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Cheap Meal Ideas

Category Cheap Meals
Do you need help learning how to stretch your meal budget? This page has tips on what is both nutritious and cheap when money is tight. This page contains cheap meal ideas.


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Okay, this is my first ever tip, but here goes.

For a couple of years, my husband and I had very, very little cash flow and began going hungry at times, here and there. We never had a lot of food, but it only felt bad when we had nothing but dried noodles and water; rice, if we were lucky.

Realizing something had to be fixed, I scourged our local Wal-Mart and found the best deals I possibly could. Especially since we have no working stove top or oven, so we have to get creative with our eating habits. If you ever find yourself in this position, here are my suggestions for your grocery list:

  1. Hamburgers If you have a George Foreman or any other way to cook hamburgers, buy the patties. I found you can get 25 semi-thin patties for 7-10 dollars, depending on your brand preference. For us, we always just did whatever was cheapest! Once you have the patties, you only need to buy some ketchup, mustard, one head of lettuce, and one package of buns at a time, giving you more time to make more cash before needing another package of buns.

    Also, after you've made this initial purchase, you won't find yourself needing to buy ketchup or mustard for a while, which also saves on cost the next time around! If you have enough in your pocket book, pickles make for a nice flavor enhancer, and are still relatively cheap. Just stay away from the cheese! It may be absolutely delicious, but it's also what will kill your check book when it comes to eating hamburgers. Without the cheese, they are a very cheap meal!

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  3. Rice: You can do so many things with rice and it's oh, so inexpensive! I like it just plain with butter, soy sauce is inexpensive. As most of you probably know, you can use other forms of liquid to steam it in in order to give it a different flavor. My husband's favorite was chicken broth.

    Now, we had no working stove top (still don't) but one plug-in burner does the trick! Chicken broth in bulk is so inexpensive and gives the rice a wonderful flavor!

  4. Split Pea Soup: A bag of peas, an onion, a little bacon, milk, and you are ready to go! If you have no stove top, see if anyone has a slow cooker you can borrow, or maybe you're lucky enough to have one of your own. I got one for Christmas! Anyway, I buy the chuck pieces of bacon - not only are they a heck of a lot cheaper, but they are fattier, which is better for your soup, anyway. This costs less than ten dollars to purchase and used to last me a week!


    If you don't like split pea soup, feel free to look around at other soups. They can be some of the cheapest meals if you keep them simple, and adding something like a box of 6 bread sticks for less than $2! Just heat them in your toaster oven, if you have one and no oven, like us.

  5. Dollar Tree: If you happen to have a Dollar Tree in your area, there are some foods they carry that actually aren't that bad. First of all, in my opinion, they carry the best ketchup. You can find stuff there that has no high fructose corn syrup, and it tastes much better than the stuff that has that crud in it. Also, in their frozen foods, you can sometimes find Savory snacks by Pillsbury, yum! I don't suggest going here all the time, but if you have $5 to your name, you can find a little something to hold you over until you find a way to make that next dollar.

  6. Pork: I am a meat eater and it was very hard for me to stay away from the meat section when we were so poor. We can afford food now, and are ready to move out of this kitchen-less home. Pork is great though. You can have it as steak, in pieces with your rice, or make Chinese noodles (pork, ramen noodles, and eggs topped with soy sauce, add green onion if desired).

I hope someone out there finds this helpful! I know how difficult it can be to work hard, and still go cold and hungry. If any of you out there are in this position or a similar one, just remember to keep holding your head high. God never gives us a challenge we can't handle, scripture promises as much.

If you are out there, feel free to let me know about it. Believe it or not, I most likely know a lot of what you are going through and would like to help in any way possible. Even if it's just an ear to hear and a prayer to pray. I love you, and God does, too!

Have a wonderful and frugal week, all! Here's a cup of cocoa, on me!

By Chelle152 from Coquille, Oregon

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I think you might like this dollar tree dinner I made last night. All from the Dollar Tree! I didn't have any steps as I didn't think to share till it was all done. But I have images I can share.


Prep Time: 15 minutes (during cooking time).

