Menu Banner

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Call for Recipes: Low-Cost Meals and Recipes

Recently Jenny Rose, lovely reader, sent me an email requesting today’s Call for Recipes. She is going to be quitting her job to stay home with the kids and is anticipating a tight food budget. She asked if I would ask all of YOU for low-cost recipes, and I thought that was a great idea and something we would all be interested in.

So here we are! Please share your favorite low-cost recipes that help you stay on a budget. Also, any tips for keeping to a budget when meal planning would I’m sure be welcome!

I’ll kick us off with a few thoughts and a recipe.

  • Ever since we started eating less meat around our house, one of the biggest impacts has been the positive impact on our wallet. Meat, even on sale, costs money…a lot more than beans and veggies. I love not having that added expense on my grocery bill every week.
  • Cooking recipes that make a lot of food (lasagna, soups, etc) always make for pro-budget meals.
  • Eat in season. Food that is in season is cheaper…and more delicious!

I’m going to share one of my favorite recipes that has been on the blog for a while but fits all the criteria above! The Pasta Primavera recipe from one of the Moosewood Restaurant cookbooks is SO yummy. It makes a ton of food, uses a ton of veggies (which you could keep seasonal), and there’s no meat! I think next time I make it I am going to throw some white beans into the dish to up the protein factor…plus I think the beans would taste good!

Game on! Share your low-cost recipes!


  1. 1

    I find that Mexican-style food is often quite cheap. Tortillas, beans (dry is way cheaper than canned, but takes some prep), veggies and cheese and some bulk spices, and you have a million combinations. I always add an avocado for some fat (we’re vegetarians) and find that makes it feel a bit luxurious.

    One of my kids’ favorites that’s also cheap and super easy is breakfast for dinner. Pancakes or waffles, plus some scrambled eggs and some fruit. Very popular on Friday night!

    For snacks, we do a lot of packing our own snack packs. I bought 4 cloth sandwich-size bags (with Velcro) and then just pack a bunch of pretzels (bought in bulk) or whatever and a string cheese or Clementine, and it costs way less than the “100-calorie” packaged stuff.

  2. 2

    I’ve been trying to do more meatless dinners during the week to cut down on cost. This has been one of our favorites lately including my little kids. It’s actually Corbin and Alice Clawson’s recipe!

    Vegetarian white bean chili

    1 large onion, diced
    3-4 cloves garlic, crushed
    2 T olive oil
    Crushed red pepper flakes (to taste)
    Fresh ground black pepper
    1-2 T chili powder OR 1-2 tsp cumin & 1-2 tsp ground chiles (like Cayenne or other not so hot)
    1 can diced tomatoes
    1 small can diced green chiles
    3-4 can white beans
    1 jar alfredo sauce – I wonder if you could make your own out a packet?
    Your choice of cilantro, sour cream, shredded cheese, or tortilla chips (or all of them!) for garnish – I like it with just a dollop of sour cream and some cheese.

    1. Heat oil in large soup pot or dutch oven.
    2. Saute onion and garlic until translucent.
    3. Add spices and saute until fragrant
    4. Add remaining ingredients (including juices from canned items) and simmer 10 min.
    5. Serve with your choice of garnish.
    (You can also turn this into white chicken chili by doing the obvious) πŸ™‚

  3. 3

    I make these sweet potato and black bean burritos from Tasty Kitchen and couldn’t believe how delicious they were for the price! Black beans taste great with sweet potatoes. And it’s healthy!

  4. I completely agree that cutting down on meat consumption helps create wiggle room in your budget. A couple of my favorite meatless recipes:

    Smoky Pumpkin Chili

    Meatless Sloppy Joes

    Shop the bulk foods section for beans and cook them yourself instead of buying canned. I like to cook them in the crock pot and freeze them in 2 c. portions, which interchange perfectly with the amount from the cans.

  5. I try to keep our family grocery budget below $75/week, and we eat mostly organic. It can be intimidating at first, but here are a few tips that we enlist:

    *Have a menu plan based on in-season, on sale items. This is why I love this website–I get great menu ideas!
    *Keep side dishes simple (using whatever fruits or veggies are on sale for the week)
    *Take meat out of the starring role. Use meat in dishes where it can be shredded, crumbled, or otherwise used as a “condiment”. As Jane mentioned, soups and lasagnas are a great way to use a little meat for a lot of people.
    *Cook Once, Eat Twice. For example, I like to make a big roast in the crock pot. Day 1, used as french dip sandwiches. Day 2, used as beef tacos. Or, if chicken breasts are on sale, I’ll make pulled chicken sandwiches the first day, and put the rest on BBQ chicken pizza the second day.
    *For breakfasts, my husband cooks a large batch of pancakes or waffles on the weekends, and we use that throughout the week for breakfasts, so we rarely buy cereal or frozen breakfasts, and that saves money too.

