I enjoy my food, but I have had many times in the past when I have been broke and needed to know the cheapest frugal meals I could make.
Because I literally had no money and a daughter to feed.
The most extreme frugal meals I could think of back then were boring, repetitive and downright tasteless.
Really dirt cheap meals like noodles and peas, ramen noodles, beans on toast, baked potatoes with cheese or rice and beans – I’m really not a creative chef when left to myself.
Thankfully I know so much more now. How to save money, to stretch my money as far as possible and create frugal meal ideas that the whole family will actually want to eat!
Frugal dinner ideas don’t have to be boring, you can create dozens of tasty meals with very little money.
Or you can get creative with what you already have in your cupboards and make a dinner that costs you nothing but time and creativity.
My go to frugal food usually involves my slow cooker (crock pot) mainly because it’s so easy. And I get to cook double (or more) quantities in one go, making dirt cheap meals for the freezer.
Whereas when my hubby is cooking he prefers focusing on frugal dinner ideas that he can have on the table within a short while. I’m not complaining – he’s cooking!
Check out my post about how much should I spend on groceries to help you set the right grocery budget for you.
- minimal ingredients (they all cost money)
- cheap meat & less of it (or none)
- ingredients from your pantry or fridge
- canned goods
- cheap carbs & grains
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When you’ve bought your ingredients for your meals, take 2 minutes to scan your receipt.
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What to cook when you’re broke
When you’re broke you still have to eat and feed your family. Your pantry is a cupboard full of money that you have already spent so it makes sense to start there.
The cheapest meals to make are those where you spend nothing at all. The next cheapest are those where you are using extremely cheap ingredients.
Soups are the perfect frugal meal. You can add almost anything to them, blitz them and eat as is, or with some bread to fill you up.
Pasta is also an extremely frugal meal, no need to buy expensive ingredients, a little salt and pepper, some seasoning, oil and some cheese can be enough. Add a can of tomatoes and some spice to give your pasta a kick.
If you’re at the beginning of your journey to make your own meals then check out my post on cooking from scratch for beginners for help on getting started.
Top 10 delicious Frugal meals to make when you’re broke
There are frugal meals and then there are extremely frugal meals. When your back is to the wall and you need to know what is the cheapest meal you can make, this list is for you.
Just because they are super cheap does not mean they are not delicious dirt cheap meals (they are!). Cheap does not mean tasteless or yuck.
You can make many different versions of these frugal meal ideas, and they will keep you going until your next paycheck.
Pasta & homemade sauce or canned tomatoes & herbs. Pasta is one of the cheapest foods to buy when you’re broke. If you’ve got brown/wholewheat pasta then great but white is fine.
Egg fried rice. Add some peas or sweetcorn and you’ve got protein, carbs and veggies.
Bean soup. (Dry beans are cheaper), add homemade crusty bread for a filling and frugal healthy meal.
Tuna pasta tray bake. (1 tuna can will stretch to 4 people or more) pasta, canned tomatoes and any veggies you already have (I often use a can of sweetcorn or carrots).
Sausage casserole. I’ve always made one pack of 8 sausages stretch to 4 people by cutting them up into chunks, feels like you get more sausage that way. Add an apple, carrots, onions & beans for a delicious frugal meal.
Bacon & potato onion pie. Cut the bacon into small strip onto thin layers of onion and potato slices. Add milk or stock for a sauce, grated cheese if you’ve got it (it’s fine if you don’t).
Macaroni and cheese. A cheese sauce can be made from flour, butter and milk then added cheese. If you’ve got macaroni then use it but any pasta shape will work – we are focusing on thrifty meals on a budget here so buying a special shaped pasta is not necessary today.
Baked potatoes. Add any leftovers, chili, tuna or cheese for a tasty cheap meal.
Tuna pasta mayo. This is my Grandkids favorite meal their Dad cooks. Simply cook any pasta shape for 12 mins, mix in a drained can of tuna and a big dollop of mayonnaise.
Hotdogs & mashed potatoes. Add canned veggies to make more healthy, swap to fries if preferred.
You may also like: Budget Grocery List: The Best Cheapest Foods For Tight Budgets
70+ More Thrifty meals on a budget
Meal planning is the mainstay of frugal living, a great way to save money and ensure you always have food in the house and meals to make.
Frugal meal plans focusing on budget recipes are no different, you’re just focusing more on cost instead of perhaps what the family usually have.
To start meal planning, check what you have in your cupboards. The more food you can use in your meal plan that you’ve already got, the more you save money, because the less actual cash you are going to have to spend.
