The Best Budget Dinners When You’re Really Trying to Save Money, According to Our Readers

published Jan 25, 2018
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(Image credit: Joe Lingeman)

We once posted a very important question on Facebook: We wanted to know what your go-to meals are when you’re trying to feed your family on a budget. We got hundreds of answers ranging from the very detailed (complete with recipes and links) to single words (eggs!).

Here are 10 of the best and most popular answers we got.

1. Pasta

Whether you guys were talking about straight-up spaghetti with red sauce, something a little fancier, or even mac and cheese, pasta came up again and again.

“Spaghetti. Literally costs $2.00. A pot can feed us with leftovers. I can’t stand canned sauce, but in a pinch… canned sauce and noodles from the Dollar Tree. Blessedly, those times have been few and far between.”

“Spaghetti with homemade tomato sauce. I always keep canned tomatoes and pasta in the house, and I buy the 5-pound bag of onions. Use one, then chop and freeze the ones I don’t use. Add 2 cans of crushed tomatoes, 1 stick of butter, 1 onion, and some garlic. Several days worth of meals for less than ten bucks!”

See All Our Pasta Recipes

(Image credit: Joe Lingeman)

2. Soup

We got suggestions for canned soup from various brands (Campbell’s and Amy’s) and lots of homemade soup ideas — usually involving some sort of vegetable or chicken stock.

“Soup. Homemade. Can take left overs and make a soup that can feed us for lunch all week. Or just make a pot and stretch protein for one meal into 4-5 meals.”

“Carrot soup. You can make a whole pot for less than $2 and it stretches even further if you happen to have some rice on hand.”

See All Our Soup Recipes

(Image credit: Anjali Prasertong)

3. Rice and beans

Chances are, you already have both of these things in your pantry, which means you can feed your family without having to make any costly trips to the store.

“Red beans and rice! I can make enough to feed our family of 6, at least 4 meals for super cheap. I make a giant pot and freeze it. Rice separate obvs.”

(Image credit: Izy Hossack)

4. Breakfast for dinner

Many readers suggested eggs (scrambled, turned into omelets, fried, etc.). Pancakes, French toast, and casseroles came up too. No surprise here — breakfast for dinner is a crowd-pleaser for kids and adults alike.

(Image credit: Emma Christensen)

5. Veggies and eggs

Beyond breakfast for dinner, eggs made appearances in other dinner ideas too. When paired up with a bunch of veggies, eggs help make a well-rounded meal.

“Vegetable hash with sweet potato, onion, bell pepper, black beans with an over easy egg on top and a little hot sauce for a little kick. Lots of ways to really spice this up and use up stuff laying around the fridge or pantry.”

“A simple stir fry of rice and frozen stir fry veggies, steamed fresh broccoli with scrambled egg as protein. Sesame oil is key for the flavor in this.”

Just add an egg: How To Roast Any Vegetable

(Image credit: Joe Lingeman)

6. Chicken

Whole chickens, chicken pieces (thighs, breasts, etc.), and rotisserie chickens came up a lot. The general theme with chicken? Not to let a single bit go to waste.

“Roasting my own chicken and getting numerous meals out of it including soup.”

“I buy a rotisserie chicken , eat as much as you can for dinner , also make chicken salad sandwiches for lunch with left overs, then make chicken soup from the carcass.”

See All Our Chicken Recipes

(Image credit: Lauren Volo)

7. Baked potatoes

Baked potatoes are inexpensive and play well with other vegetables, which means they can actually become a decently healthy dinner option. Bonus: If your kids like french fries, they’re probably going to like a baked potato.

“For a big family meal my go to is a roasted whole chicken and some kind of grain; otherwise my fave cheap meals are scrambled eggs; baked potato with broccoli and cheddar cheese; or baked sweet potato with maple syrup.”

“Frozen veggies and cheese go a long way when you top baked potatoes with them.”

8. Meat with plenty of leftovers

When buying meat on a budget, make sure you’ll be able to get a few meals out of it. We got suggestions for pork, chicken (as you know), ground beef, and more. The idea is to buy larger packages (hopefully on sale!), which can be turned into multiple meals or frozen to be used up later.

“I buy a big package of boneless pork ribs. Put it in the pressure cooker. Night 1, we have pulled pork sandwiches, night 2 — tacos, night 3 — tamale pie, and night 4 — burritos. It has a different flavor every day, and everyone in my family loves it. We are on a very tight budget and using the meat for multiple purposes helps.”

“Beef stew made with shin of beef carrots and onion with mash and dumplings. Next day beef stew with rice or baked potato.”

(Image credit: Joe Lingeman)

9. Lentils

Lentils are a super-affordable substitute for meat. They have a ton of protein and cook up quickly. A lot of you just said “Lentils!” and we knew what you meant.

“Seasoned french lentils with sautéed carrot, onion, garlic. And a splurge of high quality feta. The cheese may be spendy but a little goes a long way and all of the other ingredients are inexpensive. It’s hearty and nutritious and really tasty.”

More on Lentils

(Image credit: Emma Christensen)

10. Childhood classics

We liked certain things as kids, and many of us still like them today. Menu items like cereal, peanut butter and jelly, grilled cheese, and hot dogs all made the list of nominations. If you’re looking to save a few bucks, just think about your favorite meals as a kid and something is sure to work for the night!

Do you have anything to add?