Food prices are going up. 2022 looks to be the year that inflation really kicks in. With everything we’ve been through in the last few years, the last thing that we need as a nation is to see the price of chicken double!
Dirt cheap meals are for those times when you need to spend as little as possible on food yet eat as much as and as healthy as you can for the amount of money you have.
There are seasons in every one of our lives when we need to eat cheaply. Struggling college student, new mom, saving up to buy a house, or sending our kids to college.
Whatever the reason is, we have all been there.
I’m going to give you a month’s worth of dirt-cheap food and attempt to feed a family of four for around $2 a meal.
What To Eat When You’re Broke
These are quick and easy meals- less than thirty minutes from stove to table. They are not complicated and will assume you have some things in your pantry and refrigerator like flour, simple spices, and ketchup.
I will include a list of breakfast and lunch choices that you can circulate and swap around but there are 30 dinner choices, dirt-cheap meals for dinner, that I have collected.
That’s 50 dirt cheap meals for the entire month!
Grocery Budgets Begin With Realistic Grocery Lists
I get asked often (as a Financial Coach) what a realistic grocery budget is for a family. And this is such a hard question to answer because it depends on your way of eating (organic vs conventional, scratch vs premade) and honestly, where you live.
I can tell you as of right now in WAY Upstate NY in February of 2022, Im spending $800 a month for a family of four adults.
That’s with a healthy balance of organic and conventional and a few convenience foods thrown in there.
Grab the FREE Grocery List Printable to help with the shopping.
Why Would I Need to Make Dirt Cheap Foods?
Quite simply stated, it’s a way to save a substantial amount of money. Whether you are broke or are saving for something specific, grocery budgets offer you an area of great flexibility.
You can easily spend $1,000 a week on the best cuts of grass-fed meats, the highest quality of dairy, and 100% organic fruits, veggies, and snacks.
Or, you can find a way to stretch that $50 as far as it can go and do the best you can with what you have.
These meals are perfect for a broke college student. Keep reading for a cheap student shopping list of meals.
Make Dirt Cheap Meals Cheaper
There are so many ways to make dirt-cheap meals cheaper. They require planning and some work but are quite effective.
- Use coupons. There are ways to get real food with coupons for practically free.
- Grow a garden. Fruits and vegetables are not cheap. So if you can buy a packet of cucumber seeds and some dirt for under a few dollars, you can have fresh cucumbers and pickles. The same goes for tomatoes and squash. All fairly inexpensive to purchase.
- Barter. I worked at the food pantry for years and when there was excess, the workers get to take things home. There were always items that just wouldn’t last until the next time the pantry was open. Also, there were many volunteers who would offer their time for food. I know there are farms that are happy to have an extra set of hands in exchange for eggs or garden produce.
- Shop sales. Every sales flyer for every store can be found online. Go through and find the best prices for the cheapest foods.
- Change stores. Consider stores like Dollar General or Aldi for your shopping instead of the higher-end grocery chains. If Aldi is a 45-minute drive, consider once a month shopping.
- Cook from scratch. Anytime you can make something from scratch, it’s bound to be cheaper. bread, oatmeal, and any type of dessert are all going to be less expensive than already made from someone else.
Recommended: How To Grocery Shop Once A Month
What are the Cheapest Foods to Buy?
The cheapest foods may not be the healthiest foods but they are a great way to stretch the healthiest a little further.
Items like pasta and rice, beans, and lentils are cheap. Canned vegetables compared to fresh are a less expensive option. Good choice for a broke dinner.
Chicken legs and thighs (dark meat) are cheaper than breasts. Lower fat ground beef costs more than higher fat.
Starchy vegetables like potatoes and corn aren’t as pricy as broccoli and eggplant.
Recommended: 37 Cheap Groceries to Buy When You’re Broke
Cheap Easy Meals for Breakfast
Many of these breakfast ideas can be made ahead of time if you are normally trying to rush out the door and go to school or work. Saving money always requires a little bit of planning.
Old fashioned oatmeal and fruit: Oatmeal is cheap for a lot of servings. And you can add bananas or any fruit that you might find the best deal on. I also love canned pears chopped up in mine.
Eggs: Eggs are nature’s best food. fried, scrambled, over easy, they are full of protein and cheap. Our Aldi sells a dozen eggs for 89 cents.
