If there’s one thing that every family needs, it’s a way to make sure that their nightly dinner doesn’t break the bank! Cheap meals are ALWAYS useful, to feed your family healthy meals without totally ruining your monthly food budget!
Whether you’re looking for more creative ways to avoid overspending when it’s getting to the end of the month, or if you’re just looking to overhaul your spending habits, we’ve got something for everyone on this list.
Seriously, maybe you’re thinking we sound silly for thinking this is an important topic to discuss.
But when the last time you checked your grocery budget? I mean, sure – more ingredients and fancy seasonings can definitely make for an incredible and delicious meal. It’s definitely possible to have delicious and even healthy frugal meals without breaking the bank.
If you can end up with the same level of satisfaction once the meal is done with a cheaper per-serving cost as with a more expensive meal…well, why spend the extra money in the first place?
Let’s dive into this yummy cheap meals for your family!
How To Meal Plan On A Budget
It goes without saying that the BEST way to make sure you’re making quick inexpensive meals is to make sure to meal plan each week. Whether you’re making designing your menu using a service like $5 Meal Plan, or simply searching yummy recipes off of Pinterest, a meal plan is maybe the only way to truly make sure that you’re not overspending on food!
Making a low-budget food shopping list is no different than making a list full of extravagant items, except for one thing — watching for sales.
You CAN still have steak, gourmet sauces on your pasta, or expensive produce, even if you’re on a budget. All it takes is designing your meal plan around what’s on sale, as opposed to what you feel like you’d want to eat this week.
For example, where we live a family-sized pack of boneless, skinless chicken breast typically runs about $1.89-$1.99 per pound. If we wait for the super sales when it goes down to $1.49 per pound, we could reduce the cost of making that meal by up to 20%, by changing the price of just ONE ingredient!
Another local store sometimes has sales as low as $0.99 per pound for the exact same meat, although they’re even rarer. Still, a 50% savings is massive!
Now imagine the savings if you can get ALL the ingredients on big discount!
Shopping On A Budget For Food
So now that you’ve got your head wrapped around how to plan for these cheap meals for the week, what about when you actually go shopping? There are a few pitfalls I wanted to mention so you don’t get sucked in! Here is how to keep your food costs as low as possible when money is tight.
1. Don’t always fall for the word “free.”
Some of the smaller stores will regularly run “buy one get one free” sales, especially on meat. That sounds great on paper, but if you head to the store and buy the meat without double-checking its unit price, you might find yourself paying MORE per pound even with the sale, then the regular price you could get at a different store.
2. Stick to your list.
It’s WAY easier than we all like to admit to having something catch our eye as we shop, and we end up tossing it in the cart without thinking twice about the price. There’s no faster way to ruin your food budget than that!
If this is something you really struggle with, you’ll definitely want to check out using a grocery shopping service like Instacart. Since someone else does the shopping for you and delivers it straight to your doorstep, there is literally ZERO chance for this off-list buying to happen!
3. Work on saying “no.”
Maybe your kids absolutely insist they won’t eat unless it’s brand name mac & cheese. Maybe you’ve got a couple of parties coming up and need to shop for cheap dinner ideas for large groups. Whatever the case is, it’s all too easy to feel like you need to satisfy everyone around you and their food preferences.
A friend recently had a birthday party for their kid, and was telling me how their mother felt like 2 main dishes weren’t enough — I was shocked! It’s especially important, whether your you’re satisfying party guests or planning cheap dinner ideas for picky eaters, to be able to keep things in check and say “no.”
No one needs 3 meat choices, your kids definitely can’t tell the difference between the mac & cheese brands once it’s on their plate, and your steak can taste just as good without buying steak sauce to put on top.
4. Don’t forget your coupons!
Even if you don’t have time to sit and use scissors to find your savings each week, you CAN still get those coupon savings! There are a variety of coupon apps, but one of our all-time favorites is Ibotta.
It’s even easier than traditional couponing because you can simply choose the offers after you shop (to save time not cutting out coupons you’ll never use), upload a picture of your receipt, and earn the cash back right away! Use this link to get a $5 sign-up bonus!
5. If buying in bulk to freezer, portion out before freezing!
Unless you’re super sure you’ll have time to cook 3 lasagnas when you thaw that 6 pound brick of ground beef, you’ll want to divide it up before you put it in the freezer for later. Grab a roll of quality freezer paper to make sure it’s well-stored and won’t get freezer burn easily.
