On a super tight budget and need to eat cheaply? Here are some simple meals to make when your budget needs help!
Although things are fine now, there were quite a few times when my family needed some really cheap dinner ideas.
We’ve gone through 4 job losses, two of which my husband John was the sole money earner. And with a young daughter, that can prove to be tough!
Each time though, we’ve gotten through it. I had to be super creative with food to keep a $30/week grocery budget for a family of 3, but we ate well and survived. In fact, all the recipes we made can be found in my e-book, Emergency Meals.
The following 30 meals are some cheap family meals. Those “Oh crap, I don’t have a lot of money next week” meals. They’re not fancy, but they get the job done. And when you’re on a super tight budget, you’re just looking for the cheapest meal ideas!
Whether you’re looking for the cheapest meal to make, or what to make with very little money, hopefully these budget-friendly recipes will give you some inspiration.
Are these healthy meals?
Some of the cheapest meals below may not be nutritionally balanced. That is, they have bare-bones ingredients and may not include any fruits or vegetables.
When you have no extra money, you do what you can with what you have; and when you can add extra veggies to your meal, do it so you can add some extra nutrition. But I believe these easy recipes are perfectly fine to serve to your family, whether or not you are in a rough financial spot!
Here are 30 cheap meals, breakfasts and dinners alike, that you can make with very little money.
Cheapest Meal Ideas
1.) Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches
This one’s a bit obvious, but PB&J is a classic staple and a REALLY simple meal. It’s kid-friendly, requires cheap ingredients, and is just plain good. I like to eat mine with a banana and string cheese or yogurt.
Whole wheat bread can go well with this because it has extra protein and fiber– which keeps you full longer!
Someone once told me that PB&J is not actually a real meal; but it’s in my belly, so it must be!
2.) Pasta and jarred sauce
These are items I recommend you keep in your pantry at all times. You never know when you need an emergency meal, and pasta and sauce is as easy as it comes. When you head to the grocery store next time, think about buying one of each just in case.
If you have shredded mozzarella cheese, you can even mix cooked pasta and sauce in a casserole dish, sprinkle the cheese on top, and bake at 375 for about 20 minutes for a simple pasta bake!
3.) Bean and cheese burritos
Here’s my favorite recipe for bean and cheese burritos. Homemade refried beans and a little shredded cheddar cheese make an easy burrito. These freeze well, too!
If you don’t like refried beans, black beans or lentils work well too. You can also add sour cream or salsa.
You don’t even need boxed pancake mix to make pancakes/waffles. It costs pennies to make up a simple batch, and it’s a very cheap dinner alternative.
5.) Grilled cheese sandwiches
The classic grilled cheese. You can do pretty much anything with this, but my favorite is sliced cheddar with fresh baked bread. I could probably eat about 5 in one sitting.
To add to this simple tasty meal, buy a can of tomato soup if you’re able.
6.) Chili cheese dogs
Very simple and filling dinner. Canned chili is the easiest, although if you made chili earlier in the week, you can use leftovers as a great way to save money!
7.) Sloppy Joes
Ground beef/ ground turkey with a few condiments cooked together, and it’s a simple dinner! Here’s my favorite Sloppy Joe recipe, and if you’re going meatless, here’s a slow cooker Lentil Sloppy Joe recipe. This one makes a ton!
Who knew something so simple could be so good? Cooked macaroni, ground beef, and tomatoes! Here’s the recipe we use for a low cost meal.
9.) Baked potatoes
I LOVE making baked potatoes for dinner. You can add broccoli and cheese, bacon, taco toppings, or even baked beans. I’d never heard of that last one until recently, but it sounds interesting!
This is one of my favorite meals because they’re so customizable. Add anything to it: Rice, black beans, shredded chicken breasts, ground beef, or even just plain cheese.
Bonus tip: Bone-in chicken breasts and chicken thighs are usually cheaper than boneless. Cook them and remove the bones yourself!
11.) Red beans and rice
This is an easy meal and can make plain rice and beans taste better. Here’s my favorite recipe!
13.) Tuna melts
The most basic recipe calls for tuna and mayo, with a slice of cheese, but you can add hard-boiled eggs, relish, or other simple ingredients to make it more filling.
14.) Egg and cheese burritos
Breakfast burritos are great in the mornings, and even freeze well. You can add ground sausage to stretch it more.
