When you’re halfway through the month and you’ve already spent all of the money in your food budget, you need some cheap meals to get you through and fill your family’s bellies! Here are 14 cheap meals for families to make when you’re at the end of your budget.
Cheap Meals to Make
We’ve all been there: You get to the middle of the month (or maybe not even that far!) and your grocery budget is gone. You frantically look through grocery receipts from the month and wonder how it went so fast. Because surely your cash must have just fallen out of your pocket the last time you were at the store! Sadly, it’s true; Your budget for the month has been used up and there isn’t anything else left to spare.
But, of course, you still have to feed your family! It’s times like these that I’m thankful that we know to keep a hearty pantry stockpile on hand at all times because you never know when you might need to use it.
When that time hits, you’ll want to have this post on hand for cheap meal ideas.
The cheap meals that follow are frugal, use many pantry staples you probably already have on hand, and could save you from having to spend more on groceries anytime you’re stretched too thin.
* Please make sure to scan the comments section for more ideas or add your own cheap and frugal meal suggestions!
14 Cheap Meals to Make With Pantry Staples
Homemade pancakes alone can make a filling supper, however, you can always add extras to make a well-rounded meal! Top with Homemade Pancake Syrup, berries or cooked fruits if you have some on hand or in the freezer and add a side to bulk up the meal and make it stretch further. We like to use home canned peaches, blueberries, or other canned fruits because we almost always have these in the pantry from last year.
I love making a whole cooked chicken because you can use every part…all of the meat and then use the carcass to make broth for soups or other things (even things like Homemade Soy Sauce!). Or use the leftover meat to make one of these 7 Simple Chicken Dinner Recipes for $7 Or Less.
I’ve also stuffed a whole chicken with garlic, lemon, some salt and pepper, and placed it in a dish with a little white grape juice and then baked it until cooked through. It’s so good and usually lasts us for a couple of meals!
This veggie soup is one of my personal favorites (although my husband isn’t a fan of soup so I don’t make it as often as I’d like). Use the carcass from your whole chicken to make broth and toss in any veggies that you have on hand. Add in some herbs and spices and you’ve got a soup! If you have leftover chicken or any kind of meat, toss it in too. Otherwise, just stick to the veggies. You’ll still get protein from the bone broth so the meat isn’t really necessary.
If you have leftover chicken, this Roasted Veggie Soup is one of my favorites. If you’d rather make something with beans (another frugal pantry staple!) this Bean with Bacon Soup is always a hearty, satisfying hit.
For a kid-friendly frugal meal, Mac & Cheese is always a crowd pleaser! You can make your own with the recipe above using just 3 ingredients or you can make something with a little more richness and depth like this Baked Mac and Cheese dish.
If possible, try and buy cheese in 5lb blocks, shred it, and freeze it for later. This will be much less expensive per pound than the smaller bags of shredded cheese at the store and even the smaller blocks unless you find a super sale.
5. Anything made with Home Canned Beans!
I love my home canned beans! They take dried beans and make them easy to prepare and serve. For a full list of meals using canned beans, check out this post: Recipes Using Canned Beans.
Of course, you can use store-bought canned beans for these recipes but home canned beans are even less expensive since they are made with dried beans which tend to be cheaper per pound. Here’s another post of mine on Cooking Dried Beans.
6. Tacos with Homemade Tortillas
The only thing more frugal and filling than homemade tacos is making them with homemade tortillas! Gluten free? You can still enjoy a frugal taco supper by making Homemade Corn Tortillas or Homemade Gluten-Free Tortillas. As of the last time I checked, store-bought gluten free tortillas were $6 for a pack of 6 so you can definitely save a lot of money by making your own!
You could also use any of these homemade tortilla options to make various kinds of wraps based on what other fillings you have in your fridge if you don’t have typical taco fillings. Or use them to make enchiladas with homemade Enchilada Sauce.
This is such an inexpensive lasagna to make since you only use what you have on hand! Don’t have the pasta? You can make it with just veggies instead! Layer whatever veggies you have on hand or slice rounds or zucchini and use in place of noodles.
Looking for a frugal spin on a traditional lasagna? Learn How to Make Ricotta Cheese from milk and vinegar and use in place of store-bought ricotta in your lasagna.
This was a frugal staple that my mom always used to make when I was growing up. It’s so easy to prepare and you can use any pasta that you have on hand! This recipe works great with canned, fresh, or home-canned tomatoes depending on what you have on hand. My kids absolutely love it when I make this recipe, they don’t care how frugal it is!
