Dirt Cheap Meals: A Complete Guide To Eating On A Tight Budget

You obviously came to this page searching for one thing. So, let’s get down to brass tacks here. I have compiled a massive list for you to refer to whenever you may need to find dirt cheap meals, some super cheap meals for your family, or ideas to help you compile a cheap grocery list. Following the list, I will share with you the best ways I have found to keep my family’s bellies full on a tight and frugal budget. Let’s begin!

Breakfast ideas:

Table of Contents

  • Cereal and milk

      • There are endless possibilities here for cereal options. Choose your favorite kind, a bowl, spoon, and milk of choice and you have enough breakfast in that box or bag to last you for days or even weeks depending on the size.
  • Oatmeal

      • Ready in just minutes, most prepackaged oatmeal just need water! Or if you like to buy in bulk, you can always try some quick 1-minute rolled oats on the stove and add any flavor profile of your choice.
  • Fried egg sandwich

      • Simply spray a small frying pan with non-stick spray, crack an egg into it, and season with salt and pepper. Cook it on both sides until the egg whites and yolk area no longer runny and eat on top of toast and a bit of mayo of miracle whip.
  • Omelet:

  • Bagel and cream cheese

      • Spreads and bagels come in several different flavors so try mixing it up. You can go savory or sweet!
  • Granola bars and fruit

      • Soft and chewy or hard and crunchy, granola bars are shelf stable and portable. Adding fruit will keep it fresh and light.
  • Pancakes and eggs

      • Pancake mix from a box or from scratch, this classic can be made however you like. Whether it be chocolate chips, raisins, blueberries, or plain, you can easily find a cheap box mix at the grocery store that only requires you to add water. Pair it with eggs for extra protein for a filling breakfast.
  • Biscuits and gravy

      • Although they can be made from scratch or premade ingredients like Bisquick, I prefer to buy the tubes of refrigerated biscuits from the store. These make my prep time very quick. You can also find gravy in a jar or in powder form in a packet which is usually a white country gravy whisked together with water or milk in a pot on the stove.
  • Muffins

      • There are mixes available that only need water as well as larger batch mixes that use eggs, oil, and milk. Find a brand you like and for a low price you will have muffins for the whole week! Make some from scratch if you are feeling adventurous.
  • Smoothies

      • Customizable, cheap, and filling; smoothies are a quick way to pack in the nutrients you need to start your day right and head out the door fast.
  • Yogurt with fruit or nuts

      • Considered more of a parfait, this breakfast is packed full of protein and will keep your belly full all morning.
  • Hard boiled eggs

      • The easiest way to make hard boiled eggs is to boil them in a pot for about 3 minutes. Then remove them from the heat, cover with a lid, and let sit for about 20 minutes. Then rinse with cold water and refrigerate until you are ready to eat.
  • Breakfast scones

  • Waffles

      • Whether it be frozen, from scratch, or from a box, waffles are a great cheap breakfast option. They can be topped with butter, syrup, berries, or ate as-is. 
  • Toast and jam

      • Crispy and sweet, toast and jam are a simple way to start your day. Nearly every kitchen has bread and jam of some sort. So, pop it in the toaster, spread on some goodness, and enjoy!
  • Cinnamon rolls

      • Can you smell it now? Cinnamon and cream cheese and a warm soft swirly bun. Delicious!
  • Bacon, egg, and cheese biscuits

  • Hashbrowns and eggs

      • The humble potato, shredded, crispy on the outside, and tender on the inside. Shred the potato yourself or use frozen hashbrowns and cook them in a skillet with butter. Eggs are always a cheap and healthy option to add as well.
  • Sause, egg, and cheese biscuits

      • Don’t like bacon? Swap it out for sausage instead. Pre-made patties are the perfect size for these little sandwiches.
  • Overnight oats

      • Not that long ago this became quite the craze. They require little preparation time, can be placed in the refrigerator overnight, and are ready for you once you wake up!
  • Chocolate Chip Pecan Banana Bread

      • A slight variation on the typical banana bread, this one is sure to please adults and kids.

