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Cheapest Recipes

Updated on October 10, 2014
lotsa pasta
lotsa pasta | Source

Good Cheap Food

These are the cheapest recipes I have made in my years raising my family as a single parent. In order to make it from one month to the next, I had to stretch my grocery money as far as it would go.

I was always on the lookout for cheap dinner ideas, since I was raising two hungry children on a limited income. Now I share with you my family favorites, tried and true recipes for very cheap meals on a budget.

This article focuses primarily on cheap food that is easy to prepare for someone who does not have much time or a fully equipped kitchen. Many of these recipes are suitable for college students or those who receive packages from food pantries.

Warning: Eating a lot of these very cheap meals will save you money in the sort run, but it is not a good long-term strategy. Eat the cheapest recipes to stretch your food budget, but as often as possible eat fresh fruits and vegetables, fish, poultry, red meat and fresh milk.

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Cheap Pasta Meals

The Frugal Foodie - Waste-Not Recipes for the Wise Cook

Tasty, yet inexpensive, recipes that maximize nutrition while stretching your food dollar!

Cheap Pasta Meals - Cheapest Recipes Using Pasta

Pasta is an inexpensive way to fill up a hungry family. Buy pasta when it is on sale to save a lot of money and make your grocery dollars stretch as far as possible.

  1. Canned sauce is cheaper than sauce in a jar. Doctor it up with a little ground beef or other leftover meat scraps. Just chop them fine and throw them in. Chop leftover vegetables and add them too. If your sauce is too watery, stir in some parmesan cheese or breadcrumbs. Spice your sauce up with some additional garlic or spices. Spaghetti is a very cheap meal my mother always served with toast, and which my girls loved with garlic toast.
  2. Add pasta to soups and chilis to make it more filling and add servings.
  3. Make lasagna without the meat. Instead, use some chopped vegetables, and extra ricotta and parmesan cheese.
  4. Serve serve warm cream of chicken soup, diluted with a little milk or water, over hot pasta. Add some peas or mixed vegetables, if desired. Top with grated cheese or parmesan, if desired.
  5. To make Poor Man's Stroganoff: Brown a pound of hamburger. Add onion and garlic to taste, then pour in a can of cream of mushroom soup. Dilute with milk until it is the desired consistency. Serve over noodles.
  6. To make Tuna Pasta Salad - Mix together in a large bowl: 1 package of pasta (tri-color spirals are pretty, but you can use anything from macaroni to shells), 1 can tuna, enough ranch dressing to make everything moist. Chill and serve.
  7. Toss hot pasta with plain yogurt, a spoonful of prepared mustard and parmesan cheese, seasoned with a little salt and white pepper.
  8. To make Pasta Fazoli - Brown 2 cloves of garlic and a small, chopped onion in around 4 tablespoons of butter and cook until tender. Then add a can of white beans (juice and all), add some salt and pepper, then heat until bubbly. Add a little olive oil if a little more sauce is needed. Serve over cooked spaghetti with parmesan cheese.

Colorful shell pasta for the cheapest recipes

Colorful shell pasta for the cheapest recipes
Colorful shell pasta for the cheapest recipes

Here is a very easy recipe for macaroni and cheese that my girls loved. Nothing complicated, just macaroni and cheese sauce.


  • 1 1/2. cups macaroni
  • 3 T. butter
  • 2 T. flour
  • 2 cups milk
  • 2 cups cubed or shredded sharp cheddar cheese


  1. 1. Cook macaroni according to package directions until al dente. Drain, but don't rinse, and set aside.
  2. 2. Using the same pan you cooked the pasta in, melt the butter and blend in the flour, stirring until golden brown, about 2 minutes. Then slowly whisk in the milk, stirring constanly until the sauce is thick and bubbly.
  3. 3. Add the cheese, stirring until melted.
  4. 4. Toss in the cooked macaroni and stir to coat with the cheese sauce.
  5. 5. Put the macaroni mixture into a lightly buttered 1 1/2 qt. casserole.
  6. 6. Bake at 350 degrees for 35 to 40 minutes until bubbly and golden brown on top.
2 stars from 1 rating of Simple Macaroni and Cheese Recipe

Tuna Noodle Casserole

The cheapest recipes are flexible enough to let you use what you have on hand. This allows you to use up scraps of food that might otherwise go to waste, and saves you from running to the store to pick up needed ingredients.