    I have a bunch of inexpensive kid/husband tested recipes on my site if you’re interested.

    The first few weeks or months of trying to trim your grocery bill might be a bit of a learning curve, but eventually you’ll get into the swing of things. I rarely step foot in the grocery store anymore, and rely on cheap essentials from Trader Joes, produce from the Farmers Market or Health food Store, and meat from Costco.

    • Love these ideas! I too have found cooking pancakes or waffles on the weekend and then freezing them helps wonders during the week.

      We also do a lot of homemade pizzas because it’s cheap and can utilize “scraps” from other meals.

      I also try to make my own vegetable broth from leftover veggies in the fridge which I then use to add flavor when cooking potatoes, rice or pasta. Speaking of pasta, that’s another cheap eat.

      Buying less packaged stuff saves a bundle.

    • I think I could eat pizza everyday and never get bored…there are so many options!

  6. 6

    When I stayed at home, I got together once a month with some friends and pre-made meals. We would spend the morning cooking/prepping about 4 or 5 meals while our kids played. We split the cost of food and the meals could be frozen.

    We made lasagna, chicken/broccoli casseroles, chicken pot pies, enchiladas and a bunch more. Since the food was bought in bulk, it was cheaper. We took turns “hosting” (which meant we used your house to cook and your on hand spices), and we would each research for a recipe using foods that were on sale that week. You would divide the food up (one person brought all the carrots, someone else brought the hamburger, etc..) and each chipped in $ so no one person did it all.

    It worked out great.

  7. I have an easy and cheap recipe for Chocolate Chip Banana bread.
    1 pkp. yellow cake mix
    3 ripe bananas
    2 eggs
    1/2 c. chocolate chips

    Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease loaf pan. Mash bananas in large bowl. Add the rest of the ingredients. Mix well. Pour into loaf pan. Bake at 350 for about 50 to 60 minutes. Or, until toothpick comes out clean.

    Great for breakfast or dessert!!!

  8. 8

    I can’t say enough good things about them. Delicious, filling, inexpensive, easy to make, good for breakfast, brunch, or dinner, completely adaptable. One thing that makes them such a money saver is that they’re a perfect way to use up all your leftover vegetables like the half-onion sitting in your fridge and the tomatoes that are going soft, and that bell pepper that never got used. Did you buy specialty cheese that never got totally used up? Extra deli meat you don’t want to go bad? Throw it in there! AND, if you substitute out half of the yolks for egg whites, it ends up being SO low in calories and still filling. Have I convinced everyone yet?? πŸ™‚
    Here’s my favorite recipe and the one I use to base all of my free-style frittatas on (to make sure my proportions aren’t totally off.)


    • Leanna H

      I love to make fritattas because you can use up leftovers and my family loves them and they don’t take a lot of work.

  9. 9

    One of the most budget friendly meals I make comes not from a particular recipe, but how I aim to cook. I find it’s less expensive to cook with whole foods and with produce that is in season. Case in point: Roast Chicken with Seasonal Veggies. Bonus points for cutting out the backbone and turning it into chicken stock.

    • Angie

      Using that stock for chicken soup would also be a great inexpensive meal, using up leftover chicken and veggies that you have onhand/leftover from the week – and it’s also a comfort food. Who doesn’t love comfort food?

  10. 10

    Just found this yummy blog,, and made this recipe as I happen to have a cabbage and potatoes from my CSA box, it was so good.

    In season is a great idea. And I discovered healthy chickens (from Amish farms) cheaper than farmers market at a local Persion market. I’d been avoiding chicken because I could only find free-range whole big chickens, which were like $50 at $6/lb.

  11. 11

    Homemade granola is a great thing. You can also make them into bars.
    EGGS! you can do hole in a egg,omlets,egg sandwiches,egg salad.
    Pasta, mac and cheese, pasta with vegetables, pasta with butter, pasta with lemon,etc… so many options!
    grilled cheese. I love making it with different cheeses, sometimes tomatoe, or red onion. Yum!
    Quesadillas, beans with rice, burritos without meat.
    also salads.We make spinach salad all the time with eggs.

  12. 12

    I try to plan multiple meals around one item. For instance, when whole chickens are on sale I buy one that big enough for leftovers. Night one is roast chicken with two lemons. Then I shred all the leftover meat and boils the bones and lemons for stock. The next night is white bean chicken chili made from the stock and the shredded chicken. The third night is black bean and chicken quesadillas with rice using the left over shredded chicken.