Toast: Make your own bread or buy the least expensive loaf you can find. Top with peanut butter, butter, or jelly. Add a fried egg on top for a savory approach.
Muffins: Make your own. Better every time. Include apple sauce, berries, chocolate chips, or just some cinnamon and have a winner at breakfast.
I’ve done the math and it’s definitely cheaper to make yours from scratch. However, those envelopes of mixes or the Jiffy Muffin mix in the box are pretty inexpensive. If you can swing it, grab those.
Pancakes: These are so simple to make. And you can make a double batch to put in the freezer. My granddaughter likes to eat them frozen. But she’s one.
Waffles: My recipe for this is about the same as pancakes. Making it from scratch is a much better financial choice than buying them already cooked in the freeze section.
Also, the scratch mix is cheaper than the pancake mix.
And really, who doesn’t love waffles with melted butter and syrup. A bottle of pancake syrup is less than $1.
Recommended: How To Start Couponing Like A Boss!
Cereal: a box of generic rice crispies is just a little over a dollar. Growing up, we never had any “good” cereal. We always had cheerios.
My mom could get them for practically free back in the 1980s with coupons. Lucky us, right?
Bagels and cream cheese: at $1 for each of these, it breaks up the boredom. If you’re feeling really creative, you can whip up the block of cream cheese and add fruit or cinnamon to make it extra special.
Whipping it will actually make it go further also.
Breakfast casserole: I think of this as cleaning out the refrigerator for breakfast. If you have a little meat left and some veggies, add them to six scrambled eggs and top with cheese.
Any meat will do; chicken, beef, sausage, or pork. Add some spinach, broccoli, beans, or tomatoes, and it’s a meal.
Depression eggs: My friend Gretchen gave me this idea. two saltine crackers soaked in milk to one egg. Mix it all together and scramble. Her kids love it.
You get the salt from the crackers and it stretches the egg out the same way bread crumbs do in a meatloaf.
Dirt Cheap Lunch Ideas
Some people are home for lunch which gives them a lot more flexibility when it comes to what they eat.
If you work outside of the home, taking your lunch every day is a great way to save LOTS of money.
Leftovers: I understand that some people don’t like to eat leftovers but when you are saving money on food, you cannot let anything go to waste.
Sandwiches: any type of sandwich fixings that you might have on hand or find at the store on sale. Mind you, deli meat is not cheap.
At $9 a pound for deli turkey, you can buy a turkey breast, cook it, and shred it or slice it for a whole lot less. Just about any deli meats can be cooked from scratch at a much lower price point.
Tuna fish: Tuna fish can be made into sandwiches to stretch it out or eaten with crackers or chips. I am a big fan of tuna.
Add mayo, a small squirt of mustard, and some pickle relish (preferably dill), and my mouth starts to water. You can find a good quality tuna for around sixty-nine cents a can.
Egg Salad: Ah – all the egg choices. Boil them up, dice the eggs, add some mayonnaise, salt, and pepper. My favorite is to serve it still a little warm on toast.
Recommended: Easy Packable Lunches For Your Husband To Save Money
Grilled cheese sandwich: Classic and cheap. I make mine with butter but I just heard there are people who use mayonnaise! What?!? Mind blown!
Peanut butter and jelly: There is really nothing like traditional PB&J. My middle son who is almost 22 still has one every day. I love it on homemade bread best.
Chicken salad: cooking up some chicken in the Instant Pot specifically for chicken salad is something I have been doing these last few months.
Putting that in a reap with lettuce and cheese makes such a delicious cheap lunch.
Pasta salads: Any type of pasta salad you want. An Italian pasta salad with cheese, pepperoni, Italian dressing, and veggies.
Or the mayo, tuna, and peas type are both great for lunches. You could even make a bacon ranch pasta salad with bacon bits pretty darn frugally.
Soup: I like soup. Whether you make a double batch and freeze lunch portions for later or open a can of soup, it makes for a hearty, cheap lunch.
Quesadillas: Adding some cheese to a tortilla opens up a whole new world of possibilities. The combinations are endless.
Add mozzarella cheese and sauce for a pizza quesadilla. Add taco cheese, leftover taco meat, and salsa for a taco quesadilla, or just go with chicken and cheddar for my youngest favorite quick and dirt cheap lunch.
Cheese and crackers: I know. Sounds more like a snack. But it can be a nice light lunch paired with some fruit or vegetables on the side.
