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frugal dinner ideas


Frugal Dinner Ideas

In this article I am going to share ideas for frugal dinner ideas that will save your family tons of money! Find 2 weeks’ worth of easy and super cheap meals that you can make in 15 minutes or less for your family! If you are looking for super quick, easy, frugal dinner ideas, then this is the article for you!

And what is more, you can make all of these frugal dinner ideas for $50 for a family of five! That is two weeks of frugal dinners for under 50 bucks!

These quick, easy, and frugal dinner recipes and ideas are perfect for when money is really tight and you need super cheap meals!

And if you have a game night party or other large gathering where you need frugal meals for a crowd, then these recipes will help you to prepare food for a big group of people without breaking the bank!


Caveat: These are just examples of frugal dinners you can eat when money is tight. These are not all super balanced meals, and I would not recommend eating only these things long term! However, as your budget allows, you can make some of these meals more nutritious by adding more fresh fruits and vegetables and lean meats, for example.

If you want help to eat healthy on a tight budget, check out my best ideas for eating healthy on a budget, including my list of nearly 50 of the cheapest healthy foods you can buy! 

Tip: Save the image above to Pinterest so that you can easily find these frugal dinner ideas later!


Make Frugal Meals Even Cheaper!

One of the easiest ways to save money on groceries so that you can frugal 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!


A Huge Benefit of Frugal Meals

When you are broke or need to save money fast, these meals are a great way to stretch your food dollar till payday or to help you save money to reach an important financial goal (like paying a bill, paying off a debt, saving for something important, and so on).

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What to Make for Dinner When You’re Poor?

When you are poor, or broke, then one of the easiest ways to save money is to prepare meatless meals. Meat is generally one of the most expensive items in the grocery store, so by eating a few meatless dinners a week, you can save a lot of money over time. Find ideas for 25 meatless dinner recipes here.

When you do include meat in your meals, choose less expensive meats like chicken and turkey for most of your recipes to help you stretch your food budget.

Produce can also be very expensive, so use produce that is frozen, canned, or fresh but in season when you make your dinner meals. And organic produce is often much more expensive than nonorganic, so be choosy about what organic produce that you buy. If you are worried about it, look up the foods that nutritionists feel are most important, and then eat nonorganic for the rest.

Cooking from scratch is often also cheaper than buying boxed foods, and it is definitely cheaper than buying already made frozen meals, for example.

Find items to create a super cheap groceries list here.


What Can I Make for Dinner That’s Cheap?

All of the recipes listed below are great ideas for what to make for dinner that is cheap. Like I mention above, to help you make ends meet when money is scarce, make meals that use inexpensive meats (or no meat at all) and that use less expensive produce.

Another way to keep your dinner costs low is to make meals that have a lot of pasta, rice, or beans. Those are food staples that really help you to stretch your food budget in lean times.

You can find a big list of 65 cheap dinner recipes here for even more ideas for frugal dinners.


How to Make a Frugal Meal?

One very important part of making frugal meals and frugal dinners in particular is to meal plan! Without a plan, you will likely always spend more money than you would if you sit down and create a meal plan for the week. When you are intentional (in any area of your life), you get better results! 🙂

Above I mention how you can save money on your meal preparation using less meat and less expensive meat, less expensive produce, and inexpensive staples like pasta, russet potatoes, rice, and beans.

Make those less expensive fillers the stars of your frugal dinners (meaning, make the pasta or the rice or the beans the main ingredient in the recipes you prepare), and you can make frugal meals for super cheap.

Cooking from scratch as much as possible will help you to keep costs low, and buy items that are on sale! Look at the weekly grocery ads as you make your meal plan, and build your meals around the items that you can buy for the best deal.

And then when you are at the grocery store, if you see items that your family loves and that are marked down to a great price, stock up on them! Get this handy grocery price comparison cheat sheet so that you can learn what good prices are for the items that you typically buy when you grocery shop.


What Do You Eat When You’re Broke?

