Skip to Content

45 Frugal Meal Ideas: Dinner Recipes on a Small Budget

Adhering to a small budget while trying to provide delicious meals for your family can be challenging. But frugal living doesn’t have to rob you of the joy of a good meal.

This literary expedition shares cheap meal ideas that are budget-friendly and delicious for the whole family. Learn how economic planning can save money on dinners, create comfort food from leftovers, and much more. Let’s embark on this thrifty culinary journey together!

Frugal Meal Ideas For This Year

Great frugal meal ideas and recipes

Starting our list of frugal meals are simple homemade ideas and recipes that the whole family will love. They are affordable and delicious, from meals using ground beef to slow cooker solutions. Dishes like sausage stew, black bean soup, and even a simple tortilla pizza can be prepared economically using budget ingredients without compromising taste or satisfaction.

1. Taco Rice Casserole

Bowl of Taco Rice Casserole
MSPhotographic / Adobe Stock

This meal combines ground beef, rice, and salsa for a quick, inexpensive weeknight dinner. You can add shredded cheese, sour cream, or other toppings to customize it to your family’s liking.

2. One-Pot Sausage Stew

Bowl of One-Pot Sausage Stew
Martin Turzak / Adobe Stock

Start by browning the sausage, then add a mix of veggies like carrots, onions, bell peppers, and canned tomatoes and spices to round out this hearty and filling meal. 

3. Chicken and Dumplings

Bowl of Chicken and Dumplings
eurobanks / Adobe Stock

Use chicken thighs, often cheaper than the breast, to prepare this classic comfort food. You’ll need a few basic pantry staples to complete the dish—flour, baking powder, milk, and butter for the dumplings, and carrots, celery, onion, and chicken broth for the soup base. 

4. Lentil Soup

Bowl of Lentil Soup
fudio / Adobe Stock

A bag of lentils can go a long way! This simple, healthy, and filling soup can be made with either chicken or vegetable broth and any veggies you have.

5. Beef Stir-Fry

Bowl of Beef Stir-Fry with Rice
fahrwasser / Adobe Stock

Use inexpensive cuts of beef and bulk the dish out with plenty of veggies for a cost-effective stir-fry. The sauce can be as simple as soy sauce, garlic, and a bit of cornstarch for thickening.

6. Vegetable Fried Rice

Serving of a Vegetable Fried Rice
Brent Hofacker / Adobe Stock

Leftover rice, a bag of mixed vegetables, and a few eggs are all it takes to whip up this quick and cheap meal. 

7. Tuna Pasta Salad

Bowl of Tuna Pasta Salad
lilechka75 / Adobe Stock

Canned tuna, pasta, and your choice of veggies (like red peppers, cucumbers, and tomatoes) tossed in a mayo-based dressing makes for a satisfying and economical dinner.

8. Slow Cooker Black Bean Soup

Bowl of Slow Cooker Black Bean Soup
Estudio Conceito / Adobe Stock

Dried black beans are a cheap and nutritious base for this soup. Add diced tomatoes, bell peppers, onions, and cumin for flavor.

9. Tortilla Pizza

Serving of Tortilla Pizza
StockphotoVideo / Adobe Stock

A fun and affordable dinner that lets everyone customize their mini pizza. Use tortillas for the base, and add whatever toppings you have on hand.

10. Spanish Rice and Beans

Serving of Spanish Rice and Beans
JJAVA / Adobe Stock

A simple and delicious meal requiring only rice, canned tomatoes, beans, frozen bell peppers, and onion.

Remember, the key to budget-friendly cooking is to plan your meals, use what you have on hand, take advantage of sales, and don’t be afraid to get creative! 

Cheap and frugal breakfast ideas

For breakfast, frugal meals such as hard-boiled egg made with seasoning, a simple yet filling porridge, or even having breakfast for dinner by making pancakes or omelets can significantly cut your food budget. Making these meals is easy; they are great ideas for a hearty and cheap meal to start your day right.

1. Overnight Oats

Overnight Oats with blueberries and bananas
Jenifoto / Adobe Stock

If you’re a fan of oatmeal, overnight oats are a great way to save time and money. Just combine oats, milk (or a dairy-free alternative), and whatever fruits, nuts, or seeds you have in a jar or container. Let it sit overnight in the fridge, and you have a delicious, ready-to-go breakfast in the morning.

