30 Dirt Cheap Meals for a Tight Budget

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Making dinner every night is exhausting and can get really expensive. That’s why I decided to put a list together of dirt cheap meals.

We started living on one income twelve years ago and making our family meals fell in my lap. My husband and I agreed that he would go to work and I would stay home and take care of the kiddos.

I’m not complaining here, it was just an adjustment I needed to get used to. I’ve learned a lot over the years especially when we struggled to make ends meet.

Learning to budget and saving money was my top priority. We really wanted to maintain our single-income family and budget-friendly dinners were one of the things that saved us a ton of money.

The nice thing about these cheap meals is they feed our family of 5.  Finding budget-friendly family meals was my mission for a long time.  Thankfully, over the years I have found several meals that are dirt cheap and feed a family.

One of my favorite cheap meals is chicken fried rice. It’s super easy to make and it’s full of flavor. Thankfully as my kids got older, they learned how to reheat fried rice. They used to microwave it for way too long and it basically became inedible.

Listed below are cheap meals to make that will feed a family of 5.  Most of them are simple enough that they don’t need a recipe.  If they need a recipe, I will include a link so you can make it.

Dirt cheap meals

How Can I Eat Dirt Cheap?

Eating for dirt cheap takes a little bit of planning. First, you need to figure out what foods are dirt cheap. Once you determine that, you can make a cheap meal with those items.

Dirt cheap foods are considered the least expensive foods to buy. Just because they are less expensive, doesn’t mean they aren’t good.

What are the Cheapest Food Items?

Eating cheap food requires you to buy cheap food. I’m not going to list prices because they vary by area. We live in California and these are budget-friendly foods in our area.

Here are some cheap food items that you should keep stocked in your home:

  • Potatoes (russet and sweet)
  • Carrots (not ready to eat)
  • Canned tomatoes, green beans, beans, corn.
  • Onions
  • Garlic (not ready to eat)
  • Lettuce (not pre-made)
  • Frozen veggies
  • Apples
  • Bananas
  • Cantaloupe
  • Grapes
  • Oranges
  • Oatmeal
  • Bread
  • Rice
  • Pasta
  • Ramen
  • Lentils
  • Eggs
  • Ground turkey
  • Chicken
  • Some cuts of pork
  • Tofu
  • Yogurt
  • Milk
  • Cheese
Cheap Food Items

Easy Dirt Cheap Meals

Here is a list of meals that got us through our tight budget.  These cheap dinner ideas cost $2 per person or less.

1. Cheese Ravioli with Marinara Sauce –  You can make this dirt cheap by buying frozen ravioli. Fresh ravioli is more expensive.  I don’t personally notice a difference between the two. The frozen ravioli tastes great. Just mix the frozen ravioli with marinara sauce and put it in the oven at 350 for 45 mins.

2. Bean and Cheese Burritos – Tortillas can get a little expensive here but you can buy cheaper beans to offset the price. We love using refried beans and sharp cheddar cheese to enhance the flavor. Add some sour cream and onions if you’d like.

3. Chili Dogs – This cheap meal can be expensive depending on the ingredients you buy. If you buy all-beef hot dogs then that will kick up the price.  Stick to buying basic hot dogs, chili, and buns to make this a dirt cheap meal.

4. Spaghetti – This is an easy go-to family recipe. There are two ways you can do this. You can get ground turkey when it’s on sale for under $2 and put it in your sauce or just serve the sauce by itself. We’ve done it both ways.

5. Veggie Bowl – We love rice and there are so many cheap meals you can add it to. Make steamed rice and add some frozen veggies. If you want a cheap protein, you can add ground turkey or tofu. Top it with some soy sauce or teriyaki sauce.

6. Egg, Cheese, and Potato Burritos – These are tasty, easy, and filling. Cook some eggs and potatoes. You can add whatever seasonings you like. Add some cheese, roll them up, and enjoy. If you have extra veggies lying around, cook them up, and make this even tastier.

Tomato Soup and Grilled Cheese Cheap Meal

7. Tomato Soup with Grilled Cheese – This is one of my husband’s childhood favorites. You can get canned tomato soup for dirt cheap.  Grab a couple of cans of tomato soup and cook up some grilled cheeses. They taste great together. Try dipping your sandwich in the soup.

8. Pancakes and Sausage – We cook this often because it’s just good and easy.  The nice thing is you can get frozen breakfast sausage really cheap.  This meal easily feeds a family of 5 for under $2. You can make it even cheaper by making your own pancake mix.

9. Peanut Butter and Banana Sandwiches – This might sound like a weird food combination but you should consider trying it. Just make a peanut butter sandwich like normal and then cut up bananas and add them to your sandwich.  You will be happy you did.

10. Peanut Butter and Banana Waffles – Here’s another great banana meal. Get the store-bought frozen waffles when they are on sale.  Then spread peanut butter on them. Slice up the bananas and put them on top of the peanut butter.  These are such a yummy dirt cheap meal.

11. Quesadillas – I love cheese so quesadillas are one of my favorites. Sometimes I have a hard time getting full from them. Try adding some beans or eat them with some tomato soup to make them more filling.

12. Frozen Pizza – You can make a dirt cheap meal out of frozen pizzas. I usually find them on sale at my store for $2.99.  Just because they are cheap doesn’t mean they taste bad. Some of them are actually pretty good. The key here is to get the pizzas when they are on sale so you can save more money.

13. Mac and Cheese with Hot Dogs – Mac and Cheese is always a good choice. It’s just good and filling at the same time. If you want to add some protein, consider cutting up some hot dogs and mixing them in. They taste so good together and can make a cheap family meal.