To save money on food when you’re broke, stick with the basics. That includes:

  • Preparing meatless meals.
  • Preparing meals that use inexpensive lean meats like chicken, turkey, and pork.
  • Using inexpensive filler-type foods in your meals like beans, pasta, russet potatoes, and rice. (To make these items more healthy and to keep you satisfied for longer, you can buy the whole grain varieties of pasta and brown rice. They will cost a little more, but they are better for you.) To buy beans for really cheap, buy the dry beans, and soak them yourself to use in your recipes.
  • Buying the less expensive varieties of produce that are virtually always in season, like apples, bananas, lettuce, potatoes, and so forth.
  • Making meal from scratch rather than already prepared meals or meals in a box, unless those packaged items are on sale or are super cheap themselves, like boxed macaroni and cheese (the generic kind, especially).
  • Sticking with generic brands as much as possible when you do your grocery shopping.
  • Leaving junk food, soda, fruit juice, coffee, cigarettes, alcohol, and other items that provide little to no nutritional value on the shelf. You will be amazed at what a huge difference just doing that will make!


Why Prepare Frugal Dinners and Frugal Meals in General?

Sometimes you are in a financial situation, as I mention briefly above, where money is very tight. At these times, rather than go into debt and put myself and my family in an even more precarious situation financially, I personally would much rather cut my grocery budget in order to save money.

Even if you are not in a particularly bad financial situation, you may want to eat frugal meals for a time in order to save money to make a large purchase with cash or to get your grocery spending under control. You may also want to eat dirt cheap meals as part of a no spend challenge.

Find more tips to slash your grocery budget spending here.

Frugal Meal Planning Made Easy: Consider Using an Inexpensive Meal Planning Service

If you feel overwhelmed at the thought of having to create an inexpensive meal plan and add one more thing to your to-do list, then an inexpensive solution such as 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 meal planning services could really help you get on the right track and really save your food budget! track and save your food budget.

Two Weeks of Frugal Dinner Ideas

One of the best ways to plan frugal dinners for your family is to keep things simple! You can make all of these super cheap and easy dinner meals in about 15 minutes or less, for five dollars or less!

Find 2 weeks of cheap meals that you can make for less than $50! Now, that is a great deal!


A Quick Note about These Frugal Dinner Ideas

As you do your meal planning, feel free to reorganize and substitute meals below as needed. You can find a list of more than 60 cheap and easy 30-minute (or less) dinner meals here.

Also, if meal planning is very new to you and you are just completely overwhelmed by it, start super simple with your dinner meal planning! Simply pick 7 meals that you like that are quick and easy, and repeat them each week of the month. Meal planning = done!

Recipes for meals that are made entirely from scratch are included below.


Check out these related articles:
31 Cheapest Foods to Eat When Money Is Tight
Two Weeks of Dirt Cheap Meals (40+ Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner Recipes!)
31 Cheap Dinner Recipes for under $5!
42 Cheap and Easy Budget-Friendly Meals for under $5!
25 Cheap Slow Cooker Meals for under $5
5 Cheap Instant Pot Meals Your Family Will Love (for under $5!)
65 Must-Know Tips to Slash Your Grocery Bill in Half!
7 Simple Steps to Use a Meal Plan to Save Money on Groceries
19 Top Tips to Save Money Eating Out
How to Use a Grocery Item Price Comparison Cheat Sheet to Save a Ton of Money!
Eat Free for Your Birthday!
12 Best Tips to Save Money on Entertainment



Week 1


Sunday: More better mac and cheese

This is a family favorite of ours where you add chopped up broccoli, carrots, onions, peppers, and other vegetables of your choice to a box of macaroni and cheese. Add the vegetables to the pasta as it is boiling; save broccoli and peppers and the softer vegetables for the last five minutes or so so that they will not become overcooked.

For other variations on simple store-bought mac and cheese, you can add tuna, chicken, salsa, a can or two of chili, ranch dressing, chicken, hamburger, and more!

If you prefer to make homemade mac and cheese, this recipe is quick, easy, and tasty!

