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eating cheaply

Eating Cheaply

In this article I am going to 4 crucial strategies for eating cheaply.

By using many of the tips and techniques that I share in this article, we are able to feed our family of 5 for about $300 a month, or about $2 per person per day!

If you are looking for tips on how to eat cheap and cut your food budget, then these ideas can help you to spend less on feeding your family, too! And that money that you spend can then be used to pay off debt, save for an emergency fund, invest for retirement or pay for kids’ college, and more!

Because there is so much great information to share on how to eat cheaply, I am going to break this post up into 4 sections, or 4 strategies for eating cheaply.



4 Strategies for Eating Cheaply

Follow these simple strategies to eat cheaply:

1. Eating cheaply using meal planning

2. Eating cheaply by saving money on groceries and eating out

3. Eating cheaply by buying inexpensive foods

4. Eating cheaply by preparing quick and inexpensive meals (simple recipes included!)

For information about all of these simple and effective ways for eating cheaply, read on!


Tip: Save the image above to Pinterest so that you can easily find these ideas for eating cheaply later!


A Simple Hack for Eating Cheaply!

Before I get into the larger overall strategies for eating cheaply, I wanted to mention this easy hack first. One of the easiest ways to save money and eat cheaply so that you can prepare cheap meals is to use money-saving apps! My favorite FREE grocery money-saving app is Ibotta.

I’ve been a member of Ibotta for years, and they are a fun and easy way to save money whenever you shop! With the free Ibotta app, you earn cash back on purchases you make every day from your favorite grocery and other stores such as Target, Walmart, Home Depot, Dollar Tree, Sam’s Club, Amazon, and many, many more! With the easy-to-use Ibotta app you can get cash back when you shop not only for groceries but also for clothing, home improvement supplies, travel services, and more!

I can even use Ibotta at several of our smaller, local grocery stores, which I love! 

Signing up takes just a minute, and then you can start to save money whenever and wherever you shop, at physical stores and online! Sign up for your free Ibotta account here!

What Is the Cheapest Meal to Make When Eating Cheaply?

When you are looking for ways to really stretch your grocery budget, making cheap meals is a must! At the end of this article I share 40+ cheap meals (many with recipes!) that you can make to feed your family well for just a few dollars a day! So be sure to read till the end to get those money-saving recipes!

But in general, the cheapest meals to make are going to be made up of your inexpensive staples like beans, rice, bread, potatoes, pasta, oats, and cornmeal.

Another aspect of eating cheaply (and well) is to cook from scratch when possible and to avoid convenience foods like premade meals and precut fruits and vegetables, produce that is out of season, expensive cuts of meat, and juices and soda and so forth.


What Should You Eat When You’re Broke in Order to Eat Cheaply?

When you are broke, it is important to cook inexpensive meals that you can eat at home to save money.

As part of this article, I have included a list of cheap foods that will help you to save money on groceries (these are inexpensive staples that will help you to create inexpensive meals) as well as recipes to make cheap meals to feed your family when money is tight.

These cheapest foods to eat and the list of budget-friendly recipes will help you to make ends meet, even on a tight budget!

Read on to learn more!


Strategy 1: Use Meal Planning for Eating Cheaply

When you are looking for the best strategies for eating cheaply, then perhaps the most important thing to do to start is to create a weekly meal plan.

You have likely heard the saying that when you fail to plan, you plan to fail. And that is definitely true when it comes to saving money in general and eating cheaply specifically.

Pro tip: Make sure to grab the weekly meal planner below to make meal planning a snap!

These simple tips will help you to succeed with your weekly meal planning.


1. Plan one week’s worth of meals at a time as you meal plan.

To keep things simple (especially if you have never used a weekly meal planner before), plan the first week’s worth of meals first.


2. Consider repeating a few of the same meals from week one in your second week of meal plans.

Then when you plan the next week’s meals, if you decide to plan two weeks’ worth of meals at a time, stick with a few (or several! or all!) of the same meals that are your family’s favorite. I have heard that most families have only about a dozen meals that they eat regularly, with the occasional new or different dish for variety. (That is true for our family, as well!)

And there is nothing wrong with that! If there are tasty, inexpensive meals that your family loves to eat, you don’t need to spend the time and money and mental energy to come up with new meals every week. You can save that for when the kids are older or you are retired or life otherwise slows down!


3. Think about your favorite family meals that you would like to eat for the week.

As you create your meal plan for the week. think about your favorite family meals.

What would you like to eat this week? What sounds good? What can you afford right now based on your monthly food budget or how much you have left in your food budget?

Then think about what new meals or recipes you might want to try. Go to Pinterest or Google or your favorite recipe website for ideas for simple and inexpensive new meals you can try.

Are there new dishes or particular recipes you have been wanting to try out? Has a loved one shared a new recipe with you?

To keep things simple, when you try new dishes, you might want to stick to just one or two new recipes a week. The weekend may be the easiest time to try those new recipes, if you typically have a little more time then.

These are important things to  think about as you learn how to meal plan effectively and create your initial weekly meal plan.


4. Consult your family calendar as you create your weekly meal plan.

Have your digital or paper calendar or planner in front of you as you meal plan.

There will be some days where one or more of your family members will be away from home for certain meals because of other activities, so plan your meals accordingly.

For example, if your son loves lasagna but he will be at a ball game Thursday evening, then plan lasagna for another night.


5. Inventory what you have on hand as you do your weekly meal plan.

As you plan your meals for the week, quickly go through your food so that you can use items from your fridge, freezer, and pantry in your meals during the week. This will help you to prevent food from going bad and will help you to not buy items that you do not need more of.

However, as you consult your weekly ads or do your grocery shopping, if you find great deals on food items that your family loves that you have room to store in your freezer or pantry or cupboards, then definitely stock up!

Just make sure not to buy more of an item than you can eat in a reasonable amount of time, so that the food item does not go bad. 🙂


6. Fill out your meal planner and create your shopping list in advance.

Plan to create your meal plan and shopping list a day or two before your shopping trip, if you can, so that you don’t feel rushed and so you don’t have so much to do on shopping day.


7. Be sure to check the sales as you use your meal planner.

As you plan your weekly meals, check the weekly ads at the grocery store or stores (we generally go to two to snag the best deals at each) you shop at, and then plan at least some of your meals around what is on sale.


8. Consider having weekly dinner theme nights.

You can simplify your meal plan considerably if you stick with a theme for each (or most) of the nights of the week. For example, when we were in college and working to get out of debt, Monday night was more better mac and cheese night (macaroni and cheese with vegetables such as broccoli, carrots, peppers, onions—we still eat this meal a couple of times a month!).

So you might plan a meatloaf Monday (or meatless Monday, or mac and cheese Monday), taco Tuesday, pizza Wednesday (another of our favorites—this is actually one we currently do), casserole Thursday, Italian Friday, and so forth.


9. Plan to use your leftovers.

Plan one or more lunch or dinner meals where you eat the leftovers from earlier in the week. I love leftovers because they are such a great time (and mental energy :)) saver! All you have to do is pop the food in the oven or microwave, and you have a meal in minutes! One handy trick is to keep a list of your leftovers on the fridge so that you do not forget about them.


OK, those are some of my best tips for meal planning to help you eat cheaply. Learn how to really stretch your food budget in strategy #2 below!


Make Meal Planning Even Easier: Consider Using an Inexpensive Meal Planning Service

If you feel overwhelmed at the thought of having to create a meal plan and add one more thing to your to-do list, then an inexpensive solution is a service like $5 Meal Plans could be a great option for you. $5 Meal Plans costs just $5 per month, and they do all of the planning for you!

They plan the meals you will eat and include the ingredients you will need to buy and the recipes you will need to follow to prepare them. Pretty cool! With $5 Meal Plans, the dinners themselves also cost less than $5 per meal to make! And the service comes with a 14-day free trial, so you have nothing to lose! If this sounds like a good option for your family, you can check out $5 Meal Plans here.

If you’re regularly spending several hundred dollars on groceries or hundreds of dollars eating out per month, one of these services could really help you get on the right track and save your food budget.