You might also consider immediately making a few crockpot recipes with your bulk meat purchase, and freezing the finished product instead. Even if all you did with that ground beef was brown it before freezing, it’s still worth it for both the price and time savings! You could even toss it into an instant pot to quickly brown the beef while you’re unpacking your other groceries. Now that’s a savvy time-saver!
6. Keep up on your pantry inventory.
As you shift from shopping for today vs shopping to stock up, you’ll be able to better keep your pantry stocked with some various staple items — things like seasonings, rice or pasta, base ingredients for sauces, and canned soups, to name a few.
You can find a great starter list of pantry staples here.
Cheap Meal Ideas To Freeze
Whether you’re making freezer meals in advance to reheat later (hint hint, a GREAT money-saving tactic!) or cooking each meal fresh each night, your deep freezer will be your new best friend!
Those super sale prices we talked about? Make sure you’ve got a big, good quality deep freezer with plenty of room. When you see incredible deals like chicken breast or Italian sausage for $1 per pound, buy as much as you can!! Filling up your freezer with chicken especially is always a smart choice – it is hands down the most versatile meat out there!
There’s a couple benefits to having a well-stocked, low-priced freezer (and pantry!):
- You can “go grocery shopping” at any time of day, in any weather, and wearing anything — even your pajamas!
- If you find yourself really tight on money for a month or two, with a big enough (and stocked enough) freezer you could potentially get by for the entire month without needing to buy meat at all! When it comes to making frugal meals when you’re on a super tight budget or a no-spend month, nothing beats what amounts to free food since it’s already been paid for!
- You have NO excuse to ever NEED to pay full price for any freezer-friendly food ever again! You have the freedom to shift your grocery spending from “what do we need today” to “what should I stock up on for next month/later?” Total game-changer in making sure you don’t kill your budget!
Need I say more? When it comes to building a healthy shopping list on a budget, making it a habit to keep a “freezer stash” is a must!
Cheap Dinner Ideas
Now that you’re ready to get started planning out your family meals on a budget, we’re ready to dive right into this list!
You’ll find the list broken up into sections by main meat ingredient (or lack thereof) to help you find what you need more easily! All of these recipes are cheap enough that you could increase the recipes by double, triple, or more, and still have a meal to feed even an entire party for a reasonable cost!
Cheap Dinner Ideas With Chicken (or Turkey)
There’s a reason why Dave Ramsey’s favorite saying when talking about saving money on a food budget is to eat “beans and rice, and rice and beans.” Beans are just about the only “meat” out there that’s cheaper than chicken!
Because of close similarity in both taste and price, you could try replacing the chicken for turkey with many of these meals!
Honey Garlic Chicken
Found on Chef Savvy
Drumsticks are always a great choice for a tasty meal on a budget! With a little work for a simple but flavorful honey glaze, you’ll have your family requesting this cheaper meal so often you won’t even touch the end of your food budget!
Crockpot Cheesy Chicken and Rice
Found on The Country Cook
Rice, chicken, and cheese. Pretty much the dream team when it comes to cheap but delicious!
Buffalo Chicken Roll-ups
Found on It’s Always Autumn
Up here where we live, buffalo chicken is all the rage (and rightfully so). Not only would these make a great dinner idea on a budget, but you could make smaller version for tailgating snacks too!
Crockpot Smothered Chicken Legs
Found on Mommy’s Fabulous Finds
Drumsticks again for the win! Yes, they can definitely be cooked in a crockpot, in a number of ways, for most like the easiest meal you’ll ever put together!
One-Pot Lemon Herb Chicken & Rice
Found on Creme de la Crumb
Only having one dish to wash when I’m done cooking is always a huge win in my book. Big on flavor, low on cost, this dish is good enough to give any takeout a run for its money!
Easy BBQ Baked Breaded Chicken Recipe
Found on Eating On A Dime
Please. STOP buying those pre-breaded, frozen chicken strips for outrageous prices per pound when you can SO EASILY make your own at home for half the cost or less!
Baked Chicken Parmesan
Found on Lil’ Luna
Chicken parmesan is no longer limited to those rare nights you get to go on a date night to a real restaurant! Seriously, this is easy, juicy, delicious, and SO much cheaper than eating out or buying convenience versions from your grocery store!
Baked BBQ Chicken Tenders
Found on The Diary of a Real Housewife
Just like with the breaded chicken recipe above, THIS is your solution to have those little chicken tender strips everyone in your family loves, for a fraction of the cost. Enjoy the savings!