It doesn’t matter if you are meal planning frugal meals for 1 or for a whole family, it’s about using what you already have, because you’ve already spent money on that food.
I’ve listed below food ideas for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Use these ideas, focusing on those that you have the ingredients for already.
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dirt cheap breakfast ideas
Breakfast tends to be a quick meal with few ingredients and one that you can make for pennies so breakfast lends itself to being dirt cheap even when it’s not a necessity.
Many people will happily eat the same thing for breakfast multiple days a week, make those meals dirt cheap and you’re saving money as soon as you get up.
Cereal with milk – kids can have this on a daily basis (go for generic to save money, store’s own brand cereal is often the cheapest cereal).
Oatmeal/porridge – keep it plain to save money and keep the cost down. A little milk and sugar makes this yummy. Go traditional Scottish and try it with salt as well as sugar!
Egg on toast. Fried, scrambled eggs or hard boiled.
Toast with peanut butter. Or jam, chocolate spread, marmalade or any other spread lurking in your cupboards.
Boiled egg and soldiers – cut the toast into strips (also known as dippy egg, kids love dunking the toast soldiers).
Toast and canned tomatoes – or canned sardines. (You won’t catch me having either of these but my husband is a fan).
French toast – also known as eggy bread, french toast in the UK is a savory dish without cinammon or nutmeg. Whisk an egg with a splash of milk, salt and pepper then dip the bread in the egg and coat both sides. Fry on a hot heat until golden brown. Trust me, it’s delicious!
Vegan banana pancakes – This contains only 4 simple ingredients, and it takes less than 15 minutes to make. These are quick and easy meals to make, my kind of cheap breakfast.
Muffins – easy to whisk up in minutes. Your basic mix is just flour, eggs, milk & baking powder. Add eggs, bacon or cheese for savory breakfast muffins.
Cheap lunch meal ideas
Toast pizza – Years ago DD1 and I had this a lot when she was young and I was struggling on my own. Save money by using toast as your pizza base, add anything you have in the fridge, top with cheese and place under the grill or in the oven to cook.
Sandwiches – tuna, grilled cheese, cheddar cheese, ham, peanut butter and jelly. Sandwich fillings can be anything you want them to be and anything you have lying around can be made into cheap meals to satisfy lunch cravings.
Homemade soup – my favorite winter lunch is homemade soup. Use lentils for protein and to fill you up. Anything lurking at the bottom of your fridge and leftovers can be thrown in. Add bread on hungry days. Try these meal ideas:
Creamy potato soup – This creamy potato soup is the perfect hearty meal for a chilly day.
Creamy vegetable soup – This creamy vegetable soup is made with odds and ends of leftover vegetables you have in your fridge. Less than $1 per serving. Vegetable soup is one of my favorite light winter soups.
Curried cauliflower soup – The most delicious curried cauliflower soup made of good-for-your-health vegetables and ready in 30 minutes.
Sausage kale soup with mushrooms – Simple and healthy kale soup is so easy to make and only needs a handful of ingredients.
Traditional Irish potato soup – Potato soup is warming and filling, especially when served with rustic whole wheat bread. And about as thrifty a meal as you can make.
Omelet/omelette – eggs are cheap protein and it’s so easy to make an omelet with your choice of veggies on the side.
Baked potatoes are perfect for lunch, a crispy one with some butter is yum. Top your baked potatoes with fillings such as tuna, cheese, beans, chili or anything leftovers lurking in that fridge of yours.
Pasta salad with cooked veggies. Another of those good cheap meals that is comfort food for cold days.
Beans on toast – I liven these up with a splash of hot pepper sauce – mmmmm, spicy beans!
Homemade spaghetti o’s – Homemade Spaghetti O’s (UK = loops) that are allergy-free, gluten-free, and vegan! A super easy dirt cheap lunch or frugal dinner to bring back childhood memories.
Egg gravy over toast – An old fashioned thrifty recipe born years ago out of the need to stretch meals and always use up excesses. Only 4 ingredients plus seasoning and quick to make.
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Cheap dinner suggestions
Dinner is the meal you look forward to most, even when you have no money cheap meals still need to satisfy your taste buds.
This list will help you with ideas on what to make for dinner when you’re poor. Poor in money does not mean you have to have dinners that are poor in taste.
And of course, any of the lunch (or even breakfast) ideas can be dinner if that’s what you have in your cupboards or what you fancy.
