It seems like yesterday when you could come up with  cost effective easy peasy dinner ideas for your family, not to mention cheaper, when the children were younger. 

Now that they’re fast growing, they’re starting to eat you out of house and home. 

For many families, the struggle is very real when it comes to putting nutritious and delicious dinners on the table that everyone actually wants to eat.

You thought about ordering those popular meal prep kits, but many of those offer prices per portion of $5 minimum, making every family meal for 4 at $20 minimum-spend. 

That extra $5 puts you over budget, and when you’re trying to pay off a mortgage, or desperately need to buy a new car before your current one breaks down on the side of the interstate, or save for college for the kids, quickly really add up.

The easy peasy dinner ideas below are delicious and nutritious, cost $15 per family of 4. 

Put your mind at ease with these cheap easy weeknight meals,  save up for the other things you need rather than blowing your entire budget on feeding the family.

Ready to eat more than make-your-own-tacos and spaghetti with red sauce to feed your family? Pull up a chair, put your napkin in your lap, and let’s begin!

Making this meal is easy in your skillet for a fast meal your family will love.

Protips:

You can substitute in chicken breast, but that will cost more. You can keep costs down for meats by buying them at Aldi or Walmart

We recommend using chicken thighs as they do add more flavor.  Another way to save more on this recipe is to use shredded mozzarella instead of fresh mozzarella cheese.

  • 1 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 6 boneless, skinless, chicken thighs
  • 2 tbsp. unsalted butter
  • 8 oz. fresh mozzarella cheese
  • 2 medium tomatoes, sliced
  • fresh basil, thinly sliced into strips
  • salt and fresh black pepper, to taste

Directions:

  • Simmer the balsamic vinegar over medium-low and continue to do so, lowering the heat if necessary and covering it partially for 20 minutes or until it reduces to a thick glaze. When it reaches that consistency, take it off the heat. 
  • Meanwhile, season your chicken on both sides with salt and pepper. 
  • Melt butter in a large cast iron or stainless steel pan over medium-high heat. Add chicken and cook for 4 minutes per side or until almost cooked through. 
  • Top each piece of chicken with the cheese and cover with a lid. Cook until the cheese has melted slightly, about 2 minutes. 
  • Take from heat and add a slice of fresh tomato on top of each piece, then sprinkle with fresh slices of basil. 
  • Drizzle on the balsamic glaze and serve.
 

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This hearty, comforting meal will be a family favorite. The spinach hides isn’t obvious, making it easy to sneak by the kids.

You don’t have to use ziti, any pasta shape is great. Aldi has a fantastic selection of organic pastas within budget too.  

A great way to maximize your meat budget on this recipe is to go to your local wholesale club like Sam’s, BJ’s, or Costco where you can buy it in bulk.

Sausage freezes well, is used to make more soups and stews throughout winter. 

Use the spicy variety of sausage, if your children can handle it. Otherwise go for the mild or sweet versions.

Ingredients:

  • 12 ounces ziti
  • 1 lb. ground Italian sausage
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3 large handfuls roughly-chopped spinach, stems removed
  • 2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese

Directions:

  • Get your oven preheated to 375F.
  • Heat a pot full of water for your pasta and cook according to directions on box for al dente, then drain.
  • In a large skillet, cook the sausage over medium high heat for around 10 minutes or until browned.
  • Add minced garlic and continue to saute for 2 more minutes.
  • When sausage and pasta are ready, combine them into the pot you used for boiling the pasta along with the spinach.
  • Toss it all together until the spinach wilts slightly. 
  • Pour part of this into a greased baking dish and then cover with 1 cup of cheese.
  • Then add the remainder of the pasta mixture followed by another layer of cheese.
  • Bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until the cheese has melted and is slightly golden.  

Who could say no to bacon? This kid-friendly dish, is easy to make, takes just 20 minutes to get it on your table.

Pro tips:

Make it healthier with organic wheat pasta, available at Aldi for cheap. 

Buying bacon in bulk at your warehouse stores like Sam’s, BJ’s, or Costco can help you save even more. 

Like sausage, bacon freezes well so you don’t need to feel compelled to eat all of it at once.