Slow Cooker Chicken & Stuffing Casserole
Found on The Seasoned Mom
This is a PERFECT recipe to plan for during Thanksgiving season – stuffing goes on super sale, will last on your pantry shelves for months in its box, and will be a welcomed warm and tasty meal later in the cold of winter when you need a pick-me-up comfort food dinner!
Keep the cost even lower by putting your leftover Thanksgiving turkey to good use instead of the chicken!
Broccoli Alfredo Chicken Bake
Found on The Pinning Mama
A restaurant staple and a great recipe on a budget. Use frozen broccoli to keep costs down, buy the pasta on sale, and you’ve got yourself a 5-star meal on more like a $5 per casserole dish budget!
Slow Cooker Brown Sugar and Garlic Chicken
Found on Flavorite
A nice alternative to pulled pork in the backyard BBQ off-season.
Cheap Dinner Ideas With Beef
Chicken might be the most versatile, but many people will argue that beef always has the better flavor options. Whether it’s worth the price or not is up to you, but these beef-based quick meals on a budget might just have you sold!
Don’t forget to consider swapping out the ground beef in some of these recipes for ground turkey or ground chicken to save even more on your food budget!
Easy One-Pot Keto Ground Beef Stroganoff
Found on Living Chirpy
I don’t think I’ve ever met someone who doesn’t enjoy a good beef stroganoff. We included this keto version of the classic for those looking still maintain their special diets while staying on budget!
Beef, Mushroom, and Thyme Casserole
Found on Woman & Home
Nothing has ever screamed “budget meal idea” quite like soups do. This soup recipe is full of great flavors, but don’t forget you can always tweak the recipe to better suit your tastes or budget!
Instant Pot Spaghetti
Found on Crunchy Creamy Sweet
Restaurants serve a spaghetti dinner with just a plain tomato sauce all the time as a complete “meal,” so why can’t you? Add as little or as much ground beef as you want, for protein and/or flavor purposes.
(Stock up on frozen meatballs when they’re on super sale to make this meal cost even less, AND even faster to throw together!)
Philly Cheesesteak Mac & Cheese
Found on Wine and Glue
Philly cheesesteak flavor doesn’t need to be reserved for the sandwich anymore with this filling and tasty cheap dinner idea!
Found on Kawaling Pinoy
This quite ethnic dish isn’t as odd as the name might make you think – it’s essentially just braised beef. Serve on a roll or with simple rice to keep the cost as low as possible!
Slow Cooker Beef Stroganoff
Found on CincyShopper
While the keto version of stroganoff above is a great alternative to the often calorie-heavy original, you can’t go wrong with some classic (and cheap) ingredients, like egg noodles and a can of cream of mushroom soup!
Slow Cooker Beef Burritos
Found on Frugal Ginger
Perfect as a dinner recipe or for a budget-friendly lunch idea to add to your meal prep routine. You could even swap the rice for scrambled eggs to make a terrific grab-and-go breakfast idea!
Crockpot Steak Bites
Found on Eating On A Dime
Simple and multi-purpose, this is a recipe for a meat you could either use as-is with a side dish, or convert into a number of different meals — use it in your breakfast burrito, slice it even further to make a mock “shaved steak” sandwich, or mix it into some simple fried rice and broccoli for a throw-together stir-fry!
Salisbury Steak In Mushroom & Onion Gravy
Found on Great Grub, Delicious Treats
There’s a reason your grandma made Salisbury steak — no it’s not because it’s “old people food,” it’s because it’s so affordable. If there’s one thing that most everyone’s grandma was always good at, back in the day, it was stretching her dollar when it came to feeding her family. Take a page out of her book and give this one a try!
Crockpot Beef Stew
Found on Gonna Want Seconds
Beef stew is another staple around here. You just can’t go wrong with it!
Buy your ingredients during a great sale, whip up a giant batch of it, and freeze leftover portions so you’ll always have a good stock of it but without the work each go!
Slow Cooker Pot Roast
Found on Recipe Tin Eats
Another one of grandma’s favorite money-stretching recipes. Why? Because if you add enough of the right seasonings and flavors, you can make almost any roast cut of beef turn out about right for this meal!
Cheap Dinner Ideas With Pork
Pork is a meat that can be either very affordable or very pricey, depending on the cut, so always make sure to double check sales (and unit prices) before you dive into a pork-based frugal meals!
