25 Easy Summer Meals for Pennies
You know how heavy meals don’t even sound appetizing during the summer?
Summer calls for light, fresh meals. Bonus if those yummy summer meals are also cheap!
Double bonus if those meals don’t require you to turn on your oven or stovetop! I really hate having to increase A/C costs in order to compensate for turning on the oven. The fact that thought even crosses my mind tells you just how frugal I am.
Each of the meals below is under $1 per serving. I’m all about spending less on food (except for occasional splurges) so we can spend more money on travelling and fun experiences.
If you grow a garden, or if you have neighbors who do, you can probably even score free zucchini, vine-ripened tomatoes and other fresh produce that tends to grow in excess. Free ingredients are, hands-down, the very best way to chomp a significant bite out of your grocery budget.
In fact, every summer/fall I like to play a little game with myself. I structure our family menu around garden and fruit tree production and I work to keep our grocery bill as low as humanly possible.
I shoot for spending nothing, but of course that’s not completely practical with a large family. I would rather chew off my right arm than stop buying my family hygiene items and cleaning supplies.
But I can get away with buying zero groceries probably 80% of the time from mid-June through November. Those saved funds add up fast, especially when I invest them!
Not only are all of these summer meals cheap, but they also manage to be yummy, filling and easy! The idea is to keep things simple, so you don’t have to watch all the fun summer from the kitchen!
Beat the heat with these recipes for quick and easy summer meals for pennies!
Cheap and Easy Summer Meals:
Grilled pizzas are super easy and kind of fun to whip up, since the entire family gets to help. And you don’t have to turn on your oven! I make my own pizza dough in about 5 minutes in my Bosch mixer ($0.70). But you can also purchase ready-made pizza crusts at your local grocery store, though they’ll cost a little more.
Divide your dough into a lump per person in your family. Open a jar of pasta sauce ($1) and set out mozarella cheese ($2), your favorite pizza toppings, and a parmesan shaker.
Let your family members roll out their own pizza crusts and grill them until golden brown on one side. Then brush the grilled side with olive oil, spoon on the pasta sauce, top them however they choose, and grill them again until the crust is fully cooked.
The trick is to grill the crust until almost fully cooked before flipping the crust and adding the toppings. A yummy way to keep your pizza light and flavorful is to use alfredo sauce instead of tomato sauce, and spinach and sliced vegetables for toppings.
Cost: $0.37 per serving plus toppings
Grilled Chicken Fajitas
Julienne three red/yellow peppers and an onion ($2). Drizzle them with olive oil, salt and pepper them and start them grilling on a grilling platter. Stir them frequently. Butterfly chicken breasts (4 lbs. ~$8) lengthwise (or pound them) so they’re thinner and will cook more quickly then the veggies.
Combine 2 Tbsp. olive oil, 2 Tbsp. lime juice, 1 tsp. cumin, 1 tsp. garlic powder, 1 tsp. chili powder, 1/2 tsp. cayenne, salt and pepper ($0.50). Cover the chicken pieces in the spice mixture and grill them until slightly charred around the edges while stirring the vegetables. The chicken is done when the juice runs clear, about ten minutes on high heat.
Remove the cooked chicken from the grill and slice into strips. The veggies are done when slightly charred and tender, but not burned. Right before they’re done, slice 2 tomatoes ($1) into narrow wedges and toss them with the veggies for a couple of minutes.
Remove veggies from the grill. Warm flour tortillas ($1) on the grill, then fill with with chicken and veggies and serve with your favorite toppings. Yummmm! These are one of my favorite cheap and easy summer meals!
Cost: $1 per serving, plus the cost of toppings
***Time saving tip: When you’re grilling chicken breasts anyway, grill up twice what you need and refrigerate the extra for a grilled chicken salad or quesadilla later in the week.
Grilled Veggie Tacos
You can drastically cut the cost by filling your tortilla with in-season vegetables and skipping the meat. Just toss an onion, 2 peppers, and 3 zucchini ($5) on the grill. Once tender and lightly charred, serve in warmed corn tortillas ($1) for a quick, cheap, and light but filling meal.
Cost: $0.75 a serving
Grilled Chicken Quesadillas
Slice a few of your leftover grilled chicken breasts ($4) into strips and lay them on a tortilla ($1) heating on a grill. Smother the chicken strips with shredded cheddar cheese ($2), then place another tortilla on top. When the cheese is nearly completely melted, flip the quesadilla to the unheated side. Cut the quesadilla into wedges and serve with salsa. Serve with Spanish rice.
