When I first moved into my first apartment, I had a lot of reality checks. Some I was semi-aware of (why is furniture SO expensive anyway?) and others I wasn't, such as grocery shopping. For instance, when it came to buying condiments, I couldn’t believe some of the prices. Yup, food can be expensive! And so based on my experience, I've gathered 25 of the cheapest meals from around the web, so you can not only dine in style, but you can slash that grocery budget too.
Keep in mind that cheap doesn’t mean unhealthy, unsavory, or lacking flavor! These are delicious and healthy meals that can also work as cheap family meals especially if you have kids or a large family. Even if you have lots of room in your budget for groceries, this list of cheapest meals can help you save more money.
Why cut costs on food?
Food isn't cheap. The USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) estimates that a moderate budget to feed a family of four can range anywhere from $900 on the cheaper end of things and go up to $1,100 per month. Spending that much on groceries could easily be up to 20% of a family's take-home pay or even more.
Since this is such a vast variable expense, it only makes sense to cut here when you can to get your budget back on track. With that all being said, let’s get into my top cheapest meals!
25 The Best Cheapest Meals
Cheapest meals for breakfast
1. Breakfast casserole
One of my favorites is this four-ingredient sausage breakfast casserole from the Lazy Dish serves eight and comes in at $1.46 per serving. This is perfect to add to your list of cheap family meals.
2. An oatmeal bar
Oatmeal is such a cheap staple by itself (either in a canister or by bulk), you can afford to jazz it up a little. The Modern Honey website shares tons of different ideas for toppings and none of them break the bank. You can always sub fruit out or in, depending on what's in season, to make it even cheaper.
Pancakes are always a cheap and easy favorite and there are so many cheap recipes for families. This pancake recipe from All Recipes is low in cost but high in flavor once you add in some butter and syrup.
5. Yogurt and fruit
This simple yogurt recipe from Let The Baking Begin teaches you how to turn a quart of milk into a quart of yogurt in three hours. Top some homemade yogurt with honey or fruit, and you have a cheap on the go breakfast. Yogurt is also great in breakfast smoothies, which are filling and easy too.
5. Breakfast scramble
One of the easiest ways to save money at any meal is to cut meat, and this breakfast scramble from the Urben Life does just that. Just substitute the egg alternative for a dozen regular eggs, and this meal comes in under $10 to make.
Cheapest meals for lunch
There are so many different variations of wraps out there that you could easily make a different one every day for a month and not even have scratched the surface. If you snag bacon when it's on sale, you can make these bacon, lettuce, tomato, and avocado wraps in a snap.
7. Burrito bowls
If wraps aren't your thing, try a burrito bowl. You can always grab rice and beans for a fraction of the price of other foods. Grab cheese when it's on sale and a bottle of salsa, then voila! Instant lunch for a week for under $5. You can also try this recipe from Brooklyn farm girl if you'd like to spice it up.
Soups are reasonably frugal meals and are top on the list of cheapest meals. This slow cooker chicken tortilla soup promises to come in at $1.63 a serving.
Salad doesn't have to be expensive or tedious. Check out this recipe for a chickpea tuna one. Chickpeas and Tuna are both packed with lots of nutrition for a fraction of the price. We can't imagine this meal being too expensive, but we can imagine it being extra tasty.
As mentioned above, there are various wraps for just about anybody, but we also wanted to share pinwheels because they are more fun and less messy. This turkey pesto pinwheel looks like it's going to be happening in my near future. I always suggest grabbing turkey from the deli because you can buy what you need and pick whatever's on sale.
Cheap family meals for dinner
11. Grilled cheese
Nothing says an easy dinner like grilled cheese. You need two slices of bread, some butter, and a slice of cheese to toast up on the stove. This meal can feed an army for less than five bucks, but we found more "adult" recipes if you are feeling adventurous.
12. Skillet meals
Skillet meals are cheap and fast to whip up any dinner on a weeknight. This one-pot cheesy chicken broccoli and rice has three staple ingredients that are pretty cheap on price but not on flavor.
13. Sheet pan dinners
Like skillet meals, sheet pan dinners are a fast and cheap way to make dinner any night of the week. You can make easy chicken fajitas with this recipe or go even easier with this sausage, potato, and green bean bake.
