48 Cheap and Easy Meals

Cooking at home is cheaper and healthier than eating out. These 48 easy recipes are budget-friendly and delicious.

Here's something that you may not know: It usually costs less to cook meals at home than to eat fast food out.

And while saving money is important, it's what's clogging up your heart and pumping up your waistline that really costs you.

More than a third of U.S. adults are dangerously overweight, according to the Center for Disease Control.

Many develop diabetes, hypertension, and other preventable deadly diseases related to their weight.

One way to prevent them (and help your budget out) is to cook at home.

Studies by John Hopkins show that people who regularly cook at home consume fewer calories and fat than those who eat out.

They have healthier diets without spending more on food.

Practically anything you make yourself will have less salt, sugar, and additives than its fast-food version.

And it costs much less, too.

For instance, a whole roast chicken with a side salad and potatoes costs about $15 and feeds at least four people.

That's only $3.75 a person.

A typical meal at McDonald's — Quarter Pounder with cheese, side of fries, and a small Coke — costs $7.

Fast Food Restaurants in the U.S. from 2004-2018

Plus, the home-cooked meal has about 400 calories and five grams of fat per serving.

The McDonald's one has 910 calories and 38 grams of fat!

That's almost half the calories an adult man needs per day and much more fat than recommended — in just one meal.

So, you've spent more money and you didn't do your body any favors.

If you're smart about shopping for groceries, you can eat well for as little as $50 a month.

(I wish I had realized this when I was eating ramen multiple nights a week in college!)

Plus, with the right credit cards, you can even earn cash back every time you visit the supermarket.

Sure, cooking at home takes time. But not as much as you think.

We've compiled the best cheap meals that are quick and easy to make.

Most are less than $3 per serving. (The average menu item at restaurants is $10.58.)

If you cook at home regularly, you'll save money, eat better, and potentially live longer.

Talk about a value meal.

Over the years, we've saved birthdays, helped pay medical bills, and even helped fix sinks.

We can help you live a healthy (and wallet-friendly) lifestyle, too.

Even Carnivores Can Eat Well on a Budget

At the supermarket, look for ground or dark meat and fatty cuts, like pork shoulder. They make delicious, cheap meals and are great for parties.

1. Barbecue pulled pork sandwiches. If you're cooking for a crowd, pork shoulder (also called Boston butt) is one of the most economical cuts around, costing about $3 a pound.

Simple to make in a Crock-Pot or in the oven, it produces juicy, shredded meat that's best soused with BBQ sauce and served on a soft roll.

A five-pound piece feeds 20 people.

(75 cents per serving)

2. Hamburgers. You don't need a fancy grill to make burgers; a frying pan produces succulent results.

Shape ground beef ($4 per pound) into patties, let them sizzle, slap them into buns ($3 for eight), and serve with assorted toppings for an awesome meal.

($1.50 per serving)

3. Barbecue chicken wings. With only four ingredients, barbecue chicken wings are budget-friendly and perfect for gameday.

This recipe for mouth-watering wings that fall right off the bone is simple: You just have to give them the right amount of time in the oven.

($1.50 per serving)

4. Tacos. Tacos are a versatile winner.

They're great with ground beef, but you can also use that leftover chicken or pork in the fridge.

People can add as much hot sauce, sour cream, or cilantro as they want.

($1.50 per serving)

5. Spaghetti and meatballs. There's a reason that the spaghetti and meatballs dinner is an enduring classic.

It's cheap, delicious, and filling.

So, make a big batch of meatballs and store some in the freezer. Everyone will want this meal again.

($2 per serving)

6. Slow cooker chicken, broccoli, and rice casserole. A Crock-Pot is a savior for busy home cooks.

You throw the ingredients into it, walk away, and have dinner waiting for you several hours later.

Sources of Kitchen Fires from 2012-2015

Nutritious brown rice and low-cal chicken breasts paired with herbs, cheddar, and steamed broccoli make a classic and delicious casserole.

The easy recipe takes just 10 minutes to prep.

($2 per serving)

7. Pan-roasted chicken thighs. Dark chicken meat — the thighs and legs — tends to be cheaper than white meat, about $1.50 per pound.

Yet it's juicy and less likely to dry out than breast meat.

