53 Dirt Cheap Meals for Frugal Families on a Tight Food Budget

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Does the thought of grocery shopping make you cringe because your food budget is already stretched to the limit?

I’ve been in the same boat. As a newly single mom, grocery shopping used to give me major anxiety because I was so worried about making every penny count.

One of the ways I saved money was by planning out dirt cheap meals every week. And believe me, when you’re feeding two growing kids that isn’t always easy to do.

Having a list of go-to dirt cheap meals to make each week made grocery shopping and cooking dinner less stressful. And believe it or not, you can still eat healthy while eating cheap.

So today I’m sharing some of the best cheap and easy recipes you can make to feed your family for less money.

Why Dirt Cheap Meals?

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Great question and the answer is simple: to save money.

Making meals on the cheap can be a financial stress reliever if you’re living on a tight budget.

The more money you can save on food, the more money you have to cover basic expenses, pay down soul-crushing debt or build up emergency savings.

And adding cheap meals into your family’s dinner rotation doesn’t mean you have to feed them processed junk all the time either.

For example, I can make a homemade pizza for less than the cost of a processed frozen pizza or one from a restaurant. It’s healthier, I know exactly what’s in it and it costs me pennies per serving.

So if you’re not on the cheap meals bandwagon yet, you’re missing out.

dirt cheap meals

How to Save Money With Dirt Cheap Meals

Before we dig into the recipes, here are a few more tips for saving money on groceries when you’ve got a tight food budget.

Use Ibotta to shop

Ibotta is a great money-saving tool for families if you want to spend less on groceries.

When you download the Ibotta app, you can save money when you shop at participating grocery stores. You can link your store loyalty card to get instant savings on groceries. Or you can scan your receipts after you shop to earn cashback.

I love Ibotta because it’s so simple to use and the savings can add up. If you’re not using Ibotta to save on groceries yet, download the app today and get up to $20 in bonuses!

Become a loyal meal planner

Meal planning is one of the best ways to save money on groceries and spend less time stressing in the kitchen.

If you’re not meal planning yet, all it means is planning out what you want to feed your family for the week or the month ahead of time.

Getting started with meal planning can take a little time. And if you’re too busy to sit down and do it, you can always try a low-cost meal planning service like $5 Meal Plan.

$5 Meal Plan is a budget-friendly meal planning option that delivers meal plans right to your inbox. You can’t beat paying $5 a month to have all the meal planning work done for you.

If you’re not using $5 Meal Plan yet, head here to give it a try!

Shop for groceries online

Buying groceries online is the smartest thing I’ve ever started doing as a busy mom. It saves me so much time each week because I’m not having to trudge up and down the aisles for hours.

It also saves me money because there’s less room for making impulse purchases. I’m only adding things I need to my cart instead of mindlessly buying things and blowing my food budget.

If you’ve never tried online grocery shopping, I highly recommend it. You’ll be surprised at how much money you can save.

I shop for groceries online using Instacart and the Walmart Grocery app.

With Instacart, you can pick your groceries up at the store or get them delivered. Delivery costs more, plus you’re supposed to tip your shopper as well.

Walmart Grocery is free, you just have to go to the store to pick up your groceries. The one I use usually depends on who has the best sales going that week.

If you’re not shopping with Instacart yet, sign up now and get $10 off your first order!

And if you want to try Walmart Grocery instead, start your first order here and get $10 off!

Save time, too

I hate cooking. I know that’s a totally un-Mom thing to say but there it is.

So to make it easier, I use kitchen tools to help get the job done faster.

For example, in the winter months, I can’t do without my crockpot. Dinner gets done and it keeps the house warm at the same time.

I also use Instant Pot and this Ninja Foodi oven my mom got me for Christmas. Both save huge amounts of time, which is a plus as a busy mom.

Best Dirt Cheap Meals to Make When You’re Broke

Ready to find out the best dirt cheap meal ideas you can make to save money? Here you go!

1. Easy crockpot chipotle chicken

Chicken thighs, garlic, onions and seasonings make for a cheap and easy meal you can pop in the slow cooker.

Get the full recipe at Any Reason Life

2. Chicken chalupas

chicken chalupa

Chicken chalupas are an easy fix and it’s one of the best dirt cheap meals for large families.

Get the full recipe at Little Earthling blog

3. Quick and easy shrimp scampi

If you can pick up shrimp on sale, scampi is an easy dinner fix when you add angel hair pasta and butter.

Get the full recipe at The Old Summers Home

4. Chicken pot pie with stuffing crust

Chicken + veggies + plus stuffing = a cheap and delicious comfort meal for hungry kids.

Get the full recipe at Moms and Munchkins.

5. One-pan Tuscan tortellini

Tortellini is filling and this meatless recipe can work for even the tightest of budgets.