Spaghetti is known as one of the cheapest meals on the planet. With a bottle of sauce available under $2 and a box of pasta under $1, who's to argue? But for a little bit more, you can make your homemade sauce with meat. Got kids or a large family? Definitely add this to your list of cheap meals for large families.
Sure, you could pick up some pizza somewhere fast and quick, but the key to making a frugal pizza is in the homemade dough. Check out this recipe from the Family Balance Sheet for $2.50 pizza or spend slightly more and make kid-friendly ones on garlic toast.
16. Baked potato bar
Potatoes are a cheap and filling vegetable. One of the most inexpensive and fun ways to serve up potatoes is in a baked potato bar. Toppings such as cheese and sour cream can be purchased as store brands, while onions, bacon, and beans can be purchased when on sale or in season.
As a Latina, tacos were a staple in my house growing up, along with almost any type of soup. Tacos meant we could make ground beef stretch farther with potatoes. Soup meant we could eat whatever vegetables were leftover from the week (Spoiler, it was always potatoes). You can easily make your taco seasoning that tastes way better than the store and toast up some corn tortillas for cheap. If you would like to up the ante, we found this recipe for some baked ones that are still frugal.
Just like tacos, quesadillas can be made frequently and cheaply. One way that I love to bulk up a quesadilla is to add sauteed veggies. I like to pick whatever veggies are on sale and use up some cheese or tortillas that can be found with 10 for a dollar or two. These can be a filling meal that doesn't break the bank.
All of the chili ingredients are cheap themselves, so it only makes sense that it's on our list. Any beans will work, and you can substitute ground beef for ground turkey or leave it out. You can also grab tomato sauce on sale along with whatever type of onion or pepper you want. Toppings are optional but sure do make the meal.
20. Ham and cheddar croissant roll-ups
Grab just enough ham and cheese that's on sale, along with a package of croissant rolls, makes this easy dinner a tasty yet frugal one!
21. Egg roll in a bowl
This meal can be made using rice which is an essential frugal staple. This recipe from Project Meal Plan allows you to use rice as a filler to make the meal go even further. It also allows you to use up any leftover veggies you didn't get around to using in other recipes.
Ground beef is one of the cheapest meat you can purchase for entrees. A pound of ground beef can cost up to $5. However, a dollar pack of buns, a bag of frozen fries, and whatever condiments you have in the fridge can have you under $10 with this dinner.
Casseroles are not only easy and cheap, but they are also an easy food to freeze one day and then defrost when you need a quick meal. It's significantly less expensive and healthier to do this than to rely on a frozen one. This chicken noodle casserole from the Country Cook is easy, filling, and tastes good!
24. Lo Mein
When made with ramen noodles, you can buy for 30 cents a pack, plus frozen veggies. This lo mein dish is what we call frugal and is perfect when it comes to cheap family meals!
25. Twice baked hot dogs
You can't have a cheap meal list without hot dogs, but we decided to find an even better recipe for some twice-baked ones. Try it out and thank me later!
Additional tips to cut costs
So now you have ideas to make the cheapest meals but there may still be room to save money in your budget. Here are some key tips!
Don't make fun of the extreme couponers you see on TV. You can find coupons in your weekly mail, online, or even on a store's app. I'm known to march up to customer service if my coupon for pasta wasn't applied correctly! I manage to save between $5 and $10 a week on my groceries and household items.
Ibotta and Fetch let you scan receipts for free money! Retailers partner with apps such as these to share in-store offers and coupons. Once you've made your purchase, you check your receipt, and all savings are applied to the account. You can then cash your account out via PayPal. It can take some time to accumulate enough cash-out points, but you can easily earn $20 a month with one of these.
This is one of the most shared tips because it works. Meal planning allows you to shop the ads, make sure nothing goes to waste, and gives you a list of items to buy so you aren't distracted while at the store. You wouldn't drive somewhere without directions, so it only makes sense to have a plan here too.
Utilize the freezer
Many items that you can buy on sale can be frozen to help extend the life of the things and allow you to stockpile when you can. Meat, dairy items, bread, casseroles, and soups are all food items that can freeze for later use. Please check out FoodSafety.gov for more tips and recommendations.
Feeding your family doesn't have to be the most significant variable items in your budget. We hope these recipes and tips will help you cut here and spend more on other areas, like paying off debt and saving more money towards your big goals!