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Cheap, Fast and Easy - Dinners Under 3 Bucks per Serving

Updated on February 01, 2014

Easy to Make, Inexpensive Family Dinners

Once you are a professional, or a working mom (or both), cheap, fast and easy just doesn't have the same meaning that it used to. I'm thinking wallets and paychecks, rather than lingerie and trashy models. I want to make dinners under 3 bucks per serving. I want it on the dinner table in 20 minutes or less too!

Growing up, things were tight in my family. We made meals from what was in the cabinet, rather than rely on processed, pre-packaged suppers in a box. Today, you'll find that the dinners taste better, are much lower in sodium, and cheaper to prepare than "Hamburger Helper."

Each of these meals takes less than an hour to make, and will fill you up without draining your bank account. I'm a big fan of fast food that is not of the take-out variety!

Homemade Spaghetti Sauce

My mom used to make this in an electric fry pan, and still does, as a matter of fact. This is super easy, quick and satisfying. By itself, the sauce will serve 5-8 people. Its easily doubled for larger crowds. Serve with garlic bread and lots of parmesan cheese!

Brown 1 pound ground beef or ground turkey with 1 small onion chopped (optional). If you desire, add 1-2 cloves chopped garlic. Drain fat.

Over medium heat, stir in 1 can stewed tomatoes (15 oz) and one can tomato paste. Add garlic salt, dried or fresh oregano, and salt to taste. Feel free to experiment with this recipe. Add chopped green or black olives. Use ground sausage instead of ground beef (or use a half and half mixture) for extra flavor. Try one of the Italian seasoning blends available in the spice aisle, too.

Spoon sauce over cooked and drained noodles. Add parmesan and/or romano cheese, if you like.

Cheap, fast and easy dinners under $3 per serving
Cheap, fast and easy dinners under $3 per serving

Tuna Casserole

All you need for this basic meal is: a can of tunafish, 2 cups cooked egg noodles, a can of cream of celery soup, 1/2 cup milk, 4-6 slices American cheese and plain potato chips. This will serve 5-7 people.

First, boil the noodles until cooked (about 8-10 minutes). Drain and set aside. Open and drain the tunafish. In a deep Pyrex casserole dish make 2 layers of: noodles, tunafish and torn up American cheese. Put one additional layer of noodles on top. Stir together a can of cream of celery soup and 1/2 cup milk. Pour over the top of the noodle layers. Crumble plain potato chips on top.

Bake at 350 degrees for about 45 minutes, until bubbly.

Variations on this recipe include adding chopped sundried tomatoes, 1 can of green peas, and/or 1 tablespoon of capers. Chopped red onion to taste is also nice. I like to add fresh chopped parsley in the soup mixture before adding to the casserole (about 1-2 tablespoons). Serve hot with french bread and salad.

Hamburger Casserole
Hamburger Casserole

Hamburger Casserole

Another super easy preparation, without any baking time in the oven! The ingredients for this meal include: egg noodles, 1 pound ground hamburger, stewed tomatoes, canned corn, onions and seasoning to taste.

Start by browning hamburger (ground turkey, or your choice) in a fry pan. Drain fat and set aside. At the same time you are browning the meat, you can boil the noodles- about 8-10 minutes. Drain and set those aside too. In the fry pan, over medium heat, add hamburger, noodles, 1 can stewed tomatoes and 1 can corn. Stir together for about 3-5 minutes, season and serve.

Tacos - yum!
Tacos - yum!

Tacos

There are so many variants on this theme! Again, the basis is ground hamburger or turkey. Browned and seasoned with taco seasoning, the meat is ready to go. You can make soft-shell tacos, hard-shell tacos, or taco salads. Once you have your meat cooked, chop tomatoes, shred lettuce, chop onions (white or green), grate cheddar cheese, and open a can of black olives (sliced) if you desire. Generally, tacos are made by layering the spicy meat with lettuce, tomatoes, cheese and onions. If you want to make soft tacos, use flour or corn tortillas. Hard shell tacos are also available at the store. Many people enjoy pouring guacamole, sour cream or salsa over the top. This will require a few extra ingredients, but worth the extra cost and/or trip to the store.

An easy taco salad can be made by heaping lettuce on to a plate, then adding the spicy meat, tomatoes, olives, etc. Crumble tortilla chips on the top, and add sour cream and guacamole if you wish. Salad dressings can include ranch or Italian.

Guide to Setting a Family Dinner Table
Guide to Setting a Family Dinner Table

Easy Family Dinners Leave More Quality Time

Once your family's food is prepared more quickly, you can focus on your time together, teaching etiquette, or listening to your spouse or children's experiences that day.

