29 Dirt Cheap Meals For Families on a Budget

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One of our biggest budget expenditures is on food.  In fact, it’s the third-largest expense for the average household, only preceded by housing and transportation.  Most families spend an average of $681 per month on food, which equates to $8,169 per year.  On average, that’s about 10% of your money goes straight to your belly.  That’s why finding dirt cheap meals can be so important for many families.  

But you’re in luck!  I’ve compiled a list of 29 super cheap meals that are sure to ease your wallet and your budget.  Most of these cheap easy dinners can be made in less than 10 minutes and are super tasty and filling.  

The best part is most cost less than $5 to feed a family of 4

Some of the dinner ideas are so simple they don’t require a recipe.  For those meals that do, I’ve linked to my all-time favorite recipe. 

Finally, I spent the time researching prices on every ingredient and listed them below.  I then listed the total cost per serving.  Just take the serving cost and multiply it by the number of mouths you’re feeding.  It’s that simple! 

Hopefully, you’ll enjoy these meals as much as I do!

29 Dirt Cheap Meals

Dirt Cheap Meals Pin

1. Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwich

This is the ultimate cheap lunch idea that can also work for dinner.  At $0.31 cents, it also ranks as the top dirt cheap meal!

Ingredients:

  • $2.49 – Peanut butter
  • $1.69 – Jelly
  • $1.89 – Loaf of bread 22 pieces (not counting the ends)

Ingredients cost: $6.07
Cost per serving: $0.31

2. Quesadillas

My family makes quesadillas at least once every week.  It’s one of those dirt cheap meals that even my 3 year old daughter loves.  Just slap a tortilla in a pan, add cheese and black beans, and heat it up until the cheese is melted.  So simple! 

Quesadillas dirt cheap meal

Ingredients:

  • $1.49 – Tortillas (18 count)
  • $0.72 – 1 can of black beans
  • $2.50 – Shredded cheese (10 servings)

Ingredients cost: $4.71 
Cost per serving: $0.43

3. Eggs & Toast

Who doesn’t love breakfast for dinner?  Even better, it’s truly dirt cheap at just $0.50 a serving! 

Ingredients:

  • $1.99 – Eggs 12
  • $1.89 – Loaf of bread 22 pieces (not counting the ends)

Ingredients cost: $3.88 
Cost per serving: $0.50 (2 eggs and 2 pieces of toast)

4. Hot Dogs

Throw on your favorite sports team, sit back, and enjoy a hot dog with your family.  I’d rather watch the game from the comfort of my home anyways.  You’ll save money and avoid the crowds! 

Ingredients:

  • $2.84 – 8 hot dogs
  • $1.29 – 8 Hot dog buns

Ingredients cost: $4.13
Cost per serving: $0.52

5. Salad

Probably the healthiest meal idea on the list.  A salad can be as plain or extravagant as you want it to be.  This recipe is basic, easy on the budget, yet delicious.  

Ingredients:

  • $1.69 – Head of lettuce
  • $1.99 – Eggs 12
  • $1.99 – Bacon bits
  • $1.48 – Dressing

Ingredients cost: $7.15
Cost per serving: $0.54

6. Breakfast Burrito

Why not add another great breakfast for dinner idea.  Breakfast burritos are a cheap, easy, and fast option everyone will love for dinner (or breakfast of course).  Simply cook the hash browns, scramble the eggs, and load the tortillas, topping them with cheese.  Voila! 

Ingredients:

  • $1.99 – Eggs 12
  • $2.29 – Hash browns (10 serving bag)
  • $1.49 – Tortillas (18 count)
  • $2.50 – Shredded cheese (20 servings)

Ingredients cost: $8.27
Cost per serving: $0.61

7. Pizza

When I need a quick fix and don’t feel like cooking, the handy frozen pizza is there to the rescue.  Jack’s pizza is one of the cheapest, what I had growing up, and surprisingly tasty.  

Ingredients:

  • $2.50 – Frozen pizza

Ingredients cost: $2.50
Cost per serving: $0.63

8. Spaghetti

This is the ultimate cheap meal for large families.  It’s also a quick and easy dinner, taking roughly 10 minutes from start to finish.  