Strategy 2: Save Money on Food (Groceries and Restaurants) to Eat Cheaply

 Another big part of eating cheaply is saving money on your monthly food budget! These 15 tips for saving money when eating out and saving money on groceries will help you to slash your money spent on food month after month!


1. Turn going out to eat at restaurants back into a rare treat to help you eat cheaply.

The most important way to save money on eating out is simply to go out to restaurants less as a family. I have to believe that 75 years ago, eating out was the rarest of treats for a family. And I also have to believe that they were better off for it. Their waistlines weren’t so wide as ours are now :), and as an overall percentage, they undoubtedly saved more.

According to the most recent information from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average American family spends about $300 a month eating out. I couldn’t verify this for sure (for once Google let me down!), but I would bet that’s more than the average American invests for retirement. And that is really sad, given that you’ll be in retirement for 30 or 40 years and you eat a meal for maybe 60 minutes (if you really take your time to enjoy it).

So instead of spending the $300 a month that the average American family reportedly spends on eating out, try cutting back to just one fun and inexpensive meal a month with your family for $50 or less. You will all then appreciate the experience more, and you’ll be able to spend the extra money on goals that will lead your family to financial success—goals like getting out of debt, saving up for emergencies, investing for retirement, and saving for your kids’ college. If you’re really gung-ho or are on a tight budget, save eating out for really rare occasions like birthdays and anniversaries.

You could even make it a game to see how long your family can go before going to a sit-down or even fast-food restaurant again. One of my favorite FIRE bloggers has on his blog a ticker that counts the number of days it’s been since their family has gone out to eat. You might think that’s kind of a funny thing to do, but hey, it undoubtedly helped him retire by his late 30s. That’s a trade-off I’m willing to make (to retire early, though we won’t make it by our 30s—though I do hope we make it by our 50s!), as well. 🙂

Spending less money on going out to eat also means brown-bagging your lunch, but that’s better for you, too. If you love going to lunch with a group of coworkers every day or once a week, see if they’re willing to brown-bag and eat together instead.

Or be gutsy and take your made-at-home lunch to the restaurant or food court while they eat, or see if they can pick up their food and then you all eat somewhere outside or back at the office. Or just tell them you’re making some changes to your financial habits, and ask them over to watch a football game or play a round of Frisbee or something instead.


2. Choose less expensive restaurants when you do go out to eat.

Of course there is a huge difference in what you will pay at a fancy French restaurant compared to the local chain burger joint down the road. But there’s even a huge discrepancy between generally nice sit-down restaurants. One of my favorite restaurants, Applebee’s, costs only about $20 for dinner for two, but another restaurant that we went to a while back was over $70 for just the two of us. (That’s a lot for us to pay, as you might guess. :)) And I wouldn’t say that the food at the more expensive place was necessarily any better.


3. Find great deals for restaurants on Groupon and Living Social and on local deal websites to help you eat cheaply.

On the rare occasions you do eat out, try to save money by buying vouchers and similar items from deal websites such as Groupon and Living Social. But only buy them if you will actually use them and if you would have gone out to eat anyway for a special occasion! (Read again the section just above. :)) Otherwise, you’re not actually saving any money—you’re just spending more money!

4. Look at menus online before you go out to eat.

If you’re considering going to a restaurant where you haven’t been before, look at the menus online beforehand. That way you’ll know about how much to expect to pay for your meal. You wouldn’t want to end up at a restaurant that was outside of your price range and either feel bad for overspending your budget or feel bad for having to leave and go find another place to eat.

5. Share an entrée or save half of your meal for lunch the next day to save money and eat more cheaply.

Another good way to eat cheaply when eating out is to order an entrée with your spouse or good friend, and then share it. Entrée sizes at most restaurants are huge! You’ll save money and won’t end up eating so many extra (even if delicious!) calories!

Or, if you do not want to share a meal, then save half of your meal for lunch for the next day! By asking for a carryout box you can avoid overeating today and enjoy a scrumptious lunch tomorrow! Two meals for the price of one!

While you are eating, slow down and enjoy your food! Give your stomach time to tell your head that you are satisfied, and you will avoid eating too much. To avoid temptation altogether, you could ask for the carryout box at the beginning of your meal and put half of your food into it right then. That way, you won’t be as tempted to overeat.


6. Plan your meals before you grocery shop.

I know I mention this as the first main strategy above, but it is worth repeating: perhaps the very most important way to eat cheaply is to plan inexpensive meals to eat at home.

To help you save the most money on groceries, plan your before you shop, and reduce the number of times you go grocery shopping.

By getting organized and using a simple meal plan, you can begin to save on your food purchases and put that money toward other important financial goals like paying off your debt, saving an emergency fund, and investing for retirement.

If you have never really planned your meals very well, doing so may seem a little daunting at first, but I promise it’s not as difficult as it might sound.

Most people basically repeat the same meals every couple of weeks, and you can definitely do that in your meal plan. To keep things simple these days in our family, we basically eat the same thing every week except for on weekends, when we have a little more time to prepare food.

Fill out the information below to receive the free weekly meal planner to help you get organized and reduce your spending on groceries!

If you feel overwhelmed at the thought of having to create a meal plan and add one more thing to your to-do list, then an inexpensive solution is a service like $5 Meal Plans could be a great option for you. $5 Meal Plans costs just $5 per month, and they do all of the planning for you!

They plan the meals you will eat and include the ingredients you will need to buy and the recipes you will need to follow to prepare them. Pretty cool! With $5 Meal Plans, the dinners themselves also cost less than $5 per meal to make! And the service comes with a 14-day free trial, so you have nothing to lose! If this sounds like a good option for your family, you can check out $5 Meal Plans here.

If you’re regularly spending several hundred dollars on groceries or hundreds of dollars eating out per month, one of these services could really help you get on the right track and save your food budget.


7. Use coupons or rebate apps to help you eat cheaply.

Use coupons and money-saving apps to help you slash your grocery budget.

In addition to your local newspaper or circulars, you can find coupons on many manufacturer’s websites. And try Googling them, as well.

And in addition to using coupons, another easy way to save money on groceries is to use money-saving apps! My favorite FREE grocery money-saving app is Ibotta.

Signing up takes just a minute, and then you can start to save money whenever and wherever you shop, at physical stores and online! Sign up for your free Ibotta account here!



8. Become familiar with the regular prices of the items you routinely buy so you can stock up when they are on sale.

In order to save money on the items you routinely buy, keep a record of their regular price so that you will know when they are really on sale for a good price versus when they might be technically “on sale” (according to the grocery store signs) but really aren’t a great deal.

You can do this really easily by filling in the grocery price chart that I have created. (Fill out the info below and I’ll send it right away!) That way, you will know when prices really are low and it’s time to stock up on the items that your family loves and that you use regularly. (More on this in the next section.)


Fill out the information below to receive the free and extremely handy grocery price comparison cheat sheet to help you really cut your grocery bill by letting you know when your favorite foods are really on sale for a great price!

9. Buy most of your groceries when they are on sale, and buy sales items in bulk.

To keep your grocery spending down, buy as much of your food as possible when it is on sale. This is huge when it comes to saving money on groceries!

Many grocery stores have a fairly predictable cycle of sales, such as every six to eight weeks, and so if you routinely shop at the same grocery stores and you use the grocery price chart and start paying attention to the prices (which you really need to do!), you will start to figure out when the foods you regularly buy go on sale, and you will be able to buy them in bulk when they’re at a great price.

Once you know what the good deals are for the items you buy, you will know when to stock up on them. A couple of things to keep in mind, though:

  • Only buy as much of a particular food as you will eat in a reasonable amount of time before they go bad (however, know that you can safely eat most foods past the “best by” or “use by” date).
  • Don’t fall into the trap of always buying more than you need just because it’s on sale. The best discount is the 100 percent discount when you never buy an item in the first place.
  • Keep your pantry, cupboards, or storage room organized so that you don’t forget about the foods that you already have. This keeps you from buying too much and keeps your food from going bad.

10. Buy produce when it is in season, or buy produce items frozen.

Another way to save money on groceries is to buy your fruits and vegetables when they are in season. Even though blueberries and raspberries would be an awesome, nutritious treat year round, I just can’t stomach (no pun intended!) the thought of paying $4 or more for a little carton of them.

