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Taco Soup for the Crockpot and Food Stamps

Taco Soup is a family friendly dinner recipe that can be made in a slow cooker or Instant Pot. With just EIGHT ingredients, this easy taco soup recipe is also the perfect cheap dinner recipe for a tight budget.

Taco Soup in a Bowl

This taco soup recipe was originally posted in 2010. It is being updated in April of 2020 with new photos, pressure cooker instructions, and more money saving and dietary tips. We’ve also added a video and a printable version of the recipe, along with some affiliate links to the equipment we use. The ingredients and slow cooker instructions are the same, we’re just improving the quality of our content.

Taco soup is my favorite soup recipe and one of my absolute favorite crockpot recipes.  Whenever a friend has a baby, or someone we know is in the hospital, we deliver this for the family.  Taco soup freezes so well that we’ve eaten it six months after making a batch for bulk freezer cooking. 

This taco soup recipe is so cheap to make, that even a family surviving on SNAP (formerly food stamps) can afford it.  Wondering what food stamps have to do with it?  Read on! 

(Don’t care about food insecurity? I get it, we’re all busy. Just scroll down to the taco soup tips and tricks, or hit the jump to recipe link at the top of the post to get straight to the printable recipe)

FOOD INSECURITY IN AMERICA

Food stamps (or SNAP) are helping thousands of families in the US avoid starvation.  

Although SNAP is supposed to be a supplement to a family’s food budget, many people can only afford to buy groceries with the money they get in food stamps.  The SNAP program is a great resource for struggling families, but is it enough?  

That’s what we decided to find out back in 2010 with the United Way by doing the Food Stamp Challenge during their Hunger Action Week. We took this challenge for several years and learned a lot each time.

Dinner of Taco Soup with Tortilla chips

QUALIFYING FOR SNAP BENEFITS

Eric and I qualified for food stamps back at this time. We received several mailings letting us know we qualified, and inviting us to apply for food stamps.  

Now we ate VERY well on only $100-$150 a month.  I’m incredibly creative with our food budget and have found hundreds of ways to save money in that area. In fact that’s how Eating Richly came about, and we even have a free e-book with our favorite food hacks to save you money on food.

But when I saw that we could basically get handed $60 a week for food, I started thinking about what we could afford with an extra $150 a month that we weren’t spending on food.  Maybe a car that was more reliable, or finally getting that that nice camera I so DESPERATELY wanted for my food photos, or even a trip somewhere! 

Then I laughed at myself realizing I would never take food stamps if I didn’t actually need them to eat. (At that time I didn’t even have the knowledge to realize that I could SAVE that $150 and get some financial security).

But what if we did need SNAP?  That’s the premise of the Hunger Challenge.  

HUNGER CHALLENGE

If our family of two was starting out on food stamps, and we had nothing in our pantry except maybe some salt, could we live off of just $61 dollars for a week?  That was the biggest part of the challenge for me: pretending my cupboards of sauces, condiments, and seasonings that I’ve accumulated over the past couple of years were completely bare.

It means that for the first week of living on SNAP benefits, I would have to use a lot of the same ingredients in very creative ways.  It also means that for the most part we just ate 3 meals a day without the snacks of fruit, nuts, or other treats we were used to.  

For fruit, I could only afford a few apples, oranges and bananas, because I had to buy soy sauce, rice vinegar, sugar, rice, and other staples. I’m used to having those on hand in my cupboards, and only replenishing them every six months or so.

I created a menu and shopping list, went to multiple stores to get the best prices, and was all set to make affordable meals like potato quesadillas and red cabbage salad, a scramble, and this delicious taco soup. 

WHAT IS TACO SOUP

I was taught how to make taco soup by a friend named Denise in Hawaii. She and her husband basically adopted me and several other young adults who didn’t have family on the island.

The first time she said she was making taco soup I asked “what IS taco soup?”, imagining crushed up tacos cooked in broth. It did not sound appealing to me, but she quickly set me straight.

Taco Soup with Sour Cream

Taco soup is basically like a chili recipe that is seasoned with taco seasoning. This taco soup recipe (which Denise taught me) uses kidney beans, black beans, ground beef, onion, canned corn, tomato sauce, diced tomato with diced green chilies, and taco seasoning.

TACO SOUP COST

To update this post, I tracked how much it cost me to make taco soup now in 2020. This taco soup recipe cost me more than it did 10 years ago, especially the cost of beef. 

But this is still an extremely affordable recipe. I found a package of beef on sale for $2.49 a pound, and all the other ingredients were $1 or less each. I also used the cost of a packet of taco seasoning, rather than my homemade spice mix.

