Has your grocery store bill increased lately? Prices keep rising in stores across the United States. According to the Consumer Price Index, food at home costs increased by 6.5% last year.
The most significant category increases included meats, poultry, fish, and eggs. These increases have significantly impacted the average household grocery budget and meal planning for family dinners.
It’s frustrating to spend so much money on a few staple items at the grocery store. While you can’t control food costs in a volatile market, you can save your budget with some creative meal planning and cheap dinner ideas.
Families have unique tastes and preferences for dinners that offer choice and variety. Searching for budget-friendly meals online leads you to many ideas that are mainly pasta with a pinch of cheese or dressing. These cheap dinner ideas come from frugal ingredients where the meat is versatile and allows you to shop according to the current market prices.
Cheap Dinner Ideas by Category
Cheap Crockpot Meals
A crockpot is a time and money saver for meals in multiple ways. A crockpot is a valuable kitchen tool for busy families. It cooks a meal while you’re at work, saves the cost of using an oven, and allows you to feed a large family.
Soups, stews, and chilis are cheap crockpot dinner meals that go a long way. Many combinations of meats and veggies work together to make a hearty dinner. Some crockpot meals, such as chili, can be used later in the week to create new dishes, such as topping for nachos or potatoes. Using your leftovers in different meals is cost-effective and reduces food waste.
Taco soup is an example of a hearty and easy crockpot meal that feeds a large family or crowd. It consists of beef (or chicken), tomatoes, corn, beans, and seasoning. These are common canned goods kept in the pantry or affordable to purchase when you need a meal that feeds a crowd. You can choose your meat for this dish based on market pricing at the time, making it a versatile dish that helps with your food budget and weeknight dinners.
More cheap crockpot dinner ideas:
- Chicken or beef chili
- Chicken with Italian dressing or salsa (shredded to add to pasta or pair with a veggie)
- Chicken and dumplings
- Vegetable soup
- Pot roast and veggies
- Beef stew
These crockpot dinner ideas are easy to make and use inexpensive ingredients. Many of these dishes make enough to freeze for multiple meals, which also stretches your dollar.
Easy Cheap Casseroles
Casseroles, or one sheet pan dinners, combine foods that create a standalone meal. You probably have some traditional casserole recipes from your cookbook that are already classic family favorites. Casseroles use versatile ingredients, and you can adjust recipes to feed small or large families.
One easy sheet pan meal and known comfort food that combines chicken, a flaky pie crust, and vegetables is chicken pot pie. The most significant expense is your chicken, but it remains a cost-effective meal with veggies and a homemade or store-bought crust.
A rotisserie chicken is typically an affordable food item used in various dishes to make casseroles and other cheap dinner meals. One chicken can go a long way when used in soups, salads, and pasta to add protein and flavor.
Easy casseroles for dinner:
- Shepherd’s pie
- Taco casserole
- Breakfast casserole
- Poppyseed chicken casserole
- Beef stroganoff
- Ground beef casserole
Casseroles typically combine proteins, starches, vegetables, and sauces to create a tasty and filling meal. Another bonus of casseroles is that most freeze well and can be prepared in advance to save time and money.
Pasta Dinner Ideas
Pasta dinners provide many food choices that are affordable and delicious. They are often a simple meal favorite that kids love too. Pasta consisting of add-on ingredients remains a cost-effective food choice used to feed families or large groups.
Spaghetti is one choice that can save your budget and please the whole family. It can be vegetarian or meat-based depending on prices at shopping time. Toppings and add-ins can customize your meal based on family preferences.
Easy pasta dinner ideas:
- Homemade pizza
- Mac and cheese
- Creamy chicken pasta
- Pasta salad
- Baked ziti
Pasta is cheap, and a few added ingredients can make it an excellent option for family meals. Use what you already have on hand in the pantry or fridge to liven up an otherwise plain pasta dish.
We can take some meal ideas from the Great Depression and apply them today to save our budgets at dinner time. The Great Depression was a time in our history when people viewed meats and sweets as splurges and not everyday menu items. They used what was available in as many creative ways as possible. Most meals consisted of beans, potatoes, and cornbread.
You can prepare potatoes in multiple ways to create different dishes, and a baked potato with a few add-ons can make a cheap dinner meal. Leftover mashed potatoes can be cooked again into fried potato patties to get your money and meal’s worth from one dish.
Adding more veggies to your meals is a natural way to eat cheap and healthy dinner meals. Many meals can be served vegetarian with lentils, beans, spinach, or other vegetables on sale and in season.
Other simple meatless meals:
- Beans and rice
- Cheese or veggie quesadillas
- Bean and cheese burritos
- Vegetable stir fry
- Roasted vegetables and sweet potatoes
Lentils and beans provide protein, carbohydrates, and fiber as a great option to a balanced diet that will not blow your budget. Adding more vegetables to your dishes improves the flavor and is healthier too.
Sandwich Ideas for Dinner
Sometimes you’re a busy family on the go and need a cheap dinner idea with little to no cooking for an easy weeknight meal. A sandwich can meet both needs with a few simple ingredients. Sandwiches for supper are a quick and cost-effective option.
Making a comeback in part to Johnny Lawrence’s character in Cobra Kai, it doesn’t get much easier or cheaper than a Manwich, also known as a Sloppy Joe. A Sloppy Joe is a meat mixture with added sauces to create a tangy flavor. It’s eaten on hamburger buns or bread and served with chips, fries, or tater tots, making it a fun kid-friendly meal.
More cheap dinner sandwich ideas:
- Grilled cheese
- Pulled pork sandwiches
- Egg sandwich
- Bacon, lettuce, and tomato sandwich
Don’t forget the classic peanut butter and jelly sandwich! It’s a quick, cheap dinner idea that still packs in some protein.
Breakfast for Dinner Ideas
Breakfast makes a meal at any time of the day and provides a quick and easy dinner that uses simple ingredients you likely already have in the fridge or pantry. Oatmeal, fruits, and omelets are nutritious choices that are easy to prepare at dinner time.
A breakfast casserole combines eggs, sausage, cheeses, and croissants to make an all-in-one pan dish that can feed a family of 4. These are items you would need to buy when they are on sale to keep this an affordable dinner choice.
Simple breakfast for dinner options:
- Oatmeal with fruit or yogurt
- Pancakes or waffles with fruit
- Gravy and biscuits
Breakfast for dinner can save your budget and please the whole family, making it a win for a cheap weeknight meal. For those nights where you have no time or energy, a bowl of cereal can come to the rescue!
Easy Dinner Desserts
Whether it’s been a long day, there’s something to celebrate or to cure a sweet tooth. Sometimes you need a dessert at dinner. Adding a dessert to a meal does not have to blow your budget.
Desserts can be simple, cheap, and delicious. If you like apples, combine one can of apple pie filling, a box of yellow cake mix, and butter in the crockpot for two hours. The result is a delicious dessert that tastes as good as it smells for less than $5!
More cheap dessert ideas:
- Pudding topped with whip cream
- Rice or bread pudding
- No-bake cookies
This dessert recipe for chocolate Christmas clusters doesn’t fit the cheap category, but it does make enough to gift all of your coworkers or friends and family. You can offset the expense by using it as a gift item for a group of people.
Final thoughts: Cheap dinner ideas can save your time and your grocery budget without compromising flavor or variety. Vegetables can be added to your meals for cost savings and added health benefits.
Misty is the owner and founder of Home Money Habits. She has a specialist degree in educational leadership and is a Google Certified Educator Level 2. Misty provides tips, tools, and printables for home and money management so families can stress less and spend more time on their terms.