50 Delicious Dinners Recipes That Won't Break the Bank
Repeat after me, everyone: A tight budget does not mean you have to sacrifice flavor or satisfaction. We all know that cooking at home saves money, but with rising grocery prices, a supermarket run can turn depressing if you don't pay attention to what's in your cart. Enter protein-packed beans, nutrient-dense cabbage, and underrated cuts of meat like flat iron steak and chicken thighs—if you're looking to save money, then add these star players to your meal regimen. With these recipes, you'll shave off excess cost without sacrifice.
Cube Steak Bulgogi
If you thought cube steak was made for chicken frying, end of story… well, welcome to a new, flavor packed chapter. This approachable twist on traditional bulgogi swaps the budget-friendly cut in for skirt steak, resulting in an incredibly tender and flavorful beef dish—perfect for piling over white rice or into lettuce cups with kimchi. Because of its being pounded into a thin steak, cube steak absorbs the marinade incredibly quickly; while this makes for great flavor, you don’t want to leave the meat in your marinade for too long as the beef will begin to break down. We found 2 hours to be plenty of marinating time, but if this doesn’t work in your schedule, do your best to avoid letting the beef marinate for more than 6 hours. We also found that reserving part of the marinade for a finishing sauce ties the dish together beautifully. Pro tip: Do not fear a screaming-hot skillet; your pan needs to be hot in order to achieve a nice char on the beef, which will help give the dish that “barbecued” flavor that bulgogi is known for.
Slow Cooker Pork Carnitas
This slow cooker pork carnitas recipe is a perfectly simple and inexpensive way to feed a crowd. Set out a stack of warm corn tortillas along, with a few simple toppings, and allow everyone to pile on the unbelievably rich and tender pork as they please.
Cacio e Pepe
This foolproof method delivers the classic, crave worthy flavors and textures of cacio e pepe—strong peppery backbone (without verging towards too “hot”), earthy saltiness from the Pecorino cheese, and a luscious sauciness that will have you ready to lick the bowl. That said, while our method largely stays true to the iconic dish, one element might catch a traditionalist’s eye: olive oil. Though not exactly typical in cacio e pepe, we found that incorporating olive oil makes emulsifying the delicate cheese sauce a far less finicky process. Grating the cheese (as opposed to shredding) or using a Microplane is also key, as this allows the cheese to melt quickly. And finally, remember that pasta water is your best friend when it comes to making a silky smooth sauce. We developed this recipe for two as it makes for a incredibly impressive—yet budget-friendly—date night dinner when served with a simple green salad and a dry white wine. However, you can easily double the recipe to serve more. We love bucatini for this recipe because the hollow noodle is perfect for capturing the rich sauce, but you can use whatever noodle shape you like; linguine, spaghetti,or fettuccine are all great options.
Slow Cooker Creamy Lentil Soup
Simple flavors and a rustic touch will make this soup an instant home-cooked favorite, especially on chilly, wintry days. Inexpensive dried lentils make up the bulk of the soup, helping fill in your fiber gaps and keep you full longer. Chickpeas are the secret ingredient to achieve supreme creaminess, which become delightfully smooth when blended, and sneak in an extra 3g fiber per serving.
Cowboy-Style Beef and Vegetable Ragout
Think of this savory meat sauce as a cross between beef stew and sloppy joe filling. Add pearl onions to soups and stir-fries, or saute in a skillet with a little olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and sugar. The perfect pairing for this ragout is our Cauliflower Polenta. While the stock mixture for the polenta comes to a boil, begin cooking the beef mixture. As your finish the ragout, the polenta will be cooking away. The addition of cauliflower to traditional polenta lightens the recipe. To add more vegetables to this ragout, add carrots and parsnips during the fall.
Speedy Shepherd's Pie
Making the most of supermarket convenience items gets this family favorite on the table in a flash. Precut matchstick carrots are easier to chop into small pieces quickly, and using prepared mashed potatoes for the topping is a good trick for when you don't have leftover mashed potatoes on hand.
Best Damn Chicken Pot Pie
The name says it all—this pot pie is damn delicious! This crowd-winning chicken pot pie recipe comes from Julie Grimes’s $10 Dinners: Delicious Meals for a Family of 4 that Don't Break the Bank; grab a copy today for more budget-friendly recipes that taste like a million bucks.
