10 of our favorite cheap meals

17 May 2018

As we build our menu each week, there are four basic factors we keep in mind: we want a mix of meals that are inexpensive, quick and simple to prepare, meatless, and that make leftovers. Of course, we also want meals that are healthy and delicious! Not every meal falls into every one of those categories, so we do our best to piece together a menu of seven dinners that feels balanced.

I thought I’d do a mini series covering each of those four attributes, so you can pick and choose which ones matter most to you! Today, I’m starting with ten of our favorite cheap meals!

chana masala

From Cookie + Kate

1. Spaghetti and meatballs. Nothing fancy here, friends! Pasta from a box, frozen meatballs, sauce from a jar, and some sort of vegetable on the side. I LOVE this sauce which is super easy to make, but it does take a bit longer.

2. Taco soup. Mostly canned ingredients keep the cost low on this one. Adding a pan of cornbread doesn’t add much to the price but is delicious :)

3. Baked risotto with sausage and peas. If you think risotto is hard to make, you have to try this recipe! It’s one of our favorites from The Newlywed Cookbook. The roasted vegetables variation is yummy, but we more often make it with crumbled Italian sausage and frozen peas.

4. Chana masala. There is an upfront cost if you don’t already have the spices this recipe calls for, but once you’ve purchased them, you can make this delicious dish many times over! Chick peas as the protein keeps the cost low. I like to top mine with a little plain yogurt, and we do naan on the side.

5. Burrito bowls. Royal blend rice, black beans and pinto beans simmered with canned green chiles, frozen corn, salsa, shredded cheese, and a little plain yogurt – yum! The guac is extra :)

6. Bratwursts and pasta salad. A classic summer meal! I usually make this pasta salad recipe but halve the amount of dressing used. In-season corn on the cob only adds a few dollars to the total.

7. Black bean soup. Again, canned beans are the heroes here! This thick soup is a favorite in the fall and winter. (And totally justifies our possession of an immersion blender!)

8. Beans and toast. This is a recipe from Time for Dinner that I can’t find on the internet (probably because it’s so simple it’s hardly a recipe). This Fun Time Toast is similar, though we don’t usually add eggs. I feel a little bit like I’m in the Depression when I eat this, but that seems appropriate for a favorite cheap meal :)

9. Three pepper pizza. Pizza dough from Publix, jarred pizza sauce, shredded mozzarella, chopped poblano, red bell pepper, red onion, and pepperonicis. This happens at least every other week at our house.

10. Grilled quesadillas. If you haven’t tried them yet, know that quesadillas on the grill are about one million times better than pan-made quesadillas. Truly next level. We fill ours with veggies, pinto beans, and black beans, and spread salsa and a little bit of plain yogurt on the top.

I would love to hear: what are your favorite cheap dinners? And which trait matters most to you when menu planning: price, ease, meatless, leftover-maker, or something else?

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May 17, 2018 9:19 am

Love the idea for grilled quesadillas! Adding that to next week’s plan. I always aim for recipes that are left-over friendly, relatively healthy, and pretty cheap. Creating left-overs and health are the top priorities for my husband and I. Chicken tikka masala is our go-to favorite. Once all the spices were purchased, this became our go-to cheap and repeatable meal :)

May 17, 2018 9:24 am

This is such a great list. I always have a hard time finding cheap meals that I actually want to eat. I can’t wait to try the Chana Masala! I’ve been making this Chicken Tikka Masala a lot (https://tastythin.com/instant-pot-chicken-tikka-masala-whole30-paleo/), so I have a feeling I’d like the Chana Masala as well!

May 17, 2018 12:25 pm

Why meatless??

May 20, 2018 9:08 pm
Reply to  Em

Yes yes yes! :)

May 17, 2018 1:47 pm

We often go for egg tacos (scrambled eggs/omelet, fresh veggies, corn tortillas, salsa or guac, sometimes rice) and Ethiopian red lentils with rice or flatbread.

May 17, 2018 2:09 pm

My favorite cheap and easy dinner is anything with eggs! Frittatas, fried/scrambles eggs, and potatoes and a veggie on the side.