Looking for something a little different? Try this Cheesy Goulash Recipe instead.
Skip the expensive store-bought hashbrowns and make your own for this frugal casserole dish! This one also calls for homemade sausage so you can save there as well. This casserole is another hearty meal that takes a few simple ingredients and makes them stretch to easily fill everyone’s bellies and maybe even have some leftovers!
If it’s summertime and you have a lot of veggies in your garden, this squash bake is a good meal to make. You can add in sliced potatoes and tomatoes and onions too if you have them on hand.
11. BBQ Drumsticks (made with homemade BBQ Sauce)
Drumsticks are a good source of frugal meat, especially if you have someone in your household that doesn’t consider it a meal unless there’s meat on the plate! In addition to the recipe above you could also fry the drumsticks with some garlic salt or I’ve also fried them with a few of my Homemade Sun-Dried Tomatoes for a flavorful main dish.
I already mentioned using whole, home-canned beans to build a frugal meal and make your food (and money) stretch. Just as frugal (and tasty!) are homemade refried beans! Use them in homemade tortillas to make bean burritos or simply top with some cheese and veggies or a little ground beef if you’ve got some to make a frugal but filling meal in a bowl.
This is another easy meal to put together and I love this one because you can make it in advance and freeze them, which makes them great to grab and go on busy days. Or, instead of breakfast burritos, make these Freezer Breakfast Sandwiches with homemade Buttermilk Biscuits instead!
Use up your old stale bread (or make your own Homemade Bread or Homemade Gluten Free Bread) to make this make-ahead French toast casserole. Serve alone with some fruit, syrup or jam on top or serve with homemade sausage patties.
More Tips & Recipe Ideas to Help Stretch Your Food Budget
There are so many ways to stretch your meals (and your food budget!) Some require a little more creativity, but most of them are simple and straight-forward and super flexible, meaning you can make do with whatever you already have on hand.
For example, in the summer when the garden is in full swing, there are tons of meals you can make using garden produce.
Of course, during those lean times, it’s also important to skip expensive store-bought products like condiments and other pre-packaged items. We have a big list of Make Your Own recipes you can check out for cheap alternatives!
This has been a huge money saver in our home. Last year I was able to get a bunch of tomatoes for very cheap and I made enough homemade ketchup to last for an entire year. Since my kids go through so much ketchup, it’s been a big money saver!
More Cheap Meals to Make
Of course, what better way to find cheap meal ideas than to ask our community! A while ago, I asked on our Facebook page for you to share your favorite cheap meals to eat when your budget is stretched. Here are some frugal meal ideas from you, our readers!
- Mini Ground Turkey Meatloaves, made in muffin tins so extras can be frozen for later. – Patricia S.
- Pinto Beans and Rice. – Robin C.
- Beans and Cornbread. – Julie S.
- Chili (to be used for taco meat, chili dogs, etc). – Karen B.
- Cabbage Casserole (Cabbage cut into small bite size pieces add cooked hamburger (or not), salt, and pepper to taste, then add tomato soup. Cook at 350 for 20-30 minutes). – Betty W.
- Navy Beans, fried potatoes, and cornbread. – Mary Beth W.
- Biscuits and Gravy or Toast and Gravy. – Mary J.
- Pasta with steamed veggies and butter. – Barbara P.
- Grits and Cheese with eggs on top. – Cindy A.
- Grilled Cheese and Tomato Soup. – BethAnn H.
- Lentil Soup. – Kate J.
- Pork Noodle Soup (Uses one pork chop (plus the bone), a handful of vegetables, soy sauce, a handful of noodles, salt and pepper to taste.) – Kathleen M.
- Tuna Melts – Faith F.
- Scrambled Egg Skillet (With almost anything tossed in: left over veggies, meat, whatever little bit of cheese you might have left, potatoes. Add salsa or hot sauce to jazz it up.) – Tammy M.
- Poorman’s Dinner (A package of hot dogs pan fried up with potatoes and onions and a can of green beans …served with baked beans if you have them.) – Catherine R.
- Sweet potatoes and steamed seasoned veggies – Kristine M.
- Gumbo with red beans and rice. – Annette W.
(You can read even more suggestions, over 300 of them, here on our Facebook page.)
What are some of your favorite meals to make for yourself or your family when the budget is stretched thin? Share them with us and add to the ever-growing list!