Pan Seared Chuck-Eye Steaks
Known among chefs as “the poor man’s ribeye,” chuck-eye steak is a common and incredibly inexpensive (our recipe developer purchased two organic chuck eye steaks for less than $8) cut of beef readily available at most supermarkets. While chuck-eye is often purchased as a roast—destined to cook for hours in a slow cooker in order to become tender enough to enjoy—what many home cooks don’t know is that in steak form, chuck-eye holds the potential to be one of the most succulent cuts you’ll ever cook. In other words, you can serve what tastes like a luxurious steak dinner at a fraction of the cost if you opt for chuck-eye. There are a few details of this recipe that are key to your steak success; for one, salting the beef and letting it rest uncovered in the fridge draws moisture from the surface of the meat, which is what will allow you to achieve an incredible crispy sear. Your next essential step is basting. This technique is one often overlooked by home cooks; however, continually spooning that rich mixture of the steak’s drippings, melted butter, and aromatics over the beef is crucial to yielding a tender, juicy steak. Finally, be sure to allow your steaks a full 5 minutes to rest (yes, this will test the boundaries of your self control) before thinly slicing against the grain.
Tex-Mex meets tater tots in this easy, inexpensive, and all-around comforting one-dish dinner. Our spicy twist on the classic tater tot casserole consists of a succulent ground beef filling—featuring creamy black beans, crisp-sweet corn, cheese, and mild green chiles for a kick—topped with crispy tater tots, and finished with a drizzle of an addictively spicy and tangy sour cream sauce. Top this fiesta of a casserole with fresh garnishes, such as avocado, tomato, jalapeño, and cilantro, and it’s as perfect to serve at your next football feast as it is for a casual weeknight meal. We use 85/15 lean ground beef for this recipe and recommend that you do not go with anything leaner, as the higher fat percentage both contributes to the filling’s rich flavor and keeps it from drying out while baking.
Slow Cooker Beef-and-Sweet Potato Chili
Leaving the peels on the sweet potatoes has three benefits: Prep is faster, you add more fiber, and the potatoes hold their shape better after the 7-hour simmer. Besides, the peels get so tender that you barely notice they're there. If you'd like to change things up, try parsnips in place of the sweet potatoes; they have a similar sweetness and earthier flavor. For less sweetness, you can try small red potatoes or baby Yukon Golds. You don't need to fully cook the ground beef before it goes into the slow cooker; just cook it enough to "set" the shape of the crumbles.
Instant Pot Beef Stew
This recipe was adapted from Cooking Light's wildly popular Classic Slow Cooker Beef Stew to create a simple, speedy version of a comfort food favorite. As the original recipe notes, a nutty dark beer adds richness and depth to the stew, but be careful not to choose a beer that's super-hoppy; it will taste too bitter.
Roasted Pork Tenderloin With Golden Potatoes And Herb Dressing
Some nights, all you want is a simple, satisfying meat-and-potatoes meal you know the whole family will love—that’s where this easy one-dish dinner comes in. A cast-iron skillet is ideal for preparing this budget-friendly, weeknight supper, as it will provide the best caramelization on the pork and potatoes.
Bucatini with White Beans, Tonnato, and Olive Oil Breadcrumbs
Elevate humble mayo via a quick ride through the blender with high-quality canned tuna and anchovies (think Ortiz or Genova brands). The velvety result? Tonnato, an Italian condiment-turned-pasta-sauce to coat every bit of bucatini. Reserve a spoonful or two of the sauce for future sandwich spreads or a dip for roasted veggies.
Niçoise Gnocchi Salad
Haven’t made it to the grocery store in a minute? That doesn’t mean you can’t whip up an impressive dish. This lovely, snackable take on a salad Niçoise is composed largely from pantry items, like canned tuna and roasted red peppers, plus a couple of common refrigerator staples—frozen green beans and eggs. We use packaged gnocchi, shelf-stable gnocchi as a creative swap for the fresh potatoes typically found in a salad Niçoise. Dressed up with a super simple vinaigrette this “throw-together” salad could easily pass for a well-planned. In other words, keep this one in your back pocket for the next time you need a last-minute appetizer for entertaining.
Zucchini Fried Rice
This single skillet dinner is a weeknight-friendly meal the whole family can get behind, not to mention—it’s a genius way to put a bulk of summer zucchini to good use. The grated zucchini helps to lighten and brighten this take-out favorite, and stealthily bulks up the nutritional value of pickier eaters’ plates. Plus, this budget-friendly dish is actually best made using day-old rice, so it’s a great meal to plan on for utilizing leftovers later in the week. You can definitely use whatever you have on hand, but smaller-sized zucchini tend to work best in this recipe, as you want to minimize the number of seeds. Feel free to eliminate the pork or replace it with tofu to make this meal vegetarian.
