By SHAUN V. RAGLAND
September 2, 2017
“Here are some of the best recipes people shared, along with a few more ideas to help you and your family eat well for next to nothing.”
If you ask a roomful of people what their biggest budget busters are, many of them will say their food spending is an issue. In fact, many Americans literally, knowingly spending more than they should on dining out.
Fortunately, there are a ton of tasty, cheap meals you can make at home with very few ingredients and not much time.
A while back, I asked The Simple Dollar’s Facebook fans. Here are some of the best recipes people shared, along with a few more ideas to help you and your family eat well for next to nothing. Swapping a lunch or dinner out with one of these cheap meals just once or twice per week is an easy way to lower your food expenses.
A note on prices: As cheap as these meals are, in reality, they’re probably even cheaper than what you see here. I averaged prices found online wherever possible (on sites such as Amazon Pantry and), which are likely higher than what you’ll pay at your local grocery store; they’re certainly higher than if you , , , or
Six Favorite Dirt-Cheap Meals
1. Sticky rice, vegetables, and soy sauce
This meal, shared by Leslie, is pretty simple and similar to something I used to cook up during my college years with an unhealthy amount of soy sauce. Using the ingredients below, you can whip up a delicious dish in minutes.
All you have to do is steam some rice, dump a can of vegetables (or a bag of frozen veggies) in a microwave-safe bowl and heat them up, then mix the vegetables and rice together with just the right amount of soy sauce. These three ingredients may not make a flashy meal, but the concoction is fairly healthy, cheap, and easy. (Next time you order take-out, save any extra soy sauce packets to make this dish even cheaper.)
- 2 cups of uncooked rice: $1
- Canned or frozen vegetables: $1.19
- Soy sauce: $1.99
Total: $4.17 (makes six servings)
Price per serving: 70 cents
2. Egg and black bean burritos
If you’re looking for a cheap, nutritious breakfast you can eat on the go, look no further than this recipe for egg and black bean burritos.
The idea is simple: Start by heating some tortillas on the griddle. While they heat, scramble a dozen eggs and heat a can of black beans on the stovetop.
Once your eggs are scrambled, assemble your breakfast burritos and add any extras you might want. Toppings like shredded cheese, sour cream, and hot sauce all work rather well. (You can alsoso they’re ready to heat up on a hectic weekday morning.)
- Can of black beans: 99 cents
- 8 pack of tortillas: $1.88
- Carton of eggs: $1.99
Total: $4.86 plus toppings (makes eight servings)
Price per serving: 61 cents
3.Grilled cheese and tomato soup
Grilled cheese and tomato soup, shared by Colleen, is one of the most nutritious cheap-and-easy meals out there. We often make it around here for lunches, and our oldest son particularly likes this meal — sometimes requesting it out of the blue.
Making grilled cheese is easy: Butter four slices of bread, and lay them flat on a hot griddle or frying pan. Add a slice of cheese, and top with another slice of buttered bread (or add some extras, like tomato slices or bacon.) Heat on both sides until each sandwich is golden brown and the cheese looks melted.
The soup part is easy, too, and can be as cheap as you want it to be — from a $1 can of Campbell’s to a $4 box of organic tomato bisque. Even making homemade tomato soup is simple with thisfrom the Food Network.
Ingredients (using boxed soup):
- Loaf of bread: $1.99
- Sliced cheese: 50 cents
- Box of creamy tomato soup: $2.99
Total: $5.48 (makes four servings)
Price per serving: $1.37
Ingredients (with homemade soup):
- Loaf of bread: $1.99
- Sliced cheese: 50 cents
- 2 15-oz. cans of chicken or vegetable stock: $1.99
- 1 28-oz. can of crushed tomatoes: 99 cents
- 1 cup heavy cream: 99 cents
- Fresh basil leaves for garnish: $1.99 (free if you )
Total: $8.45 (makes four servings)
Price per serving: $2.11
4. Spaghetti with homemade marinara
Making your own marinara sauce is easy, says Fran, the woman who shared this recipe. All you have to do is saute a large can of tomatoes, half an onion (chopped), and a pinch of garlic together for 10-20 minutes, adding salt and pepper to taste. Pour this flavorful, colorful sauce over a package of cooked spaghetti or other pasta, and you’re good to go.
Adding a few pieces of garlic-buttered toast is a great way to round out this absolutely delicious meal — which can fill up a family of four for about $2 if the garden is producing.
- 1 large can of tomatoes: $1.49
- 1/2 medium onion, chopped: 50 cents
- Pinch of garlic: 25 cents
- Loaf of bread: $1.99
- 12-oz. package of spaghetti: $1.19
Total: $5.42 (makes four servings)
Price per serving: $1.36
5. Ham, white beans, and cornbread
This meal, shared by Amy, reminds me deeply of growing up. Each New Year’s Day, my parents would make an enormous pot of ham and white beans and then invite lots of friends and family to eat with us. My mom would make a huge pan of cornbread and the mixture of the aromas would just fill the house.will help you whip up a pot of ham-and-beans that won’t be forgotten.
- 1 lb. dry great northern beans: $1.99
- 1/2 lb. cooked ham, diced: $2.99
- 1 small onion, diced: 89 cents
- 1/2 cup brown sugar: 25 cents
- 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper: 25 cents
- 1 Tbsp dried parsley: 25 cents
- Box of Jiffy cornbread mix: 89 cents
Total: $7.51 (makes six servings)
Price per serving: $1.25
6.Homemade stove top mac n’ cheese
If your kids love mac n’ cheese, throw away the boxed stuff and try this instead. Just boil a box of pasta and, in a separate pot, whisk together the milk and flour, adding about a teaspoon of salt and a bit of sugar and pepper to taste.
Stir constantly until just boiling, then lower the heat and continue stirring for a few moments as it thickens. Next, add the shredded cheese and mix until melted, and then pour the cheese mixture over the pasta.
At this point, it’s ready to serve — or if you want, you can add some “extras” to make a more tasty grown-up version, like peas, bacon crumbles, cubed ham, tuna, tomatoes, or scallions. If you have time to go all out, you can dump it all into a casserole dish, top with buttery breadcrumbs, and bake it for 20-25 minutes.
- 12-oz. box of shells, elbows, or other pasta: $1.19
- 3 cups whole milk: $1.09
- 3 Tbsp flour, sugar and salt to taste: 25 cents
- 3 cups shredded Monterey Jack cheese (about 6 oz.): $2.24
Total: $4.77 (makes six servings)
Price per person: 80 cents
7.Oatmeal and banana
Oatmeal is extremely nutritious and easy to make. Around here, we like to cook up a bowl of steel-cut oats and add any fruit we have on hand, or some cinnamon and raisins. This healthy meal doesn’t take much time to make, but packs a ton of energy to help us get through the day.
- 24 oz. steel-cut oats: $2.99
- Sliced fruit: $2
Total: $4.99 (makes six servings)
Cost per serving: 83 cents