Spaghetti dirt cheap dinner idea

Ingredients:

  • $1.09 – Spaghetti 
  • $1.49 – Pasta sauce

Ingredients cost: $2.58
Cost per serving: $0.65

9. Crock-Pot Chicken Tacos

I call this a Sunday meal because that’s when I make crockpot dinners.  Most crockpot meals are relatively easy, but this one is super simple and one of my favorite dirt cheap meals.

Place the chicken in the crockpot, cover with 1 cup of salsa and 1 package of taco seasoning.  Cook on low for 7-8 hours or on high for 3-4 hours.  Take chicken out, shred, place back in the pot, and mix.  Add to your tortilla and either eat as is or add your favorite toppings (cheese, lettuce, avocado). 

And you didn’t think you could eat tacos on a budget! 

Ingredients:

  • $1.49 – Tortillas (18 count)
  • $2.99 – Chicken breast (1 lb or 2 breasts) 
  • $1.49 – Salsa
  • $0.59 – Taco seasoning

Ingredients cost: $6.56
Cost per serving: $0.73

10. Red Beans & Rice

My 3 year old daughter can get tummy aches, so finding dinner ideas with fiber that she likes can be a challenge.  This is one of those options that she surprisingly loves and is really cheap. 

Ingredients:

  • $1.40 – Red beans and rice mix
  • $1.50 – Sausage

Ingredients cost: $2.90
Cost per serving: $0.73

11. Black Bean Soup

Here’s another great option for those seeking fiber.  Mix the 2 cans of black beans, 1 cup of chicken broth, and a 15 oz can of diced tomatoes in a pot.  Simmer for 10 minutes.  Remove from heat and blend together.  

Ingredients:

  • $1.78 – 2 cans of black beans
  • $1.19 – Chicken broth
  • $0.56 – Can of diced tomatoes

Ingredients cost: $3.53
Cost per serving: $0.88

12. Ramen Noodles With Eggs & Veggies

Usually, ramen noodles would top the list of dirt cheap meals. They are one of the cheapest foods to buy and therefore, the ultimate dirt cheap dinner option!  This recipe spruces up a simple favorite.  Start by cooking the ramen noodles per the directions, adding your frozen vegetables when you add the noodles.  There are two options for adding the egg.

  1. Once the noodles are finished cooking, remove from heat and add the egg.  Don’t stir, but gently surround with the noodles.  The egg will be poached after about 1-2 minutes. 
  2. If you prefer the eggs are scrambled, drop the egg in while the noodles are still cooking.  Mix everything up until the eggs look cooked and scrambled.  

Ingredients:

  • $2.89 – Ramen 12 pack
  • $1.99 – 1 dozen eggs 
  • $1.00 – Frozen vegetables 

Ingredients cost: $5.88
Cost per serving: $0.90

13. Egg Salad Sandwich

Perfect for lunch or dinner, an egg salad sandwich always hits the spot.  It’s one of those dirt cheap meals I always forget about but love to eat.  

If you have some dill in your pantry sprinkle it on and enjoy.  

Ingredients:

  • $1.99 – Eggs 12
  • $1.99 – Mayonnaise
  • $1.38 – Mustard
  • $0.99 – Green onion

Ingredients cost: $6.35
Cost per serving: $0.91

14. Soup

Not much to say here.  Soup is one of those dirt cheap meals that everyone can enjoy.  Grab your favorite can, heat, and serve.  

Ingredients:

  • $1.00 – Can of soup

Ingredients cost: $1.00
Cost per serving: $1.00

15. Macaroni and Cheese

For $0.34 cents, you can buy a box of mac & cheese.  If you enjoy cooking and want more of a homemade meal, try making your own.  It’s still really cheap but tastes better in my opinion.  

Bring 5 cups of milk to a boil, add 1lb of elbow pasta, cook for 10 minutes, remove from heat, add cheese and stir.  Yummy! 

Ingredients:

  • $1.49 – Elbow pasta 
  • $2.69 – Shredded cheddar cheese
  • $1.79 – Milk

Ingredients cost: $5.97
Cost per serving: $1.16

16. Hamburger Casserole

There’s nothing like a good casserole.  This one’s perfect for larger families, it’s crazy affordable, and really flavorful.  