  • 2 cans tuna
  • 1 bag egg noodles
  • 1 can cream of mushroom soup
  • cheddar or velveeta cheese (optional)
  • bread crumbs (optional)
  • frozen or canned peas (optional)


  1. 1. Cook the noodles according to directions. Drain.
  2. 2. Combine the soup with half a can of water or milk, then add the drained tuna and optional peas.
  3. 3. Add the noodles to the soup mixture.
  4. 4. Put the noodle and soup mixture into a large casserole or baking dish.
  5. 5. Bake at 350 degrees for approximately 30 minutes, or until the topping is bubbly and browned.
  6. 5. Top with bread crumbs or grated cheese, as desired.

Cheap Recipes Poll

What is your favorite way to eat pasta?

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Cheap Potato Recipes

Cheap Potato Recipes - Inexpensive Meal Ideas

Potatoes are always economical. You can buy a large bag for a few dollars. Store them in a cool, dark location and they will keep well.

  1. My friend, Jayne, a military wife raising three active children, says her cheapest meal idea is a Friday night potato bar. This is extremely popular with her children. She makes potatoes and sets them out on her bar with a variety of toppings, including any leftovers from the week. The kids load up their potatoes with vegetables and leftover bits of meat, top with grated cheese and sour cream. Leftover taco fixings are especially popular on the potato bar.
  2. My girls have always loved a dish we call Fried Skillet. I fry a bunch of sliced potatoes or hash browns in hot oil until they are tender and browned, adding onion and/or mushrooms if desired. When the potatoes are almost done, I throw in whatever I have on hand: cooked hamburger meat or sausage, beans, bits of rice. Then I add eggs and cook until the eggs are cooked through, and top with grated cheese. This is very filling and my girls love it.
  3. Make mashed potatoes, then top with stew or soup. My girls loved a dish I once made out of desperation, when I made mashed potatoes and then mixed it with a can of Dinty Moore Stew. We called it Goop, which is what it looked like. The children loved it and begged for more. I have also made mashed potatoes and topped with various chunky soups, like the Sirloin Burger soup. This is also quite tasty and will stretch a can of soup to serve more than one person.

Cheap Bean Recipes

Cheap Bean Recipes

Beans are one of the cheapest forms of protein you can buy. They are also low in fat and high in fiber. They are so good for you and so cheap that it is crazy not to eat more of them!

The cheapest form you can buy is the dried beans, but even if you buy canned beans they are still cheaper than any other form of protein. Stock up on beans when they are on sale and use them to stretch other recipes, like soups and pasta dishes.

  1. Make a cheap and easy beans and rice dish by combining one cup each of beans with rice pilaf.
  2. Make bean soup according to the directions on packages of dried soup mix.
  3. Serve baked beans with brown rice.
  4. Add beans to a box of rice mix, add a can of chopped or stewed tomatoes and top with cheese if desired.
  5. Substitute a can of beans for the meat in Hamburger Helper mixes.

One of the Cheapest Recipes: Bean Soup

One of the Cheapest Recipes: Bean Soup
One of the Cheapest Recipes: Bean Soup | Source

Mama's Hobo Beans

  • 3 cans pork and beans
  • 3 cans kidney beans
  • 1 cup ketchup
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1 small chopped onion
  • 1 1/2 lbs. browned ground beef


  1. Empty cans into crockpot. Do not drain the cans, add the juice too. Then add the other ingredients and cook on low. Serve with cornbread. You can also add lima beans, butter beans or garbanzo beans to the pot. I usually add extra beans to stretch this, but be careful you do not overflow your crockpot!

Cheap Rice Recipes

Cheap Rice Recipes

Rice is another inexpensive food that can be used to stretch your food budget. White rice is cheaper, but I prefer brown rice for its nutritional value. I also buy a lot of arborio rice. Even though it is more expensive, it has the advantage that you can just toss it into other dishes while they are cooking to add bulk.

  1. Heat a can of cream of chicken soup, diluted with a little milk, and serve over hot rice.
  2. Add rice to soups to stretch them and make them more filling.
  3. Serve rice on the side of other dishes. Add a little gravy if desired. This is filling so that people eat less of the more expensive foods on the table.
  4. Serve chili over rice.

