30 Budget-Friendly Meals

Sometimes it’s not your waistline that requires a diet, it’s your wallet. 

Given that groceries are often the second-highest expense we incur each month, right behind our rent or mortgage payments, saving money when it comes to food expenses can go a long way, especially when you are on a debt payoff journey.

For those looking to save money on groceries or food in general, there are some universal budget rules we can follow, such as:

  • Make meals at home instead of eating out or ordering takeout. This means you bring lunch from home to work instead of going out to lunch.
  • Make a grocery list based on your weekly or monthly meal plan, and only buy what you need. That means shopping at home for ingredients you already have on hand first.

“When I go into the supermarket, I am even more mindful than I was at this time last year,” says Mackenzie Burgess, a registered dietitian, nutritionist, and recipe developer who owns and runs the customizable recipe blog, CheerfulChoices.com, said.

“Food costs continue to rise, and I want to ensure every purchase counts. I recommend always taking inventory of items you already have in your pantry, fridge, and freezer before making your shopping list,” Burgess says.

While some associate grocery savings with eating unhealthy foods, there are ways to eat healthy food that is budget-friendly. Here’s a shopping list Burgess shared of healthy but relatively cheap foods that you may want to consider putting in your shopping cart:

  • Apples.
  • Bananas.
  • Beans.
  • Brown rice.
  • Chicken.
  • Chuck roast.
  • Corn tortillas.
  • Eggs.
  • Flour.
  • Frozen blueberries.
  • Frozen vegetables.
  • Ground beef or ground chuck.
  • Iceberg lettuce.
  • Lentils.
  • Mushrooms.
  • Oats.
  • Peanut butter.
  • Pasta.
  • Potatoes.
  • Spinach.
  • Tomatoes.
  • Fish.

30 Budget-Friendly Meals

Coming up with a budget-friendly meal plan can be time-consuming, exhausting, and overwhelming. To help you get started, we’re sharing 30 budget-friendly meal ideas below, enough to get you started for the next month! 

For full recipes, search these meal options on Pinterest or Google. And remember, you can always customize the recipe based on your taste preferences and dietary needs. In other words, think of the below list as inspiration to get you started instead of a hard list of what you must follow to save money on groceries. 

1. Tuna Melt Sandwich

Canned fish is often budget-friendly and because it’s canned, not fresh or frozen, it’s easy to stock up on this item in your pantry. If you have canned tuna already, add some mayonnaise or yogurt, lemon juice, celery, and red pepper flakes and voila, dinner or lunch is served.

2. Enchiladas

Brown ground beef, chicken or turkey, add taco seasoning, some veggies like peppers or onions if you prefer, scoop into a corn tortilla, pour a can of enchilada sauce on top, sprinkle on some cheese, bake and BOOM, a hearty meal the whole family will enjoy. Double the recipe if you would like ot enjoy some leftovers.

3. Tamale Pie

If you have leftover ground beef and enchilada sauce but are not in the mood for more enchiladas, consider a tamale pie. Add some corn, peppers, chiles, jalapenos, or your other favorite veggies to your browned meat. Add enchilada sauce and cheese, and put in a pan. Add a package of cornbread mix on top. Bake and enjoy.

4. Stuffed Shells

Budget-friendly pasta doesn’t have to be boring. Add ricotta cheese and spinach to cooked pasta shells, top with marinara sauce, sprinkle mozzarella on top, and bake. If you prefer other fillings, you can always add ground sausage or another favorite meat, especially if you find it on sale.

5. Gnocchi with Creamed Spinach

If you’re looking at your pantry and find a package of gnocchi along with spinach in your refrigerator that is nearing its expiration date, consider making a creamed spinach sauce served over gnocchi. 

6. Migas with Chorizo

Breakfast for dinner is often a kid-friendly favorite. Did you know it’s also a great way to save money? Mix together eggs and chorizo until fully cooked, add your favorite veggies like tomatoes, peppers, jalapenos or avocados, and serve in a tortilla.

7. Tuna Macaroni Salad

If you stocked up on canned tuna after enjoying a tuna melt, consider a new way to use this budget-friendly pantry staple that is similarly inexpensive. Combine cooked macaroni with canned tuna, mayonnaise or yogurt, celery, jalapenos, and sprinkle dill on top. Chill before serving or enjoy warm.

