40 cheap meal ideas for families on a budget

Whether you’re extra busy, want to save money on dining out or just prefer to cook with simple ingredients, it’s nice to have easy, budget-friendly recipes on hand.

These 40 affordable meal ideas use inexpensive ingredients like canned food and bulk purchases to help you save on groceries.

Key takeaways:

  • Cooking at home on a budget can be simple and healthy.
  • These breakfast, dinner, soup, vegetarian and vegan recipes can help families eat at home on a budget.
  • In just a few minutes and with a few items from your pantry or the store, you can whip up a meal for your whole family.

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Overnight oats with strawberries in a jar.

Cheap breakfast recipes

If you’re looking for an affordable, easy breakfast that’s also nutritious and satisfying, these ideas could be a good start. There are options for both sweet and savory breakfasts. And some of these recipes might help you get more fruits and vegetables into your family’s diet too.

1. Strawberry overnight oats

To add some variety, substitute other berries. Or add in extras like slivered almonds, cinnamon, coconut flakes, banana slices, walnuts or flaxseeds. To keep things sweet without sugar, add one teaspoon of maple syrup or honey instead.

2. Baked cheddar eggs and potatoes

You can do a lot with eggs and potatoes—and they can be even more delicious with a little butter and cheese. This recipe calls for garlic and parsley, but you can customize it with any herbs or spices you want.

3. Pesto, spinach and chicken frittata

If you want to incorporate more leafy greens into your diet, this frittata is one way to do it. You can switch up the vegetables if spinach isn’t your thing or incorporate your favorite meats and cheeses.

4. Cornbread BLT waffles

If you have a waffle maker, this savory treat might be a great choice for your next Saturday breakfast. Enjoy crispy bacon with soft waffles or add in some kale. Want to cut some fat? Leave out the bacon.

5. Cornmeal blueberry pancakes

A fun twist on blueberry pancakes. The corn and blueberries complement each other in flavor. And the addition of corn adds textural variety.

6. Air fryer french toast cups

Bring the power and popularity of convection cooking to your breakfast for quick and crispy results. Using cups makes this recipe great for portion control or for serving a group—and it makes cleanup easier.

Grilled chicken tacos with coleslaw, vegetables and spicy sauce.

Cheap dinner recipes for meat eaters

There are many easy, affordable dinner recipes for meat eaters that use different combinations of simple ingredients. You can also make extra for lunch the next day. The dinner recipes that follow feature chicken, pork, fish and beef.

Cheap chicken recipes

Chicken is a tasty way to add protein to any meal. And you could even pick up some precooked chicken at the store to get a head start.

7. Garlic basil chicken with tomatoes

This simple recipe can be cooked on the grill, on a grill rack or in a skillet. The chicken takes about an hour to marinate, but the rest of the recipe comes together quickly. Consider grilling or frying some vegetables to serve alongside.

8. Chicken cordon bleu hand pies

This dinner feels like fine dining. You can pick up crescent roll dough and other ingredients at the grocery store and make these hand pies in about 30 minutes.

9. Sheet-pan chicken parmesan

This classic recipe uses one pan. Simply coat your chicken in eggs and breadcrumbs before it goes in the oven.

Cheap pork recipes

There are many cuts of pork and ways to make them—none of which need to be expensive.

10. Fruit-glazed pork chops

It’s common to add peach or apricot preserves to pork chops, but any fruit preserve or jam can be substituted. Cooked on the grill or in a skillet, pork chops pair well with roasted vegetables and mashed potatoes.

11. Spaghetti with bacon

A twist on spaghetti with meatballs, this spaghetti recipe calls for bacon instead. It’s likely to please any bacon fans at your dinner table.

12. BBQ pulled pork

Do you have a pressure cooker or slow cooker? Pork can be a great option for this hands-off cooking method. You can make the recipe for less than a dollar a serving. If pork isn’t your thing, make a swap for chicken.

Cheap fish recipes

If you love fish, there are plenty of affordable recipes you can make at home. If you’re looking to eat less red meat or get more omega-3s in your diet, these fish recipes are a good place to start.

13. Fish tacos

Fish tacos pair well with any vegetable, salsa and tortilla options. You can work with various types of fish, so pick the best fish for your budget.

14. Lemon butter fish

The ingredients to make this 20-minute meal are simple, and the lemon and butter provide quite a bit of flavor.

15. Salmon pasta salad with lemon juice and capers

Start from scratch or use leftover fish for this recipe. The zesty pasta salad works with whatever you have. And since it’s a pasta salad, you can take it on the go.

Cheap ground beef recipes

The next few recipes call for ground beef, which can also be substituted with ground turkey or a plant-based option.

16. Basic burgers

Burgers might be basic. But a burger done right is still tough to beat. Change up your cheeses and toppings to add some variety if you put this in your regular rotation.