This batch of taco soup cost me just $8.66 to make. That’s $1.08 a serving for our family (we get 8 servings from it, without any sides to stretch the portions). If you want even bigger portions, it’s still only $1.44 a serving for 6 servings.

Here’s the complete breakdown:

  • Beef $2.49
  • Black Beans $0.79
  • Kidney Beans $0.79
  • Corn $0.75
  • Diced Tomatoes w/chilies x2 $2.00
  • Tomato Sauce $0.85
  • Taco Seasoning Packet $0.49

IS TACO SOUP HEALTHY?

As always, the definition of healthy is relative. I consider taco soup to be a healthy recipe for a few reasons. We use lean ground beef or turkey, which reduces saturated fat. I also use homemade taco seasoning, so we aren’t getting fillers or preservatives in our taco seasoning mix. 

Taco Soup Recipe

The beans in taco soup are a great source of fiber and protein, and can prevent a lot of diet related health issues. And the cooked tomatoes are full of wonderful phytonutrients, more than if you were to eat raw tomatoes!

HOMEMADE TACO SEASONING RECIPE

Speaking of homemade taco seasoning, making your own is a great way to control for food sensitivities, and to reduce your ingredient budget. I get all the single ingredients in bulk, and make a huge jar of gluten free taco seasoning.

Gluten Free Taco Seasoning in a Jar

TACO SOUP CROCKPOT METHOD

For almost two decades, the only way I made taco soup was in the crockpot. It’s wonderful and simple because except for chopping an onion, and browning the beef in a skillet, it’s a dump and go recipe. 

Just mix everything together in your slow cooker, and you have an easy dinner that makes your house smell amazing. It’s ready in 4-6 hours, with very little hands on work.

Here is the crockpot I use to make taco soup.

INSTANT POT TACO SOUP

Since buying an Instant Pot a few years ago, I’ve converted most of my slow cooker recipes into Instant Pot recipes. And yes, that includes my taco soup recipe. Here is the Instant Pot I use to make taco soup.

The only differences with the taco soup Instant Pot recipe are: 

  1. You can brown the beef right in the pot (one less dish to wash! Yeah baby!)
  2. You can have dinner ready in under an hour (with very little hands on time) rather than several hours of cook time for the slow cooker.

Keep in mind that even though the cooking time for taco soup in the Instant Pot is just 20 minutes, I factor in another 30 minutes for building and releasing pressure.

VEGAN TACO SOUP

Whether you are vegan, looking for a meatless Monday recipe, or can’t find affordable ground beef, you can make vegan taco soup. I’ve done this a few times for meatless Monday dinners.

Just swap the beef for an extra can each of black beans and kidney beans. I saute the chopped onion in small amount of oil before adding everything else, since it won’t be pre-cooking with the meat.

WHAT TO SERVE WITH TACO SOUP

Taco soup is incredibly filling, so when it’s just our family, we eat it without any sides. For company, or dropping off a meal, I like to include a couple side dishes to help stretch the portion sizes of the taco soup. 

How to Make Taco Soup

Since taco soup is a heavier food (with meat and beans), I like to have a light salad with a vinaigrette, like this apple cranberry salad recipe, or this grapefruit avocado salad. A healthy fruit salad is also amazing!

If you need some more carb heavy sides, these vegetable corn muffins pair really well with taco soup, especially if you aren’t eating it with tortilla chips. Or try these Mexican sweet potatoes that you can make in the oven or air fryer. 

CAN YOU FREEZE TACO SOUP?

You can absolutely freeze taco soup! I’ve mentioned this at the top of the post, but taco soup is one of my favorite freezer meal recipes. I really don’t notice any difference between frozen taco soup that’s been thawed and reheated, or freshly made taco soup.

You can freeze taco soup two different ways. 

  1. Cook the taco soup just like you normally would, then let cool and freeze in bags laid flat in the freezer. When you want to eat it, simply thaw and reheat. This is also great for saving leftovers long term if you’re cooking for just one or two people.
  2. Brown the meat and cook the onions, then mix in the remaining ingredients and freeze in bags laid flat. When you want to eat it, thaw and cook as if making it from scratch.

HOW TO MAKE TACO SOUP

Here are instructions with step by step photos for how to make taco soup. Or feel free to scroll down to the recipe card if you want to just print the recipe. 

