Quick and cheap meals are perfect for families trying to get out of debt or get ahead on little income. If you’re in debt or living paycheck to paycheck, the easiest way to cut back and save more money always starts at home. And for the most part, many families struggle with creating tasty meals on a budget.
That’s why cheap family meals are so important. It’s easy to stay prepared when you have a list of go-to meal ideas that you can put on your shopping list. It helps you reduce food costs so you can reach other financial goals.
But first, just in case any of you prefer to opt out of meal planning altogether, you still have options. There’s a solution for you too and I want to share it with you before we get into these twenty-three quick and cheap meals ideas, okay?
If meal planning isn’t your thing, thankfully, there is a service that does it for you. I’ve tried it before and I was able to gather up a collection of inexpensive dinner ideas. It’s called $5 Meal Plan.
This service is awesome because they help you save time and money by emailing your meal plans to you every Friday. It also comes complete with a grocery shopping list and recipes for each meal. You can try $5 Meal Plan for FREE the first 14-days, but after that, it’s only $5 per month.
Now, for those of you who prefer taking on the task of meal planning for yourself, this list of quick and cheap meal ideas won’t disappoint. Best of all, none of them require a lot of time or fancy ingredients. Matter of fact, quite a few of them come from the Dollar Tree.
PLUS: Here’s a freebie for you…sign up to get a FREE Instapot Meal Plan complete with 4 videos and PDF downloads to help you create instant, delicious, last-minute dinners that are quick and cheap in your Instapot. Go sign up now!
23 Quick and Cheap Meals (These Will Make Your Budget Happy!)
I’ve rounded up some budget meal ideas that shouldn’t cost you more than approximately $6.00 per meal. Servings per person will be significantly lower than this amount.
The cost of items is based on my local cost from three stores — Aldi, Publix, and the Dollar Tree. The Dollar Tree is included because I was interested in seeing if you could make a complete quick and cheap meal using items from their store.
Aldi is included because it’s my primary store. I typically go to Walmart or Publix for things Aldi may not have. All of these items are based on my receipts and a quick walk through at my local Dollar Tree. Therefore, costs in your area may vary.
Also, these totals do not include pantry items like seasonings, ketchup, mayo, or olive oil. So, if you don’t have these items to use in your meals, the initial costs will be higher.
A lot of these ideas are meals I throw together for my family. After researching items available at the Dollar Tree, I discovered their website has some great recipes that you can sign up to access. I’ve included those on this list as well.
Many of these family budget meal ideas have links to recipes I personally use or ones that are similar to how I prepare these dishes. I’m sure you’ll find more than a few of these quick and cheap meals ideas worth adding to your weekly meal plan.
Related Reading: 15 Insanely Delicious Midweek Meals on a Budget
Lentil Spaghetti served with a side salad
Ingredients I used to prepare this meal include:
- Lentils ($2.29 for 15 oz bag at Publix, 13 servings): Substitute about ¾ cups of uncooked lentils for a pound of ground beef and don’t use too much water and don’t overcook so they won’t be mushy
- Spaghetti Sauce ($1.19 at Aldi or $1 at Dollar Tree)
- 1 box Spaghetti ($1.09 at Aldi or $1 at Dollar Tree)
- Green leaf lettuce ($1.19 at Aldi)
- Dressing of choice ($1.19 at Aldi or $1.00 at Dollar Tree)
- Optional: chopped peppers ($2.49 for 3 at Aldi or carrots ($.99 for 1 bag at Aldi) for extra nutrition
Prepare the spaghetti as you normally would. Cook the lentils according to the package. However, don’t overcook them or add too much water. You don’t want them to be mushy. They should still be firm.
Once the lentils are done, saute chopped pepper and some onions in a separate pan. Add the lentils to the vegetables. Finally, stir in a jar of marinara sauce. Season with garlic powder, salt, and pepper.
Serve over spaghetti with a side of green salad.
