Budget friendly meals—yes, even the ones cooked by you—can be delicious and easy, in addition to being cost-effective. And here are twenty cheap dinner ideas from real people as proof.
1. Slow Cooker Chicken
The ultimate easy, protein-packed meal: toss chicken breasts in your crock pot along with a jar of salsa and set on low for 6-8 hours, or until the chicken shreds easily with a fork. Eat it carb-less with some fresh lime and cilantro, or serve with rice and beans.
2. Easy Enchiladas
Use rotisserie chicken from the store for these easy enchiladas that you can freeze and save for later. Toss the chicken with some taco seasoning, enchilada sauce, cheese, black beans, and corn, roll up in tortillas, and bake in the oven. Eat it now or freeze for later and you’ve got a delicious dinner that’s simple and easy on the budget. See the recipe.
3. One-Pot Pasta with Whipped Ricotta
Who doesn’t love a meal that’s easy on the eyes and easy on the cleanup? This beautiful dish uses just one pot: saute up some garlic and onions, add water, and cook the pasta to al dente. Stir in some creamy ricotta and you’ve got yourself dinner! Read the recipe.
4. Chicken Alfredo
For a taste of Italian comfort food, whip up some linguine noodles, bake chicken breast, and toss with a jar of alfredo sauce. Top with parmesan (who doesn’t love cheese on cheese?!) and serve with a side of green beans. This can also be made as a pasta bake!
5. Spiced Lentils with Carrots
This vegetarian dish from budgetbytes packs in the flavor for a budget-friendly meal. Serve up cost-effective and filling lentils with a mix of ginger, cinnamon, and carrots to create an other-worldly flavor profile.
6. Sloppy Joes
Revisit your days as a kid with this summer camp classic. Cook ground beef with onion, ketchup, and brown sugar and serve on toasted buns for that sunny day feeling right at home. Get the recipe.
7. Chicken Fried Rice
We’ve got nothing against frozen meals (they’ve come a long way, OK?). And when cheap and easy are the boxes to check, it doesn’t get much better. Try Trader Joe’s frozen chicken fried rice and reheat in a skillet at home when you need a quick, budget-friendly meal. (Don’t like fried rice? Stir-fry is another freezer-to-table favorite).
8. Crockpot Chicken Taco Soup
We’ve got plenty of easy chicken recipes and this one will not disappoint. Call it chili, call it soup, what’s the difference anyway. This recipe involves tossing a few cans and a few seasonings in a slow cooker along with some chicken. When you return, dinner will be ready!
Although there’s some debate about what, exactly, to call this meal, the prep is simple: make a hole in the center of a slice of bread—you could use a cup to stamp out the hole, or take a stab at it with a knife. Then, butter both sides before placing it in a hot frying pan. Crack an egg into the hole. Cook, then flip, then cook. Eggs-in-a-nest is served!
10. Egg Bake
For a portable breakfast or an easy dinner the whole family will enjoy, whisk up some eggs and whatever cooked meat, veggies, and cheese that you like. Then pour the mixture into muffin tins or a baking pan to cook. Egg bakes are healthy, portable and easy to prepare ahead of time.
11. Naked Burritos
If a burrito were to hurl itself onto your plate so fast that the tortilla wrapper flew clean off, this is what you’d get: a serving of meat, spices, veggies, rice and black beans. Make enough naked burritos to satisfy your household for a few meals, and cut down on your time in the kitchen!
12. Baked Potato with a Twist
Potatoes are cheap, filling, and the ultimate budget-friendly meal. Top your baked potato with sour cream, cheese, and chives to keep it simple and delicious, or try the old, British favorite for a twist on a classic: mix tuna, corn and mayonnaise together in a bowl, and then serve the mixture over a baked potato.
13. Sopa De Ajo
Also known as “Spanish garlic soup,” this budget-friendly dinner starts with stale bread—talk about stretching a buck! You can save the unwanted heels of your baguettes in the freezer until you have enough for soup. You need about half a pound, cubed.
Next, heat up a generous amount of olive oil in a heavy pot. Add the bread cubes, six to eight garlic cloves, a teaspoon of salt and a teaspoon or more of smoked paprika. Stir frequently, until the bread cubes are a toasty, golden brown and everything smells wonderful. Cover with about eight cups of water or stock. Bring everything to a boil, then reduce heat to medium-low and simmer, covered, for about 20 minutes.
Poach an egg for each person (either separately, or in the same pot if you have confidence in your egg-poaching technique). Serve each bowl of soup with an egg.
14. Venison Sweet Potato Chili
This hearty meal includes ground venison, stewed tomatoes, chopped onions, diced sweet potato and chili spices. Beans, optional. Don’t like venison? Opt for ground beef or ground turkey instead!
15. Grilled Cheese
Who doesn’t love a grilled cheese? For this family-friendly recipe, do you even need a recipe? Just butter two pieces of bread and stick a slice of cheese between them (buttered-sides out!). Next, preheat your pan on medium heat. Lay your sandwich in the pan, and grill each side until golden-brown and crispy… and we think the best side is to add a pickle and serve it all with some tomato soup.
16. Egg Roll in a Bowl
Another vote for deconstructed dishes! This meal includes sausage, cabbage, a carrot (sliced or shredded), celery, green onion, ground ginger and soy sauce. You can add a stir-fried egg on top, for good measure.
17. Potato Puff Casserole
This casserole is the epitome of comfort food dinner recipes: potato puffs, ground beef, cream of mushroom soup and cheese. Bake it all together, and tuck into a classic Midwestern tradition.
18. Sheet Pan Dinner
This healthy, easy chicken dinner can all be made on a single sheet pan. Place a couple of chicken breasts, and as many vegetables as you can, on a baking sheet. Mist or brush with olive oil, sprinkle on some salt, pepper and garlic, and roast it in your oven. Delicious.
19. Pesto Chickpea Salad
Whether eaten as a dinner or a lunch, you can whip together this tasty salad in minutes. Stir pesto and mayo into drained and rinsed chickpeas and eat with crackers. At just $.79/serving, this one is hard to beat! Get the recipe.
20. Ramen Noodles
The title of this post promises recipes that aren’t ramen noodles, and I delivered. Still, what kind of budget-eats post would this be if I didn’t include a single one? So, in keeping with the cliché, here’s one YNABer’s twist on how to eat packaged ramen noodles—leave out the seasoning packet, add some fresh vegetables and/or protein and a few dashes of soy sauce. Saute until cooked. Mmmm.
What Will You Cook Up?
If you’re looking for ways to save money, food truly is the low-hanging fruit. Fancy brunches, not-so-fancy lunches, coffee runs, takeout dinners and even prepackaged grocery store fare can add up fast. So why not try out some of these recipes? And never underestimate the power of a plan—a meal plan or a grocery spending plan—for slimming and trimming your food costs.
Ready to crank down on your grocery budget but don’t know where to start? Create a budget in YNAB and set weekly or monthly targets to know exactly how much to spend. Start your budget today!