Friday, January 25, 2008

Frugal Recipe: Taco Soup

I think one of the key things about practicing frugality, particularly when it comes to meal preparation, is creativity. To be able to understand a recipe by recognizing its most basic components, and to be able to be prepare it in an inexpensive way is a true gift indeed. We keep our grocery budget down by using coupons (even better if coupled with sales), and our meals inexpensive by substituting what is called for with what we have on hand.

One of my family's favorite frugal recipes is Taco Soup. For those who like to follow a recipe verbatim, here it is:

Taco Soup

1 1/2 pounds lean ground beef or turkey
1 medium onion, chopped
2 (10 ounce) cans diced tomatoes with green chile peppers
1 (8 ounce) can tomato sauce
1 (15 ounce) can sweet kernel corn or hominy, drained
1 (15 ounce) can kidney beans, drained
1 (1 ounce) package ranch dressing mix
1 (1.25 ounce) package taco seasoning mix
1 1/2 cups water, as needed
Dash salt, pepper, and/or chili powder, to taste

Optional Toppings/Sides:
(Generally served buffet style here)

Shredded Cheddar or Mexican Cheese Blend
Sour Cream
Chopped Green Onion
Corn Chips or Tortilla Chips

In a Dutch oven, brown ground beef or turkey with chopped onion, stirring frequently. Once beef is browned drain grease from pan.

Add canned tomatoes, kidney beans, corn, taco seasoning and ranch salad dressing mix (and whatever else you're tossing in). Add the optional water, as needed. (Without the added water the soup will be more of a chili like consistency, which works well if serving over chips. Add 1 to 2 cups of water if necessary to make soup the desired consistency, though when I want it soupier, I just don't drain the corn and beans. That fluid takes the place of most of the water.)

Mix well and let simmer over low to medium heat for about 45 minutes, stirring occasionally. Ladle into soup bowls (over chips, if you wish) and garnish with shredded Cheddar cheese and a dollop of sour cream (optional). Serves 8 plus.

That's the recipe, but here's what I have in my pantry and refrigerator today, and what I'll be using to make our Taco Soup for dinner tonight. I will modify the recipe below to point out the substitutions* I made, and total up my cost.

What we have on hand...

Our Topping Options

Today's Taco Soup
($4.45 to serve 8 plus, approximate total cost)

1 pound lean ground turkey ($1.50, after coupon)
1 onion, chopped (15 cents)
1 chopped Roma Tomato (25 cents)
1 (10 ounce) cans diced tomatoes with green chile peppers (50 cents)
1 (8 ounce) can tomato sauce (25 cents)
1 (15 ounce) can sweet kernel corn, drained (50 cents)
1 (15 ounce) can kidney beans, drained (50 cents, on sale)
1 can Ranch Style Beans (30 cents, on sale + coupon)
1/2 c. Ranch Salad Dressing (portion, 25 cents)
1 (1.25 ounce) package taco seasoning mix (25 cents)

(Instead of thinning with water, I had some leftover beans from earlier in the week. Most of the beans had been eaten from the pot, so I stored the remaining beans and broth in a plastic bowl. I just added the whole of the leftover bowl (about 1 1/2 cups of liquid) into the mix instead of water.)

Today's Optional Toppings/Sides:
($1.45, approximate total cost)

1 c. Shredded Cheddar Cheese (I bought an 8c. bag on sale for $3.49, so 45 cents)
Sour Cream (portion, 25 cents)
Organic Blue Corn Tortilla Chips (1/2 of $1.50 bag, so 75 cents)
Hot Sauce (no calculable cost, whole bottle 30 cents)

The Finished Product: So Good!

Our Total Meal Cost: $5.90 for eight generous servings. (I measured the soup out, and it alone is 10-12 hearty cups, without toppings/sides.) As you can see, I utilized sales, coupons, and substitutions to feed our family for little money. Even better, our family of 4 will only eat half of this soup tonight, and can freeze the other half for another day. The average cost, then, for what will be consumed today is between $3-4, as we'll use all the toppings/sides today.

I'm looking forward to sharing more recipes in the future, but in the meantime, check out this week's Thrifty Recipe list at The Grocery Cart Challenge.

* Note: all varieties of subsitutions can be made, but in my opinion, there are some basic ingredients that should always remain. Those ingredients are some sort of meat, beans, corn (or hominy), taco seasoning, and Ranch Dressing/Seasoning.


  • Gayle

    Hey Amanda,

    We love taco soup but I really like your variation on it. I really like your point about substituting with what on hand and I couldn't resist calculating your meal at 74 cents a serving! That ROCKS!

  • ConservaChick

    My mom used to make this. It's one of my favorites! We like avocado on it, but that adds up pretty quick. Thanks for putting down the cost! ~Karlie

  • ~Robin

    Yum! This recipe will help me keep my new years resolution to mae soup every wednesday:) Thanks for sharing.

  • EEEEMommy

    Great post! I love to see the numbers and how you worked with what you had on hand. That's definitely the key to cooking for me: find a basic recipe to serve as a guide and improvise/adjust to what I have on hand and what we like.
    I love Taco Soup! We really like to use black beans too! To make it even less expensive, you can use dry beans; my problem is that that requires thinking ahead (to soak them), hence the bags of dried beans remain sitting in my cabinet. ;)

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