2. Simple Smoothie

Simple Green Smoothie
kasia2003 / Adobe Stock

Make a smoothie using leftover fruit, Greek yogurt for protein, and honey for sweetness.

3. Homemade Muesli

Homemade Muesli bar
mizina / Adobe Stock

Combine oats, nuts, dried fruits, and spices to make your muesli. It’s cheaper and healthier than store-bought versions and can be paired with yogurt, milk, or a milk substitute for an affordable, healthy breakfast.

4. Egg and Vegetable Scramble

Serving of Breakfast Egg and Vegetable Scramble
Jacek Chabraszewski / Adobe Stock

Whisk together some eggs, add any vegetables hanging around in your fridge, and scramble. This makes a low-cost, high-protein breakfast.

5. Banana Pancakes

Stack of Banana Pancakes
iuliia_n / Adobe Stock

All you need for this budget-friendly breakfast are bananas, eggs, and a pinch of baking powder. Blend these, cook them like a regular pancake, and voila! You’ve got a healthy, cheap breakfast.

6. Homemade Granola Bars

Homemade Granola Bars
yuliiaholovchenko / AdobeStock

Mix rolled oats, honey, and your choice of nuts, dried fruits, or chocolate chips. Spread the mixture in a baking dish, bake until crispy, and cut into bars for a cheap, portable breakfast.

7. Toasted Bread with Toppings

Toasted Bread with Toppings
Надія Коваль / Adobe Stock

Top whole-grain bread with avocado, peanut butter, or cream cheese. Add some fruits or veggies for added flavor and nutrition.

8. Chia Seed Pudding

Chia Seed Pudding with Fruits
fahrwasser / Adobe Stock

Mix chia seeds and milk or a dairy-free alternative, let it sit overnight to thicken, then add your choice of fruits or spices in the morning.

9. Rice Cake with Spread

Rice Cake with Spread and Fruits
Anna Mente / Shutterstock

Spread peanut butter or cream cheese on a rice cake and add sliced bananas or strawberries.

10. Budget Burritos

Budget Vegetables Burritos
Budget Vegetables Burritos

Scramble eggs with beans, some cheese, and leftover veggies, then wrap them in a tortilla for a cheap, filling breakfast burrito. 

See Related: Tips & Cheapest Ways to Live Cheap (And Enjoy Life)

Simple meals that can start your frugal living journey

Consider simpler meals like lentil soup, bean casserole, or a meatless meal to kickstart your frugal living journey. Being some of the cheapest meal options, they will help save money and introduce a healthy, delicious meal to your diet.

1. Lentil Soup

Bowl of a Homemade  Lentil Soup
marysckin / Adobe Stock

Lentils are legumes rich in fiber and protein. They are cheap and can be stored for a long time. To make lentil soup, boil lentils with carrots, onions, celery, and spices. This hearty soup can be enjoyed as a main dish and stored for a few days.

2. Bean Casserole

Freshly Cooked Bean Casserole
Brent Hofacker / Adobe Stock

This is another cheap, wholesome meal made with canned beans, some vegetables, and spices. You may prefer black beans, kidney beans, or chickpeas, and throw in some bell peppers, corn, and onions. Top it with cheese and bake to perfection.

3. Vegetable Stir Fry

Vegetable Stir Fry in a pan
nadianb / Adobe Stock

You can make a quick, inexpensive stir-fry with whatever vegetables you have. Saute them in oil and garlic, then add soy sauce and pepper for flavor. This meal can be served with rice or noodles.

4. Baked Potatoes

Baked Potatoes with Toppings
pilipphoto / Adobe Stock

Baked potatoes are filling, versatile, and inexpensive. They can be topped with cheese, sour cream, chives, or leftover chili.

5. Pasta Aglio e Olio

Plate of Pasta Aglio e Olio
SerPhoto / Adobe Stock

A straightforward and cheap Italian dish made with pasta, garlic, olive oil, and chili flakes. You can also add some parmesan cheese on top if you like.