May 17, 2018 3:57 pm

I like to think of any meals cooked at home are cheap! But, I think we’d go crazy if we didn’t get out of the house at the very least once a week. (We love wednesday night dinners at our church–best $6 meal in town and we all welcome the break of having to cook/clean!) ….We still love that risotto with sausage and peas and I think of yall when we have it on our menu! So good. We use Real Simple’s easy easy risotto recipe and we often switch up our veggies. I love asparagus and mushroom in risotto, and Trisha Yearwood has a fantastic risotto recipe!

Lately, we’ve been back to emeals.com (so easy and versatile) for low carb and/or clean eating. I think weight management plays a huge role in our meal planning! I’ve also been dealing with a thyroid issue & learning about hormone imbalances/gut health and the struggle is real!!! And I found out that I have an egg allergy. Once we return from a couple of upcoming trips, I plan to take the reigns a bit more seriously, but it’s so hard. And unfortunately, not exactly cheap!

May 17, 2018 7:44 pm

Great suggestions! Also- for a long time I thought instead of “cheap meals” you said “chickpea meals” because of the photo, and I was very confused hahaha! ????
One of our quick and cheap favorites is Tortizza! Which is a personal pizza on a tortilla- we got the idea from a friend’s birthday. I cook the tortillas a bit first (5min) in a 400 degree oven, then top, and cook for another 10mon. They are nice and crispy!

May 18, 2018 8:49 am

Yay for TEN new dinner ideas, thank you!!!!!
Question about the quesadillas on the grill: do you grill the veggies separately and then assemble (and then re-grill)? Or assemble and grill?
For dinners, I look for ease first and foremost, and will try to incorporate meatless dinners once or twice weekly.

May 18, 2018 9:21 am

Adding all of these to my list now! I love how simple they are. I think we have such a tendency to over-complicate things for ourselves. These look delicious, I love that they’re cost-effective, and as a working mom of two, not super time-intensive :)

May 18, 2018 3:38 pm
Reply to  Em

Oh I can’t wait for those!! Have you previously shared what you guys budget for groceries each week? I’ve given in to just shopping at Publix once a week instead of going all over looking for the best deals, and I think I remember you saying the same thing once…

May 24, 2018 7:19 am
Reply to  Em

Yall need to check out Aldi!!! It’s one of our favorites to shop and SO cheap. We will get meat/fish from earthfare or whole foods (on sale, though) because grass fed, etc is less there (usually) than publix.

May 18, 2018 3:18 pm

Thanks for the recipe ideas! I love this curry recipe from Half Baked Harvest – we probably make it every other week. I usually add chicken instead of the chickpeas and whatever veggies we have on hand! And it still tastes great without the fresh lemongrass or cilantro.


May 18, 2018 3:18 pm

Love these ideas! With the risotto…when do you add the sausage and peas? At the end of do you let them both cook with the rice?

May 18, 2018 10:06 pm

Are you familiar with Budget Bytes? Obviously ingredient costs vary from her calculations, but her whole schtick is that her recipes are inexpensive, and I’ve been very happy with most of what I’ve tried. Examples that my husband and I loved: https://www.budgetbytes.com/chili-cornbread-skillet/ and https://www.budgetbytes.com/spicy-coconut-pumpkin-soup/ and https://www.budgetbytes.com/spicy-noodles/ (in the latter, I often stir-fry veggies to add and/or double the eggs, but there’s variations you could try that lack eggs – https://www.budgetbytes.com/?s=dragon+noodles)

May 20, 2018 9:09 pm

You’re the best at meal planning! And having been a part of meals at your home, I support ALL of these :)

May 24, 2018 6:10 am

SO excited to read all of your posts on this topic! I would say that for our meals, our priority nowadays is ease, as well as ease of clean-up. The fewer dishes, the better! I am also anticipating allergen-free dishes becoming more and more important as Charlie grows and notices what we’re eating. Right now, I’m making him a separate dinner 95% of the time so I don’t have to worry about it, but that’s kind of stressful too, and I hate not eating as a family.

May 25, 2018 9:05 am

Major YAY for food + meal planning posts! I’m always in the market for new ideas. I just got married a few weeks ago and making homemade pizzas has been our new favorite date night…easy, fun, cheap, collaborative, and yummy! :)

May 29, 2018 2:52 pm

These are some great recipes – e hardly ever eat pure vegetarian.
Also so interesting to see how recipes differ so much across our countries x