Get the full recipe at Nourish and Fete

6. Fried cabbage and potatoes

cabbage and potatoes

Cabbage and potatoes fried together in a skillet make a perfect cheap meal for dinner, plus it’s healthy and filling.

Get the full recipe at Allergyummy

7. Cajun chicken roast

Fresh chicken, fresh veggies and olive oil combine in a roasting pan to make this easy dirt cheap dinner.

Get the full recipe at I Hate Meal Prep

8. Budget-friendly ground beef stew

ground beef stew

Run out of ideas for what to make with ground beef? Try this hearty and delicious stew.

Get the full recipe at 24Bite

9. Easy vegetarian lasagna

Can’t get your kids to eat vegetables? This veggie lasagna is low-cost and packs a healthy punch.

Get the full recipe at The Curious Frugal

10. Simple crockpot spaghetti

Crockpot recipes just make life so much easier. One of my favorite dirt cheap meals for the slow cooker is this spaghetti.

Get the full recipe at Life Should Cost Less

11. Easy meat lasagna

If lasagna isn’t lasagna without meat, then try this inexpensive version to feed your family.

Get the full recipe at The Curious Frugal

12. Cheeseburger macaroni skillet

cheeseburger macaroni

If boxed Hamburger Helper isn’t your jam, try this tasty homemade version instead.

Get the full recipe at The Toasty Kitchen

13. One-pan pizza pasta

Pizza and pasta by themselves make for great dirt cheap meals. But combined, they’re even better together!

Get the full recipe at Sugar and Soul

14. Smoked sausage and veggie sheet pan meal

smoked sausage and veggies

Sheet pan meals are my favorite dirt cheap meals because you just pop them in the oven and go. This sausage sheet pan dinner is kid-friendly and won’t break the bank.

Get the full recipe at The Rising Spoon

15. BBQ pulled pork sliders

Since we live in the south, pulled port is a must-have every now and then. Slap it on a bun with homemade slaw for easy sliders.

Get the full recipe at The Rising Spoon

16. Spatchcock skillet chicken

spatchcock chicken

Buying a whole chicken and cooking it spatchcock style at home is cheaper than buying a rotisserie one from the deli. Plus, you can recycle the leftovers into lunches for the rest of the week.

Get the full recipe at Sweet Tea and Thyme

17. Open-faced tuna melts

Simple sandwiches can be one of the easiest and best dirt cheap meals to make. Tuna melts are a satisfying alternative when you’re tired of tuna casserole.

Get the full recipe at Food Meanderings

18. Easy cauliflower rice and bean enchiladas

These enchiladas add the perfect touch of flavor to meatless Mondays.

Get the full recipe at Spabettie

19. Slow cooker Mississippi pot roast

If you haven’t tried Mississippi pot roast yet, it’s time to fix that. Start with this cheap and easy version that uses just five ingredients.

Get the full recipe at Moore or Less Cooking

20. Taco meatloaf

Tired of the same old meatloaf? Spice things up with this taco version.

Get the full recipe at Frugal Feather


budget recipes

21. 4-ingredient Instant Pot Italian beef

Want to try a different variation on beef roast? This easy Italian beef is great on rolls or by itself.

Get the full recipe at Snug and Cozy Life

22. Savory cheese and broccoli rice casserole

Casseroles are great for dirt cheap meals that take no time to make. This one combines cheese, broccoli and rice for total deliciousness.

Get the full recipe at Savor + Savvy

23. Easy flatbread pizza

Keep the kids happy and satisfy their pizza cravings while eating cheap and healthy with this flatbread option.

Get the full recipe at xoxoerinsmith.com

24. 20-minute chicken enchilada soup

Chicken enchilada soup is an easy fix that takes no time to make, plus it won’t break your food budget.

Get the full recipe at Jasper & Willow

25. Easy Instant Pot chicken and rice

Grandma’s chicken and rice gets seriously uncomplicated when you make it in the Instant Pot.

Get the full recipe at 5 Dog Farm

26. 3-ingredient chicken crockpot tacos

chicken tacos

Chicken tacos don’t get any simpler or tastier than when you make them in the crockpot.

Get the full recipe at Two Healthy Kitchens

27. 5-ingredient pizza pasta bake

If you’re looking for more pizza pasta bakes to add to your rotation of direct cheap meals, this one is a must.

Get the full recipe at Two Healthy Kitchens

28. Instant Pot beefy lasagna mac


Lasagna in an Instant Pot? Yes, you can, with this amazingly simple recipe.

Get the full recipe at Healthy Christian Home

29. Southern-style chili

Chili is another of my favorite dirt cheap meals for cold winter days. But this southern style version is good at any time!

Get the full recipe at Country Family Values

30. Easy fried rice

fried rice

Fried rice is one of our go-to dinner recipes. It’s quick, easy to make and you can use leftovers for added savings.