12 ounces elbow macaroni (or other pasta)
1/4 cup butter or margarine
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
3 cups milk
1 1/2 cups shredded cheddar cheese 


1. Boil noodles as directed.
2. In a separate pan, melt butter and sprinkle in flour, and stir well to combine.
3. Add milk, cheese, salt, and pepper.
4. Combine with noodles. For a creamier texture, add more milk.


Monday: Homemade refried beans and rice burritos

Of course I had to include a beans and rice recipe. 🙂 These burritos are tasty and filling and can be on your table in less than 30 minutes.

1 1/2 cups water
1 1/2 cups uncooked instant brown rice
1 medium green pepper, diced
1/2 cup chopped onion
1 tablespoon cooking oil
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 can (15 ounces) black beans, rinsed and drained
8 flour tortillas (8 inches), warmed
1 cup salsa

Optional toppings: Shredded cheddar cheese and sour cream


  1. In a small saucepan, bring water to a boil. Add rice. Return to a boil. Reduce heat; cover and simmer for 5 minutes. Remove from the heat. Let stand until water is absorbed, about 5 minutes.
  2. Meanwhile, in a large skillet, saute green pepper and onion in oil until tender, 3-4 minutes. Add garlic; cook 1 minute longer. Stir in the chili powder and cumin until combined. Add beans and rice; cook and stir until heated through, about 4-6 minutes.
  3. Spoon about 1/2 cup of filling off-center on each tortilla; top with 2 tablespoons salsa. Fold sides and ends over filling and roll up.
  4. Serve with cheese and sour cream if desired.


Tuesday: Baked potatoes with cheese, sour cream, salsa, barbecue sauce, or other favorite toppings

You can make baked potatoes quickly and easily in the microwave in about 15 minutes for a simple dirt cheap dinner (or lunch) meal.

We pierce the potatoes in several places with a fork and put a little bit of water on the plate to help them cook more quickly. We also sometimes cover them with plastic wrap to help keep the heat in so that they cook a little more quickly, but normally I omit this step.

If you want to save time baking your potatoes, get one of these awesome microwave potato pouches for just a few bucks! (Click the link below to learn more!) They are great!


Wednesday: Chili

You can make chili super cheap from a can by choosing an inexpensive brand of canned chili that you like and then adding an extra can or two of kidney or other favorite canned beans to make it go further and to make this dish even less expensive. Serve with corn bread, saltine crackers (this is my 7-year-old daughter’s favorite), or round butter crackers.


Thursday: Leftovers

An important part of preparing frugal dinners is to not let food go to waste! 🙂 Make sure you use your leftovers. And the best way to make sure that you use them is to plan for a night of leftovers.

That may mean that you end up with kind of a hodge podge of foods for different people. If Johnny loves spaghetti most and Julie loves mac and cheese and you do not have enough of either of those leftovers to feed everyone, then let people choose the leftovers that they eat based on their preference that night. (And if you know how finicky kids can be, then you know that that can change from day to day! ;))


Friday: Quesadillas

 Quesadillas are such a cheap and easy (and tasty!) frugal dinner idea. For this meal, you can use just your favorite tortilla shells and type of cheese, or you can add sliced lunch meat, spinach, hot dogs (kind of weird, but my younger brothers love it), beans, mushrooms, or favorite cooked vegetables. Yum! 


Saturday: Hot dogs and fries or potato chips

Hot dogs are one of the cheapest frugal dinner ideas, and they are a favorite of kids everywhere. Add your favorite fries (make them homemade to make them even cheaper!) or your favorite store-brand potato chips, and you have a tasty (though I admit not totally healthy :)) meal.

Since I don’t like to have to keep hot dog buns on hand, we generally eat our brats and hot dogs with bread rather than buns. To me they taste just as good, and they are also cheaper that way! (We do the same thing with bread instead of hamburger buns, for the same reasons.)

We cook our fries over the stove instead of frying them in oil to make this (not healthy but tasty!) dish a little bit healthier.

Week 2


Sunday: Meatless spaghetti

Spaghetti is one of our favorite quick and easy go-to meals!