6. Rice and Beans

Bowl of Rice and Beans
vm2002 / Adobe Stock

A staple in many cultures around the globe, this is a high-protein, fiber-rich meal that is also easy on the pocket. You can add some veggies and spices to liven it up.

7. Omelettes

Plate of an Omelette
Stepanek Photography / Adobe Stock

Eggs are another inexpensive, protein-rich food. You can make an n-number of variations of omelets by adding cheese, veggies, or meat.

Remember, starting a frugal living journey isn’t about deprivation. It’s about making smart choices that can save you money while still providing you with nourishing meals. 

How to plan a budget meal for dinner?

Planning a meal plan for frugal dinners

When planning dinner recipes, a meal plan is an excellent tool to save money on dinner by allowing efficient use of ingredients throughout the week. For instance, a roast chicken today can become chicken soup tomorrow. A critical factor in maintaining your grocery budget is planning meals based on what’s on the grocery list.

Meal Plan

Monday: Roast Chicken with Veggies
Planning: Buy a large chicken that can be used again on Tuesday. Roast with your favorite vegetables like carrots, potatoes, and Brussels sprouts.

Tuesday: Chicken Soup
Planning: Use the leftover roast chicken from Monday to make a hearty chicken soup. Add additional vegetables like celery, onions, and garlic for extra flavor.

Wednesday: Vegetarian Tacos
Planning: A meatless dinner will help save on costs. Choose an inexpensive protein like beans or lentils and fill it with fresh veggies, cheese, or salsa.

Thursday: Spaghetti Bolognese 
Planning: Ground beef is generally cheaper than other meats. Use half of the meat you purchase for Thursday’s Bolognese and save the other half for Friday’s meal.

Friday: Stuffed Bell Peppers
Planning: Use the leftover ground beef from Thursday’s meal to stuff bell peppers.

Saturday: Baked Salmon with Rice
Planning: Watch for salmon sales; when it’s a good deal, buy in bulk and freeze.

Sunday: Vegetable Stir Fry
Planning: Use any remaining weekly veggies in a stir fry to avoid waste.

  • Tips: 
  • Remember to check flyers or online for deals you can incorporate into your weekly menu.
  • Leftovers can often be transformed into a new meal or frozen for future meals.
  • Choose a range of proteins to avoid getting bored with your meals.
  • Plan a few meals a week that don’t include meat. Lentils, eggs, and beans are frugal alternative sources of protein.
  • Keep staple items on your grocery list like onions, garlic, and canned tomatoes that are versatile and can be used in many dishes.

With this kind of planning, your meals will not only be more cost-effective but will also become less of a stress to think about each day. 

See Related: The Secret to Break Free from Financial Struggles: Join the Personal Finance Club Today!

Vegetarian meals and meatless meals to consider

Vegetarian and meatless meals are affordable and healthy options to consider. Meals like black bean soup, a freezer meal made of lentil stew with tomato sauce, or even a delectable vegetarian chili will fit perfectly into a frugal dinner idea, making weeknight dinners easy on the pocket and appealing to the palates.

1. Sweet Potato and Black Bean Tacos

Vegan Tacos with Sweet Potato and Black Bean
Roman Rodionov / Adobe Stock

These easy tacos are filled with seasoned sweet potatoes and black beans and topped with avocado, cheese, and salsa for a flavorful, healthy meatless meal.

2. Greek Quinoa Salad

Bowl of Greek Quinoa Salad
lounom / Adobe Stock

This hearty salad has veggies, quinoa, and feta cheese, making it a nutritious and satisfying entree or side dish. 

3. Stuffed Bell Peppers

Plate of Stuffed Bell Peppers
Esin Deniz / Adobe Stock

Bell peppers stuffed with a mix of quinoa and black beans, then topped with cheese and baked until golden, are a delicious and filling vegetarian meal.

4. Butternut Squash Lasagna

Plate of Butternut Squash Lasagna
Bart / Adobe Stock

Swap the meat in your traditional lasagna recipe for roasted butternut squash for a hearty, nutritious meatless lasagna.

5. Vegetable Stir-Fry

Stir Fried Vegetables  in a Pan
Philip / Adobe Stock

A versatile and quick meal, this vegetable stir-fry can be customized with a range of veggies, tofu, or seitan for protein.

