaniment. The best part was dipping the cheesy, crusty sandwich into the warm soup and enjoying the combination of flavors and textures. Yum!

Ramen Noodles

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Instant noodles are the ultimate 5-minute dinner on a budget. Although they may be basic and super quick, they’re versatile and work well with various extras, like meat, vegetables, and hard boiled eggs. The included flavor packet adds a delicious flavor to the broth, and students worldwide can attest that they make an excellent meal for adults, too!

Tuna Salad Sandwich

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Cold sandwiches of any kind were an easy, cheap, and convenient lunch box option, easy to prepare in the busy mornings before school. Canned tuna was mixed with mayonnaise, celery, onion, and other seasonings to make a delicious filling for bread, crackers, or even lettuce wraps. This high-protein option was relatively low in fat and high in nutrients, too.

Baked Beans

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What child hasn’t been served baked beans at least once? This childhood staple really stands the test of time, though, and is a great budget-friendly source of protein and fiber. Although beans can be enjoyed on their own, they were frequently served with toast, meat, eggs, or even incorporated into casseroles and salads.


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These fluffy pan-fried cakes drizzled with maple syrup are a perfect breakfast or brunch treat, and while they’re certainly popular with kids, they definitely have their fair share of adult fans, too! National Geographic says people have been making pancakes for at least 30,000 years, and we still use simple ingredients (flour, eggs, milk, and sugar) for this delectable, easy-to-make dish that can be served with fruit, yogurt, whipped cream, and other toppings.

Grilled Ham and Cheese Sandwich

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It seems grilled cheese featured heavily in most childhoods—and here it is again, this time paired with salty deli ham. Although still devoid of vegetables, this upgraded version of a classic grilled cheese sandwich added savory cold cuts to complement the gooey, cheesy filling. Almost any child would eat one, and that didn’t change much as we grew up!

Potato Salad

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Have leftover cooked potatoes and not enough time to roast them? Why not make potato salad? This cold side dish or picnic staple is budget-friendly and a great way to use up other leftovers, like vegetables and meats, as well. Typically, potatoes are mixed with mayonnaise, seasoning, and herbs to create a versatile dish that pairs well with almost any cold meal.

Fish Sticks

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Fish sticks are often seen as the ultimate ‘kid-friendly’ freezer food—cheap, quick to bake, and often devoured happily with or without lashings of ketchup. While they may not be the freshest option, the crispy breaded casing around flaky white fish was a perfect introduction to seafood and remains enjoyable for many adults.

Chicken Noodle Soup

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This comforting, nourishing soup remains a ‘go-to’ recipe for many parents when their children are feeling cold or under the weather. The flavorful chicken broth, comfortingly soft noodles, and crunchy vegetables create a warm and nourishing meal that’s very easy to digest, making it perfect for anyone needing a bit of TLC, no matter their age.

Corn Dogs

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Tasting Table reports that the origin of the corn dog is heavily disputed, but it was likely invented by German immigrants to Texas in the 1920s. Corn dogs, a common sight at state fairs and carnivals, also make a quick and easy snack for even the fussiest of children. Parents only need to dip hot dogs in a cornbread batter and deep-fry them until golden brown.

Rice Krispie Treats

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Perfect for making with children, these no-bake treats are a fun and easy dessert option that merely involves melting marshmallows with puffed rice cereal before chilling in balls or bars. They’re super versatile, too, with chocolate, dried fruits, and other cereals making great additions.

French Toast

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If you’ve got bread, eggs, cinnamon, and milk, you can make some delicious French toast. Like pancakes, French toast is a great breakfast option for any age group. Bread slices are dipped in a custard mixture of eggs, milk, and cinnamon, then fried in butter until golden brown, resulting in a slightly crispy exterior and soft, eggy interior.

Grilled Peanut Butter and Banana Sandwich

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If you fancy a sweet twist on the classic grilled sandwich, try this alternative, which uses sliced bananas instead of cheese and adds peanut butter’s creamy, salty indulgence. Many of us enjoyed these as children, but the combination of flavors is something many adults still enjoy.

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