I am constantly on the lookout for cheap meals (See: 20 Dinners that Cost $5 or Less here and here). There are some great ideas in those posts, but now I’m looking for those “Oh crap, we don’t have a lot of money next week” meal ideas. We’ve eaten for $30 a week and $37 a week on a few occasions and it’s been tough, but using the cheapest meals possible really helps keep costs down.
Are these meals healthy?
Some of the 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 meals are perfectly fine to serve to your family, whether or not you are in a rough financial spot!
Here are 16 meals, breakfasts and dinners alike, that you can make with very little money.
Meals to Make When You Have No Money
- Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches– This one’s a bit obvious, but PB&J is a classic staple. 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.
- 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. If you have shredded mozzarella, 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!
- Bean and cheese burritos– Here’s my favorite recipe. Homemade refried beans and a little shredded cheese make an easy burrito. These freeze well, too!
- Pancakes/waffles– 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. I’m fond of this oatmeal pancake recipe, and this whole wheat blueberry waffle recipe.
- Grilled cheese– 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.
- 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 to save money!
- Sloppy Joes– Ground beef/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 Lentil Sloppy Joe recipe. This one makes a ton!
- Goulash– Who knew something so simple could be so good? Cooked macaroni, ground beef, and tomatoes! Here’s the recipe we use.
- 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!
- Quesadillas– Add anything to it: Rice, black beans, shredded chicken, ground beef, or even just plain cheese.
- Red beans and rice– A good way to make plain rice and beans taste better. Here’s my favorite recipe!
- Biscuits– Biscuits make a great breakfast item. Make an egg sandwich, add a simple gravy on top, or eat plain with butter and honey. Here’s my favorite biscuit recipe.
- 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 anything to make it more filling.
- Egg and cheese burritos– Breakfast burritos are great in the mornings, and even freeze well. You can add ground sausage to stretch it more.
- Rice and beans burrito bowl– Maybe I’m weird, but I’m okay with eating just rice and black beans. The best combination, for me, is adding roasted sweet potatoes, and eating it with salsa and shredded cheese.
- 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. Here is a cheap one that contains just peanut butter.
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! Swagbucks really helped when we needed to pay for Allison’s baby formula. Click here to create an account and start earning FREE gift cards to stores like Sam’s Club, Wal Mart, Amazon, and Target!
Do you have any tested recipes to add to this list? Please post in the comments below!