When your favorite fruits and vegetables are not in season, see if you can get them frozen for a reasonable price. And better yet, when they are in season and especially when they are on sale, stock up and freeze them yourself!


11. Plan your meals around what you have and what’s on sale to eat cheaply.

When you sit down to plan your weekly meals and make your shopping list, do a quick inventory of what you have first in your fridge and freezer that needs to be used, and do the same thing for your cupboards and pantry. Then check the sale items in your local store ads. And based on what you have and what is on sale, make your meal plan for the week (or two weeks).


12. Eat less meat.

Meat is one of the most expensive items at the grocery store. To reduce your spending in this area and save money on groceries every month, buy more chicken and less red meat. Be judicious in your spending on seafood. Also have more meatless meals as part of your meal plan.

When you do buy red meat, buy the less-expensive cuts (a roast versus a sirloin steak, for example). And know that you can often substitute a less-expensive cut of meant for a more expensive one in recipes, and the meal still turns out great!


13. Buy less junk food, juice, and soda.

Cut down on the amount of junk food, juice, and soda that you buy. These items diminish your bottom line and expand your waistline. Instead of indulging every day or every meal, turn these items back into being a rare treat. Both your wallet and your waistline will thank you.

And if you drink, cut down on (or cut out) the alcohol as well. Doing so will be better for your budget and your overall health.

These simple cuts to your monthly budget can be a huge way to save money on groceries!


14. Limit the number of convenience items you purchase.

Love those nice platters of already-cut fruits or vegetables? The yummy-looking already-prepared lasagna in the frozen aisle? The sandwiches and fried chicken and salads at the deli? All of those items are convenient, but you also pay a premium for that convenience!

Instead of purchasing these overpriced items, cut the produce yourself. Make your own lasagna, and double the recipe to have some left over that you can freeze. Make your own delicious pasta and potato salads from home. Spend a few extra minutes to cut your own fruits and veggies. 😊


15. Shop at discount or salvage grocery stores.

If you have a discount or salvage store in your area, take advantage of it! They have such amazing deals and can be a fantastic way to save money on groceries!

Moms and dads, if you have a salvage-type store (where they sell overstock, soon-to-expire, lost, or damaged items) in your area and you’re not shopping there, you are doing your wallet a huge disservice!

Soon after going to our local discount store for the first time I started doing the bulk of my grocery shopping there. The prices on some things are just incredible. Most of their produce is cheaper than anywhere else by far, and even though some of it is a little too ripe or bruised or is otherwise not worth buying, for the most part, it’s just great prices.

And they have great prices on a lot of other things too, like yogurt and meat and other perishables. Many of these items are close to or even past the recommended “best by” or “use by” date, but with everything we’ve bought there over the past few years, we’ve never found anything that looked or smelled sketchy or otherwise seemed questionable (besides some of the produce, as I mentioned).

For more information, see this article from Consumer Reports, which mentions how the “best by” and “use by” dates are more a matter or food quality than safety. (But, really, I wonder if it’s not also another way for the big food producers to make more money? The sooner food “expires,” the more likely you are to feel like you need to toss it and buy more of it. Who knows?)



Strategy 3: Buy Inexpensive Whole Foods That Are Perfect for Eating Cheaply

When you are set on eating cheaply in order to save on food costs, then buying inexpensive, whole foods is crucial! Here I list some of the best foods that you can buy to stretch your dollar but still eat well.


Grains for Eating Cheaply

In this section you will find some of the best cheap grains to buy to eat cheaply. For the amount that you get, grains really provide some of the best value for your grocery-spending buck!



Oatmeal is one of the cheapest grocery staples you can buy for your pantry, and it is also very good for your heart. You can make oatmeal the traditional way over the stove or in the microwave, or you can make overnight oatmeal or these super easy 2-ingredient banana oatmeal cookies. Another thing I like to do that is even easier than the two-ingredient cookies are to simply mash up a banana with one-half to one cup of oatmeal for a filling, tasty, nutritious, low-calorie breakfast.


Cream of wheat

This is another one of our family favorite staples for breakfast. It is not quite as cheap as oatmeal, but it is still very inexpensive if you buy it in the box. You can flavor it with a little white or brown sugar (or even an artificial, calorie-free sweetener of choice), or my personal favorite (not healthy at all, but so delicious! and also not super cheap) is to add some sweetened condensed milk. Yum!



Bread can make a very inexpensive breakfast item when you make toast, but of course bread is a staple of an inexpensive lunch, as well, with the many kinds of sandwiches you can make.

Obviously, you can spend quite a bit of money on expensive artisan and craft breads, but your basic store-brand breads are one of the items where you can get the most bang for your buck. The 100% whole wheat loaves are more expensive than white bread or just partial-wheat, but it is still quite cheap at just around $1.50 to $2 a loaf (in our area) for the less-expensive brands.

When you are needing to buy the cheapest foods you can, then skip buying buns, and just use bread for hamburgers and hot dogs and similar things. We regularly use bread in place of buns for these things just because I don’t like to have to keep buns on hand because sometimes they go bad before we can use them all up.



Rice is another dish amply suited for a cheapest foods list. White rice isn’t the healthiest option and it also isn’t super filling, but it is cheap and fairly versatile. Brown rice is healthier and not much more expensive.

You can make a simple breakfast rice for a cheap option for that meal, and of course there are tons of cheap dishes that you can prepare with rice for dinner meals.


Basic pasta is another cheap groceries list item. You can use it in simple and relatively inexpensive main dishes such as spaghetti (especially if you make meatless spaghetti), homemade mac and cheese, broccoli alfredo, pasta carbonara, and so on.



If you love breakfast cereal (like I do!), then when you are broke or on a tight budget stick to the varieties that you can buy for about 10 cents an ounce or less. (In your area they may be more expensive than that, but they would be the ones comparable in price to raisin bran, which is about the least expensive—but also one of the tastiest, in my opinion! :)—cereal you can buy unless others are on sale.


Proteins for Eating Cheaply

In this section you will find some of the best cheap proteins to buy to eat cheaply.

Honestly, for what you get, some of the inexpensive protein options, like beans and lentils, really provide some of the best value for your money spent. These proteins are super cheap and very filling, so they are a great way to stretch your grocery budget.


Beans (Kidney Beans, Pinto Beans, Black Beans, Chili Beans, and So On)

Beans may be the overall cheapest food staple there is. Especially if you buy them in a large bag and soak and prepare them yourself, you pay just a few pennies per ounce. Dry beans to take time to prepare, but if you soak them overnight and then prepare them in a slow cooker, they really don’t take much effort at all. And of course there are tons of different kinds of beans. Pinto, black beans, red kidney beans, garbanzo beans (chickpeas), great northern beans, chili beans—we like them all at our house.

Even if you buy canned beans, you can still make a lot of inexpensive meals, such as taco soup or even meatless taco soup, to make the dish even cheaper. And use canned chili beans to stretch your can of chili and make it a cheaper meal.


You can also buy lentils for very cheap, and they are another great protein option when money is tight. There are lots of recipes for lentil soups and other dishes with lentils, such as veggie lentil stir fry.


Another staple to help you eat cheaply is eggs. At a price (where we live) of only about 10 cents per egg (or less!), you can have a hearty breakfast (or whatever meal) of eggs and toast for well under $1 per serving. And eggs are so versatile!


When money is tight or when you just want to be able to buy the most economical foods, chicken is definitely your friend. Much of the meat that we buy is chicken because it is generally less expensive than beef and pork and other kinds of meat. We can also get skinless, boneless chicken breasts for a $1 a pound, and so I tend to stock up when that happens until the next time they go on sale. Occasionally we can even get ground chicken for a great price, and it is excellent for dishes like tacos and enchiladas in place of ground beef.

Chicken thighs are generally less expensive than breasts, so if you want chicken and cannot get breasts at a great price, consider getting the thighs. Some people don’t like the thighs as much, but personally, for flavorful dishes, I actually like the thighs better sometimes because I feel they can be more moist and tender than the breasts. And if you don’t mind the extra work, buying the whole chicken can be a great way to purchase chicken on the cheap. 

