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Feed your family for less with these dirt cheap meals
Groceries are one of the biggest monthly expenses for most people. In fact, oftentimes we spend more money on food every month than we do to put a roof over our heads.
Luckily though, our grocery budget is also one of the easiest monthly expenses to reduce without making any sacrifice to how well we eat.
But that can only happen if you are mindful of what you choose to buy at the grocery store and how you use those foods, which is why I put together a list of dirt-cheap meals.
What is a realistic grocery budget?
The amount of money you spend on food depends on many factors. Of course, family size is one major consideration for how much you spend on groceries.
After the size of your family, there are a few other factors that will determine your food budget such as food allergies, where you live, and the age of your family members since young children typically don’t eat as much as adults do.
This would be a good starting point, but you can eat for much less if you are mindful of what you buy and always looking to buy food at the lowest possible prices.
Eating for less all starts with a cheap grocery list
If you want to lower your grocery bill, you need to learn how to meal plan on a budget.
The first step to making a dirt-cheap meal plan is to plan your meals around the cheapest foods you can buy, then brainstorming meal ideas around those foods.
One simple way to make sure you never pay more for food than you have to is by using a grocery price book to keep tabs on sale prices.
You can start a price book in a notebook, on a spreadsheet or you can find printables along with other tools to help you manage your food budget better in the Stretch Your Grocery Budget Binder.
You can grab my FREE meal planning templates below to create your meal plan on a budget with this list of the cheapest meals.
Dirt cheap meals to feed your family on a tight budget
Beans and rice
Beans and rice are one of those dirt-cheap meals that you always hear older folks say they had to eat day in and day out because they had no money to put food on the table.
And for good reason, it’s one of the cheapest meals you can make for roughly $0.60 cents per serving and even less if you buy them when on sale.
Top this dirt-cheap meal off with a bit of soy sauce to give it some flavor and you could literally feed a family of four a meal for less than $2.50.
Veggie stir fry on a bed of rice
Veggie stir fry on a bed of rice is one cheap meal that really doesn’t make you feel like you are eating on the cheap even if it’s super inexpensive to make.
You can grab a bag of mixed frozen veggies at the supermarket for $.99 to $1.29 which would easily serve two people per bag.
Serve them on a bed of rice which will run you about $0.20 cents a serving making this dirt cheap meal idea roughly .80 cents a serving.
Bean burritos are made with some of the cheapest food you can buy, yet when you put all the ingredients together it doesn’t taste that way.
Plus, you probably have all the ingredients to make this meal right in your panty.
Grilled cheese and tomato soup
Grilled cheese sandwiches are one of those quick lunch ideas that everybody loves so it’s a great cheap meal idea using just a few ingredients you already have on hand.
Pair it with a can of tomato soup and you are good to go.
Spaghetti with meat sauce
If you are feeding a large family or gathering then spaghetti with meat sauce should definitely be on the menu.
Pasta, in general, is a great buy when on a tight budget and you can buy a jar of pasta sauce for a few bucks. Combine the two and you have a great meal idea that costs less than $0.50 a serving.
Butternut Squash Noodles
If you are looking for a healthier and dirt cheap meal, then you’ve got to try these butternut squash noodles.
They take less than 15 minutes to make and are a healthier, low-carb option than pasta.
Mac & Cheese
If you have children, then you know that mac & cheese is not only a meal that most kids love, but also that it’s pretty cheap too which means both kids and moms are happy.
I remember when you could buy three boxes of the stuff for a buck and I think you can still get at least 2 for $1.00 when it comes on sale.
Oatmeal is typically one of the go-to breakfast choices of anyone who is trying to lower the cost of food and for good reason since it cost less than $0.25 per serving.
The great thing about oatmeal is that it comes in a variety of flavors without having a huge impact on the price so even if it’s a bit pricier, it’s still a great choice.
Banana sandwiches were one of my favorite meals when I was a kid. Luckily for my mother, it was a dirt-cheap meal and really easy to make too.
I’d eat mine with butter spread on the bread but you can also make it with peanut butter to add more protein to your diet.
Lentils are a cheap pantry staple that you should probably keep on hand if you are looking to save money on groceries.
