Save Time and Money with Dirt Cheap Meals!

What’s the best way to save money and time? It’s dirt cheap meals!

The cost of living is a big concern for many families these days. However, it doesn’t mean that you can’t enjoy eating healthy food.

This post outlines 11 meals that are dirt cheap but still taste great and provide your family with the nutrients they need to live a healthy life. They are really easy and dirt cheap recipes that can help save you time and money while also providing nutritious meals!

Easy, healthy meals to make that will feed your family for less than $7! These are the kind of meals you can make in a pinch when you’re tired or don’t have much cash on hand. Whether you’ve got 20 minutes or 20 hours per week to cook, these dirt cheap meals will be perfect for any grocery budget!

How are these dirt cheap meals different?

If you do a quick Google search for cheap dinner ideas or meals, you’ll see many posts with hot dogs and super processed, unhealthy convenience foods.

If you know me, you know beyond personal finance, I’m passionate about health. After struggling for a season with chronic inflammation and getting diagnoses of carpal tunnel, tennis elbow, and trigger finger, I was able to heal my body naturally, primarily through good food choices.

When writing a post on dirt cheap meals, I only want to recommend cheap meals I would personally make myself and my family for dinner.

Making your meal plan fit you

You can make these cheap meals in 10 minutes or less and they cost under $7 for a family of four. The focus of this post is dirt cheap dinners, but you can easily double many of these meals for lunch the next day.

All of these recipes are flexible depending on your dietary preferences and grocery budget.

My family often eats plant-based, which is not only healthy but can significantly cut down on your costs.

If you want to add meat but keep things simple, I recommend grilling chicken or cooking up some ground turkey over the weekend. You can also buy a pre-cooked rotisserie chicken at some grocery stores for under $6. That way, you can easily add it to meals during the week and not worry about extra cook time.

You may also want to consider cooking up and storing some rice at the beginning of the week. You can cook up a batch and then freeze it in portions for easy reheating. This is typically one of the cheapest ways to eat quality rice.

Otherwise, you can get 90-second Microwave pouches at many grocery stores or use Minute Rice.

With all of these recipes, you’ll see they are either naturally gluten & dairy-free, or I’ve listed a simple way to make them fit both dietary restrictions.

11 Delicious Dirt Cheap Meal Ideas

Without further ado, here are some of my favorite cheap meals to feed my family on a budget. I’ve based all of the costs on a family of 4. 

The costs are based on shopping at Walmart in June of 2021, with many of the options being store-brand. 

Ramen

Dirt Cheap Meals- Ramen

This is one of the cheapest meals you can make. If you are in a bind and want to make this extra dirt cheap, use the pre-packaged ramen noodles. Pre-packaged ramen is not the healthiest option, but it keeps costs super low, at just over $.20 per package. It is recommended that you add one packet of ramen noodles per person.

If you want to up the quality of your noodle, I recommend a rice-based noodle like the one from Lotus or Thai Kitchen. If you get the higher-end noodles without seasoning, click HERE for a make-your-own ramen seasoning.

Toss in a package of frozen vegetables while cooking and a few eggs at the very end of the cooking time, and voila, you have a super cheap meal!

If you want a little meat, pre-cooked diced ham or chicken mixes well!

Click HERE for some ramen noodle cooking instructions.

Basic Ingredients:

  • Ramen noodles packages- $.22 (x4)= $.88
  • Frozen vegetables- $.80
  • 4 Eggs- $.43

Total Cost: $2.11

Cost Per Serving: $.52

Tacos

Dirt Cheap Meals- Tacos

A staple in many homes, tacos are dirt cheap and easy to make.

You can do soft or hard shells. If you’re looking to keep things gluten-free, opt for hard, corn shells.

Fillings can vary greatly depending on your preferences, but I recommend using black beans, corn, cheese, avocado, and salsa. If you want meat, add some pre-cooked turkey sausage or chicken.

Basic Ingredients:

  • Hard shells- $1.23
  • 1 Can of black beans- $.50
  • 1 Can of corn- $.50 
  • 1/2 Bag of shredded cheese- $1.21
  • Avocado- $.78
  • 1/2 Jar of Salsa- $.62
  • 1 Pound of chicken- $1.99

Total Cost: $6.83

Cost Per Serving: $1.71

Breakfast for Dinner

Dirt Cheap Meal- Omelette

Breakfast for dinner is one of my favorite meals to make dirt cheap.

If you’re doing this after Taco Night, you can easily throw any leftovers into an egg omelet. Or you can toss in some spinach, ham, and cheese to make a solid, standard omelet.