Ground turkey

Sometimes ground turkey is on sale for a better price than ground beef, and since it is also a healthier option than ground beef, when it is, we will sometimes buy several pounds of it and freeze it to use in various dishes where we would normally use ground beef.


Peanut butter

When looking for ways to eat cheaply, peanut butter is a really good value because it is high in protein. Especially if you just stick to regular peanut butter and not the sugar free kind (even though I admit not having the extra sugar is a healthier option), you can make a ton of sandwiches from one large jar of peanut butter!

In the 40 ounce jar (typically the largest standard size, at least at the stores where I shop, that is about 80 tablespoons of peanut butter, and if you eat the standard serving size suggested, that is 40 sandwiches that you can make from a jar that costs (in our area) about $4 or less.

So for about 10 cents for the peanut butter and another 10 cents for the two slices of bread (if you get the cheap bread) and another 15 cents or so per serving for the inexpensive jelly or jam, you are spending well under 50 cents for a PB&J sandwich. Eat an inexpensive apple with it, and you have a light lunch for well under a buck.


Tuna fish

Tuna has definitely gotten more expensive over the last 10 or 15 years, but it is still more economical than most meats. Tuna salad sandwiches are more expensive than PB&J sandwiches, for sure, but a simple tuna salad sandwich of tuna and mayo is generally a little less expensive than a simple homemade ham (luncheon meat) and cheese sandwich.

Dairy Products for Eating Cheaply

In this section I am going to discuss some of the best cheap dairy products to buy.


Milk is definitely one of the cheapest dairy products, and overall foods, that you can buy when you are committed to eating cheaply.

Milk is of course great to drink on its own, but you can also use it to make many inexpensive meals like waffles or pancakes, French toast, biscuits and gravy, cereal and milk, mashed potatoes with white gravy, and much more!



Yogurt is another relatively inexpensive dairy product that is a great cheap food to buy when you are broke. To get the most bang for your buck, buy yogurt in the larger containers, and then just measure out the amount that you want to eat at a particular time. (This is what we do in my family.)

Of course, as with most food buying, purchasing the generic or store brand varieties will pretty much always save you money over the name-brand options.


Cottage cheese

Cottage cheese is also a relatively inexpensive dairy product that is a great cheap food to buy when you are broke. Same as with yogurt, to get the most bang for your buck, buy cottage cheese in the larger containers, and then just measure out the amount that you want to eat at a particular time.



Of course, you can spend a ton of money on cheese if you want to buy the fancy stuff! But cheese can be a relatively cheap food if you stick with the more familiar types of cheese like cheddar, mozzarella, and Monterey Jack.

To stretch your food buying dollar, you can always use a little less cheese than is called for in a particular recipe. So, for example, if a recipe calls for two cups of cheese, spread the cheese out thinner, and just use one.

Another great way to save money on cheese is to not buy string cheese, presliced cheese, and other types of convenience cheeses. For your kids, instead of buying the packages of cheese with individual things of string cheese, cut long strips of cheese for them yourself. We did this a lot when our kids were toddlers as a finger food, and it worked great.

Vegetables for Eating Cheaply

In this section you will find some of the best cheap vegetables to buy for eating cheaply.         



Regular russet potatoes are fairly healthy, and they are also super cheap. (Make sure to eat the skins to get the most nutritional value!) At our local grocery store we can often buy them for a dollar for a 10-pound bag.

You can cook several up in the microwave in about 15 to 20 minutes for a quick and very cheap meal. I like to make them a little healthier by topping them with salsa (or salsa mixed with a little bit of ranch) instead of sour cream, ranch, cheese, and other more expensive and more caloric options.

You can also slice up potatoes and season them and fry them up, or make homemade fries or hash browns. A simple creamy potato soup is another super cheap meal option. And of course mashed potatoes are cheap (and delicious :)).

Sweet potatoes

Personally, I really like making sweet potatoes as a healthier alternative to baked potatoes. Because they are so naturally sweet, I don’t even think you have to top them with anything (and I generally do not top them with anything). But if you choose to, you can add a little cinnamon and sugar for an even sweeter treat.



Your list of less expensive groceries to buy and keep on hand should include carrots. The cheapest way to buy carrots generally is full sized, in bulk, but if you find baby carrots for a good price, then they are a great option, as well.


Canned tomatoes

Fresh tomatoes can fluctuate in price pretty wildly throughout the year, so for meals where it makes sense to use them, canned tomatoes can sometimes be a less-expensive alternative.


In the fall when it is in season, you can sometimes buy squash at amazing prices! (If you have neighbors who grow them and give them to you, then that’s an even better deal!)


Similar to squash, you can sometimes get amazing deals on zucchini during the fall when it is in season.



Onions are another vegetable that you can get for a pretty good price most of the time. And because of the awesome way that it enhances the flavor of many dishes, it is a great staple to keep on hand all the time.



You can also generally get broccoli for a pretty good price. Often the crowns are more expensive, but occasionally they are the better deal because you are not paying for the stalk. (However, we slice up the stalk and include it in some of our dishes. If you can do that, then that makes the whole broccoli heads even more affordable.)



Salsa is particularly helpful if you are getting low on fresh produce before your next scheduled trip to the grocery store. It is a great item to keep on hand all of the time because it lasts longer (once opened) than most fresh vegetables, too.


Green salad

You will usually get a better price if you buy the ingredients for an inexpensive salad yourself rather than buying premade salads. However, sometimes the premade salads are on sale for a great price. We generally keep our salads pretty economical by making them ourselves using spinach or romaine lettuce, tomatoes, sliced or chopped carrots, cauliflower (if it can be bought for a good price), and broccoli.



Spinach isn’t generally the cheapest vegetable you can buy, but it is a great way to (relatively) inexpensively increase the nutritional value of other inexpensive dishes such as egg omelets, meat sandwiches, salads, stir fry dishes, pasta dishes, quesadillas, and more.



Green peppers are another good option if you are looking for ways to eat cheaply—when they are in season, that is. When they are not in season, look at lettuce, cabbage, and the other vegetables included in this list for cheaper options.


Frozen vegetables

Frozen vegetables can be an economical option, as well, particularly when other favorite vegetables are not in season. And despite what you may have heard, from what I have read, vegetables lose little if any nutritional value when frozen. Frozen vegetables are great in casseroles, soups and stews, omelets, and more. To know when frozen vegetables are a better deal, do a rough comparison of serving sizes.



Garlic is an awesome flavor enhancer that also has healthful vitamins and minerals. At 50 cents or less per bulb, it is not the cheapest vegetable around, but because it is so packed with flavor, a little goes a long way. 🙂 In addition to having various vitamins and minerals, I have read that garlic can help fight the common cold and other illnesses and also help reduce blood pressure and improve cholesterol levels.


Canned pumpkin

Pumpkin doesn’t have to be reserved just for the fall. 🙂 You can buy canned pumpkin year round to enjoy in soups, muffins, and curries. The antioxidants in pumpkin make it a healthy choice,  and at less than a dollar for the 15-ounce can, it’s another good choice for a cheap, healthy food.



Kale is one of the healthiest vegetables around, so it really is a great value. It is packed with antioxidants like vitamins A, C, and K, fiber, calcium, iron, and potassium, At our local grocery store you can find it for around $1 to $1.50 per bunch.


In this section you will find some of the best cheap fruits to buy for eating cheaply.



Probably because they are readily available all year round, bananas are one of the cheapest foods you can buy, so they should be on your go-to list when you are trying to save money on groceries. And they are just delicious, in any case. 🙂


For what you get, apples may be the overall cheapest fruit in many grocery stores, if you choose the least expensive varieties such as red delicious and Gala. But even yellow delicious, Granny Smith, and some of the others are not too expensive, either.



Oranges are another great fruit when you need to be eating cheaply. They are somewhat seasonal, so you will pay more for them in the winter generally than you do in the summer, but the prices year round are pretty good. And these awesome little fruits are packed with vitamin C as well as fiber and potassium. If you love orange juice, save money by making your own, fresh squeezed! (And you will avoid the extra sugar and other additives that way, as well!)



