Transform your meals from bland to grand with frugal flavor boosters!

Easy Flavor Boosters for Frugal Meals

by Deborah Jeanne Sergeant

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It's hard for home cooks to achieve the triumvirate qualities of fast, inexpensive and tasty. Mixes and canned goods are fast and often cheap, but they can get boring and predictable. Adding just a little bit of a leftover or a common staple dresses up an ordinary dish for mere pennies, plus you don't have to go out and buy anything special. Here are a few flavor boosters to help your go-to convenience foods go glam.

  • Got Milk? Make any canned, condensed soup a cream soup by using it in place of water. Replace the water in a boxed or envelope mix with milk for a creamier side dish. Milk can also make cocoa mix creamier than when using water.
  • Related: Make your own homemade seasoning mixes

  • Reserve the water in which you cook vegetables. Allow it to cool and freeze it in ice cube trays. It adds nutrients and flavor to reconstituted canned soup.

  • Mushrooms, diced onion, sliced almonds and/or celery are delicious sauteed and added to rice pilaf, instant stuffing, or canned soup or stew. Also try a strip of crumbled bacon or cooked sausage to any of the above.
  • Crush leftover croutons, flavored pretzels or seasoned potato chips to crumbs to top boxed au gratin potatoes or noodle side dishes.
  • Save leftover cooked veggies to add to soup or envelopes of rice or noodle side dishes. If you add a little leftover meat, you'll have an easy and tasty casserole right from your stovetop.
  • Extra cream cheese? Try it instead of butter in boxed mashed potatoes for a decadent flavor and creamy texture. Or soften it and blend it into store-bought frosting.
  • Related: Using up leftovers to make the most of your meals

  • Kick up the flavor of canned baked beans by draining off some of the liquid and adding a shot of barbecue sauce.
  • Blend a dollop of peanut butter into store bought chocolate or vanilla frosting. It's delicious on a chocolate cake. Stirred into canned chili, peanut butter adds an unexpected flavor that will keep them guessing.
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  • A squirt of mustard makes boxed mac & cheese so much more interesting. It also makes the deli's potato salad edgier.
  • A sprinkle of oregano jazzes up frozen pizza.
  • Don't let that last banana spoil. If it's a bit soft, beat it into a cake mix, pancake mix, or cookie mix (reducing the other added liquid by 1/2 a cup).
  • Press sprinkles into refrigerated sugar cookie dough slices before you bake them. You'll also save time because you won't have to frost them.
  • Impart a bright flavor to your store-bought sugar cookie mix by working in a teaspoon of lemon juice.

Deborah Jeanne Sergeant writes articles for consumer and trade publications, marketing and promotional materials, and Web copy. Visit her at

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