    We also aim for 1-2 meatless meals per week.

  13. 13
    Melissa M

    Here is an easy and inexpensive recipe my family loves (well not my picky 4 year old who won’t touch noodles of any kind). I can usually get more than one meal too, it low calorie and I am sure it could be made healthier. I just have nit bothered to because it’s usually something I throw together one night when I don’t have time.
    Easy Baked Zita
    1 pound Ziti noodles
    1/2 onion chopped
    1 pound ground beef (or less if adding mushrooms)
    1 package mushrooms (optional)
    1 small can tomato paste
    1 can tomato soup
    1 cup shredded cheddar
    1 cup (or so) shredded cheese of your choice (mozzarella, parm, cheddar)

    Cook Ziti noodles according to package directions and drain well. Then pour into greased 9×13 pan.

    Cook 1/2 chopped onion until translucent, add 1 pound ground meat (lean comes out great), cook until browned, add some sliced fresh mushrooms (this is optional, I started doing this when I was on weight watchers, and I reduced the amount of meat in the dish).
    Add tomato paste, tomato soup and one soup canful of water. Stir until uniformly combined. Add 1 cup shredded sharp cheddar (or whatever you have). Stir until cheese is melted.
    Pour whole panfull into noodle pan and toss to combine. Top with shredded cheese (whatever kind you like). Bake @350 for 20 minutes.

    Easy peasy, inexpensive and you can either freeze half or have lots of leftovers. Our family of 5 (4actual eaters!) eats this twice and my husband takes lunch at least once.

  14. 14

    This was post was meant for me too! We just welcomed our twins in October, to make our kid count 4. I am seriously considering staying home at the end of this school year! This post and all of the comments is going to be SO HELPFUL!

  15. 15
    Leanna H

    Grow your own herbs and veggies.

  16. 16
    Kim 2

    Meal planning has definitely helped our weekly food budget, although it seems like we still spend a lot!

    I freeze everything. We often get more than one meal from what I cook. I almost always have meal size portions of lasagna, baked ziti, and stuffed shells in the freezer.

    I also love soup! I make big pots of soup and freeze it.

    We eat a lot of rice too……rice & beans are a favorite. I make rice as a side early in the week and then use it in soup or fried rice later in the week.

    I just made a favorite, inexpensive dish that makes a lot last week: Sausage, beans, and greens

    1 large onion
    3-4 minced garlic cloves
    1 package of smoked sausage or keilbasa (I use Hillshire Farms smoked turkey sausage…..any kind will work)
    2 cans of beans (drained)- I use white beans, but again, whatever you like will work
    1 cup of chicken broth
    1/4 cup white wine
    2-3 large handfuls of greens (escarole, kale, collards, spinach, any kind you like)
    A little thyme

    Saute the chopped onion in a little olive oil in a large 3-4 quart pot for about 5 minutes. Add sliced sausage & garlic and continue sauteing for another 5 minutes.

    Add beans, broth, salt, pepper, thyme and wine. Bring to boil.

    Add greens. Cover and reduce heat to low. Simmer for about 10 minutes.

    Serve with a little parmesan cheese on top and some crusty bread.

    It is even better the next day.

    Growing your own herbs, lettuce, and parsley helps cut down on the cost of groceries while adding lots of flavor to whatever you make too.

  17. 17

    Chili is a great way to stretch your ground beef or turkey. And it’s a great topping to use on baked potatoes for another meal (also inexpensive).

    Pot pies are a great way to use up any leftover chicken/turkey and veggies.

    Black/refried beans w/ rice to make burritos.

    Use ground beef to make stuffed peppers or zucchini and bake in the oven.

    Use leftover meat (chicken/steak) for a stir-fry and serve over leftover rice.

    And who doesn’t love a gooey rice and chicken/pork chop casserole?

    Hope this gives you all some great ideas!!

  18. 18

    I just posted a week’s worth of menus last night, working with my ‘extra’ mom, that focused on the idea of using the budget of someone on food stamps. After calculating everything the budget came in at HALF of the amount!

    Recipes are posted with the menu on my blog.

