80+ Delicious Dirt Cheap Meals To Make When You’re Broke

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Last Updated on September 4, 2023 by Rebecca Lake

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 easy meals you can make to feed your family for less money. Most of these easy recipes are great for dinner but the leftovers can be adapted into some cheap lunch ideas as well.

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Why Dirt Cheap Meals?

Choosing to feed your family cheap and easy meals is one of the best ways to save money on food. Dirt cheap meals can be a financial stress reliever if you’re living on a tight budget.

Spending less on food means you have more money to cover day-to-day expenses, add cash to savings, or pay down debt.

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, you can make tasty homemade pizza from scratch for less than the cost of a processed frozen pizza or one from a restaurant. That’s a simple frugal food hack! It’s healthier, you know exactly what’s in it and you can spend much less on ingredients.

If you’re worried about there being a stigma around dirt cheap meals or having your kids turn up their noses at dinner, let me offer a little reassurance.

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.

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

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:

  • Pasta
  • Fresh vegetables, like bell peppers and onions
  • White rice
  • Rotisserie chicken or chicken thighs
  • Fruits
  • 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.

dirt cheap meals

Need help with meal planning?

$5 Meal Plan is a weekly meal planning and prep tool that can help you save money and time in the kitchen. For just $5 per month, you can get a made-to-order meal plan to feed your family for less than $2 per person, per meal!

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.

stop wasting money on food

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.

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.


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Best Dirt Cheap Meals to Make When You’re 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.

Get the full recipe at Easy Family Recipes

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. Slow cooker buffalo chicken wraps (paleo version)

All you need is chicken, lettuce, and buffalo sauce to whip up these cheap and easy wraps.

Get the full recipe at Amanda Seghetti

4. Chicken pot pie with a 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. And if you can’t skip the meat, chicken breasts are a budget-friendly way to pack in some protein.

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. If you want to indulge a little, you can sprinkle some fresh parmesan cheese on top.

Get the full recipe at I Hate Meal Prep

8. Budget-friendly ground beef stew

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!

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 and it can easily be multiplied for big families.

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. Adding mozzarella cheese is optional!

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 large family (or small one). It’s a great option when you want something simple for dinner.

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 that you can make in just one frying pan.

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

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. You can use black beans or refried beans, whatever you have on hand.

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. Three-can black bean soup

Want a simple and comforting soup recipe? Try this easy-peasy black bean version.

Get the full recipe at Honey and Birch

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.

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 and it’s one of my favorite cheap recipes to make!

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 Live Eat Learn

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.

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. It’s a fast and easy way to feed the entire family.

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. They’re a go-to dirt cheap dinner when you don’t have a lot of money to spare.

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 Eating on a Dime

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.

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 cheap dinners. 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. Or you could swap out the chicken for hot dogs instead.

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

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 A Couple Cooks

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.

Get the full recipe at Home Made Lovely.

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.

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

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 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!

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

54. Kimchi quesadillas

Kimchi in a quesadilla? Give it a chance and you might be surprised at how much you love it!

Get the full recipe at Kimchimari

mom and child cooking dinner

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.

Get the full recipe at My Korean Kitchen

56. Easy sweet and sour chicken

Sweet and sour chicken plus steamed rice is the perfect cheap dinner combo!

Get the full recipe at Taste and Tell

57. Sloppy joe grilled cheese sandwich

This recipe combines your two favorites: grilled cheese sandwiches and sloppy joe in a delicious (and cheap) meal.

Get the full recipe at Spicy Southern Kitchen

58. Oil pasta

Olive oil and tons of fresh garlic make this pasta dish a perfect choice for a dirt-cheap dinner.

Get the full recipe at The Clever Meal

59. Ketchup spaghetti

I was skeptical too when I first found this recipe. But it’s hands-down one of my favorite pasta dishes.

Get the full recipe at Just One Cookbook

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!

Get the full recipe at Dinner, Then Dessert

61. Chili dog biscuit casserole

Chili dogs are a classic dinner idea and they’re super cheap to make with this recipe.

Get the full recipe at The Salty Marshmallow

62. Crispy baked tofu

Looking for a vegetarian meal idea that’s super cheap? You’ll love this tofu treat.

Get the full recipe at Cookie and Kate

63. Easy tomato cream pasta

This easy pasta dish combines ingredients you have in the pantry for a cheesy, tomato-y treat.

Get the full recipe at Pioneer Woman

64. Bang bang chicken

All you need is chicken, panko crumbs, chili sauce, and mayo to create this Asian-inspired dish.

Get the full recipe at Damn Delicious

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.

Get the full recipe at Spruce Eats

dirt cheap meals for families pinterest image
Best Dirt Cheap Meals for Broke People

More Dirt Cheap Meal Ideas

Looking for more ways to feed your whole family for less? Here are even more ideas for dirt 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!

dirt cheap meals

Need help with meal planning?

$5 Meal Plan is a weekly meal planning and prep tool that can help you save money and time in the kitchen. For just $5 per month, you can get a made-to-order meal plan to feed your family for less than $2 per person, per meal!

Bottom Line: 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:

What are your favorite dirt cheap meals to make?

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About Rebecca Lake

Rebecca Lake is a Certified Educator in Personal Finance, freelance writer and homeschooling single mom of two. Since 2014, she's paid off nearly $100,000 in debt and grown her net worth to seven figures. Her work has appeared online at top personal finance websites, including Forbes Advisor, Bankrate, Investopedia, The Balance, CreditCards.com and U.S. News & World Report. Find out more.