Cost: $0.58 per serving
Grilled Chicken Salad
Wash and chop a head of Romaine lettuce ($1) and two cucumbers ($1) into bite-sized pieces. Shred 4 carrots ($0.50) and a head of purple cabbage ($0.60) into the lettuce bowl. Add 1 can of corn, drained ($0.50), 1 can kidney beans, drained ($0.50) and 1 diced red onion ($0.50).
Slice a few of your leftover grilled chicken breasts ($4) into strips. Shake together 1/4 c. olive oil, 1/4 c. apple cider vinegar, 1 tsp. dried italian herbs, salt and pepper to taste, ($0.50) drizzle the dressing onto the salad and toss. Serve with crusty french bread or rolls.
Cost: $0.89 per serving
Brown and crumble 1 lb lean ground beef ($3) in a skillet with a large diced onion ($0.40). Add 1 Tbsp. chili powder, 1 tsp. garlic powder, a dash of cayenne and salt and pepper to taste ($0.50). Shred a half head of lettuce ($0.50), dice a tomato ($0.50). Layer in taco shells ($2) and top with shredded cheddar ($1).
Cost: $0.90 per serving
Make a batch of Chili Con Carne ($4). Ladle chile over crushed tortilla chips ($2) on a plate. Top with shredded cheddar cheese ($2) then chopped lettuce ($1), diced tomatoes ($1) and top with ranch dressing ($1). You could also top it with guacamole, sour cream, olives, or whatever you like.
Cost: $0.60 a serving plus additional toppings
Brown and crumble 1 lb. lean ground beef ($3) in a skillet with a large, diced onion ($0.40). Add an 8 oz. can of tomato sauce, 1 Tbsp. brown sugar, 1 tsp. yellow mustard, 1 tsp. worcestershire sauce, salt and pepper to taste, plus a dash of sriracha ($0.50). Serve on toasted buns ($2). I serve mine with potato salad, which is also very inexpensive and a favorite.
Cost: $0.75 per serving
Garden Veggies with Sausage
Once the harvest begins, we have this a couple of times a week, and my kiddos never tire of it. I’m not making that up — they’d tell you the same thing. I cook a large pot of whichever vegetable I have a plethora of (FREE!) with a half pound of ground italian sausage ($2). If you don’t have a garden, you could also use whatever you can find for a great price at your local farmer’s market.
My kids especially love a big pot of green beans, or a big pot of sauteed summer squash. Sometimes I serve it with homemade sourdough bread, but often we just enjoy that gigantic pot of delicious veggies.
Cost: A few pennies per serving unless you need to purchase the vegetables.
Packed with veggies, this nutritious meal only takes about ten minutes to prepare, and you don’t even have to turn on your oven! Start by boiling 16 oz. of dried pasta ($1) until al dente. While the pasta is boiling, chop a red onion ($0.50), a couple of vine-ripened tomatoes ($2), a small zucchini ($0.50), a bell pepper ($0.50) and mince about 1 lb. fresh basil ($0.50).
Drain the cooked pasta in a colander, then immediately toss it in a large bowl with a 16 oz. bag of frozen, chopped broccoli ($1) and a 16 oz. bag of frozen peas ($1). The hot pasta will thaw the frozen veggies. Toss in the chopped, raw vegetables and add drizzle 1/4 c. olive oil over the top salt and toss it all together. Sprinkle with 1 tsp. garlic powder, 1 tsp. salt, 3 Tbsp. parmesan and red chili flakes to taste ($0.50). Lightly stir, then top with fresh, minced basil to garnish.
Cost: $0.87 a serving
Pulled Pork Sandwiches
I make my own BBQ sauce to keep things even cheaper and healthier. And it really only adds a few minutes to the prep time, since I just dump all of this in my slow cooker. A 4-5 pound pork shoulder roast ($.99/lb), chopped into smaller chunks, 1 minced onion ($0.50) 2 -8 oz. cans tomato sauce ($0.40) , 1/2 c. apple cider vinegar ($0.20), 1/4 c. honey ($0.40), 1/4 c. molasses ($0.40), 1 Tbsp. Worcestershire sauce, 1 Tbsp. sriracha, 1 Tbsp. dry mustard powder, 1 tsp. garlic powder, 1 tsp. paprika, 1/2 tsp. cayenne powder, salt and pepper to taste (under $0.50 for all the spices).
Let it cook at least 5 hours on high, (I relegate my slow cooker to the garage so it doesn’t heat up my house) then shred the meat, stir it into the sauce and let it cook another hour. Serve on toasted buns ($2) and serve with french fries (just julienne potatoes, season them and bake for 30 minutes).
Cost: $0.73 a serving
***This is a fun and cost-effective meal to serve company, especially if you make it a potluck and ask your guests to bring a salad or dessert.
