cheap family meals

Cheap Family Meals

Hey, friends! I’m warning you upfront — this post is looooooong! I wanted to share all of my favorite cheap family meals with you, but I just have so many. I thought about splitting them up into several posts, but then you’d have to search through various posts, and that would be annoying.

It’s kind of funny that I have such a large repertoire of cheap family meals because, ha, ha, surprise! I don’t like cooking. But I do like saving money and the best way to save money is by feeding my family (whom I also like!) from scratch. Most of these cheap family meals are quick and easy to make — all of them are cheap! Under $1 per serving, and most are well under $1

All of these recipes are very basic — it’s just how I cook. I don’t measure and I almost never use recipes. I even vary the ingredients each time, based on what’s available in my fridge and on sale at the grocery store.

That’s how I stay within our grocery budget with my large family, all of whom have huge appetites. I call them my hobbits because they always want second breakfast immediately after breakfast, and then they want elevenses, then lunch, followed by tea, supper and dessert. Sometimes I feel like I’m going to die of cooking.

But my vast experience with cheap family meals is why I have such a large repertoire of them.

I’ll bet you’ve never seen so many ideas for cheap family meals all in one place. Since they’re all well under $1 per serving, you can really buckle down and work on reducing your grocery bills.

You’ll find lots of variety here, each at $1 or less per serving. Great food doesn’t have to be pricey, and these recipes are proof.

33 Main Dish Cheap Family Meals 

Stroganoff. This is a regular in our meal rotation, because it’s amazingly easy, yummy and cheap. Start your pasta cooking while you assemble the sauce. Brown 1 lb. ground beef, 1 diced onion, and 3 minced garlic cloves in a large pot. Add 1 lb. sliced mushrooms and lightly saute. Add 4 c. water with 4 tsp. beef bouillon. Stir 3 Tbsp. cornstarch into 1/4 c. cool water, and mix that into the sauce. When the sauce is hot and thickened, stir in 16 oz. sour cream. Serve over hot pasta.

  • cost: about 85 cents per serving

Stir Fry. This is my go-to meal for using up leftovers. I just start rice in my instant pot and while it’s cooking, I toss leftover chicken (or beef or pork) into my wok with whatever vegetables I have in my fridge (or a package of frozen veggies) and some coconut oil. Add about 1/2 c. soy sauce, 1/2 c. water, 1 tsp. bouillon, 1 tsp. ginger, 1 tsp. garlic powder to the meat and veggies. Stir 1 tsp. cornstarch into 1/2 c. water, then stir it into the sauce in the meat/veggie pot to thicken the sauce. You’ve got a nutritious, hot meal in under 15 minutes. And it cost you next to nothing!

  • cost: a few cents for the rice, if you have leftover meat and veggies

Homemade Macaroni and Cheese. My kids love this recipe so much that it’s a staple around our house. It helps that it’s so easy! They’ll even whip up a batch as a snack. Just boil your 16 oz. box of pasta to al dente, drain most of the water from the pot, and add 2 c. milk and 1/2 cube of butter to the pot with the pasta. The hot pasta will warm the milk and melt the butter. Add 8 oz. shredded cheddar and stir until the cheese melts and everything combines into gooey yumminess. Macaroni and Cheese is one of those classic, cheap family meals!

  • under 60 cents per serving

cheap family meals

Fried Rice. My kids love to make this themselves for lunch whenever we have leftover rice. Heat about 3 Tbsp. coconut oil in a large skillet. Add the rice. Add cubed ham, if you have some, or you can skip the ham. (Whenever I serve a large ham for dinner I cube up the leftovers and portion them out in ziplocs in the freezer for this purpose. I also save the bone in the freezer or use it right away to make ham and bean soup or split pea soup.) Crack in a couple of eggs while frying the rice, then add a bag of frozen, mixed veggies. Season with salt, pepper and a little garlic. If you use up leftovers, your only cost is the eggs.

  • cost: under 20 cents per serving

Quesadillas. We make these all the time for lunch. Place a couple of tortillas in a large, hot, oiled skillet. Top them with shredded cheese and another tortilla. When the cheese looks mostly melty, flip the quesadilla. These are yummy with just the cheese, but we also like to add shredded meat or vegetables if we have them in the fridge from another meal. A personal favorite is to add corn and salsa in with the cheese.