Though not as cheap as the fruits listed above, cantaloupe is still a good choice when you are looking to eat cheaply. It is a good source of vitamin C, folate, fiber, potassium, and other vitamins and minerals. Cantaloupe is awesome to cut up for a simple fruit salad, or chop it up and eat it plain or with your favorite low-fat or nonfat yogurt.



This sweet, delicious fruit is another budget-friendly option—particularly during the summer months when they are in season. At our local grocery store we can usually get three or four for a dollar during the summer. Kiwis have tons of vitamin C and fiber, and they are great alone or sliced up in a fruit salad.



You can find watermelon for a great price—when they are in season! When they are not, stick to fruits that are so that you don’t spend an arm and a leg on them. Check local fruit stands and farmers’ markers to find great deals during the summer. This powerful fruit is a great source of vitamin C and is delicious in fruit salads or all on its own.



Grapes are another one of the cheapest fruits available. When they are in season during the summer months, they can be a steal of a deal on sale. They are great in fruit salads, straight off the vine, or frozen as a sweet, healthy treat! We also love them in chicken pasta salad and chicken salad sandwiches.


Frozen berries

When your favorite berries are not in season (and honestly, even sometimes when they are), you will get more bang for your buck by buying them frozen. Especially if you buy the large bags of frozen strawberries or get mixed frozen fruit with strawberries, you will spend less per serving than you will on berries bought out of season.

And frozen berries lose little if any nutritional value, so they are a great option when you are looking to buy cheap, healthy foods.



Strategy 4: Prepare Inexpensive Meals at Home for Eating Cheaply

Perhaps the overall best way to ensure you are eating cheaply is to cook most of your meals at home.

In this section you can find ideas and recipes for easy and inexpensive breakfast, lunch, and dinner meals you can make for your family in less than 30 minutes!

One of the easiest things you can do to save money on food is to eat at home and to keep things simple! Keeping your meals simple will help you save both time and money! And your family will love these ideas for inexpensive meals made at home!


Breakfast Ideas for Eating Cheaply

These easy and cheap breakfast ideas are perfect for making quick, budget friendly meals.



Waffles are one of our favorite cheap breakfast meals. To make these extra fun for the kids, my husband always makes them a different color that the kids choose. Here is the simple waffle recipe we use:

2 eggs
2 cups flour
2 cups milk
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 tablespoon white sugar (we generally leave out the sugar)
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt


Preheat the waffle iron. Crack the eggs and put them in a large bowl. (Beat them at this point, if you want, for fluffier waffles. I never worry about doing that. :)) Add the flour, milk, vegetable oil, sugar, baking powder, and salt, and mix until smooth.

Spray the heated waffle iron with non-stick cooking spray, and pour about 1/2 to 3/4 cup mix onto your iron (depending on the size of your iron). Cook until desired doneness. (If you like them more well done, cook until they are golden brown.)

Serve warm with butter and syrup, powdered sugar, jam, or other favorite toppings.


To make this cheap breakfast even more economical, you can make them with half the amount of milk and add water in its place. (I have done that before when we were low on milk, and with the syrup or powdered sugar or jam on the waffles, I don’t think you will really notice a difference. I have heard of people who use just water when money is really tight. I have not tried that myself, but I would give it a try if things got really tight.)


Fried eggs with toast

This is a very quick, easy, and cheap breakfast that we love!


French toast

French toast is another one of our family favorites! My dad used to make these for us often growing up, and so they always make me recall fond memories with him. 🙂

This is the recipe we use for French toast:


4 large eggs
2 cups milk
2 teaspoons vanilla (optional)
dash of salt (optional)
Cinnamon and sugar mixture
16 slices of your favorite bread

Preheat a large griddle or square frying pan, and coat it with non-stick cooking spray (or butter or margarine).

Whisk together the eggs, milk, salt, and vanilla in a square baking dish or pan. Dip each slice of bread in the batter, coating one side and then flipping to coat the other side.

Place the bread slices on the griddle or frying pan, and sprinkle with cinnamon and sugar. Cook on medium heat until golden brown on each side (about 2 to 3 minutes), or until desired doneness (I like mine pre-golden brown :)).

Serve warm with butter and syrup, powdered sugar, jam, or other favorite toppings.

 Or for a little bit heartier French toast recipe, click here.


Bagel with jam, peanut butter, or cream cheese

Bagels are another simple and affordable cheap meal idea for breakfast, lunch , or even dinner! Add plain cream cheese or flavored cream cheese, spread on jam or peanut butter, or even make a tasty savory dish by adding an egg, ham, and cheese as my husband likes to.



This is another super easy option for eating cheaply! The little prepackaged versions are pretty cheap on their own (but when I eat them, I generally put two together; do you do that, too? One just doesn’t seem like enough of a meal to me!).

But when you make it from scratch, it is even much cheaper than that! We love to add sugar, brown sugar, or cinnamon. If you are counting calories, one tablespoon of sucralose mixed in with one cup of cooked oats works great, too!



Whether filled with things that are savory or sweet, they are just plain delicious. You can even substitute water for milk if you need to without much difference in taste. We use this basic crepe recipe:

1 cup all-purpose flour
2 large eggs
1 cup milk
1/4 teaspoon salt

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, eggs, milk, and salt. Beat until smooth. (But if you have a few lumps, don’t worry about it; they still taste great.)

Heat a lightly oiled frying pan over medium high heat. Pour about 1/4 cup batter onto the frying pan for each crepe. Tilt the pan in a circular motion so that the batter coats the surface evenly.

Cook the crepes for about 2 minutes, until the bottom is lightly browned. Then loosen with a spatula, and flip to cook the other side.

Serve warm with powdered sugar, syrup, jam, cinnamon and sugar, or other favorite toppings.


Cream of wheat

Our kids, and particularly our older daughter, love cream of wheat. We generally add some brown or white sugar to sweeten it, and as a rare treat, we even put sweetened condensed milk (did you know they even have caramel flavored?) in it sometimes. Totally fattening but totally tasty!


Though muffins from a mix are more expensive than many of the other foods listed here, we still feed our young family of five with one box of muffins (12 muffins). I know that won’t last forever! We have made many different types of muffins from scratch over the years, too, and those are even cheaper (but not always tastier :)). One easy muffin recipe that is tasty is this basic banana muffin recipe:.


Homemade Banana Muffins

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 ripe bananas
1 egg
1/4 cup vegetable oil

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. In a large bowl, combine the dry ingredients. In another large bowl, mash the bananas. Then to that second bowl add the egg and oil, and mix well. Stir the mixture into the dry ingredients.

Fill 12 greased muffin cups half full. Put the muffins in the preheated oven, and bake for 20 minutes (or until inserted toothpick comes out clean). Serve warm with butter or margarine, if desired.


Yogurt and fruit

Buying yogurt in the tub is cheaper than in the small single-serve containers. We often buy yogurt from the local discount grocery/salvage store for awesome prices. We can get the big tubs of yogurt for $2 each or less and small containers often for even cheaper than that! (Many of them are close to the “best by” date or even past the best by date, but I have eaten unopened yogurt even a month or two past the recommended best by date, and the yogurt has always been fine, without any mold or anything.  



Pancakes are another favorite cheap breakfast option for eating cheaply. As with the waffles mentioned above, you could substitute milk with water if needed. I have heard of families doing that in difficult circumstances. (You could also do that with crepes, which I have done. And you could try it with French toast, which I have not done but which would likely work just fine.) Again, we generally make these different colors each time we make them. We like this quick and easy recipe:

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon white sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 eggs, beaten (if desired, or just crack them right into the big bowl)
2 cups milk
1/4 cup vegetable oil

In a large mixing bowl, mix the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Add the milk, eggs, and oil. Mix until smooth.

Heat a lightly oiled griddle or frying pan over medium high heat. Pour about 1/4 cup batter onto the griddle for each pancake. Lightly brown on both sides until desired doneness.

Serve warm with butter and syrup, powdered sugar, jam, or other favorite toppings.


On Valentine’s Day we color them pink with red food coloring and use heart-shaped cookie cutters after they are cooked to make different-sized hearts. The kids love it. And on St. Patrick’s Day we color them green (along with the milk sometimes :)).


