35 Dirt Cheap Meals To Feed Your Family When Money Is Tight

If money is tight, it can be stressful to think of ways to provide your family with delicious and nutritious meals. Groceries are for most people, the one thing that they spend the most money on every month.

Most people will spend more on food than other bills sometimes. However, it is easy to cut down on how much you are spending , without making any dramatic changes to the quality of your meals.

You should be aware of what you are buying and how you can use them. Most ingredients are quite versatile. We have put together a list of 35 dirt cheap meals that you can feed your family when money is tight.

35 Dirt Cheap Meals To Feed Your Family When Money Is Tight

Grocery Budget

Before we get into the meals, it is important to set yourself a budget when it comes to grocery shopping. Obviously, how much you spend on food depends on how large your family is and any food allergies anyone might have.

However, you can still eat well when money is tight. You need to be aware of what you are buying and if you can buy food at the lowest prices. A way to help you budget, is to plan the meals that you want to make with the cheapest foods that you can afford.

This then makes you aware of what you need to buy, so that you have more of a structure when you go grocery shopping.

As a result, you will know what you are going to buy before you have entered the grocery store. Although, while you are shopping you need to have some self control to stick to the list that you have created.

You don’t want to be adding on loads of extras that you didn’t originally account for, otherwise your budgeting will have been for nothing.

Switching from expensive brands to cheaper brands of a lot of products will help you save a lot of money. A lot of cheaper brands and items taste exactly the same as the more expensive brands, thus what you are really buying is the brand and the name on the item. When really the items are actually the same and taste the same.

The meals we have listed below all use the cheapest ingredients that you can find, but are still nutritious and tasty.

Mac And Cheese

Mac and cheese is a meal that children love to eat, but so do adults. It is a cheap meal that can be altered to suit everyone’s taste buds. You can either buy the premade mix, or you can make it fresh yourself.

Making it fresh costs a little bit more, but you will have ingredients leftover that you can use to make another meal for another day.


Oatmeal is the perfect cheap breakfast meal. Oatmeal might sound boring, but it comes in a variety of flavors. While being $0.25 per serving, this is the perfect cheap meal that you can buy in bulk too.

There are some brands that are more expensive than others, yet the cheaper brands taste as great as the more expensive ones.

Egg On Toast

Speaking of breakfast, egg and toast is one of the cheapest meals you can make. Normally, this type of meal is eaten for breakfast, but it can be eaten at lunch time. You have lots of choice when it comes to egg and toast.

This is because eggs can be boiled, fried, poached and scrambled. Alongside this you can pair the eggs with bread which you could also make yourself which would reduce the price of this meal even more.

Egg sandwiches are a popular choice in many families. Thus making egg and toast is an ideal cheap meal to make for your family.

Fried Egg McMuffin Sandwich

A lot of us have had a breakfast sandwich at some point. Either on our way to work or just as a treat. They typically cost around $3-$4 each. However, you can make it home for a lot less.

As this meal only contains four ingredients:  an egg, bacon, cheese and an english muffin. You can make this meal at home and it will only cost you $1-$2 at most. 

Waffles Or Pancakes


Waffles and pancakes are a much loved breakfast or dessert meal. They are very easy to make and the packet mix is really cheap too. You can make your own mix too, as it only requires egg, flour and milk.

Making your own mix is a cheap option, but packet mix is also really cheap. You should avoid the pour and serve mixes as it is much more expensive and doesn’t really provide you with any better pancakes. 


Crepes use very few ingredients. Most of the ingredients you need you will most likely already have in your pantry. Flour, milk, butter and eggs – the four key ingredients that make this meal so easy to make.

Crepes can be eaten for any meal, and they can be topped with sugar, lemon or fruit. A meal that the whole family will love. 

French Toast

French toast consists of bread, egg and a bit of milk, all which are incredibly cheap. When money is tight, french toast is a great cheap meal that you can make.

You can even make a large batch of french toast and freeze them, so you have french toast whenever you want. The recipe can be altered to add fruit if you wish, but this meal is a great cheap breakfast meal.