Ingredients:

  • $0.98 – Pasta shells
  • $3.86 – 1 lb Ground Beef 
  • $2.00 – 2 cans tomato soup
  • $2.50 – Shredded cheese 

Ingredients cost: $9.34
Cost per serving: $1.17

17. Grilled Cheese Sandwich & Tomato Soup

This was my go-to cheap meal in college.  Heck, I still have this at least once or twice a week.  Get adventurous and try a different cheese, if it’s on sale of course! 

Cheap meal idea - Grilled Cheese

Ingredients:

  • $1.89 – Loaf of bread 22 pieces (not counting the ends)
  • $3.29 – Cheese 16 slices 
  • $1.00 – Tomato soup

Ingredients cost: $6.18
Cost per serving: $1.29

18. Tuna Sandwich

Want to piss off your co-workers?  Open up your lunch bag and pull out a tuna sandwich.  They may smell up the office but they do taste great! Mix a can of tuna with ¼ cup mayo and slap it on two slices of bread.  A little salt and pepper can go a long way to add some flavor to this super simple meal.  

Ingredients:

  • $1.89 – Loaf of bread 22 pieces (not counting the ends)
  • $1.00 – Canned tuna
  • $1.99 – Mayonnaise

Ingredients cost: $4.88
Cost per serving: $1.30

19. Ravioli

I always have a bag of cheese ravioli in the freezer.  It’s for sure one of my quickest dirt cheap meals the whole family will love.  

Ingredients:

  • $4.29 – Frozen ravioli 
  • $1.49 – Pasta sauce

Ingredients cost: $5.78
Cost per serving: $1.45

20. Sloppy Joes

I grew up eating sloppy joes.  A lot of sloppy joes.  I still love them!  This is a great dirt cheap meal for 1 as it tastes great heated up for leftovers.  Of course it’s great for large families as well.  

Ingredients:

  • $0.99 – Sloppy joe sauce
  • $3.86 – 1 lb Ground Beef (4 servings)
  • $1.99 – Hamburger buns

Ingredients cost: $6.84
Cost per serving: $1.46

21. Chicken & Vegetable Stir Fry

Wok is better than chicken and veggie stir fry?  See what I did there?!  Yea, not that funny.  Anyways, this is one of those super easy cheap meal ideas you’ll love.  

Start by cooking the chicken (cut into cubes) in a wok or pan.  Once cooked, place aside and cook the frozen vegetables in the same pan.  Cook until tender, then add the chicken back to the pan and add your stir fry seasoning and soy sauce.  

Remove the chicken for a vegetarian option, which also helps your budget.  

Ingredients:

  • $1.09 – Stir fry seasoning
  • $1.49 – Frozen stir fry vegetables
  • $1.39 – Soy sauce
  • $2.99 – Chicken breast

Ingredients cost: $6.96
Cost per serving: $1.48

22. Chili

The total for ingredients is more expensive but most of the prices I’ve added err on the side of being more expensive.  You can easily wait until these items are on sale to drive down costs.  

Cut the onion in half and mince.  Add the ground beef/turkey and onion to a pan over medium-high heat until cooked.  Transfer to a crock pot, adding the rest of the ingredients.  Give it a stir and cook for 7-8 hours on low, or 3-4 hours on high.  

This should be enough for around 6-8 servings.  Try adding cheese, sour cream, or oyster crackers to enhance your meal! 

Ingredients:

  • $3.86 – 1 lb Ground beef/turkey (4 servings)
  • $0.62 – Onion
  • $1.68 – 3 cans of diced tomatoes
  • $1.78 – 2 cans of kidney beans (or 1 can kidney and 1 can black beans)
  • $0.98 – Chili powder

Ingredients cost: $8.92
Cost per serving: $1.49

23. Spaghetti With Meat Sauce

I made this a separate option because the ground beef basically triples the cost.  It’s still a low-cost meal and the meat sauce really makes this satisfying.  

Cook the ground beef in a pan then add your pasta sauce.  Done! 