German oven pancakes

Another fun variation on traditional pancakes are German oven pancakes, which are very similar to what my mother’s family calls Yorkshire, except we treated that dish as a savory dish (it didn’t have any sugar) and put turkey or roast beef gravy on it. German oven pancakes are a little bit sweet, and they call for flour, sugar, milk, salt, and melted butter or margarine. But unlike a crepe or a pancake, just as the name indicates, you bake German oven pancakes in the oven for about 15 minutes.

And then you top them with your favorites like syrup, powdered sugar, or fresh fruit. 

1 cup flour
6 eggs
1 cup milk
1/4 cup melted butter or margarine
2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. In a mixing bowl combine the eggs, milk, melted butter, salt, and sugar. Mix well. Add the flour, and mix until incorporated.

Coat the bottom of a 9 x 11 inch baking dish with cooking spray. Pour the batter into the dish, and bake for about 20 minutes, or until the edges start to brown.

Serve warm with your favorite toppings.



Cold cereal with (or without!) milk

Most of the cereal we eat costs about 10 cents an ounce or less—that’s the rule of thumb I go by when I buy it. My husband’s favorite cereal (and one of the few that he really likes) is raisin bran, which is great since it is one of the cheapest. 🙂 The other cereals we buy when they are on sale.



Lunch Ideas for Eating Cheaply

In this section I include some of my favorite lunches for eating cheaply. Add your favorite (inexpensive) fruits and vegetables to make a more complete meal.

I often have a piece of whole fruit (apple, banana, or orange) and simple, inexpensive vegetable such as baby carrots or sometimes celery or broccoli and cauliflower or green salad with one of the simple lunches listed below.


Note: In the list below I am including only very simple lunch options that you can make in a matter of minutes—they are perfect for busy mornings when you are trying to get ready for work and get kids off to school. (Many of these options are great for school lunches, too!)

Of course you can also use any of the ideas for dinner (or for breakfast!) listed later in this article as a meal for lunch, as well!


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Peanut butter and jelly, peanut butter and banana, or peanut butter and honey sandwiches

These are about as simple an option as you can get. 🙂 But I love (all of) them!

Lunch meat and cheese sandwiches (with tomato and lettuce or spinach, if desired)

Choose your favorite lunch meat such as honey ham, chicken, turkey, or beef, and then add a slice of cheese, tomato and lettuce (or spinach), and a little mayo and mustard if desired.

Chicken salad sandwiches

Chicken salad sandwiches are one of my all-time favorite lunches. You can keep it really simple with just the chicken and a little may or salad dressing and your favorite seasonings.

Or dress this sandwich up (see the information about chicken salad supreme sandwiches below) with your favorite nuts (such as cashews or my preferred cheaper option, peanuts), seeds, sliced grapes, cubed cheese, finely chopped apples, chopped celery, and more! There are so many options for this versatile meal!

Tuna fish sandwiches (with chopped pickles, if desired)

Though not as cheap as it used to be, tuna is still an inexpensive way to go for lunch.

Tuna fish and egg sandwiches

If you love tuna sandwiches and you love egg salad sandwiches, put them together for a new twist on an old favorite.

Egg salad sandwiches

In our family we love this simple and tasty cheap lunch option. All you need is bread and eggs and your favorite brand of mayonnaise or salad dressing and favorite seasonings, and you are ready to go!

Grilled cheese (with lunch meat and spinach, if desired) sandwiches and tomato soup

This classic and cheap lunch idea is great any time of year, but is particularly delicious on cold days! To make this kid-friendly dish even more filling add your favorite lunch meat, or add spinach or another favorite vegetable to boost the nutritional value!

Quesadillas (traditional or lunch meat and cheese; add spinach to make them more nutritious)

Quesadillas are so easy! You can use just your favorite tortilla shells and type of cheese, or add sliced lunch meat, spinach, hot dogs (kind of weird, but my younger brothers love it), beans, or favorite cooked vegetables. Yum!

Avocado egg salad sandwiches

Egg salad sandwiches are awesome, and adding avocado makes them even awesomer (but also more expensive :-).

Bacon, lettuce, tomato, and cheese sandwiches (BLTs)

What’s not to love about classic BLTs? Add mayo or salad dressing for a little extra zing, and swap the lettuce for spinach to make them a little more nutritious.

Chicken salad supreme sandwiches

This is a chicken salad sandwich with even more good stuff added, like sesame seeds or peanuts (we generally use the kind we have to shell ourselves, since they are cheaper), chopped grapes, raisins, chopped apples, and dried cranberries.

Chicken salad

I tease (but it really is kinda true :-}) that the salad is just the way to get the ranch dressing to my mouth and that the salads that I really like to eat are the ones where I basically turn them into a sandwich. So my favorite chicken salad, for example, has croutons and cheese in addition to my favorite veggies like spinach, tomatoes, broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, and so on.

But whatever you like to put in your chicken salad, you can’t go wrong!

Traditional green salad

Like I said just above, in my opinion, the best green salad is the one that is filled with tons of other great foods like meat and cheese and croutons. 🙂 But you can also keep them simpler (as I often do, despite my preferences :)) with using simple greens like leafy lettuce and spinach or kale and adding your favorite vegetables and fruits like broccoli, cauliflower, tomatoes, carrots, and the like.

Spinach and strawberry salad

Even though I do not turn this salad into a sandwich :), it is still one of my favorites. All you need are spinach, strawberries, and almonds if you have them on hand (or substitute less expensive seeds or nuts, or simply omit the almonds). Here is a simple recipe for spinach and strawberry salad with homemade dressing:

1 cup flour
6 eggs
1 cup milk
1/4 cup melted butter or margarine
2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. In a mixing bowl combine the eggs, milk, melted butter, salt, and sugar. Mix well. Add the flour, and mix until incorporated.

Coat the bottom of a 9 x 11 inch baking dish with cooking spray. Pour the batter into the dish, and bake for about 20 minutes, or until the edges start to brown.

Serve warm with your favorite toppings.

Avocado tuna melt

If you love avocado and tuna and cheese, you will love avocado tuna melt sandwiches! You can find a simple avocado tuna melt recipe here:

2 5-oz. cans of tuna
3 tablespoons mayonnaise
1 avocado, sliced
4 slices cheddar cheese
8 slices bread
1 tablespoon butter or margarine

Mix the tuna and the mayonnaise. Butter one side of each slice of bread. Place four slices of bread in large frying pan. Spread each slice with 1/4 of the tuna mixture. Add 2 to 4 slices of avocado on each. Place a slice of cheddar cheese on top of avocado for each. Top sandwich with other slice of bread, butter side up.
Cook on medium high heat until bottom of bread is a golden brown, and then carefully flip over to toast the other side until it is also a golden brown and cheese is melted.

For even more goodness, add tomato and spinach or your favorite lettuce.

Avocado and chicken salad

This is another simple and tasty avocado dish, and a great option for a cheap meal. All you need for this easy salad are chicken, avocados, lime juice, green onion, cilantro (or omit it, like I do), and mayo. 

2 cups cooked chicken, shredded
2 medium avocados, diced
1 tablespoon + 1 tablespoon fresh squeezed lime juice
salt, to taste
1/4 cup thinly sliced green onion
2 tablespoons mayo

In a large bowl, mix the diced avocado with 1 tablespoon of the lime juice, and season with the salt to taste. Add the chicken and the sliced green onion.
In a small bowl, mix the mayo and the lime juice to make the dressing.
Add the dressing to the chicken mixture, and mix well to coat with the dressing. Sprinkle the other tablespoon of lime juice over the top (or omit, if you want less lime juice).
Serve as is as a salad, or serve inside pita bread or as a sandwich or lettuce wrap.


Chicken avocado salad sandwiches

Similar to the cheap meal mentioned just above, here is another tasty chicken avocado salad sandwich recipe:

2 cup cooked chicken, chopped
2 ripe avocados, chopped
2 apples, chopped
1/2 cup celery, chopped
1/2 cup red onion, chopped
2 tablespoons finely chopped parsley
2 tablespoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon salt
dash of pepper
8 slices of bread

In a large bowl, combine the chicken, avocado, apple, celery, and red onion. Gently mash the avocado with a fork and stir it around so that everything is mixed well.
Add the parsley, lemon juice, salt, and pepper. If the mixture seems dry, add a tablespoon of oil.
Spread on sandwich bread, toasted bread, or pita bread.