Stuffed Baked Potatoes

Potatoes are a really cheap vegetable to buy, and they last for a long time. You will commonly use potatoes as a side dish, because they are so versatile. You can boil, roast and mash them. However, for this meal the potato becomes the main meal. 

The potato is cooked and then the insides removed and mixed with whatever you like. You could mix in bacon or sweetcorn with the potato and then fill the potato skins back up with your mixture. This is a hearty, yet delicious meal, which children can also help you make. 

Shepherd’s Pie

Shepherd’s pie is considered a true comfort food, which can be altered to become a really cheap yet still warming meal for the family. You can alter this recipe to fit what you have and what you can afford.

You can even swap out the ground meat, with any leftover vegetables from another meal that you have. Shepherd’s pie can be a cheap meal that still tastes good when on a budget. 

Macaroni Casserole

Pasta is a cheap ingredient to buy. Therefore, any pasta dish you want to make is going to be cheap but taste great. Pasta dishes that are meat free will be some of the cheapest meals that you can make.

Macaroni Casserole is a cheap pasta meal that doesn’t use any meat, which helps keep the costs down. Although if you want to add meat, that is up to you.

Pasta And Meat Sauce

As mentioned before, pasta is a really versatile and cheap ingredient that can make a wide range of meals for your family. Pasta is the perfect thing to buy when money is tight and a jar of pasta sauce is only a couple of dollars at most.

Combine both ingredients together and you have a delicious and cheap meal that only costs around 50 cents per serving. 

Chicken Alfredo

Chicken alfredo is not only a cheap meal to make when money is tight, but it’s quick to make too. Therefore, this is the perfect midweek meal.

To make this meal cheaper you can buy the sauce instead of making it and use any leftover chicken that you might have. 

Chicken Tacos

Tacos are an inexpensive item to buy. To make this meal cheaper, you can swap out the beef for chicken. You can even use any leftover chicken you might have from another dish.

However, if you want ground meat, turkey is a much more affordable option than beef. Served with vegetables, this is a quick and easy meal that doesn’t break the bank.

Chicken Fajita Wraps

Chicken fajita wraps are a tasty dinner meal. This dish can be made really quickly, in only 15 minutes. Use leftover chicken to make this meal even cheaper. 

Chicken And Fries

Chicken and Fries

As we have said potatoes are a really cheap and long-lasting vegetable that you can do a lot with. You can grill, roast or bake the chicken  and serve a side of homemade fires alongside that with some vegetables.

A simple meal that doesn’t require much work but will be a win for all the family. You could wrap bacon around the chicken for more flavor or marinate the chicken in spices. Alongside that you can spice up your fries with spices like paprika to add a smokey flavor.

There are a lot of possibilities with this simple dish, to use what you already have to make it more interesting. However, even just on its own, this is a very tasty meal. 

Chicken Rice Casserole

Chicken, rice and vegetables make a delicious evening meal. By itself chicken and rice can be a cheap but boring dish. Therefore the addition of vegetables or any spices that you already have will elevate the dish.

Chicken Rice Soup

After a roast chicken meal, then you can use the leftovers to make this delicious soup, that is perfect as a lunch or dinner meal. The juices from the roast chicken are used as the broth and all you need to do is boil rice and add vegetables such as celery and carrots.

This is a simple recipe that can use ingredients from your leftover roast chicken.

Ramen Noodles With Vegetables

Ramen noodles are another cheap ingredient that you can buy. To make the noodles more filling and satisfying you can add vegetables of your choice. You can even add any leftover chicken that you might need to be used up. 

Vegetable Stir Fry And Rice

Vegetables are cheap ingredients that you can buy, which are really tasty. You can buy a bag of mixed frozen vegetables for under $2. A bag can easily serve two people and possibly more depending on the size of the bag.

Heat up your vegetables and add them with rice. This meal is very easy to make, if you are in a rush, full of vitamins and will only cost you around 80 cents a serving. 