When we say easy, we mean easy. You don't even have to cook the noodles for this speedy yet impressive lasagna that always gets rave reviews. Lasagna is a family favorite, but this version is extra-special because it only requires 5 quick ingredients: ground beef, pasta sauce, lasagna noodles, ricotta cheese, and shredded mozzarella (we don’t count the water!). It’s rated 5 stars for a reason. Pro tip: Make a double batch: Enjoy one now and freeze one for a quick meal on a busy weeknight.
Mongolian Beef and Vegetables
This takeout favorite is typically laden with beef and coated with a sticky-sweet sauce. Our makeover makes crisp-tender snow peas, broccoli, and carrots the star, with seared flank steak as the supporting player. We also balanced the blend of brown sugar, soy sauce, and sesame oil in the sauce. Add a sliced red chile or a good pinch of crushed red pepper for a spicy sauce. We recommend serving with Sesame Soba Noodles.
Moroccan Beef Daube
This flavor-packed twist on beef daube is the perfect use for inexpensive stew beef. With a bright, herbaceous yogurt topping to add a burst of freshness, this hearty dish hits all the right flavor notes.
Why settle for regular meatloaf when you could be having meatloaf studded with bacon and cheddar cheese? These additions, along with White BBQ Sauce, guarantees a deliciously moist turkey meatloaf. This budget- and family-friendly comes from $10 Dinners: Delicious Recipes for a Family of 4 that Don’t Break the Bank, available on shelves (and Amazon) now. You can find cookbook author Julie Grimes’ simple recipe for White BBQ Sauce there (on page 222), or substitute bottled white barbecue sauce from the supermarket.
Sausage and Spinach Spaghetti Pie
This budget-friendly dish (costing under $10) allows you to stretch a small amount of meat over several servings.
Pork Chops with Herbed Goat Cheese Butter and Green Beans
This speedy main feels restaurant-worthy, but it couldn’t be easier or more affordable (just $2.70 a serving). Stirring fresh herbs, garlic, or lemon rind into softened butter, called compound butter, is a brilliant topper for simply cooked meats or fish, a pile of steamed vegetables, or as a spread for crostini. We stretch the butter with softened goat cheese to lower the saturated fat and add a tangy, luxuriously creamy finish. Dollop the goat cheese mixture over the pork chops and cover the plate with foil so it will melt slightly while you cook the green beans. You'll most likely have leftover goat cheese.
The Ultimate Grilled Cheese
With only 3 simple ingredients, this truly is the ultimate grilled cheese. Perfect for a tight budget or someone who's short on time, this uncomplicated comfort food sandwich is the perfect any-time meal. Use mayonnaise instead of butter for added flavor and to keep the bread from burning.
White Bean and Vegetable Bowls with Frizzled Eggs
This easy bowl of brothy goodness is loaded with both veggies and umami depth--it's comfort food you can feel good about. It's also great for times when the food budget is tight, as it costs only about $11 for 4 servings.
Pasta with Shaved Asparagus and Pea Pesto
Thick asparagus stalks are best for this dish because they’re easier to shave. The trick to this recipe? We cook the pasta in as little water as possible so the resulting pasta water becomes viscous with starch. Adding a little of the water to the sauce makes it extra creamy and helps it cling to the noodles. Pine nuts can be expensive—a good budget substitute is unsalted sunflower seed kernels.
Turkey and Mushroom Bolognese
A rich and hearty meat sauce gains even more robust umami body with the addition of mushrooms. Try serving over polenta as a change of pace from noodles.
Cajun Red Beans and Brown Rice with Andouille
This easy, budget-friendly dish delivers classic Cajun flavor with a modern whole-grain (brown rice) twist. We find that soaking the beans overnight yields the best texture, but if you forget, the quick-soak method will work: Bring beans and water to cover by 3 inches to a boil; remove from heat, and let stand, covered, for 1 hour. Drain and proceed with step 2. To complete the meal, serve either braised collard greens or a vinaigrette-dressed green salad on the side. The dish holds up well and can be made a day or two ahead.
Cheese Ravioli with Pesto
Instant Pot Black Beans
Replace canned black beans (and the preservatives) easily with some help from your Instant Pot, no soaking required.
This thick, classic Italian soup is packed with healthy veggies like fresh carrots, onion, garlic, and kale. And at only 219 calories, you can afford to have seconds.
Creamy Tuna Noodle Casserole with Peas and Breadcrumbs
We love the old-school feel of this skillet supper. If you can't find whole-wheat panko, sauté fresh whole-wheat crumbs until crisp.
