The Cheapest Meals to Make on an Incredibly Tight Budget

This post may contain affiliate links. Read our disclosure policy here.

Looking for some incredibly cheap meals to make for your family? In the list below you will find the cheapest meals to make. These meals below will be perfect if you need to stretch your budget as far as possible right now.

Looking for some incredibly cheap meals to make for your family? The meals below will be perfect if you need to stretch your budget as far as possible right now.

I’ve previously written a post on 14 Cheap Meals to Make at the End of Your Budget so be sure and hop over there as well for even more ideas. This list is a little different as these recipes are more for those super-extra lean times when you just need the cheapest meals to fill your belly.

When you are grocery shopping, be sure to watch each store’s perks, coupons, or discounts to see if you can make your purchase stretch further. I have a full post on 12 Ways to Save at the Grocery Store here.

Be sure to add to the community by leaving a comment with your cheapest meals to make!


What Are the Cheapest Vegetables That You Can Buy?

Some vegetables like potatoes, celery, lettuce, and carrots will almost always be the cheapest vegetables to buy.

I did an entire post, recently comparing the prices of vegetables and found the Most Frugal Vegetables that you can buy. This list can help you plan out what to buy when you are grocery shopping to stretch your money as far as it will go.

Being able to grow your own vegetables at home would save even more. Produce can be a very expensive part of your grocery bill but it’s important to make sure that you are getting enough vitamins and minerals in your diet.


What Are the Cheapest Fruits You Can Buy?

Fruit is always going to be more expensive than vegetables, but here are a few fruits that you can buy to go with your meals that are usually the cheapest at the grocery store.

  • Apples
  • Bananas
  • Oranges
  • Lemons
  • Limes
Grocery Store

Cheap Grocery List

This is not a full list, but a good starter list of some of the cheapest yet most filling foods you can buy at the store. When making your grocery list to make the cheapest meals, consider the items on this list. If you already have a few things in your pantry, try and find creative ways to use those items as well so you don’t have to spend so much at the store.

  • White Rice or Brown Rice (usually the cheapest whole grain)
  • Dried Beans (beans, lentils, chickpeas, etc for protein and fiber)
  • Ground Turkey (typically one of the cheapest ground meats if you want a meat source for protein)
  • Pasta
  • Eggs (depending on the current economic situation)
  • Canned Tomatoes or Canned Vegetables (these can be cheaper that fresh and easier to prepare)
  • Salt and Pepper
  • Potatoes
  • Onions
  • Whole Chicken (if you want meat, this will be the cheapest cut of chicken at the store)

What Are the Cheapest Meals to Make?

Below you will find the best list of the cheapest meals to make. Why is this list the best? Because all of the recipes or ideas here are super easy to throw together! All of the cost estimates are based on prices at Walmart since most people have a Walmart within an hour or two of their home.

Loaded Potato with Beans

Loaded Baked Potatoes

Loaded Baked Potatoes make a great meal because potatoes are almost always cheap and you can top them with whatever you have on hand, even if it’s just a bit of butter and salt. We personally like to top potatoes with Home Canned Beans (pinto beans or black beans work best) and then a little cheese and sour cream if we have them on hand. You could do loaded sweet potatoes as well, although they may cost a little more.

Estimated Cost Per Serving: $0.50

($0.22 per average sized russet potato + added cost of a few toppings)

Canned Beans Recipes

Loaded Bean Bowls

These are so incredibly simple but filling! Warm up a can of your favorite beans on the stove or in the microwave (drain first if they are store-bought, we use Home Canned Pinto Beans). Place them in a bowl and top with cheese (let it melt!) and a little sour cream.

Find more super cheap Recipes with Home Canned Beans here.

Estimated Cost Per Serving: $0.69

(Cost includes canned beans, cheese, and sour cream. Cost would be less if you use dried or home canned beans.)

Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwich

Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwiches

Sandwiches are a great old standby for a super simple and very cheap recipe. With the cost of meat going up, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches are currently the cheapest kind of sandwich that you can make. You might even be able to make them cheaper with homemade bread and homemade jelly. We love a good PB&J in our home for quick lunches on the go and as long as I switch up the flavors of jelly, the kids don’t seem to complain!

Estimated Cost Per Serving: $0.25

(This cost uses the cheapest bread available at $1 a loaf + the cost of store-bought peanut butter and jelly.)