Apples and Spinach Pork Chops
Found on Garnish & Glaze
How fancy does this cheap meal look? If you hosted a dinner party you’d surely impress all your guests with both incredible taste and a low cost! Saving this meal until apple season kicks in (autumn) will be sure to save you even more!
Easy Country-Style Pork Ribs In The Oven
Found on Baking Mischief
Excuse me while I go drool for a minute.
Pork Ribs are a great meal to make if you need easy large family recipes (or a party-size recipe), because you can buy a big quantity of meat, fill up a big roaster pan, and have dinner ready before you know it!
Slow Cooker Pork Chops In Cream Of Mushroom Soup
Found on CDKitchen
This recipe may be cheap but when it comes to flavor this recipe proves that sometimes price really doesn’t matter! Another great recipe to keep in your back pocket for a super easy but delicious meal!
Pinchos Morunos (Spanish Pork Skewers)
Found on Spanish Sabores
A recipe that’s essentially just meat plus seasonings — it doesn’t get much easier to make than that! Serve it with simple white rice to be a seriously budget-friendly dinner idea!
Chicken Fried Pork Tenderloin
Found on The Well Seasoned Mom
My grandma makes a recipe similar to this and let me tell you how amazing it tastes! This is a great option to “replace” your fried chicken recipe if you find yourself out of stock of chicken in a given month!
Slow Cooker Pulled Pork
Found on Good Housekeeping
When cooking for one, for two, or for a crowd, you really can’t go wrong with pulled pork! People always seem to think that pulled pork is such a time-intensive meal, but when you can basically have it cooked while you’re at work, well, that definitely proves them wrong!
Ham & Noodle Casserole
Found on The Salty Marshmallow
Ham is a great meat to keep in your freezer, when you can often get it for $1 per pound of less! Not to mention that a big ham can really stretch for a long time, freezes well (before or after cooking), and is tremendously versatile!
Slow Cooker Cheesy Ham Chowder
Found on The Chunky Chef
That leftover ham we just talked about with the previous recipe? Use it here!
While it definitely depends on exactly where you live, it IS possible to feed a family on a $50 a week meal plan. Finding things like ways to repurpose leftover ingredients is the key to achieving that!
Cheap Dinner Ideas With Sausage or Meatballs
Depending on the type of sausage you get, this is another meat that is supremely versatile and can be super affordable (think polish kielbasa)!
Meatballs are a great option to either make yourself or stock your freezer with when they’re on a great sale!
Crockpot Cheesy Potatoes
Found on Chelsea’s Messy Apron
While this recipe calls for Italian sausage, you could definitely replace a number of other meats for that to change the flavor to your preference (or what’s currently stocked in your freezer)!
Smoked Sausage & Rice One Skillet Meal
Found on All Things Mamma
Who doesn’t love a delicious dinner that only tastes like it took a ton of work, PLUS a super fast cleanup?! Every mom’s dream!
Slow Cooker Thai Chili Peanut Butter Meatballs
Found on Melanie Makes
I know, you’re thinking that peanut butter plus meat sounds weird. But a lot of the meaty Chinese takeout food that you love is often cooked in peanut oil! When I saw a friend’s super picky 3-year old eating these, I had to try them. Amazing!
Cheap Dinner Ideas Without Meat
Something a lot of people never really consider (or never seriously consider) when trying to cut down on their food budget is removing the meat from the meal entirely.
Sure, we all need good lean protein to fuel our bodies, but there are other sources besides meat for that. While fish is an excellent source of protein, you won’t find many on this list due to an often higher unit price than meat (or at least that’s the case where we live).
Spicy Tuna Sushi Bowls
Found on Neighbor Food
Even if you can’t buy cans of tuna at wholesale club pricing, it’s still one of the cheapest protein sources you can get. Why go out for expensive sushi when you can craft up your own (and likely much tastier) version for so cheap?
Spinach & Ricotta Stuffed Shells
Found on Green Healthy Cooking
I love this recipe for “meatless Mondays” in our house because with the Ricotta cheese I’m not missing out much on protein and flavor!
Mexican Vegan Falafel Bites
Found on Cotter Crunch
Have you ever tried falafel before? I had a friend ask what it was before and the description of “it’s basically deep-fried, mashed chickpeas” really had him pulling a face.