Cook Time: 25 minutes

Total Time: 25 minutes

Yield: 1-4 servings


  • 1 box New Orleans Jambalaya
  • 1 John Morrell smoked sausage, sliced or diced
  • 1 can corn, drained
  • 1 can red beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 can mandarin oranges, drained (or pineapple, my preference)
  • 1 can olives, drained and sliced


  1. In larger sauce pan, cook rice according to directions. I add another 1/4 cup water as there are other ingredients to be added. While it's cooking, prep all the meat and cut up veggies and fruit.
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  3. About mid way, add all the other goodies. Cover and simmer the rest of the way.
  4. This meal makes enough for four people one meal, two for two meals, or one for four meals. I ate, put enough away for lunch today and put 2 more portions in the freezer. Enjoy!
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I am on several frugal and homesteading groups on FB and one of the owners alerted me to a site that offers free food, just pay S&H. It is (AKA Feeding The Children). They give away non-perishable foods, mainly pastas, rice and instant oatmeal.

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With times so tight, I am glad that my family enjoys budget friendly meals. Here are some of my fave recipes that have my families stamp of approval (and they are easy and cheap!). Recipes include: Sausage Goulash, Impossible Vegetable Pie, Company Pasta and The Best "Beefaroni" Ever.

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Chop up one onion; mix with one pound ground beef. Cook until done and drain off grease. Mix brown sugar and 2 Tbsp. mustard into a bowl.

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October 15, 2004

This recipe is so economical. For a family of four I buy 2 boxes of mac & cheese at 25 cents each, 2 cans of pork & beans at 33 cents each and a package of hot dog wieners for 50 cents (only use half the package for this recipe). I buy it all at the Sav A Lot store.

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This is a great one-dish meal! Inexpensive to make!

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Ask a QuestionHere are the questions asked by community members. Read on to see the answers provided by the ThriftyFun community or ask a new question.

I am looking for cheap meals please. With the economy the way it is, and my husband and I both on a Pension I'm having a bit of struggle to be inventive and frugal as well. Help!

By Leah Jones from Bauple, Australia


March 31, 20090 found this helpful

What great meal ideas! There are also a lot of good meals, menus, and tips on I love saving money and this is a good site for information.

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April 3, 20090 found this helpful

I belong to It's a site for living a healthy lifestyle. There are a lot of meals serving 4 that are under $10 (US).
I make what's called Pho' it's a Viet soup that is very easy to make. Just find Pho seasoning, make the broth with that add 1 chunked up chicken breast, rice noodles and green onion. Once it's done you add bean sprouts and Thai basil. It's a lovely soup and very filling.

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April 3, 20090 found this helpful

Fresh vegetables are less expensive if you can garden them, get them from a local farmer or farmer's market, or buy at a store that stocks only locally produced vegetables and fruit. Fresh vegetables and fruits are also what people need the most, and miss the most when they don't get them for a while.

Liven them up by varying your cooking method (boil, bake, roast, steam, stir-fry, soup, stew, slice, dice, whole), and by spending your money intelligently on spices -- even better if you can keep an herb garden in a window box or pots in the house.

Use meat as a flavoring for the vegetables, rather than as a full 1/3 of the plateful. Ground meats, or whole meats diced finely, can be spread throughout a large vegetable dish, satisfying a whole family on just half a pound. The same can be done with just a sprinkling of cheese; be sure to use a strongly flavored cheese, so that the flavor goes further and you won't need as much, parmesan and cheddar rather than mozzarella, for example.

Fiber makes you feel fuller, faster. Go for whole grains like brown rice instead of white, whole wheat instead of white bread.

Fruits are cheaper, healthier, and more satisfying than most prepared desserts, so fill your kids' lunchboxes with fruit snacks instead of cookies or muffins. I highly recommend getting a bento box from (most are around $1.50 to $2.00 per single-tier box) and filling it in bento style: 2 ounces of protein/meat, 1/2 C starch such as rice or potato, and the rest with fresh fruit and vegetable. That's the proper proportion for a child's meal, and the proper amount as well. For an adult, pack two bento boxes, one just like the child's and the other with more fruit, for a healthy, weight-controlling lunch and snack, since adults need more food than children. In fact, do a net search on bento and see the creative, fun, healthy ways that people eat very cheaply when making bento.

Remember too that variety is the spice of life. You can serve cabbage four nights in the same week and no one will really complain, as long as you make very different meals with it. Cabbage soup, cabbage in your stir-fry or egg rolls, cabbage stuffed with rice and sauce and a little ground lamb or beef, cabbage cole slaw. Put leftovers in the freezer, or put the tiny portions in the kids' lunches, since tiny leftover portions are perfect for bento.

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April 3, 20090 found this helpful There are 10 meals that serve 4 people for under $10.00 per person and the nutritional info with each recipe.