    Sunday–Rotisserie chicken, roasted vegetables, butterhorns,
    Monday – asparagus/salami salad, loaded baked potatoes (top with butter, cheese, sour cream, and finely chopped veggies from yesterday’s meal)
    Tuesday – chicken salad on lettuce, butterhorns, grapes
    Wednesday – cauliflower cheese soup, butter dip
    Thursday – chicken Caesar pasta salad, peach cobbler
    Friday – tehri
    Saturday – bisquick quiche and bisquick dessert

  19. Beans are such a great way to eat healthy on a budget. Here is a favorite around our house: Black Bean Veggie Stack Ups.
    Also soup is a great way to feed the entire family: White Bean Soup.

  20. 20

    Use less or no meat. Reduce the meat by half in recipes such as stir-fry, casseroles, sauces, braises, etc, and increase the veggies. Use the cheapest veggies you can find (frozen or fresh). A garden is always a good way to get cheap veggies. Also try to use cheaper meat such as chicken thighs, chuck roast, skirt steak, or whatever is on sale. Butchering and grinding your own meat also saves a lot of money.

    Some favorite budget friendly recipes:–t/ (stretch the meat buy halving the amount and dicing it…also add some veggies like zucchini)

  21. My husband lived in Brazil for a couple of years and so our go-to meal for the end of the month when the grocery budget is tight is just plain ‘ol beans and rice. We actually try to have this once a week or so. It is healthy and can be dressed up in all sorts of ways. My favorite is rice and beans with a little salsa and a cooked egg on top. So Yummy! I just cook my dried pinto or black beans in the crock pot and they are yummy and tender by the dinner time.

  22. 22

    We just moved, so I’m on a strict budget, too. It’s hard but getting used to it. A couple things:

    Simplify – Dinner doesn’t have to be “fancy”, a side dish can be whatever vegetable is on special. Or cut up fruit into a fruit salad (before it goes bad). Freeze fruit for smoothies. Carrots and dip. Loaf of bread, or plain rice. Simple, simple side dish and focus more on the main dish.

    If you think you’ll over-spend at the grocery store. Take out the amount you’ve budgeted for yourself IN CASH and leave the debit/credit card at home.

    Eat what you have first. When I’m NOT on a grocery budget I tend to go to the store whenever I’m “bored” with the food I have at home. Now that I’m on a budget, I try to eat up leftovers even if I’m not excited about it (in the end, I usually feel glad I did, and good about myself for not wasting food). I look in the back of the pantry and try to incorporate cans of food, or bags of pasta/rice that have been sitting there a while, almost like they’d been forgotten. Try to be inspired by food already in your fridge/freezer/pantry.

  23. 23

    Well, it’s not a recipe but I’m a huge fan of the Rotisserie Chicken. I buy one rotisserie chicken from Costco for $5 and I pick every bit of meat off of it. Currently I’m feeding 4 adults and with one chicken I made one 9 x 13 tray of chicken enchiladas, one 9 x 13 tray of chicken pesto with ziti and then cooked the bones up for Chicken noodle soup. The uses of the rotisserie chicken are too many to list but I fed all of us for about 75cents per serving (for the meat that is). And it’s delicious!

  24. I sometimes share recipes as they apply to Tarot cards. This is one for the King of Swords. You may know it as Porcupine Balls. Super easy and very budget friendly.

    King of Swords’ Balls

    1 Lb ground beef, lean (you can also use ground turkey)
    1/3 C uncooked long-grain rice
    1/4 C chopped onion
    1/4 C water
    1 tsp salt
    1 tsp pepper
    1 can condensed tomato soup
    1/2 tsp chili powder
    1/2 C water
    1 tsp Tabasco, optional

    Combine the ground beef, rice, onion, 1/4 cup of the water, salt, and pepper.
    Now for the fun part. Roll this up into walnut-sized balls. You can get 12-15
    for a lb of meat. Set them aside for a bit.

    Combine the soup, chili powder, and water in a large saucepan; bring to a boil.
    Add meatballs; reduce heat, cover, and simmer over very low heat for 1 hour.
    Stir occasionally and be careful. You don’t want to beat the poor King’s balls
    to hard.

    Serves 4 and just has to have some good bread and a salad to balance it all out.

  25. 25

    we save tons by planning the weekly meals, sticking to a list for those meals, and using the ingredients I buy for multiple meals. Also, eating veg meals more often. usually at least 3x a week. one of our favorite budget meals is french onion soup. I made it this week actually… I use The Pioneer Woman’s recipe.

    This week I scored a bag of onions for .89, a bottle of chardonay for 6.99, swiss cheese instead of gruyere, and used the homemade chicken stock in my freezer. the other ingredients are nominal. it makes a HUGE batch, which we have for dinner one night w/ a salad, and then I freeze the rest. Viola!, dinner is done for another night when money is tight, or someone is sick.

Leave a comment