Recommended: 30 Frugal Lunch Ideas for Stay at Home Moms
Super Frugal Dinner Ideas
I took to Facebook to see what my friends thought about dirt-cheap meal ideas and here are some of their suggestions and some of mine.
Lentil soup: My friend Catherine suggested lentil soup. Onions, carrots, celery, chopped and sauteed in the pot with either butter or stock.
Add the amount of lentils (split peas/ dahl) and liquid ratio desired using whatever stock desired. Cook to a boil then reduce to medium and cook until lentils are creamy tender.
Salt and pepper + seasonings after the lentils are tender.
Catherine is the QUEEN of soups. Every fall for quite a few years, she would host Soupfest at her house. It was loads of fun!
Tomato soup: Amanda makes her own tomato soup. I mean canned soup is pretty cheap but this sounds cheap and delicious.
A can of stewed tomatoes, water, onion, ham hock, and Tony’s seasoning- eat with macaroni noodles.
Green bean “soup”: from Kami. Simply beans, milk, and potatoes. Add butter, salt, and pepper.
Macaroni soup: Similar to goulash except for more liquid. Kami suggested ground beef, onions, tomatoes, and macaroni.
Split pea soup with ham hocks: one more from Kami. Buy the dried split peas and prepare as directed. Cook the ham hock, pull any meat off, drain the broth.
Add any vegetables you might have on hand and blend it all together. Then add the meat back.
Corn chowder: Linda suggested this meatless soup. Corn, potatoes, onion are all cooked up in a broth. Add milk, salt, and pepper. Serve with bread or rolls.
Santa Fe chicken soup: My sweet friend Ayla suggested this recipe.
Chicken, can of black beans, pinto beans, frozen corn, frozen pepper and onion blend, a jar of salsa, a packet of taco seasoning, and chicken broth. Makes a whole crockpot full.
Chicken stuffing casserole: This was from my friend Lisa. Boxed stuffing then combine leftover chicken, sour cream, and cream of mushroom soup. Add any vegetables mixed into the stuffing.
Baked macaroni and cheese: this is a layered casserole of sorts. Make a roux with butter, milk, and shredded cheddar cheese.
Layer half the cooked elbow pasta, crumbled-up crackers (we use saltines but whatever crumbly crackers you might have on hand will work), and half of the cheese sauce, repeat.
Bake in the oven until all is melted and goo-y.
Leftover Casserole: this is one of my favorites. It’s a “clean out the refrigerator” kind of casserole from The Tightwad Gazette. You can find the recipe here.
Macaroni with canned tomatoes: Literally that’s the recipe from Denise. She suggests taking it up a notch and adding either some ground meat or cut up hot dogs.
Then she added, “I didn’t say I liked it, nor have I made it- grew up with it, and it is cheap”.
Creamy beans: Another suggestion from Denise is green beans or peas and potatoes in “milk, water, butter” served over bread. “Just enough milk and butter to color the water”, she says.
“And this I actually really like. Especially when the beans or peas are fresh from the garden”.
Rice and Beans: from Carriebeth. She also suggested tacos and making your own tortillas. I have heard it’s quite easy once you get the rhythm down.
Fettuccine Alfredo: Not nearly as expensive as you might think. Thanks to Laurie S. for this one. A box of fettuccine noodles, light cream (or milk to keep it more frugal), parm cheese, egg, and a stick of butter.
Eggs: making any of the egg recipes above. I have done the egg bake for dinner many times.
Spaghetti: my friend Gary suggested butter with a little garlic salt. Easily able to add whatever leftover vegetables you might have made it an easy meal that’s tasty, too.
Sue suggested changing out the pasta to penne (or any other fancier pasta) and adding the tomato-based sauce.
Christine suggested just pasta and stewed tomatoes. Add some spices and you’ve got an authentic Italian dish.
Stuffed zucchini: One more from Denise. The zucchini that got too big were scooped out, run thru blender, bread, and seasoning added, put back in. The whole thing was baked with spaghetti sauce and cheese on top.
Fried Rice: If you have a little leftover meat, you can add it. If not, it’s just as good. Rice, a can of peas and carrots, some spices and soy sauce, and a couple of scrambled eggs.
Cheap Chicken Dinners
Chicken and biscuits: Nacy gave me this suggestion. Cream of chicken soup, chicken cut into pieces over biscuits(make your own or use the 39 cent tube). Top with some shredded cheese.