Lunch ideas:

  • BLT’s, chips, and pickles

      • Although precooked bacon is sold in the grocery store, it is still cheaper to buy it raw and cook it yourself. Make is crispy or make it soft, add lettuce, mayo/miracle whip, and a juicy ripe tomato and you have the makings of a fantastic lunch.
  • Grilled cheese and tomato soup

      • Choose your favorite cheese and bread, spread some butter or simply spray with nonstick spray and cook on both sides. I prefer mine with melty American cheese and a little cayenne pepper in my tomato soup.
  • Chicken salad sandwich

      • For a chicken salad sandwich recipe, you can whip up quick, check out this one by spendwithpennies.com. I like to add sliced fresh grapes and some celery seed to mine as well. However, there are many variations of chicken salad sandwiches.
  • Tuna sandwich

      • It is always an ongoing debate in my home whether mayo or miracle whip is the best. However, I am partial to miracle whip, especially with tuna fish. Mix a few scoops of miracle whip with a can of tuna fish, spread it onto some bread, and add lettuce.
  • Egg salad sandwich

  • Turkey bacon ranch sandwich

      • Fresh sliced deli meat or prepackaged both make great options for this sandwich. Layer in some cooked bacon, a drizzle of ranch, and any other sandwich topping you like.
  • PB&J

      • There is no need to be a kid to still enjoy these classics. However, remember why we are looking at this list to begin with. We want dirt cheap meals. Foods that will fuel our bodies and fill our bellies on a very tight budget. The same goes for the next two sandwiches.
  • PB& Honey

      • This was introduced to me when I was in college. Yes, college! I  truly did not know peanut butter and honey was a thing until we needed to save as much money as possible in our college years
  • Chicken Ranch Wraps

      • When bread gets mundane, reach for the tortillas a make a wrap. At gimmiedelicious.com they know how to keep it delicious, cheap, and easy with this chicken wrap recipe.

Dinner ideas:

  • Chicken pot pie with fruit

      • Mix cooked chicken, potatoes, peas, onion, carrots, and cream of chicken soup in a bowl. Season with salt, pepper, and season-all salt. Pour into a Pillsbury pie shell topped with another one and bake according to instructions. This dirt-cheap meal is filling and oodles of food.
  • Chicken Cordon Bleu with veggies

      • You can still make meals that appear fancy but are actually cheap. One we love here is our Chicken Cordon Bleu. View the whole recipe here!
  • Chicken Quesadillas

      • A little bit of chicken goes a long way with chicken quesadillas. It is a great way to stretch things when your budget is tight. For a different sauce try mixing ranch and hot sauce, which you may already have in your refrigerator, instead of buying a special quesadilla condiment.
  • Chicken nuggets and sweet potato fries

      • There is no shame in off brand here! They still taste great and will save you multiple dollars. Homemade sweet potato fries are cheap as well. Much more so than buying a frozen bag. Just peel, clean, and chop a sweet potato. Drizzle the slices in oil and season with a bit of salt. Pop them in the oven at 425 degrees for 20-30 minutes and you will have put money back into your pocket.
  • Easy Homemade Two Cheese Lasagna with garlic toast and veggies

      • Sometimes the best way to save money on a dish is to skip the meat. Layer cheese, noodles, and spaghetti sauce like we did in our easy budget friendly homemade two cheese lasagna. Click here for the full recipe.
  • Sloppy Joes with chips

      • Our favorite sloppy joe is as simple as it gets. 1 pound of ground beef, a can of Manwich, and some hamburger buns. For a little extra flavor, try their bold sloppy joe sauce.
  • Breakfast burritos and fruit