15.) Rice and beans burrito bowl
Maybe I’m weird, but I’m okay with eating just rice and black beans. It’s one of those easy weeknight meals using pantry staples.
The best combination, for me, is adding roasted sweet potatoes, and eating it with salsa and shredded cheese.
16.) Oat bars
Any kind of baked oatmeal is cheap and great for breakfast. You can add bananas, chocolate chips, blueberries… The possibilities are endless, and they’re all delicious.
Try this peanut butter baked oatmeal for a cheap and delicious meal!
17. Yogurt Parfait
While Greek yogurt has more protein, it is more expensive. Feel free to use plain regular yogurt and any cheap fruits- apples or berries, depending on the season, and this makes an excellent breakfast idea!
Granola is delicious in yogurt as well! You can be frugal about it and make your own, like this Honey Vanilla Granola.
18. Ham and Beans
The great thing about soup is that you can add pretty much anything to it. Leftover chicken, beans, pasta, any kind of vegetable… Soup can serve a ton for a low price, and is amazing with homemade bread!
20. Breakfast Fried Rice
Looking for creative ways to use up rice? Breakfast fried rice is super easy and a great way to use any other leftover foods!
My favorite 5-Ingredient Breakfast Fried Rice uses sausage links. But if you’re on a tight budget, you can use a couple extra eggs instead to keep the protein high.
21. Black Bean Soup
Canned beans are really cheap, but you can also buy a bag of dried beans and cook them in your Instant Pot to save a few cents.
This 5-Ingredient Black Bean Soup uses a lot of pantry staples. Keep these on hand at all times for an easy meal!
22. Black Bean Burgers
Going vegetarian a couple times a week helps you save a ton of money. And a creative way to use beans is to make Black Bean Burgers!
Add some cheese and salsa on top and you’ve got yourself a filling dinner. This is actually one of my favorite budget meals!
23. Vegetable Frittata
I consider a frittata to be basically an egg casserole. Mix eggs with some of your favorite add-ins, and you’ve got a super filling breakfast.
My Vegetable Frittata recipe uses broccoli and zucchini, but feel free to substitute whatever you have. And frozen veggies work just as well!
24. Knorr dishes
Those packets of Knorr pasta and rice sides are really good! You can use them as a side dish, but I like to mix them with other ingredients to make a full dinner.
This Tuna Broccoli Cheddar Rice is so easy and uses ingredients that easily fit into your food budget.
25. Slow Cooker Ranch Chicken
When you can find chicken on sale, stock up and freeze it for recipes like this!
This Slow Cooker Ranch Chicken has only 4 ingredients and is SO easy. I like to serve mine over rice and roasted vegetables.
26. Breakfast Potatoes
Potatoes are a really cheap option and very filling. One bag can be made into a couple meals!
This Breakfast Potatoes recipe uses frozen bell peppers and onions to add a little extra nutrition and flavor. You may be able to save money by buying fresh and dicing them yourself!
27. One Pot Broccoli Pasta
Another delicious vegetarian recipe, this One-Pot Broccoli Pasta is full of nutrients and has a nice tang of Parmesan cheese. This comes together in 30 minutes and has very little cleanup!
28. Salsa Chicken Casserole
This Salsa Chicken Casserole is a delicious one-pan meal. Everything, including the rice, cooks in the casserole dish. That leaves you more time to clean the kitchen or prep something else!
29. Blueberry Oatmeal Cups
Having breakfast ready to heat and eat is super important for me. And these Blueberry Oatmeal Cups can be made ahead of time to save you energy!
Note: Frozen fruit is just as nutritious as fresh, and can be cheaper in the months when they’re not in-season.
30. 4-Ingredient Crockpot Ravioli
Frozen ravioli is typically pretty cheap. And if you need to omit the ground turkey, that’s fine! This 4-Ingredient Crockpot Ravioli is full of flavor and easily feeds a crowd.
On weeks when we were a little low on cash for food, I would use Swagbucks to help earn gift cards for stores like Sam’s Club to stock up on essentials like toilet paper. That can get expensive, especially when your grocery budget includes household items!
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Making meal plans every week is really one of the best ways to save money and get the best deals on groceries. Follow my beginner’s guide to get started today!
Other frugal meal ideas to help you out:
Jaime is a Nutrition Coach and professional writer. She enjoys cooking easy meals, running, and learning more about food.
Jaime specializes in helping women with ADHD learn to meal plan and cook healthier meals without getting overwhelmed.