You might be under the impression that a meal has to be expensive to taste good. While expensive food does tend to taste better, that doesn’t mean the cheapest meals taste bad. Some all-time American favorites, like spaghetti and pizza, are actually incredibly affordable when you think about it.
Don’t believe me? Then here are 25 of the cheapest meals that you can cook right now, divided into four categories:
It’s easy to spend $20, $30, or even $50 when you’re eating out. If you’re trying to save money, the first thing you should be doing is cooking your own meals.
Note that the cost of the total ingredients for some recipes can be greater than $5. This is only because they’re sold in packs. When you look at them on a per-serving basis, these meals are all actually quite affordable.
I know a few more ways to save on meals. If you want to know what they are, check out my article on meal planning on a budget.
Pancakes are a breakfast staple that almost every American loves. You probably have all the ingredients just lying around in your pantry right now. A single serving of pancakes costs just $0.22, making them one of the cheapest meals on the list.
Grits are a Southern favorite and are usually eaten for breakfast. It may be nothing more than cornmeal and butter, but it tastes absolutely delicious. It’s easy to cook, too, especially if you get yourself some instant grits. Pair them with eggs, and you’ve got yourself a great meal!
The total cost of one egg and one bowl of grits should then be about $0.61 per serving. That means with a bit less than $5; you can give yourself two weeks’ worth of breakfast. It’s one of the cheapest, yet most filling, meals!
Spaghetti and meatballs isn’t one of the cheapest meals to cook, but it is cost-efficient. A 32oz pack of spaghetti at Walmart costs about less than $3, depending on the brand. A value can of tomato sauce costs just under $2 as well. Adding in meatballs should bring the total cost of ingredients to around $10.
But a single recipe of spaghetti and meatballs usually makes 4-6 servings–about 2 days’ worth of lunches and dinners. This brings the total cost per serving to about $2 if you’re willing to heat up the leftovers. You can eat for even less if you cut the meatballs, too.
Like spaghetti and meatballs, pizza is another cost-efficient meal. The essentials (dough, tomato sauce, and cheese) add up to about $10, but price-per-serving is closer to about $2. It depends on how many slices you can limit yourself to per meal, so control yourself, sis!
Whoever said that the cheapest meals are unhealthy doesn’t know what they’re talking about. There are plenty of salad recipes that cost just a dollar or two per serving.
Sandwiches are a light and easy lunchtime favorite. Personally, I love sandwiches because they’re a great “on-the-go” food and really easy to make. You can make a sandwich with almost anything under the sun. Cheese, peanut butter and jelly, and BLTs are just some of the most common examples.
Want a top-quality sandwich on the go? Stop by your local Subway and order a footlong for about $5. Then ask them to cut it in half so you can eat the other half later. That’s two restaurant-quality sandwiches for about $2.75!
Another Southern favorite, biscuits, and gravy is a delicious yet filling affordable meal. For about five dollars, you can get yourself a pack of 20 buttermilk biscuits, making each biscuit cost about $0.25. Then, you add in a 15oz can of gravy for about $2. Assuming two biscuits and 3oz of gravy per serving, the total cost-per-serving should be about $0.80!
Mac and cheese is just a classic meal that anyone can enjoy. You can buy yourself a pack of instant mac and cheese for under $5–that’s just $0.90 per serving. It will be more expensive if you want to cook it from scratch, though.
Fried rice is a staple in many different cuisines. It’s filling, flavorful, and doesn’t cost much per serving. You can even add leftovers to some recipes. There are a lot of different fried rice dishes you can do, but I recommend Japanese Chahan because there’s a variety of tasty ingredients.
It is not a meal, but you might be spending too much on every day. Listen to the multi-millionaire and Shark Tank star Kevin O’Leary when he says it’s a waste of money. You can make your own coffee for much less than the price you’re paying for Starbucks or anywhere else.
When times are tough, you still have to eat. When trying to save money on food, you should try food that doesn’t spoil as quickly. This can save you multiple trips to the grocery store and many sunken costs.
If you’re in a tough spot financially, you might need a bit of help. Check out my article on how to live a debt-free life.
Regardless, here are five of my favorite long-lasting food items for your cheapest meals:
Pickles are a great snack and can add extra flavor to your dishes. They’re easy to store, too–just keep them away from sunlight. You can also make them yourself to save yourself on costs even more.