6. Broccoli Cheddar Soup

Bowl of Broccoli Cheddar Soup
azurita / Adobe Stock

This creamy, comforting soup is packed with nutrients from broccoli and protein from cheddar cheese.

7. Chickpea Curry

Bowl of Chickpea Curry
kravtzov / Adobe Stock

Packed with protein and fiber, chickpeas are a great vegetarian protein source. This curry is filled with flavorful spices and can be served over rice for a satisfying meal.

8. Spaghetti Squash with Marinara

Plate of Spaghetti Squash with Marinara
Jan Mach / Adobe Stock

Spaghetti squash is a great pasta substitute for a lower-carb meal. Top it with a rich marinara sauce for a delicious, healthy dinner.

9. Portobello Mushroom Burgers

A Serving of Portobello Mushroom Burger
Ezume Images / Shutterstock

Marinated and grilled portobello mushrooms make an excellent meat-free burger option. Serve them with your favorite toppings.

10. Lentil Bolognese

Bowl of Lentil Bolognese
vaaseenaa / Adobe Stock

Hearty lentils replace meat in this rich, comforting pasta sauce. 

11. Veggie-packed Quesadillas

Serving of Veggie-packed Quesadillas
grinchh / Adobe Stock

A cheese quesadilla filled with a range of sautéed vegetables is super tasty and can be served with guacamole or salsa on the side. 

12. Spinach and Feta Stuffed Tomatoes

Spinach and Feta Stuffed Tomatoes up-closed
zi3000 / Shutterstock

Hollowed-out tomatoes filled with spinach and feta cheese, baked until soft, making a light meatless meal. 

Remember, vegetarian or meatless meals can be just as delicious and satisfying as those with meat. Plus, they are usually easier on the wallet and the environment. 

Frugal chicken recipes to try for dinner

For chicken lovers, frugal meal recipes such as chicken pot pie, chicken and rice casserole, or even a simple chicken and vegetable stir-fry can create delicious and affordable dinner options. These frugal recipes make it easy to whip up a quick weeknight dinner and are sure to become a family favorite.

1. Chicken Pot Pie

Homemade Chicken Pot Pie
Brent Hofacker / Adobe Stock

Ingredients: Boneless Chicken Breasts, Ready-Made Pie Crust, Frozen Mixed Vegetables, Salt, Pepper, Cream of Chicken Soup.
Instructions: Cook the chicken breasts until no longer pink, then cut into cubes. Roll out one of the pie crusts in a pan and add the chicken and frozen vegetables. Mix the soup, salt, and pepper in a bowl, then spread it over the chicken and vegetables.

Top with the second pie crust, crimping the edges. Cut slits in the top crust. Bake at 375°F for 35-40 minutes or until golden brown.

2. Chicken and Rice Casserole

Chicken and Rice Casserole
MSPhotographic / Adobe Stock

Ingredients: Boneless Chicken Breasts, White Rice, Chicken Broth, Cream of Mushroom Soup, Onion Soup Mix, Salt, and Pepper.
Instructions: Preheat your oven to 375°F. Mix the rice, chicken broth, cream of mushroom soup, and onion soup mix in a baking dish.

Then place the chicken breasts on top and season with salt and pepper. Cover with foil and bake for 45 minutes. Then remove the foil and bake for an additional 15 minutes.

3. Chicken and Vegetable Stir-Fry

Chicken and Vegetable Stir-Fry on a Pan
nadianb / Adobe Stock

Ingredients: Boneless Chicken Breasts, Mixed Vegetables, Soy Sauce, Garlic, Olive Oil, Sesame Seeds, Salt, and Pepper.
Instructions: Cut the chicken into strips. Heat the oil in a large frying pan over high heat and cook the chicken, garlic, salt, and pepper until the chicken is cooked.

Add the vegetables and soy sauce and stir-fry for a few more minutes. Sprinkle with sesame seeds before serving.

4. Simple Chicken Soup

Bowl of Chicken Soup
New Africa / Adobe Stock

Ingredients: Chicken Pieces, Onions, Carrots, Celery, Salt, Pepper, and Water.
Instructions: In a large pot, place the chicken pieces and cover with water.

