Even though most of us are on a tight budget, we still like to have healthy and filling meals. One of the best aspects of cooking at home is that you control precisely how much you are spending – and what's going in – to ensure your family is taken care of on all levels. Nothing goes to waste so no need to feel guilty about tossing produce out anymore! While making a change in your diet or spending can be challenging, the key is knowing dirt cheap meals for families are actually easy, quick, and delicious!
If you know what you are doing, it is easier than ever to make dirt-cheap meals for families all week long. All of these recipes utilize ingredients that you probably already have, and they are a great way to spice up dinner night.
▾ Table of Contents ▾
Dirt Cheap Meals
Dirt Cheap Breakfast Meals
Dirt Cheap Lunch Meals
Dirt Cheap Dinner Meals
Even if you are brand new to preparing dinners, these recipes are great for beginners or people who are looking to make quick meals for their families. Let’s get into the best dirt cheap meals out there!
How to Keep Your Meals Affordable
For many families, their budget is essential. When it comes to cooking meals at home, there are many ways to keep the costs low on your weekly meals.
Here are some ideas to help make your family’s meals more affordable:
- Always check your local store's sales and coupons for the week.
- Plan your meals ahead to avoid buying extra groceries.
- Start a garden if you have the room to provide your own vegetables.
- Keep your leftovers in an easy place to find in your fridge.
- Utilize “misfit” boxes to keep your vegetable cost even lower.
By following a few simple tips, you can not only save money but provide your family with healthy and delicious meals every night of the week.
Dirt Cheap Breakfast Meals
The last thing you want to think about first thing in the morning is how expensive your breakfast is. Thankfully, having a dirt cheap breakfast doesn’t have to mean off-brand cereal! Here’s some cheap, delicious breakfasts for your family to get the day started right. Even better? They repurpose the same ingredients over and over!
Filling, handheld, and ready-to-go! Breakfast burritos make a great cheap meal option, because you can use left overs or keep it simple. Plus, you can prep it ahead of time!
- Tortilla – 1
- Egg – 1
- Cheese of choice – 1/4 cup
- Salsa – 2 tablespoons
- Butter (optional)
Estimated Cost: about $1.00 (makes one)
- Heat butter in pan over medium-heat.
- Crack egg and either scramble or make it an omelette. Add cheese.
- OPTIONAL: add any other toppings from your fridge! Some things we love: spinach, tomatoes, onion, peppers, mushrooms, etc.
- Lay tortilla out, add cooked egg to it. Roll into burrito and enjoy!
Cheesy Hash Browns
Hash browns are one of the most loved breakfast meals to make, and you can keep the cost incredibly low. You have the option to either purchase fresh potatoes and grate them yourself, or you can also purchase frozen or ready-to-use Hash browns in almost any supermarket. They are also easy to dress up and make them your family’s favorite.
- Russet Potatoes – 2 or 1 Pack of Hash Browns
- Yellow Onion – 1
- Cheddar Cheese – 1 cup
- Butter – 1 tablespoon
- Estimated cost of recipe: Around .60 per serving!
- Grate or chop the potatoes.
- Chop the onion and grate the cheese.
- Heat the skillet and melt the butter.
- Add potatoes and onions and cook until golden
Sprinkle on the cheese and allow it to melt. Enjoy!
Eggs are another excellent idea for those who are looking to keep their meals within their budget. Eggs are an incredibly versatile ingredient and also a great source of protein. Omelets are a great way to dress up some eggs, and you can add different ingredients to make them a perfect cheap meal for you and your family.
- Eggs – 2
- Shredded Cheddar – ¼ cup
- Butter – 2 tbsp
- Salt and Pepper to taste (about ½ tsp each)
Estimated cost per serving about $1.75!
- Start the skillet preheating on medium-low heat
- Beat the eggs, then add salt and pepper
- Add butter to pan and tilt the pan to coat evenly
- Pour the entire egg mixture into the pan
- Wait for the omelet to mostly firm up
- Add cheese and any additional veggies or meats you wish
- Fold the omelet in half, then cook, flipping, until done through
Remove the omelet from the pan and enjoy! Some chives on top, or some more melted cheese, can punch the recipe up.
Egg in a Hole
When it comes to dirt cheap meals that are easy to make and filling, look no further than an egg in a hole. Depending on where you live, this may also be called a toad in the hole. You need three simple ingredients.