8. Classic Macaroni & Cheese

Speaking of macaroni, why not enjoy the classic way to enjoy this pasta with a homemade macaroni and cheese. If you’re comparing prices, homemade mac and cheese may sound a little more expensive than buying the pre-made box version, but for roughly a $1 more, you’ll have a healthier, tastier version, that is likely to come with leftovers. Add peas, green chilies, broccoli, or your other favorite vegetable for a healthier version.

9. Bagel Pizzas

A campfire classic that is delicious and fun for kids to make too! Buy a package of premade bagels, pizza sauce, cheese, and your favorite toppings. The beauty of these individual pizzas is that each and every one is customizable. This means you can make some with pepperoni, some with mushrooms and olives, and others with pineapple and jalapenos.

10. Taco Salad

Chop up iceberg lettuce, beans, peppers, chiles, tomatoes, olives, jalapenos, add guacamole or avocado, cheese, salsa, and a protein topping of your choice, from Tex-Mex chicken meatballs to ground chicken or beef.

11. Swedish Meatballs with Chicken

Brown chicken meatballs in a savory creamy gravy sauce, and add on top of mashed potatoes, noodles or rice. 

12. Sesame Chicken Meatballs

For a new twist on stir-fry, consider this dish. Cook chicken meatballs in a sesame sauce, along with your favorite veggies like corn, peppers, radishes, broccoli, and onions, and serve on top of rice.

13. Loaded Potato Bar

Did you recently purchase a bulk sac of potatoes and need to find a way to use this pantry item before it spoils? Consider a loaded potato bar! Using either traditional potatoes or sweet potatoes, bake the potatoes until softened, cut in half, and then add your favorite toppings: broccoli, mushrooms, beans, chili, salsa, sour cream, cheese, or whatever else you find in your refrigerator. 

14. Fried Rice

If you recently made a rice dish and had leftover rice, consider using that leftover rice to make homemade fried rice. Add eggs, peas, carrots, peppers, or whatever else is leftover in your refrigerator and saute until brown and the flavors begin to meld. 

15. Hearty Chili

There are many different ways to make chili, but one thing is certain regardless of the ingredients you use, you are likely to have leftovers. For a more budget-friendly version of this fall classic dish, consider using white turkey instead of beef, or use an already-cooked rotisserie chicken. Add poblano chilis, beans, avocado and sour cream. 

16. Chicken Parmesan 

One kid-friendly item you may have purchased in bulk? Chicken patties. Bake chicken patties with marinara sauce and cheese on top. Serve over a pasta of your choice, with a side salad, or veggies like steamed broccoli. 

17. Caprese Pasta Salad

For a fresh, veggie filled meal, combine cooked penne with sliced tomatoes, mozzarella, and basil. Add a vinegar, oil or honey based dressing on top, stir well and enjoy! This meal is especially great on a hot day or when you’re tired of marinara pasta dishes.

18. Spaghetti Bolognese

Brown ground beef or chicken in a pan, add tomatoes and marinara sauce, you can add a splash of red wine or heavy cream if you prefer, and simmer for several hours. Serve on top of spaghetti or baked potatoes.

19. Weeknight Chicken and Dumplings

This dish is a great way to use leftover rotisserie chicken. Add onion, carrots, salt and pepper, along with chicken stock to a pot, add chicken, and scoop golf ball sized dumplings into the broth. Cover and cook until dumplings are fully cooked.

20. Veggie and Bean Burrito

Combine black beans with cilintro lime rice, avocado, tomatoes, onions, cheese, and spinach in a tortilla. You can always add more veggies based on your preferences such as peppers, chilies, and mushrooms. 

21. Taco-Stuffed Bell Peppers

If you’re looking for a healthy way to stretch a pound of ground beef, chicken or turkey, consider this tasty recipe. Brown your meat with taco seasoning, add rice if you prefer to a halved bell pepper, add browned meat on top, top with cheese, bake, and serve.

22. Quiche

Did we mention breakfast for dinner is as tasty as it is affordable? A quiche is a great way to use up the eggs in your refrigerator, along with cheese and your favorite vegetables. One popular quiche recipe includes asparagus and gruyere cheese, but you can also add broccoli, spinach, and/or bacon to your quiche. 