Instant Pot Mac and Cheese with Bacon
If you thought you loved your Instant Pot, just wait until you make a rich and gooey bowl of macaroni and cheese within minutes. The Instant Pot’s pressure function allows you to skip the entire process of boiling water, cooking, and draining the pasta saving valuable time over a traditional stovetop mac and cheese recipe. And we keep the cheese sauce quick and convenient, as well as decadently creamy, by utilizing canned evaporated milk—an affordable staple that you may already have in your pantry. Plus, evaporated milk packs less fat than using heavy cream, which means you can feel a little better about all the cheese you’re pouring in to make a beautiful melty finish. We opted for a blend of cheddar and Gouda cheeses, but feel free to go all-cheddar or try adding another favorite cheese to the mix.
Mojo Flat Iron Steak
The ultratender flat iron is an affordable alternative to rib-eye. Look for (or request) flat, rectangular steaks--butchered specifically to eliminate the line of tough connective tissue that runs down the middle of the entire cut.
Comfort food, Mexican-style.
It's amazing how much flavor there is in such a humble (and, by the way, inexpensive) dish. The star of the soup is hominy, with its chewy texture and toasty-corn character; you'll find it with the Latin foods in the supermarket. Updates were minor: We simply omitted some oil and meat drippings for a cleaner broth.
Lentil and Chickpea Salad
Ground Beef and Pasta Casserole
This casserole is perfect for your busy week when getting in and out of the kitchen needs to be a snap. With very simple prep work, it will become a weeknight staple in your household.
Lentil and Swiss Chard Soup with Lemon
Chicken and White Bean Soup with Greens
Slow-Cooker Green Chile Pork
"I buy chiles in season when they're cheap, then roast and freeze them so I can make this year-round."
Angela Maddox, 36, Scottsdale, Ariz.
Red Lentil Dal with Carrot Salad and Coriander Flatbreads
This is basically an all-out assault on the bulk bins, as well as our modern take on the rice-and-beans dinner. Spices, dried lentils, and rice are cheap ingredients, especially when you buy in these small quantities. Chiles are also a thrifty flavor booster; you should be able to score the two here for a nickel. Your vegetable peeler will get you nice carrot ribbons. And you'll use your leftover pizza dough from Spinach and Onion Pizza to make the flatbread.
Curried Lentil Soup with Yogurt and Cilantro
Look for packaged precooked lentils without salt or fat added. We like Target's Archer Farms brand beluga lentils.
A whole-grain protein bowl is the perfect solution for when lunch needs to be quick--as well as tasty, filling, and healthy. Cook quinoa ahead of time (or buy precooked, available in pouches near the rice). To complete the lunch, serve with 1/2 cup steamed green beans as shown. Dairy-free option: Use 2 teaspoons toasted chopped walnuts instead of feta cheese.
Chicken with Honey-Beer Sauce
Opt for an inexpensive, full-flavored domestic beer, like Blue Moon wheat ale.
Pork with Chunky Applesauce
The fall family favorite goes lighter with barely sweetened apples. And instead of the typical pork chops, we go for lean, inexpensive pork tenderloin. Complete the meal with a side of Broccolini or broccoli.
Sheet Pan White Pizza with Salami and Peppers
This pizza is flat out delicious! Hold the tomato sauce with this easy, one (sheet) pan pizza. Test Kitchen Tip: Preheating the sheet pan is key to achieving a crisp, crunchy, pizzeria-worthy crust at home.
Garlicky Beef-and-Bean Stir-Fry
Cut costs at the supermarket by rethinking how you buy meats. Here, we use a less expensive cut of beef and stretch it by adding colorful fresh veggies to the entrée. Thinly slice the meat and stir-fry it quickly to keep it tender.
Our favorite recipe from the Cooking Light column, this lightened-up lasagna tastes every bit as flavorful as the traditional version.
Beef and Guinness Stew
This hearty beef stew is made with lean boneless chuck that's cooked with carrots, parsnips and turnips and flavored with dark beer. Simmering it in a Dutch oven for about 2 hours makes the meat and vegetables fork tender and delicious.
Slow-cooker Turkey Chili
Super Crispy Chicken-Skin Nachos
For a show-stopping appetizer, these unlikely nachos are just what you need. If you have a local market that butchers their own meat, they will likely be able to sell you chicken skins for cheap. You can use either the thigh skins or the breast skins here, both will work great. Drying the chicken skins with paper towels and sandwiching them between two pans is the key to getting them flat and crispy (without the second pan weighing them down, youe skins would shrivel up). Do note, after step 1 in the recipe below (i.e. cooking the skins for 35-40 minutes, they may very well be crisped and ready to go) which allows you to skip step 2 entirely. Continue to cook the skins uncovered only if they aren't quite browned and crisp, but keep a close eye on them so they do not burn. You can cook these in mulitple batches if you don’t have enough pans to make them in a single batch, but watch the second round of chicken skins closely because it will probably cook faster.