Is money tight? Do you need to save on your food budget? Here are more than 20 frugal meal ideas to get you started and help you keep you grocery bill down!
Back a few years ago my husband worked in sales- at a commission-only position. This meant that some months were great and some, not so much.
Then we hit a recession and people weren’t buying. At all. Ever. During that time our food budget had to take a hit. We had to come up with cheap and frugal meals to feed our large family without breaking the bank.
I mentioned this a few times before, especially in my 19 Ways to Save Money on Groceries, but if you are not already- GROW YOUR OWN!! This will help you so, so, much when it comes to making more meals for less money. Even if it’s just a couple of plants on a patio- do it!
When money was a little tighter we had our garden- or stuff we preserved from our garden. And we had our chickens- and a lot of eggs!
Even if you don’t have chickens, eggs are pretty inexpensive (if you buy regular grocery store eggs anyway) and a great source of protein.
Before we get to the ideas, you may want to check out my list of 7 Frugal Foods To Stretch Your Budget. These are staples you should have on hand at all times.
20+ Frugal Meals to Make When Money is Really Tight!
Frugal Breakfast Ideas:
A note on breakfast: In our house we don’t have a breakfast time. It’s a do-your-own-thing deal for all of us.
Most of the things I listed as breakfast we actually make for lunch or dinner and then freeze the leftovers for breakfasts.
Waffles/Pancakes are really cheap to make. If you’ve got milk you can use it, but you don’t have to. If we are really tight on money I will make it with just flour, water, eggs and baking powder.
The kids like them with peanut butter or dusted with cinnamon sugar.
Fried, Boiled, Scrambled….whatever way you like them, eggs are cheap and easy.
We buy oats in bulk and they last a long time. If you have a bulk food club you can order from in your area then do it.
Oatmeal is a hearty, filling breakfast for just about anyone. Stir in some homemade preserves, pumpkin butter, or brown sugar.
Muffins are super easy and can be made really inexpensive. A basic muffin is just flour, eggs, water/milk, and baking powder.
Add in OJ, blueberries, mashed bananas, etc and you can make a yummy, filling, breakfast.
Our local grocery store has large loaves of french bread regularly for $0.99 or less. We buy a lot and save them in the fridge or freezer.
One loaf plus some eggs and cinnamon and you’ve got a pretty cheap meal for a big family.
If you aren’t already making your own bread you should be. We also buy flour in bulk and try to keep loaves of fresh bread around at all times.
Try my Honey Oatmeal Bread, it’s a favorite here!
Biscuits make a great addition to any frugal breakfast. You can pair them with some meat (like sausage) or just slather them in butter.
Here are my favorite biscuit recipes:
Both are delicious and quick and easy to make!
Frugal Lunch Ideas:
Scrambling up eggs, topping with cheese and stuffing in a homemade tortilla.
We have these multiple times per week. You can also try making these swiss chard crepes and filling them with eggs.
Mac N Cheese
Pasta is cheap. It’s not the best for you, but when you are broke, that doesn’t always matter. We love this Instant Pot Mac and Cheese….but it’s easy to make on the stove too!
French Bread Pizza
I mentioned the cheap loaves of French bread. We use it to make pizzas for a quick and frugal meal for lunch. Cut it in half lengthwise, sprinkle with sauce and cheese and stick it in the oven. We feed 6 people for less than $3 with this one.
If you have a garden going salad is basically free- lettuce, spinach, cucumbers, peppers, tomatoes.
It’s not always kid friendly, but if you start them young or try deconstructing the salad and just giving piles of cut veggies with dip. Add cheese, apple, hard boiled egg for a more filling salad.
the old standby- grilled cheese, peanut butter, lunch meat if you can find a good deal on it. Homemade bread makes it more economical and healthier too!
We use tortillas a lot in our house. My kids love to make their own mini pizzas on tortillas.
Write down all of your favorite recipes in my Blank Recipe Journal! Having good recipes on hand for homemade food is one of the best ways to keep your food budget down! Get the Blank Recipe Journal today!