Goulash is one of our family’s staple meals on my Frugal Go-To meal list. Although it contains ground beef, you could always leave that out if you can’t afford it or splurge to make the meat version. (You could also use ground turkey or even ground pork if one of those is cheaper.) This is a tasty, easy-to-make meal that the whole family can love, and we almost always have leftovers because we make such a big batch.

Estimated Cost Per Serving: $0.68 (no meat) $1.78 (with meat)

(Cost based on store-bought canned tomatoes and plain pasta. Could be cheaper with home-canned tomatoes and home-raised beef.)

Egg Drop Soup

Egg Drop Soup

Nothing beats a cold winter day like a warm soup. This is a great cheap recipe that could be super, super cheap if you happen to raise your own chickens. But for those of you that don’t, I’ll include the price from the store below. This can also be a good side dish.

To make egg drop soup, all you need to do is heat up chicken broth, add in some garlic and salt for flavor. Then beat a few eggs in a bowl and slowly add them into the hot liquid, stirring constantly. You can top your soup with some green onions if you have them.

Estimated Cost per Serving: $1

(If you raise chickens and have a garden, this soup could almost be free except for the cost of chicken feed! It could also be cheaper to make your own homemade chicken broth from leftover chicken carcasses.)



Oatmeal is the great frugal breakfast! The best part about it is that the add-in ideas to flavor it can be endless! If you want more of a grab-and-go type of oatmeal breakfast that the kids can make themselves, you can make Homemade Instant Oatmeal Packets.

Another money saving tip for making oatmeal is that you can just make it with water instead of milk. We do this all the time because most of us are dairy-free. Once you add in a few spices or flavors, you’d never know, the texture is the same!

Estimated Cost per Serving: $0.13

(Cost based on plain oatmeal with nothing added in, add-ins will add a little to the cost but not much unless you are getting fancy.)

Stir Fry

Stir Fry

We love a good stir fry in our home and we never go off of a recipe. It always has a base of rice or noodles and then we stir fry any veggies we have on hand and whatever meat I pull out of the freezer. It’s a great way to use less meat and pack in more veggies without anyone realizing it. For a seasoning, you can simply use soy sauce or coconut aminos or you can make something homemade like my Teriyaki Sauce.

Estimated Cost Per Serving: $2.37 

(Cost based on a broccoli and chicken with rice stir fry. Would be less expensive without the meat.)

Scrambled Eggs

Scrambled Eggs or Omelets

This is another “recipe” where if you have chickens, all you need to pay is the cost of feed and this can be very cheap! You can make plain scrambled eggs for any meal of the day. You can also add in things like chopped veggies, salsa, or herbs to make them feel a little more special. Omelets are a go-to breakfast in our home. We use 2 eggs per person and toss in any chopped veggies or leftover meat we have in the fridge or from the garden.

Estimated Cost Per Serving: $0.45

(Cost based on 2 eggs per person/omelet. Cost will go up slightly for add-ins but can still be very cheap if you use leftover scraps from other meals.)

quick spaghetti sauce

Basic Pasta

A basic spaghetti pasta meal would be similar to the Goulash recipe posted above but with a slightly different flavor (and faster to make). You can use my Quick Spaghetti Sauce recipe without the meat for a homemade pasta sauce. (Works especially good if you have some tomatoes in your garden!) Otherwise, you can make a very fast recipe by cooking up your pasta and adding a store-bought spaghetti sauce.

Estimated Cost Per Serving: $0.60

(Cost based on plain spaghetti + store-bought jarred sauce.)

Mac and CHeese Homemade

Mac and Cheese

Depending on the price of cheese in your area, this recipe might be a little more expensive but it still doesn’t include the most expensive thing which right now is meat. I’m going to use my Homemade 3 Ingredient Mac and Cheese as the cost example because it’s just so yummy! You might be able to get boxed mac and cheese on sale for cheaper if that’s something your family will eat.

Estimated Cost Per Serving: $0.72

(Cost is based off my homemade recipe…it has cream…it’s worth it!)



Like some of the other “breakfasts” on this list, pancakes can be made for a meal any time of day. The cheapest way to make pancakes is with a homemade pancake mix. We make pancakes at least once a week at home and usually top them with some kind of home-canned fruit.

Pancakes can also make a great snack. Just make extras and freeze them to pull out when you need them.

Estimated Cost Per Serving: $0.46

(Cost with homemade pancake mix. The cost may vary based on your mix price and if you add any toppings.)