      • Hashbrowns, scrambled eggs, sausage, and cheese wrapped up in a large tortilla. For a little extra flavor add some salsa or even ketchup if you have it on hand.
  • Pork chops with potatoes and veggies

      • Typically, pork chops with the bone in will cost less. The thicker they are the more they cost as well. I prefer thin pork chops anyway. Place them in a pan on the stove, season with some season-all salt, and cook slowly so they stay tender. Once they are up to temperature, eat them with any kind of potatoes and veggies you would like. Barbeque sauce also goes really well with pork chops cooked this way.
  • Lemon pepper tilapia with rice-a-roni

      • Drizzle some olive oil in a pan and remove tilapia (thawed if frozen) from its packaging. Bread it in flower on both sides, season with salt, pepper, and lemon pepper. Lay it in the olive oil and cook on both sides until crispy and tilapia is cooked throughout. Pair it with rice-a-roni which is often not much more than $1 per box.
  • Fish sticks and tater tots

      • Next time you make fish sticks try mixing up a side of homemade tartar sauce to save some money instead of buying another condiment. Chop up some dill pickles and mix them into miracle whip for a great homemade tartar sauce.
  • Beef Stroganoff

        • Savory, salty, and creamy beef stroganoff is a great go-to any time of the year. Take a look at this one by natashaskitchen.com. See the full recipe here. 
  • Spaghetti with garlic toast and veggies

      • Meatless spaghetti is definitely on the list of top 5 cheapest meals in our home. However, if you can find some ground beef on sale or work it into your budget, even adding 1 pound to your sauce will still qualify this as a dirt-cheap meal.
  • Chicken spaghetti with carrots and garlic toast

      • Spaghetti is always a great choice when looking for a frugal meal choice. However, it can get repetitive always having red sauce. This chicken spaghetti by thecozycook.com is not only easy to make, but low in cost, yields a lot, and absolutely delicious!! Go here for the full recipe. 
  • Clam chowder with crackers

      • There is no need or a fancy restaurant to enjoy clam chowder. It can be just as delicious even on a budget.
  • Chili with corn chips

      • Whether it’s your Grandma’s chili cook-of recipe winner or a can of chili, either will suffice. Remember, we are keeping our spending as low as we can but filling and fueling our stomachs as well. Chili is always a very filling and protein packed meal. Add some scoops corn chips and you won’t even need a spoon.
  • Creamy Crockpot White Chicken Chili

  • Grilled cheese and tomato soup

      • For a budget friendly, super cheesy, melty grilled cheese I always go with American cheese slices. They melt the best and have a classic grilled cheese flavor.
  • Reuben sandwiches with chips and pickles

      • All you need is bread, sauerkraut (which can be found in cans or jars), Swiss cheese slices, and corned beef. Since corned beef can be expensive, I had to do some searching. Once I discovered the individual serving size prepackaged corned beef slices by Buddig, I have made Reuben sandwiches a regular in our home.
  • Hot dogs with macaroni and cheese

      • You don’t need a ball game to enjoy a good hot dog. Although I am partial to Nathan’s Hot dogs, there are many delicious brands. Pair it with a homemade or box macaroni and cheese and you’re sure to please the whole family.
  • Pigs in a blanket with baked beans

      • Kid or adult, these are a hit at our home and any party. They are not just appetizers, but dinner as well. I like to use beef little smokies and crescent dough from the tube in the store refrigerator section.
  • French toast sticks, eggs, hash-browns

      • Check out the freezer section for French toast sticks. Walmart sells some in their brand for very cheap and they are delicious. They are the only ones we buy when eating French toast sticks. Scramble up some eggs and crisp up some hashbrowns for a filling, cheap dinner.
  • Pizza bagels

      • Large bagels or mini bagels, either work well. Add pizza sauce, shredded cheese, and pepperoni. Sprinkle with a little garlic salt and put them in the oven until melty, crisp, and hot. You can’t go wrong with these.
  • Chicken & veggie stir fry with rice

      • Simply cook up some rice, one of the cheap staples on our list. Meanwhile cook chicken in a pan, cut it up, and add a bag of frozen stir fry veggies and a little bit of soy sauce or teriyaki sauce.

