Budget Friendly Quick Cooker Ham + Cheese Pasta

I’m always on the lookout for a good meal that works well for monthly meal planning and lunches. When I scored a Pampered Chef Quick Cooker on FB Marketplace for $45 (yeah, you read that right!) I had never used any type of pressure cooker before (aside from canning as a kid). Luckily Pampered Chef comes with great manuals and videos, but of course I took to Pinterest to immediately begin researching recipes. I made a few ‘mac and cheese’ type recipes but they weren’t great. Not great flavor, not great blending for ingredients. I kept searching and stumbled upon this recipe from The Salty Marshmallow for Ham & Cheese Instant Pot Pasta.

Ummm, #nailedit.

I of course made some edits because I just can’t leave well-enough alone, but they were good edits, so below you’ll find my modified version of the linked recipe above. Also let me just tell you now, the price/serving on this is less than $0.70 per meal (cost breakdown is below)! 

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Budget friendly ham and cheese pasta made in the pampered chef quick cooker

Quick Cooker Ham + Cheese Pasta
Ingredients: 

  • 1 16-ounce box pasta (we like to use whatever; we’ve used both wagon wheels and rotini and both were great)
  • 2 cups chicken broth (bouillon cubes are way cheaper than boxed broth; I just use a 2-cup Pyrex cup and my hot water kettle to make it)
  • 2 cups water
  • 2 teaspoons Franks or another hot sauce (if you don’t really like the flavor of hot sauce you could reduce this to a few shakes or cut it, and if you REALLY like hot sauce I would add up to 2 tbsp!)
  • Garlic powder, mustard powder (you can skip this or substitute another seasoning like onion powder if you don’t have it), salt, and pepper to taste (I go pretty heavy on the garlic powder and black pepper and just a few shakes of the salt and mustard powder)
  • 12-16 oz diced ham (I bought a ham steak at Aldi and chopped it into cubes)
  • 4 ounces cream cheese, softened (15 seconds in the microwave if you don’t take it out ahead of time)
  • ¼ cup sour cream
  • 8 ounces shredded colby-jack cheese
  • ½ cup milk + more if needed 

Directions:

  1. Add the uncooked pasta, chicken broth, water, hot sauce, and seasonings to the Quick Cooker.
  2. Stir it. Try to get as much of the pasta covered by broth/water as you can.
  3. Put the lid on your Quick Cooker and ensure that the manual release button is level with the handle (otherwise you won’t get pressure). 
  4. Select ‘custom’, then select ‘time’ and use the down arrow to set the Quick Cooker to 5 minutes and press ‘start’.
  5. When the timer goes off (it takes longer than 5 minutes, in case you haven’t used a quick cooker before), hit ‘cancel’ and manually release the steam (push the button on the handle). 
  6. Carefully open the Quick Cooker. PROTIP: keep the lid over the cooker and tip it toward the cooker to catch the juice from the lid in the pot instead of on your counter.
  7. Stir in the cream cheese and sour cream until combined.
  8. Add the milk and the cheese. I stir quickly but if you don’t, you might want to add the cheese in two batches. 
  9. Add in the ham and evaluate your consistency. Sometimes it’s spot on and sometimes it needs more milk.  
Budget friendly ham and cheese pasta made in the pampered chef quick cooker makes 10 lunches for less than seventy cents per serving

I immediately spoon this into 10 glass Pyrex storage containers (we use both round and rectangle) for a week of lunches for two. The cost breakdown for this week of lunch prep is freaking great (and this list assumes you have salt, pepper, garlic powder, mustard powder, and Frank’s or another hot sauce):

Cost/Meal Breakdown: 
Everything was bought at Aldi: 
$0.79 – 16 oz box of pasta
$0.15 – 2 chicken bouillon cubes ($1.89 for 25)
$3.50 – ham steak 
$0.40 – half a block of cream cheese
$0.15 – 4 tbsp (¼ cup) sour cream
$1.69 – 8 ounce block colby-jack cheese
$0.11 – ½ cup milk
Total: $6.79 
Total cost/meal for 10 meals: $0.68 (rounded up!)

Delicious, budget friendly ham and cheese pasta made in the quick cooker makes great lunches

You certainly aren’t going to grab lunch anywhere for less than $1, let alone lunch this delicious and filling 🙂 I have a feeling this will be in our monthly set of lunch meals for a looooong time. If you decide to give a go, let me know how you like it and if you make any changes of your own!

Easy Thousand Island Chicken Bake For Two

My husband REALLY likes Thousand Island Dressing. Really really. When I told him I went looking for a Thousand Island Recipe because he likes it so much, he started listing all of the things you should dip in it… Doritos. Taquitos. French fries. The list goes on. Anyways, I know we hate when the recipe is a mile away from the title, so here it is: 

Disclaimer: this post contains Affiliate links and I may make a small amount of money if you decide to purchase from my links. Read my full disclosure and privacy policy here.

Adapted from this Fed & Fit  recipe  (though as you can see, not Paleo, and not six servings)

Thousand Island Chicken Bake (For Two)

This easy thousand island chicken bake is a delicious, quick meal for two.

Ingredients: 

  • 12 oz cubed chicken breast (I cube all of our chicken before I freeze it because of bulk buying for monthly meal prepping. You can use full breasts, tenderloins, thighs, whatevs)
  • ⅓  cup of Thousand Island Dressing (I used Ken’s lite because that’s all our grocery store had #pandemicshopping)
  • Salt (a few shakes, because I don’t measure salt unless I’m baking, lol)
  • Pepper (a few shakes, because pepper lives next to salt, so)

Directions: 

  1. Put the chicken in a mixing bowl. 
  2. Add the Thousand Island Dressing, salt, and pepper. 
  3. Use a spatula to mix it all together until all of the chicken is coated.
  4. Pour it into a 9×9 baking dish (our Fiestaware baker is my go-to)
  5. Bake at 350 for 20-ish minutes, or until chicken reaches internal temperature of 160° (I could just tell when it was done… it smelled SO fragrant and the top was starting to brown a little

Please note: you do NOT need to preheat your oven. It’s chicken, it’ll cook. Preheating ovens for recipes that don’t require scientific reactions is a waste of electricity, so save yourself a wee bit ‘o money by skipping it. 

That’s it! You’re done! I served this over instant brown rice. I meant to make some steamed broccoli to go with it but I forgot, and I was hungry, so we skipped it, lol. You can easily serve this over egg-noodles, a salad, mashed potatoes… it’s super-versatile! 

The Budget-Friendly Details

This meal is waaaay budget friendly:

  • 12 oz of chicken (from a bulk pack at Aldi) – $1.59
  • Ken’s Thousand Island Dressing (⅓ cup = 5.33 tbsp) – $0.42
  • Instant brown rice (2 cups, from Aldi 28 oz box) – $0.72 

Total: $2.73

IF we would have the aforementioned steamed broccoli ($0.89 steam bag from Aldi), our total would have been: $3.62 for dinner for two people.

I haven’t set a threshold yet for what I feel like a “good” amount of money is for a meal for two, but less than $4 is certainly great (just think, if all of our meals were $5 we’d only spend $120/month on dinner… I always want it to be cheaper, but I think that’s not bad?). One of my May budget goals (following Dave Ramsey’s baby steps, using this budget planner) was to cut our grocery budget by 20%, which we nailed (and still had money leftover). I’m tempted to cut it again, but we’ll see how June goes first!

Do you already inventory your food and meal plan? Have you ever done a full month? I’d love to know your process!