- Bread – 2 slices
- Egg – 2
- Butter – 1 tsp
- Salt and pepper to taste
Estimated price per serving: $1.00
- Preheat a skillet over medium-high heat
- Cut out the center of each piece of bread. A cookie cutter works well, but a knife will do the trick
- Add the butter to the skillet and melt, tilt to coat the pan
- Toast each side of the bread slices in the skillet until lightly golden brown
- Crack an egg into the hole in the center of the bread
- Cook until the egg is done to your desired level
Top each off with a bit of salt and pepper, and you’re good to go! Remember that the bread will continue toasting while the egg is cooking, so don’t over toast the bread before adding the egg.
Waffles are always one of the ideal dirt cheap meal ideas for families. You can either make them from scratch or buy a pre-made mix that is easy to use. Waffles are also perfect for different toppings to make them the perfect dirt cheap meal any time of the day.
If you need an easy waffle recipe, here’s a basic recipe that you and your family can make a good, cheap breakfast with!
- Eggs – 2
- All-purpose flour – 2 cups
- Milk – 1 ¾ cup
- Oil or butter – ½ cup
- Sugar or maple syrup – 1 tablespoon
- Baking powder – 4 teaspoons
- Dash salt
- Vanilla extract – ½ teaspoon
Estimated cost per recipe: About .50 per serving!!
- Preheat the waffle iron
- Combine all ingredients into a batter
- Add ½ – ¾ cup batter to hot iron. (Check product guide to confirm amount.)
- When waffle is golden brown, carefully remove it.
Serve with butter, syrup, fruit, whipped cream. Whatever you have on hand or whatever is on sale!
Dirt Cheap Lunch Meals
When it comes to cheap family lunches, most people conjure up images of baloney sandwiches and potato chips. However, that doesn’t have to be the case! We’ll show you 4 solid, cheap lunches for your family.
Grilled Cheese and Tomato Soup
You cannot go wrong with a great grilled cheese and a hearty tomato soup. Not only is it one of the easiest dirt-cheap lunch meals you can make, but it is also a family favorite.
- Bread – 4 slices
- Butter – 4 tbsp
- Cheddar Cheese – 1 cup, shredded
- Crushed tomatoes – 1 can
- Heavy cream – 2¼ cup
- Garlic – 2 cloves, minced
- Yellow onion – 1, diced
- Broth – 2 cups (vegetable or chicken, can use broth substitute or broth cubes and hot water)
- Salt and pepper to taste
Estimated cost per recipe: $5 – or $2.50 per serving
- Preheat a large pan on medium high heat
- Add butter to pan and tilt to coat entire pan
- Dice onion, add to pan and cook until golden brown and softened
- Add minced garlic and cook until aromatic (about 1 minute)
- Add the tomatoes, broth, heavy cream, salt, and pepper
- Simmer for 15-20 minutes
- While the soup is simmering, toast bread in pan with butter
- Add cheese along with a small amount of salt and pepper to one slice
- Top with the other slice, grill until melted and bread is golden brown
Once the soup is done simmering, you can either put it in a blender or use an immersion blender to create that thick, creamy tomato soup your whole family will crave!
If you are looking for a lighter dirt-cheap lunch meal, a pasta salad is a great way to go. One of the best things about a pasta salad is that you can create different flavor combinations by using different ingredients. It can also be a great way to use up leftover vegetables in your fridge or pantry.
- Dried pasta – 1 lb
- Bell peppers – 1 cup, sliced
- Cucumber or Zucchini – 1 cup, sliced
- Cherry tomatoes – 1 cup, halved
- Red Onion – 1/4, thinly sliced
- Cheese of choice – 1 cup
Estimated cost per recipe: about $5 for three servings – or $1.67 per serving!
- First, heat a pot of boiling salted water
- Begin slicing your vegetables and cheese as directed above
- Once the water is boiling, add a small amount of olive oil and the pasta
- Cook the pasta until al dente (slightly firm)
- Drain the pasta, then add to a large bowl along with the vegetables and cheese
- Toss with your dressing of choice (olive oil and salt or balsamic work well)
After everything is tossed and dressed, and enjoy!
Macaroni and Cheese
Even though macaroni and cheese may seem intimidating, it is one of the easiest and most loved dirt cheap meals for families. You can purchase a pre-mixed macaroni and cheese or even make your own.
- Dried pasta – 8-10 ounces
- Butter – 2 tbsp
- Flour, all purpose – 2 tablespoons
- Salt – to taste
- Garlic powder – ¼ tsp
- Milk – 1 to 1½ cup
- Sour cream – ¼ cup to taste
- Cheddar Cheese – 2-3 cups depending on taste
Estimated cost for recipe: $10 for 4 servings or $2.50 per serving!