Quick and Easy Veggie Soup served with a side of garlic bread
Ingredients I used to prepare this quick and cheap meal include:
- Vegetable broth ($1.39 at Aldi)
- 1 onion ($1.19 for 1 lb bag at Aldi)
- Frozen Vegetables ($.99 at Dollar Tree)
- Celery ($1.19 at Publix)
- Carrots ($.99 for 1 bag Aldi)
- Garlic ($.79 for 4 bulbs at Aldi)
- French bread (add butter and garlic salt) or Garlic Bread ($.99 at Aldi)
Here is a quick and easy veggie soup recipe similar to the way I prepare mine.
Refried beans served with homemade yellow rice and frozen mixed vegetables
Ingredients I used to create this budget meal idea include:
- 1 can of refried beans ($.75 at Aldi)
- Brown rice ($2.99 at Aldi or 2 lb bag of white rice at Dollar Tree for $1)
- 1 bag of frozen vegetables ($.99 at Dollar Tree)
Warm up the refried beans in a pan (I like to add a little of almond milk to smooth out the texture). Prepare rice as instructed, but add turmeric for color and other preferred seasonings to water.
Serve refried beans on top of rice with a side of cooked vegetables.
Crockpot pinto beans served over rice or cornbread
Ingredients I used to prepare this cheap easy meal include:
- 1 bag of dry pinto beans ($1.00 at Dollar Tree for 1.5 lb bag that prepares 19 servings, Aldi has a bigger bag at a slightly higher price)
- Medium onion ($1.19 for bag at Aldi)
- 1 cup of rice ($2.99 Aldi) OR
- 1 box of cornbread mix or (make your own from scratch) ($.99 Dollar Tree)
Prepare pinto beans according to instructions. You can use seasonings that come in the bag or a mix of your own. I prefer my own seasonings to reduce sodium content. I also like to add onions to taste too.
Lentil Loaf served with mashed potatoes and a green vegetable
Ingredients I used to fix this quick and cheap meal:
- 1 cup of lentils ($2.29 Publix)
- 2 cups of rice ($2.29 Aldi)
- Garlic ($.79 for 4 at Aldi)
- Onions ($1.19 for 1 lb bag at Aldi)
- Butter (I use vegan butter which is $3.99 at Publix)
- Sage and Italian seasonings
- 3 to 4 whole potatoes (1 bag of gold potatoes at Aldi is $2.39)
Boil potatoes and mash with vegan butter (or regular) and dairy or plant-based milk. Season mashed potatoes with salt and pepper.
To prepare the lentil loaf, I boil the lentils and rice as instructed. Once those are cooked, I mix those with all the other ingredients that you normally would use to make a meatloaf.
I find this lentil loaf recipe to be quick, easy, and tasty. It includes all the previously listed ingredients.
Refried bean taquitos with homemade chipotle sauce, served with a side salad
Ingredients used to prepare this family budget meal:
- 1 can of refried beans ($.75)
- Corn or flour tortillas ($.99 for ten)
- Sauce (vegan mayo or regular mayo, adobe chipotle, lime, garlic powder, cumin)
- Bagged salad ($.99 Aldi) or green leaf lettuce ($1.19 Aldi)
To prepare the taquitos, simply put refried beans on the center of a tortilla. Roll the tortillas and pop them in the oven until they are golden brown. This usually takes 15 to 20 minutes.
For the sauce, add some vegan (or regular) mayo, 1 adobe chipotle, 3 tablespoons of lime, ½ tsp of cumin and ½ tsp of garlic to a food processor. Blend until smooth. Use as a dipping sauce or pour over taquitos. (FYI: My kids think this sauce is spicy, so your kiddos may prefer salsa).
You can also substitute the vegan mayo for vegan yogurt or regular dairy yogurt. I just used mayo because I didn’t want to buy any additional ingredients. Serve this meal with a side of green leaf lettuce or bagged salad.
Rice and black beans topped with pico de gallo or salsa
Ingredients needed for this quick and cheap meal are:
- 1 cup of cooked rice ($2.29 Aldi)
- 15 oz can of black beans ($.89 Aldi)
- ½ cup of salsa ($1.25) or (you could make your own pico with tomato, white onion, cilantro, jalapeno — don’t have a price estimate of those ingredients)
Serve the black beans and salsa over the rice. Easy peasy and this meal should be done in less than 15 minutes.