Beans And Rice

Beans and rice is a classic dish that a lot of people turn to when money is tight. By itself beans and rice might sound quite boring and plain, but you can pair it with a sauce.

This then keeps the costs down but provides you with a tasty family meal. There are many variations with this dish, to suit everyone, and all taste great. 

Egg Fried Rice

Egg fried rice is commonly seen as a side dish, but you can make it a main dish. Egg and rice are two very cheap ingredients to buy, and items that you may find that you already have.

To make this dish more bulk as a main dish, you can add vegetables like carrots, peas and sweetcorn. If you have any leftover chicken you can also add this too. This is a great dish to make, when you want to use things up in your fridge. 

Minestrone Soup

Minestrone soup is a really hearty soup that you will enjoy during the colder months. You can adapt this dish to suit your own liking. You can add more vegetables and herbs that you might have lying around, to make it last longer and taste even better. Alongside the vegetables, this dish will use ingredients that you will already find in your panty. 

You could make a large batch of the soup and freeze whatever you don’t use, keep it in the freezer for whenever you crave some lunchtime minestrone soup.

Grilled Cheese Sandwich And Tomato Soup

Grilled cheese sandwiches are a favorite quick lunchtime idea that everyone loves to eat. It uses very few ingredients that you will most likely already have. However, to make this meal even better, pair the grilled cheese sandwich with tomato soup.

A strange combination it might sound like, but they both work really well together. While also being very cheap meals as well. 

You could make your own tomato soup, which can help cut costs down. Yet you can buy perfectly delicious and cheap canned tomato soups really easily in store.

Lentil Stew

Lentils are a really cheap pantry essential. You can use lentils in a wide range of dishes, but they make great comfort food during the winter months. Lentil stew uses seasonal vegetables and cheap pantry ingredients that you will already have on hand.

Lentil soup is a great dish that all the family will enjoy on those colder nights and full of nutritious vegetables. 


Like lentil stew, chili is a great comfort food that can be made when money is tight. It is the kind of dish that can be made in various different ways, using cheap ingredients. Most recipes for chili use ground beef, but you can swap this out for ground turkey which is a cheaper alternative.

However, you can make this a meat free dish which will dramatically reduce the price of this meal and add more beans instead. 

Bean Burritos

Bean burritos are an easy meal to make, and all the ingredients you need you will be able to find in your pantry. Most recipes ask that you use ground beef but you can swap this out for whatever you have.

You can use ground beef, pork, chicken or turkey. They all taste delicious. Overall this meal costs 63 cents per person.

Butternut Squash Noodles

Pasta isn’t the healthy option, so if you want a healthy alternative to pasta you should try butternut squash noodles. Not only are these noodles tasty but they are also really cheap as well.

You can pair these noodles with anything that you use for pasta. Butternut squash noodles are great simple or with marinara sauce. They are really easy to make and a healthier option to pasta, which are still cheap. 

Banana And Peanut Butter Sandwiches

Sometimes sandwiches can get boring. Never knowing what filling to put on the sandwiches. Well banana and peanut butter sandwiches are the perfect cheap solution. Children will love this combination for their lunch.

The peanut butter helps add more protein to the meal, while the bananas are full of vitamins and minerals. This is a quick and easy meal to put together, that your children will love to eat. 

To make this more grown up or more suited for colder days, you can grill this sandwich, which then melts the peanut butter and makes the bananas go soft. A delicious meal that anyone can enjoy. 

Peanut Butter And Jelly Sandwiches

Another perfect lunch time meal, and a combination that has been enjoyed for years. Peanut butter and jam are very cheap ingredients that you can buy, and items that a lot of people will have in their pantry already. To make this meal even cheaper, you could make your own jam by picking your own fruit and making jam from them.

This then creates a great activity that children can get involved with and then you can eat what you have made. Like the meal before, you can toast or grill this sandwich to make it crispy and give it another texture. 