Get the full recipe at Hilda’s Kitchen Blog

31. Crockpot potato soup

Potatoes are a dirt cheap grocery buy and with a little sour cream, cheese and bacon you can turn them into a mouth-watering crockpot meal.

Get the full recipe at Savory With Soul

32. Leftover ham and bean soup

Got leftover ham? Toss it into the crockpot with beans for an easy soup that’s sure to be a crowd-pleaser.

Get the full recipe at Savory With Soul

33. Easy taco salad

Taco Tuesday gets a new twist when you try taco salads instead. They’re a great dirt cheap meal idea even the pickiest eaters will love.

Get the full recipe at Sustain My Cooking Habit

34. Sloppy Joe casserole

sloppy joe casserole

If you’re tired of the same old Sloppy Joes for dinner, try a new twist by baking them into a casserole instead.

Get the full recipe at Baked Broiled and Basted

35. Easy turkey chili mac and cheese

Turkey chili is one of my favorite recipes. When you pair it up with mac and cheese, it’s a win-win.

Get the full recipe at Brea Getting Fit

36. Chicken tater tot casserole

Does your crowd love tater tots? Then you’ll definitely want to try this fun tater tot chicken casserole.

Get the full recipe at Savory With Soul

37. Ham and cheese crescent ring

I love crescent rolls by themselves but when you combine them with ham and cheese, they make a simple and tasty dinner.

Get the full recipe at Feast for a Fraction

38. Slow cooker chicken and stuffing

Chicken and stuffing is a classic dinner and this recipe makes what’s old new again.

Get the full recipe at Big Bear’s Wife

39. Instant Pot mac and cheese

Mac and cheese is always a favorite with kids. If you’ve never tried to make it in the Instant Pot, you’ll love this easy recipe.

Get the full recipe at Recipes From a Pantry

40. One-pot creamy pepper pasta

creamy pepper pasta

If you don’t know who Sarah Titus is, she’s a blogging goddess. Once you get done cooking up her one-pot creamy pasta recipe, take a look around at the rest of her amazing blog.

Get the full recipe at SarahTitus.com

41. Quick and easy tuna pasta

Tuna and pasta don’t cost much and when you mix them together just right, the result is a cheap family-friendly dinner.

Get the full recipe at Gav’s Kitchen

42. Egg tacos

egg tacos

Want to make tacos without the meat but still pack a protein punch? Try them with eggs and beans instead.

Get the full recipe at Meals and Mile Markers

43. Sheet pan burgers with copycat Big Mac sauce

I’ve made burgers lots of ways but never in a sheet pan. If you haven’t either, it’s time to give them a try!

Get the full recipe at Home Made Lovely.

44. Easy turkey casserole

Turkey casserole is another of those dirt cheap meals that makes for great comfort food. Plus, it’s simple to put together.

Get the full recipe at Bitz n Giggles

45. Easy slower cooker chicken chili

Chicken chili with beans and corn is a great way to shake things up if you’re tired of traditional chili.

Get the full recipe at Nibble and Dine

46. Mini pepperoni pizza cups

pizza cups

What’s better than pepperoni pizza? Mini pepperoni pizza cups that fit kids’ hands and make their tummies happy.

Get the full recipe at Kindly Unspoken

47. Nacho cheese Dorito casserole

As dirt cheap dinner ideas go, this one is kid-friendly. In fact, I’ve made it myself for my Dorito-loving son. It’s quick, simple and best of all, low-cost.

Get the full recipe at Bake It With Love

48. Cheeseburger tater tot casserole

cheeseburger casserole

Cheeseburgers and tater tots in the same dish? Your kids will say “yes, please” when you whip up this casserole.

Get the full recipe at Baking Beauty

49. Instant Pot hamburger soup

Hamburger soup was one of my favorite things to eat as a child. If you want to make a cheap and yummy version for your kids, put this recipe on your list.

Get the full recipe at This Vivacious Life

50. Chicken parmesan casserole

Chicken parmesan gets cheesy (and easy) in this flavorful casserole dish.

Get the full recipe at Dancing Through the Rain

51. Easy stuffed shells

Stuffed shells are one of the best dirt cheap meals to make if you’ve got a pasta craving. All you need for this one are shells, cheese, spinach and sauce.

Get the full recipe at Recipe Pocket

52. One-pan chicken and potatoes

One pan. Chicken. Potatoes. That’s about everything you need to whip up this family-friendly budget meal.

Get the full recipe at Where Is My Spoon

53. Simple chicken quesadillas

Chicken quesadillas can be made fast without tying up a huge chunk of your food budget.

Get the full recipe at The House That Never Slumbers


cheap recipes for a tight budget

What are your favorite cheap meals to make?

Got a favorite low-budget recipe? Head to the comments and share it.

And don’t forget to pin and share this post!

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