If you do the shopping for your family, you know that grocery prices have been on the rise. And, unfortunately, even as the rate of inflation comes down, companies aren’t lowering their prices. Why? Critics and industry experts say higher inflation gave companies a reason to hike prices and increase profits, and they’re unlikely to give any of those profits up even as inflation slows.
So, while you can’t control the prices in the supermarket, you are in control of what you do. From smart financial planning, finding ways to earn extra cash, to getting creative with meal planning, and shopping sales, you can feed your family on a budget.
Today, we’re sharing some extremely cheap meals that will help you stretch your dollars when you’re low on cash or need to make your grocery money last longer.
Maybe you’re sending a child to college (or you’re in college yourself), maybe you’re saving to buy a house, lost a job, or are cutting back on spending to pay down debt. We’ve all been there at one time or another!
These meals might not be fancy, but they get the job done. So, when money is really tight, these are some terrific family meal options.
And, these dishes might spark some inspiration for other cheap meal ideas.
Are These Foods Nutritious?
The extremely cheap meals we’re listing below might not all be as well-rounded as we’d like when it comes to nutrition. They don’t all have veggies or fruit (or not as much as we’d ideally want).
Think of them as a starting point. When you’re able to add a side of vegetables or fruit, of course, you should!
These ideas aren’t meant to be your only meals, but instead, simple, cost-effective ways to feed your family for those times you need to watch your spending.
21 Extremely Cheap Meals to Stretch Your Budget
1. Pasta and Jarred Sauce
Here’s a simple, affordable, and tasty meal idea: pasta and jarred sauce. Have these items in your pantry as an emergency go-to for a quick dinner.
The next time you see a good sale, pick up a few jars of sauce and some pasta to keep on hand.
And here’s an simple recipe for quick pasta bake: toss together cooked pasta and a jar of sauce in a casserole dish, then sprinkle the top with some shredded mozzarella. Pop it in the oven at 375°F (190°C) for around 20 minutes, and you’ve got a delicious dinner.
Waffles and pancakes are always popular, especially with the kids, and they make a filling meal for breakfast or dinner!
You don’t need a boxed mix to make pancakes or waffles, but when you do find a good sale, grab a couple of boxes! We like the mixes that only require you to add water.
You can also make your own pancakes or waffles from scratch very affordably.
3. Cheese and Bean Burritos
A simple burrito made with pinto or black beans and a little cheddar cheese is always delicious.
Of course, canned beans are inexpensive, but buying dried beans and making them yourself is an even less expensive option–and more flavorful too.
Depending on your budget, add toppings like salsa or sour cream.
4. Baked Potatoes
A baked potato can be a satisfying meal in itself.
Start with large potatoes and top them any way you like. Besides the traditional butter, sour cream and chives, you can use bacon, taco fixings, chili, or broccoli and cheese.
5. Tuna Salad
Tuna salad is a fantastic budget-friendly meal. Not only is canned tuna itself an affordable protein source, but when mixed with simple ingredients like mayonnaise and seasonings, it transforms into a flavorful and filling dish.
Scoop it onto a bed of lettuce, put it on a sandwich, or enjoy it with crackers.
Tuna salad is a satisfying and economical meal choice that doesn’t compromise on taste or nutrition.
6. Grilled Cheese Sandwiches
Who doesn’t love a grilled cheese sandwich? It’s a classic comfort food, and it goes perfectly with a can of tomato soup, which is also pretty easy on the budget.
Get creative by adding leftover ingredients like spinach or deli meat, if you’d like.
7. Peanut Butter & Jelly Sandwiches
Next on our list of extremely cheap meals–peanut butter and jelly. This timeless classic is an excellent option for a frugal meal.
The satisfying combination of pantry staples (peanut butter and fruit jelly or jam) is a familiar flavor that kids love and that will take you back to childhood.
Not only is it an inexpensive meal but a PB and J offers a good balance of protein and carbohydrates, making it a terrific choice if you’re looking for a simple and budget-friendly meal.
8. Hot Dogs
Speaking of foods kids love, you can’t go wrong with hot dogs if you’re looking for something your family likes and that will save you money.
Hot dogs are not only affordable, but also quick and easy to make.
They’re perfect for busy days or when you’re looking for a fuss-free meal solution. Plus, you can get creative with toppings and condiments, adding some extra flavor without straining your wallet. Whether grilled, boiled, or microwaved, hot dogs are always a hit!
Next on our list is oatmeal–it’s actually a pretty awesome choice when you’re looking for low-cost meal ideas.
Oats are perfect for providing those long-lasting carbs and fiber that keep you feeling full.
And, the best part is that you can customize your oatmeal with whatever you like and happen to have in the house. Toss in some fruit, nuts, cinnamon, and maybe a drizzle of honey.
Oatmeal is like a blank canvas for making a tasty and healthy breakfast or snack. When you want a budget-friendly way to kick off your day with something hearty and satisfying, think oatmeal!
10. Sloppy Joes
Another recipe that’s easy on the pocketbook is Sloppy Joes.
This family favorite starts with ground beef, and you can either make your own sauce or buy it canned. (If you’re buying sauce, look for sales, and buy a few cans at a time.)
Either way, Sloppy Joes make a hearty, flavor-packed meal everyone will love.
For a fun twist, instead of using hamburger buns, make open-face Sloppy Joes on Texas Toast!