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April 4, 20090 found this helpful

Go to for great recipes, convenience recipes and ideas for inexpensive meal preparation. I think meals made at home for $10 per person is an outrageous price and does not merit the word frugal to be attached to it. At budget101, you'll find out how to stretch every penny of your food budget while feeding your family very well and having enough leftovers for another day or seconds all around the table.

Buy generic or store brands when shopping. The savings will soothe the overstretched budget no matter what it is. Try to plant some seeds for your own garden and bring the cost of vegetables way, way down for your own use. Remember that herbs and many small plant vegetables like many pepper varieties will grow nicely in window boxes and flower pots. Save here by planting seeds rather than buying started plants. Support for your tomatoes can be as simple as a branch clipped off a tree and some old stockings to tie the stalk to the branch stuck in the ground near the tomato plant, Include a packet of seeds in every trip for groceries and keep the garden going. That will be your greatest success to bring the price of food down.

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April 4, 20090 found this helpful

One thing I like to make is called Texas Hash. Saute a chopped bell pepper and some onion; brown some diced ham. Pour into the pan some beaten eggs and scramble everything together until set. Put into hogie rolls with some cheese. Amounts don't matter, and you can add whatever you have on hand: diced zucchini, sliced olives, chopped tomatoes, mushrooms, etc. Sometimes I put sliced cheese on the roll, other times I use shredded cheese on top.

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April 4, 20091 found this helpful

I shop at a store called ALDI's and it saves me a lot of money. Their stores are clean and they have a double guarentee on thier products. If your not 100% happy they'll refund you and replace the product. Google ALDI's and search for a location near you, if you'd like.

I also have a couple of cheap meals.

1. Chili with a lid
4 cans of chili poured into a 9x13 pan, then mix up two boxes of jiffy corn bread and pour over the chili, bake on 350 until corn bread is brown and done. You can top with a little cheese if you'd like. Cost is under $5.00 (using Aldi's brands) serves 4-6

2. Ham Hash
1 bag of frozen hashbrowns partially defrosted, 8 small cans of ham spread (deviled ham?), 2 tsp Worcestershire sauce, 2 tbl melted butter, 1 tbl mustard, chopped onion to taste, 1 tsp horseradish to taste, salt/pepper to taste. Combine all and pour into 9x13 pan. Press down and bake uncovered at 350 for 35 min. top with cheeses of your choice. serves 4-6 Cost under $10.00

3. Taco noodle bake
1 bag egg noodles or pasta of choice cooked. 1/2 lb.- 1 lb. browned grown beef. 2 cans of tomatoe sauce. 1 packet taco seasoning. 1 lg container sour cream OR 2 packages of cream cheese (you can even use 1/2 sour cream and 1/2 cream cheese). 16 oz of shredded cheese (divided- save half for later) Mix and place in 9x13 dish. Bake for about 25 min at 325. Top w/remaining cheese and bake 5 min. serves 4-6 You can also add lettuce, olives, and tomatoes if you'd like.

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April 7, 20090 found this helpful

Don't waste anything. Re-write your recipes for two if you don't like leftovers. Ask your store for a package of meat just the right size, and don't make it the star of the show.

Don't use expensive ingredients. Instead, ask yourself what the ingredient is there for. A chopped, sauteed onion and a beef bouillon cube taste better than onion soup. I immediately pass over any recipe with too much butter or any cream unless I think I can substitute milk.

Breakfast for dinner is always cheap and good. Biscuits and gravy with an egg, pancakes with eggs and bacon, waffles with fruit and milk. Just add a dish of fruit (a banana and canned mandarin oranges is a good cheap combo) and you have a fine meal.

Canned salmon makes the best croquettes. I take the skin out and mash the bones with my fingers. Add an egg, some oatmeal, and a sauteed chopped onion. If you can give the mixture a few minutes to set it will hold together better. Fry in a little oil and serve with noodles and canned peas. Leftovers make a great sandwich the second day, warmed up.

I buy the salmon on sale. My stock-up price is $1.29 or less for the large can.

Start a small price book and stock up on staples when on sale.

Try lentil soup or bean soup with corn bread. Don't buy "9 bean soup mix" just make it from navy beans.

Make it a challenge and acknowledge yourself often. It isn't hard to eat on very little money, but it only works if you feel good about it. I feel smart when I eat a delicious meal that only cost a dollar per person. I do it often.

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May 17, 20090 found this helpful

Make homemade as much as possible. I make homemade bread, coffee creamer, salad dressings, BBQ sauce, Pizza dough, spaghetti sauce, etc.