Campfire rice: This also sounds really good from my friend Drew. A can of chicken meat, 12 ounces of Rice a Roni in a box, and a can of mixed vegetables.
Chicken and sauce: From Amy – chicken breast and any sauce on hand. That over rice or pasta.
I suggest a lemon butter sauce which is just melted butter with oil to stretch it out, some lemon juice, garlic (powder, minced or fresh), and parmesan cheese. It’s really tasty.
Cheap Ground Beef Ideas
Goulash: Jen L. suggested a pound of pasta, 1 pound of ground beef ( or ground meat of any kind), and a can of tomatoes or sauce. My family loves this stuff.
Beef and rice: From Laurie C. – Ground hamburger, mix in beef Rice a Roni, and add a can of corn. Cooked all together. Top with shredded cheese if desired.
Hamburger gravy on toast or potatoes: Kami suggested this classic. Use ground beef, and make a gravy out of beef stock, bullion cubes, and water, or buy a can of gravy. Serve over toast or mashed potatoes.
Sloppy Joe’s: Make them with ground beef, turkey, or chicken (whichever is cheaper). Add your favorite frugal barbeque sauce or make your own with ketchup and brown sugar for pennies.
Campfire Stew: My friend Chuck suggested this. Why do I get the feeling this s an old Boy Scout recipe? Ground beef with alphabet soup. Add biscuits on the side.
Nachos and Tacos: Either with chips or taco shells, it’s a great way to stretch a pound of ground beef. Fancy up your nachos by using whatever you have leftover in your refrigerator.
Recommended: 25 Thrifty Ways to Save Money on Meat
Other Cheap Dinners
Egg roll in a bowl: Cabbage is pretty cheap and one head of cabbage can make a lot of dinners. This is made with cabbage, some spices, and sausage.
It’s delicious, low carb, and a dirt-cheap meal. I found the recipe here.
Mac & cheese and hotdogs: This might be every kid’s favorite meal suggested by Lynda. A box of generic macaroni and cheese paired with a package of hot dogs on buns is less than $3 for the entire meal!
Tuna noodle casserole: Ray gave me his “recipe”. Can of cheap tuna, can of cream of mushroom soup, a box of elbows, and the cheapest individually wrapped American cheese you can find, if you’re feeling rich, you double the cheeses, soup, and tuna.
Creamed peas and tuna fish on toast: Karen gave me this dirt cheap dinner recipe that I had not heard of before.
Make a roux. Flour, butter, and milk. Thicken. Add salt and pepper to taste, drain the peas and tuna, stir to break up tuna, and done. Serve over toast.
Rice and Sausage: Marci suggested this meal that sounds so yummy. I’m adding this to next month’s meal plan.
Cooked white rice, chopped onions, hotdogs, or sausage, sautéed the onions, and mix all together and finish cooking.
Pennies from heaven: My friend Janis’ husband called hot dogs in baked beans this. We always called it beanies and weenies!
Breakfast for Dinner: Many suggested this idea, including Marty. I love breakfast foods.
- Scrambled eggs, ham/chicken, toast, coffee, juice…
- Pancakes or french toast with eggs
- Eggs/omlets with home fries and toast.
Baked Potato Bar: I love this idea. Bake some potatoes and then set out all the toppings for everyone to fix their own potato.
Another item for the cheap college grocery list.
This is a great way to eat up leftovers like chili, bacon, sausage, chicken, or other vegetables. Top with cheese and sour cream!
Many of these meal ideas are one-pot meals meaning they have your protein, carbohydrate, and vegetable in one dish. If you would like to add some side dishes to any of these meals, here are my suggestions.
- Potatoes. Either white potatoes or sweet potatoes.
- Pasta. Ramen noodles are a super cheap pasta side dish.
- Salad. One of the salads listed above or a nice garden salad. Bonus points if you grew the salad ingredients yourself.
- Deviled eggs. A favorite around here. Add a little red bell pepper to the top to make it fancy.
- Canned or frozen vegetables. Whatever is cheaper at the grocery store.
- Bread. Garlic bread or just bread and butter. Biscuits also work.
Final thoughts on Dirt Cheap Grocery Meals
Finding good food to feed yourself and your family is a challenge when you are trying to get out of debt, save for a special occasion, or just find yourself short at the end of each month. I have included a lot of ideas here and hope you find a few cheap grocery meals you can try.