23. Beef Stroganoff

If you’re craving steak but don’t have the budget for a night out at a steakhouse, consider making this dish to satisfy your craving while serving your whole family for a fraction of the cost. Using a flat iron, flap, or flank steak, cook in a mushroom soup with beef broth, heavy cream or sour cream, and serve on top of egg noodles.

24. Beef and Broccoli 

Another way to satisfy steak cravings? A stir fry like beef and broccoli. Serve over rice and enoy.

25. Roasted Tomato Basil Soup

Add canned tomatoes, basil, thyme, and chicken stock to a boil and simmer. For other variations or to use up other ingredients laying around, consider adding carrots, caramelized onions, heavy cream, and even potatoes to your soup dish.

26. Chicken Noodle Casserole

This dish is not just filled with a low-cost ground protein, your favorite veggies, and cheese – it’s a hearty meal that is great at filling bellies! Using ground chicken or leftover rotisserie chicken, combine chicken with chicken soup or cream of mushroom soup, cheddar cheese, and frozen veggies such as peas and carrots, add egg noddles, sprinkle breadcrumbs or crushed crackers on top and bake. 

27. Chicken Meatloaf

Combine ground chicken, breadcrumbs, onion, brown sugar, tomato paste, worcestershire sauce, eggs, and parmesan cheese, and put the uncooked meat in a loaf or muffin tin to bake after topping with a ketchup-brown sugar glaze. Serve with a side of veggies and potatoes.

28. Hot Dogs

A classic budget-friendly meal. If you’re looking for a healthier version, you can swap beef or pork hot dogs for the turkey version, and even cut out the bun. Hot dogs are often available in family-friendly bulk packages, allowing you to feed your whole family for just a few dollars. Add your favorite toppings and enjoy. 

29. Ground Chicken Pad Thai

Sometimes when we’re craving our favorite takeout spot, it helps to try copycat recipes at home. If you’re craving Thai food, why not whip up a batch of this yummy chicken pad thai. Add cabbage, bean sprouts, bell peppers, eggs, peanut butter, and soy sauce to the cooked ground chicken, or leftover rotisserie chicken. Add cooked rice noodles, stir to combine, and enjoy. If you like, you can always add extra crunch to this dish with some peanuts.

30. Marinated Chicken Kebabs

Using spices from your pantry, along with yogurt, you can create a delicious homemade chicken kebab marinade. Add your favorite veggies as well, like peppers, onions, and tomatoes, for a colorful and tasty kebab. Serve with salad and/or rice. 

20 Budget-Friendly Snack Ideas

Of course, budget-friendly meals are not the only food items you may be looking to save money on. Especially if you have young kids at home, you may be looking for budget-friendly snack ideas too.

We’ve included 20 of our favorite budget-friendly snack ideas below. For more inspiration or specific recipes your family will enjoy, you can visit sites like Pinterest or do a simple Google search.

1. Fruit 

  • Apples
  • Bananas
  • Frozen Grapes
  • In-season favorites

2. Veggie Cups

  • Carrot sticks
  • Bell Pepper Slices
  • Broccoli Florets

3. Smoothies

  • Add peanut butter for a more filling snack
  • Add protein powder 

4. Cheese

  • String Cheese
  • Block Cheese Cut Up served with pretzels or crackers

5. Nuts

  • Almonds
  • Pistachios
  • Cashews

6. Peanut Butter

  • Eat it solo
  • Or eat it on top of crackers, celery or apples

7. Hummus

  • Serve with tortilla chips or veggies

8. Eggs

  • Make hard-boiled eggs and keep them in the refrigerator for a quick and easy snack.

9. Yogurt

  • Have it plain
  • Or add honey, fruit, and/or granola

10. Popcorn

  • Popping your own is the most budget-friendly option

11. Pretzels

  • Buy a big bag and divide into single-serving portions

12. Tortilla Chips

  • Enjoy plain or pair with a salsa or a refried bean dip

13. Cheese Quesadillas

  • Serve with salsa, guacamole, and/or sour cream on the side

14. Roasted Chickpeas

15. No-Bake Energy Bites

16. Cottage Cheese

  • Have it plain or with crackers

17. Guacamole

  • Serve with tortilla chips or veggies

18. Homemade Grandola Bars

19. Frozen Yogurt Covered Blueberries

20. Frozen Fruit or Yogurt Popsicles

What are your favorite budget-friendly meals and snacks? Share your favorite recipes and suggestions in the comments below!

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