Ingredients

  • 8 ounces spaghetti
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup freshly-grated parmesan cheese
  • 5 slices bacon, diced
  • 6 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tablespoons fresh parsley leaves, chopped
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

Directions:

  • Cook spaghetti according to box for al dente, making sure to reserve a half-cup of the pasta water. 
  • Drain the spaghetti well. Whisk the eggs and parmesan together and set to the side. 
  • In a large skillet, cook bacon until brown and crispy and reserve the excess fat. 
  • Add in the garlic and stir for about one minute, then reduce the heat down to low. 
  • Now, you’ll need to act fast by stirring in the pasta and egg mixture, tossing to combine. The pasta should be hot enough to cook the eggs through. Do not put it over the heat or you’ll risk scrambling the eggs. 
  • Add the reserved pasta water in small increments until you get the consistency you want. 
  • Garnish with parsley and add salt and pepper to your liking.  

Does your family like pizza, but your budget says “no” to pizza delivery? Pizza quesadillas are easy peasy, your whole family will love them!

Pro tips:

Aldi has an incredible selection of tortillas for super-cheap, usually under $2. Pizza sauce is also about $0.75 less than Walmart. 

You can keep these with just cheese, add pepperoni, sausage, or any veggies you like. 

Just remember that any meats you use should already be cooked.

Ingredients:

  • 8 flour tortillas
  • 8 ounces shredded mozzarella cheese
  • 1 16-ounce jar of pizza sauce
  • Optional topping ideas includes sliced black olives, pepperoni, sliced mushrooms, sausage, artichoke hearts, or anything else you love on your pizza

Directions:

  • Using a pastry brush, spread a thin layer of pizza sauce onto each of your tortillas.
  • Add cheese on the designated bottom tortilla. Add any other toppings if you want, and then add more cheese before topping with the other tortilla.
  • Heat a cast-iron skillet over medium heat and cook the quesadilla for 3 to 5 minutes per side.
  • The cheese should be melt-ish and the tortilla should be crispy. Slice it up and serve it with a side of pizza sauce for dunking.

The crock pot is one of the best inventions of our time, making it a wonderful dinner idea for weeknights. 

Pro tips:

Save money on the gravy mix by buying the store brands over name brands at Walmart or Aldi

Save money, use boneless, skinless chicken thighs instead. Reduce some of the calories, use low-far sour cream. 

Stash extras in your freezer for busy nights when you don’t feel like cooking.

Ingredients:

  • 2 packets chicken gravy mix
  • 1 can cream of chicken soup (10.5 oz)
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 lb. boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • Garlic powder, salt & black pepper to taste
  • Sliced green onions for garnish

Directions:

  • Season both sides of your chicken with black pepper and garlic powder, with just a little bit of salt (don’t add too much because the gravy packets and the soup have salt and adding too much of your own will make it too salty).
  • Whisk the gravy packets with the soup and water until smooth in your slow cooker.
  • Add the chicken, making sure to cover them with the gravy.
  • Cook on low between 6 and 8 hours. When it’s ready, break the chicken up and add the sour cream.
  • This dish goes great over rice or with mashed potatoes for a comforting meal.
  • Garnish with the green onions.

Related articles:

Budget Quick Soup Meals

 

This is the kind of recipe you keep at the ready when you haven’t had a chance to do your grocery shopping; it’s truly cheap and easy.

Pro tips:

You can add ricotta into if you wish, works fine without it though. The recipe becomes even cheaper to make, hence why it’s called “Poor Man’s Lasagna.” 

You won’t be poor when you grab your ingredient from Walmart or Aldi though.

Ingredients:

  • 1 box of rotini or your favorite pasta shape
  • 1/2 lb. ground beef
  • 1 jar of spaghetti sauce
  • 8 ounces shredded mozzarella cheese

Directions:

  • Get the oven going to 350F. Cook the pasta according to the box directions.
  • As the pasta cooks, brown your beef.
  • Once those are ready, combine the pasta, beef, and spaghetti sauce into a casserole dish, then top with mozzarella.
  • Bake for 30 minutes, then serve.

Chili is perfect dinner idea for the colder weather, it keeps well in the freezer, making it great for portioning out extras for week night dinners. 

Pro tips:

 Plan ahead, buying dried kidney beans saves you more money and has less sodium.  

Canned will certainly do too. You can find dried and canned beans for cheap at both Aldi and Walmart. Same with diced tomatoes!

Ingredients:

  • 1 pound lean ground beef
  • 1 can kidney beans(15-ounce)
  • 1/4 onion, diced
  • 2 tomatoes, diced
  • 2 cans tomato sauce (12 ounces each)
  • 1 package chili seasoning
  • Cook ground beef in a skillet until it’s browned and drain off the fat. 
  • Add the chili powder, kidney beans, and tomato sauce and stir.
  • Then pour it all into your crock pot. 
  • Add the onions and tomatoes, then cook on low for 4 to 6 hours.
  • You can serve it with shredded cheese, sour cream, on rice, on pasta, with crackers, or even on top of baked potatoes if you desire.