Cottage pie – How to cook a delicious cottage pie in the instant pot pressure cooker from scratch. Ideal for using up leftovers and easy to tweak to make a vegan or vegetarian cottage pie.
Homemade chicken pot pie. Pad out with cheap, seasonal veggies.
One pot sausage, white beans and kale – Combine flavorful sausage, rich canned tomatoes, white beans, fresh kale, and just a few herbs and spices and you’ll have this pantry-friendly cheap dinner on the table in under 30 minutes!
Budget Sloppy Joe Pasta – This uses pantry staples for a homemade mix that is a filling, budget-friendly twist on classic sloppy Joes.
Mince & potato stew with carrots and onions – heavy on the veggies, light on the ground beef/mince.
Leftover ham and potato hash – This easy recipe is a great way to use leftover ham. Make it in the crockpot/slow cooker for a super simple cheap dinner option, you can feed the family for about $.75 per serving.
Instant Pot Vegetable Beef Soup – This instant pot vegetable beef soup is the perfect healthy soup recipe. This one pot meal is packed with savory flavor and is ready in 30 minutes.
Easy meat lasagna – Lasagna combines so many ingredients that you can get for pennies if you choose the right brand or type. Make this even cheaper; stretch your ground beef mince by adding lentils and go easy on the shredded cheese.
Bangers & mash – instant pot style. Not only is instant pot bangers and mash delicious, but it is also so simple to cook for a quick weeknight family dinner.
Easy Ground Beef and Rice Skillet – An easy one pan recipe made with just a few simple ingredients and only costs around $6. A perfect budget friendly weeknight dinner to feed your family.
Smoked sausage, potatoes and veggies – This super easy sheet pan dinner is a cheap and easy meal. Prep the simple, budget-friendly ingredients in 15 minutes, pop it in the oven & relax.
Fried spaghetti and sausage meatballs – Delicious and very economical to make.
Instant pot frozen beef stew – A budget friendly, hearty, and delicious beef stew in your Instant Pot in under an hour, using frozen stew meat and fresh vegetables.
Breakfast for dinner. There’s something quite decadent about having breakfast for dinner. No healthy greens on the plate. A full English is actually way too much breakfast for me. Whereas having it as a breakfast for dinner meal? Yum!
Instant pot beer brats – An easy recipe for the best ever bratwurst simmered in butter and beer, yet made in your pressure cooker. If I’m feeling very broke I use normal sausages I picked up reduced price.
You may also like: 15 Cheap Ground Beef Recipes We All Love To Make
4 different cheap and frugal chili’s
Chili with dry beans and beef – This instant pot chili with dried beans is the perfect way to cook a traditional red kidney bean and beef chili.
Vegetarian chili – This bright and flavorful vegetarian chili recipe is packed full of nutritious vegetables, beans and spices for a meat-free take on a classic favorite. This healthy, hearty, irresistible chili is made with easy pantry staples so very budget friendly.
Chili fall budget meal – For meat loving fans like my husband you can’t beat a meaty chili. Stock up on ground beef when prices are low to make this meal cheaper.
Slow cooker vegan chili – This vegan chili is absolutely gorgeous and you totally do not miss the meat. Healthy cheap meals never tasted so good and using dried beans reduces the cost even further. I’m not a fan of yogurt with a bowl of chili so I miss that out and save a few more pennies.
cheap chicken recipes
Maple chicken and potato supper – Make a cheap cut of chicken and two kinds of potatoes into a family favorite with this one-pot cheap dinner.
One pot chicken and potatoes – Recipes with chicken thighs are great because you can get them pretty cheap. Add in some potatoes, onions, and carrots and you’ve got comfort food on a plate.
Instant pot chicken tortilla soup – Chicken, black beans, and stewed tomatoes come together quickly in this deliciously flavorful and slightly spicy tortilla soup.
3 ingredient crockpot chicken tacos – With just 3 ingredients for a complete meal and 5 minutes of prep, these easy and delicious chicken tacos are an absolute lifesaver on busy nights!
Chicken curry and rice.
Cheesy chicken quesadillas – These chicken quesadillas make the perfect budget-friendly week night meal.
Chicken veggies in peanut sauce.
Cajun smothered green beans and sausage – This recipe is absolutely fantastic for using up the glut of green beans we get every year from our allotment. Combined with reduced price sausages this is one of those cheap meals that can come in at under £1 for 2 people!
Noodles with chicken and vegetables.
