25 Dirt Cheap Meals for Tight Budgets

dirt cheap dinner ideas

Super Cheap Meals to make on a tight budget

Finding ways to lower your grocery bill can seem difficult at best. Americans tend to spend a large amount of their annual income on groceries and eating out.

When you are trying to get out of debt and reach financial goals, lowering expenses is important.

So how can you lower this expense, that always seems to get larger?

Cooking at home and having a list of dirt cheap meals to make in a pinch is a great place to start.

This list of cheap meals will help you feed your family for less and will be a great resource when you don’t know what to make for dinner.

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Extra Ways to Save on Dirt Cheap Meals

Don’t forget to take advantage of free savings when you buy groceries.

The first way I save on groceries is with Ibotta. You simply do your shopping as normal and then scan your receipt into the app. It is so easy and the cash back adds up to real money back in your pocket! 

Sign up for your free Ibotta account here.

Then, I take the same receipt and double dip my savings by scanning it into Fetch Rewards. With Fetch you earn points that you can cash in for gift cards at large retailers–think Amazon, Walmart, Target and more!

Sign up for your free Fetch Rewards account here.

So, even if you are shopping for food to make these inexpensive meals, you can still save more by scanning those receipts!

Benefit of Dirt Cheap Meals

These meals are a great way to make your food budget stretch further until the next payday or to help you save some money very fast.

Using cheap meals in your meal plan will definitely help lower your monthly grocery bill so that you can make progress towards your financial goals–paying a bill, paying off debt, saving for your emergency fund, etc.

Dirt Cheap and Easy Meal Ideas

Let’s get started into our list of dirt cheap meals

Please note that these meals are not well balanced meals. These meals are intended to be meals you can feed your family when money is tight, the grocery budget is almost gone and you need something quick, easy and cheap for dinner. 

I don’t recommend eating just these meals on a consistent basis unless you add in more items to help make them more nutritious and more well balanced.

1. Pancakes/Waffles–We keep a box of pre-made pancake mix on hand. It makes for a super easy, last minute breakfast for dinner idea. The box lasts a long time and, most of the time, you only need to add water. 

stack of pancakes as a cheap meal idea

2. Breakfast Burritos— all you need for breakfast burritos is eggs, cheese, onions or peppers, sausage if desired/available and tortillas. Wrap it in the tortillas and dinner is served!

3. Scrambled Eggs and Toast–Super basic but filling meal. It doesn’t get any more dirt cheap than this. You can always make the scrambled eggs more fancy with cheese and veggies.

4. French Toast–I always feel like French toast is a little more fancy than other breakfast and breakfast for dinner options. You can use regular, inexpensive bread or dress it up with fancier cinnamon bread. Either way, it is yummy, budget friendly and I almost always have all the ingredients in my pantry and fridge.

Yummy French Toast Recipe

5. German Pancakes–This is another great recipe to make with things you have one hand. Eggs, milk butter and some dry ingredients/seasonings. Super easy, super cheap and super yummy!

German Pancakes Recipe

6. Spaghetti–One of the easiest ways to make spaghetti is cook up the noodles ($1) and then add a jar of sauce (~$1.25). Add some sliced bread and you have your dinner set.

plate of spaghetti as dirt cheap meal

7. Grilled Cheese Sandwiches and Tomato Soup–This meal is definitely a favorite. Good for lunches or an easy dinner. The soup can be a simple canned version or you can go all out and make it from scratch.

8. Potato Burritos–This is a recipe I have had since college. You boil potatoes, then peel and cut them into cubes. Mix in Green Chile Enchilada sauce and cheddar cheese. Wrap about ½ cup into a large flour tortilla to make an enchilada and place in 9×13 pan. Continue wrapping until all the potato mixture is used up. Bake. Easy and yummy!

Boil, peel and cut into chunks 6 potatoes
1 cup (or more) shredded cheddar cheese
1 large can green chili enchilada sauce

Mix ½ of the sauce and ¾ of the cheese and all the potatoes
Place ½ cup or so of the mixture into a flour tortilla and roll up like enchiladas.
Repeat until all the potato mixture is used.
Spray a 9×13 baking dish with non stick spray.
Pour a little of the enchilada sauce into the bottom of the pan.
Place rolled up tortillas in the dish.
Cover with the rest of the sauce and cheese.
Cover with foil and bank in oven at 350 for 30 minutes or so. Until it is hot through and cheese is melted. 

9. Baked Potato Bar–I totally cheat and bake my potatoes in the microwave. Pierce the potatoes in several spots with a fork. Then microwave for 5 minutes at a time (flip them over at the 5 minutes marks) until they are soft and cooked. Then top with butter, sour cream, chili, cheese, onions and any other favorite toppings.

10. Taco Soup–This is so easy, yummy, and filling. I love it because it is a dump and heat recipe.

1 can black beans 
1 large can tomatoes
Some sliced black olives
1 pound hamburger, browned
1 can corn
1 pkg taco seasoning (or about 1-2 tablespoons of bulk taco seasoning)
½ onion browned with meat

Dump it all in pot and heat through/
Serve with sour cream, shredded cheese, taco chips, etc.