Bacon, lettuce, and tomato wrap

This tasty dish is a simple alternative to regular BLT sandwiches. Simply omit the bread and keep the bacon and tomato, season to taste with salt and pepper, and wrap in large lettuce leaves.

Meatball sub sandwich

After a delicious spaghetti dinner, don’t just put that tasty concoction away! Take a few minutes to put some of the meatballs and sauce in a microwave-safe container, grab a couple of pieces of your favorite bread and put them in an airtight bag, and tomorrow you can have a tasty and super quick and easy lunch at work. Just reheat the meatballs, arrange them on the bread, and enjoy!

Easy pasta salad

This is another cheap meal that is quick and easy to make. Use leftover pasta and add in some of your leftover cooked vegetables like broccoli, carrots, onions, or spinach. Toss with a little oil, vinegar, and your favorite spices, and you’re set. You can also add chicken, ham, or another meat of your choice to add protein.

Another way to make easy and inexpensive pasta salad is to cook your favorite noodles and then add cut tomatoes and your favorite mix of salad greens, and then add, again, a little oil, vinegar, and your favorite spices. 


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Dinner Ideas for Eating Cheaply

As I mentioned earlier, one of the best strategies for eating cheaply as a family is to keep things simple! Today’s families are busy, and keeping things easy will help save your money and your sanity!

You can make all of these cheap and easy dinner meals in about 30 minutes or less!


And for even more cheap dinner recipes, check out this article with more than 65 cheap dinner recipes (as well as cheap breakfast and lunch recipes, as well)!


Classic Bean and Cheese Burritos

These easy bean and cheese burritos have just four ingredients (plus add any other toppings you love, such as salsa). All you need are refried beans, cheese, tortilla shells, and taco seasoning mix. Such an easy and cheap dinner idea!

1 can (16 oz) refried beans
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese (4 oz)
1 package (1 oz)  taco seasoning mix
8 8-inch flour tortillas
Additional toppings as desired, such as salsa, sour cream, diced tomatoes, and shredded lettuce


Heat oven to 375 degrees F. Line a cookie sheet with cooking parchment paper or foil (or spray with nonstick cooking spray); set aside.
In medium bowl, mix the beans, cheese, and taco seasoning mix.
Scoop about 1/4 cup of the bean mixture onto each tortilla, just below the center. Fold the bottom edge of each tortilla up and over the filling. Fold sides in, overlapping to enclose filling. Roll up from the bottom of the tortilla.
Place the burritos seam-side down on the cookie sheet.
Bake 12 to 15 minutes, or until heated through. Serve with additional toppings listed above, as desired.


Vegetable Ramen Pad Thai

For a fun twist on a cheap-dinner staple, try this Thai-inspired dish. All you need are ramen noodles, vegetables, soy sauce, peanut butter, sriracha, and red pepper flakes. If you want a milder version, reduce or leave out the sriracha and red pepper flakes (like I do).

2 packages ramen noodles, Oriental flavor
1 1/2 tbsp vegetable oil
12 oz bag of frozen mixed vegetables
1/4 cup soy sauce
3 tablespoons peanut butter
1/4 tsp sriracha
2 tablespoons hot water

Add vegetable oil, frozen vegetables, and seasoning packets. Cook for 3 minutes.
In a pot, cook Maruchan ramen Oriental flavor noodles in boiling water for 3 minutes.
Drain noodles, and add to pan.
Mix soy sauce, peanut butter, sriracha, and hot water. Add to pan, and mix together.
Divide into bowls, and serve.

Quick and Easy Taco Salad

You can’t go wrong with a tasty taco salad. In this quick and easy version, you need just hamburger (or substitute ground turkey or ground chicken), taco seasoning, cilantro (or omit it, like I do), lettuce, cheese, salsa, green onions, tortilla chips (crumbled), and a lime for garnish. Simple!

1 pound ground beef (or turkey)
2 teaspoons taco seasoning
1 head lettuce, chopped
1 cup shredded cheese
1 cup fresh or bottled salsa
4 green onions, chopped
1 cup crumbled baked corn tortilla chips (about 12 chips)
1 lime cut into 4 wedges (optional)

Cook ground beef (or turkey) in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat until browned, for about 5 to 7 minutes. Add taco seasoning, and stir to combine. Remove from heat.
Divide lettuce, salsa, cheese, green onions, chips, and hamburger evenly among 4 dinner plates. Serve with lime wedges.


Easy Orange Chicken with Rice

Orange chicken is one of my favorite Chinese dishes, and this recipe is great because it is quick and easy to make. You can have this delicious dinner on the table in 25 minutes or less! The main ingredients for this cheap dinner idea include chicken thighs, a large orange, soy sauce, brown sugar, an egg, and green onions. When prepared, eat piping hot over white or brown rice.

Orange Sauce
1 large orange
3 tablespoons soy sauce
1 1/2 tablespoons brown sugar
1/2 tablespoon vinegar
1 teaspoon ginger
1 clove garlic, minced
2 teaspoons cornstarch

4 boneless, skinless chicken thighs 
1 large egg 
2 tablespoons cornstarch 
pinch of salt and pepper 
2 tablespoons cooking oil
2 green onion, chopped
4 cups cooked rice

Remove the zest from the orange using a zester or small-holed cheese grater, and then squeeze the juice from the orange. You should get about 1 teaspoon zest and 1/2 cup juice.

Combine the juice and orange zest with the soy sauce, brown sugar, vinegar, ginger, minced garlic, and cornstarch in a small sauce pot. Before placing it over heat, whisk until the cornstarch is fully dissolved.

Heat the mixture over medium-low for about 3 to 5 minutes, until it begins to thicken. Remove the sauce from heat, and set it aside.

Use a sharp knife to remove any excess fat from the chicken thighs, and then cut them into small pieces.

Combine the egg, cornstarch, and a pinch of salt and pepper in a mixing bowl, and mix well. Add the chicken pieces, and stir to coat them in the egg mixture.

Heat a large skillet over medium heat. Once hot, add cooking oil, and swirl to coat the bottom of the skillet. Add the chicken, and cook until they are golden brown on the bottom.

Flip the chicken pieces, again cooking until golden brown (about 6 or 7 minutes total).

Turn the unit off, and pour the orange sauce over the chicken. Stir to coat.

Serve the chicken over cooked rice. Garnish with the green onions and any leftover orange zest.


Spaghetti with Green Salad and Garlic Bread

Spaghetti is one of our favorite quick and easy go-to meals! We most often make spaghetti the way my mother did. We use a pound of ground beef, a can of tomato sauce with maybe half a can of water, a packet of spaghetti seasoning (though we have made our own, which is cheap and easy!), and a small can of cream of mushroom soup. Sometimes we include mushrooms (fresh or canned) and peppers (most often green peppers, since they are the least expensive) or canned tomatoes, as well.


Best Chili Mac

This cheap meal is such an easy comfort food to make! All you need are macaroni noodles, half a pound of ground beef, tomato soup, mozzarella cheese (or substitute whatever cheese you have on hand), and seasonings! And then you can have this easy chili mac and cheese dinner on the table in 20 minutes or less!

1 cup uncooked macaroni
1/2 pound hamburger
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon chili powder
pinch salt
pinch pepper
1/2 cup shredded cheese.

Cook macaroni, about 7 to 9 minutes.
Brown meat in large saucepan, and drain fat.

Add garlic, chili powder, salt, and pepper. Mix well, and cook on medium about 5 minutes.

Add cooked macaroni and tomato soup. Heat thoroughly. Just before serving, add the grated cheese. Cover and heat until cheese melts.