It took one bite for him to realize this food NEEDED to be in his life more often. Canned chickpeas are in the same group as beans as far as higher protein content for an incredibly low unit price. Stock your pantry and enjoy this exotic dish more often!
Vegan Mushroom Risotto
Found on Ceara’s Kitchen
There’s a reason that many vegetarians and vegans use mushrooms as a meat replacement, because by some magic they still add a fairly “meaty” taste to a dish.
Trust me, when you eat a serving of this vegan risotto, you won’t even realize anything is missing!
Creamy Spinach Artichoke Soup With Tortellini
Found on Hello Little Home
A nice twist on spinach artichoke dip – here it’s in soup form! Tortellini can be a little pricier, so definitely consider replacing it with simple pasta to keep the cost down.
Zucchini Bake With Tomatoes, Garlic, and Parmesan
Found on iFoodreal
The thing I love the most about this dish is that it’s a great way to use up those super cheap, fresh veggies from the farmer’s market during the summer! This would be perfect as a main dish (zucchini is another common meat and pasta substitute), or even as a side to take to a pot luck!
15- Minute Sesame Ginger Noodles
Found on Choosing Chia
Everyone LOVES Chinese takeout, but nobody ever likes the bill that comes with it. Make your own exotic dishes right at home for a cheap and easy dinner idea at a huge savings!
30-Minute Roasted Garlic Cauliflower Chowder
Found on Simply Quinoa
I’ve been seeing more and more recipes lately that use cauliflower as the main ingredient. I thought it was SO weird until I tried it! It’s an excellent rice or potato replacement, and a heck of a lot healthier, too!
Protein-Packed Twice-Baked Potatoes (Vegan, Gluten-Free)
Found on Pass the Plants
One of the cheapest foods you can buy are potatoes, so of course a baked potato recipe had to make this list! These twice baked potatoes are packed with cauliflower and protein-happy tofu to give you a complete yet very cheap meal on a tight budget! (Replace the tofu for bacon, ham, or shaved steak if you’re craving a meatier version!)
Easy Vegetable and Dumpling Soup
Found on Sandra Vungi Vegan
While this recipe is definitely a HUGE money-saver (the 2 most expensive ingredients in here by amount used might be potatoes and flour!), it’s also an excellently healthy one to put on your meal plan if you’re planning a few meatless nights, or if you’re really just that short on cash! If you wanted to turn this into a soup with meat in it, just about anything would be a tasty addition!
1-Hour Vegan Shepherd’s Pie
Found on Minimalist Baker
When it comes to cheap meals for large families, shepherd’s pie tends to be top of the heap since the ingredients are so cheap and 90% pantry staples! Try this vegan recipe, which uses lentils in place of the typical ground beef.
Baked Black Bean Taquitos
Found on Feasting Not Fasting
Make “Taco Tuesday” cost a heck of a lot less in your house! If you’re aiming to make cheap family meals on a tight budget, you HAVE to start using beans as a meat substitute more often. Why? They are absolutely packed with clean protein, PLUS they’re typically about 25% of the price of the same amount of ground beef! Trust me, you won’t even notice the difference in taste!
Grilled Vegetable Quesadillas
Found on Jo Cooks
Have you ever met anyone that DOESN’T like a good quesadilla? Try this easy and cheap grilling idea to satisfy your pickiest easters’ taste buds with one of the yummiest dinners on a tight budget!
Vegan Tomato Soup and Grilled Cheese
Found on Mama Miss
This isn’t just a cheap dinner idea, this is a childhood favorite around here (and a great choice for cheap dinner ideas for college students…this recipe could be modified to be 100% microwaveable)! A little bit vegan and a lotta bit cheap, when it comes to inexpensive dinner ideas for a family this classic combo cannot be beat!
We occasionally like to add some sliced, leftover BBQ chicken in our sandwiches to “beef up” this meal some, and pack in even more amazing flavor!
Cheap Dessert Idea: Homemade Fudgy Brownies!
Found on Dessert Now Dinner Later
I know no one is reading this because they took one look at that picture and absolutely cartoon-speed ran to their kitchen to make them. I mean, YUM, those look incredible!!
I know you can get cheap brownie mix for $1 a box any day of the week, but have you ever seen the ingredients on those? The ingredients are all staples that anyone who has done even the slightest bit of baking has in their baking cabinet, and the cost to make these at home is basically pennies in comparison to store-bought. Oh, did I mention that the FLAVOR is absolutely INCREDIBLE? Definitely not something you’ll get in a box!