There are many uses for lentils but one of our family favorites is lentil stew, probably because it’s a great comfort food during the long cold Maine winters.
Chili is one of those comfort foods that can be made in many different ways which makes it one of the best dirt cheap meals when you use the cheapest foods.
Most recipes you’ll find have ground beef as an ingredient but this can be swapped out for cheaper ground turkey or you can forgo the meat altogether and add an extra can of beans to bulk it up.
Peanut butter & jelly sandwiches
Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches aren’t exactly a meal you’d make for dinner but they can definitely be a low-cost breakfast or lunch idea for the kids to pack for school.
Even better if you can make jam with some wild strawberries or blueberries you pick for free.
Pancakes or Waffles
Pancake or waffle mix is pretty easy to make and inexpensive, as long as you don’t buy the pour and serve version which is basically a silly marketing tactic since all it does is allow you to mix the batter and pour from the packaging.
They are also very freezer friendly so I make a huge batch and freeze some, which makes breakfast a breeze.
Fried Egg McMuffin sandwich
If you’ve ever picked up a breakfast sandwich on your way to work in the morning then you know that they cost about $3 to $4 each which is outrageous since you can make one at home for about .75 cents.
What’s even better is that these egg muffins are freezer friendly so you can make a big batch and just pop one in the microwave and you’ve got a great breakfast in less time than sitting in the drive-thru lane.
Homemade chicken rice soup
One of my favorite workweek lunches is my homemade chicken rice soup. I usually make a big batch after we’ve had roasted chicken for supper because half the work is already done for me.
The chicken is already cooked and I use the drippings from the roasted chicken for broth. All I really need to do is boil the rice, sliced carrots, and celery and I’ve got a cheap and easy meal that I could just grab out of the freezer anytime!
Tuna prices have crept up in recent years but it is still a good value, especially since it packed with protein which helps to keep us fuller longer.
There are many recipes you can make with tuna but one of my favorite lunch ideas is tuna melts, which is basically a grilled cheese sandwich on steroids.
Eggs & toast
Eggs and toast are definitely one of the cheapest breakfast meals you can make, especially if you make your own homemade bread.
But just because it’s a meal you typically have in the morning, there’s nothing saying you can’t have it for lunch as is or make sandwiched to bring to work or as a school lunch for the kids.
If you grew up in the southern part of the US, then I’m sure your grandmother made grits, and for good reason!
Grits are a really cheap meal idea that could feed really large families when money is tight.
Cream of wheat with fruit
Cream of wheat, like oatmeal, is one of the many cheap breakfast meal options that you can make for dirt cheap.
Then you can bulk it up and add more flavor with some low-cost fruit such as apples or sliced bananas and maybe some honey to sweeten it up a bit.
Tacos are already a pretty inexpensive meal to make for dinner but it can be made even cheaper by substituting ground beef for chicken.
Even better if you have leftover chicken in your refrigerator or freezer. Chicken tacos are one of my favorite freezer meals that I make in big batches.
This way when taco Tuesday rolls around I can just pull a serving out of the freezer, warm it up and chop some vegetables for a quick meal idea.
Another idea to make tacos cheaper is to substitute ground beef with ground turkey which you can usually get for a few dollars less a pound than the hamburger.
Chicken Fajita Wraps
Just like tacos, chicken fajita wraps are a delicious dinner idea that is not only cheap but easy to make too.
Even better if you have leftover chicken sitting in your fridge, you can make this meal in less than 15 minutes!
Made with two of the cheapest foods you can buy, french toast is a great meal to make when money is tight.
You can even make a big batch and freeze them for a cheap and quick breakfast in the morning or really anytime.
Chicken and fries
Whether you are baking, roasting, or grilling chicken adding a side of homemade fries is a really good and inexpensive meal.
And if you are anything like me and want to save as much time as possible in the kitchen, cook more chicken than you need.
You can package the leftovers up and freeze it to make chicken salad sandwiches, add to casserole dishes, make chicken tacos and so much more.
Chicken rice casserole
Even if chicken rice casserole dishes are dirt cheap, they certainly don’t taste that way!
Simply add a can of cream of mushroom soup and whatever vegetables you have in your refrigerator and you have a delicious meal that your family will love!