Taco Soup Ingredients

TACO SOUP INGREDIENTS

  • 1 pound ground beef
  • 1 large onion
  • 1 can corn-undrained
  • 1 can black beans-undrained
  • 1 can kidney beans-undrained
  • 2 cans chopped tomatoes with chiles
  • 1 15 oz can tomato sauce
  • 1 envelope taco seasoning (or 1/4 cup if you get in bulk)

TACO SOUP INSTRUCTIONS

The best way to chop an onion is to trim off the hairy roots at the end, then stand the onion on that end and slice in half, straight down the middle. Make a parallel slice in each half, not quite all the way to the root end, so the pieces stay connected. 

How to Chop an Onion

Then make several perpendicular slices, not quite to the root end, on each half. Finely you can start slicing at the end furthest from the root to get nice small chopped pieces. See the video in the post for more details on how to chop your onion.

Dump your ground beef, or turkey, into the Instant Pot and break it up (or a skillet if using a slow cooker).

You want to BROWN the beef, not just get it grey, because those browned bits are caramelization, which adds flavor.

Browned Beef in Instant Pot for Taco Soup

So cook about 10 minutes on the saute setting until some brown bits start to stick to the pot. (At this point, if you are not using lean meat, you will want to drain away any excess fat) Now you can dump in your chopped onion. Mix the onion in and continue stirring occasionally for about 5 minutes until the onion has softened just a bit.

Now comes the fun part of dumping in all the cans. If you have kids at home this is a GREAT job for them, and an easy way to make cooking time connecting time. You don’t need to drain any of the cans, because the liquid in them will be the broth for the soup.

Instant Pot Taco Soup Ingredients

Add your corn, black beans, kidney beans, diced tomatoes with or without chiles, tomato sauce, and taco seasoning.

Mix everything together well. Then put your lid on and make sure it’s set to sealing. Cancel the Saute setting and set your Instant Pot to Manual high pressure for 20 minutes.

Keep in mind that while the cook time is 20 minutes, you need to factor in time for getting the pot up to pressure, and then releasing pressure once it’s done cooking. I found it took about 20 minutes to get up to pressure. Once it’s done cooking, you can immediately quick release the steam, but I like to let it slow release for 10 minutes first.

To manually release pressure keep your hand under the steam valve, or use the long handle of a kitchen utensil to turn it, so you don’t get burned.

Taco Soup in a Ladle

Now you have this amazing taco soup that’s perfectly delicious as is. But we love to dress it up with our favorite taco toppings. 

You can add sour cream, cheddar cheese (we use dairy free varieties for Larkin), green onions or cilantro, avocado (chopped, mashed, or even preserved avocado!), or crushed up tortilla chips. You can also eat the soup with a spoon or use tortilla strips for your spoons.

I hope you love this taco soup recipe as much as we do!

PIN TO SAVE TACO SOUP RECIPE FOR LATER

Don’t lose this recipe? Click here to pin this image to your favorite recipe board. Once you’ve made it, you can leave a comment with a photo on the pin. We love seeing what you make!

Taco Soup Recipe
Yield: 8 servings

Taco Soup

Taco Soup Recipe

Taco Soup is a family friendly dinner recipe that can be made in a slow cooker or Instant Pot. With just EIGHT ingredients, this easy taco soup recipe is also the perfect cheap dinner recipe for a tight budget. The cook times are for the Instant Pot Method. For the slow cooker method, plan on 4-6 hours, and no additional time for building and releasing pressure.

Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 35 minutes
Additional Time 30 minutes
Total Time 1 hour 20 minutes

Ingredients

  • 1 pound ground beef
  • 1 red onion chopped
  • 1 can corn-undrained
  • 1 can black beans-undrained
  • 1 can kidney beans-undrained
  • 2 cans chopped tomatoes with chiles
  • 1 15 oz can tomato sauce
  • 1 envelope taco seasoning (or 1/4 cup homemade taco seasoning)

Instructions

  1. Dump your ground beef into the Instant Pot and break it up. Cook about 10 minutes on the saute setting, until some brown bits start to stick to the pot. (At this point, if you are not using lean meat, you will want to drain away any excess fat)
  2. Mix the onion into the beef and continue stirring occasionally for about 5 minutes until the onion has softened just a bit.
  3. Add your corn, black beans, kidney beans, diced tomatoes with or without chiles, tomato sauce, and taco seasoning. Mix everything together well.
  4. Put your lid on and make sure it’s set to sealing. Cancel the Saute setting and set your Instant Pot to Manual high pressure for 20 minutes.
  5. Once cook time is complete, you may quick release immediately if you're in a hurry, or let it naturally release pressure until you are ready.

