10 Budget-Friendly Meals Everyone Should Know How to Make

by Ashley Marcin on 28 February 2014 9 comments

I'm always looking for ways to feed my family for less. It seems like no matter how much meal planning I do, I'm still running up a grocery bill that's higher than I'd like to admit. Thankfully, the Internet is full of great ideas for those of us looking to lower our food costs. Even better? We don't have to sacrifice flavor or portion sizes to see the savings! (See also: What to Eat Every Day: A Month of Frugal Meals)

Here are 10 budget-friendly meals you should be making.

1. Vegetarian Stuffed Peppers

A staple in our home, these Veggie Stuffed Peppers are a complete meal on their own for just $5 total. If served with rice, this meal could even satisfy four people, though we usually divide it between two adults and one hungry toddler.

2. Slow Cooker Taco Bowls

The slow cooker is a great option for those of you looking to creative low-cost meals. These easy Chicken Taco Bowls are no exception. The recipe serves eight, but costs only $10 to make. Whoever thinks budget foods can't be bursting with flavor will want to check out this recipe and its impressive ingredient list. (See also: 25 Cheap and Easy Crock Pot Recipes)

3. Pita Pizzas

This next meal is so simple, it doesn't require a recipe. Preheat your oven to 400 degrees F. Then top store-bought pita or naan bread with some canned tomato sauce, shredded cheese, whatever veggies you have or like, and meat. Bake for eight minutes until the cheese is bubbly. This is a kid-pleaser, too — I mean, who doesn't like pizza?

4. Slow Cooker Curry

When thinking about the inexpensive, many gloss over more exotic flavors. This Cauliflower, Potato, and Mushroom Curry recipe boasts a lot of spice, but relies on cheap ingredients (canned chickpeas, potatoes, garlic, onions, etc.) to make up the bulk of the meal. (See also: 35 Slow Cooker Recipes for Busy Vegetarians)

5. Veggie Lasagna

Another hearty dish, this vegetarian lasagna costs just $10 to make and totals 10 servings in all. I like to eat it for a couple nights, and then freeze the rest of the batch (cutting into individual slices first, then wrapping in plastic wrap and storing in some gallon zip bags) to keep the savings going longer.

6. Soup in a Jar

I love this novel ideal for weeknight Soup in a Jar. This meal is totally customizable and relies on dried beans (very reasonably priced and naturally shelf-stable) and whatever else you might have on hand. By clearing out your refrigerator and pantry shelves, you can use up certain foods before they go bad, lessening waste and saving money in the process.

7. White Bean Tuna Salad

At just $1.36 per serving, this White Bean Tuna Salad packs a good amount of healthy protein. The recipe calls for arugula or spinach, but I suggest seeing what greens are on sale at your local grocer. Plus, you can eat the salad on its own or serve with crusty bread for a more sophisticated tuna salad sandwich.

8. Black Bean Burgers

Sometimes it's not just about saving money, but — better — maximizing the ingredients you already have in the pantry. These Black Bean Burgers are made of canned black beans, chopped onions and garlic, egg, and a few spices. They're a perfect meal to whip up while clearing out your cupboards before the next grocery run. (See also: Cheap and Healthy Black Bean Recipes)

9. Stuffed Baked Potatoes

This Potato Bar-Chili recipe costs an impressively low 51 cents per serving and just 159 calories per half cup. Please note that this recipe is for the filling only, but making perfectly baked russet potatoes is easy! Vegetarian? TVP would be a great substitute for the ground beef.

10. Macaroni and Cheese

Noodles and cheese are both inexpensive ingredients, but when combined they make an incredibly satisfying comfort dish. The author of this simple, from-scratch Mac and Cheese recipe suggests buying block cheese and shredding it yourself for the lowest cost. And don't omit the ground mustard — it's the best part!

What are your go-to budget meals? Please share in comments!

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Guest's picture

My general rule of thumb is that most things involving pasta are pretty cheap to make. My quick/easy/cheap meal is usually spaghetti. I grow tomatoes in the summer and end up with cans upon cans of tomato sauce. A little wheat spaghetti noodles for a couple bucks and I have at least a few meals for my wife and I.

Love the article - I will be bookmarking for future meal ideas!

Ashley Marcin's picture

You really can't go wrong with classic pasta. I'm really hoping to try and can some of my own tomatoes this summer. We grew some last year, but they didn't turn out too well. So even in a worst-cast scenario, we have a CSA where we get a ton, and I just need to plan ahead. Great suggestion!

Guest's picture

I like the variety in this list. Soup in a jar is something I will have to try!

Ashley Marcin's picture

Thanks, Kalen! I hope you enjoy -- that was definitely a fun one to unearth!

Marla Walters's picture

Ashley, loved this post. I am sending the slow-cooker curry recipe on to my daughter. My addition would be a roast chicken -- easy to make, lots of leftovers to turn into other things.

Ashley Marcin's picture

I'm so glad you enjoyed it, Marla! :) And roast chicken is a great suggestion. I can see a million uses for it!

Guest's picture

These are great ideas. And I see they are not just budget-friendly, but very healthy as well.

Guest's picture
Thrifty Writer

May I suggest adding the humble quesadilla to this list? One or two tortillas (depending on size) the fillings of your choice (sometimes as simple as canned refried beans and fresh spinach and cheese) pop them into a pan on the stove, the toaster oven or regular oven (the last I try to avoid, since it's a lot of energy for just a couple of quesadillas) and boom! you're done. If you happen to have some Greek yogurt, sour cream, salsa or avocado, so much the better.

Ashley Marcin's picture

Most definitely! What's funny is that after writing this article, I have somehow become a quesadilla fiend! I've been eating them several times a week -- and they are certainly inexpensive to make. Great suggestion! And we do Greek yogurt versus sour cream -- delicious!