Classic Spaghetti Dinner

One of the simplest meals to prepare and often the first real meal many people learn to cook is spaghetti. All of the ingredients are readily available at any grocery store, even most dollar stores. It may be the least expensive meal you can whip up to feed a family of four (I’m excluding PB&J sandwiches and boxed mac and cheese from that equation). It is also a quick meal to fix in under 30 minutes.

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For the sake of new cooks I’m covering the most basic preparation here, using packaged pasta and sauce. Once you get a little experience in the kitchen you can start to make your own sauce, even your own pasta. For today, lets just get a basic (and cheap) meal on the table and worry about the “from scratch” options down the road. We like to add meatballs for a little extra heft to this meal. It is completely optional, but I’ll talk you through that too.

To be clear, just because this is easy and fast doesn’t mean it isn’t tasty. We serve this several times a month at our house for all of the reasons mentioned above, and the girls like it. They ask for it. Anything kids and teenagers will eat is OK in my book.

To make this you are going to need a large deep pan. Ideally about 12 inches or more across, and at least 5-6 inches deep. If you don’t have a pan that large you will need to break the spaghetti into smaller pieces to fit into your pan. You will also need a sauce pan to heat up the pasta sauce, and a flat baking sheet for the garlic bread.

Ingredients for 4 people:

  • 16 oz box of spaghetti noodles – $1
  • 24 oz can/jar of pasta sauce – $1 for Hunts in a can, $2-$5 for more premium jar options
  • 1 Jar of grated Parmesan cheese – $2 (lasts for several meals)
  • frozen garlic bread – $2 for 8 slices
  • 1 bag pre-cut salad mix – $2
  • 1 bottle of Italian salad dressing – $2 (Lasts for several meals)
  • Frozen Meatballs – $6 (Optional – These will put you over the $10 threshold, but you won’t use a whole bag so it covers several meals)

If you are including garlic bread, now is the time to pre-heat your oven (check the bag/box for oven temperature). Start by filling your large pot about half full with water, and heat on high to a rolling boil. Add your spaghetti. As the water softens the noodles, push the ends down into the pot so they are completely submerged. Use a large spoon to stir the noodles and make sure they are not sticking together. Reduce heat to medium and cook for 8-10 minutes until the pasta is soft.

While the pasta is cooking, put the garlic bread in the oven and put the pasta sauce in a sauce pan over medium heat. A lid is a real help for pasta sauce, it tends to bubble and splatter all over the stove if not covered. Stir the sauce occasionally so it doesn’t burn and heats evenly. If you are including meatballs put 8-10 in a bowl and heat in the microwave for about 2 minutes. Drain any liquid and add them to the sauce to finish heating up. Don’t forget to take the bread out of the oven!

Drain the spaghetti in a colander. I like to drizzle a little olive oil on it so it doesn’t stick together, but that is completely optional. Some people like to serve the spaghetti and the sauce separately so everyone can adjust the amount, some people add the sauce and meatballs to to cooked spaghetti and serve it in one dish – completely up to you. A little of that Parmesan cheese sprinkled on the spaghetti and the salad adds a nice touch.

There you have it. A hot, filling meal in under 30 minutes. If you have the budget try adding some black olives and/or pepperoncini peppers to the salad.

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