11. Hawaiian Haystacks–Haystacks are a great way to use up leftover chicken and vegetables. Mix the sauce with chicken, cream of chicken soup, and some milk. Dice up the desired veggies (broccoli, onions, carrots, peppers, tomatoes, etc.). Grate cheese. Serve over rice. Add crunchy chow mein noodles if wanted.

12. Tacos–To make my taco meat stretch farther, I add in a can of chili and some refried beans. This makes one pound of ground beef go so much farther than it normally would, and costs less than using 2 pounds of ground beef, or more!

tacos for cheap dinner

13. Sloppy Joes–I like to make my own sloppy joe sauce–either with ketchup or tomato soup, plus a few extras. But you can also use a can of Manwich. My kids never complain about sloppy joes, even if I sneak veggies into the mix.

14. Bean and Cheese Enchiladas–This is a great recipe for simple bean and cheese enchiladas.

Bean and Cheese Enchiladas from Eat at Home Cooks

15. Macaroni and Cheese–whether you use the boxed kind or a simple home made version, macaroni and cheese is usually a crowd pleaser. This was actually a staple when we were first married, and broke college students. 1 box mac n cheese, cook up some frozen veggies and voila! Dinner is served.

16. Beef Stroganoff–I have a simple, kid-approved recipe that I like.

Brown 1 pound of hamburger with 1 small onion (diced)
Drain off grease
Add 1 can cream of mushroom soup and cook until hot.
Remove from heat.
Add ½ carton of sour cream and stir in.

Serve over egg noodles, rice, or potatoes.
Serve with frozen veggies.

17. Corn and Black Bean Quesadillas–these are great for a party dish, appetizer or dinner. I usually make them for a cheap and easy dinner.

Stuffed Corn and Black Bean Quesadillas from Mostly Homemade Mom.

18. Beef Picante Skillet–this recipe I need to start doubling. My family eats it up so there are never any leftovers.

1 pound ground beef
1 can tomato soup
1 cup chunky salsa or picante sauce
4 Large Flour Tortillas cut into 1 inch pieces
1 1/4 cups shredded cheddar cheese, divided.

Brown beef in skillet and drain
Add soup, salsa 3/4 cup water, tortilla pieces, 1/2 teaspoon salt and half of the cheese.
Bring to a boil, cover and cook over low heat 5 minutes
Top with remaining cheese and serve from the skillet.
Recipe from Cookbook Resources LLC

19. Whole Chicken with Potatoes and Onions–This is a great crock pot recipe. I like to use the whole chicken because I will de-bone the chicken after dinner and freeze the excess meat. Then I can use this precooked chicken for future recipes.

Slow Cooker Rotisserie Chicken recipe

20. Baked Black Bean and Salsa Chicken–serve this over rice and with corn and you have a delicious, healthy meal.

Baked Black Bean and Salsa Chicken from The $5 Dinner Mom.

21. Tuna Noodle Casserole–Mixing up your meat options is a great way to save money. In this case, canned tuna comes into play. This is a great, easy recipe. You might need to double it if you have a bigger family.

3 cups medium noodles or 1 cup elbow macaroni
1 cup chopped celery
1/4 cup chopped onion
2 tablespoons butter
1 can cream of mushroom soup
3/4 cup milk
2 cans tuna
2 tablespoons Parmesan cheese

Cook noodles according to directions and drain.
In saucepan, cook celery and onion in butter until tender. Stir in soup and milk. Gently stir in tuna and the cooked noodles.
Transfer to baking dish. Sprinkle with Parmesan Cheese.
Bake at 375* for 25-30 minutes.

22. Shepherd’s Pie–There are lots of recipes for shepherd’s pie. This is definitely a comfort food and it is pretty easy. Perfect for a dirt cheap meal.

Brown 1 pound ground beef with ½ chopped onion
Drain off grease
Add in 1 can tomato soup (undiluted)
Add 1 can green beans (drained)
Stir thoroughly and put mixture into casserole dish.

Top with two cups mashed potatoes (either from real potatoes or instant potatoes)
Sprinkle with 1 cup of grated cheese over the top.
Microwave on high for 15 minutes (or in oven for 30 minutes @ 350*) until heated through.

23. Lasagna Buns–These are a fun twist on Lasagna and rolls. Super easy, cheap and definitely delicious. This has worked its way into a regular rotation of our meals.

Lasagna Buns from The $5 Dinner Mom

24. Black Bean and Corn Enchiladas–This is a crock pot recipe that is easy and yummy! There is also no meat so it makes it even cheaper.

Black Bean and Corn Enchiladas from The $5 Dinner Mom

25. Broccoli Fettuccine Alfredo–This recipe is super yummy and you can make a large or small batch, depending on your needs. Plus it is another non-meat dish so it saves some extra money.

Broccoli Fettuccine Alfredo

Final Thoughts on Dirt Cheap Meals

I hope this list of dirt cheap and easy meals has given you some good ideas for ways you can save money on your groceries but also feed your family.

What is your favorite super cheap meal? Let me know in the comments. I am always looking for new recipe ideas too!

Best Dirt Cheap Meals

dirt cheap meals to save money