Let’s get right to the point here. Is there anything that you spend more on every week than food? It’s the number one thing that we all spend money on every week and it involves a lot of thought and care if you want to have money left over for other things you must take care of. That’s why cheap meals are such a good idea no matter your budget. There’s no avoiding food forever, skipping it entirely for a while, or thinking of it as the very “last thing” you need to concern yourself about. If you do that and it works for you, write to me and let me learn something new please. Having said that…
Today I’d like to talk about some great meals that you (and even I) can plan and prepare that don’t break the bank or budget. Yes, these are meals you can plan, cook, and enjoy on the cheap. I have tried them all and although I don’t want to eat all of them over and over every week, they can be mixed in with other food choices and help really cut your food bills. So let’s get right to it and begin: my top five money-saving meals that cost under $2.50 each!
Five Cheap Meals
1. Spaghetti and Meatballs
This is my personal favorite and you don’t have to be Italian to love it. It’s easy to make and not at all expensive, plus it can feed as many as you like but the per portion cost will always come in under the $2.50 mark. Here’s what you need for a dinner for four.
Buy a 1 lb. box of spaghetti (costs about $1.00 or less, serves four, and store brand is fine). Buy ground beef (1 lb. package, but if you buy a value package of 85% lean of 3 lbs. the cost will be under $3.00 per pound on sale and you can freeze the rest). Use for meatballs or meat sauce if you prefer.
Add a 24 oz. jar of marinara sauce (again store brand is fine) at about $2.50 each, less on sale and that will serve four. Then use a few pinches of garlic powder, pepper, and other spices from your pantry that will cost just a few pennies. Next, buy a loaf of Italian bread and slice (costs about $1.50). Last, use a bag of premixed salad for $3.00 (your choice) and dressing (your choice, or just use oil and vinegar) for about $1.00.
Make your meatballs and place in a pot of sauce and cook for about 10 minutes while you boil the water and cook your spaghetti, also about 10 minutes. Prepare the salad with dressing and slice bread and serve.
The total cost for four is about $9.00 or just $2.25 per person! (Any leftover bread and beef can be used in another meal later on.)
2. Chunk Chicken and Salad Dinner
Rather than actually spend the time cooking it, I buy a rotisserie chicken on sale at about $4.99 and remove the skin and cut it into small chunks. Buy an iceberg lettuce (about $1.99 or less, you will have plenty leftover) and arrange in a large salad bowl. Mix with the chunk chicken and add a can of healthy beans or corn (drained) to the mix (at about $1.00 or less). Add your choice of dressing at about $1.00 for an 8 oz. bottle and serve your dinner for four.
Total cost of meal is about $9.00 or just $2.25 per serving!
3. Mac and Cheese Casserole
Buy 1 lb. box of elbow macaroni at about $1.00 and a package of cheddar cheese (8 oz. at $2.00). Cook macaroni according to package directions. Preheat oven to 350°.
Melt ¼ cup of butter or margarine, a tablespoon of flour, and add a bit of salt and pepper (or mustard powder if you have it) in a saucepan over low heat. Cook over low heat, stirring constantly until smooth.
Then remove from heat and add 2 cups of milk. Return to heat, bring to boiling, stirring constantly for one minute. Remove from heat. Add cheese and stir until melted. Drain macaroni and gently stir into cheese mixture. Pour into ungreased 2 quart casserole dish and bake uncovered for 20-25 minutes. The milk, butter, flour, and spice portions of this meal will add up to less than $2.00.
Use your leftover salad or iceberg lettuce and dressings to serve dinner for four at a cost of $5.00 (plus the leftover items) or about $1.33 per serving!
4. Bacon and Eggs for Dinner?
I love breakfast, so why not eat some for dinner? It’s fast and cheap and easy. Buy 1 dz. eggs for $1.99 and butter (half pound store brand at $1.99 and you’ll have plenty of both left over).
Then buy a pound of store brand bacon for $4.99 (occasionally even less!) to fry up. Serve with some toast (store bread sliced loaf about $1.00 each) and you are ready to dine! Add some orange juice as your beverage ($2.99 for about 59 oz. if you do).
Total cost for four is $9.97 or $2.50 per serving (without the juice)!
5. Baked Boneless Chicken Breast, Mashed Potatoes and String Beans with Small Salad
Purchase a value package of 3 lbs. of boneless chicken breasts (usually on sale at $1.99 per pound). Remove four (or butterfly two in half if they’re overly thick) and freeze any leftover pieces.
Rub the chicken with a little olive oil before baking as it helps add moisture to the chicken and also helps seasonings stick to the breast. I use a very simple seasoning of salt and pepper, garlic powder, onion powder, chili powder or paprika. Chicken breasts do best at a high temperature (roasting) around 425-450° for 15-20 minutes. Lower temps result in a longer cooking time and a higher chance of dry chicken, which is not something anyone wants!
Make sure to let your chicken rest. This is so important when cooking any meat, but especially with a chicken breast recipe. Resting allows the juices to redistribute through the chicken breast and gives you a tender, juicy piece of meat every time. Slice chicken against the grain. This will result in the most tender, easy to chew chicken. I use a baking dish for making my chicken, but you could also use a foil or parchment lined rimmed baking sheet.
In the meantime, prepare and boil some fresh potatoes (use about 6 medium to large potatoes, a 5 lb. bag of Idaho potatoes can be purchased on sale for as little as $1.99 a bag). When finished, mash them with some butter (leftover) and salt.
Serve with a can of string beans (about $1.00 per can), warmed, and a small individual salad with dressing from your pantry stock. The cost of this meal per person is about $2.50 per serving!
I am not Chef Gordon Ramsey, “let’s get that right”, for sure. But I can cook a bit and I know what I like when it comes to cheap meals. You have your own homemade favorites even if it’s French toast or a tuna salad sandwich or rice and beans that you can make and save with, don’t you? This variety can help you get through this week and save you some real money. No need to order in or go out and still get a tasty meal. Save those nights for fun or when you don’t have the time or will to prepare a meal.
What do you love to make at home on the cheap that leaves everyone fat and happy? Share your favorites here right now!