Please bring it to a boil and skim off any residue that rises to the top. Add the chopped onions, carrots, and celery to the pot, along with salt and pepper. Lower the heat, cover, and let it simmer for about 2 hours.

5. Chicken Tacos

Plate of Chicken Tacos with Cilantro
Joshua Resnick / Adobe Stock

Ingredients: Chicken Breasts, Taco Seasoning, Soft Tortillas, Lettuce, Tomato, Cheese, and Salsa.
Instructions: Cook and shred the chicken, then add the taco seasoning according to the package directions.

Lay out the soft tortillas and add the chicken, shredded lettuce, chopped tomatoes, cheese, and salsa. Fold and serve for a quick and frugal meal.

6. Chicken Pasta Bake

Serving of Chicken Pasta Bake
myviewpoint / Adobe Stock

Ingredients: Pasta, Chicken, Tomato Sauce, Cheese, Italian Seasoning.
Instructions: Boil pasta and cook chicken.

Mix cooked pasta and chicken into a casserole dish, and add tomato sauce, cheese, and Italian seasoning. Bake in the oven at 375°F until cheese is bubbly and golden.
Remember, these recipes can be easily adapted to whatever ingredients you have. Happy cooking.

See Related: Cheap vs Frugal: What’s the Difference?

How to make frugal soup from leftovers at home?

Frugal soup Making using leftovers

One of the best ways to create a frugal soup is using leftovers. Hard-boiled eggs from breakfast can be made into a hearty egg-drop soup.

Leftover roast chicken can be turned into a comforting chicken noodle soup. Bits help reduce waste and are a cheap way to save money on meals for your family while making mealtime exciting and budget-friendly.

Best frugal recipes for comfort food

Everyone loves comfort food, and those can be frugal too. Try great recipes for macaroni and cheese, cottage pie, or a lovely shepherd’s pie made with ground beef and vegetables. Even a simple homemade tomato soup with grilled cheese makes great frugal comfort food.

How sausage, ground beef, and slow cookers can help make frugal meals

Using cheaper cuts of meat like sausage and ground beef, especially in a slow cooker, can lead to delectable frugal dinner ideas. A slow cooker is your best ally for making cheap meals.

You can leave your ingredients to cook throughout the day, preparing a delicious meal by dinner time. Sausage casseroles and slow-cooked beef stew are affordable meals you can easily make.

Are there any frugal pasta and lunch ideas for a small budget?

Frugal lunch ideas that save money

Regarding frugal lunch ideas, simple pasta recipes, sandwiches, or even leftovers from dinner can be used to craft affordable and delicious meals that won’t bust your budget.

Frugal pasta recipes to Consider

Pasta is a versatile and economical ingredient that can be turned into countless frugal meal ideas. A simple tomato sauce pasta, a creamy tuna pasta salad, or a zesty lemon-garlic spaghetti can all be prepared on a small budget.

How frugal meals can reduce your grocery bill

Frugal meals fill your stomach and keep your grocery bill low. By planning meals, taking advantage of sales, and using leftovers, you can control your grocery budget. Remember that every cheap and delicious meal you make brings significant savings in the long run.

How to make frugal meals delicious and exciting?

Turning frugal meals into delicious, cheap meals

Turning frugal meals into delicious ones is surprisingly easy. Use a range of seasonings and condiments to enhance the flavors.

Even the simplest ingredients, when well-seasoned, can produce the most delicious meals. Switch things up regularly to prevent boredom and keep mealtime exciting.

Tips on seasoning and using condiments in frugal meals

A range of seasonings such as garlic, onion, paprika, cayenne, and herbs like rosemary and thyme can transform any dish. Topped with affordable condiments like ketchup, mustard, or homemade salsa, your frugal meals can be made exciting and delicious.

Using a range of beans, such as black beans and lentils, to keep frugal meals interesting

Finally, remember to vary your protein sources. Beans like black beans and lentils are budget-friendly, nutritious and can be used in many frugal recipes.

The possibilities are endless, from a hearty bean soup to a black bean taco to lentil curry. So gather these ideas and recipes, and start cooking delicious, frugal meals for your family today!

Related Resources