Crepes are one of those foods that are not only cheap to make with just a few pantry staples but they are also one of those inexpensive items that can be eaten for just about any meal or even as a dessert depending on what you top them with.
Stuffed baked potatoes
Potatoes are one of those vegetables that are not only cheap, but they also last a lot longer than many others you buy in the produce department.
And the great thing is you can prepare them in many different ways which usually come in the form of a side dish like fries and mashed potatoes but baked stuffed potatoes can be eaten as a main dish for really cheap.
You can add a dollop of sour cream or butter, sprinkle on some crumbled bacon, or any other toppings to make a hearty cheap meal idea.
Egg fried rice
Egg fried rice is typically a food we eat as a side dish but who’s to say you can’t make it the main dish?
Of course, you’ll want to bulk it up a bit, maybe with precooked leftover chicken and vegetables that you already have in your fridge.
Minestrone soup is the perfect lunch idea when living on a tight budget because it’s much heartier than most other soups.
And just like so many of these dirt cheap meals, you can add more inexpensive ingredients to the soup to make it even heartier.
Making homemade pizza is definitely cheaper than ordering it. But if you want to make it even cheaper, you can start with those 10-inch pizzas that you can find in the frozen food aisle for less than $1.00 each.
Then just add some more toppings such as chicken, ham, chopped onions, or green peppers or whatever leftovers you have in your fridge to bulk it up so it’s a bit more filling and tasty.
Hot dogs aren’t the healthiest food on this list and I wouldn’t recommend eating them daily, but they are cheap.
I can find a package for roughly $1.50 for 8 hotdogs and sometimes even $.99 a package when on sale. Add some chips or homemade french fries to complete your meal and you’ve got yourself lunch or dinner for less than $1.00 per serving.
Egg salad sandwich
Eggs are one of the cheapest food staples that most people already keep on hand and only costs .15 cents a piece which makes this the perfect cheap meal idea to bring to work or pack for your kid’s school lunches.
You can make this quick lunch idea even cheaper buy making your own bread from scratch.
If you are looking for a healthy meal idea, a garden salad fits the bill. Even more so in the summertime when fresh veggies are in season and so much cheaper.
Or better yet, if you grow a small garden in your backyard where you can just use whatever is ready to harvest.
Considering you can buy ahead of cabbage for less than $0.50 when on sale, it just makes sense to try to incorporate the cheapest food into your meal plan when you need to save money and cabbage rolls are a delicious way to do just that.
To make this meal for even less, you can forgo the ground beef and substitute it with ground turkey, shredded chicken, or even pork.
Shepard’s pie another one of those comfort foods that is a pretty frugal casserole dish, to begin with, but can also be adapted to make it a truly dirt cheap meal.
For instance, just like a lot of the meal ideas on this list, you can swap out the more expensive hamburger for ground turkey or even chicken and then just add any leftover veggies you have in your fridge.
Ramen noddle with veggies
Ramen noodles are just about the cheapest food you can buy, but just one package of soup really doesn’t keep you satisfied for too long.
What you can do to make it more satisfying is beef up your ramen with some canned or frozen veggies and leftover chicken you have in the refrigerator.
Frankly, just about any type of pasta dish can be made for super cheap so this macaroni casserole meal idea is just one of many dirt-cheap meals you can make with pasta.
Of course, for your pasta dishes to be the cheapest, finding meatless recipes is what you should be looking for to keep costs down.
Chicken alfredo is another cheap meal idea that you can make for dinner pretty quickly on those busy weeknights especially if you have some leftover chicken.
One way to make this dish even cheaper is to use a package of knorr sides creamy alfredo which takes about 10 minutes to make and costs less than $1.00. Then all you have to do is toss in some chicken and broccoli for a delicious meal idea.
Dirt cheap meals conclusion
As you can see from this list of dirt-cheap meal ideas, there are plenty of ways to feed your family for less when money is tight.
And this list is really just the tip of the iceberg if you focus on recipes that include some of the cheapest food you can buy.
Do you have any dirt cheap meal ideas to add to this list? If so, leave a comment, I’d love to hear about them!
More ways to get cheap groceries to make dirt-cheap meals
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