  • cost: under 50 cents per serving

Enchiladas. Whenever I make these I make a huge, double batch so I have a bunch to freeze for lunches. They freeze really well and are easy to grab from the freezer. I cook a family-size package of chicken breasts (about 10 large breasts) in my instant pot, along with 2 entire minced onions, a small can of green chilis, plus 1/2 c. lime juice, a little sriracha, chili powder, cayenne, garlic, cumin, salt and pepper. Once it’s cooked, shred the meat. Add 2 – 16 oz. cartons of sour cream, 2 lb shredded mexican cheese, and 2 cans cream of chicken soup (I use a roux instead of canned cream soup) to the shredded chicken with all the juices. Don’t drain the chicken! Taste your filling and see if it’s seasoned to your liking. Spoon the filling down the center of flour tortillas and roll them up. Line enchiladas up in a single layer on a cookie sheet. This recipe makes about 40 enchiladas. Serve with spanish rice and black beans for an amazingly cheap family meal. Freeze extra enchiladas for later.

  • cost: about 85 cents per serving

Sausage and Fried Potatoes. This meal is simple and easy to make, but my kiddos love it. First, wash and slice 1.5 potatoes per person in your family. (I use a food processor so it only takes a few minutes.) Next, add a pound of ground sausage to a hot skillet and use a spatula to chop the sausage into many small chunks. Add the sliced potatoes, season them with salt and pepper, and stir them around. Place a lid on the skillet. Every few minutes, flip the potatoes so the ones on the bottom don’t burn and they all have a chance to get crispy.

  • cost: about 65 cents per serving

BBQ Sandwiches. I can usually find large pork roasts for under $1 a pound at the grocery store, so I usually make these with pork. But you can use whatever meat you find on sale. Chop the meat into smaller chunks and place them in your crockpot with a minced onion. Cover with bbq sauce. I make my own with 2 -8 oz. cans tomato sauce, 1/2 c. apple cider vinegar, 1/4 c. honey, 1/4 c. molasses, 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. Let it cook at least 5 hours on high, then shred the meat and let it cook another hour. Serve on toasted buns and serve with french fries (just julienne potatoes, season them and bake for 30 minutes) to decrease the cost further. These make great cheap family meals!

  • cost: under 73 cents per serving

Pork Chops. Whenever pork chops are on sale, I buy several packages. It’s super easy and cost effective to fry them on the stovetop, glaze them with apricot jam, and serve them with mashed potatoes and a frozen vegetable.

  • cost: about $1 per serving for the pork chop, mashed potatoes and vegetables

Sausage Au Gratin Skillet. This is an easy, fast, frugal weeknight dinner. First, wash and thinly slice a potato per family member. Slice a kielbasa into rounds and throw them in a hot skillet with 3 Tbsp. coconut oil. Add the potatoes to the skillet, cover it, and let them cook long enough for the potatoes to be tender, about 15 minutes. Add 1/4 c. flour to your skillet and stir, so the flour mixes with the oil and coats the potatoes. Add 3 c. milk, plus desired seasoning, to the skillet. When milk is hot, bubbly and thickened, stir in 2 c. shredded cheddar cheese along with any extra  veggies from your fridge, or a bag of frozen, mixed veggies. Stir thoroughly, then let the skillet rest for a few minutes to finish thickening.

  • cost: under 70 cents per serving

Au Gratin Casserole. Wash and thinly slice about 1 potato per family member. Butter a glass baking dish. Layer about half the sliced potatoes in the baking dish. Chop one onion, and top the potatoes with the onion. Top the onion with 2 c. shredded cheddar cheese. Top the cheese with a layer of vegetables/meat. I like to use broccoli and chopped ham, but you can use any combination that sounds good to you. Pour 1 quart of heavy whipping cream over the layers you have in the baking dish. Season with salt and pepper. Add the rest of the potatoes in a final layer. Top with another 2 c. shredded cheese. Pour the rest of your heavy whipping cream over the top, season, top with bread crumbs, cover with foil and bake at 400 degrees for 1.5 hours.

  • cost: under 70 cents per serving

Meatloaf and Mashed Potatoes. I don’t know about you, but I consider ground beef to be kind of pricey. Especially since I’m feeding so many hungry hobbits. So I use the trick that my grandma, who grew up during the depression, used to extend their rations. I turn the ends of the loaves of bread, which would otherwise be wasted by my kids (why do they all leave the ends of each loaf in the bread bag to be thrown away?) into bread crumbs, which I then add to my meatloaf. If I happen to not have bread on hand, I use oatmeal. For 2 loaves, mix 2 lbs. lean ground beef, 4 c. bread crumbs, 2 diced onions, 2 c. milk, 4 beaten eggs, 8 oz. tomato sauce, 2 Tbsp. Worcestershire sauce, 1 Tbsp. parsley, 1 Tbsp. salt, 1 tsp. garlic powder, and 1 tsp. pepper. Press the mixture into a loaf pan and top with: 2 8oz. cans tomato sauce mixed with 1/2 c. brown sugar and 1/4 c. mustard. Serve your meatloaf with homemade mashed potatoes as a yummy filler.