We most often make spaghetti the way my mother did. We usually eat it with a pound of ground beef, but for the meatless version, just use 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. You could also add mushrooms (fresh or canned) and peppers (such green peppers, since they are the least expensive), as well.


Monday: Ramen noodles with vegetables

This is another one of our go-to super easy dirt cheap meals. To make this simple meal, first cook your favorite fresh or frozen or canned vegetables (corn, peas, green beans, carrots, and onions all work really well) in a pot, and then for the last few minutes, add your favorite flavor of ramen noodles.

You can also add chopped chicken for protein to add more nutrition and make this a heartier meal.


Tuesday: Inexpensive frozen pizza

Totino’s is one of the cheapest brands, or check store brands; per ounce, our local store brand is sometimes cheaper, and also better tasting, than the Totino’s), or backpacker’s pizza (tortillas, pepperoni, and shredded cheese)


Wednesday: Meatless taco soup

Combine a can or two of diced tomatoes, a can of red kidney beans, a can of chili beans or other beans, a can or two of corn, and a package of taco seasoning,  (Do not drain any of the cans before you add them to the pot.) Cook until warmed through.

If you want to include more protein but still save money on meat, use chicken instead of ground beef. You can buy boneless, skinless chicken breasts for usually $2 a pound or less (at least in our area), and boneless, skinless chicken thighs for even less than that.


Thursday: Leftovers

Again, to help ensure that you do not leave food to waste away in your fridge, make leftovers a regular part of your frugal meal planning!

Even if you do not have enough of any one leftover to feed your whole family, you can serve one leftover item to some family members and another to other family members, and this is a great way to use up those small portions of leftovers from earlier in the week!


Friday: Grilled cheese sandwiches (with tomato or mushroom soup, if desired)

The easiest way to make several grilled cheese sandwiches at a time is with a griddle. (We have an inexpensive one like this one.)

But even without a griddle, you can make four at a time with this flat frying pan, which is similar to the one we have.

To make grilled cheese sandwiches even cheaper, you can omit using butter or cooking spray on the pan. I generally make grilled cheese sandwiches without any kind of anti-stick agent because you do not actually need it and it saves calories 🙂 (but it does make the grilled cheese sandwiches a nicer golden brown to use non-stick agent). If you want to save money but do want some kind of additional anti-sticking agent, use margarine.


Saturday: Egg fried rice


4 large eggs, divided
2 tablespoons cooking oil, divided
1 cup diced red onion (about 1 small onion)
4 cups cooked rice|
2 tablespoons soy sauce


  1. Crack eggs into a small bowl, and beat them together.
  2. Heat a large frying pan or a wok with 1/2 tablespoon of the cooking oil over medium-high heat. Once the pan is hot, add the beaten eggs and scramble them for about a minute. Transfer the eggs to a dish, and turn off the heat. Wipe off the pan or wok with a paper towel.
  3. Pour the remaining 1 1/2 tablespoons of oil in the pan or wok over medium-high heat. Add the onions, and cook them for about 2 minutes, stirring constantly.
  4. Add the cooked rice into the pan or wok, and cook for a few minutes, until the rice is heated through. If you have large clumps of rice, break them apart with the back of your spatula.
  5. Add the soy sauce, and stir. Add the scrambled eggs, and stir to mix again. Serve immediately.


Note: Again, these are just examples of dirt cheap dinner ideas (some recipes are included below). You can switch out any of the meals with other dinner options that you like better. See this article for more than 65 cheap family dinner recipes that you can make for $5 or less in 30 minutes or less!


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These quick, easy, and frugal dinner ideas are perfect for a super tight budget! They will let you get food on the table fast to feed your family! All ready in 15 minutes or less, these budget-friendly meals are great for busy families!

For more ways to save money on cheap meals, see this article for more than 100 cheap recipes that you can make for $5 or less in 30 minutes or less.


What are your favorite quick, easy, frugal dinner ideas? Do you have quick and inexpensive go-to dishes that you just love and use in your meal planning? I would love to hear your thoughts! Leave a comment below!


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