Kids as young as 3 can start to learn to set the table appropriately. And, studies have shown that children that eat regular family meals are happier and healthier both emotionally and physically. Make it your goal to increase the number of sit-down dinners per week by at least one. There's nothing like home-cooking to bring everyone together!

Want more cheap, fast and easy recipes? Do you have a crock pot? Great!

Check out Crockpot Easy Recipes!

Gee, Mom - thanks for the great grub!
Gee, Mom - thanks for the great grub!

Have any other tips? Share below in Comments

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    • robie2 profile image

      Roberta Kyle 9 years ago from Central New Jersey

      Guess what ? I make the same spaghetti sauce as your mom does--and in an electric frying pan too--served it to my family for years. These days, since I live alone, I make up a batch and freeze some for later. I hate the taste of those packeged frozen dinners and hate paying for them too-- Good job!

    • stephhicks68 profile image
      Author

      Stephanie Hicks 9 years ago from Bend, Oregon

      Thanks Robie! That totally makes me smile. Nothing like comfort food, huh? Thank you for reading and commenting.

    • Raven King profile image

      Raven King 9 years ago from Cabin Fever

      Reading this article makes me smile. Cooking food that we like to eat, what could be more positive than that. :)

    • stephhicks68 profile image
      Author

      Stephanie Hicks 9 years ago from Bend, Oregon

      Right on, Raven! Thank you!

    • WeddingConsultant profile image

      WeddingConsultant 9 years ago from DC Metro Area

      Steph, thanks for this hub. I'm always on the lookout for inexpensive meals! For the record, spaghetti is one of my FAVORITE meals! I would add to those reading this hub- garlic is, in my opinion, THE most important seasoning in your spaghetti sauce! Crushed garlic cloves are great, but even garlic powder does the job well. It's super healthy for you, and it adds so much flavor. Try it yourself!

    • stephhicks68 profile image
      Author

      Stephanie Hicks 9 years ago from Bend, Oregon

      Thank you Wedding Consultant! I will add the garlic next time. You're right, its very healthy. Cheers - Steph

    • MommyMandy profile image

      MommyMandy 9 years ago from The South

      When you really think about the $$$ you throw away eating out, it inspires me to slow down and cook!

    • commentonthis7 profile image

      commentonthis7 9 years ago

      NICE HUB

    • Decrescendo profile image

      Decrescendo 8 years ago

      I feel hungry now. Thanks for sharing.

    • Kat07 profile image

      Kat07 8 years ago from Tampa

      Wonderful hub, wonderful tips and recipes! Keep them coming!

    • gamergirl profile image

      Kiz 8 years ago from Antioch, TN

      Come make dinner at my house, Steph!

    • stephhicks68 profile image
      Author

      Stephanie Hicks 8 years ago from Bend, Oregon

      Wow - look at all the comments on this one all of a sudden! Thanks everyone! Yep, they're pretty tasty too. Um... gamergirl... I will, but we live on opposite coasts! ;-) I'd love to come visit though!

    • Solorya profile image

      Solorya 8 years ago from Oklahoma

      Great hub--some tips would be to make the pasta whole wheat for a bit more fiber, and draining the fat from either the turkey or the hamburger meat before adding the other ingredients. Tacos and Spaghetti (or spinach fettuccini...mmm) are some of our favorite quick dinners. I also have a recipe for Cranberry Chicken posted as well--its my own invention but its fast and low-fat too! Thanks again!

    • gamergirl profile image

      Kiz 8 years ago from Antioch, TN

      Come on by, Steph! I'll have my roommate make chicken fettucini alfredo - it costs us about 15 bucks to make and serves about five people, so it's right in line with your hub here, and it's super super tasty to boot!

    • stephhicks68 profile image
      Author

      Stephanie Hicks 8 years ago from Bend, Oregon

      Its a deal - you write a hub on the chicken fettucini alfredo in time for Friday dinner, OK? :-) Sounds yummy!!

    • wilhb81 profile image

      Rayno Pon 8 years ago from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

      Those spagetthi looks yummy...lol

      Cheap, delicious and the most important matter, enjoy the moment with family.

      Wilson.

    • wannabwestern profile image

      Carolyn Augustine 8 years ago from The Land of Tractors

      About the electric frying pan...my mother-in-law did that for years, and when I was married at a young age to my now husband of 16 years (does that date me or what?) I thought it was the most ridiculous thing ever. Who ever heard of doing such a thing?

      Well, as you may guess, I was won over to the wild side and now I cook my spaghetti that way, too.