Don't pay more for convenience, do it yourself. Lunch meat; buy a whole packed ham and have it sliced for free a the deli. You'll get more than twice the amount of the prepackaged, pre sliced stuff. Freeze what you wont use right away. Buy block cheese and shred it yourself. Shred it all at once and put it in a zip loc so you have it ready when you need it. Block cheese is always cheaper per oz than pre shreded.

If you don't like left overs or hate eating the same thing twice in a row, the freezer is your friend. Freeze left overs to eat later in the week so you don't get sick of the same thing.

Beans, Rice, Noodles are great cheap staples for meal planning.

Shop around. Sometimes bag your own discount stores like Aldi aren't always the cheapest. Some store brands like Walmarts 'great value' can be cheaper than Aldi. Take a day and just price shop with a notebook. Also Dollar General has food now to and often beats out Aldi and Walmart.

Consider drinking powder milk and Ice Tea instead of soda's. Walmart has an off brand of sugar free water flavoring at less than $2.00 a box, in Apple, Orange and Cherry. I have a plastic jug I fill up and use 4 packages to make enough for a couple day's. I make 3 large jugs of 'Juice' for under $2.00 and it's sugar free! Also frozen concentrate juice is cheaper too! Buy cereal in the bulk bags and consider oatmeal for any meal. It's filling and cheap!

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June 3, 20090 found this helpful

I have a family of 6 in OC, CA o I know a few things about eating on a budget. These are some of my families faves:

Easy black bean chili

1 large can blackbeans
1 can corn
1 jar salsa
You just pour it all in a pot & cook through. You can also add any kind of meat (great for using up leftover meat).

Lentil soup:

1 bag lentils...cook according to package, but add:
1 can diced or stewed tomatoes
2 chopped carrots
1 diced onion
Salt & pepper to taste

Meat & potatoes:
1/2 lb ground beef or turkey
5 potatoes
1 diced onion
1 can tomatoes
1/2 pkg frozen mixed veggies
1 pkg taco seasoning

Poke potatoes with fork & pop in microwave for 3 minutes. Let cool enough to handle...then dice
brown the meat with the onion. Drain & add potatoes, tomatoes and veggies...add taco seasoning & cup water...simmer for 10 minutes.

Here is one of my favorite recipe sites. Just remember that you can always substitute less expensive produce & meat...I am always substituting meat with beans or lentils.

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June 8, 20090 found this helpful

Thank you so much for this website and all the wonderful recipes. We recently started the Dave Ramsey program to eliminate our debt and I realized (after making my budget and importing my expenses) that I was spending about $900 a month on groceries. That may not sound like much to some of you with children but it is just my husband and I. I realized that I had to cut my budget down to at least $400 per month and went on a search. When I found your website I realized that we could still have wonderful tasting meals for 1/2 the cost. Thank you so much! Our goal is to get out of debt and for us to start my husbands dream business. Thank you again! You are all wonderful! God Bless You all!

Also, I will be experimenting from all your great ideas and hopefully posting some new items of my own! :-)

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July 3, 20090 found this helpful

Don't forget about "brenner" (breakfast for dinner)! We love biscuits and sausage gravy or scrambled eggs with pancakes and bacon for dinner sometimes! Serve pancakes with strawberries and whipped cream for something different. One fabulous-tasting meal I always forget about is ham and beans with cornbread. We use ham steaks sometimes instead of ham hocks just to make it quick and easy (and they are cheap too). Jiffy mix is less than $1 a box!

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Read More Answers

October 20, 2011

I live on less than $800 a month. Can anyone help me with some very cheap recipes?

By defile from St.John, IN

Read More Answers

November 5, 2010

Does anyone have any cheap meal ideas?

By Autumn

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June 3, 2012

Anyone have any meal ideas that could stretch my £6.00 for 4 days please?

By Helen

Read More Answers


ThriftyFun is one of the longest running frugal living communities on the Internet. These are archives of older discussions.

March 31, 2009
Click to read more ideas from older posts on ThriftyFun.
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November 5, 2010

I am looking for very cheap recipes and meal ideas. Half the week there are just 2 of us, and the rest of the week there are 6.

I already make things like spaghetti bowls, mac and cheese, shepherd's pie, lasagna, jacket potatoes, stews and soups, curries, etc. We also make our own bread.

We have a very low budget and 2 of us are vegetarians. I am looking for new ideas. Any help would be greatly appreciated, thank you.

