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Meals To Make When You Have No Money

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On a super tight budget and need to eat cheaply? Here are some simple meals to make when you have no money!

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 16 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 no money, hopefully these meals will give you ideas on what to feed your family.

Are these meals healthy?

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 16 cheap meals, breakfasts and dinners alike, that you can make with very little money.

Meals to Make When You Have No Money

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, 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. 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.

Image of waffles on a baking tray

4.) 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 Freezer Whole Wheat Waffles recipe. This is comfort food my whole family enjoys!

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!

Image of Sloppy Joes on a plate

7.) 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 slow cooker Lentil Sloppy Joe recipe. This one makes a ton!

8.) Goulash

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!

10.) Quesadillas

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.

11.) Red beans and rice

A good way to make plain rice and beans taste better. Here’s my favorite recipe!

Image of homemade biscuits on a plate

12.) 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.

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 food already in my pantry.

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.

Here is a cheap one that contains just peanut butter.

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

Do you have a ham bone in the freezer? Use that along with a bag of dried pinto beans to make a delicious and frugal Ham and Beans! It makes a ton, and you can serve it with homemade cornbread.

19. Soup

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!

Image of groceries bought at Sam's Club

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!

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:


Sunday 17th of October 2021

Cheese, meat and tuna (even pasta sauce in a jar) are luxury items where I live. So much for this site helping broke people out.


Monday 18th of October 2021

Jeanet, I pray that you find someone that can help you! I live in Ohio, and obviously your mileage may vary depending on where you live. =) Have a great day!

Emily Balon

Friday 24th of July 2020

I've been very poor and hungry before. I was homeless for awhile and then I found myself a rent-by-the-week room without a kitchen, microwave, hotplate, not even an electric kettle. I would buy 1 chocolate bar (usually a Mars bar) per day and cut it into 3 pieces, 1 piece per meal. When I finally managed to secure housing, I still had to eat very cheaply. Instant Ramen Noodle packages from the Dollar store saved my butt. I used to make a pseudo-Pad Thai with them, and use a scrambled egg, some "clearance" vegetables, and maybe some peanuts in it for extra protein. That was always good! The I finally moved again, this time to somewhere where I could garden. I grew my own vegetables and herbs. That saves a lot of money! And actually one of my favourite "Bare Cupboard" meals I still eat even though I am in a much better financial position now vs. then is Frybread (Bannock) with fried (but not breaded) green tomatoes+onions/chives+garlic+whatever other veggies I have scraps of laying around/any other vegetables that fell off of the plants too early. I use the bannock to soak up the delicious juices from the cooked vegetables. It is seriously outta this world in taste!!! Much love to all y'all who are having hard times right now. I love this post <3


Friday 24th of July 2020

Oh my goodness! Emily, you've been through it and what a testimony you have! Thank you so much for sharing this and encouraging others.


Thursday 13th of February 2020

We eat most of these all the time ?? Adding in fruit/veggies. Awesome job as always and pbj is a meal !! Have a great day. Michelle


Thursday 13th of February 2020

Good to know we're not alone!!! We still love the simple classics =)


Tuesday 10th of September 2019

Fantastic suggesions! These are things my family would actually eat. Love that vegetables on hand would be easy to add to most.


Wednesday 11th of September 2019

Thank you! Yes, I love stocking up on frozen veggies because they're such easy sides. And they usually go on sale for $1.00 at Meijer, so they're cheap too!


Wednesday 15th of May 2019

We make this often because it’s now one of my husbands favorite meals! Depending on how much you would need to make would be less than $5. I always double it because i think it’s better the next day! 1 cup cooked white rice 1 lb chicken 1 taco/fajita seasoning packet( I have also just used cumin, chili powder and garlic powder when I run out of the packets) 1 cup water Cheese to sprinkle on top I put cooked rice in an 8x8 pan, add seasoning and water to chicken( the water mixes with the seasoning and makes the rice taste so much better!) pour the chicken over the rice, top with cheese and put in oven until melted.


Wednesday 15th of May 2019

That sounds amazing and super cheap! Thanks for sharing! =)

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