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Stressed-Out Adults Are Sharing The Easy "Survival Meals" They Rely On When Life Gets Hard Or Budgets Are Tight

If you think back, you can probably picture (and maybe even taste) a "survival meal" you once relied on, whether it was something comforting you fell back on when times were tough or a cheap and filling recipe for those nights leading up to payday. Well, redditor u/what_the_a recently sparked a nostalgic discussion when he said he "revived a 'poverty meal' from my childhood" that horrified his partner. People quickly chimed in with their own survival meals — and here are some of the best responses.

1."Bread pizza. It was simple: Bread (toasted if we were feeling fancy) with cheap tomato sauce, bulk cheese, and a few slices of pepperoni. Broil 'til the cheese is melted. Now that my dad is gone, this is dinner on his birthday."

Two slices of pepperoni pizza on a wooden cutting board

2."I’m British and was brought up in the 1970s by a Welsh mother who wasted nothing. We had a meat grinder, and anything not eaten in our Sunday roast was ground up and added to the slow cooker with barley, lentils, and any leftover vegetables. Shortly before it was served my mum would drop in dumplings. It was amazing."

Ground beef and vegetable stew in a skillet, served with a side of bread

3."Lazy chicken parm. It's just frozen chicken nuggets on spaghetti with prego sauce and shredded Parmesan from the green bottle."

A plate of chicken nuggets with sauce and a side of waffle fries

4."Mac 'n' cheese with hotdogs. My mom called this pennies and cheese! I didn't know others actually ate this same meal!"

A bowl of macaroni and cheese with sliced hot dogs mixed in, on a table next to a can of cashews

5."Hamburger soup. This meal was basically a way to use up the last of the vegetables in the fridge before they went bad. Brown up some ground meat, add onions, garlic, and any bits of veggies, then season to taste. Cover with water or frozen chicken broth, and add herbs, salt, and pepper to taste. Toss in a bit of barley or macaroni towards the end. I usually got a few meals out of a single batch."

A pot of homemade soup on a stove with a handwritten recipe card in front

6."Mine is papas con chorizo, which is cubed boiled potatoes scrambled with egg and chorizo."

A plate of breakfast with hash browns, cheese, and beans

7."Tomato sandwiches made with nothing but tomato, mayo, pepper, and white bread. Delicious. It's unreasonably good for what it is. The pepper does the trick."

A slice of bread topped with cottage cheese and tomato slices, garnished with pepper and salt

8."As a kid, my brother and I would make bologna roll-ups with fried bologna and scrambled eggs. We'd roll the bologna around the eggs a few times and chow down."

Sliced sausage served on a bed of rice on a patterned plate

9."My mom finds it disgusting that my brother and I (now in our 50s) still love the occasional bowl of plain macaroni and canned stewed tomatoes. We ate that a lot growing up."

A bowl of pasta with a slice of buttered bread on top

10."Red beans and rice. Cook ham hock, some andouille sausage, some beans, some rice, spices, and you've got a big pot of a good meal that can feed you for a few days."

A person holding a plate with rice and beans

11."Mix together some sugar and cinnamon. Then grab buttered toast and sprinkle on the sugar mix. It's good for satisfying a sweet tooth when there's nothing else in the house."

A plate with two slices of buttered toast next to a mug of coffee

12."A Bulgarian 'poverty meal' that was a staple in my house growing up was cooked macaroni in warm milk sweetened with sugar (and vanilla if you had it), then topped with some crumbled brined cheese like feta. The sweet and salty just really hits. We'd take any remaining macaroni and throw it in a baking dish with milk, sugar, and an egg and bake it into a custard-like macaroni dessert."

Baked macaroni and cheese in a dish with a golden-brown crust

13."Salmon patties. Growing up, my brothers and I didn’t even realize salmon or tuna patties were a struggle meal. I still make them a few times a month. In fact, my mom whips up a quick batch when the family is home over Christmas because they are so tasty."

Two chicken patties over lettuce on a blue patterned plate, with drizzled sauce

14."Open-faced hot turkey. Take a slice of toast, add a schmear of leftover mashed potatoes, some sliced turkey lunch meat, and a spoon of simple gravy (chicken bouillon, water, and corn starch). Serve it hot with a side of canned green beans for good measure."

Open-faced turkey sandwich with stuffing, mashed potatoes, and gravy on a plate. Steam rises from the hot meal

15."Given the cost of everything, I’ve been prioritizing making sure we clean out the pantry and don’t shop until we absolutely have to. I decided to make some Tuna Mac for lunch, and honestly, it was tasty. I jazzed it up a bit more than my mom ever did, but it still gave me fond memories and hit the spot. It’s literally tuna mixed into boxed mac 'n' cheese. There’s no crispy topping, and there’s no baking it. It’s a one-pot, stovetop meal. This stovetop version is the real 'I’m making it work' vibe."

Bowl of macaroni and cheese with a fork on a kitchen counter

16."I used to make something similar to seven layer dip but baked into a casserole. My kids called it 'Mexican goo.' The bottom layer is seasoned refried beans. The second layer is rice (I generally use leftover Spanish rice). Next is whatever meat you have in your fridge already cooked (ground beef, leftover rotisserie chicken, leftover pot roast, etc.) seasoned with spices, enchilada sauce, or taco seasoning. The next layer is vegetables (think: Rotel, pico de gallo, or canned diced tomatoes and jalapeños). The final layer is cheese. Bake it at 350°F until the cheese starts to brown and bubble. Serve it with tortilla chips for dipping or wrapped up in corn tortillas."

A glass baking dish filled with a layered taco dip topped with cheese, tomatoes, and green onions, on a kitchen counter

17."Rice and chicken porridge. Grab some rice, cook it with cheap chicken parts, and boil it all until it turns into porridge. Add salt and pepper, remove chicken bones, and stir it so the rice and chicken mix together. It looks terrible, but it's so comforting to eat during the winter."

Bowl of rice porridge topped with green onions and a brown sauce

18."One of our regular 'pantry meals' is chicken noodle casserole. We always have Kirkland canned chicken, some cream of whatever-the-hell-you-want soup, egg noodles, cheese, and a bag of frozen mixed veggies in the pantry."

Baked casserole with corn, peas, melted cheese, and crispy onion toppings

19."Beans and cornbread. This is a sentimental one for me. It was one of my dad’s favorite meals, and he made it well. We ate it with sweet pickles on the side."

A bowl of beans and slices of sausage, with a piece of cornbread on the side

20."My mother used to make something called rice and eggs. I recently asked for the recipe, and she laughed, wondering why I'd want to make sure a dish. She only served this because times were tough. I remember a frying pan, cooked rice, and mom tossing it with beaten eggs. It came out like creamy rice, almost like a risotto but firmer. Poor food or not, this dish is one of those memories that is burned into my brain. It's been 40+ years since eating it and I can still taste it."

Scrambled eggs and white rice in a glass container

21."Pasta amatriciana, though at the time I knew it as American Macaroni. Italian immigrant neighbors taught my grandmother how to make it, and she showed it to me. We used home-canned tomatoes and sometimes would skip the salt pork, just making a tomato butter noodles sort of dinner with lots of black pepper. It’s still one of my favorite things, and it’s delicious."

Plate of spaghetti with tomato sauce and grated cheese on top

Do you have a survival meal of your own to add? Tell us in the comments or drop it into this Google form.

Note: Submissions have been edited for length and/or clarity.