Andrew Parker

Struggling to Shake It: 25 Poverty Meals That Stick Around Despite Social Class

If there’s something we can all agree on, it’s that we all have our own tastes when it comes to food. And that’s okay. Sometimes the food you choose can, accidentally or not, say something about your budget. Today, we’re looking at 25 foods that might make you look poorer than you actually are and what you should eat instead. There’s no judgment here because it’s all in good fun.

Instant Noodles

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Yes, we know they’re everyone’s go-to for a quick and easy meal, especially when you haven’t got a lot of time. They’re also pretty cheap. But most people think of college and tight budgets when they see someone with instant noodles, so perhaps try something different. You could go for a homemade vegetable stir-fry with noodles for just a little extra cash.

Canned Soup

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Most people have some canned soup in their pantries since they’ve got a pretty long shelf life, but they’re not as fresh or as tasty as homemade soup. If you’re really craving some, try making a large batch of soup from fresh ingredients and then freeze it. It’s convenient and much tastier, too.

White Bread Sandwiches

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Who doesn’t love a good sandwich? But having too many of them, especially when they’re processed cheese or bologna sandwiches, tells people you’re trying to cut back on your grocery bill. Try going for wholegrain bread with a richer filling, like roasted vegetables. A little hummus goes a long way without breaking the bank.

Boxed Mac and Cheese

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According to Smithsonian magazine, one reason mac and cheese is so popular is that it brings everyone together. But that doesn’t mean you should eat it all the time. Making some yourself with real milk and cheese doesn’t always cost much more, and it also makes your dish way more nutritious.

Frozen Dinners

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Frozen dinners are the ultimate convenience food. Sadly, they’re typically full of chemicals, and the New York Times claims they often have way too much salt in them. If you’re short on time, try freezing a batch of homemade meals over the weekend for you to eat during the week. It’s healthier, and you’ve also got more choices over what to eat.

Generic Cereal

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We’ve all bought a bowl of the budget-friendly cereal that tastes like the box it came in. Sure, it’s cheap, but it’s also completely boring and tells people you don’t have any money. Add some variety to your bowl with some fresh fruit or even some yogurt. Even adding nuts can make your morning routine feel a bit more special.

Hot Dog And Beans

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If you want to tell people that you’re strapped for cash, then hot dogs and beans are the way to go. If not, then try slicing those dogs and browning them in a pan. Mix them with some barbecue sauce beans and some onions to make a dish that’s both nostalgic and a notch above. You’ll never look at camping trips the same way again.

Instant Oatmeal

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Like most instant foods, instant oatmeal is a breakfast of convenience, but it’s just as boring as them, too. Give your tastebuds a ride with some fresh berries or a dash of cinnamon. If that’s not your thing, a spoonful of peanut butter should give you a quick breakfast that’s a little more exciting.

Store-Brand Soda

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There’s nothing wrong with buying store-brand soda, just with the way you use it. If you’re drinking it straight from the can, that tells people around you that you can’t afford anything better. Instead, use it as a mixer by adding some fresh fruit juice. It’ll taste less like something from a grocery aisle and more like a fancy drink.

Plain Rice

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Okay, we’ll admit that we love rice, and we’re not the only ones. Statista reported that Americans ate around 4.6 million metric tons of rice in 2022-23 alone. It’s just so versatile. But eating it on its own is hardly exciting and worth kicking up a notch. Stir in some sauteed veggies and some spices while it’s cooking to completely transform your bowl.

Spaghetti With Store-Bought Sauce

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Relying on simple and pre-made ingredients, like a store-bought sauce for spaghetti, suggests you’re trying to cut efforts. Not just in terms of expenses but also effort. Sauté some fresh garlic and herbs in olive oil with a can of crushed tomatoes to make a homemade sauce that’s way more delicious. 

Microwave Popcorn

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Yes, microwave popcorn is a quick and easy snack, but it’s hardly a gourmet choice. It’s got a lot of salt, and that tell-tale artificial butter smell lets everyone know you care about price over quality. Making your own kernels is a lot cheaper than you might think and far healthier. You can also experiment and make some crazy combinations.