Fried in a skillet with just oil, salt, and pepper, they're a delicious main course you can serve with grains or salad on the side.

($1 per serving)

8. Baked potatoes with bacon and cheddar. Potatoes are a filling crowd-pleaser that cost less than a $1 a pound.

They're also a gluten-free source of fiber and minerals.

So, give them their due with a thoughtful recipe. Twice-baked and topped with bacon and cheddar, then garnished with chives, is a popular choice.

($2 per serving)

9. Chicken pot pie. Chicken pot pie is surprisingly easy to make.

Martha Stewart's version features a mixture of chicken and veggies, spooned into individual dishes, topped with sheets of puff pastry (about $5/box).

It's a comfort food to keep in your winter rotation.

($2.50 per serving)

10. Turkey enchiladas. Enchiladas are tortillas rolled with meat, veggies, and cheese and topped with chili sauce.

They're a great way to use leftover roasted meat like turkey, as in this popular recipe from Bon Appetit.

Canned enchilada sauce ($2) cuts down the prep time without sacrificing flavor.

($3 per serving)

11. Chicken and cheese quesadilla. With a crispy tortilla shell oozing with cheese, chicken quesadillas are a hit with picky kids and ravenous adults alike.

Serve with optional salsa, guacamole, and sour cream. It's good with black beans or a sweet potato on the side.

($2 per serving)

12. Thai chicken curry. Thai curry may sound exotic, but the ready availability of curry paste puts it within reach of anyone at the supermarket.

Carrots, onion, potatoes, and chicken simmer in coconut milk, producing tender meat in a warming sauce.

Bon Appetit's version takes 45 minutes to cook and uses only one pot.

($2.50 per serving)

Dishes with Pasta and Rice are Cheap and Satisfying

You can get a lot of meals out of a box of pasta or rice. They're a versatile base for many easy recipes.

13. Baked mac and cheese. After you make your own mac and cheese, it's hard to go back to the box.

Besides, a much more creamy and flavorful homemade version costs only a little bit more.

($1.50 per serving)

14. Margherita pizza. You can buy pizza dough for $2, so why order in when making it at home is cheaper and tastier?

There are tons of variations — you can basically use whatever's in your fridge — but start with the classic mozzarella and tomato sauce Margherita.

A $10 pie feeds four people.

($2.50 a serving)

Survey Result: How do Americans Feel about Pizza

15. Rice and beans. A staple of diets the world over, a cheap meal of rice and beans is nutritious and delicious.

Black beans are low in fat and high in protein, and taste just as good when bought in a can.

(75 cents per serving)

16. Pappardelle with sausage ragu. You need a little protein on your pasta to keep you full, and a sausage ragu is an excellent way to do that.

Made of ground meat, sausage is reliably affordable and comes in many flavors.

Rachael Ray recommends sweet Italian sausage with fennel for her fragrant, elegant rendition. You'll have red wine left over for dinner.

($5 per serving)

17. Vegetable fried rice. Fried rice is just stir-fried veggies and precooked rice tossed in soy sauce and enhanced with bits of scrambled egg.

It's a tasty hangover cure and a versatile way to use leftovers.

($1.75 per serving)

18. Vegetable lasagna. Lasagna is a one-dish party favorite you can make in advance.

Try an easy recipe that's packed with mushrooms, zucchini, and peppers and made creamy with three kinds of cheese.

It's an affordable way to get your veggies.

($3 per serving)

19. Caramelized onion tart with apples. Savory tarts provide an unexpected setting for seasonal produce, such as butternut squash, asparagus, or sweet potato.

For a special lunch, make one with apples and sweet caramelized onions atop a sheet of frozen puff pastry.

($2 per serving)

Eat Veggies for Tons of Nutrients at Low Cost

When you load up on fiber-rich vegetables like lentils and kale, it's as filling as eating meat.

Whole grains and root vegetables are particularly budget-friendly.

20. Grilled cheese and tomato soup. Six- and sixty-year-olds alike crave the ageless combo of crusty buttered bread fried with cheddar.

It's even better when dipped into pureed tomato soup, which is easy to make with a big pot and blender.

It's a nutritious meal that warms the soul — and a bargain to cook.