Frugal Dinner Ideas:
Pasta, especially if you pair it with homegrown, homemade sauce, is the ultimate frugal meal.
In most grocery stores you can get a large box or bag of pasta for under $1. You can add meat to it to make it a more complete meal, or add in extra veggies to add some more nutrition.
Chili, especially if you go heavy on the beans and light on the meat, if a wonderful frugal meal. Use homegrown tomatoes and it’ll be even cheaper.
Try out my Instant Pot Chili for an easy way to make chili using dry beans (cheaper!) that doesn’t involve soaking them.
This is virtually free if you have a garden- dump in whatever vegetables you have growing, water, tons of herbs, salt, pepper, maybe a handful of pasta or can of beans, and you are good to go.
If money is super tight, skip the broth and just add lots of herbs and spices to your water to increase the flavor.
If you aren’t a vegetarian you can make stretch a roasted chicken or ham by throwing the bones into the soup pot while it cooks to add more flavor and nutrients.
Beans are the ultimate filling and frugal ingredient. And they are versatile.
Dry beans are more frugal than canned ones and not much harder to cook with- you just have to remember to soak them ahead of time or use a pressure cooker to speed up the process.
Check out how this mom makes one pot of bean soup and uses the leftovers to make new meals all week!
Learn how to make Poor Man’s Crab Cakes for a frugal meal!
Bean and Cheese Burritos
Refried bean burritos are on our menu weekly. It’s the quickest meal- great for busy families- that won’t break the bank.
Save more money by making the refried beans yourself!
Cutting back on meat is an easy way to save money, but let’s face it, some people just aren’t cut out for the vegetarian life (like my husband and kids!).
We buy ground hamburger in large amounts since it’s usually cheaper. I use it for chili, pasta, and of course tacos.
Make your own Taco Seasonings to save a bit more!
There are so many ways to cook rice. You can have it multiple times per week and not repeat a meal. Some of our favorites are fried rice, Mexican rice, and garlic butter rice.
The 4 Food Groups
Sometimes the most frugal meals I could come up with at the time was simply piecing together what I had or what was on sale.
Homemade bread + on sale or in garden veggies + on sale or home canned fruit + cheese/yogurt/on sale meat. And you know what- I think those easy meals were always the favorites!
There are 20 or so ideas to get you started. Are you struggling to keep your food budget down? What are your cheapest meal ideas? Be sure to check out my post on How to Stop Living Paycheck to Paycheck for more tips!
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Hello Sarah and Family
We are backyard gardeners and chicken owners in SC…working toward the goal of having year round food. I’ve been baking bread for about 3 years and just pick up organic flour from WalMart. After reading your “20+ frugal meals” I was wondering where you purchase your bulk flour from?
It depends. Most of the time we go in on an order with Country Life Natural Foods (my mom lives on a delivery route) so we get 100lbs or more than. When that runs out we either buy 25lb bags from Walmart or just buy a lot of bags at once at Aldi.
I found your blog through the Google search engine, because I’m looking for frugal meals to prepare without burning my wallet. I wish I have the luxury to grow my own produce, but my apartment won’t allow it. I do stock up on pasta, dried beans, old fashioned rolled oats, rice, salted butter and milk since they’re the most important ingredients I need in my household.
Despite living alone for more than one year, I plan out my menu every week. Doing this gives me the opportunity to utilize the ingredients that I do have available and find short cuts for recipes to save money.
Thank you so much for sharing your awesome tips, Sarah!! :-)
Great tips. I have long wanted chickens (but don’t have a yard). Eggs, however, are a staple food. Oats are brilliant too.
This was a good read! Eggs and beans are definately cheap proteins
This is a good list! I like the french bread pizza idea! That sounds yummy and quick!
You can also make French bread sloppy joes! We get our French bread from the Jimmy John’s near us, they sell their day old bread for cheap!
This is a great read! Thank you for sharing.
As a Hispanic-American family, we cook a lot of Mexican food. An easy, inexpensive meal is picadillo (ground beef or turkey,diced potatoes, fresh or canned veggies, tomato sauce or canned diced tomatoes and spices). You can also add cooked pinto beans. You can also sub elbow macaroni for the potatoes. This is a go to meal for us simply because it’s fast and easy (and, of course, inexpensive).