Grilled Cheese Sandwich

Grilled Cheese Sandwich

Another classic sandwich and even though this one contains cheese, it’s not a huge amount so the sandwich is still super cheap to make. For a little fuller meal, we like to serve this with Homemade Canned Tomato Soup. You can also make homemade bread.

Estimated Cost Per Serving: $0.20

(Using the cheapest bread from the store and sliced cheese.)


Even More Cheap and Quick Meal Ideas

I asked the Little House Living readers what their go-to quick and super cheap meals in their homes were. I wanted to share these with you as well so you can have a larger variety to choose from!

Noodles and home-canned beef. – Joanne S.

Tuna and noodles with cheese. – Janet D.

Swedish Meatballs in gravy over mashed potatoes, rice, or noodles. – Katrina R.

“Clean out the fridge” Veggie Soup – Mary L.

Sloppy Joes! I make a double batch and freeze leftovers into individual “pucks” in a cupcake tin. – Dawnette T.

Beef and barley skillet. – Johanna S.

Easy white chicken lasagna soup with bow tie pasta. Boil several chicken breasts in broth. Add 2 large carrots sliced 1 med. – large onion 2 large hand fulls of spinach 1 if you don’t care for it add 1 box bow tie pasta, After your pasta is tender chop up 1ea. 8 oz. Block of cream cheese, 1/2 stick of butter, 1 cup mozzarella cheese, 1 cup heavy cream allow to thicken and come together, Oh so good with French or Italian bread. Add a small side salad your world is complete…especially when it’s cold and snowing. – Jo Dee B.

Stovetop Cassoulet with Italian sausage, white kidney beans, onion, celery, carrots, and tomatoes. – Nancy G.

Fried potatoes and onions with white beans and spinach. – Kim S.

Hamburger and gravy over toast, egg sammies, hamburger patties browned then cooked more in stewed tomatoes served with plain rice and spinach. – Michelle O.

Bacon-wrapped meatballs…under the broiler Or – A bag of stuffing, 1 lb of ground beef, 1/2 c bbq sauce. Mix it up. Form mini meatloaves. They actually make a decent microwaved meatloaf. – Genelle H.

We eat a lot of tacos made from whatever leftovers we have. Chef salad with bread. Hash with eggs. Grilled cheese, BLTs. – Deborah D.

Sausage and mash. Toad in the hole. – Victoria J.

Cook ground beef and drain! Then bring water to a boil and mix in McCormick’s mushroom and onion gravy reduce and simmer until gravy has thickened! Once the gravy has thickened, pour the gravy over the cooked ground chuck and simmer for 10 minutes! Finally, make your instant mash potatoes and pour the ground chuck over the potatoes! Yummy! – Robin S.

Baked chicken and roasted veggies, just pop a pan in the oven for 30 minutes after seasoning and drizzling in olive oil. – Ashley G.

Homemade hamburger helper is quick and easy. – Lori Ann B.

This sounds so simple and crazy but my husband loves loves loves it: cut up a green cabbage into bite-sized pieces or a little larger and a large onion and add a tablespoon full (or to desired taste) of minced garlic from a jar. Boil to desired tenderness. Fry a 96% lean or very lean pound of ground beef. Add in the meat and some V-8 juice then whatever other veggies you like if you want (carrots are good) Season with Himalayan salt or regular salt, pepper, whatever you like. I also like to add the Trader Joe’s Umami (mushroom) spice but feel free to omit. – Melissa L.

Mix bread crumbs, shredded parmesan cheese, salt and pepper. Dip chicken in preferred liquid (milk, water or egg). Coat with flour mixture. Place in foil-lined the baking dish. Pour half a cube of melted butter (a whole cube is the best) over the chicken. Sprinkle any leftover flour mix on chicken. Bake at 400 for about 20min or until the thickest part reaches 165 degrees. – Melissa M.

Cheese fondue. I got this from a Cookbook for Two from when I got married 48 years ago. I can’t remember if it was Betty Crocker or Better Homes & Gardens. It uses a lot of “this and that’ and can be stretched to feed any number. It starts with cheddar cheese soup and cheddar or Swiss cheese. You can add wine, beer, or apple juice. If I have onions or scallions, I add a little of that. You might want to add a very little hot sauce to give a subtle kick. – Claudia.


Cookbooks for Cheap Meals

If you are looking for a few cookbooks to add to your collection that features cheap and frugal meals, here are some that I would recommend:

Meal Planning Service

Where to Find More Frugal Meal Ideas

Although ground beef has gone way up in price, if you have some available for you to use, you may also want to check out these Frugal Ground Beef recipes.