I’m a sucker for biscuits and gravy. While it’s not the most healthy, I’ve made THIS recipe with a dairy-free milk and a gluten-free flour. It turned out great and made it a bit healthier! If you want to keep it super easy and nutritious, eat the gravy with toasted whole-grain bread.

Overnight oats are another great option. You can make them in advance, and eat them independently or alongside a more hearty item like an omelet. Click HERE for a peanut butter-based recipe example.

Omelet Ingredients:

  • 8 Eggs- $.85
  • 1/2 Bag frozen spinach- $.50
  • 8 oz Diced ham- $1.91
  • 1/2 Bag Shredded Cheese- $1.21

Cost: $4.47

Cost Per Serving: $1.12

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Dirt Cheap Meals- Overnight Oats

Overnight Oats Ingredients:

  • 2 cups almond milk- $.46
  • 3 TBSP Chia Seeds $.46
  • 8 TBSP Peanut Butter- $.33
  • 4 TBSP Brown Sugar- $.05
  • 2 Cups Oats- $.33

Cost: $1.63

Cost Per Serving: $.41

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Total Cost: $6.10

Cost Per Serving: $1.53

Fried Rice

Dirt Cheap Meals- Fried Rice

Fried rice is a cheap meal that you can mix up in a matter of minutes. You just need eggs, rice, and an assortment of vegetables to fry with it. You can use the quick cook microwave rice or Minute Rice, or you can cook up your own in advance. I recommend using frozen veggies because they’re usually cheaper than fresh ones.

To add some calories to make it a main dish, consider throwing in some chickpeas or pre-made chicken.

Click HERE for a recipe to help guide your efforts.

Ingredients:

  • Rice- $.58
  • Eggs- $.32
  • Frozen Veggies- $.80
  • Oils/ Seasoning- $.15
  • 1 Pound Chicken- $1.99

Total Cost: $3.84

Cost Per Serving: $.96

Baked Potatoes

Dirt Cheap Meals- Baked Potatoes

Simple and easy to cook, these kitchen staples are super cheap and filling.

If you’re in a hurry, you can quickly microwave potatoes. Click HERE for instructions. If you have more time, HERE are instructions for oven-baked potatoes.

The great thing about baked potatoes is they are so versatile. You can pair so many toppings with them.

Many families find it fun to do a “baked potato bar” where everyone can choose their own toppings like butter, cheese, broccoli, bacon bits, and green onions.

For a more hearty meal, stuffing your potatoes with a sloppy joe filling is a great way to fill up. Use your pre-made ground turkey (or cook up some ground beef), and use THIS sauce for the topping. For plant-based, vegetarian, or a cheaper option, you can substitute the meat with beans.

This dirt cheap meal is a crowd favorite for a variety of taste buds.

Ingredients:

  • Potatoes- $2.20
  • Ground Turkey- $1.98
  • Sloppy Joe Sauce- $.82

Total Cost: $5

Cost Per Serving: $1.25

Spaghetti

Dirt Cheap Meals- Spaghetti

As one of the cheapest meals you can make, spaghetti is a go-to dinner for families on a budget.

To make it dirt cheap, you’ll also want to be strategic when shopping for sauces and noodles. Check store sales and stock up when things are at their cheapest, especially if you want higher quality ingredients.

You can heat frozen turkey meatballs or add pre-cooked ground turkey.

If you want to keep it super cheap and healthy, you can add lentils instead of meat. Cooking your own lentils is the most affordable way; however, you can also buy canned lentils for under $1.

If you are gluten-sensitive or just looking for a healthier alternative to standard spaghetti noodles, I like to use protein-based types of pasta made from chickpeas or lentils. The brand Banza makes several varieties.

Ingredients:

  • Spaghetti- $.80
  • Pasta Sauce- $.88
  • Ground Turkey- $1.98

Total Cost: $3.66

Cost Per Serving: $.92

Red Beans and Rice

Dirt Cheap Meals- Red Beans and Rice

Red Beans and Rice is a meal traditionally served in New Orleans. It is a delicious, inexpensive meal with an abundance of flavor and nutrition to please a variety of palates.

A package of Zatarain’s Red Beans and Rice can serve as a strong starting point. I don’t typically go for packaged products as the base of a meal, but you’d be hard-pressed to make flavorful red beans and rice entirely from scratch under 10 minutes.

Just add some andouille, kielbasa, or smoked sausage, and cook according to the package directions. While this takes less than 10 minutes to prepare, it does need to simmer for 25 minutes.