Easy Microwave Chicken Enchiladas

This is another one of my favorite enchilada recipes. And this one you can make in the microwave! Woo hoo! All you need are shredded chicken (already cooked—this is a great way to use leftover chicken!), enchilada sauce (or again, you can use tomato sauce), taco seasoning, cheese, corn tortillas, sour cream, and cilantro for garnish (or omit the cilantro [like I do]). Total prep and cooking time is just 20 minutes!

can (19 oz.) mild enchilada sauce (or substitute tomato sauce)
cups cooked, shredded chicken
tablespoon chicken taco seasoning mix
1 1/2 cups shredded cheese 
8 tortillas (6-inch)
3/4 cup sour cream

In medium bowl, mix 1/2 cup of the enchilada sauce, the chicken, seasoning mix, and 3/4 cup of the cheese.

Spray 8-inch square microwavable baking dish with cooking spray. Place 1/2 cup of the enchilada sauce in the bottom of the dish. Fill 1 tortilla at a time with heaping 1/4 cup chicken mixture, and roll to seal. Place each rolled tortilla in the baking dish, seam side down.

Pour remaining enchilada sauce over tortillas. Top with remaining 3/4 cup cheese.

Microwave uncovered on high for 10 minutes or until cheese is melted and enchiladas are heated through.  Serve with sour cream.



Chicken Spinach Alfredo Pizza

Chicken spinach alfredo pizza is another of my favorite options for inexpensive meals. To help keep this meal to $5 or less, we generally make our own simple (but delicious) pizza dough and our own alfredo sauce.


For Pizza
pizza dough (prepared, or make from scratch using the recipe below)
alfredo sauce (recipe below)
1 cup spinach
1 1/2 cups chopped chicken)
1 1/2 cups mozzarella

For Alfredo Sauce

1/2 cup butter or margarine (1 stick)
1 cup heavy whipping cream (or substitute whole milk)
3/4 cup Parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons parsley


Make alfredo sauce by doing the following:
Add all ingredients to a sauce pan over medium heat.
Bring to a boil, stirring often.
Lower unit to medium low, but keep sauce simmering. Continue to cook for about 15 more minutes as sauce thickens, stirring often.

Allow alfredo sauce to cool for a few minutes before putting on the pizza dough.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Spread pizza dough on large pizza pan. (See recipe below if you want to make the crust.)

Spread alfredo sauce over the top of the dough. Leave about 1/2 inch free on each edge.

Sprinkle spinach over sauce, and then sprinkle chicken over pizza, and then cheese.

Put in oven, and bake for 10 to 15 minutes.


Pizza Dough

1 cup water
1 heaping teaspoon yeast
1 tablespoon sugar
2 ½ to 3 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon oil

Mix water, sugar, yeast, and let rest for a few minutes. Add flour, salt, and oil and mix. Start with 2 cups flour, then add more (3 cups total seems to work), and then let proof for about 20 minutes.


Sweet and Sour Meatballs

If you love sweet and sour dishes, you will love this easy from scratch recipe for sweet and sour meatballs! This recipe calls for hamburger, an egg, onion, bread crumbs, cider vinegar, ketchup, brown sugar, cornstarch, soy sauce, and salt and pepper. And it is ready so fast; have dinner on the table in just 20 minutes! 

1 pound ground beef
1 egg
1 onion, chopped
1 cup dry bread crumbs
salt and pepper to taste
1 cup water
1/2 cup cider vinegar
1/2 cup ketchup
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 cup brown sugar
2 tablespoons soy sauce

In a large bowl, combine hamburger, egg, onion, bread crumbs, salt, and pepper. Roll into meatballs about 1 to 1 1/2 inches in size.
In a large skillet over medium heat, saute the meatballs until browned on all sides.
In a separate medium bowl, mix together the water, vinegar, ketchup, cornstarch, sugar, and soy sauce. Pour over the meatballs, and allow sauce to thicken. Continue to heat until the sauce just starts to bubble.
Serve with rice and your favorite steamed vegetables.


Black Bean Quesadilla

This cheap dinner idea is a fun twist on traditional quesadillas. To the traditional tortillas and cheese add black beans, salsa, and sour cream. This quick dish is ready in 20 minutes or less. 

2 cans (15 oz. each) black beans, drained
1 cup salsa
2 cups shredded cheese
8 (8-inch) flour tortillas
1/3 cup sour cream

Mash one can of beans. Mix in remaining can of beans and salsa.
Spread mixture evenly on 4 tortillas; top with cheese. Cover with remaining tortillas.
Heat skillet, and cook quesadillas 2 minutes. Flip, and cook for another minute or two.
Cut into wedges, and serve with salsa & sour cream on the side.

Chicken and Broccoli Alfredo

We make this simple and tasty dish following the Campbell’s chicken and broccoli alfredo recipe here. It’s great as a one-pot dinner, or we often eat it with toasted garlic bread. Eat with green salad to get in more veggies.

oz. linguine or spaghetti (about 1/2 of a 1-pound package)
cup fresh or frozen broccoli florets
tablespoons butter or margarine
1 pounds skinless, boneless chicken breast halves, cut into 1 1/2-inch pieces
can cream of mushroom soup
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper



Prepare the linguine according to the package directions in a large saucepan. Add the broccoli during the last 4 minutes of the cooking time. Drain the linguine mixture well in a colander.

Heat the butter or margarine in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the chicken, and cook until well browned and cooked through, stirring often.

Stir the cream of mushroom soup, milk, cheese, pepper, and linguine mixture in the skillet and cook until the mixture is hot and bubbling, stirring occasionally.  Serve with additional Parmesan cheese.


Sloppy Joes

Sloppy Joes are another of our favorite cheap meals. I like this simple sloppy Joe recipe below, but of course there are many, many variations.

1 pound ground beef
1 cup ketchup
1/4 cup water
2 tablespoons brown sugar
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
2 teaspoons mustard
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon onion powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 hamburger buns (or use 8 slices of bread)

In a large skillet, cook beef over medium heat until browned. Drain. Stir in the ketchup, water, brown sugar, Worcestershire sauce, mustard, garlic powder, onion powder, and salt. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes. Serve on buns (or bread).

Quick Beef Stroganoff

Beef stroganoff is another of my personal favorite cheap dinner ideas. This simple recipe calls for egg noodles (or substitute whatever noodles you have on hand), sliced mushrooms (optional), cream of mushroom soup, milk, sour cream, and salt and pepper to taste. Another awesome comfort food!

1 pound ground beef
1 chopped medium onion
sliced mushrooms (optional)
1 tablespoon cooking oil
1 cup milk
1/2 cup sour cream
salt and pepper to taste
4 cups cooked egg or elbow noodles or cooked rice

Saute chopped onion and mushrooms on medium heat until onions are translucent. Add hamburger to frying pan, and cook hamburger until browned. Drain.
Add the cream of mushroom soup, milk, and sour cream. Stir. Heat to a boil, stirring regularly. Add salt and pepper.
Serve stroganoff over cooked noodles or rice.


Chicken Fajitas

Chicken fajitas are another one of my favorite meals for eating cheaply! Here is the easy recipe:

4 tablespoons cooking oil, divided
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 1/2 teaspoons season salt
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
1 pounds boneless skinless chicken breast, cut into thin strips
1/2 medium sweet red pepper, thinly sliced
1/2 medium green pepper, thinly sliced
4 green onions, thinly sliced
1/2 cup chopped onion
6 flour tortillas (8 inches), warmed
Optional: Shredded cheddar cheese, salsa, guacamole, and sour cream


In a large bowl, combine 2 tablespoons oil, lemon juice, and seasonings. Add the chicken, and coat evenly. 
In a large  skillet, saute peppers and onions in remaining oil just until crisp-tender. Remove from pan.
Drain chicken, discarding oil mixture. In the same skillet, cook chicken over medium-high heat until no longer pink, 5 or 6 minutes. Return pepper mixture to pan, and heat through.
Spoon filling down the center of the tortillas, and roll. Serve with any of the favorite toppings listed above, if desired.



These 4 strategies really will help you succeed in eating cheaply! By following the simple tips in this article, you can feed your family well and save a ton of money while you do it!


What are your favorite tips and strategies for eating cheaply? Do you have quick and inexpensive favorite meals that you just love and cook often that help you to save money?

Give these strategies a try and let me know how it goes! I would love to hear your thoughts! Leave a comment below!


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