Craving takeout? Save money, make your own version of  delicious easy Chinese food!

Pro tips:

Chinese food may seem intimidating to cook but it’s not. Walmart usually has a decent selection of Asian sauces and products at reasonable prices. 

You may also get lucky finding Asian ingredients at World Market in addition to your local Asian supermarket. 

This ingredient list might seem daunting but it’s an easy peasy weeknight meal that comes together fast!

Ingredients:

  • 8 ounces Chinese egg noodles
  • 1 tablespoon canola or vegetable oil
  • 1 cup sliced mushrooms
  • 5 garlic cloves, minced
  • 3 green onions, sliced diagonally
  • 1/4 cup lower-sodium soy sauce (regular is fine too)
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
  • 1 tablespoon dark sesame oil
  • 1 tablespoon ketchup
  • 1 tablespoon chili paste
  • 2 large eggs, beaten
  • 2 cups spinach, trimmed
  • Cook the noodles as specified and drain. 
  • Meanwhile, heat your large skillet to medium-high heat with oil, swirling to coat. 
  • Add the mushrooms and stir occasionally. 
  • Then add garlic and green onions, and stir constantly. 
  • In a medium-sized bowl, add soy sauce followed by the brown sugar, lime juice, sesame oil, ketchup, and chili paste and stir well. 
  • Add it to the sautéed mushroom mixture and let it boil. 
  • Add the noodles back in, tossing to coat. 
  • Add the eggs and cook until they’re done, tossing to mix it all together. 
  • Take from the heat and add in the spinach, then serve.
 

Go beyond taco night to make something that satisfies those savory Mexican flavors in every bite!

Pro tips:

Walmart and Aldi have a great selection of Mexican sauces, salsas, and other ingredients at budget-friendly prices.

For just a few cents more a can, you can buy non-GMO black beans if you’d prefer.

You can also use corn or whole wheat tortillas and swap some of the ingredients for low-fat options to fit your lifestyle.

Ingredients:

  • 1 pound lean ground beef
  • 1 large yellow onion, chopped
  • 2 cups salsa (fresh or jarred)
  • 1 can black beans, rinsed and drained.
  • 1/4 cup Italian salad dressing (can use reduced-fat)
  • 2 tablespoons reduced-sodium taco seasoning
  • 3/4 cup sour cream (can use reduced-fat)
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 6 flour, corn, or wheat tortillas (8-inch size)
  • 1 cup shredded Mexican cheese blend (can use reduced-fat)
  • 1 cup shredded lettuce
  • 1 medium tomato, chopped
  • 1/4 cup minced fresh cilantro (optional)

Directions:

  • Cook the ground beef together with the onion over medium heat until the meat is browned, then drain.
  • Add in the beans, salsa, taco seasoning, cumin, and Italian dressing.
  • Meanwhile, add three tortillas into a baking dish (size 11 x 7 is good) coated with cooking spray.
  • Add layers starting with half of the meat mixture followed by sour cream and then cheese.
  • Repeat until all ingredients have been used.
  • Bake covered at 400° for 25 minutes.
  • After 25 minutes, remove the cover and bake between 5 and 10 minutes longer.
  • Allow to stand for 5 minutes, then top off with the lettuce and tomato as well as cilantro, if using.
 

Here’s another takeout-style dinner idea that’s so easy to make, you won’t mind making it any night of the week. You likely have all these ingredients ready in your kitchen right now.

Pro tips:

When you marinate the chicken in this recipe, use plastic zippered bags or a big bowl covered with plastic wrap will do as well. 

Dollar Tree has good deals on zip lock bags.

Ingredients:

  • 4 boneless skinless chicken breast halves
  • 1/2 cup orange juice (can use frozen orange juice concentrate, thawed)
  • 1/4 cup raw organic honey
  • 1/4 cup soy sauce
  • 1 teaspoon Chinese five-spice powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon cornstarch

Directions:

  • Add the orange juice, honey, soy sauce, Chinese five-spice, and garlic powder together in a bowl. 
  • Pour half a cup of the marinade into a large plastic zippered bag and add the chicken.
  • Seal it well and turn to coat. Keep it refrigerated for 2 hours, or even allow it to marinate overnight. 
  • Keep the unused portion of marinade refrigerated as well. When it’s time to cook, heat skillet to high and coat lightly with cooking oil. 
  • Sear chicken on each side, then continue to cook until cooked through, about 5 to 10 minutes per side, depending on thickness of chicken. 
  • When chicken is cooked through, remove from pan and add remaining marinade. 
  • Heat up and add cornstarch mixed with a little water to thicken the sauce.
  • Serve with rice, which is an excellent way to enjoy this flavorful sauce.
 