  • cost: under 70 cents per serving

Pork Fajitas. Fajitas are super quick and easy, and they can be cheap family meals, if you use cheaper cuts of meat, like a pork roast. Bell peppers and tomatoes are generally used in fajitas, but you can use whatever you have on hand. Slice the meat into strips against the grain so it will be more tender, and fry the strips in oil in a skillet. When they’re nearly cooked through, toss your vegetables into the skillet. Add a tablespoon of water and immediately replace the lid, so the veggies steam in the skillet for a few minutes. Remove the lid and add 1 Tbsp. chili powder, 1 Tbsp. garlic powder and salt to taste. Wrap in a tortilla and serve.

  • cost: under 75 cents per serving

cheap family meals

Pasta Skillet. You can make a pasta skillet a million different ways by varying your meat, veggie and sauce. For the Italian variation I usually make, I start my pasta water boiling. While the pasta cooks, I fry 1 lb of ground beef in my skillet. I add a bag of frozen veggies to the skillet, add the cooked, drained pasta, and add 2 cans of petite-diced italian style tomatoes. While hot, I top the whole thing with a little mozzarella. It’s a complete, cheap family meal that takes very little time to make.

  • cost: under 70 cents per serving

Orange Chicken. This is another favorite at our house. I get the rice going in my Instant Pot while I make the chicken. Cube chicken breasts into nugget-sized pieces. Cook them in a couple of Tbsp. of coconut oil in a large skillet. While they’re cooking, mix together 2 c. orange juice, zest of 1 orange, 2 Tbsp. rice vinegar, 1 Tbsp. soy sauce, 1 Tbsp. brown sugar, 1 tsp. ginger, 1 tsp. garlic powder, 1 tsp. red pepper flakes, 1 Tbsp. cornstarch stirred into 3 Tbsp. water. Once the chicken is thoroughly cooked, add the sauce ingredients to the skillet with the the chicken. Stir until the sauce is thick and hot. Serve over rice. I often add a package of frozen broccoli to the chicken/sauce skillet as well.

  • cost: under 85 cents per serving

Potato Curry. First, scrub and cube 1 potato per person. Heat 3 tbsp. coconut oil in a large skillet. Saute 1 diced onion, 1 green chili and 3 gloves chopped garlic. Add 8 oz. tomato sauce, 1 tsp. curry powder, 1 tsp. chili powder, 1 tsp. cumin, 1 tsp. ginger, 1/2 tsp. dry mustard powder, 1/2 tsp. turmeric and salt to taste. Add cubed potatoes to skillet and saute for a few minutes. Add water to just barely cover the potatoes and cook until potatoes are soft. Serve over rice.

  • cost: under 45 cents per serving

Grilled Cheese Sandwich with Soup. Grilled cheese sandwiches are so easy you can put your kiddos in charge of them. Whenever I make soup, I usually make an extra big pot and we have it for dinner with rolls, and then for lunch the next day with grilled cheese sandwiches.

  • cost: about 90 cents per sandwich, plus the cost of the soup

Beans and Rice. First, bring 8 c. chicken stock to a boil and stir in 4 c. rice and 4 Tbsp. butter. Return to a boil, then turn the stove to low, cover and cook for 20 minutes. Then turn the heat off and let the rice stand for a few minutes. While the rice is cooking, saute 3 cloves garlic, 1 minced onion and 2 c. chopped celery in a large skillet. Stir in 2 cans kidney beans, 1 tsp. onion powder, salt, pepper, and hot sauce to taste. Let the mixture simmer for a few minutes before stirring the bean mixture into the rice.

  • cost: under 50 cents per serving

Pasta Salad. When you’re in the mood for something light, pasta salad fills the bill perfectly. It’s another dish that can be made a million different ways, so it’s never boring. Just boil the pasta of your choice to al dente, then add assorted veggies and a vinaigrette dressing. I often add pepperoni or kielbasa and shredded cheese, too, to increase the protein and make it a complete meal.

