Last Updated on September 23, 2022 by Rebecca Lake
Best Dirt Cheap Meal Ideas for a Tight Budget
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.
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Why Dirt Cheap Meals?
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.
How to Save Money on Food 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.
Get to know the cheapest foods to buy
If you want to make some cheap but delicious meals then it pays to know which foods cost the least.
That doesn’t mean you have to feed your family junk though. There are plenty of healthy foods you can buy to make inexpensive meals that don’t cost a lot.
For example, the list includes:
- Fresh vegetables
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!
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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!
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.
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.
2. Chicken chalupas
Chicken chalupas are an easy fix and it’s one of the best dirt cheap meals for large families.
3. Slow cooker buffalo chicken wraps (paleo version)
All you need is chicken, lettuce and buffalo sauce to whip up these cheap and easy wraps.
4. Chicken pot pie with stuffing crust
Chicken + veggies + plus stuffing = a cheap and delicious comfort meal for hungry kids.
5. One-pan Tuscan tortellini
Tortellini is filling and this meatless recipe can work for even the tightest of budgets.
6. Fried cabbage and potatoes
Cabbage and potatoes fried together in a skillet make a perfect cheap meal for dinner, plus it’s healthy and filling.
7. Cajun chicken roast
Fresh chicken, fresh veggies and olive oil combine in a roasting pan to make this easy dirt cheap dinner.
8. Budget-friendly ground beef stew
Run out of ideas for what to make with ground beef? Try this hearty and delicious stew.
9. Easy vegetarian lasagna
Can’t get your kids to eat vegetables? This veggie lasagna is low-cost and packs a healthy punch.
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.
11. Easy meat lasagna
If lasagna isn’t lasagna without meat, then try this inexpensive version to feed your family.
12. Cheeseburger macaroni skillet
If boxed Hamburger Helper isn’t your jam, try this tasty homemade version instead.
13. One-pan pizza pasta
Pizza and pasta by themselves make for great dirt cheap meals. But combined, they’re even better together!
14. Smoked sausage and veggie sheet pan meal
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.
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.
16. Spatchcock skillet 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.
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.
18. Easy cauliflower rice and bean enchiladas
These enchiladas add the perfect touch of flavor to meatless Mondays.
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.
20. Three-ingredient black bean soup
Want a simple and comforting soup recipe? Try this easy peasy black bean version.
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.
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.
23. Easy flatbread pizza
Keep the kids happy and satisfy their pizza cravings while eating cheap and healthy with this flatbread option.
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.
25. Easy Instant Pot chicken and rice
Grandma’s chicken and rice gets seriously uncomplicated when you make it in the Instant Pot.
26. 3-ingredient chicken crockpot tacos
Chicken tacos don’t get any simpler or tastier than when you make them in the crockpot.
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.
28. Instant Pot beefy lasagna mac
Lasagna in an Instant Pot? Yes, you can, with this amazingly simple recipe.
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!
30. Easy 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.
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.
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.
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.
34. 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.
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.
36. Chicken tater tot casserole
Does your crowd love tater tots? Then you’ll definitely want to try this fun tater tot chicken casserole.
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.
38. Slow cooker chicken and stuffing
Chicken and stuffing is a classic dinner and this recipe makes what’s old new again.
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.
40. One-pot 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.
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.
42. Egg tacos
Want to make tacos without the meat but still pack a protein punch? Try them with eggs and beans instead.
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!
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.
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.
46. Mini pepperoni pizza cups
What’s better than pepperoni pizza? Mini pepperoni pizza cups that fit kids’ hands and make their tummies happy.
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.
48. Cheeseburger tater tot casserole
Cheeseburgers and tater tots in the same dish? Your kids will say “yes, please” when you whip up this casserole.
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.
50. Chicken parmesan casserole
Chicken parmesan gets cheesy (and easy) in this flavorful casserole dish.
51. Easy stuffed tomatoes with mince and rice
Stuffed tomatoes one of the best dirt cheap meals to make if you’re looking for a spin on stuffed peppers. And they’re super healthy too!
52. One-pan chicken and potatoes
One pan. Chicken. Potatoes. That’s about everything you need to whip up this family-friendly budget meal.
53. Simple chicken quesadillas
Chicken quesadillas can be made fast without tying up a huge chunk of your food budget.
54. Kimchi quesadillas
Kimchi in a quesadilla? Give it a chance and you might be surprised at how much you love it!
55. Kimchi spaghetti
Can you tell I have a love of kimchi? It’s cheap, tastes great and you can put it anything, including spaghetti.
56. Easy sweet and sour chicken
Sweet and sour chicken plus steamed rice is the perfect cheap dinner combo!
57. Sloppy joe grilled cheese
This recipe combines your two favorites: grilled cheese and sloppy joe in a delicious (and cheap) meal.
58. Oil pasta
Olive oil and tons of fresh garlic make this pasta dish a perfect choice for a dirt cheap dinner.
59. Ketchup spaghetti
I was skeptical too when I first found this recipe. But it’s hands-down one of my favorite pasta dishes.
60. Copycat Chik Fil A
I love Chik Fil A but buying it for dinner? That can be costly. Try this low-cost at home version instead that tastes just like the real thing!
61. Chili dog biscuit casserole
Chili dogs are a classic dinner idea and they’re super cheap to make with this recipe.
62. Crispy baked tofu
Looking for a vegetarian meal idea that’s super cheap? You’ll love this tofu treat.
63. Easy tomato cream pasta
This easy pasta dish combines ingredients you have in the pantry for a cheesy, tomato-y treat.
64. Bang bang chicken
All you need is chicken, panko crumbs, chili sauce and mayo to create this Asian-inspired dish.
65. Spam and kimchi fried rice
When you’re looking for dirt cheap meals it doesn’t get much cheaper than spam. Add in some bacon, garlic and of course, gojuchang and you’ve got a simple, savory dish.
Final thoughts on dirt cheap meals
Coming up with low cost meal ideas is a huge help if you’re a one-income family or you’re trying to make the most of a small income as a student, new graduate or retiree. These cheap and easy meal ideas make it easy to feed your family for less without skimping on taste.
Need more money-saving tips? Check out these posts next:
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