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

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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.

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:

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.

Easy crockpot chipotle chicken recipe

2. Chicken chalupas

chicken chalupa

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

Chicken chalupa recipe

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.

Paleo slow cooker buffalo chicken wraps recipe

4. Chicken pot pie with a stuffing crust

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

Chicken pot pie with stuffing crust recipe

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.

One pan Tuscan tortellini recipe

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.

Fried cabbage and potatoes recipe

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.

Cajun chicken roast recipe

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!

Budget-friendly ground beef stew recipe

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.

Easy vegetarian lasagna recipe

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!

Simple crockpot spaghetti recipe

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.

Easy vegetarian lasagna

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.

Cheeseburger macaroni skillet recipe

13. One-pan pizza pasta

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

One-pan pizza pasta recipe

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.

Smoked sausage and potatoes sheet pan recipe

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.

BBQ pulled pork sliders recipe

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.

Spatchcock skillet chicken recipe

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.

Open-faced tuna melts recipe

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.

Easy cauliflower rice and bean enchiladas recipe

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.

Slow cooker Mississippi pot roast recipe

20. Three-can black bean soup

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

Three-can black bean soup recipe

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.

Chicago-style instant pot Italian beef recipe

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!

Savory cheese and broccoli rice casserole recipe

23. Easy flatbread pizza

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

Easy flatbread pizza recipe

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.

Easy chicken enchilada soup recipe

25. Easy Instant Pot chicken and rice

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

Instant Pot chicken and recipe recipe

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.

3-ingredient chicken tacos recipe

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.

5-ingredient pizza pasta bake recipe

28. Instant Pot beefy lasagna mac

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

Instant Pot beefy lasagna mac 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!

Southern-style chili recipe

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.

Easy fried recipe recipe

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.

Crockpot potato soup recipe

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.

Leftover ham and bean soup recipe

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.

Easy taco salad recipe

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.

Sloppy joe biscuit casserole recipe

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.

Easy turkey chili mac and cheese recipe

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.

Chicken tator tot casserole recipe

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.

Ham and cheese crescent ring recipe

38. Slow cooker chicken and stuffing

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

Slow cooker chicken and stuffing recipe

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.

Instant Pot mac and cheese recipe

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.

One-pot creamy pepper pasta recipe

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.

Quick and easy tuna pasta recipe

42. Egg tacos

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

Egg tacos recipe

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.

Sheet pan burgers with copycat Big Mac sauce recipe

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.

Easy turkey casserole recipe

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.

Easy slow cooker chicken chili recipe

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.

Mini pepperoni pizza cups recipe

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.

Nacho cheese Dorito casserole recipe

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.

Cheeseburger tator tot casserole recipe

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.

Instant Pot hamburger soup recipe

50. Chicken parmesan casserole

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

Chicken parmesan casserole recipe

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!

Stuffed tomatoes with mince and recipe recipe

52. One-pan chicken and potatoes

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

One-pan chicken and potatoes recipe

53. Simple chicken quesadillas

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

Simple chicken quesadillas recipe

54. Kimchi quesadillas

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

Kimchi quesadillas recipe

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.

Kimchi spaghetti recipe

56. Easy sweet and sour chicken

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

Sweet and sour chicken recipe

57. Sloppy joe grilled cheese sandwich

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

Sloppy Joe grilled cheese recipe

58. Oil pasta

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

Oil pasta recipe

59. Ketchup spaghetti

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

Ketchup spaghetti recipe

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!

Copycat Chik Fil a recipe

61. Chili dog biscuit casserole

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

Chili dog casserole recipe

62. Crispy baked tofu

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

Crispy baked tofu recipe

63. Easy tomato cream pasta

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

Easy creamy tomato pasta recipe

64. Bang bang chicken

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

Bang bang chicken recipe

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.

Spam rice recipe

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 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:

  • 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

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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.

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.



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:

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.