Tuna Melt

Tuna melts are very easy to make at home and make the ideal lunch or light dinner. Tuna has been creeping up in prices recently, but you can still find some affordable and cheap tuna’s out there. A tuna melt is basically a fancier version of a grilled cheese sandwich.

You can buy canned tuna in packs of 6 or 9, so you will have plenty left over to store in your pantry for another meal. Tuna is a versatile item that can be used in some of the pasta dishes that we have mentioned above.

When it comes to a tuna melt, you should use what you have available, and this will create a hearty and delicious meal for any tuna lovers out there. Yet you can still achieve this meal on a budget. 


For those of you who have grown up in the southern parts of the US, then you will be very aware of girts. It is most likely that your grandmother would have made grits for you. Grits is the ideal to make when money is really tight, but it can feed large families or large gatherings easily.

Grits can be served for breakfast, lunch or dinner. It uses very few ingredients, but you can buy an instant mix. Making your own grits is going to be slightly cheaper than the instant mix. Homemade grits always taste better than the instant as well. 

Cream Of Wheat And Fruit

Cream of wheat is another cheap breakfast meal alternative. It is similar to oatmeal, but to make this meal more interesting we recommend pairing it with fruit or honey. Cheap fruit or honey adds some sweetness to the cream of wheat and you can change the fruit you put onto it to keep it interesting to eat.

Some recipes have used oranges and bananas, while others have used berries like blueberries and strawberries. It is up to you and what you can get your hands onto, what kinds of fruit you eat with it. 



Making your own pizza is a lot cheaper than ordering one. You can make your own pizza by using pantry ingredients to make the base, which is just flour and water. Children will enjoy getting their hands dirty to help. Or you can buy a cheap frozen 10 inch plain pizza.

Then you can add your own toppings. The toppings are up to you. Examples of topping you could put on top of your pizza includes: bacon, chicken, ham, sweetcorn, onion and peppers. Any leftovers that you have, like any cooked chicken can also be used as a topping.

Whether you make it completely from scratch or buy a cheap plain frozen pizza and add your own toppings, this is a cheap meal that the whole family will enjoy. 

Hot Dogs

Who doesn’t love hot dogs? They might not be the healthiest meal in the world, but there is no denying that they taste great and are the perfect meal option when money is tight.

Hot dogs are normally sold in packages for 8 hotdogs for under $2. You may be lucky and find some hotdogs on sale for under a dollar. 

Hot dogs can be paired with onions and salads. Alongside this you can also make homemade fries to accompany your hot dogs to make this a bigger meal. Hot dogs are a great cheap meal for lunch or paired with fries or salad at dinner time. 

Garden Salad

Salads are a great option when you are trying to be healthy. Garden salads are perfect for the summer, that uses plenty of fresh vegetables that are cheap to come by. From lettuce, tomatoes, onion and cucumber.

However you could always start your own vegetable patch and grow your own vegetable to use in your salads which would cut your costs even more. 

When it comes to any salad, it is fully customizable. Therefore, if you have any ham lying around or cheese, you can add this to your salad. The dressing that you put onto your salad is up to you as well.

You can create your own, simply use olive oil or just use mayonnaise. The thing with salad is that it is all about you using what you have and creating something that tastes really good that suits you. 

A garden salad can be the main meal or as a side meal served with some grilled chicken.


Cooking on a budget doesn’t have to be difficult and we have given you 35 meals that show you can cook delicious meals even when money is tight. Even with the list we have given you, there are many ways to alter the dishes to your liking.

The key thing to remember is to buy cheap foods like pasta, rice and potatoes. These three items are very versatile and cheap. You will notice most of our meals have one of these ingredients involved.

However, you don’t have to completely change what you eat. You can look at what you are eating right now and see where you can swap out an expensive ingredient for a cheaper alternative. This way you can slowly start to save money.

Alongside this, fruit and vegetables are your friend and they help add flavor and nutrients to your dishes. Yet they are also quite cheap and like pasta and rice, they are very versatile. Therefore, they can be used in a variety of ways and meals.

Now you have 35 dirt cheap meals you can create that your family will enjoy.

Deborah White