    • stephhicks68 profile image
      Author

      Stephanie Hicks 8 years ago from Bend, Oregon

      wannabewestern - the wild west side of cooking in an electric fry pan? Just wait until I post my next hub on the Crock Pot. We got one for our wedding and didn't break it out until we had kids and cooking got more cumbersome. Speaking of spaghetti - I need to make some dinner! Steph

    • Bruce Elkin profile image

      Bruce Elkin 8 years ago from Victoria, BC Canada

      Hi, Great hub. I'm a bachelor and like the quick and easy (and cheap) approach. Also, I'm a life coach focusing on helping folks create simple, successful, and sustainable lives -- and I'm always looking for practical tips and suggestions I can point my clients toward. I'll be pointing many of them toward this hub. Thanks!

    • stephhicks68 profile image
      Author

      Stephanie Hicks 8 years ago from Bend, Oregon

      Hey Bruce - thanks for the support! Fast cheap and easy is always good for me (LOL). In fact, I am thinking about a couple of follow-up hubs for making great tasting, inexpensive dinners. Crock pot anyone?

    • Vicariously Yours profile image

      Vicariously Yours 8 years ago from Fort Collins, CO

      Nice writing here, Steph. Question: I've been doing some major study in the nutrition department, and I'm learning that carb-heavy meals like spaghetti and gluten-based casseroles have a bad habit of driving up the glycemic index and promoting the storage of starches/sugars in the cells as fat--and setting us up for problems with obesity and Type 2 diabetes. Consequently, my wife and I have started eating low-carb, and our vital signs are better now than when we were teenagers!

      But I still want convenience, too! How about an article about easy-cooking ideas for folks who've adopted the low-carb, high-protein lifestyle? Any ideas?

      Thanks...

      Bill C

    • stephhicks68 profile image
      Author

      Stephanie Hicks 8 years ago from Bend, Oregon

      Hi Bill - yes, as a Type 1 diabetic, I have noticed issues with blood sugars hours after eating a meal like spaghetti. 2 hours post meal, I can be fine, but 4-5 hours later, I suffer high blood sugar. One option is to use whole wheat pasta instead of "white" pasta. The added fiber helps slow the spike in blood sugars. Those that are even futher on the low-carb continuum would enjoy protein-based meals. You may want to check out my hubs on marinated grilled chicken or BBQ marinated flank steak. Lots of salad and fresh veggies fill up your plate. Homemade salad dressing (I enjoy simple oil and balsalmic vinegar) can control the amount of sugar you ingest. :) I am happy to write another hub, and in fact just started a draft hub on slow-cooker meals. I'll make sure I have a few low-carb options for you to consider! Steph

    • crazyhorsesghost profile image

      Thomas Byers 8 years ago from East Coast , United States

      Believe it or not I cook the spaghetti in a wok and its quick and easy to clean up when your done with it. Great hub and information there by the way.

    • stephhicks68 profile image
      Author

      Stephanie Hicks 8 years ago from Bend, Oregon

      Mmmm.... spaghetti in a wok - great idea! Anything that makes clean up quick and easy is also a plus in my book.

    • JJC13 profile image

      JJC13 8 years ago from Liverpool

      Just what we need in this time when the whole world is in a crisis of sorts.

    • stephhicks68 profile image
      Author

      Stephanie Hicks 8 years ago from Bend, Oregon

      Hi JJC13, yes! We are spending even less on take-out these days and are cooking at home regularly. I hope you enjoy the cheap, fast and easy dinners. :)

    • ripplemaker profile image

      Michelle Simtoco 8 years ago from Cebu, Philippines

      Hi Steph, I too love spaghetti's and tacos. (Once when we ran out of ground pork, beef, I used spicy cornbeef instead. LOL It tasted good) But I'm going to try out your tuna and hamburger casserole recipe. This is making me hungry and it's still 6 am in the morning. :) Thanks for this hub.

    • stephhicks68 profile image
      Author

      Stephanie Hicks 8 years ago from Bend, Oregon

      Hi Michelle, spicy cornbeef sounds terrific! I am already planning tomorrow night's dinner, and I may want to try that. :) Stephanie

    • Mezo profile image

      Motaz 8 years ago from Egypt

      wow that was so simple and delicious

      I choose the homemade spaghetti of course :D:D

      keep hubbing

    • stephhicks68 profile image
      Author

      Stephanie Hicks 8 years ago from Bend, Oregon

      Thanks Mezo! Nothing like homemade spaghetti, huh? Stephanie

    • mhei profile image

      mhei 8 years ago from Philippines

      i love pasta and tacos!!!and I love your hub! I also cook and it's good to have some influence from other good chef like you. :)

    • stephhicks68 profile image
      Author

      Stephanie Hicks 8 years ago from Bend, Oregon

      Thank you mhei! Cooking at home is so much better for us, and tastier too! Cheers, Stephanie

    • RGraf profile image

      Rebecca Graf 8 years ago from Wisconsin

      Great suggestions. We have been trying to eat at home more to cut back on spending and to be more healthy.