Cheese Rice & Beans Casserole

  • 1/2 cup uncooked instant rice
  • 1/2 cup boiling water
  • 15.5 ounce can drained and rinsed kidney beans
  • 14.5 ounce can undrained diced tomatoes
  • 1 cup frozen corn or substitute a can of corn
  • 2 teaspoons chili powder
  • 2 ounces shredded cheddar cheese


  1. Combine all ingredients except the cheese in a 2 quart casserole dish. Cover and bake at 350 degrees for 15 minutes, stir thoroughly then bake another 10 minutes. Uncover and top with the cheese, then bake another 10 minutes until the cheese is melted.

Cheap Ways to Use Your Leftovers

Ideas to Use Up Leftovers

Don't throw your leftover food away! Make it into something else with these cheap and easy ideas!

  1. Keep a container in your freezer and add your scraps to it. When it is full use it to make a delicious soup.
  2. Set up a potato bar as described above. Bake potatoes then top with your leftovers from earlier in the week.
  3. Make a casserole by dicing leftover meat, adding a can of cream of anything soup, add some vegetables and serve over rice or noodles.
  4. Make homemade pizza and toss your leftovers on the top.
  5. Make a frittatta, by mixing your leftovers with some beaten eggs, then bake in a greased casserole or baking dish at 350 degrees until eggs are set.

Whatever Casserole Makes Use of Your Leftovers

I love the Green Apple Home videos! Here Karissa shares her recipe for Whatever Casserole. This looks like a terrific way to use whatever you have on hand to make a delicious and nutritious meal for your family.

More Recipes for the End of the Month - Some of the Cheapest Recipes on the Web

If you run out of money before the end of the month, as I often did for many years, try these recipes for using up what you have on hand.

More Cheap Meal Ideas and Recipes

The Staving Student's Cookbook

Not just for students! This is a terrific cookbook for beginners, but it is also wonderful for anyone who wants to learn some new techniques or find new ways to save money on their groceries. Filled with fun and simple recipes for inexpensive comfort food, I think you will enjoy this one!

The Everything Handy College Cookbook

Another cookbook not just for college students! I have used many of these recipes as I get used to cooking for one, after feeding a family for the past several decades. You never know when the tips in this book will come in handy!

Not only that, but the Kindle price just can't be beat!

Easy Beans!

Beans are cheap, tasty and nutritious. They are packed with protein and fiber. You can pick up a pound of canned beans for under a dollar. A pound of dried beans costs a few cents more, but yields a lot more meals.

This cookbook is full of delicious recipes that will help you make good use of beans to keep both your body and your bank account healthy!

Cheapest Recipes Poll

What do you do with your leftovers?

See results

What are the cheapest recipes you have made to feed yourself or your family? Do you or your family have a favorite inexpensive meal? Do you have any tips for making cheap food? Please share your ideas and comments!

Cheapest Recipes - Reader Tips and Suggestions

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    • profile image


      4 years ago

      Really enjoyed this lens. Some great ideas i shall definitely be trying out!

    • CrazyHomemaker profile image


      5 years ago

      Great lens! I'll be trying some of these recipes. Stop by and see my lens for some cheap recipes I love. I reuse leftovers until they are unrecognizable. Now-a-days, you can't afford to throw much away. That soup looks especially good! I think we could be twins separated at birth. LOL!

    • Resident-Nerd profile image


      6 years ago

      Another great lens. Great recipes that i will have to try with my family. Thank you

    • webrunner2023 profile image


      6 years ago

      Really good ideas here. I like your advice to add other foods too especially fresh fruit and veggies. Nice lens with lots of effort showing. Good job.

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      Well, you did it, you got my craving pasta today. Those beans sure do look real yummy too. :)

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      A lot of great ideas presented here. I ate a lot of tuna casserole in college. The thought of it now gags me. However, I love pasta, rice, potatoes and beans so all your other suggestions sound great.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      I love lentils! They are one of my favorite foods!

    • cuteordeath profile image


      7 years ago

      I love lentils and brown rice for a cheap food. It's actually pretty healthy!

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Eating pasta is a great way to save some money and it tastes great.

    • Heather426 profile image

      Heather Burns 

      7 years ago from Wexford, Ireland

      I have a bunch of meals for kids here on Squidoo called Quick Kids' Meals, and one of my recipes is Chicken Surprise which is my name I made up for mashed potatoes with Cream of Chicken soup poured over it. sort of like your goop. lol.