- Start a pot of salted water boiling
- Cook the noodles as the package instructs
- Drain noodles and set aside
- In a small bowl, mix flour, salt, and garlic powder
- Drop butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat
- Once butter is melted, add the flour and cook for about one minute (until slightly browned—this is called a roux)
- Add the milk, whisk until smooth
- Add the sour cream if desired, whisk until smooth
- Turn the heat up to medium-high and cook until it begins to thicken (3 minutes or so)
- Once thickened, drop the heat back to low and slowly add bits of cheese
- Wait for cheese to melt in, folding. Once cheese is melted, whisk until free of clumps.
- Season to taste with salt and pepper
Then, just drop the noodles back in the pot over low heat and stir until evenly coated! The sauce really elevates this dish above boxed mac and cheese, so it’s worth the extra effort!
Tuna (Or Chicken) Salad Bento Box
Honestly, you can make this lunch a gazillion ways! Think lunchables – but for adults! You can swap out the tuna or chicken salad for deli meats or peanut butter as a protein. You can use crackers, a bagel, or pretzels for a starchy carb. And mix up the fruit and veggies to whatever you have on hand! The possibility are endless!
- Chunk light tuna (or chicken) in water – 2 cans
- Celery – 4-6 stalks
- Mayonnaise – 1/2 cup
- Lemon juice – 1 T (optional)
- Salt + pepper to taste
- Mini sweet or bell peppers, cucumber, or tomatoes
Estimated cost: $2.00 per serving
- Drain the chicken or tuna well and add to bowl.
- Dice 2 stalks of celery finely. Add to protein bowl. Add mayonnaise and lemon juice. Mix well and add salt + pepper to taste.
- Rinse remaining celery and veggie of choice (peppers, cucumber, tomatoes). Cut and slice to preferred style.
- Add about 1 cup of the tuna (or chicken) salad mixture into 4 containers. Evenly divided the celery, veggies and crackers between the 4 containers too. four containers (about 1 cup each).
Dirt Cheap Dinner Meals
Dinner is the perfect time of day to splurge a little bit—but that doesn’t need to mean big expensive meals! Here’s some cheap meals to keep your family full and happy in the evenings.
Bean + Veggie Quesadilla
Ahh quesadillas! The quick, delicious, and filling lunch that we all need!
- Beans – 1 can (I suggest black beans, pinto, or cannellini)
- Chili powder – 3/4 tsp
- Cumin – 1/4 tsp
- Garlic powder – 1/8 tsp
- Veggies (we suggest spinach – 2 cups and corn – 1/4 cup)
- Shredded pepper jack cheese – 4 oz
- Sour cream – 1/2 cup
- Flour tortillas – 4
Estimated cost: about $1.00 per quesadilla!
- Rinse and drain beans under warm water for at least 10 seconds longer than you think!
- Add spices and beans to bowl and mix well.
- Rinse and chop spinach into small bite sized pieces.
- Add spinach, cheese, and sour cream to the bowl of spiced beans. Stir well.
- Lay out four quesadillas and add the mixture to half of each quesadilla. Fold the tortilla in half to close.
- Using a skillet over medium heat, cook the quesadillas until the inside is melted and the outside is crisp/brown.
- Let it cool for a minute, cut into triangles and serve!
Stuffed bell peppers were my favorite growing up! They also let you use items mentioned on your shopping list in this post and are easy to prep ahead or take to-go as a leftover lunch the next day!
Shopping list (6 servings)
- 6 Bell peppers
- Shredded cheese – 1.5 cups
- 1 lb Ground beef or turkey (OR 1 can beans if vegetarian)
- Onion – 1/2
- Garlic – 2 teaspoons
- Rice – 1.5 cups
- Tomato Sauce – 15 oz jar
- Italian seasoning – 1/2 teaspoon
Estimated cost: $15 or $2.50 per serving
- Turn oven to 350 degrees F. Grease baking dish.
- Prepare peppers by rinsing, and cutting in half. Remove seeds and ribs.
- Place peppers open side down in baking dish, add about an inch of water (1.5 cups). Cover dish and bake for 25 minutes.
- While peppers bake, heat a pan over medium heat on the stove.
- Add ground meat (or beans), onion, and garlic. Cook for 5 minutes (or until meat is fully cooked through).
- Stir in cooked rice, tomato sauce, and seasoning.
- Remove peppers from oven and drain the water from the pan. Using tongs, turn the peppers over so the open side faces up.
- About a minute before you're ready to take the mixture off the stove top, add 1/2 cup cheese, and salt and pepper to taste. Mix well and spoon evenly into open peppers.
- Top each pepper evenly with remaining cheese. Cover and bake for 20 minutes.
- Remove cover, bake for another 10 minutes until cheese is crispy.