    • stephhicks68 profile image
      Author

      Stephanie Hicks 8 years ago from Bend, Oregon

      It really works! We are saving a lot more after cutting back on take-out meals.

    • C.S.Alexis profile image

      C.S.Alexis 8 years ago from NW Indiana

      Good timing for this hub. I payed $1. for a green pepper in the store last night for a meatloaf. The price for that same item was 10 times less just 5 years ago. It is so crazy to pay so much and buying take out for a family for just one meal could purchase enough food to make several meals with plenty of left overs for lunches and snacks. Thanks for sharing, C.S.

    • stephhicks68 profile image
      Author

      Stephanie Hicks 8 years ago from Bend, Oregon

      Isn't that crazy? I love green peppers (red and yellow too), but the prices sometimes hold me back. Thanks for the great comment, C.S.

    • Lgali profile image

      Lgali 8 years ago

      Cooking at home is so much better and healthy good tips

    • JKSophie profile image

      JKSophie 8 years ago from Philippines

      Thanks for this. I've bookmarked it. :)

    • stephhicks68 profile image
      Author

      Stephanie Hicks 8 years ago from Bend, Oregon

      Thank you JKSophie - who couldn't use cheap, fast and easy dinners these days?!

    • Mardi profile image

      Mardi 8 years ago from Western Canada and Texas

      Great ideas for those "comfort foods" that are still tried and true.

    • stephhicks68 profile image
      Author

      Stephanie Hicks 8 years ago from Bend, Oregon

      Thank you Mardi - we had the spaghetti again the other night. It makes a great leftover too. - Stephanie

    • retirementhelp profile image

      retirementhelp 8 years ago

      Great ideas!!! It is amazing what you can do with a little money. This is something that people can do in tough and good times. Money can then be transferred to other uses. Very nice hub.

    • Ashley Joy profile image

      Ashley Joy 8 years ago

      These are great meals! Chicken is another good one. If you buy a whole bird you can get 3 different meals from it making it very inexpensive.

    • stephhicks68 profile image
      Author

      Stephanie Hicks 8 years ago from Bend, Oregon

      Hi Ashley Joy: Yes, you are right. Chicken (whole bird) can make a number of meals. I have a recipe blog with my sister too. I'll put a link on my profile page. Cheers, Steph

    • kmackey32 profile image

      kmackey32 7 years ago from Pittsburgh PA

      Great hub. With 3 kids it helps to have ideas on how to save money. Thanks for the information.

    • J Burgraff profile image

      J Burgraff 7 years ago

      Thanks for your meal suggestions. I am always looking for ways to trim the grocery bill. I've also been looking for a basic recipe for tuna casserole for a while. Thanks!

    • profile image

      boppster 7 years ago

    • profile image

      Adam 6 years ago

      Awesome post, thanks for the recipes. We're starting a website to compile easy cheap dinner recipes at http://www.shoestringdinners.com/ and we're adding new stuff. Glad to see that someone else is also adding some good recipes!

    • stephhicks68 profile image
      Author

      Stephanie Hicks 6 years ago from Bend, Oregon

      Thanks Adam - cooking at home is a great way to save money and trim the waistline! Glad you enjoy the cheap dinner recipes

    • yyn1221 profile image

      yyn1221 6 years ago from China

      Thank you Wedding Consultant! I will add the garlic next time. You're right, its very healthy. Cheers - Steph

    • NotPC profile image

      NotPC 6 years ago

      I always thought Tuna Casserole was something gross! I had no idea that it had potato chips in it! I'll be making that for dinner tonight!

    • Karen N profile image

      Karen N 5 years ago from United States

      Thanks for all the tips.

      I just bookmarked your page as I'm always on the lookout for new recipes.

    • amymarie_5 profile image

      amymarie_5 5 years ago from Chicago IL

      I'm always looking for new and easy recipes. The tuna casserole sound delish. Will def be making that one soon! Now, I'm off to read your crock pot recipe hub! :)

    • stephhicks68 profile image
      Author

      Stephanie Hicks 5 years ago from Bend, Oregon

      Thanks amymarie! I have a few new cheap fast and easy dinners to share too. I should write a follow-up hub! Enjoy - Steph

    • profile image

      stessily 5 years ago

      Steph, Really excellent palate-friendly recipes! It's nice to know that it's possible to eat well without spending a chunk of cash!

      It's great that you included the image, "Guide to Setting a Table." Experiencing table etiquette in childhood, I observe table settings and manners as assurances that meals are savoured, with happy helpings of camaraderie and appreciation.

      Thank you for sharing.

      Kind regards, Stessily

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