Cut a few corners with ready-to-go ingredients this classic southern dish is easy to make in 30 minutes, perfect for a chilly and busy school night!

Pro tips:

One of the best items you can ever add to your grocery list is a deli-roasted chicken. Use the bones to make broth and make several meals using the meat from the chicken. 

Having one on hand means a recipe like this is absolutely effortless. Walmart’s whole roasted chicken is under $5. 

Also if you have a Dutch oven, this will be even better, but if not, use a large pot with a tight-fitting cover.

Ingredients:

  • 32 ounces low-sodium chicken broth
  • 3 cups shredded cooked chicken
  • 1 can reduced-fat cream of chicken soup
  • 1/4 teaspoon poultry seasoning
  • 1 can refrigerated jumbo buttermilk biscuits
  • 2 carrots, diced
  • 3 celery ribs, diced

Directions:

  • Combine the first 4 ingredients and wait for them to boil.
  • Cover, then reduce the heat down to low, allowing it to simmer.
  • Stir occasionally. After 5 minutes, bring the heat back up and return to a low boil.
  • Meanwhile, on a lightly-floured surface, place biscuit dough and roll or pat each one to about 1/8-inch thickness, then cut into strips 1/2 an inch wide.
  • Drop these strips individually into the boiling broth, then add carrots and celery.
  • Cover it and reduce heat to low so it can simmer for 15 to 20 minutes.
  • Stir occasionally to keep the dumplings from sticking.

What happens when you combine everyone’s favorite foods in one dish? Clean plates appear just like magic!

Pro tips:

Got a package of mac n’ cheese in your cabinet? Use it for this recipe. Adding the extra cheese to it though so you get the perfect rich and creamy flavor you’re looking for.

Ingredients:

  • 1 package elbow macaroni (or one box of mac n’ cheese)
  • 1 pound ground beef
  • 1 packet reduced-sodium taco seasoning
  • 3/4 cup water
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups milk
  • 8 ounces sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
  • Optional toppings: chopped tomato, avocado, green onions, sour cream, salsa

Directions:

  • Make the pasta as specified on the box, then drain. 
  • Keep it warm. Meanwhile, brown your beef until no longer pink. Drain that too. 
  • Add taco seasoning and water to the beef. 
  • Allow to boil and stir occasionally for about 7 minutes or until most of the water evaporates, then remove from heat. 
  • Melt the butter in a saucepan over medium-low heat, then whisk flour in until it becomes smooth. 
  • Continue to whisk constantly for 2 minutes, then slowly add in milk, cooking, whisking continuously until it thickens. 
  • Remove from heat, add the cheese in until it melts. 
  • Add the pasta, beef and stir, add the remainder of the cheese. 
  • Serve with any optional toppings you choose.

A fresh fish dinner can still feed the family on budget for a light and tasty meal. Serve with veggies of your choice plus rice or quinoa to round it out.

Pro tips:

If you’re not near the water, frozen tilapia will do just as well. It’s best to buy frozen tilapia from a wholesale club like Sam’s, BJ’s, or Costco which will cut your costs for making this meal down even further, allow you the chance to make it again for even less.

Ingredients:

  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • ½ medium white onion, sliced
  • 1 can diced tomatoes, with liquid
  • 4 fresh tilapia filets
  • Salt and ground black pepper, to taste
  • Optional garnishes: green olives and fresh parsley

Directions:

  • Add olive oil to a large skillet, then heat to medium-high heat.
  • Sauté the onion until tender, about 5 minutes.
  • Add the tomatoes and liquid along with the tilapia.
  • Season with the salt and pepper.
  • Cover the skillet and allow the fish to cook for 7 to 10 minutes.
  • Top with the optional garnishes if you desire.
 

This savory easy peasy dinner idea will be everyone’s favorite, especially yours since it cooks up fast and tastes like it came from a restaurant!

