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41 Budget Meal Ideas

If you’re looking for some budget meal ideas that are easy to make and delicious, you’ll find some here. You’ll see dishes that you can make in your Crock Pot (or any slow cooker), Instant Pot, or air fryer. I also added recipes to cook on the stovetop or in the oven. 

4 different budget-friendly dinner ideas

You don’t need special gadgets or appliances for any of the recipes. If you don’t have an air fryer, simply cook the same meal in the oven for about 1/3 longer.

I’ve added some side dishes to go with any of the main dishes listed below. Mix and match these dishes to make meals your family will love. These recipes are proof that an easy cheap meal can be delicious enough to make everyone around the table very happy.

You’ll also see a few desserts that won’t break your budget. Although sweets aren’t essential to staying well fed, I can’t imagine never having them after certain meals.

Cheap Dinner Ideas

One of the things I really love is a delicious but easy cheap dinner. The way I see it is that there’s no reason to spend more money than you have to in order to feed your whole family something they’ll love enough to ask for again.

1. Crispy Chicken Thighs

cooked air fryer chicken thighs

Chicken thighs are one of the least expensive cuts of chicken. I cook these in my air fryer, but you can also make them in your oven. It’s an easy weeknight main dish that you can serve with any sides, salads or bread you like.

2. Pepper Pot Chicken

bowl of chicken pepper pot
Pepper Pot

Here’s one of those dishes that’s loaded with vegetables you need to stay healthy. It has the flavors you enjoy, all blended together to make a meal that your family will ask for over and over.

3. Mock Swiss Steak

fork of mock Swiss steak

Pick up an inexpensive cut of steak and a few more cheap ingredients to make this yummy dish. I usually have these ingredients on hand because I stock up on sale items.

Or you can use generic products. It doesn’t matter. It is always a favorite at our house.

4. Easy Stir Fry Beef

Stir fry beef and broccoli in a bowl

Mix a little bit of beef with a whole lot of veggies, and scoop it onto a bed of rice. Now you have a full meal that is filling, satisfying, and delicious.

It’s easy to stretch this meal to get at least one more serving. I like to serve this with either white rice or fried rice.

5. Pork Tenderloin

sliced pork tenderloin

Here’s an easy main dish that you can put in the Crock Pot and leave for a few hours. Pork tenderloins are usually very inexpensive, yet they are extremely versatile.

Pick up a few while they’re on sale. Serve them with your favorite potato or pasta dish.

6. Sloppy Joes

Reminiscent of those delicious sandwiches from our childhood, these sloppy joes from Julia’s Simply Southern will take you back to a time when life was simpler. And the kids will think you’re the coolest parent ever!

7. Oven-Fried Salmon Patties

plate of salmon patties

I like to keep several cans of salmon on my pantry shelf for those times when I’m in the mood for these yummy salmon cakes (also called salmon patties or croquettes).

I used to fry them on top of the stove, but cooking them in the oven us easier and uses less oil.

8. Teriyaki Chicken and Broccoli

Teriyaki chicken and broccoli in a pan

This teriyaki chicken and broccoli dish is easy to cook but tastes like something you’d get at a take-our restaurant.

Actually, it’s even better because you control the amount of seasonings you add. Whether you use store-bought teriyaki sauce or make your own, it’ll be a huge hit.

9. Stuffed Manicotti

2 stuffed manicotti shells with melted cheese on top

The version I have here is meatless, so you save the expense of meat. However, if you find some good ground beef or turkey on sale, by all means, add it.

But I highly recommend you try it the way I have it in the recipe because it is absolutely delicious!

10. Eggplant Parmesan

eggplant parmesan in a pan

This is another (almost) meatless dish that is so delicious you probably won’t want to add meat. When I added the word “almost,” I did garnish this yummy casserole with something to add a little flavor and texture. But you certainly don’t have to.

11. Dutch Oven Pasta and Meatballs

pasta and meatballs on a plate

Either make your own meatballs or pick up a pack of frozen ones when they go on sale. Add the other ingredients that you also get on sale—or generic—and mix them together.

You’ll wind up with an absolutely amazing dish that you’ll want to add to your budget-friendly dinner rotation.

Comfort Food Budget Meal Ideas

There’s nothing more comforting than having a delicious meal cooked at home with lots of love and just the right amount of seasonings. A lot of the comfort food most people like is cheap but warm and delicious.

I like to keep the ingredients in my kitchen pantry for those times when we need something yummy in our tummies. These are some of our favorite comforting budget meal ideas.

12. Loaded Baked Potato Casserole

serving of loaded baked potato casserole
Loaded Baked Potato

This casserole is so loaded that it can be your main dish. Or serve it as a side if you prefer. It’s a delicious comfort food that will send your senses into orbit.

