Lesson 668 – Easy Baked Ziti for Rebecca and Jenny

One of the best comments I got last week during my food challenge was from a college student who said I inspired her.

I’m a college student  living in a one bedroom apartment with my best friend Jenny. I support myself and have very little money to budget with. Jenny and I make our food selections a priority without government assistance. You are an inspiration in showing that people need to prioritize food, get creative with their budgets, and stop making excuses for not doing so.”

Being the owner of two college students myself, you can’t possibly imagine how much this comment meant to me.

And so as a gift to Rebecca and Jenny, I give you my recipe for:

“Easy Baked Ziti – along with variations” (yeah, I know I need to work on the name a bit.)

My kids LOVE this dish and ask for it all the time – it definitely falls into the comfort food category. It’s easy enough for them to make it (which they do) and it makes enough for leftovers (and we all know that pasta tastes better the next day.) When I add a salad this recipe makes enough for all 8 of us (that comes down to about $1 and change  – a serving.) We had it last night and not only did all 6 (2 are away) of us have a full dinner but there was enough left over for late night snacks and someone gets a pasta lunch today.

Make it for yourself or make it for a group dinner (impressing the heck out of your friends), either way, you won’t leave the table hungry and you’ll be able to eat well for not a lot of money.

Easy Baked Ziti – along with variations

Easy Baked Ziti - wasn't fast enough to get a photo before the kids attacked it.

Easy Baked Ziti – wasn’t fast enough to get a photo before the kids attacked it.

  • 1 lb ground beef (apx $2.49) (brown in a fry pan on med-high, stir until meat is no longer pink)
  • 1 box ziti ($1.00)
  • 1 jar red sauce ($1.89)
  • 1 3-cup package of shredded mozzarella cheese ($2.49)
  • Ricotta ($1.89)

Total cost apx $9.76


Brown 1 pound of ground beef (unless there is a ton of grease don’t bother draining the meat as the pasta will soak it up.)

Boil up one box of ziti pasta

In a large bowl, mix the pasta, ground beef, one jar of red sauce and 2 cups of shredded mozzarella cheese.

In a large rectangular (9x 13) baking dish, place half of the pasta, meat, and cheese mixture.

Drop scant teaspoons of Ricotta cheese throughout (you’ll probably use about 1/3 of the container)

Layer the rest of the pasta mixture on top and sprinkle with remaining cup of shredded cheese.

Bake in a 350 oven until the cheese melts and dish is hot.


But wait a minute, what about the variations? Here you go:

  • Instead of ground beef try – ground sausage, cut up sausage links, cut up hotdogs, left over chicken, or even cut up burgers
  • Sauté some onions, mushrooms, or even carrots and add them in.
  • Try adding – chopped broccoli, cauliflower, spinach, olives or basically any leftover vegetables
  • Try a shredded cheddar cheese or a Mexican cheese, try putting a little Feta on top
  • Sauces – there are some unbelievably good flavored sauces (olive ones come to mind) that completely change the flavor of this dish, you could even use an Alfredo sauce
  • Try serving this *on top* of a salad or have it cold the next day as a pasta salad lunch, you can also freeze servings for later in the week.

This is what I’m talking about, get the basic easy recipe under your belt and then try variations with what you have on hand. You could make a different version of this meal for every week of the year and never repeat what you eat.

Eat this in good health Rebecca and Jenny and let me know how it works out.

Oh and Rebecca, when my son graduated from High School the one thing he really wanted from me was a cookbook with all of our favorite easy and thrifty family meal recipes. I put one together and called it “Zombies, Chicken, and Toast.” If I ever get it cleaned up and formatted (this gives me incentive doesn’t it? ) I’ll send you a copy.



Filed under Life Lessons, New Hampshire, Recipes

7 responses to “Lesson 668 – Easy Baked Ziti for Rebecca and Jenny

  1. How wonderful that you inspired two young students! And I can’t wait to bake a mess o’ that ziti of yours… 🙂

  2. Pingback: Cold Hors d’Oeuvres Aero

  3. Rosemarie Rung

    Wendy, I understand the convenience of buying ground beef, but it saves so much money and is healthier to grind it yourself. I buy a top round or a bottom round on sale (you can also use a chuck roast if you want it fattier) and use my chopper blade on my food processor to chop it to ground beef. I then keep out what I need and freeze the rest. This meat tends to be dry because it is very low fat, so it works best for your recipe above, tacos, chilis, etc. but you’d have to “oil it up” if for hamburgers. The plus is that know where it came from. Who really knows what is in the packaged ground beef in the store?

  4. I’m really surprised that you advocate such things as sausage and hotdogs. This is the kind of processed “junk” Jaime Oliver rightly rails against and you’d slam “food stamp mavens” for wasting money on. Store sauce that costs $1.89 has a ton of sugar/corn syrup and salt (I checked.) I’ve been a single-mom-college-student and had a daughter on her own in college so I get the whole concept. A pound can of petite diced tomatoes with no salt or sugar is under a dollar, and a can of no salt/sugar tomato paste is $.39. Make your own sauce, ladies. And heart clogging, chemical laden alfredo sauce??

    • Wendy Thomas


      I don’t claim to be an expert. I’d say that I’ve cleaned up our diets to a large degree but there is still more I can do.

      I actually have nothing against hotdogs and sausage *if* they are used in moderation. Because they contain a lot of fat, you can get away with using just a bit for flavoring. I don’t buy hotdogs often but sometimes for a lunch meal, we all crave a good hotdog with everything on it. (Nathans is the brand I buy when I do buy them.)

      And sausage? I sometimes like to add it when I cook things like lasagna and calzones. Why a bit of bulk sausage will even be added to our pumpkin cream sauce tonight that will dress our pasta.

      You’re spot on with Alfredo Sauce, however, I’ve had my last store bough jar of that stuff. It’s far too easy to make at home.


  5. barb chase

    I don’t think there is anything wrong with canned tomato sauce. Just buy the one with the lowest calorie count (some are over 100 calories per serving, others are 35), then add your own chopped carrots & onions for sweetness, garlic & herbs for flavor.
    Instead of Alfredo sauce, I usually make a classic carbonara, which is basically a little ham/bacon, egg yolks, starchy pasta water and some parmesan cheese. No cream needed. Add extras if you want – spinach, beans, peas, basil, etc. etc.
    And never underestimate the value of a chicken carcass. Save all the drippings and bones – they make a great stock to freeze for later.

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