What are Some Ideas for Cheap Meals?

Michael Pollick

During difficult economic times, it's not always easy to find and prepare cheap meals for a family. Fast food meals may appear to be more economical than home-cooked meals, but the portion sizes are not always generous and the added expense of driving to and from a restaurant can make it even less economical. There are ways to find and prepare cheap meals for an individual or family on a limited budget, but it may require some advanced shopping and preparation planning.

Oatmeal can be an inexpensive, healthy, and satisfying breakfast.
Oatmeal can be an inexpensive, healthy, and satisfying breakfast.

Some cheap meals can be found in traditional grocery stores near the end of the business day. Deli items with limited shelf lives, such as fried chicken, prepared sandwiches and meatloaf, are often discounted for quick sales. Purchasing a discounted container of fried chicken or sliced meatloaf can save time and money, since the products have already been prepped and cooked. Other items suitable as side dishes, such as cold prepared salads or salad greens, may also be discounted for clearance. A judicious shopper who times his or her shopping trip to the right time and day can make cheap meals out of higher quality foods on discount.

Buying discounted items at a grocery store can help make meals cheaper.
Buying discounted items at a grocery store can help make meals cheaper.

Another popular form of cheap meals, especially for college students on extremely tight budgets, are processed foods which require no refrigeration prior to preparation. Ramen or yakisoba noodles, for example, are sold in dehydrated form and only require hot water for reconstitution. Basic ramen noodles can be purchased in bulk and stored indefinitely. Canned meats and packaged macaroni and cheese can also be prepared inexpensively. Peanut butter can also prove to be a cheap meal when accompanied by saltine crackers or low-cost sandwich bread.

Inexpensive cold cuts like bologna can help to create cheap meals.
Inexpensive cold cuts like bologna can help to create cheap meals.

For families, breakfast foods often make excellent cheap meals. French toast can be made from stale bread and basic staples such as milk, sugar, butter and eggs. Pancake mixes are relatively inexpensive and many only require water for batter preparation. Pancakes can be very filling for only a few cents per serving. Traditional oatmeal can also be purchased in bulk and stored almost indefinitely without refrigeration. Breakfast meats such as sausage and bacon can be found in discount grocery stores under economy brands, so serving breakfast for dinner can be a nutritious cheap meal.

Lunch meat sandwiches are a common, cheap meal.
Lunch meat sandwiches are a common, cheap meal.

Hamburgers can be extended with such inexpensive fillers as eggs, crackers or stale bread to make "poor boy hamburgers," Salisbury steak or meatloaf. Cheap meals can also be made from inexpensive cuts of meat and meat by-products, such as chicken livers and/or gizzards, chicken thighs, solid bologna and hot dogs. These food products are comparable to more expensive foods in terms of nutritive value, but they are not as popular with consumers so they are heavily discounted by grocers. A Boston butt pork roast, for example, is often sold for less than the price of bologna per pound, but can be seasoned to taste like the more expensive pork shoulder cut.

Budget-conscious food shoppers often download discount deals and coupons on their smart phone.
Budget-conscious food shoppers often download discount deals and coupons on their smart phone.

With the rising cost of food and a strained economy, many people may have to reconsider their current food budgets and find ways to prepare cheap meals which still provide good nutrition and flavor. This could mean purchasing lesser grades of current favorites or trying out less expensive alternatives with different types of foods. Many food packages feature recipe ideas for frugal cooks on limited budgets.

Hamburgers are a relatively cheap meal.
Hamburgers are a relatively cheap meal.
Fried chicken gizzards.
Fried chicken gizzards.
Peanut butter and saltine crackers can make a cheap meal.
Peanut butter and saltine crackers can make a cheap meal.
Adding toppings to ramen noodles is a quick and easy meal.
Adding toppings to ramen noodles is a quick and easy meal.
Making your own quick breads is less expensive than visiting a bakery.
Making your own quick breads is less expensive than visiting a bakery.
Canned ham is incredibly convenient, especially for people who cannot get fresh groceries very often.
Canned ham is incredibly convenient, especially for people who cannot get fresh groceries very often.
Pancakes can be very filling for only a few cents per serving.
Pancakes can be very filling for only a few cents per serving.
Inexpensive breakfast meats, like bacon, can be a part of a cheap meal.
Inexpensive breakfast meats, like bacon, can be a part of a cheap meal.
Hot dogs are usually quite inexpensive.
Hot dogs are usually quite inexpensive.
Inexpensive cuts of meat and fresh vegetables can be used to create affordable, healthy meals.
Inexpensive cuts of meat and fresh vegetables can be used to create affordable, healthy meals.
A whole chicken roasted with herbs and potatoes makes a simple, economical dinner.
A whole chicken roasted with herbs and potatoes makes a simple, economical dinner.
Chips can be served as a side item to sandwiches.
Chips can be served as a side item to sandwiches.

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Discussion Comments

discographer

My recommendation for moms on a budget is to checkout recipes from other countries and cultures.

Recently, I found some Indian bread recipes that are made at home with just flour and water. I've tried it and it's good. I would have never thought of making flat bread at home if I hadn't seen those recipes.

Similarly, there are a lot of recipes out there that use cheap vegetables, pasta, eggs and so forth. You can use a small amount of ingredients to make something really tasty.

I think making cheap meals is not hard. The important part is to keep up the spirits while trying to manage financially. That's why I think trying new recipes is good for our budgets and for the family's spirits.

bear78

I feel bad when we have to eat a lot of processed foods because of money. But you know, you can still eat healthy, have fruits and vegetables, and manage your money.

You can locate a farmer's market and search for deals there. People have the assumption that farmer's markets are really expensive because a lot of is organic. But it's not true.

At my farmer's market, one farmer even has these $3 bags full of assorted veggies. You can easily make a stew or soup with it. Seasonal fruits are also pretty cheap and taste much better than store fruits.

serenesurface

If I have to eat on a budget- I think beans. Beans are rich in protein and they are not expensive, so you can take advantage of it when your money is tight.

You can try making chilli without the ground beef. A recipe I like is cooking kidney beans with onions, tomato sauce and spices. I make some white rice to go with it. This is really cheap and you can easily make enough for the whole family. I'm only one person so I make some for dinner and take the rest as lunch to work the next day.

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