Roasted Chicken Legs Sheet Pan Dinner
Chicken legs are such a good friend to the frugal cook. I can usually find them for under $1/lb. You’ll want bone-in legs with the skin, because they roast up more tender and juicy. 3 pounds is enough for my family of ten.
For my kids’ sake, I cut them apart into drum sticks and thighs. Rub the chicken pieces with olive oil, then dredge them in a mixture of 1 tsp. salt, 1 tsp. pepper, 1 tsp. garlic powder, 1 tsp. paprika and 1 Tbsp. flour (30 cents). Place on a baking sheet with about half a pound each of coarsely chopped zucchini ($0.35), broccoli ($0.35), cauliflower ($0.35) and carrots ($0.25), plus about ten coarsely chopped potatoes ($2), all drizzled with olive oil then salted and peppered.
Throw the chicken on the griddle with the lid closed for about 30 minutes, then add the veggies and cook another ten minutes. Chicken juices should run clear when the meat is pierced. If your grill doesn’t have a griddle, you can roast everything on a baking sheet inside your grill. Anything to avoid having to turn on the oven inside the house!
Cost: $0.59 a serving
Meat & Veggie Kabobs
Marinate chunks of chicken or steak in a bottle of your favorite Italian dressing for at least an hour. Thread the deliciously marinated chicken and veggies onto skewers (soaked in cold water at least twenty minutes), cook for 5-7 minutes on each side, and you have mouthwatering grilled chicken skewers!
You can use whatever is currently producing in your garden: zucchini, cherry tomatoes, mushrooms, onions, peppers, etc… They’re especially great for picky eaters because they’re so easy to adjust.
Cost: $0.65 a serving
You can get as fancy as you want with your potato bar, or keep things really simple. I usually opt for simple. I just scrub a large potato per person, fork them, wrap them in foil and throw them on the grill for about 40 minutes.
I actually usually bake double the potatoes we need for our potato bar so I can set aside a few for another meal later in the week. While the potatoes are grilling, set out an assortment of toppings: butter, sour cream, shredded cheese, chives, bacon bits or whatever sounds good to you.
Potatoes also bake up well in the coals of a campfire.
Cost: $0.35 per serving
Fun, Cheap Summer Meals from the Campfire
Anything out-of-the-ordinary is fun for kids. Especially if they get to play with fire (supervised, of course)! So it’s easy to make a simple, cheap weenie roast seem like a rare and special event, even if it’s just around your fire pit in the backyard.
Roasted Hot Dogs
Hot dogs are a quick, easy, and cheap summer meal. And your kiddos will have fun roasting them over a fire pit. I stock up on franks during June, (hot dogs freeze well) when they go on sale for less than 10 cents apiece.
The bun adds another 20 cents per serving. Pile on catsup, mustard, and fun toppings like relish, caramelized onion, and homemade sauerkraut for a fun and easy meal. You’ll probably also need the fixings for s’mores! 🙂
Cost: $0.30 a serving
Tin Foil Dinners
Start your fire before creating your dinner packets, so it has time to burn down to the coals. I like to brown, crumble and season a pound of lean ground beef ahead of time, (don’t drain the grease because it will season the rest of the tin foil dinner) so my kiddos aren’t handling raw meat.
Give everyone a large square of aluminum foil and let them load it up with ground beef ($3), cubed potatoes ($1), diced onion, carrots ($1), canned green beans, drained ($0.50) and canned corn, drained ($0.50). Season each dinner and fold the packets, tightly creasing each seam so the juices won’t leak out.
Tuck your packets in among the coals to cook. Just keep watch — they’re done when the potatoes are tender.
Cost: $0.60 per serving
Savory or Sweet Eclairs on a Stick
These are super quick and easy. You can fill them with chicken salad for a savory entree or fill them with pudding and whipped cream for a special treat.
You can buy 5/8″ or larger diameter dowels at Home Depot for just over $1 each. You’ll need to soak them in cold water for at least twenty minutes. I just fill a 5 gallon bucket with water and leave them soaking next to the food table.
Wrap one end of a soaked dowel with foil. Unroll crescent dough (from a tube — like Pillsbury) and cut into six 4-in. squares. Wrap one piece of dough around prepared stick and pinch the seam tightly to seal.
Cook over campfire until golden brown, turning occasionally. When baked dough is cool enough to handle, remove it from stick. Let it finish cooling, then fill the dough tube with your filling of choice.
We usually spoon vanilla pudding into a ziploc, cut the corner off and pipe it into the tubes, then pipe chocolate frosting over the top. But sometimes we get fancy and fill them with preserves and whipped cream or chocolate mousse. On occasion we’ve even filled them with mini marshmallows, chocolate chips and assorted candies while still hot in order to allow everything to melt together a little.