Ramen noodles and veggies
Ingredients for this cheap family meal:
- 1 vegetable bouillon cube
- 1 bundle of ramen noodles ($4.79 at Thrive Market or $4.68 per package at Amazon)
- Bag of stir-fry vegetables ($1.00 at Dollar Tree) or use fresh bell pepper ($2.39 for 3 at Aldi) and onions ($1.19 for 1 lb bag at Aldi)
- 1 clove of garlic ($.79 for 4 at Aldi)
- ½ tsp of ginger ($.75 for 2 pieces at Aldi)
- 1 to 2 tablespoons of soy sauce
I boil the noodles according to package with one vegetable bouillon cube or veggie broth. I stir-fry the vegetables, ginger, and garlic in soy sauce. Simply add the veggies on top of noodles. Save some broth to pour over all the ingredients.
Potato and Black Bean or Rice and Black Bean Tacos
Ingredients I used to prepare this quick and cheap meal:
- 1 potato ($2.39 per bag, Aldi) for each person or 1 cup of rice ($2.39 per package, Aldi)
- 15 oz of black beans ($.89 Aldi)
- ½ tsp of cumin, ½ tsp of chili powder, ½ tsp of garlic powder, ½ tsp of onion powder
- Lettuce ($1.19 for head of green leaf lettuce at Aldi)
- Salsa ($1.29)
- Taco shells (didn price these, but prices are similar to tortilla at Aldi) or tortillas (.99 for ten at Aldi)
You can either prepare the rice as directed and mix black beans with rice, along with seasonings. Or you can pan fry some potatoes until fork tender. Then mix in black beans and seasonings.
Add fillings to taco shells or tortillas. I keep the toppings simple and budget-friendly with salsa and lettuce, but you can add whatever toppings you prefer.
Garlic Bread Pizzas
Ingredients I used to prepare this cheap and kid-friendly meal:
- marinara sauce ($.99 Aldi)
- 1 loaf of prepared garlic bread ($1.99 Aldi)
- bell peppers ($2.39 for 3 Aldi), mushrooms ($1.39 Aldi) or other preferred veggies
- mozzarella cheese ($3.99 Aldi) (or no cheese for my fellow vegan eaters)
This meal is really simple and you’ll be done in 20 minutes. Simply split the garlic bread and put the marinara sauce on top of each piece. Add veggies and cheese. Put in the oven for 10 to 15 minutes.
Easy Lentil Sloppy Joes and homemade oven potato fries
Ingredients I used to prepare this quick and cheap meal are:
- Cooked lentils ($2.39 Publix)
- 1 package of McCormick Sloppy Joe Seasoning Mix (or I prefer to use a mix of chili powder, garlic powder, onion powder, and salt/pepper — I don’t have any measurements, I season until the seasoning Gods say stop!)
- 6 oz tomato paste ($.49)
- Brown sugar
- Hamburger Buns ($.99 for 8 pk at Aldi)
- 1 potato per person ($2.39 per bag at Aldi)
Check out this easy recipe here to prepare the lentil sloppy joes. Cut up potatoes into wedges and drizzle with oil (optional) and add salt and pepper. Cook potatoes in the oven at 425 until fork tender.
Tuna salad or chickpea salad wrap with a side of carrots
Ingredients needed to prepare this budget meal:
- celery ($1.19 Publix) and/or onions (1.19 per lb bag at Aldi)
- mayo (or vegan mayo)
- 1 15 oz can of garbanzo beans ($.55)
- sweet relish ($1.19)
- wrap it up in a tortilla (.99 for ten) or pita wrap
- Tuna ($.49 at Aldi)
- Baby carrots ($.99 Aldi)
Mash chickpeas or process in food processor. Chop up celery and onion. Mix veggies and chickpeas with mayo and sweet relish.
Wrap up the chickpea salad in a tortilla or pita wrap. You can substitute tuna for chickpeas if you prefer. Serve this with some baby carrots and you’re good to go.
Veggie Fried Rice
Ingredients needed for this quick and cheap meal:
- use leftover veggies or a bag of frozen veggies ($1 at Dollar Tree)
- Onion ($1.19 per bag, Aldi)
- soy sauce
- Rice ($2.39 at Aldi. Dollar Tree also has large 2 lb bags of brown rice)
- sesame oil if you have it.