Canned Chili

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Canned chili is an absolute true for the single-and-not-cooking-tonight crowd. But when it’s so easy to make your own, why are you relying on store-bought ones? You can make your own chili in a slow cooker with some ground beef, beans, and whatever else you fancy. And the taste? Chef’s kiss!

Instant Coffee

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Instant coffee is a lifeline for workers everywhere. The moment those little granules dissolve is when you know you’re going to be ready for the day. But maybe you should class it up a bit with a French press or even a basic coffee maker. It’s much stronger, and even Healthline has spoken about coffee’s numerous health benefits. You can’t go wrong.


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A PB&J is definitely a nostalgic meal. Who would’ve thought that a little peanut butter and jelly slapped between two slices of bread could taste so good? Yet it’s not exactly the lunch of champions, so perhaps you should give it a grown-up makeover. Switch the plain bread for some artisanal bread and jam that has more fruit than sugar. 

Grilled Cheese

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Sticking some store-brand cheese in a sandwich tells people you’re broke, loud and clear. Sure, it melts pretty quickly, but it also tastes like the fridge. Spend a little extra by buying some real cheese from the deli counter. Even a small block of cheddar can turn that sad sandwich into a real deli delight.

Meatloaf With Ketchup

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Eating meatloaf with ketchup is an easy way to travel back to the 1950s, but it also gives people “pinching pennies” vibes. And there’s a good reason for that. The Atlantic claims meatloaf became a “budget fare” after the Great Depression. So, making the switch from ketchup to a BBQ sauce and honey mix can turn this dish into a centerpiece.

Canned Tuna Casserole

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It’s time for another canned dish. Relying on making tuna casserole from canned foods is a definite no-go when you’ve got guests over. Yes, it might be cheaper, but it’s much better to switch to fresh tuna pasta baked with real cream and breadcrumbs. It’ll go from desperate to delightful without costing a fortune.

Corned Beef Hash

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When you open a can of corned beef hash, you’re waving a white flag on putting effort into making dinner. It’s not exactly comfort food. If anything, it’ll probably make you feel sick afterward. All you need to do is make a hash with some real ingredients to make something truly spectacular.

Potted Meat Spread

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Potted meat is one of those foods that does what it says on the tin, for better or for worse. But lay out some chicken liver pate on toasted slices of a fresh baguette, and you’re sending out a totally different message. You’ll have made an appetizer that looks straight out of a chic restaurant rather than a fast-food joint.

Beanie Weenie

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They might taste good, but making Beanie Weenies is essentially you just admitting you can’t cook or that you don’t have the money to do it. Why rough it when you don’t have to? If you’re looking to impress, we recommend making a pot of homemade chili with some ground turkey and beans.

Vienna Sausages and Rice

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No matter how rich you are, serving Vienna sausages over rice shows people you’re in survival mode. It completely lacks any nutrition or creativity and won’t get anybody excited to eat. A better choice? Add in some more protein, like grilled chicken or tofu, and some fresh vegetables. It’ll look good and taste good as well.

Shepherd’s Pie

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Before you have a fit, no, we’re not saying all shepherd’s pie is bad. It’s just that relying on boxed potato flakes and frozen vegetables doesn’t send off the best message. Your food will likely lack any flavor and freshness. If you go for fresh potatoes and a variety of vegetables, you’ll give your food a homemade touch that’s hard to beat.

Frozen Lasagna

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Yes, it’s another frozen food. Pulling a frozen lasagna out of the freezer suggests that you don’t have enough time to cook, sacrificing both taste and texture. Why not make one yourself? You can buy some no-boil noodles and delicious ricotta cheese, along with whatever seasoning you want for the tomato sauce.

Tuna Salad

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Whipping up a tuna salad with the cheapest canned tuna tells people you’re looking for a budget bite. Sure, it’s a no-frills lunch that gets the job done, but it doesn’t do much for your image. Jazz things up with a bit of creativity, like adding chopped salary or even apples for a sweet crunch. Not your thing? Then give it some lemon for a little zest.

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