  • cost: it really depends on the additions you choose

Burritos. Burritos are pretty healthy and super cheap, plus they freeze well, so you can make a bunch all at once and use them throughout the week. Mix a can of refried beans with 1/2 c. salsa to thin them a bit. Add 1 t. garlic powder, 1 t. chili powder, 1/2 t. cumin and salt to taste. Heat the bean mixture in a saucepan or microwave. Warm a stack of tortillas for 15 seconds in the microwave. Spread a scoop of the bean mixture down the center of each tortilla and wrap them up. Make them dozens of different ways for variety, and make them often to stretch your grocery budget further than you ever thought possible!

  • under 45 cents per serving

Roast Chicken with Potatoes and Vegetables. Whole chickens are cheap. I usually find them for less than $1 per pound or even less on sale. I have a huge crockpot, so I like to surround the chicken with onion slices, halved, peeled potatoes and carrots halved in length and sprinkle minced garlic and herbs over the vegetables. An electric roasting pan would work well, too. Once you have picked the chicken clean, throw the carcass back in your crockpot and cover with water and 3 T. vinegar to make FREE chicken stock that is far more tasty and nutritious than canned broth from the store.

  • under $1 per serving.

Italian Zucchini Casserole. When my zucchini plants are producing during the summer, I often feel like I can’t keep up with it! So I freeze zucchini (click the link to see how I do this) and use it all year long to whip up my favorite zucchini recipes. This one, reminiscent of lasagna, is so yummy that my kiddos request it. The directions are too long for this space, so click the link if you want the recipe.

  • less than 58 cents per serving

Sausage Roll Ups. These are a great way to use up leftovers! I usually make bread once per week, and I’ll make these roll ups with the extra dough. Make your favorite bread recipe. Mix together 1 8oz package of cream cheese, 1/2 c. salsa, 1 lb ground sausage and 2 c. shredded mozarella. Roll a portion of the dough into a large rectangle, as if you were making cinnamon rolls. Spread the meat mixture over the rectangle of dough and roll up along the shortest edge into a long log. Use a serrated knife and a low-pressure, back and forth sawing motion to gently slice your log into coin-shaped rolls. Place them on a greased baking sheet and let rise until doubles in size, then bake at 350 degrees for about 20 minutes or until golden brown and done all the way through.

  • cost: less than 80 cents per serving

Turkey broccoli roll ups. Follow the directions for sausage roll ups, but instead of using sausage and salsa, use cubed turkey, broccoli and provolone. Spread the cream cheese over the rectangle of bread dough, lightly season, spread the turkey cubes and the broccoli, then roll up, cut and bake like you would a cinnamon roll.

  • cost: less than 80 cents per serving

Scones. I often make scones when I’m making bread. If my day has been busy and I just feel to exhausted to make dinner, I’ll just set aside some of the bread dough and fry it in hot oil. I serve it up with whipped honey butter (from our own cows and bees) and my kiddos are in heaven. If I go very long without making scones, my kids let me know!

  •  cost: less than 20 cents per serving

Navajo Tacos. To make the Indian fry bread, whisk together 5 c. flour, 2 Tbsp. baking powder, 1 Tbsp. yeast and 1 tsp. salt. In a separate bowl, mix 3 Tbsp. melted butter and 2 c. warm milk. Mix the milk/butter into the dry ingredients until they form a ball. Let dough rest for 10 minutes. Heat 1 inch of oil in a pot until a drop of water skitters on the top. Divide dough into 20 pieces and roll each to about a 6-inch diameter. Fry each dough round until golden brown on both sides. Remove from oil and drain on paper towels. Top with chili, lettuce, tomatoes, green onions, cheddar, olives, sour cream and guacamole, like taco salad.

  • cost: Indian fry bread is less than 20 cents a serving, but the toppings will increase the cost.

Creamy Zucchini Casserole. This is also one of my go to recipes during the summer, when my zucchini is producing out of control. It’s really yummy, though (click the link for the recipe); one of the best cheap meals for your family.

  • cost: under 45 cents per serving

cheap family meals

Easy Sausage and Cabbage dinner. I make this regularly during the summer, when we want a quick, light meal. I basically just saute a kielbasa then add cabbage, steam and season. Click the link if you want more details.