How can you eat dirt cheap meals and make dirt cheap recipes while still eating delicious food?  

What are the cheapest foods to buy?

  • Bananas
  • Eggs
  • Oatmeal
  • Frozen veggies
  • Pasta
  • Sugar
  • Flour
  • Yeast
  • Beans
  • Potatoes
  • Peanut Butter
  • Cereals
  • Canned Fruits
  • Apples
  • Carrots
  • and much more!

It’s all in the planning.

The secret is not the dirt-cheap recipes themselves.

If there was one key to my success in staying within my budget, it is that right there. Not the individual recipes, but the COMBINATION of meals that I pick each week.

It takes understanding the cost of foods and how to fit it all together like a puzzle to fulfill your goal of staying in the budget you desire.

After having countless college roommates, friends, and even some family members ask for help with this process I decided to start creating the products I now want to offer to you!

Below you will find FREE printable downloads for a blank weekly menu that you can print and use to write out your meals for the week. There is also a blank printable download grocery list divided up into categories to assist you when creating your grocery lists.

I have found that by categorizing my lists this way has helped me greatly when at the grocery store. It keeps me organized and helps me get in and out much faster than I would have otherwise.

So please, feel free to download and print these as many times as you would like!! You can even laminate them or put them into a plastic sheet cover and use dry-erase markers!

Click here to get a blank printable weekly menu and grocery list form that you can use when planning out your own dirt cheap meals.

The next item I want to offer if my handcrafted eBook. It is packed full of value with a whopping 12 weeks of dinners planned out for you! Yes, you read that correctly. 12 weeks!

This includes the weekly menu, the shopping lists, and the recipes. The best part is you can choose which week you want in any order and reuse this book over and over! I have it saved on both my computer and my phone, so it is with me wherever I go. You will not believe how much time it will save you!

I should also mention that each week has been carefully planned out to be budget friendly. As a special bonus, for a limited time I am decreasing the cost. So, catch this amazing deal while it lasts!!!


You need to have a set budget and be realistic.

You would be surprised how much you can potentially cut your grocery budget from what it currently is. However, it is important to be realistic and make sure not to go too extreme.

I have come across some shocking articles over the years promoting feeding large families on drastically low budgets. I for one though am not THAT extreme. I do not find it realistic to expect to feed my entire family of 4 on $20, $40, or even $60 a week.

One of the most important things to consider is how many mouths you need to feed. You cannot feed a family of 8 on a frugal budget meant for 2.

What are the ages of those you are feeding? Hangry teenagers will obviously eat significantly more than a toddler.

For my family of 4, with 2 children being younger, here is what I do. Through years of practice and studying ways to lower my grocery bills, I have found that my comfortably tight weekly budget is $100.

If you can spend less than that, congratulations! I applaud you! However, this has become the best I can do while still maintaining enough healthy balanced meals.

I also believe in Thriving on this “Shoestring” budget which means still having treats around and snacks the kids like as well as a variety of options for school lunches.

I want to enjoy life and eat delicious food! So no, I do not make weekly menus consisting of cardboard-bland recipes. Yuck!

Plan specific meals for a specified timeframe

How many days or weeks are you trying to shop for? Is this budget supposed to last you for a whole week or two weeks?

When we lived in our first home, our closet grocery store was over a half hour away. We owned one car and with a young baby, planning a grocery haul that far away after my husband came home from work in the evening was not my favorite thing to do. It was a huge task, and I did not like doing it often.

That was around that time I adopted my two-week shopping grocery plans. Oh, what a beautiful day that was when I realized I could get away with only grocery shopping two days out of the month! Aside from getting the occasional gallon of milk that is.