Pro tips:

Choosing less expensive cuts of beef and slicing them thin keeps it tender while saving you money. Again, wholesale clubs save you even more money when you buy sirloin steak and other cheap cuts, portion them out, and freeze them for use in future meals. 

You don’t have a wok? Use a non-stick skillet or cast iron pan instead.

Ingredients:

  • 6 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 8 teaspoons minced garlic
  • 4 tablespoons sugar
  • 3 tablespoons fresh lime juice
  • 1 teaspoon dried crushed red pepper
  • 4 tablespoons peanut oil, divided
  • 10 ounces sirloin steak, thinly sliced
  • 1 pound fresh green beans
  • 2 red bell peppers, cut into thin strips
  • 2 teaspoons cornstarch

Directions:

  • Mix the first 5 ingredients together, then slowly whisk in 3 tablespoons of the peanut oil and pour into a large plastic zippered bag.
  • Add the steak and let it sit for 15 minutes at room temperature.
  • Pour it all out into a bowl, then transfer the steak only into your wok or pan.
  • Reserve the marinade.
  • Stir-fry the steak in 1 tablespoon of the oil at medium-high heat until browned, about 2 minutes.
  • Remove steak, then add in the veggies and stir-fry 3 minutes.
  • Whisk together cornstarch and reserved marinade, then stir it into the vegetables.
  • Allow the sauce to thicken, about 30 seconds, then add back the steak.
  • Serve with white rice for a complete meal.

Make a fast yet elegant dinner meal that only requires a few minutes of prep time. Serve it with mashed potatoes for a filling dinner that everyone will love.

Pro tips:

Pork loin is a great lean cut that’s very versatile. You can find it cheap at the wholesale clubs as well as Walmart or Aldi.

No need to cook it whole in other recipes, but for this one, refrain from slicing it for about 10 minutes after carving so it stays juicy..

  • Olive oil cooking spray
  • 1 boneless pork center loin roast (about 2.5 lbs.)
  • 2 teaspoons dried rosemary leaves, crushed
  • 2 lbs. cut carrots (or baby carrots)
  • 1 large sweet onion, cut into wedges
  • ½ teaspoon garlic powder
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • Spray your roasting pan with cooking spray while oven preheats to 400°F.
  • Trim the fat from the pork, then lightly spray roast with cooking spray.
  • Season with 1 teaspoon of rosemary, salt, and pepper.
  • Add to the pan.
  • Mix the carrots, onions, garlic powder, and the rest of the rosemary.
  • Spread around the pork. Roast for an hour to an hour and a half uncovered.
  • When meat thermometer reads 155°F in the center of the pork, remove from heat and cover with foil.
  • Allow to stand 10 minutes. Thermometer should read 160°F.
  • After it rests, slice and serve.

Tired of noodles Italian-style?  Shake things up, add an Asian flair with this Pork Lo Mein recipe!

Pro tips:

Stores like Walmart usually carry lo mein-style noodles in the Asian section. You can also find them in a local Asian market if you have one nearby. 

For a cost-effective solution, simply use refrigerated pasta.  Buy pork loin in bulk to make this easy delicious dinner for your family.

  • ½-lb. pork boneless loin
  • 2 cups fresh sugar snap peas
  • 1 cup baby carrots, cut lengthwise into 1/4-inch sticks
  • ½ package (9-oz. size) refrigerated pasta (if possible, choose linguine, cut into 2-inch pieces)
  • 1/3 cup chicken broth
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce
  • 2 teaspoons cornstarch
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh ginger
  • 4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 2 teaspoons vegetable oil
  • ½ cup thinly sliced red onion
  • Optional garnish: toasted sesame seeds.
  • Prepare your pork by trimming the fat, then cutting it with the grain into thin strips. 
  • In a saucepan, boil 2 quarts of water. 
  • Add the pea pods, carrots, and the pasta. 
  • Boil for 2 to 3 minutes, or until the pasta is tender, then drain out the water. 
  • Mix the chicken broth, soy sauce, ginger, garlic, sugar, and cornstarch together in a bowl. 
  • Heat oil over medium-high heat in your wok or skillet. 
  • Add the pork and onion, stir-fry until the pink disappears from the pork. 
  • Add the broth mixture, then add the carrots, pea pods, and pasta. 
  • Cook all together for 2 minutes while stirring occasionally.
  •  If desired, sprinkle with toasted sesame seeds to garnish.

Between driving children to soccer practice, dance, swimming, guitar lessons etc;  trying to make it to bed on time, these easy peasy dinner ideas will save you a lot of time in the evenings. 

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