  • cost: under 50 cents per serving

Ham and Beans. I make this or split pea soup every time we have ham, in order to fully use up the ham bone.  Immediately after removing the leftover ham from the bone, place the bone in your crockpot, cover it with water and 2 Tbsp. vinegar (to leach the minerals from the bone) and let it simmer overnight on high. At the same time, rinse 1 lb. Great Northern beans in a large pot and cover them cold water. Let stand overnight. Drain and rinse beans then add them to the crockpot with your leftover diced ham, 1 minced onion, 1/2 c. brown sugar, 1 Tbsp. parsley, 1/4 tsp. cayenne, and salt and pepper to taste. Simmer on high about 5 hours, until beans are tender. Remove the ham bone before serving. This is great served with a pan of cornbread, topped with whipped honey butter.

  • cost: under 55 cents per serving

Spaghetti. This is such and easy and cheap family meal that I almost consider it junk food. You can boil up a box of pasta and heat a can of pasta sauce in no time. Or you can put in a little effort and make more own marinara sauce by sauteeing a can of diced tomatoes, half a chopped onion, and a few garlic cloves then seasoning it to taste. Add some garlic toast and you’ve got a cheap family meal everyone will love.

  • cost: under 38 cents per serving

cheap family meals


Fried chicken with ALL the fixins. I’m not kidding. You can get an entire plateful of fried chicken with all the fixins’: buiscuits, coleslaw, mashed potatoes and gravy, and hot, crispy chicken for under $1 a serving. And I’m not talking tiny servings, either. I don’t have room here for the entire recipe (and this isn’t a quick, easy meal) but you can click the link to find the whole thing.

  • cost: under $1 per plateful of fried chicken with all the sides.

Peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Need I elaborate? You may not want to eat them all day every day (nor do I!) but they’re very cost effective and make a great, cheap lunch now and then!

  • cost: around 50 cents per serving

Pot Roast and veggies. Pot Roast can be pretty pricey, but you can sometimes find them on sale and stock up. The key to keep this meal frugal is to load up on the potatoes. Sear your roast in hot oil in a skillet on both sides. Place the roast in your crock pot and drench it with sliced onions, garlic powder, salt and pepper. Or sometimes I use an onion soup mix, which makes it tasty. Cook on high for three hours, then add potatoes and carrots, also drenched in seasonings and onions. I like to leave the veggies large so they cook more slowly. I quarter the potatoes and halve the carrots. Cook for another three hours and serve. Serve with homemade rolls to quench large appetites.

  • cost: about $1 per serving



Cheap Family Meals for Kids

It’s nice to have a few kid-friendly, cheap family meals in your rotation. Not only are these meals cheap, but they’re also easy. And your kiddos will happily jump in to help you out.

English muffin pizza. The english muffin is the pizza crust. Spread pasta sauce over the muffin, top it with your favorite pizza toppings, and toss it in the oven or microwave for a quick, cheap meal that will cost you less than 50 cents per serving. You could also use a bagel or a pita as the crust.

  • cost: about 50 cents per serving

Pigs in a blanket. Baking day is often crazy around here, and after finishing I just don’t feel like making dinner. That’s why I often reserve a ball of dough for my kids to cut into ‘ropes’ and wrap around hot dogs. Pigs in a blanket just take a few minutes if you’ve get some bread dough handy, and they cost about 20 cents per serving.

  • cost: about 20 cents per serving

cheap family meals

Chicken nuggets. These are so much better for you than store bought. Are the ones from the store even chicken? These aren’t super easy, but they’re worth the work!  Combine 1/2 c. flour, 1 tsp. paprika, 1 tsp. garlic powder, 1 tsp. onion powder, pinch of cayenne, salt and pepper in a ziploc bag. Cut 4 chicken breasts into bite-sized chunks. It’s easiest if your chicken is just slightly frozen. Toss the chicken chunks into the bag as you cut them. Shake them well to coat them with the spiced flour. Crack 2 eggs into a bowl and beat them with 1 Tbsp. milk. Fill a second bowl with seasoned breadcrumbs. Remove the flour-coated chicken chunks from the bag a couple at a time, dunking them in the egg wash, then the bread crumbs, then dropping them into a skillet of medium hot oil. Once they’re cooked through, remove them to a paper-towel-lined pan. If your oil is too hot, they’ll burn on the outside before they cook all the way through. Also, you need to cut your chunks small enough that they’ll cook all the way through. Serve with baked french fries to cut the cost further.

  • cost: about 80 cents per serving



Cheap Family Meals of Soup

Soup is nourishing, comforting and one of the most cost-effective cheap family meals. Plus, it’s so easy to make! I always serve it with a piping hot loaf of homemade, whole wheat bread to keep the cost down even more. I can serve my entire family any of these soups, with bread, for well under 50 cents a serving, plus have leftovers to feed them the next day.