($1.75 a serving)

21. Lentil soup. Lentil soup is as hearty as chili, but it's vegetarian, low in fat, and crazy healthy.

A bag of dried lentils will set you back no more than $3 and each serving has a whopping 13 grams of protein.

Just do a little chopping before a half-hour simmer on the stove for an easy crack at this classic.

($1.50 per serving)

22. Curried butternut squash stew. Grated ginger and curry powder add oomph to this simple vegetarian stew.

Sweet butternut squash and bok choy cook in coconut milk for a rich broth that's best ladled over rice.

Taking less than an hour to make, it's a good weeknight staple.

($2.50 per serving)

23. Roasted sweet potatoes with quinoa and kale. A sweet potato is way healthier than its name (or taste) might suggest.

Sweet potatoes are high in antioxidants and fiber and have a low glycemic index, which helps stabilize blood sugar.

Pair them with quinoa and kale — two other superfoods — and you may well explode from all those vitamins.

($2 per serving)

2017 Retail Sales Growth of U.S. Superfoods

24. Tuscan ribollita soup. Stale bread gets a second life in this nourishing Italian soup, made with carrots, celery, and vitamin-rich kale.

Grated Parmesan melts on top. With white beans for protein, it's hefty enough to be a full meal.

($2.50 per serving)

25. Herbed chickpeas with a fried egg. Mineral-rich chickpeas are delicious when crisped in a skillet and tossed in herbs.

Top with a fried egg — the poor man's most reliable source of protein — and you have yourself a killer cheap meal.

($2 per serving)

26. Dal. The budget-friendly lentil plays the starring role in this Indian dish, featuring cumin, turmeric, ginger, and cardamom.

Spoon the bright yellow stew over rice or use it for dipping flatbread, but it's also plenty filling on its own.

($1 a serving)

27. Roasted beet and barley salad. You can count on whole grains to provide a cheap, healthy base to any salad, such as this beet and barley pairing.

Earthy beets, a great source of fiber and potassium, meet salty feta and crunchy green onions for a hearty main course dish that's dressed with olive oil and lemon.

($1.50 per serving)

Lean Cuts of Meat are Healthy and Hearty

Health food doesn't have to leave you hungry. Lean white meats and fish are low in calories and fat, but still plenty flavorful.

28. Pork posole. Minced chipotle chilies in adobo sauce ($2.75 a can) add smoky heat to this low-fat take on traditional Mexican stew.

Pork tenderloin, a lean cut costing about $8, is cooked in chicken broth with hominy and tomatoes; cilantro and lime add a fresh counterpoint.

($4 per serving)

29. Simple roast chicken. A whole chicken costs about $10 and serves about six people, making it one of the best values at the butcher.

Chef Thomas Keller generously salts the bird before putting it in the oven in his version, making the skin crispy and the meat tender.

Add root vegetables, like carrots and sweet potato, to the roasting pan for one of the best (and budget-friendly) dinners around.

($1.75 per serving)

30. Baked tilapia in foil. Tilapia, a white fish that's farmed worldwide, is reliably affordable, usually costing under $8 per pound.

Low in calories and fat, it has a mild flavor, so you'll want to give it a boost with herbs and vegetables, as in Jamie Deen's version.

($4 per serving)

31. Turkey chili. Chili is typically made with beef, but lean ground turkey is just as flavorful, and lower in fat and calories.

Cumin and chili powder bring the heat and pair well simmered with peppers, kidney beans, and diced tomatoes.

($1.75 per serving)

32. Lemon pepper chicken. Baked chicken breasts may provoke a yawn, but lemon-pepper seasoning gives them some zing.

Drizzled with a sauce of butter, garlic, and lemon, this simple dish feels special.

($1.25 per serving)

33. Chicken tagine with apricots and almonds. A sweet-savory Moroccan staple, tagine is typically made with dried fruit and chicken or lamb.

A warm blend of spices — cinnamon, ginger, turmeric — takes a simple stew to the next level.

Serve on top of couscous.

($2 per serving)

34. Chicken and orzo soup. For a Greek take on Chicken noodle soup, swap in orzo and season with lemon and dill.

With just 15 minutes of prep time, it's an easy, healthy weeknight dinner.