Now that we live so close to amenities and shopping, I have switched back to one week grocery plans. It has decreased my planning time dramatically too.

So, now every payday we have I pull out $210 in cash to cover groceries for the next two weeks. (My current specified timeframes).

cash v

Cash vs Card

When using a debit or credit card it can seem as though we have more money available to us than we do. At least that is how it feels for me.

It is much easier to overspend, fudge the budget, and dig us into a deeper hole. I get it! It’s easy. It’s convenient. It’s so much faster and less bulky to carry around.

However, let’s be honest here. How many times have you walked up the register and had your total be higher than you thought or wanted, sighed, and swiped your card anyway? I know I have! Many times, in fact!

It wasn’t until I finally changed to cash for groceries that my budget truly stuck and I was able to stick to my cheap grocery list for a week. Then it became a cheap grocery list for a month and so on.

These dirt-cheap meals truly became dirt cheap because I held myself accountable. When I withdrawal my biweekly allotted grocery money, it gets set aside in my couponing folder.

This becomes our designated budget for groceries plus tax for the next two weeks until we reach payday again.

Utilize Online & App Shopping (Know Your Total)

Grocery shopping with young children, or with a busy schedule, means I am usually doomed for budget failure. For times when I know I will not be able to focus but also have to make sure I spend no more than a certain dollar amount, I rely heavily on app online shopping.

Just like purchasing a new couch or tv online, you know your exact total when you click that checkout button. Grocery shopping can be the same way.

If you find yourself struggling to stay within your allotted budget at the register, try online or app shopping! There is no excuse when you see your total right there in front of you.

My favorite apps for grocery shopping are the Walmart app and the Kroger app. Both allow me to quickly search and find current deals and promotions. There I can search for items on my list and add them to my cart.

Before checking out I know my total so if I find that I am over budget, I still have time to make adjustments to meals before clicking submit.

This gives me absolutely no reason to overspend because I can add and drop items as needed until the total is just right.

The best part is the Kroger app is full of digital coupons and cash back items that I like to utilize for extra savings.

Shop with a calculator.

If you want to keep track of exactly what you are spending, bring a calculator! Go old school if you really want, but I use the calculator app on my iPhone.

It is very easy to punch in the price of each item I put in my cart as I go, helping me to keep track of my total along the way.

Shop with a list and stick to it. Don’t deviate.

I was always told “never shop when you are hungry and never shop without a list.” It’s so true! I will easily double the items in my cart if I have a grumbling stomach or no list in my hands.

Write up your grocery list before you arrive, bring a pen or pencil, and have the discipline to stick to it!

Sign up and use store rewards cards. Type in that number!

This one is pretty self-explanatory, but many grocery stores reward you for signing up for their reward card.

Then at the register either tell them your phone number, scan your card, or type it into the system.

You will notice that a lot of the tags by products will give you a retail price as well as a member price. Sure, I don’t like giving my name and number out, however it is so worth it.

Why bother eating dirt cheap meals?

Everyone has their own reasons for everything. One of the reasons I eat meals that are on such a tight budget is because there are only so many ways, we can cut spending.

Especially in these current times we find ourselves squeezing every penny from our wallets.

I have found though that, if need be, I can usually tighten down my grocery spending before I am able to change utility bills or anything of the sort.

It also allows some wiggle room for other things that we may need excess money for.

For example, when our kids needed some new shoes, I was able to squeeze our grocery budget down by making cheaper meals so that we had some leftover money to get those shoes.

Other times, after all of our bills have been paid, we have had very little leftover. At that point it wasn’t a “I want to spend x-amount on groceries.” It was a “I literally can only spend x-amount on groceries.”

Whatever your reason may be for seeking out dirt cheap recipes, it is my desire to help you achieve that. Don’t forget to check out other great recipes and tips to help you save money and feed your family delicious food!



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Grocery Budgeting I Cheap Recipes I Saving Money On Food I Being Smart At The Grocery Store