Minestrone Soup. I make mine from scratch, with nourishing beef stock as the base (click the link for the recipe). But this can also be thrown together in 20 minutes with canned beef stock and canned beans and veggies. It’s filling and nutritious all by itself, or make a sandwich to go with it.

  • cost: under 68 cents per serving

Potato Soup. I made this at least once a week when we were in college and living as a family of four on less than $10k a year. It’s a great way to stretch a dollar! And it’s easy, too. I just scrub, dice and boil a pot full of potatoes. Drain the water off and cover the potatoes with milk. Add garlic powder, salt and pepper to taste. Dunk your immersion blender in the pot and blend for a couple of seconds. Not too long because you don’t want a pot of runny mashed potatoes. You just want to thicken the soup a little using the potatoes as the thickener.

  • cost: under 30 cents per serving


cheap family meals


Loaded Baked Potato Soup. This is a fancy version of the potato soup. It’s perfect for when you have company over in the winter. When I’m feeling extra fancy, I serve it in bread bowls. Saute 12 oz. bacon, a minced onion and 3 cloves of garlic in a large stockpot while you’re scrubbing and dicing about 12 potatoes. Remove the crisped bacon from the pot and crumble it. Add the diced potatoes to the pot and saute them until tender. Add 1/2 c. flour to the pot, and stir it around so it combines with the bacon fat. Cover the potatoes with 6 c. milk, turn the heat low and let the milk heat and thicken. Once it’s hot and thickened slightly, stir in 1 lb. shredded cheddar cheese, 16 oz. sour cream, and salt and pepper to taste. Serve with crumbled bacon and shredded cheddar to garnish.

  • cost: under 90 cents per serving

Broccoli and Cheese Soup. Wash, trim and chop about 3 lb. broccoli. Saute 1 minced onion, 3 cloves garlic, and broccoli in 1/2 c. butter. Add 1/2 c. water to the hot pot and immediately cover with a lid to steam the broccoli. Add 1/2 c. flour and stir it into the butter, then add 6 c. whole milk to the pot. Reduce heat and stir until the milk is hot and thickened. Stir in 1/2 lb. shredded cheddar. Serve with rolls and butter.

  • cost: under 65 cents per serving

Cauliflower Soup. Follow the directions for broccoli cheese soup above, but substitute cauliflower for the broccoli.

  • cost: under 65 cents per serving

French Onion Soup. Even my kiddos who aren’t huge fans of onions in general will gobble this up. Saute 6 sliced onions in 1/2 c. butter in a large stockpot on medium heat. Stir until tender and translucent, but don’t brown the onions. Add 8 c. beef stock. (I use homemade, but you could also use canned or 8 c. water with 8 tsp. bouillon. Season with salt and pepper to taste, and simmer for 30 minutes. Ladle into glass bowls and top each with a slice of bread, a slice of provolone and a slice of swiss cheese. Place bowls on baking sheet and broil until the cheese is golden brown and bubbly.

  • cost: under 43 cents per serving

Taco Soup. Brown 1 lb. of ground beef in a large stockpot. Saute 1 diced onion and 3 cloves garlic with the hamburger. Add 1 can kidney beans, 1 can pinto beans, 1 can black beans, 2 cans corn, 2 cans diced, stewed, Mexican-style tomatoes, 1 can green chilis, all with the juice in the can. Don’t drain them. Add 4 c. water. Stir in 3 Tbsp. chili powder, 1 tsp. garlic powder, 1 tsp. cumin, 1/2 tsp. cayenne and salt and pepper to taste. Serve with tortilla chips.

  • cost: under 75 cents per serving

Chicken Noodle Soup. Homemade chicken noodle soup is so much more nutritious and filling than the stuff from a can. It’s also much cheaper! Click the link for my recipe.

  • cost: under 54 cents per serving

cheap family meals

Chili Con Carne. Chili is one of those easy, cheap family meals that you can make a hundred different ways, all of them delicious. Click the link for a good, basic recipe you can tinker with. Try adding chili to your taco salad or Navajo tacos (recipe above). It’s also great on a baked potato.

  • cost: under 60 cents per serving

Lentil Soup. This is on of the hubs’ favorites. Add 2 cups of lentils, 1 can of diced, stewed tomatoes, 1 diced onion, 1 clove minced garlic, and 1 Tbsp dill to a large stockpot, with 6 c. water and bring it all to a boil. Lower the heat, cover, and let it simmer for about 45 minutes. Salt and pepper to taste.