    • Bluemoongoddess1 profile image

      Lisa Musser 

      7 years ago from Kansa, USA

      Good tips for saving money. I eat a lot of rice, beans and ramen noodles.

    • Pam Irie profile image

      Pam Irie 

      7 years ago from Land of Aloha

      Pasta and beans have always been favorites of mine. Thanks for sharing all these tried and true recipes.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Fried rice is a cheap, filling dish, especially if you make it meatless and use eggs in it.

      This is a great lens, with a lot of good ideas! Will be making a lot of these.

    • Joan Haines profile image

      Joan Haines 

      7 years ago

      Top Ramen with frozen veggies, eggs dropped in an stirred, and only half the salty seasoning packet. (Not good for long term health either.)

    • Diane Cass profile image

      Diane Cass 

      7 years ago from New York

      I like to make fresh pasta and toss it with fresh veggies from the garden. Throw in some cubed, sauteed meat (chicken, pork or beef) and it's a party in your mouth.

    • Showpup LM profile image

      Showpup LM 

      7 years ago

      Great recipes and ideas. I'm always on the look out for simple stuff like this.

    • Gayle Mclaughlin profile image


      7 years ago from McLaughlin

      Tuna Noodle Casserole--a favorite from my childhood--my grown children eat it twice a week!! Great idea for an article for everyone!

    • Ann Hinds profile image

      Ann Hinds 

      7 years ago from So Cal

      This is a great list of recipes, many of which we do now. They are cheap and filling and when the money runs out at the end of the month, no one feels like they don't have enough food. Great ideas, great lens, angel blessed.

    • DLeighAlexander profile image


      7 years ago

      Chili beans (pinto beans) and cornbread, it's cheap to make and also tastes great!

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Here at our house, we love homemade chili con carne. It's very cheap to make and is even better reheated. Also makes a great topping for baked potatoes.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Here at our house, we love homemade chili con carne. It's very cheap to make and is even better reheated. Also makes a great topping for baked potatoes.

    • traveller27 profile image


      7 years ago

      Great idea for a lens - I love pasta!

    • whiteskyline lm profile image

      whiteskyline lm 

      7 years ago

      This is great, I especially like the really easy recipes in list of 8, that can be less intimidating for someone.

      This reminds me of kind of a funny quote I made up, reiterating a Facebook post I saw recently, though it set me back since I never thought of this before.

      'Wanna save money and lose weight? Eat Less!' lol

    • Kailua-KonaGirl profile image

      June Parker 

      7 years ago from New York

      I always found it cost a lot less making from scratch than buying expensive bottle sauces. Two cans of tomato paste (4/$1.00) and a can of whole tomatoes (29 cents) fed a lot more people for a lot less money than having to buy the equivalent 4 jars or cans ($8.00) of ready made sauce. Convenient foods are never cheaper and they are less nutritious. Seasoning I bought in bulk to get it cheaper and when you add up the expensive of buying seasoning in little packages, you find you spend a whole lot more in the long run. I have grown my own herbs for years so that I didn't have to pay the high price of bottle Schilling or McCormick herbs. They are better because they are grown organically and I always have the added bonus of both fresh herbs and dried herbs to use whenever I want.

    • BLouw profile image

      Barbara Walton 

      7 years ago from France

      Some good ideas and cheap need not always mean poor in nutritional value. I have made a collection of stale bread recipes that are delicious and nutritious. I also like to collect wild food and 'weeds' (wild herbs sounds better), not to mention hedgerow autumn fruits.

    • LaineA profile image

      Amy Stephens 

      7 years ago from Missouri

      I use to cook with a lot of seasoning packs and cans of cream soup then realized that stuff could be made easy without much fuss for pennies. My favorite cheap recipe is chicken dumpling soup.

    • Virginia Allain profile image

      Virginia Allain 

      7 years ago from Central Florida

      Mom used to make cream of potato soup by cooking potato chunks then adding milk. Yummy with a slice of buttered bread.

      We always had a plate on the table with a stack of bread slices on it. With 6 kids to feed, anyone still hungry when the meat and potatoes were gone, could have bread and butter or bread with gravy over it. Fortunately we were very active and worked off all that starch and fat.


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