12. Chicken Salad
Chicken salad is a wonderful frugal meal, and here’s a hack to make it even more economical: use your Instant Pot to cook up chicken exclusively for those crave-worthy chicken salad lunches.
You’ll save money by cooking up a whole chicken, rather than buying chicken breasts, and you’ll get several meals from that one chicken.
You can serve chicken salad on crackers, bread, or toast, or even on lettuce.
13. Egg and Cheese Burritos
Egg and cheese burritos–they’re the budget-friendly meal MVP.
Eggs are packed with protein and cheese adds that gooey, savory goodness. Wrap that combo up in a tortilla, and you’ve got a handheld meal that’s quick, easy, and perfect when you’re on the go.
Plus, you can get fancy if you want–throw in some veggies, maybe some salsa–whatever you have in the fridge. It’s a good way to use up leftovers so they don’t go to waste.
By the way, breakfast burritos freeze well, so you can make several at a time, and reheat them as you need them.
Who else likes goulash? It’s a budget-friendly meal that makes the most of simple ingredients, including ground beef, tomato sauce, pasta, and seasoning.
And, for such a hearty, stick-to-your-ribs meal, it’s very affordable.
There are lots of variations on the recipe, and maybe you already have one you love. If not, there are loads of goulash recipes to be found all over the internet.
Picture this: tortillas filled with melted cheese and whatever leftovers or simple ingredients you’ve got in your kitchen. It’s like a tasty game of mix and match with your favorite ingredients.
You can add in veggies, some shredded chicken, rice, black beans, ground beef, and/or cheese–or even just cheese filling on its own.
Quesadillas are a blank canvas for culinary creativity that won’t empty your wallet. So, if you’re looking for an easy and affordable meal, quesadillas are your go-to – they’ve got flavor and frugality all wrapped up.
16. Red Beans and Rice
Beans and rice is perhaps the king of budget-friendly meals! After all, these are two of the most affordable staples you can buy.
The combo of red beans and rice simmered together with onions, bell peppers, garlic, spices, and maybe a bit of sausage for extra flavor–it’s a comfort food that can’t be beat!
If you don’t already have a recipe, a quick online search will bring up lots of choices for Louisiana red beans and rice, including Instant Pot and slow cooker options.
17. Burrito Bowl with Rice and Beans
Speaking of recipes to make with beans, a simple burrito bowl is an inexpensive dinner idea that each family member can customize to their taste.
You probably have the basics in your pantry already–rice and beans.
Add to that whatever you’ve got on hand. Try corn, peppers, onion, tomatoes, sweet potatoes, cheese, salsa, sour cream, black olives, maybe some avocado slices–the possibilities are endless.
Burrito bowls aren’t just a satisfying, DIY meal, but you’re also making the most of your ingredients. It’s like a little fiesta of flavors that’s easy on your budget.
18. Pasta Salad
Next on our list of extremely cheap meals is pasta salad.
Pasta is definitely one of the most wallet-friendly carbs around. Then, just throw in some veggies, maybe a bit of cheese, or whatever’s in your fridge.
Mix it all up with a simple dressing or mayonnaise, and you’ve got a dish that’s tasty and affordable.
19. French Toast
Made from two of the most budget-friendly ingredients you can find, French toast is a thrifty meal idea, whether you serve it for breakfast or dinner.
You can even whip up a big batch to freeze for busy school days.
Soup is another unsung hero of budget-friendly meals. It’s amazing how something so simple can be so satisfying.
Just get out a pot, some water or broth, and pretty much any odds and ends from your fridge or pantry–veggies, grains, maybe some leftover meat. Toss it all in, let it simmer, and voilà! You’ve got a hearty, flavorful bowl of comfort.
The beauty is that you’re using up ingredients that might’ve gone to waste otherwise, and the result is a big batch of goodness that can last for a few meals.
Plus, soup is like a canvas for creativity–you can customize it with different spices and flavors. So, when you’re aiming for a meal that’s not only easy on the wallet but also warms your soul, soup is a great choice.
21. Ramen Noodles with Add-ins
Everyone knows ramen noodles are just for college kids, right? Wrong!
Yes, they are probably one of the least expensive foods you can buy, and they probably won’t fill you up for long, but you can fix that.
Just add some frozen, canned, or leftover veggies or chicken, and you can make your ramen noodles into a real meal.
Almost all of us have had to stretch our grocery budget at one time or another, but with these low-cost meal ideas and careful planning, you can get through those hard times.
Here are a few more tips:
- Create a budget.
- Create a meal plan, ideally using store sales or what’s already in your pantry as your guide.
- Use a savings app.
- Make a shopping list, and stick to it.
- Allocate time each week for meal planning.
- Stick to your meal plan and your budget.
A final tip…be careful not to waste food. If you’re the typical American, you’re throwing away a pound of food every day! And, unfortunately, it’s easy to do, especially if you’re cooking for just one or two people.
The solution? Carefully plan your meals so that you don’t buy too much food. If you can’t eat all of your leftovers, see if they can be frozen.
You can also think about occasionally using a meal delivery service. When you consider how much food you buy to make one recipe, how much of that may go to waste because you’re forced to buy more than you need, and how much sits in your pantry for months before expiring, these meal kits are quite inexpensive per serving.
Many of them get great reviews and even cater to various diets, like vegan, gluten-free, etc.
Do you have more budget-friendly meal ideas? Leave us a comment.
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