Add onions to the pan and cook into translucent. Add veggies. Cook for 3 to 5 minutes. Stir in pre-cooked rice and soy sauce. Bon appétit.
Scrambled eggs (or tofu) and toast with fruit
- 8 eggs or tofu (Dollar Tree has 8 eggs for $1, prices on tofu vary at my local Publix depending on the type you want)
- Bread ($1 at Dollar Tree)
- Apples ($2.89 at Publix for 3 lb bag) or whatever fruit you prefer
I don’t eat tofu, nor do I eat eggs. But I put this meal idea on here because it’s cheap and easy. Besides, both of these items serve the same purpose — they are packed with protein.
Add it with bread and fruit for a complete meal. This makes for a great breakfast or dinner.
Here’s a scrambled tofu recipe you might want to try, and I’m sure you can handle the scrambled eggs, right?
Cinnamon oatmeal with diced apples
Ingredients I used to prepare this quick and cheap meal include:
- Oatmeal ($1.29 Aldi)
- Agave syrup ($3.99 at Aldi) or you can use honey
- Apples ($2.89 for 3 lb at Aldi) or you could use applesauce as well
Prepare oatmeal according to instructions. Top with apples, agave syrup and whatever ingredients you may have on hand. If I have them, I’ll add raisins and walnuts too.
Baked beans, coleslaw, and corn on the cob
Ingredients for this quick and cheap meal include:
- 1 can of vegetarian baked beans ($2 at Publix)
- Coleslaw (use one head of cabbage ($.99) or bag of coleslaw mix, sweet relish, mayo, a splash of white vinegar, black pepper)
- 1 package of corn on the cob ($1.69 for 6 at Aldi)
Prepare coleslaw however you eat it. Warm up beans and corn on the cob. Dinner will be on the table in less than 20 minutes. This meal is perfect during the summer and if you ever get sick of coleslaw, swap it out for homemade potato salad.
Ingredients needed for this meal on a budget:
- Aldi has a great selection of vegan meatballs, 16 oz for $3.99 (28 meatballs, 7 servings per bag which comes out to 4 meatballs per person, 55 cent per serving) or you can grab regular meatballs
- Jar of marinara sauce (.99 at Aldi)
- Hoagie sub rolls or french bread ($1.00 for sub rolls at Dollar Tree)
Check out this great recipe to prepare this quick and cheap meal.
Meatballs and zucchini noodles
Ingredients needed for this cheap and simple meal:
- Vegan Meatballs ($3.99 from Aldi) or use regular meatballs
- 2 to 3 zucchini squash ($1.49 Aldi)
Check out this recipe on Aldi’s website to prepare this budget-friendly and easy meal.
5-Ingredient Instant-Pot Rice and Beans serve with Side Salad or Veggies
Ingredients needed for this affordable meal:
- 1 ¼ cup Red kidney beans ($1 for 1 lb bag at Dollar Tree)
- 1 ½ Brown rice ($2.29 at Aldi or a bag of 2 lb brown rice at Dollar Tree for $1)
- 1 cup Salsa ($1.25 at Aldi)
- ½ bunch Cilantro ($.75 for 1 bunch at Aldi)
- Veggie broth ($1.39 Aldi)
- Bag of frozen veggies ($1 Dollar Tree) or green leaf lettuce ($1.19 Aldi)
Here’s a great recipe to guide you in preparing this quick and easy meal. Serve it with a side of green leaf salad or veggies.
Chickpea Veggie Soup
Ingredients needed for this cheap meal idea:
- 4 cloves of garlic ($.79 Aldi)
- 2 medium onions ($1.19 Aldi)
- 4 medium carrots ($.99 Aldi)
- 4 celery stalks ($1.19 Publix)
- 6 sprigs of fresh thyme
- 1 bay leaf
- 2 qt of veggie broth
- 8 oz of rotini pasta ($.79 Aldi)
- 1 cup of chickpeas ($.55 Aldi)
- Optional: fresh parsley
Use this recipe to bring these ingredients to life. Freeze some of this soup so you’ll be prepared when you’re under the weather. It’s the perfect budget-friendly alternative to chicken noodle soup.