14. Ramen Bowl – I don’t know if you’ve noticed but Ramen Bowl restaurants have become very popular lately. This gave me the idea to make my own ramen bowl, the cheap way. Cook up some top ramen, add an egg, add frozen veggies and if you want extra protein, add some cheap pork.  This will become your favorite cheap dinner idea.

15. Baked Potatoes with Chili – Grab some big russet potatoes at the store. Cook them and throw some chili on top. You can also add fresh onions and cheese if you’d like.  The chili adds flavor and some protein to this family meal.

16. Turkey Sloppy Joes – I like making my own sloppy joes sauce but if you don’t, you can grab a can of generic sloppy joes sauce at the store. Ground Turkey is a great choice for sloppy joes. It’s not greasy and I can find it for under $2 lb at my grocery store.

Fettucine Alfredo Dirt Cheap Meal Idea

17. Fettucine Alfredo – Grab some canned alfredo sauce and pour it over some noodles for a yummy alfredo dish.  If you have some chicken breast, consider adding it. If not, it is still tasty and qualifies as a dirt cheap meal.

18. Over Easy Eggs on Toast – My husband introduced this to us. He loves soaking up egg yolk with toast.  If you don’t like the yolk, just scramble up some eggs instead.  You can make a yummy egg scramble with veggies you may have laying around.

19. Egg Salad Sandwiches – This cheap meal is packed with protein. Hard boil some eggs. dice them up and add some mayo and mustard. Season them to your liking. I prefer to toast my bread so it doesn’t get soggy. Once your bread is prepared, add the egg salad and enjoy!

20. Tuna Melts – Get a couple of cans of tuna and mix them with mayo and season it to your liking.  Heat up a pan and cook them just like you would a grilled cheese.  You can add cheese, tomato, and onion to add more flavor.

21. BLO’s – These are similar to BLT’s but we use onion instead of the tomato. Bacon can get expensive but it’s still possible to get 12 oz to 16 oz of bacon for $3.99 lb. Next time you go to the store, see what bacon you can find on sale and add this cheap dinner idea to your meal plan.

22. Sausage Pepper Pasta – I love throwing this directly in the crockpot. Brown some sausage on the stove to get rid of the grease. Then cut up some bell peppers and onions.  Add the sausage, peppers, and onions to the slow cooker and stir in a jar of marinara sauce. Set on low for 8 hours. Once it’s done pour it over some cooked spaghetti noodles.

23. Turkey Burgers – I’m sure you can tell that I love cooking with Turkey.  It’s mainly because it’s a great source of protein and I can get it super cheap.  When you see it on sale, grab a bunch and freeze it. It freezes really well and will make your meals really cheap.

Cheap Family Dinner Ideas

As you can see, there are tons of ways to make dirt cheap meals. Change up the combinations and you will come up with even more ideas.

If you are looking for more recipes, here are some more cheap dinner ideas that you may want to try.

Tuna Casserole Cheap Family Meal

24. Easy Tuna Casserole from Food Meanderings

Casseroles are a great way to save money. If you keep the ingredients simple like this one, you will notice that you have more room in your grocery budget.  They also make great leftovers.

Bean Soup Cheap Meal to Make

25.  Easy Bean Soup from Recipes from a Pantry

Beans are another food you can get for dirt cheap.  This bean soup would be a great family meal to make extra of. You could keep it in the fridge for multiple days to make it, even more, cost-effective. 

I usually use the leftovers of bean soups to make nachos another day. Just drain the liquid and you’ll have another cheap meal.

Salmon Patty Recipe Cheap Meal Idea

26. Easy Salmon Patties from Mom Skoop

Yes! There is more seafood that makes a cheap family dinner.  It’s canned salmon and it makes this recipe oh so good.  You can eat the patties by themselves, make a burger, or even eat them in a salad.  There are tons of combinations that can be made with these yummy patties.

Easy Pizza Grilled Cheese Meal Idea

27. Pizza Grilled Cheese from Easy Budget Recipes

This is a fun twist on a grilled cheese sandwich. Pepperoni adds great flavor to just about anything.  This is the first time I’ve ever seen it on a grilled cheese sandwich. This is so easy to make and is super tasty.

Easy Panda Express Chow Mein Cheap Meals

28. Panda Express Chow Mein from Easy Budget Recipes

If you love Panda Express chow mein, you will want to try this. It’s a dirt cheap recipe that tastes amazing. It’s also really easy to make and can be used as the main entree at dinner.  Everyone in my family loves chow mein which makes this a perfect cheap dinner idea for us.

Turkey and Sweet Potato Chili Cheap Family Meal

29. Turkey and Sweet Potato Chili from Feast for a Fraction

Here are two cheap ingredients, turkey and sweet potatoes.  Put them together and you can enjoy a tasty chili.  This chili is perfect by itself or you can pair it with some tortilla chips. You could even add some sour cream and cheese to make it tastier.

Taco Mac and Cheese Cheap Family Meal

30. Taco Mac and Cheese from Mae’s Menu

This mac and cheese reminds me of chili and Fritos. The cumin just makes it a whole different flavor.  You kids won’t even notice the hidden veggies in this recipe. So cheesy and bursting with flavor. Your family will love this meal and they won’t even know it’s cheap.

What’s Are Your Favorite Dirt Cheap Meals?

This is an extensive list of cheap meals but there’s always room for more.  Do you have a cheap meal that you’d like to share? Let me know in the comments below.

Having a family is expensive. If you learn to manage your money, you can focus on saving money in different areas. We love food but we really like to save our money so we can eat our favorite foods on vacation.

These meals have helped us get through some of the hardest times. Hopefully, they can help you get through on a tight budget.

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