Notes

  • Swap a can of kidney beans and a can of black beans for the beef to make this vegan.
  • SLOW COOKER INSTRUCTIONS: To cook in the slow cooker, cook beef and onion in a skillet instead of the instant pot. Transfer to your slow cooker with remaining ingredients. Mix well and put your lid on. Cook 4-6 hours on high, or 8 hours on low.
  • FREEZING INSTRUCTIONS:
  1. Cook the taco soup just like you normally would, then let cool and freeze in bags laid flat in the freezer. When you want to eat it, simply thaw and reheat. This is also great for saving leftovers long term if you’re cooking for just one or two people.
  2. Brown the meat and cook the onions, then mix in the remaining ingredients and freeze in bags laid flat. When you want to eat it, thaw and cook as if making it from scratch.

Nutrition Information:

Yield:

8

Serving Size:

1

Amount Per Serving: Calories: 281Total Fat: 11gSaturated Fat: 4gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 5gCholesterol: 50mgSodium: 744mgCarbohydrates: 25gNet Carbohydrates: 0gFiber: 7gSugar: 6gSugar Alcohols: 0gProtein: 22g

Nutrition information is an estimate only.


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35 thoughts on “Taco Soup for the Crockpot and Food Stamps”

  1. Great post Diana! I’m looking forward to reading about the Hunger Challenge. After you mentioned it, yeah, it would be difficult to not cook with any of the condiments and sauces in our pantry.

    Reply
  2. Diana, if you decide to go ahead with your low income cooking classes, these are exactly the kinds of recipes you need! Take some cans of stuff and dump them together… 🙂

    Reply
  3. Dive on in Fran, I have plenty to share 🙂

    It’s been a great challenge Lauren.

    Thanks Karen! It looks like it’s happening, we just received some funding through the city and may have a kitchen lined up. I’m excited!

    Reply
  4. I am VERY impressed! Whoa!!!!! You turned down help with your grocery bill!!! I really have to know how you make meals for your family on only $100-$150 a month. Our food budget is $550.00 a month and we go over even, and we are a family of 4.. I admit, I do my best to buy organic when possible.

    Reply
    • I’m realizing I need to do some posts with specific tips on saving money on groceries. A couple off the top of my head: Find local farms! By doing a CSA and buying a quarter cow and freezing it, we save a TON of money. Getting things in season helps a lot, they’re cheaper then. Canning yourself while fruit and veggies are in season also saves some money. More to come!

      Reply
  5. I’ll be making this for sure! Sadly, in these times more and more people need ideas like this great one to help them through. Your post gives me hope for America 🙂 . Thanks for caring.

    Reply
  6. Pingback: Menu Plan Monday « Adventures in Cooking and Couponing
  7. We are making this soup tonight. Minus the cheddar cheese and sour cream. You make with what you have, especially with 3-6 inches of snow.

    Reply
  8. Pingback: recipe for taco soup
  9. OMG…..i love taco soup making it for my roomates hope they like as much as i do….its crazy my mother made for me and now that i live on my own at 18 feels so good to make it for others
    Thank You Mom

    Reply
  10. Diana,
    This is the first time I’ve stumbled upon your blog – taco soup is planned for dinner today at our food frugal house! I just wanted to say THANK YOU for speaking up about your decision NOT to take food stamps even though you qualify for them! I can’t even count the number of times I’ve been in line at the grocery store with my detailed list, calculations (am I on budget!?), coupons, etc feeling good about the accomplishment of feeding three (i have an ever hungry 4 year old!) on about $80/week (no food stamps!) only to have my good feeling crushed by the family in front of my decked out in brand names, buying all types of sugar filled prepackaged foods and beverages, with food stamps – I don’t want to judge, but is that necessary for them to survive?! Anyway, THANK YOU for your choice to do your part to be frugal! Thank you for sharing your efforts and recipes! I appreciate you and know that our country could learn a lot from people like you!
    Best,
    Molly

    Reply
  11. We’re not on food stamps, but I can’t spend more than about $60-70 a week for food. More shocking, I can’t use potatoes at all (severely allergic).

    Like you, I’ve learned to be creative, and I shop sales like mad. Plus, I have an advantage most shoppers don’t: My husband works for the South Texas grocery chain, HEB, and we get discounts on store brand items. Fortunately, their store brand items are usually as good as, or better than (yes, I said it), the national. They also tend to have incredible sales, and I get lucky sometimes with clearance items.

    What’s hilarious is that I’ve become my mother. She used to be nutty about food sales and finding good recipes to feed us three kids and my grandparents on a nurse’s salary. Heck, I’ve called her lately to pick her brain for the things she used to feed us back then.

    Folks, you might have to eat cheaper cuts of meats and work those leftovers like mad, but you can eat very well for $70 a week. Ask me. I know all about it.

    Reply

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