Last Updated on January 13, 2024 by Rebecca Lake
A trip to the grocery store can be a major source of stress if you’re trying to buy all the things your family needs on a tight budget. Food inflation is through the roof and every week, grocery shopping just seems to get more expensive.
Planning out dirt cheap meals can save money and you can still eat healthy while spending less on food. If you’re tired of your food bill taking a huge bite out of your budget, these cheap easy meals can help keep your family fed without breaking the bank.
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Table of Contents
What are dirt-cheap meals?
A dirt cheap meal is any meal that doesn’t cost a lot of money to make. You might also hear them called frugal meals, Depression-era meals, low-budget meals, or struggle meals.
Whatever you call them it all means the same thing: inexpensive meals that can fit any budget.
So what are the benefits of adding dirt-cheap dinners into your family’s meal plan?
Opting for cheap, healthy meals can help you:
- Spend less on groceries and save money on food
- Drastically cut expenses when you’re in a financial bind
- Add money back into your budget that you can use to save or pay down debt
The cheaper you can eat, the more breathing room you can create in your budget. And you might come to love cheap meals so much that you start exploring other frugal food hacks to save big!
But what if your kids or spouse complain about the change in menu, or think you’re being too cheap?
When frugal meals are prepared with love and you’re taking time to enjoy them together, the memories you make are what’s truly valuable. Enjoying a delicious meal together is one of the best ways to spend time as a family.
Best dirt cheap meals to make when broke
Ready to find out the best dirt-cheap meals you can make to save money? Here are my favorite cheap dinner recipes for large families (or small ones!)
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. This is a simple and tasty healthy meal you can make with basic ingredients.
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 a 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. And if you can’t skip the meat, chicken breasts are a budget-friendly way to pack in some protein.
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. If you want to indulge a little, you can sprinkle some fresh parmesan cheese on top.
8. Budget-friendly ground beef stew
Are you running out of ideas for what to make with a pound of ground beef? Try this hearty and delicious stew and don’t forget the cheddar cheese on top!
9. Easy vegetarian lasagna
Can’t get your kids to eat vegetables? This veggie lasagna is low-cost and packs a healthy punch and it can easily be multiplied for big families.
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. Adding mozzarella cheese is optional!
11. Easy meat lasagna
If lasagna isn’t lasagna without meat, then try this inexpensive version to feed your large family (or small one). It’s a great option when you want something simple for dinner.
12. Cheeseburger macaroni skillet
If boxed Hamburger Helper isn’t your jam, try this tasty homemade version instead that you can make in just one frying pan.
13. One-pan pizza pasta
Pizza and pasta by themselves make for great 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. You can use black beans or refried beans, whatever you have on hand.
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-can black bean soup
Want a simple and comforting soup recipe? Try this easy-peasy black bean version.
21. Chicago-style 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 and it’s one of my favorite cheap recipes to make!
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. This is one of my favorite chicken recipes to make in winter.
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. It’s a fast and easy way to feed the entire family.
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. They’re a go-to dirt cheap dinner when you don’t have a lot of money to spare.
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 hands-down one of the cheapest meals to make and you can use leftover chicken or pork 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 cheap dinners. 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. Or you could swap out the chicken for hot dogs instead.
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 add them to your list of budget meals.
44. Easy turkey casserole
Turkey casserole is another of those dirt-cheap meals that makes 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 are 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 on 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 sandwich
This recipe combines your two favorites: grilled cheese sandwiches 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.
More dirt cheap meal ideas
Looking for more ways to feed your whole family for less? Here are even more ideas for easy cheap meals you can make without spending a lot!
- Hot dogs or pigs in a blanket (always a family favorite)
- Tasty egg muffins (kids can help with this one!)
- Tomato soup and grilled cheese (perfect for rainy days)
- Homemade fish sticks
- Tuna casserole
- Veggie stir fry or quesadillas (add green bean, pepper, onion–whatever you’ve got!)
- Black bean burgers (or quinoa burgers)
- Homemade tostadas
- Cheese tomato toast
- Stuffed green peppers
- Spaghetti tacos
- Peanut butter and jelly uncrustables
- Bean burritos
- Hash brown casserole
- Yogurt and granola
- Meatloaf sandwiches (made with leftover meatloaf from dinner!)
- Baked sweet potatoes with brown sugar
- French toast and sausage roll-ups
Experimenting with different ways to combine ingredients is a great way to come up with some cheap food recipes of your own!
Save even more money when planning 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
A few simple ingredients can be used to make lots of cheap family meals that taste great! 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.
Some of the best cheaper ingredients include:
- Fresh vegetables, like bell peppers and onions
- White rice
- Rotisserie chicken or chicken thighs
- Seasonings, like black pepper or garlic powder
- Peanut butter
- Black beans and other beans
- Ramen noodles
- Canned tuna
- Corn tortillas
- Soy sauce
- Brown sugar
- Canned tomatoes or tomato sauce
- Cream of mushroom soup or cream of celery
- Chicken broth
- Sour cream
- Lemon juice
A lot of these items might be pantry staples you already have on hand that you could use to whip up an easy dinner for less.
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.
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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 of the grocery store for hours.
It also saves me money because there’s less room for making impulse purchases. I’m only adding things that are on my grocery list, which is an easy way to save money instead of mindlessly buying things.
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!
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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.
Final thoughts: Dirt cheap meals can save a lot of money!
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. The best thing about eating dirt cheap meals is that you can still eat well on a budget. As these cheap and easy meal ideas show, it’s possible to feed your family for less without skimping on taste.
Need more money-saving tips? Check out these posts next:
- How to Do a No Spend Challenge (3 Pro Tips to Help You Save Money)
- 160+ Best Frugal Living Tips to Save Money
- 100+ Budget Categories to Help You Build a Smarter Budget
- How to Do the 50 Envelope Challenge (Printable Envelope Savings Challenge Tracker!)
- 10 Smart Money Goals to Set Now (If You Want to Grow Rich!)