They’re also delicious filled with chicken salad or egg salad. These might not seem like an entire meal, but they’re actually pretty filling. They are probably my kiddos favorite of all my cheap and easy summer meals!
Cost: $0.45 a serving depending on fillings and toppings
If you’re craving budget-friendly salads, look no further.
Cheap and Easy Summer Meals for Breakfast
I’ll apologize in advance that a few of these recipes require baking. I’ll do almost anything to not have to turn my oven on during the summer. To make baking bearable I only bake at night, once things have cooled down, and I bake extra large batches very infrequently.
Rice and Milk. We often use leftover rice as ‘cold cereal’ for breakfast the next morning. I keep a sugar/cinnamon shaker in the cupboard, so the kids just fill their bowl with rice, pour milk over it, and sprinkle on cinnamon sugar. This frugal breakfast costs around 8 cents for a half cup of milk and 5 cents for a half cup of rice, so under 15 cents total per serving.
Homemade Yogurt. I fill my Instant Pot with milk, add a little starter from a previous batch of yogurt, and push the yogurt button. 8 hours later it’s perfect! A gallon of milk costs a whole lot less than a gallon of yogurt, so it’s pretty cost-effective, too. Sometimes I drain the yogurt in a cheesecloth-lined colander to turn it into greek yogurt. Before serving, I just mix in frozen berries and honey to taste. I usually make mine keto with stevia instead of honey.
Eggs and toast. Easy and quick to make, and the eggs can be made SO many different ways: boiled, scrambled, fried, or poached. Eggs cost about 11 cents each, and bread is about 8 cents per slice (only 3 cents per slice if you make it yourself!) so a breakfast of two eggs and a slice of toast is only 30 cents.
French Toast. Just as cheap a family meal as eggs and toast, this one is a little fancier!
Omelet. I consider omelets to be a repository for all the leftovers I need to use up. They taste yummy no matter what savory things you add, and you get to top it all with cheese! If the filling is just leftovers, all you have to pay for is two eggs and some cheese; about 30 cents per serving.
Double Chocolate Zucchini Muffins. Each of these delectable morsels only costs about 17 cents, and they contain vegetables! If you make a huge, double batch of them, you can stash them away in the freezer for busy mornings, and you only have to turn your oven on once to bake 48 muffins. Imagine how long those will last you!
Easy Frittata. You can make this frittata with any combination of vegetables, or with any meat/vegetable combination. I frequently use leftover ham, cubed, with broccoli and swiss cheese. This quick, easy, delicious and nutritious meal only costs about $0.80 per serving (less if you use free veggies from your garden). It’s really filling, too, which is helpful if you have teenage boys who seem like bottomless pits. I sometimes make it for dinner!
Soaked Granola with Natural Sweeteners. Grains should be soaked before eating in order to improve their digestibility and make all of their nutrients available. This granola recipe uses soaked grains and natural sweeteners so you can feel good about starting your day with it! I leave out the nuts (to cut costs) and this granola only costs about 30 cents per serving. When I make granola, I actually quadruple the recipe and make enough to fill a 5 gallon bucket. It stays good forever if you dry it adequately in your oven. That much lasts my family about a month, but it might last your family the entire summer!
Waffles with Fruit Compote and Whipped Cream. Waffles topped with fruit is one of our all-time favorite meals, and we eat it for dinner as often as we eat it for breakfast. Choose your favorite fruit for variety, and dress it up for special occasions with fresh whipped cream or ice cream atop the fruit. This delicious breakfast costs about 50 cents per serving.
German Pancakes. I’ve seen these called Dutch Babies, too. Whatever you call them, they are super yummy, nutritious and cheap! German pancakes only cost around 30 cents per serving.
Huevos Rancheros. A breakfast burrito is a quick, filling, and highly portable breakfast. They’re super easy to make ahead of time and freeze for busy mornings, too. Scramble up a skillet of eggs with a little bit of salsa. Spoon eggs down the center of a tortilla, fold shut and enjoy. These cost less than 38 cents per serving.
To really decrease your grocery bill, try these flavor-packed, family-pleasing recipes that combine everyday, inexpensive staples into delicious, cheap and easy summer meals!
MORE Summer Fun for Your Family!
Are you looking for MORE summer fun for your family? I know just how hard it is to keep your kiddos happily occupied and learning without resorting to electronic devices. I joined forces with some of my fellow homeschool bloggers to bring you some super fun Summer Ideas and Activities for Kids. Check them out below!
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The WOLFe Pack is sharing Ways to Use Classic Board Games as School Review because your kids will benefit from reviewing concepts they’ve learned, whether you plan to take a summer break or homeschool year-round.
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