You need to keep a balanced diet, even if you’re broke. Beans and chili can be a great source of protein when you’re on a budget. Since you can usually buy them canned, they’ll last a while too.
You can get a can of beans and chili for around $2 at Walmart.
When stored correctly, potatoes can last up to two weeks before spoiling. That’s much longer than a lot of other vegetables. They’re also a very versatile food item that you can use for various dishes. I love them for dishes like potato salad or mashed potatoes.
A bag of potatoes costs just under $5 at Walmart.
If you want an easy meal, you should try using instant noodles. Most of the time, you just have to add hot water, maybe drop in an egg and a few scallions if you feel like it.
There are a lot of different instant noodles you can buy, usually around $1 per serving.
Generally, canned food has a much longer shelf-life than other food items. While they may not be the healthiest, they’re an affordable option if you just need food on the table.
Sometimes, you just need a food item that’s filling and goes with anything. These are usually foods that are rich in carbohydrates. For these, you have a lot of options. Here are five filling food items you can use for your cheapest meals:
Rice is a staple in a lot of Asian cuisines. It’s the perfect side dish and goes well with almost anything, like vegetables, meat, or fish. You can also try making fried rice if you want an easy-to-cook meal.
A 5lb bag of rice should be about $5. Assuming you only need 8oz of rice per cup of rice, then that puts you at $0.50 per cup.
Bread is a staple food that has been around for generations. You can use it for breakfast, lunch, dinner, or a snack. You can also toast it to change its texture. It goes well with anything,
A bag of sliced bread should cost you anywhere from $3 to $5. But each slice should only cost you about $0.30.
Pasta makes for very filling dishes while also being very tasty. Many pasta recipes call for different noodles, like spaghetti, lasagna, and tortellini.
The cost of a pack of noodles depends on the kind, but you can typically get a pack for less than a few dollars.
Oats can be a healthy, filling snack if you’re on a budget. Alone, they’re kind of boring, but that’s what makes them great when paired with fruits. I love my oatmeal with some berries like blueberries or strawberries. Sometimes, I’ll even throw in a few banana slices and a shake of cinnamon to add even more flavor.
A big can of oats should be around $5 and should fill you up for about a month.
You should always have eggs in your fridge if you can. There are dozens of ways to use eggs in cooking. You can fry it on a skillet, or you can try your hand at the incredibly challenging Eggs Benedict. They’re a great source of protein, and you can have them for breakfast, lunch, or dinner.
A tray of twelve eggs should cost you about $2.50, which brings a cost of about $0.20 per egg.
You’re not always going to be cooking meals at home, though. Now and then, you’ll want to eat out–and that’s okay. But if you still want to be budget-conscious while eating out, here’s what you should order:
Many types of meat are expensive, but chicken and turkey are much more affordable by comparison. By avoiding beef, lamb and seafood, you’ll be saving yourself a few extra dollars. Plus, these lean poultry meats are perfect if you’re trying to watch your figure.
While not particularly filling, there are a lot of soups that taste amazing while not being too expensive. I love an order of clam chowder or cream of mushroom. Some restaurants even give complimentary bread as a side, which is a nice touch.
If you’re trying to eat healthy when you eat out, a salad can be a great menu option. If you won’t be having anything else, then a good salad is well worth the cost.
It is absolutely criminal that some restaurants will cost you $2-$3 for a glass of iced tea. A glass of water is free and is even healthier for you.
Like fries, mashed potatoes, or fritters, side dishes can add a lot to your tab. If you don’t want to spend extra money, then skip them. You’re there for the main course anyway, sis.
I have a few other tips that you should read if you’re budget-conscious. Check them out in my article here.
And those are the 25 cheapest meals and food items that you can try for yourself. If you want more tips on saving more money, you should join my financial fam! As a member, you’ll receive personal finance tips from me as well as insider information. You’ll also get the occasional freebie every now and then. The best part? Signing up costs absolutely nothing! So what’re you waiting for? Sign up today!
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Dollars Makes Cents by Shaquana, Financial Coach and Wealth Expert, resources helps professional millennial women of color with the tools and skills they need to eliminate their debt, amplify their savings, and build generational wealth — without having to compromise their lifestyle.
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