($2.50 per serving)

Declining Campbell Soup Sales from 2014-2017

35. Chicken meatballs. Baked chicken meatballs are a lighter alternative to the fried beef version and still really, really good.

For a moist and flavorful spin, serve on top of sautéed greens or beside roasted vegetables.

($2.50 per serving)

Fresh Produce is Easy to Cook

Summer is the easiest time to cook. When produce is really fresh, a little salt and olive oil are all the adornment it needs for a cheap, healthy meal.

36. Nicoise salad. This classic French salad is a simple combo of everyday ingredients: canned tuna, tomatoes, green beans, olives, potatoes, and eggs.

Yet, when tossed in a creamy lemon-mustard dressing, it amounts to something special.

($3 per serving)

37. Greek salad. A Greek salad is best made in the spring or summer, when tomatoes and cucumbers are in season.

Olive oil, salt, and oregano provide the seasoning, allowing the fresh produce to shine.

($2.50 per serving)

38. Burrito bowl. Burritos are delicious, but they often sit like a brick in your stomach.

For a lighter take, ditch the tortilla and try over brown rice and Greek yogurt. With salsa, avocado, and cilantro, it's crazy good and easier on the waistline.

($3 per serving)

39. Avocado and chicken wrap. Avocado improves most sandwiches. It's creamy, filling, and high in heart-healthy fatty acids.

Wrap it with chicken, tomatoes, and refried beans for an excellent low-cal lunch.

($1.75 per serving)

40. Gazpacho. On hot summer days, there's nothing better than a cold bowl of gazpacho, a Spanish tomato soup.

All you have to do is throw a bunch of fresh veggies in a blender, season with salt and olive oil, and chill for an hour.

Serve with toasted bread.

($2 per serving)

41. Poached salmon with cucumber and dill. Salmon is one of the best food choices, hands down, thanks to heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids.

Salmon is also good for the brain and joints—and it's delicious!

Julia Child poaches her salmon, and tops it with cucumber and dill sauce.

($3.50 per serving)

42. Quinoa ratatouille. Ratatouille is a fancy name for tomatoes, onion, zucchini, and eggplant sautéed in olive oil and simmered with herbs.

All that fiber makes it super filling, especially when served with quinoa, a gluten-free, vegetarian source of protein.

($2.50 per serving)

Breakfast Foods are Especially Cheap

Breakfast ingredients tend to be a great value, so don't skip this important meal. Eggs and oats especially provide lots of nutrients at little cost.

43. Oatmeal. There are few better ways to start a winter day than with a bowl of oatmeal.

It's high in protein and fiber, especially when you cook it with a little milk, keeping you full through the morning.

Make it with old-fashioned oats and top with banana or nuts for max nutritional value.

(50 cents per serving)

44. Peanut butter pancakes. For a cheap shot of protein, peanut butter is hard to beat.

At breakfast, fold it into the batter of some fluffy pancakes. It brings a nice salty balance to maple syrup.

($1 per serving)

Maple Syrup Production in Canada Versus U.S.

45. Spanish tortilla. Potatoes and onions fried in olive oil form the base of the Spanish omelet, an easy meal for breakfast or lunch.

Eggs are stirred into the potato mixture and finished off under the broiler.

(50 cents per serving)

46. Mushroom and spinach frittata. When you need to use up random veggies in the fridge, throw them into an egg frittata for a tasty brunch.

This version calls for spinach and mushrooms, enriched with milk and cheddar, and baked for 25 minutes.

($1.50 per serving)

47. Shakshuka. Eggs are cooked in spicy tomato sauce for this flavorful Middle Eastern dish.

It works for breakfast, lunch, or dinner.

Shakshuka is delicious ladled into a bowl over crusty bread.

($1 per serving)

48. New York-style bacon, egg, and cheese. The bacon, egg, and cheese sandwich comes in many stripes, all greasy, cheap, and awesome.

New Yorkers prefer it on a toasted bagel, often wrapped in aluminum to eat on the go.

($1.50 per serving)

To eat well for less, start cooking at home today

Cooking at home will save money now and prevent future health costs.

Whatever you make will be more nutritious than ordering fast food, so choose one of the recipes above and get into the habit of using your kitchen.

Do you have any easy meals we've missed?

Let us know in the comments below!


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