You may also want to read my list of Meals for Under $1. While the list is a little outdated for pricing, there are still some great ideas on there if you need even more.

If you are looking for still more, you can check out my Frugal Go-To recipes here. They aren’t always the cheapest possible but they are things that my family doesn’t mind eating when we want/need to!

What are your super cheap meals that your family loves?

Did you enjoy this article and find it helpful? Share it with your friends on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, and through Email using the sharing buttons!

Me and Kady

Merissa has been blogging about and living the simple life since 2009 and has internationally published 2 books on the topic. You can read about Merissa’s journey from penniless to the 100-acre farm and ministry on the About Page. You can send her a message any time from the Contact Page.

This article on the Cheapest Meals was originally posted on Little House Living in September 2022. It has been updated as of March 2023.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Support Little House Living by Sharing This

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


  1. Chicken broth and homemade dumplings, soup style. Boil broth. Mix flour and eggs. Roll and cut and drop into boiling broth. Add veggies as you have them. Put in mason jars and freeze and reheat in crockpot

  2. My 5 sons made me learn to cook with economy. One favorite recipe is from the Frugal Gourmet, Jeff Smith.
    Cuban Black bean soup. To a bag of black beans (around $1) I add celery, onion, garlic., green pepper, salt, pepper, cumin.
    Serve with sour cream and chopped tomatoes and shredded cheese and cilantro. Serve with corn bread for a complete protein.
    Next meal off left overs are burritioes or nachos!

  3. Fried potatoes with cut up hot dogs was my kids favorite growing up! You can add onion, use smoked sausage, add veggies, so many ways to ‘change it up’!

  4. French toast with bread that is getting dry.

    Bread pudding

    Ramen noodles, 1/2 of seasoning package, leftover or frozen vegetables. Add in a little leftover meat, or an egg, or drain much of the broth for something else and melt in a slice of American cheese.

  5. I think it’s important to avoid most canned beans, sauces and soups as there is always added sugar. Since I have to eat a gluten-free & dairy-free diet, I can’t rely on the cheapest boxes of pasta, etc. so I look for sales and buy beans, rice and other foods in bulk when I can. May all beings be healthy and have nutritious food to eat.

  6. White beans, kale/spinach/greens and half a kielbasa /sausage soup in a chicken broth base served with a biscuit.

    Frittata with bit of cheese and any veggie combo you have on hand with a bit of fruit

    Use up leftovers in a new dish-

  7. Simple sammy includes, bread and ripe tomatoes:
    Toast two pieces of bread, then butter and add some mayonaisse. Slice a ripe tomato, and add slices to toast. Salt and pepper. Top with second piece of toast. Really delicious and inexpensive especially if you have a garden and grow your own fabulous tasting tomatoes.

    1. Tomato sandwiches are so good. We stopped at the Amish market last Friday and picked up tomatoes and corn on the cob.

  8. Smashed or refried beans seasoned with taco seasoning is excellent for bean and cheese burritos. My kids ate them by the platter full!

  9. My kids SWEAR by cheesy rice burritos. Cook whatever rice is on hand, melt some cheese into it, roll into burritos. Add veggies whenever the occasion calls for it. We also love crushing up generic tortilla chips or corn chips and topping the cheesy rice mix with them before rolling into burritos.

    We also do quick cheese quesadillas as a snack or meal fairly often. Colby Jack freezes well so we buy shredded bags of it on sale and use when needed.

  10. My frugal tip for eating healthy while also saving money is to use the meat but use 1/2 of what you’d normally use. For instance, 1lb ground beef can be used for making a soup/ chili and the other half of the meat can be used for spaghetti.

  11. Hi Merissa:
    One thing that I got into when my kids were younger and the food budget was extremely tight was what I called the carry over system. For example I would cook up a big bunch of ground beef that I hopefully managed to buy on sale, and maybe have sloppy joes (cooked ground beef mixed with tomato sauce and topped with melted cheese served on a hamburger bun) one night and any left over meat would be made into spaghetti or a beef tomato casserole the next. Occasionally there would still be a bit of meat left over and it would get made into chili for the third night. I’d do a similar thing with chicken. I’d buy a whole chicken on sale and would either cook the whole thing and eat the main meal the first night, casserole it the second and either make soup or chicken salad sandwiches for the third meal. I’m sure many others have followed a similar system.