Slow cooker chicken thighs, potatoes and carrots – Chicken thighs are one of the cheapest chicken cuts you can buy and cook. By cooking this in my slow cooker I can get away with just one thigh per person and bump up the potatoes.
One-Pan Chicken Legs with Chickpeas and Quinoa – Chicken legs are one of my favorite cheap meats you can buy. Turn it into a beautiful flavorful, naturally sweet dish with chickpeas and a couple of spices.
Chicken fried rice.
Easy pizza chicken recipe – This yummy cheap dinner is low carb but super tasty and so easy to prep. The meal is nicely filling with the high protein content yet still a pretty darn cheap meal to make. Especially if you use frozen chicken breast and ordinary cheddar rather than specialty cheese or mozzarella.
For even more chicken dinner ideas check out my post on cheap chicken dinners.
Vegan & Vegetarian thrifty meals for every budget
Mexican red bean casserole – budget friendly, vegetarian and packed full of protein.
Beans and rice. Can’t get much more cheap and frugal than this, add chili flakes and spices to pep it up.
One-pan broccoli mac and cheese – This is a quick dinner/easy meal of mac & cheese with frozen broccoli tossed in, perfect for late dinners and lazy days.
Vegan burrito bowls – You need just 6 ingredients and 20 minutes to put together this inexpensive & totally delicious feast!
Spaghetti with canned tomatoes (or homemade sauce), herbs and shredded cheese sprinkled on top
Veggie pasta with red lentils and ginger – Fast, inexpensive and tasty, all that you want in a weekday supper. Easy to whip up when you have most of the ingredients on hand.
Coconut milk chili with sweet potato and chickpeas – This is packed with nutrients from sweet potatoes, chickpeas, lentils, peppers, and corn. You probably have most of these ingredients in your pantry so an almost free or dirt cheap dinner.
Vegan lentil bolognese sauce – This vegan lentil bolognese sauce is hearty, nutritious, and only takes 25 minutes to cook. It’s also on of those cheap and easy meals you can make that freezes well.
Greek pasta with yogurt – Garlic and yogurt are budget friendly and easy to make. Just a few simple ingredients.
Homemade pizza. Make your own pizza dough, add shredded cheese and whatever toppings you have in the fridge or pantry. Homemade pizza is always a hit with kids, whatever their age.
Vegetable fried rice – An easy, budget friendly fried rice using leftover rice and frozen veggies.
Bean and rice burritos – Beans and rice burritos are a quick and easy protein packed meal using common pantry staples.
Bucatini Cacio e Pepe (Spaghetti, Cheese, and Pepper) – This simple, yet delicious Italian pasta recipe takes approximately 20 minutes and $5 to prepare.
30-Minute Vegan Chickpeas and Spinach Curry – This vegan chickpea and spinach curry only takes half an hour to make and it will only cost you under $5. That’s a super cheap meal!
Cauliflower & broccoli cheese bake.
Slow cooker potato cheddar soup – Sometimes having soup as your main meal, coupled with some crusty bread is just enough. With the added bonus of being a dirt cheap meal. I tend to forgo the sour cream and this helps make the soup meal super cheap.
3 ingredient baked ziti – This should be one of your go to extremely frugal meals for when you are feeling the pinch. Pasta, tomato sauce and cheese, pop in the oven and you have one tasty cheap meal for literally pennies, perfect for when you’re feeling broke.
Veggie curry & rice.
Southern fried salmon patties – This recipe only takes minutes to prepare. Salmon patties are a very inexpensive recipe using canned salmon and very few ingredients.
Tuna noodle casserole – Here in the UK I would know this recipe as tuna pasta not noodle. But hey, I’m not complaining because tuna pasta is one of my favs! For added crunch I crush up crisps, add cheese and bake in the oven for 10 minutes – delish!
Easy Canned Salmon Impossible Pie – This quick and easy salmon pie is made with tinned salmon so budget friendly yet satisfying and filling.
Want more vegan options? Check out my post on easy cheap vegan recipes.
healthy cheap meals
Dirt cheap meals are among some of the healthiest in my book. Less expensive meat and more of the cheaper foods like veggies and whole grains.
You don’t have to spend hundreds to eat healthily, choose frugal healthy meals for the whole family, ones that are cheap to make and delicious to eat.
Save money this month and next by focusing on these frugal family meals. With 80+ meal ideas to choose from, there are enough for you to meal plan for the whole month!
For more help in reducing your grocery spending join the 7 day grocery budget challenge.
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Last Updated on 13th September 2021 by Emma