15 Cheap Dinner Ideas: A Guide to Saving Money on Food

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Eating out takes its toll on your budget. Even a meal at McDonald’s is likely to set you back about $20 (per person) these days. Budget meals don’t have to taste bad or be less nutritious. Here are a few cheap dinner ideas that will help you stretch your budget.

1. Cook at home more often

Ok, we know. This is an obvious way to save, but it’s worth repeating: cooking at home is almost always cheaper than eating out. Even if you don’t have a lot of time to cook, there are plenty of quick and easy recipes that you can make. And if you’re really short on time, there are even premade meals that you can buy at the grocery store that are still cheaper than eating out.

Cheap dinners may not sound fun on the surface, but using copycat recipes will make you feel like you’re dining at your favorite restaurant.

2. Plan your meals

Another way to save money on dinner is to plan your meals in advance. This will help you avoid buying unnecessary ingredients and prevent food waste. When you know what you’ll eat for dinner each night, you can ensure you have all the ingredients on hand. Packing leftovers the next day will help you boost your savings by not buying extra food for lunch. Deli meats, cheeses, and other everyday lunch items are costly and often less healthy.

3. Use coupons and discounts

There are plenty of ways to save money on food by using coupons and discounts. Coupons are in newspapers, newspaper inserts, and even online. You can also sign up for coupons on manufacturers’ websites and third-party sites. Then, there are customer loyalty programs at your favorite grocery stores and restaurants. And remember to use your credit card rewards points for food purchases. The less you spend on specific products, the more you have to spend on your cheap dinner.

4. Buy in bulk to make a cheap dinner

Buying in bulk can save money on many food products (like pantry items), especially if you buy items you use often. Just be sure to store bulk items appropriately so they don’t go to waste. You can also buy in bulk from online retailers, which is often cheaper than from grocery stores.

Buy at farmer's markets
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5. Shop at farmers’ markets.

Farmers’ markets sell fresh, affordable local produce. You can also find other cheap items at farmers’ markets, such as eggs, meat, and dairy products. And because the produce is often in season, it’s often fresher and tastier than the produce you’ll find at the grocery store. Farmers’ markets are a great start to cheap, healthy meals.

6. Cook with beans and lentils

Beans and lentils are a great way to save money on protein. They’re also a good source of fiber and nutrients. You can add beans and lentils to various dishes, such as soups, stews, and salads.

7. Cook with pasta and rice

Pasta and rice are another great way to save money on dinner. They’re both inexpensive and versatile ingredients. You can use pasta and rice in a variety of dishes, such as soups, stir-fries, and casseroles.

cheap dinners lenti meatloaf
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Slices of vegan lentil loaf with mashed potatoes and green beans.

8. Sign up for a local CSA

What’s a CSA, you ask? It stands for community-supported agriculture. You buy a share at the beginning of the growing season (usually) or at the start of the particular season for the crop. Some farms ask you to pay for it upfront, while others allow payments. 

In exchange, you’ll get access to fresh vegetables, meats, cheeses, honey, and more, depending on the particular CSA. 

The benefits of a CSA go far beyond the monetary. They’re great for the environment, support local farmers, and allow families of any income to enjoy fresh, healthy foods.

9. Cook vegetarian meals

Vegetarian meals are often cheaper than meat-based meals. You can find plenty of delicious vegetarian recipes online and in cookbooks.

10. Cook slow cooker meals

Slow cooker meals are a great way to save time and money on dinner. You toss the ingredients in before you leave for work and come home to a completed, delicious meal in the evening.

These are just a few cheap dinner ideas that can help you save money on food. You can easily create delicious and affordable meals for your family with some planning and effort.

11. Shop around for the best prices 

Don’t just buy the first thing you see at the grocery store. Compare prices at different stores and look for sales and discounts.

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12. Do it from scratch

What tastes fantastic and costs a lot less than premade products? Cooking from scratch does! For instance, why pay upwards of $6 for store-baked brownies when you can make them yourself for cents on the dollar? You’ll find many products you love that can be made more cheaply at home.

13. Cook with what you have for a cheap dinner

Feel free to get creative with your ingredients. If you have a bunch of leftovers, don’t just throw them away. Repurpose them into a new dish.

14. Don’t waste food.

If you have food that’s about to go bad, don’t throw it away. Find a way to use it up. You can freeze, compost, or donate it to a food bank. Sometimes a cheap dinner means using what’s left rather than wasting.

15. Grow it yourself.

If you have a green thumb, you can help your pocketbook by growing some of your own food. Grow a garden by planting seeds or seedlings in your yard or in a raised bed. Some plants can even be grown in containers on your counter or on a windowsill.

Cheap Dinner Recipe Ideas

Here are a few recipes for easy, cheap dinners:

  • Tuna salad: Tuna salad is a great way to use leftover tuna. You can make it with mayonnaise, celery, onions, and pickles.
  • Chicken salad: Chicken salad is another excellent way to use leftover chicken. You can make it with mayonnaise, celery, onions, and grapes.
  • Pasta salad: Pasta salad is a great way to use leftover pasta. You can make it with mayonnaise, vegetables, and cheese.
  • Grilled cheese sandwiches: Grilled cheese sandwiches are a classic cheap meal. You can make them with any type of cheese and bread.
  • Quesadillas: Quesadillas are another quick and easy cheap meal. You can make them with any type of cheese and tortillas.
  • Pizza: Pizza is a popular cheap meal. You can make it at home with a pizza crust and your favorite toppings.
  • Soup: Soup is a great way to use leftover vegetables and meat. You can make it with any soup, broth, or vegetable.
  • Stir-fries: Stir-fries are a quick and easy way to make a cheap meal. You can make them with whatever vegetables and meat.
  • Salads: Salads are a healthy and affordable cheap meal. You can make them with any type of vegetables and dressing.

These are just a few ideas for cheap meals. There are many other recipes that you can find online or in cookbooks like Leanne Brown’s book, Good and Cheap. You can easily create delicious and affordable meals for your family with a little planning and effort.

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