If you have more time, HERE is a great recipe for making it flavorful and cheap!

Ingredients:

  • Zatarain’s Red Beans & Rice- $2.24
  • Sausage- $2.20

Total Cost: $4.44

Cost Per Serving: $1.11

Chickpea Curry

Dirt Cheap Meals- Chickpea Curry

Chickpea Curry is the perfect dirt cheap meal to make when you want something quick and super healthy.

Curry is a rich, spicy dish originating in India, that has become prevalent throughout Southeast Asia.

After a trip to Thailand, I fell in love with curry. While there are many varieties, chickpea curry is one of the quickest and dirt cheap options you can make.

I’ve found a few different recipes for this online, but HERE is my favorite option so far.

Pair it with rice or quinoa, and you have a delicious, cheap meal!

Ingredients:

  • 2 Cans of chickpeas- $1
  • 1 Can of coconut milk- $.98
  • 1 Medium onion- $.70
  • 2 Cloves of garlic- $.10
  • 10 oz Baby Spinach- $1.88
  • Oil & Spices- $.30

Total Cost: $4.96

Cost Per Serving: $1.24

Slow Cooker Chili

Dirt Cheap Meals- Slow Cooker Chili

There are so many recipes online for GREAT slow cooker chili! In general, making chili in the slow cooker is going to save you time. But for this blog post, I wanted to find a recipe that wasn’t just a “kind of” quick and dirt cheap meal, but super fast and really cheap!

And, of course, still delicious and healthy!

That’s why I recommend a black bean and sweet potato chili. It’s literally 5-ingredients, aside from salt. You can jazz it up with some sour cream, avocado, cilantro, jalapeño, or any other topping you think might pair well. Click HERE to check it out!

Ingredients:

  • 3 medium sweet potatoes- $2.34
  • 2 Cans of black beans- $1
  • 15 oz jar of salsa- $1.23
  • 1 cup vegetable stock- $.36
  • 1 tsp cumin- $.10

Total Cost: $5.03

Cost Per Serving: $1.26

Tuna Salad

Dirt Cheap Meals- Tuna Salad

When it comes to cheap meals packed with protein, tuna salad is among the best.

You can make a classic tuna salad with just some mayo and a little salt, or you could get more creative.

It’s really up to what your family likes best!

You can eat it as a sandwich with bread and cheese, or you can put it over salad.

HERE is a great, 5-minute recipe.

Ingredients:

  • 2 packs of tuna- $2.48
  • 2 ribs of celery- $.50
  • 6 tablespoons mayo- $.20
  • 2 tsp red onion- $.78
  • 2 tsp lemon juice- $.20
  • Salt and pepper $.05
  • 1/2 Loaf Bread $.49

Total Cost: $4.70

Cost Per Serving: $1.18

Pasta Salad

Dirt Cheap Meals- Pasta Salad

If you’re in the mood for Italian food and want to save money, pasta salad is a great option. It’s one of those meals you can make as simple or complex as you like.

You can make pasta salad with just about any pasta that your family likes – macaroni, penne, or rotini are all excellent options. Add some veggies like tomatoes, green peppers, red onions, and cucumber. I also like to throw in some olives and feta.

I like using the Banza rotini protein pasta for a gluten-free option, though it’s a little more pricey.

Then add olive oil, herbs, and spices like parsley, garlic, and onion powder, and salt and pepper to taste.

Toss in some chicken if you’d like to increase the protein content.

This recipe might cut it close on the 10-minute mark, but if you keep it simple and chop your veggies while cooking the pasta, you can likely pull it off or get really close.

Ingredients (for simple version):

  • Pasta- $.80
  • Grape tomatoes- $1.98
  • Cucumber- $.60
  • 1 Can of olives- $1.23
  • Oil & Spices- $.40
  • 1/2 Pound of Chicken- $1

Total Cost: $6.01

Cost Per Serving: $1.50

Set Your Grocery Budget

Many of these recipes can be enhanced or adjusted based on your grocery budget.

I recommend planning out your budget before heading for the grocery store, so you can strategically pick when you want to swap up in quality, get extra veggies to add in, or get something fresh versus frozen.

Create a Meal Plan

Once you’ve set your grocery budget, create your meal plan for the week or month (depending on when you shop).

With two children under three, I have to maximize my time as much as possible; therefore, I like making double of everything so my husband and I can have leftover meals for lunch the next day.

I hope you’ve found these dirt cheap meals as helpful as I do!

I’d love to know your favorite go-to recipes for dirt cheap dinners! I’m always looking for great additions to add to my repertoire!