13. Black Beans

Rice bowl with vegetables and a side of chips

I cook these in my Instant Pot, but you can make this recipe in a slow cooker or on the stovetop. Regardless of how you make this dish, it’s warm, delicious, and fills the tummy in such a comforting way. I like it over rice and with a slice of cornbread on the side.

14. Mac and Cheese Casserole

mac and cheese casserole
Classic Mac and Cheese Casserole

There’s a reason that macaroni and cheese is such a popular comfort food. It’s deliciously creamy and delivers tasty little bites of cheese with every single bite. Sometimes we serve it as a side dish, but it’s good enough to stand on its own as the main attraction.

Trust me when I say it won’t take long for everyone to gather around the table when they know you’re serving this.

15. Chicken Noodle Casserole

pan and plate of chicken noodle casserole

Here’s one of the easiest and tastiest comfort foods in my recipe file. But those aren’t the only reason we like it.

This chicken noodle casserole is the perfect meal when we need to tighten our budget without feeling like we’re sacrificing. It’s so good on so many levels!

16. Chicken and Gravy with Mashed Potatoes

Chicken and gravy with a side of peas and carrots
Chicken and Gravy

Imagine this! Mashed potatoes covered in shredded chicken cooked with a smooth, creamy gravy that’s packed with flavor. Mmm! Absolutely delicious yet easy to make!

17. Layered Hamburger Casserole

Serving of hamburger casserole

Made in the slow cooker for convenience, this dish has lots of good things to keep you healthy when you’re sticking to a tight budget. If you need to feed a lot of people, this is the perfect dish.

18. Smothered Potatoes and Sausage

smothered potatoes and sausage on a plate and in a pan

Flavorful, fast, and fabulous! Those are the best 3 words you can use to describe this delightful budget-friendly dish.

Sausage is inexpensive, and you can use whatever potatoes you have on hand. Add a few seasonings, and you have a meal the family will love! Yes, it’s inexpensive, but it tastes like a million bucks!

19. Pork Chop Casserole with Tomato Gravy

pork chop casserole with tomato gravy on a plate with green beans

One of the things I like about this delicious casserole is that any cut of pork chop will work. So I pick up a couple of packages of pork chops when they go on sale.

The unexpected flavors of this will light up any meal and make the taste buds very happy.

20. Chicken and Rice Casserole

chicken rice casserole on a plate

My mother used to make this on items she had stocked in her pantry. All of the ingredients, including the chicken are shelf stable … that is, if you use canned chicken. And you absolutely can without compromising the flavor. 

21. Barbecued Chicken Drumsticks

plate of barbecue chicken
Barbecued Chicken Drumsticks

Chicken drumsticks are also very inexpensive, so take advantage of that and stock up. There are so many different dishes you can make with them, starting with this delightful main dish.

I cook them in my air fryer, but you can use the same basic recipe and cook them on the grill instead.

22. Pork Sausage and Rice Skillet Dinner

pan and plate of pork sausage and rice skillet dinner

This super easy one-pot meal has quickly become a family favorite. You cook the entire meal in one skillet, and it only takes a few minutes from start to finish.

Everyone will love how the flavors come together in this delicious dish, so make sure you have enough for seconds. And then at the end of the meal, cleanup is a breeze!

23. Beef Shop-the-Pantry Casserole

beef shop the pantry casserole in a pan

Take a pound of ground beef and add it to pantry items you already have. You can use cans of mixed vegetables, potatoes, rice, and other foods sitting on the shelves. This recipe is so flexible that you can create a variety of dishes to keep your family happily fed.

24. Ham and Potato Casserole

ham and potato casserole on a plate

All you need are a few ingredients—a thick slice of ham, some potatoes, and a few other ingredients to season this delicious and oh-so satisfying dish. You can actually feed a family of 4 for less than some meals cost for one. And it’s just as good!

Budget Meal Ideas – Homemade Soups and Chilis

Some people wait until the temperature drops to make soup. In my home, we enjoy it year-round. After all, it’s so good. So why wait? When looking for budget meal ideas, consider any of these soups or chilis.

25. Homemade Lentil Soup 

Lentil soup in a bowl

I make this in my Instant Pot, but you can certainly make it in your slow cooker or on the stovetop. Lentils are packed with protein. So with a few more ingredients, this delicious soup makes a complete meal.

26. Chicken Noodle Soup

ramen with chicken and vegetables in a bowl

You can make the traditional chicken noodle soup, or you can use those packages of ramen noodles in your pantry to change things up a bit.

One thing that remains the same, however, is that it’s a yummy way to fill your tummy without stressing your budget. Check out this recipe to see how you can add more substance and nutrition to this age-old popular soup.