Ingredients:

  • $1.09 – Spaghetti 
  • $1.49 – Pasta sauce
  • $3.86 – 1 lb Ground Beef 

Ingredients cost: $6.44
Cost per serving: $1.61

24. Hamburger & Fries

Split the ground beef into 4 parts, grill or cook them on the stovetop, and you’re done.  It’s easy to replace the ground beef with turkey if that’s your fancy.  

Ingredients:

  • $3.86 – 1 lb Ground Beef 
  • $1.99 – Hamburger buns
  • $1.25 – Frozen french fries

Ingredients cost: $7.10
Cost per serving: $1.84

25. Pulled Barbecue Chicken Sandwich

My favorite way to prepare this is in my instant pot.  The thing is amazing!  You can cook chicken even if it’s frozen, which is crazy.  Perfect for someone like me who always forgets to throw that frozen chicken in the fridge.  

Cook the chicken in the instant pot (you can always use your crock pot) and then add the barbecue sauce.  So simple and delicious!

Ingredients:

  • $2.99 – Chicken breast
  • $1.99 – Hamburger buns
  • $0.98 – Barbecue sauce

Ingredients cost: $5.96
Cost per serving: $1.85

26. Slow Cooker Stew

If you’re looking for a cheap and simple meal that tastes great and is nutritional, here’s a winner.  

Cook the beef in a pan.  Drain the grease.  Add to your crock pot with the chopped up potatoes, onions, carrots, and seasoning mix.  Cook on low for 7-8 hours.  

Stew

Ingredients:

  • $3.86 – 1 lb Ground Beef 
  • $1.19 – 1.5 lb potatoes
  • $0.62 – Onion
  • $0.59 – 3 carrots
  • $1.31 – Beef stew seasoning mix

Ingredients cost: $7.57
Cost per serving: $1.89

27. Chicken Kiev & Rice

Here’s another simple and delicious dinner idea you’ll enjoy.  You can pick up the raw but ready to cook chicken kiev in the freezer section.  Cook per the directions and set it on top of your rice.  

Ingredients:

  • $1.69 – Frozen chicken Kiev
  • $0.99 – Rice

Ingredients cost: $2.68
Cost per serving: $1.94

28. Stuffed Bell Peppers

Here’s a meal that will show off your cooking abilities, tastes great, and is fairly simple and cheap.  

Cut the tops off the peppers, removing the stems and finely chopping the rest. Scoop out the seeds and membrane.  Cook the beef and finely chopped peppers on your stovetop.  Remove and mix with your cooked rice.  Fill each pepper with the beef and pepper and top with cheese.  Cover with foil and bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes.  Remove the foil and bake for another 15 minutes. 

Ingredients:

  • $4.00 – 4 bell peppers
  • $3.86 – 1 lb Ground Beef 
  • $0.99 – Rice
  • $2.50 – Shredded cheese (20 servings)

Ingredients cost: $11.35
Cost per serving: $2.22

29. Tilapia

I had to add a fish recipe to the list.  It’s the most expensive meal on the list, but it’s still cheap and very delightful.  You can cut down on costs by purchasing frozen filets.  

Ingredients:

  • $2.62 – Tilapia filet
  • $2.99 – Butter
  • $0.79 – Lemon
  • $0.99 – Rice

Ingredients cost: $7.39
Cost per serving: $3.44

Bonus Dessert – Chocolate Lava Mug Cake

I have a huge sweet tooth!  If I have cookies or ice cream at home, I’ll eat it.  So I try to avoid buying desserts at all costs.  

The problem is this dessert is so simple and I usually have all the ingredients on hand.  My apologies for the amount of times you make it.  

You can find the recipe here.  The ingredients you’ll need are:

  • Flour
  • Baking soda
  • Unsweetened cocoa powder 
  • Sugar
  • Salt
  • Milk
  • Oil
  • Vanilla extract 
  • Chocolate squares or chips 

That’s a wrap folks!  Just about an entire month of family friendly meals for those on a tight budget. Hopefully, you enjoy these cheap and easy meals as much as I do.  Happy cooking!

Paul W

Hello! I'm Paul, finance expert and founder of The Income Finder. With over 15 years experience in the finance industry, a bachelors from Benedictine University and MBA from DePaul, I'm well qualified and ready to share great insight and tips on money management. Read More

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