Feed A Family for $5

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Mexi Macaroni recipeCan you feed a family of four for $5? We put the question to chefs, foodies and home cooks around the country and the resounding answer was YES!
Thus The Great $5 Meal Challenge was born.

We’ll be running a succession of $5 meal recipes over the coming weeks, with the lovely Vanessa and Ingrid Opera of Food Opera kicking off the challenge.

The following words, recipes and photography by Vanessa and Ingrid Opera, Food Opera.


When Sweet Living magazine gave us a challenge to come up with a meal to feed four for under $5, we have to admit, we didn’t know what we were going to end up with. Easy enough to throw together a packet of pasta and a can of tomatoes, but making something tasty, flavoursome and appealing is quite hard on a budget.

Whilst walking up and down the aisles of the supermarket many protein and meat options were off limits as they blew out the budget. However, beans and pulses fill you up, are cost-effective and versatile.

The beans are the star of the show – they thicken the sauce without needing to add more expensive ingredients such as tomato paste. They came from the Delmaine range and were large butter beans in a rich sauce. Even better, they were on special!

Top tips for budget shopping

Under $5 meal

Click to enlarge

Look for products on special. Our butter beans were .69c, reduced from $2.35. Quite often tins of tomatoes are on special, so buy up in bulk as they are useful in all sorts of budget dishes (pastas, stews, soups, slow cooked meals). Also, seek out the largest tin as they are often cheaper and the excess can be frozen.

When checking out the food on the shelves always look to the bottom shelf – that is where you will find the cheapest options, generic brands or less common and reasonable products.

It’s hard to make a cheap meal that contains meat, but if you can get some cheap sausages, they would be great chopped up and mixed in with this meal.

Make more than you need, so it can be frozen and used for another family meal at a later date.

Dried herbs and spices might seem expensive to buy at the time, but they can go a long way for many meals if you choose right. We added a teaspoon of smoked paprika, which gave this meal a real gutsy kick. Another good spice to buy is chilli powder, which is great for bean or meaty dishes and if you like your meals to have a kick. I often use premixed Moroccan seasoning too, which contains garlic, turmeric, paprika, and chicken extract to name a few. I shake it over chicken, potatoes or roast vegetables, and even use it to season rice and couscous.


Mexi Macaroni recipe

Toasted breadcrumbs and garlic (poor man’s parmesan) sprinkled on top would work brilliantly with this dish

Serves 4 adults

What you need:
1 onion ($0.16c)
1/2 can of 800g tomatoes ($0.80c)
1 can of corn ($0.95)
2 cans of butter beans ($0.69c x 2)
1 x packet of macaroni ($0.95c)
1 teaspoon of smoked paprika
2 teaspoons of Moroccan seasoning (or similar, or even just a whole chilli simmering in the sauce)
2 teaspoons of oil (we used olive oil because that’s what we had, but any cooking oil will do)

= $4.24 (+ spices and oil would make this up to $5)

How to make

1.  Chop and sauté the onions until soft and add the smoked paprika and Moroccan seasoning.

2.  Add the tomatoes and simmer for about 10 minutes on low.

3.  Add the beans and simmer for another 10 minutes on low.

4.  Add the corn and warm through.

5.  Don’t overcook the sauce or the beans will go mushy.

6.  Boil the water, add salt and cook the macaroni according to the packet.

7.  Stir the sauce through the pasta and serve.

8.  Garnish options – grated cheese (if you are feeling flush), chopped green herbs such as parsley, chives or coriander, or toasted breadcrumbs and garlic, aka poor man’s parmesan.

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