I, too, know what it is to be broke and still need to get dinner on the table. It's important to always have a few things on hand so you can always "make something from nothing". At the bottom of this post I'll have two lists. One of things to keep on hand and another of meals you can make with bare essentials and potatoes that taste really good.
Some tips if you are going through a rough time:
When you are broke, you are not worried about health necessarily but full bellies. That said, I choose recipes that don't feature hot dogs and such too often. I'm not above taking some cheap hot dogs and putting it in some boxed mac and cheese with a small can of peas once in a very great while. I'd rather have a homemade mac and cheese, but sometimes cheese is expensive.
Save everything! Save your onion and celery ends. Save your garlic and potato skins. Save all of your vegetable leavings except carrot skins. Put all of these leavings in a plastic baggie or small tub and throw it in the freezer. What can you do with this garbage? Make a vegetable stock! Just throw all of that stuff in a pan, cover it with water, bring it to a boil for a few minutes, then let simmer all day long. Strain it and it's done. If you have a chicken or turkey carcass you can make a stock throwing in your vegetable leavings as well. I've put up a tutorial on this with pictures here. That tutorial features beef neck bones.
Scour the internet for recipes, and good recipes. I've mastered the art of eating on the cheap and it's through the ingenuity of older women who have gone through depressions and wars. Do a Google search and find out what German women ate when they were burning money because it was cheaper than buying wood. Find out what Irish women cooked when there were no potatoes to be had. Learn what Amercian women did to make do during The Great Depression. I would say a huge part of the reason I'm able to stay at home is recipes and what to do with them. I'm extremely grateful for these women and their memory.
With a bag of flour you can make your own bread. You can even make your own yeast. It's called a sourdough. Put a loaf of homemade bread on the table with every meal and your family won't go to bed hungry. It's extremely filling. With flour you can make pancakes and have breakfast for dinner.
Go fishing. Not only will this be a good time for your family, you will fill your freezer if you go often. A fishing license is still pretty cheap and you can find used gear on CraigsList. Bait is likewise cheap. My husband prefers chicken liver for catfishing. Go fishing not once, but for days in a row so you can ensure you aren't breaking any laws.
Garden...even if you only have a few potted tomato plants and bell pepper plants in buckets, with these you can make meals. Eggs with tomatoes and peppers, fried pepper and tomato sandwiches, even homemade salsa and pasta sauce will help.
A little meat will go a long way when you make homemade pot pie. I can make a small chicken last about a whole week. First I bake that chicken and we have that the first night with potatoes and so forth. I de-bone that chicken and cut it up into bite-sized pieces or smaller. I use the carcass the next day to make stock. I take half of that stock and I make a huge pot of chicken noodle soup that will last for at least two days. Then I take some stock and make a gravy and I make a chicken pot pie. I usually still have leftover chicken and with that you can put it in egg rolls or something.
In times of plenty, continue to eat cheap. Buy meat but treat it like money, for that is what it is. What I mean is, if you buy a roast, cut it in half and fill around this main course with sides. Make sure you include dessert. Instead of just making roast, cube it and make stew or chili. A big pot of chili will make a couple of meals. What about the other half of that roast? Put in the freezer and forget that it's there. Use it when you need it or when it's been in there for about a year or so. That is what you will eat when your husband is on Worker's Compensation or laid off. That is what you will save back, just in case.
Learn to eat more pasta, rice, potatoes, and vegetables for main dishes. Learn to get good at cooking using these. A lot of women can take a pound of hamburger and turn it into a glorious casserole that will feed 6 people. Learn to do the same thing with non-meats. For example, pound for pound cabbage is cheaper than meat so add cabbage to your soups and stews or make egg rolls.
Desserts will round your meal out. I've made a vinegar pie that doesn't sound good, but it really is. If your family is squeamish, add another pie so they have no fear. It tastes similar to lemon meringue.
I won't always have everything on the following list, but try to keep most of it in my kitchen at all times because you never know when catastrophe will strike.
Canned Tomatoes (I prefer diced)
Regular White Rice
Plethora of Beans (split peas, black beans, navy beans, dried chick peas, pinto beans, etc)
Dry Powdered Milk
Salt, pepper, and a plethora of spices
These recipes are in the Recipes section on the right-hand side of this blog.
Irish Potato Scones
Tater Tots (you can just withhold the cheese if you don't have it)
Irish Potato Pancakes
Baked Potatoes (take the leftovers and fry in bacon grease)