  • cost: under 28 cents per serving

Slow Cooker Beef Stew. Whenever I make a roast, everyone knows it will be followed by beef stew. Leave the leftover bones, beef and drippings in your crockpot. Fill the crockpot with water and 2 Tbsp. vinegar (to leach the nourishing minerals from the bones into the stock). Turn your crockpot to high and let it simmer overnight. The next day, add potatoes, onions and carrots to the crockpot. We usually have leftover veggies from the pot roast the day before, so I add those. Since they’re already cooked, they don’t need to simmer long. If you’re adding raw, they’ll need about 5 hours to simmer in the crockpot. I then add a can of green beans and a can of diced, stewed tomatoes, season to taste and serve with hot rolls and a glass of milk. My drippings are always full of seasonings from the roast the day before. If you don’t have drippings, you might need to add more seasonings.

  • cost: under 10 cents per serving because the majority of the ingredients are scavenged from the pot roast meal the day before.

Ham and Bean Soup. This is another of those delicious, easy, cheap family meals made mainly from scavenged ingredients. Whenever I make a ham, I follow it up with ham and bean soup, or ham and beans, or split pea soup the next day. After removing most of the leftover ham from the bone, I place the bone in my crockpot and fill the crockpot with water and 2 Tbsp. vinegar (to leach minerals from the bone). Let it simmer on high overnight, while you also let the beans soak in a bowl of water overnight. The next day, add the beans to the crockpot with 2 cloves minced garlic and 1 diced onion. Let them simmer for at least 5 hours, then remove the bone and add 6 chopped carrots, 6 chopped stalks of celery, 1 can diced, stewed tomatoes, salt and pepper to taste. Chop and add some of the leftover ham. Simmer another 2 hours.

  • cost: under 20 cents per serving because the ham and stock are scavenged from the day before.

Split Pea Soup. This comforting soup is made just like the ham and bean soup above, but with dried, split peas instead of the beans. Click the link for a more detailed recipe.

  • cost: under 20 cents per serving because the ham and stock are scavenged from the day before.



Looking for even more delicious and cheap soup recipes? I’ve compiled a bunch of them here.

>>>33 Cheap and Easy Soup Recipes<<<



Cheap Family Meals for Breakfast

Oatmeal. My kids don’t appreciate porridge as much as I do.  A bowl of hot, steel-cut oats is perfect on a wintry morning. Oats cost about 5 cents per half cup, cooked and milk is about 8 cents per half cup, so this filling breakfast is less than 15 cents total.

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 filling meal will cost around $0.80 per serving. 

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.

Bread and Milk. My kiddos love to crumble a slice of whole wheat bread into a bowl and top it with milk, cinnamon and sugar. The hubs won’t touch it with a ten foot pole. He says his grandpa used to eat bread and milk topped with a raw, sliced onion. That explains everything!

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.

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 make greek yogurt. Before serving, I just mix in frozen berries and sugar to taste.

Pancakes. These babies only take a few minutes to whip together and a few minutes to fry up. Basic pancakes only cost about 20 cents per serving.

cheap family meals

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.

Eggs and toast. Easy and quick to make, and the eggs can be made at least 5 different ways: scrambled, fried, poached, baked and boiled. 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 toast is only 30 cents.

Homemade Muffins. These quick and easy muffins honestly only take about three minutes to whip together, and 20 minutes to bake. At under 20 cents a serving, these muffins qualify as a cheap family meal! Click the link for the recipe.

French Toast. Just as cheap a family meal as eggs and toast, this one is a little fancier!

Breakfast Casserole with Hash Browns. This casserole is fantastic for potlucks because it’s so easy to make ahead of time and reheat. Start by browing 1 lb. ground sausage. While it cooks, butter a glass, 9 x 13 baking dish, then fill it with 2 lb. frozen hashbrowns (you can use homemade, but you have to wash the starch off REALLY well or they’ll be grey). Beat together 12 eggs, 1 c. milk, 1 tsp. each of salt and pepper. Layer the cooked, crumbled sausage and 2 c. shredded cheddar over the hashbrowns, then pour the egg mixture over the whole thing. Bake at 350 degrees for about 35 minutes, or until the eggs are set. This breakfast casserole costs under 50 cents per serving.

Crescent Roll Breakfast Casserole. This is similar to the above recipe, but you roll unbaked crescent roll dough into the bottom of the baking dish instead of hashbrowns. Top the crescent roll dough with cooked, crumbled sausage and shredded cheese, then pour the egg mixture over the whole thing and bake. This breakfast casserole costs under 45 cents per serving.