By charlie from England


Inexpensive Meal Ideas

The Tightwad Gazette by Amy Dacyczn is the best book I've found for saving money on groceries. You can buy the Complete Tightwad Gazette (which includes all three of the Tightwad Gazette series) used at for $8.76, or you can buy the Tightwad Gazette II or III each starting at $0.01 at Amazon, so basically you would just pay shipping and handling for both books. I have the complete series and it contains a wealth of information. (12/23/2009)

By Patricia Eldridge

Inexpensive Meal Ideas

We enjoy baked potatoes with broccoli, butter, cheese, salt and pepper to taste.
Homemade vegetable soup is also good.
Make your own pizza dough add spaghetti sauce, vegetables of your choice, mushrooms, onions, etc., or buy cheap pizzas and embellish with other vegetables.
What about macaroni and cheese?
Make a vegetable lasagna and use cottage cheese instead of ricotta cheese to cut the cost.
Buy sandwich sliced bread instead of the regular; more slices in the package; grilled cheese, salad sandwiches with dressing tastes good on toasted bread. (12/23/2009)

By Myrna

Inexpensive Meal Ideas

One of our go tos is corn stew. One can each of whole kernel corn, creamed corn, and stewed tomatoes. Heat and serve over rice. We add frankfurters cut into coins, which the non-vegetarians could add to theirs. You could stretch it even further with most types of canned vegetables and well drained beans, etc. It's fast (longest time is cooking the rice), can be made cheaply and the ingredients are usually on hand.

Farmer's omelet is easy too. Fry up some potatoes and onions, add beaten eggs. Can be served like an omelet (just flip with a plate and slide the uncooked side down into the frying pan) or scrambled. Sprinkle some cheese on it and enjoy. (12/24/2009)

By Leslie Textor

Inexpensive Meal Ideas

We use Top Ramen which is 6 for 99cents here. As it is cooking, drop in an egg or two and cook until just the white is cooked. Add some chopped green onions (optional) and a little soy sauce. I learned this from a Japanese friend. Same thing with rice, add an egg to hot rice and mix. The heat from the rice partially cooks the egg. Add some soy sauce. These are family favorites now. (12/24/2009)

By Maya Lee

Inexpensive Meal Ideas

The Living More with Less book series may seem old fashioned at first, but the book has a wealth of knowledge and the cook book is a wonderful resource for those tight budgets. I found them both at for about $5.00 each because they were out of print, and rare, so they cost more! But having them has helped me realize all the things my family takes for granted! (12/31/2009)

By chrystal

Inexpensive Meal Ideas

This is an awesome dish that you can all enjoy.


  • 3 bay leaves
  • 1 garlic clove, chopped and crushed
  • 1 teaspoon of rosemary
  • 2 cans of cream of mushroom soup
  • 10, or more russet potatoes
  • 2 cups milk.
  • water
  • salt
  • pepper
  • 2 sticks of butter
  • 3 stalks of celery with leaves if possible.

Prep -
Chop and crush garlic clove. Start two cups of water to boil and soak potatoes in sink.
While the water boils scrub the potatoes and dice them small. Add the garlic, bay, and rosemary to the water. Dice celery and leaves of celery.

Then -
Add all of the diced potatoes and celery to the pot and just enough water to cover them. Add milk, butter, and soup. You will not want to add more water if the soup cans are condensed. Bring the water to boil for 35 minutes stirring occasionally. Lower the heat to simmering and cook for two hours. Stir every ten minutes.

This makes an awesome crock pot dish, just be sure to boil the herbs before you add them to the crock pot so you get their full flavor.
Garnish with diced roast beef, cheese, or diced pan cooked toast. Salt and pepper to taste. (02/04/2010)

By Mr.Snow

Inexpensive Meal Ideas


  • 1 head of cabbage
  • 1-2 large onions
  • 1 pound bow tie pasta (or any macaroni style or egg noodles)

While cooking pasta, cut and saute onions and cabbage together in margarine or butter in a covered pan until tender. Salt and pepper to taste. Mix with cooked pasta and fry all together another 5 to 10 minutes. Very flavorful and is a huge Pennsylvania favorite. We like to add 6-8 oz of sour cream to it when finished, it is amazing, feeds 6-8 and is cheap! (09/15/2010)

By Kim

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December 22, 2009

What are some inexpensive meal ideas?

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February 19, 2007
Click to read more ideas from older posts on ThriftyFun.
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