27. Homemade Cream of Mushroom Soup

bowl of cream of mushroom soup

If you like mushrooms in a delicious soup made with all kinds of creamy goodness, this one’s for you. It beats the taste of canned mushroom soup, and it’s loaded with lots of flavor!

28. Beef and Cabbage Soup

bowl of beef and cabbage soup
Beef and Cabbage Soup

This super inexpensive soup is a wonderful meal to cook when you have a lot of hungry people. It’s delicious, nutritious, and oh-so filling. Serve it with a side of your favorite bread or all by itself. 

29. Homemade Bean Soup

Bowl of bean soup

Hearty and flavorful, homemade bean soup is one you’ll want to make often. And you can because it’s budget-friendly, easy to make, and comforting. It’s really good when served with a side of these dinner rolls from Back to My Southern Roots.

30. Black and White Chicken Chili

bowl of black and white chili

This yummy chili gets its name from the types of beans you’ll add. When we’re in the mood for chili but want something a little different, this is the one I make.

31. Cream of Tomato Soup

Bowl of cream of tomato soup with cheese on top

Soothing to the soul and easy on the budget, you can make this soup with items you probably already have on hand. And if you don’t, the ingredients aren’t expensive at all.

Make this soup and serve it with a grilled cheese sandwich for a family-pleasing dinner.

32. Potato Soup with Bacon

Mug of potato soup with bacon and cheese

Potato soup is packed with a lot of creamy goodness that gives you a lot of flavor for very low cost. You can use whatever bacon you have in the fridge. Or try some ready-made bacon bits for just a hint of bacon flavor.

33. Homemade Chicken Rice Soup

Scooping a bite of chicken rice soup from a bowl

I’ve made this yummy soup with rotisserie chicken, leftover chicken from another meal, and canned chicken.

It really doesn’t matter what form of chicken you use because it’s wonderful with any kind. Add a few vegetables and some rice, and you have a delicious meal.

34. 3-Ingredient Ro-Tel Chili

bowl of rotel chili

What do you make when you’re in the mood for chili, but you don’t have much time? Try this fabulously easy, budget-friendly, and delicious 3-ingredient version.

You can add more seasonings, but there’s really no need to. All of the flavor you need is in these 3 simple ingredients!

35. Homemade Vegetable Soup

Bowl of homemade vegetable soup beside plate of crackers

Lots of shelf-stable veggies make this soup a favorite meal at our house. It’s a great way to clean out your pantry and deliver a meal that the whole family will love.

36. Chili Con Carne with Beans

Chili in a bowl and topped with sour cream and shredded cheese

You don’t need much meat to make this delicious chili—just enough for flavor. The beans add fiber, flavor, and so much satisfaction you’ll want to make this often. Serve it with chips or cornbread, and you’ll have a happy family!

37. Red Beans and Rice

Bowl of red beans and rice

A staple in my childhood home, red beans and rice is on of my favorite comfort foods. Beans are very inexpensive, and they provide the bulk of the soup. I add just a little bit of sausage for flavor. Toss in some savory spices to make it even better than you can imagine. 

Amazing Salads – Budget Meal Ideas

Salads are great first courses. But they also make delicious meals and great when you need budget meal ideas. All of these salads are wonderful stand-alone lunches or dinners. Add a couple of them to your dinner rotation to add nutrition and save a few bucks!

38. Taco Salad with Catalina Dressing

catalina taco salad with cheese

Easy to make, packed with deliciousness, and super affordable, a little bit of Catalina dressing adds an extra spark to this taco salad. It gives a whole new meaning to South of the Border flavor!

39. Salmon Macaroni Salad

salmon macaroni salad on a plate with tomatoes and lettuce

Here’s another delicious meal you can make with canned salmon. It’s an easy meal to throw together quickly, and it’s so good for you!

40. Southern Style Egg Salad

bowl of egg salad

Eggs are a great source of protein, so make a batch of egg salad. It’s good on sandwiches, with crackers, and even placed on a bed of lettuce!

41. Chicken Salad

Chicken salad in a bowl

This is a staple at our house because it’s so good any time of day. Make it with leftover chicken, rotisserie chicken, or with canned chicken. You’ll love the way it tastes. And just as much, you’ll appreciate how budget friendly it is.

Fabulous but Cheap Desserts

After you choose any of these tasty budget meal ideas, surprise the family with a yummy dessert. All of them are delicious, and none of them will break your grocery budget.

Here are some we enjoy:

3-Ingredient Lemon Bars

Pineapple Dump Cake

Oatmeal Strawberry Jam Bars

Mini Skillet Chocolate Chip Cookie

2-Ingredient Peanut Butter Fudge

Delicious but Cheap Meals

Food that tastes good doesn’t have to cost a fortune. In fact, some of our favorite meals are on this list. When I’m trying to save a few dollars, I feel good about serving any of these meals to my family.

Please feel free to share!