Lazy Quiche. My mom always made this for dinner when I was a kid. It’s similar to the breakfast casseroles above. Layer sliced bread in the bottom of a greased baking dish. Top the bread with cooked, crumbled sausage and shredded cheddar (or diced ham and broccoli and cheese, or diced turkey and provolone, or whatever meat/veggie/cheese you have on hand) then pour the egg and milk mixture over the top and bake.

cheap family meals

German Pancakes. I’ve also seen these called Puff pancakes, Oven pancakes and Dutch Babies. Bake these in muffin pans and they will be popovers. Whatever you call them, they are super yummy, nutritious and cheap! German pancakes costs around 30 cents per serving.

Huevos Rancheros. A breakfast burrito is a quick, filling, and highly portable breakfast. You can make them ahead of time, wrap them in plastic and freeze them 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.

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.



Tips for keeping your family meals cheap:

If you have teenage sons, you know they are bottomless pits. A normal serving size for them is an entire dinner plate, heaped, of whatever we are having. And a second serving is just as large.

Groceries to fill those bottomless pits could cost you a ton. So I’ve assembled all of my best tips for keeping family meals cheap to help you out!

  • A cheap way to extend meals when you have several teenage boys is to cook up a large batch of inexpensive filler, like rice or potatoes, to serve alongside meals.
  • Serve bread, rolls or a pan of cornbread with meals as a cheap filler.
  • Buy grains and legumes in bulk for a HUGE price discount. They last for around 30 years, so purchase a couple of 50 lb bags at a time. Not only will buying in bulk save you money, but it makes sense to have a little extra food stored in case of an emergency.
  • Freezer meals are a great way to save money on groceries, because they assure that there is always something yummy and easy to eat at home, lessening the temptation to stop and pick up take out.
  • Batch cooking, or preparing more than you need immediately of either a single ingredient or an entire meal, shortens your time in the kitchen, increasing the likelihood that you’ll actually cook, which saves you money. I often cook up double the ground beef or chicken I need, then set aside the extra, if I know I’ll need it for tomorrow’s meal. Or I’ll make a triple batch of chicken nuggets and freeze portions to use later.
  • Breakfast for dinner. Breakfast is typically much cheaper than dinner, so have it for dinner a few times a month to save yourself some cash.
  • Meal planning will help you to save money on groceries because you’ll be less prone to impulse purchases.
  • When fruits and vegetables are in season in your area you can find them super cheap at farmer’s markets.
  • Have occasional meatless meals, or even designate a day each week, like Meatless Mondays, to eat meat-free, more economical meals.
  • Extend meat (in things like meatloaf, swiss steak and hamburger patties) by thoroughly mixing a filler into the meat in a 1:3 ratio, filler to ground beef. Bread crumbs, oatmeal ground in your blender, and mashed potatoes each make a great filler. Bread crumbs and oatmeal are dry and will also require you to add an egg and a bit of milk to maintain the moistness.
  • Avoid throwing away food by making a point of eating leftovers for lunch, or by having a leftover meal for dinner once a week. Meals comprised of leftovers are essentially free and will really help you to stretch your grocery budget.
  • Check out these 7 Easy Tips for Cutting Your Grocery Bill in Half!
  • Half the battle is thinking up meals, am I right? A meal rotation can help with the dinner time stupor of thought. There are several different styles of meal rotations. You could always have meatless Mondays, pasta Tuesdays, Chinese Wednesdays, soup Thursdays… Or you could compile a list of your 30 favorite dinners to rotate through monthly.




Final Thoughts on Cheap Family Meals

I hope you’ve found a few cheap family meals that appeal to you. Even when you’re cooking on a budget, be sure to not skimp on nutrition. You’ll feel good about feeding your family these nutritious, delicious, cheap family meals that won’t break the bank.

Add several of these cheap meals into your meal rotation, just two or three nights every week, and chop your grocery bill in half, without feeling deprived at all.

What are your favorite, cheap family meals? Leave your suggestions in the comments below!




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  1. “Loaded” baked potatoes. Crumbled bacon, cheese, broccoli, sour cream or butter.

  2. It makes is so much easier to plan a cheaper menu when you have good recipes that your family enjoys. This is a great list!

    1. Amy Saunders says:

      So true, Karen! I’m glad my family doesn’t require caviar and lobster too often! They’re plenty happy with all of our cheap family meals.

  3. Destinee Geasley says:

    Thank you for this post! It was great!

    1. Amy Saunders says:

      Glad I could help!

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