Sweet Potato, Spinach, Rice and Chickpea Buddha Bowl
Ingredients I used to prepare this quick and cheap meal are as follows:
- 1 lemon ($.99 Publix)
- 1 large sweet potato ($1.79 for 1 lb)
- 9 oz of frozen spinach ($1.00 at Dollar Tree)
- 15 oz can of chickpeas ($.55 Aldi)
- 1 cup of brown rice ($2.39 Aldi or $1 for 2 lb brown rice at Dollar Tree)
- 1/2 tsp of cinnamon
- ½ tsp of garlic powder
- ½ tsp of chili powder
- 2 tbsp of olive oil
I absolutely love this buddha bowl and the dressing is a must-have! Click here for this budget-friendly recipe.
Dollar Tree Canned Chili Recipe
Ingredients needed Dollar-Tree meal idea:
- 15 oz kidney beans ($1.00 Dollar Tree)
- 15 oz pinto beans ($1.00 Dollar Tree)
- 15 oz black beans ($1.00 Dollar Tree)
- 15 oz diced tomatoes ($1.00 Dollar Tree)
- 15 oz can of corn ($1.00 Dollar Tree)
- 10 oz can of fire roasted tomatoes ($1.00 Dollar Tree)
I found this recipe on the Dollar Tree website. You will have to create an account to view it, or you can make things easier on yourself and simply dump all the listed ingredients into a pot and simmer for 25 to 30 minutes.
This meal will serve around 4 people or you can use it to prep some individual lunches for the week. You can also add your favorite toppings or some rice to make it heartier.
Dollar Tree $5 Pizza Penne Bake
- 2 cups of dry penne pasta ($1.00 Dollar Tree)
- 16 oz of marinara sauce ($1.00 Dollar Tree)
- 1 cup of mozzarella cheese ($1.00 Dollar Tree)
- 3 tablespoons of parmesan cheese ($1.00 Dollar Tree)
- 1 cup of pepperoni pizza ($1.00 Dollar Tree)
I like this recipe because it’s extremely versatile. Plus, it’s only $5 for the total meal, which brings it to $1.25 per person for a family of 4.
While at the Dollar Tree, I noticed they carried Italian sausages too. You can easily swap out the pepperoni for sausage, or you can leave meat out of the dish as well.
Other Cheap Ingredients You May Find at The Dollar Tree
As you can see, many of the ingredients for these meals can be purchased at the Dollar Tree. My first concern is to make sure you compare the cost per ounce to ensure you are actually getting the best deal. The second concern is the sodium content in some items.
Overall, the Dollar Tree is a great place to get some items on your grocery list. Especially if the Dollar Tree is the closest thing to your home. Some areas don’t have access to grocery stores (which is a shame). Therefore, you have to use the resources available to you.
With that said, here’s a list of things I discovered at my local Dollar Tree that might make a trip worth your while. Clear warning, some of these things are processed foods, but like I said, if it’s cheap and accessible meals you’re after, you can find something at the Dollar Tree.
- White and brown rice (2 lb bags)
- Dry beans (1.5 lb bags)
- Muffin mix
- Brownie mix
- 2 ct Kraft Mac and Cheese cups
- Pizza crust
- Egg noodles
- Lasagna noodles
- Packages of yellow rice
- Penne Pasta
- Parmesan cheese
- Variety of seasonings
- Jif peanut butter to-go cups (3 per pack)
- Dinner rolls
- Hoagie rolls
- Frozen asparagus
- Frozen mixed vegetables
- Frozen green beans
- Frozen corn
- Frozen fries
- Frozen stir-fry mix
- Polish sausage (2 sausage links per pack)
- 8-count eggs
Quick and Cheap Meals on a Budget Are Possible
I could go on and on, but I think you get the idea — cheap family meals on a budget are definitely possible. Sometimes it’s just hard to come up with meal ideas to help you spend less and eat well on your own.
Hopefully, this list of 23 quick and cheap meals will provide you with a few meals to jumpstart your next meal planning session. If not, there are over 20 meatless meals in this post that are budget-friendly as well.
Which of these quick and cheap meals will make it onto your grocery list?