Spaghetti: The Classic, and Cheap, Dinner
Spaghetti is another dirt cheap meal idea that can last you for quite a while. Depending on your family's size, you can double up the amount to have leftovers for lunch or even dinner the next day.
- Crushed tomatoes – 1 can (at least 25 ounces)
- Ground beef or pork – 1 lb
- Yellow onion – 1, finely diced
- Garlic – 1 clove, diced fine
- Basil – ¼ cup (fresh is best)
- Oregano – ¾ tsp
- Parmesan – to taste (about 1 cup)
- Dried spaghetti – 1 cup
- Tomato paste – 2 ½ tbsp
- Olive oil – 2 tbsp
Estimated cost: $8 for 4 servings or about $2 per serving!
- Preheat a large skillet on medium-high heat
- Add a dash of olive oil, tilt the pan to coat
- Add the ground beef to begin searing and cook
- Continue to toss the ground beef occasionally until cooked through (internal temp of 165°, about 5 minutes)
- Transfer the cooked beef onto a plate with a paper towel on it to catch the grease
- Reduce the heat to medium, then add more olive oil
- Add the diced onion to the pan and cook until soft and slightly translucent ( about 3-4 minutes)
- Then, add the diced garlic and cook until fragrant (1 minute)
- Add the crushed tomatoes, tomato paste, ¾ cup water, beef, basil, and oregano to pan
- Warm, stirring, and season with salt and pepper to taste
- Bring the sauce to a light boil, then reduce heat to low and cover
- While the sauce simmers for 15-20 minutes, cook the pasta according to the package until al dente
Once the pasta is ready and the sauce is done simmering, just drain the pasta and then toss it in the sauce, then top with as much parmesan as you want for a garnish!
Dress Up Your Ramen to Make a Hearty Meal
When you think of dirt-cheap meals, chances are you probably have already thought about ramen. Ramen is historically one of the least expensive meals that you can get, but there are ways to dress it up—even ways that your whole family will love. Here’s just a few!
Add Your Favorite Fresh Veggies
Perhaps the easiest way to dress up that dish of ramen is by simply adding some of the vegetables you have sitting in the fridge.
Great vegetables to add to ramen include things like:
- Mushrooms: most types will work, but chop larger mushrooms into more manageable pieces.
- Green onions: this goes without saying, but a quick garnish of sliced scallions can give your ramen a nudge towards “fancy”
- Bell peppers: Slice them any way you like! Julienned peppers work great for picking up with chopsticks, but diced peppers can also be a great add. Just make sure to remove the core and any white parts of the inside of the pepper when cutting—these bits are bitter and can bring a bad taste to the dish.
- Spinach: Believe it or not, spinach actually works very well in a hot bowl of ramen and can give your family some much needed vitamins and minerals! Plus, the kids won’t even realize it’s there.
- Cabbage: Similar to spinach, cabbage is a great add provided that you cook it long enough for it to soften up.
- Broccoli: Chop it up into smaller florets for easy eating, or leave it as bigger chunks to make the dish feel heartier.
- Peas: Another great, classic addition to ramen. Peas can add a little bit of extra texture and an earthy taste to help ground the salty broth.
When adding vegetables, keep in mind how you want them cooked and at what point. Mushrooms, peppers, and other hard vegetables are best sautéed in the beginning before adding the water to the pot, while spinach and cabbage are best added at the end as they can easily get overcooked.
Use Up Your Leftover Eggs
Eggs are a traditional addition to ramen, and they help to make it feel like a much heartier and traditional meal instead of a cheap dish you whip out when you’re sick.
Soft boiled eggs are a perfect taste and texture match for a salty bowl of ramen. Just get some eggs boiling while the water cooks in another pot—don’t boil the eggs in the same water you use for the ramen as the shell might leak unwanted minerals or tastes.
A note on cost per recipe estimates:
Every area/region is going to have different pricing for ingredients. Cost per serving of cost per recipe was calculated based off the average cost of an item then divided by the amount of that ingredient required to make the recipe, then the totals were added. For instance, the average cost of a loaf of bread is $2.50 and it has 28 slices. Bread was estimated to cost .18 in a recipe calling for 2 slices of bread.
Typically, when people think of dirt-cheap meals, they imagine something in a box. The truth is that there are tons of recipes out there that you can use for cooking different meals for your family that is not going to cost you a lot of money. Many of the ingredients for the recipes we mentioned you probably already have at home.
The 11 dirt cheap meals for families we have listed above include real ingredients and simple recipes that you can use to feed your family for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. Not only are you able to customize each of these recipes to fit the needs and taste preferences of your family, but they also won't leave the table hungry!
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