17. Sloppy Joes

To make sloppy Joes, all you need is seasoning, ground beef and buns. You can pick up seasoning at the store or make a simple sauce like the three-ingredient sauce in the recipe.

18. Burritos

You can make burritos from scratch in about 30 minutes, or you can use any leftover meat, rice or beans you have on hand. The recipe below calls for taco seasoning, but you can also go with whatever spices you have on hand.

19. Meatloaf

A classic American comfort food, try serving meatloaf with mashed potatoes and a green vegetable of your choice for a complete and colorful plate.

A person eats Mediterranean soup with bread.

Cheap soup recipes

Making your own soup can be a great way to save money and minimize dishes.

20. Three-ingredient tomato soup

If you have butter, onion and tomatoes, you can make tomato soup. Try pairing it with grilled cheese, toast or tortillas.

21. Chicken soup

Chicken noodle soup is a comfort food staple for a reason—and it’s great for getting sick kids and adults on the mend.

22. Vegetable soup

A one-pot meal packed with vegetables, this soup can be easily customized by adding your favorite proteins, vegetables and toppings.

Stir fry rice noodles with vegetables in a bowl.

Cheap plant-based meals

Cooking without meat doesn’t have to be complicated or time consuming—or lacking flavor and satisfaction. Many of the recipes below are vegetarian and vegan friendly.

23. Stir fry

 Stir-fried vegetables are full of nutrients. This recipe includes a tasty sauce and meal prep tips.

24. Pesto roasted vegetables

This fun twist on simple roasted vegetables calls for pesto, which you can get at the store or make yourself. Try adding tortellini to make it a full meal.

25. Tomato soy sauce scramble

This scramble takes advantage of vegetables, eggs and a few other cheap ingredients for a quick and affordable option that’s tasty no matter what time of day you’re eating it.

26. Rigatoni with roasted sweet potatoes

This simple pasta has plenty of flavor—and the sweet potatoes provide flavor and fortification. Butter and cream make it extra tasty and creamy.

27. Egg, lettuce and tomato sandwich (ELT)

This recipe is an ovo-vegetarian spin on the BLT, using eggs instead of bacon.

28. Broccoli and egg fried rice

This fried rice combines several food groups in one dish. And if you do eat meat, frozen shrimp, leftover pork or rotisserie chicken could be quick additions to the dish.

29. Pressure cooker collard greens

You can cook leafy greens in an electric pressure cooker or slow cooker. For an alternative to collard greens, try other hearty greens, like kale or mustard greens.

Taco salad on a wooden table.

30. Vegan chili

For vegetarians and vegans who want a higher-protein meal, you can make vegan chili in a slow cooker, in an electric pressure cooker or on your stovetop.

31. Roasted vegetables

Coating your vegetables in olive oil, salt and spices of your choice can make them even tastier. You can eat them as a side dish or in a grain bowl or salad.

32. Black bean burgers

Chipotles in adobo sauce give these black bean burgers a little kick. Like the basic burger recipe above, vary your toppings to keep this recipe fresh in your rotation.

33. Glazed sweet potato lentil salad

This simple vegan meal is full of flavor. You can even marinate the lentils and roast the potatoes up to five days ahead of time.

34. Taco salad

Full of vegetables and crispy textures, vegan taco salad can be packed for lunch or enjoyed as dinner.

Quesadilla served on a blue plate with guacamole, salsa and jalapenos.

Super-cheap meals

When you don’t have much time to shop for groceries, you can keep staples in your fridge for these quick meals that are even more budget friendly.

35. Chicken, spinach and cheese quesadillas

If you have tortillas and cheese, you can make quesadillas. This recipe calls for both chicken and spinach for some extra protein and leafy greens. But if you leave them out, you’ve still got a tasty and inexpensive meal.

36. Pesto tomato grilled cheese sandwich

You can make grilled cheese with bread and cheese on hand. Tomatoes and pesto can dress up this classic with a little extra flavor.

37. Grilled peanut butter and jelly sandwiches

PB&J isn’t just for kids—and grilling it adds flavor. If you have a skillet or panini press, you can try out your favorite combination of bread, nut butter and preserves for an even more adult take on the classic.

38. Dressed-up instant ramen noodles

Instant ramen can be a base for a comforting meal. Round it out with vegetables, eggs, meat and aromatic herbs to suit your preferences.

39. Beans on toast

You don’t have to be an Anglophile to enjoy this classic. If you have beans and bread, you can make this quickly. Add leafy greens for a pop of color and flavor.

40. Omelets

You can fill omelets with all sorts of ingredients like meat, vegetables and herbs. You can also enjoy a plain butter omelet in a few minutes with just eggs, butter and a pan.

Cheap meals in a nutshell

You don’t need to spend a lot of money to make healthy, satisfying meals at home. Breakfast enthusiasts, meat eaters and vegetarians alike can all find ways to cook on a budget. If you’re looking for other ways to save money, check out a few money management tips or debt management strategies like the snowball or avalanche methods.

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