Believe it or not, there are a lot of options for good cheap meals to make when you’re broke. I’m always surprised just how well I can feed my family even when we find ourselves out of food and out of money. Since we eat on a tight budget most of the time, I’ve learned a few tricks along the way. I also keep some frugal meals in mind that I can always make during those really rough times.
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We All Need Cheap Meals Sometimes, Whether You’re Broke or Not
There are days, weeks, and even months that we’re all just barely scraping by. Maybe you just got hit with a car repair, soccer registration, or medical bill and it set you back.
It’s at these times that drastically cutting back on your groceries can make a big difference. We’d all like to be eating steak and shrimp, but sometimes we’ve got a Ramen budget. Ramen isn’t so healthy or something we’d want to eat every day, so I have a few tricks up my sleeve to save our money for those other important things.
Read 15 Frugal Pantry Staples to make sure you’re keeping some frugal ingredients in your kitchen.
And, if you remember to Stock Your Pantry for Quick Meals, you’ll always be ready on those days you’re running out of time and money.
With some creativity, there are cheap meals to make from even the smallest list of ingredients. And, if you can dig a dollar or two out of your car ashtray or from under the couch cushions, you can buy some of these frugal foods to make many meals. You may think you’re broke, but get creative with searching for those spare dollars.
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How to Make Cheap Meals When You’re Broke
Start With What You Have
While this may seem obvious, there are many things in your cupboards that you may not know can be put together to make a meal. The cheapest meals are those made from ingredients you already have.
If you’ve got small amounts of several different things – combine them. Maybe you’ve got a bunch of random vegetables that are starting to get sad or a small amount of leftover meat. Those can easily become a:
- Pasta Casserole
- Quesadillas or Burritos
Use Meat On Sale
Meat is usually the most expensive thing on our grocery lists, so always, always, always use meat that’s on sale.
I always keep my freezer stocked by buying in bulk when it’s on sale at my grocery store. When I can find chicken legs for $.69 per pound, I buy a couple of packages and freeze them. They make very frugal meals. Also, if the butcher block marks the hamburger down to $2.00/lb. I get that, too. It’s so much easier to stay on a budget when you’ve got some meat tucked away in the freezer.
Rarely do we get to eat steak. That’s literally a Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, or Birthday splurge. It’s just not in our every-day budget to spend $5.00/lb. on meat. So, even if it’s down from $8.00/lb. to $5.00/lb. it’s just not worth it if you’re on a tight budget.
Skip the Meat
Have some meals that skip the meat altogether. I know there are some husbands that get a bit grumpy if they have to eat meatless meals, but there are plenty of meatless meals that are family favorites and nobody misses the meat.
Even if you usually put meat in your spaghetti sauce or enchiladas, the meatless varieties taste close enough that people will still be happy. Here are a few to try:
- Spaghetti with Sauce
- Macaroni and Cheese
- Rice Bowls with Beans, Cheese, and Salsa
- Grilled Cheese and Tomato Soup
- Mexican Poached Eggs and Salsa
Use Less Meat
Cutting back on quantity can greatly help you stretch what you already have, or help you buy less. When making casseroles, rice dishes, pasta, soups, chili, and all those other meals that you usually put meat in, cut the meat in half. This works great for those people that just have to have their meat.
You can use half the meat by either doubling the recipe without doubling the meat or literally cut the quantity by half or more. You may be lucky enough that no one notices at all. I find this very easy to do.
You can limit serving sizes, too. By giving everyone just one chicken leg, you’re stretching the most expensive part of the meal. Let people have a second serving of potatoes or vegetables if they’re still hungry.
Make Something Out Of Nothing
There are a few meals that can be made from practically nothing. When you make one of these, you’re really eating cheap because you haven’t had to buy a bunch of ingredients and your pantry can be mostly bare. These are all really cheap meals that can be made for not much more than a dollar’s worth of ingredients.
- Potato Soup
- Gravy on Toast, Creamy Mashed Potatoes or Rice
- Fried Rice
Don’t Stress The Nutrition
So, I know we’re trying to feed our families nutritious meals, but there are times that it’s ok to put balanced meals on the back burner. The cheapest meals tend to be carb-heavy and we can all survive on that for a short period of time. Don’t feel guilty if your family goes a week without eating many fresh vegetables or much protein. The day will come that you’ll have a little bit more to spend on groceries again.
If you’re adding in those nutrients over the course of a month instead of every single day, I’m pretty sure your bodies will recover.
Use Cheap Ingredients
In my post, 15 Essential Frugal Pantry Staples, I give a great explanation of some things you need to keep at home. However, if you’ve got to go to the store and get some food because you really have nothing to eat, there are a few things you can focus on that won’t break the bank. You can even get vegetables that are a great deal.
- Vegetables – I get my produce through Imperfect Produce, so I get an amazing deal on fruits and vegetables delivered right to my door. When I have no money, I just skip my delivery. The thing I love is that I get to customize each and every box that I get. You can see if they deliver in your area and get a free $10 through my referral link. Also, at the grocery store, you can usually get fresh carrots and frozen peas or corn pretty cheap.
- Fruit – Be sure to buy fruit seasonally. There is a huge difference in both flavor and price. I always look for apples under $1.00/lb. and sometimes that’s the only fruit we have to eat.
- Meat – Chicken and pork are almost always cheaper than beef. Don’t forget to consider canned meats, too. Canned tuna, chicken, corned beef, and Spam can easily work in casseroles and be cheaper than fresh.
- Eggs – Eggs are a great thing to focus your meals around. Scrambled Eggs and Toast make a great dinner. Just serve some fruit on the side and you’re good.
- Carbs – These can really stretch your meals. Use potatoes, rice, pasta, and bread liberally to fill people’s bellies. I have to say they taste pretty darn good as well. Who wouldn’t love a dinner of Crispy Potatoes and Kielbasa? Or Cheesy Buttered Pasta? Even French Bread Pizza? Most of us really love those carbs, so go for it!
- Beans – Yes, beans are a great way to stretch your budget. I love to make Black Bean Soup with Chorizo or Green Chicken Chili for a really frugal dinner.
I know we like to show our love to our families through what we feed them, so it can be hard when we have to set limits, but you can still make really good meals when your budget is tight. Use some of these ideas and your family will still be happy, plus you’ll be able to pay your bills, too.
Looking for Some Cheap Meals to Make When You’re Broke? Check These Out.
- Easy Frugal Party Menus for any Budget by Treasured Mom
- Cheap and Easy Meal Ideas for Under $5 from Treasured Mom
- Cheap Dinner Ideas for $1 or Less Per Serving from Eating Well
- Cheap & Easy Dinner Recipes from Campbell’s Kitchen
- 100+ Cheap and Delicious Recipes for Weeknight Dinners by Woman’s Day Kitchen
My Favorite Cookbook for Fast Cheap Dinners