Potato soup is fairly cheap if you use vegetables from your garden. We use milk instead of cream to keep costs down and use whatever cheese is on sale for flavor varieties.
Chicken enchiladas are cheap and easy to.
Great ideas mam
Hi, Sarah! My family was hit pretty hard during the recession. Both my husband and I lost our jobs. As I was trying to find ways to feed our family on an extremely low budget, I remembered talking to my grandfather as a kid about his experience during the Great Depression. One thing he said his family made use of was dandelion greens. I had never tried them before we found ourselves unemployed, but our yard was untreated, so I added them to salads to stretch them out. I also sauteed them with a little garlic in olive oil as a side dish or added them to scrambled eggs. Soak the greens in a bowl of salt water before using them to help with the bitterness. They grow like, well, weeds! :) You also can’t beat the price. Even though we have both been employed for many years now, I still continue to search out ways to live frugally and save. You never know. This is how I stumbled upon your site. Thanks for the great ideas!
My struggles with money and having to do things frugally is when I started taking care of my elderly mom who is on a lot of medication for her health issues and a restricted diet. We have to stretch each penny we have to make it last each month. So I learned and am still learning healthy (within my moms restricted diet) meals that I can stretch. It is just me and my mom, but being from a big family I am or was use to cooking for a big family. I now still cook like I am cooking for 8 and now I make freezer meals with the leftovers. I stretch each meal as far as i can. Plus it makes life easier now that my moms health is getting worse. I cook several big meals and it lasts a month. We do not waste anything. Plus I stock up on things when they are cheap and I have coupons.
These are all great ideas! I’m starting a year of eating a locally sourced diet but I want to do it frugally. I’m gonna keep the pizza bread and chili in mind to keep keep things on the cheaper side!
I have been doing great buying bags of frozen chicken tenderloins. So I can either make fried chicken strips , but have been doing chicken parmesan which is amazing, so cheap to make , i buy most of my stuff at Aldi. I’m single so it’s nice to only have to cook a little bit and can last a couple of days. I do love tacos but feels expensive after purchasing lettuce , tomato, sour cream, cheese, meat and shells
Plain yogurt subs easily for sour cream. You can have a bowl with a little honey/jam & granola for breakfast and then use the rest in savory recipes throughout the week. If you have an Instant Pot, making your own is super easy and quite frugal. If you strain it, keep the whey (liquid) for baking or smoothies. Lots of good info out there for making your own & how to use it.
Tacos are great, but can be pricey, a bit fussy Andy frankly quite messy with kids. We prefer to do taco salad instead. Load a big bowl with lots of salad other veggies, black beans, and corn. Mix up a bit of ground beef with some taco spices and/or salsa and sour cream/plain yogurt. Add it together with some tortilla chips of your choice and some grated cheese and you’re done.
Love this! We use many of these ideas already but I definitely just learned a couple of new tips. Here’s one of mine. We sometimes stretch leftover chili by adding pasta and calling it chili mac. A cheap box of mac and cheese made up and mixed in with the chili also works well.
When my children were small, and I was a divorced single parent, money was very tight and so, I had to cut the coat according to the cloth.
a) I calculated the cost per portion on all the meals I used to cook.
The cheapest meals were lentil soup, diced tomatoes fried with garlic on bread, diced wieners fried with eggs, fried onions and mushrooms with eggs and (the end of the month meal) diced bread fried in olive oil with garlic and whatever we had left.
Since cheese was too expensive for our budget, we had to do without.
b) In the evening, I would bake, and so we would have warm, delicious bread for supper, sometimes with chopped olives, rosemary or dill. We would eat it with soup or on its own.
Now, my children are grown-ups, working as a nurse, a translator and a secondary school teacher. So to anyone who is struggling, stay hopeful and carry on.
We make an easy version if chi ken pot pue with a dollar bag of frozen veggies and add cream of chicken and serve iver white rice…ltaco salad, quesadillas