18 Budget-Friendly Meals to Get You Through Tough Times

In times of financial strain, it’s essential to find ways to stretch your dollar without compromising on nutrition and taste. Discover the top budget-friendly meals that have helped many get through tough times.

Let’s explore these wallet-friendly recipes that are not only cheap but also nutritious and delicious.

1. Spaghetti

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“My mother would be able to feed all of us on under $10. Pasta, cheaper grade prepackaged beef, and a jar of sauce. On really tight days, she’d just cook straight pasta and mix in some garlic, and that powdered Parmesan cheese.”

Whip up a quick meal with spaghetti tossed in a mix of fresh garlic, butter, and a generous sprinkle of parmesan cheese. Add a touch of parsley for a vibrant color and fresh flavor. It’s a simple dish that brings comfort and joy to the dining table.

2. Ramen

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“I’ve tried eating ramen with eggs cracked into it and some teriyaki sauce. All in all about 12$ for 6ish meals.”

Take your ramen to the next level. Cook the noodles and stir-fry with a medley of colorful vegetables and your choice of protein. Drizzle with soy sauce and sprinkle with sesame seeds before serving. A quick, nutritious meal is ready in no time!

3. Lentil Soup

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“A bag of dried lentils costs like a buck at a cheap grocery store and will cook you like three very filling meals worth of lentil soup. Unlike most dried legumes, they cook in like 30-40 minutes of boiling. And pretty much any savory vegetable or cheese will go well with it. There are many ways to spice it.”

Imagine a bowl filled with the richness of lentils cooked with a blend of spices including curry powder, garlic, and onion powder. Add a splash of lemon juice for a tangy twist. This soup is not just hearty but packed with nutrients, offering a wholesome meal.

4. Oatmeal

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“My roommate from China introduced me to savory oatmeal: soy sauce, green onion, and a fried egg make it feel more like “dinner” to me.”

Start your day with a warm bowl of oatmeal topped with a colorful array of fresh fruits and a sprinkle of cinnamon. It’s a breakfast that promises a good start to your day, offering both nutrition and satisfaction.

5. Simple Rice Dishes

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“Rice with seared cabbage and a fried egg.”

Delight in a plate of fried rice paired with seared cabbage and a perfectly fried egg on top. It’s a dish that speaks simplicity yet offers a comforting and fulfilling meal experience.

6. The Humble Hot Dog

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“Costco hot dog and drink: $1.50”

A perfectly grilled hot dog nestled in a soft bun, topped with a vibrant array of fresh salsa and a drizzle of mustard. It’s a quick, easy, and delightful meal that brings a smile to your face with every bite.

7. Bread, Apples, and Cheese

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“You feel like you’re in a medieval movie or something and you can supplement with a bowl of hearty soup or stew.”

Transport yourself to a medieval era with a rustic platter featuring slices of hearty bread, wedges of sharp cheese, and crisp apple slices. Pair it with a warm, homemade soup for a meal that is both nostalgic and satisfying.

8. Soul-Soothing Pancakes

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“Veeeery cheap and soul food on top of that, which should not be neglected when going through hard times. Just some ground Hazelnuts and sugar as filling, delicious.”

Indulge in a stack of fluffy pancakes filled with a sprinkle of ground hazelnuts and sugar. It’s a dish that soothes the soul, bringing warmth and joy with every bite, a true comfort food that uplifts your spirit.

9. Noodles with Vegetables

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“Noodles with vegetables. Fry the vegetables in a pan, season them, and mix it with noodles. Simple, healthy, and also very cheap.”

Whip up a nourishing meal with a stir-fry of vibrant vegetables and noodles. Season it well and enjoy a dish that is not just pleasing to the eye but also nourishing to the body, a true testament to the beauty of simple ingredients.

10. Pasta

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“When I was broke I’d eat a lot of pasta.

A pound of beef, onion, noodles, and tomato juice. I can get all the ingredients for less than $25 and make enough to last several days.

Or butter noodles. Literally, butter, pasta, garlic, and parmesan if I had any.”

In times of need, turn to a simple yet satisfying dish of pasta tossed in a rich butter garlic sauce, sprinkled with a generous amount of parmesan. It’s a lifesaver, promising comfort in every forkful, a true hero in the kitchen.

11. Hamburger Gravy

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“My dad’s favorite was hamburger gravy. Ground beef, onion, water, and cornstarch or flour to make a gravy to serve on potatoes or biscuits.”

A warm, hearty dish of ground beef gravy, rich with flavors from onions and a hint of spices, generously ladled over freshly baked biscuits. It’s a family recipe that brings everyone together, offering comfort in every bite.

12. Black Beans and Rice

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“With sour cream and Tobasco and onions and green bell peppers.”

Discover the simple pleasure of a bowl filled with perfectly cooked rice, topped with spiced black beans. Garnish with a sprinkle of fresh herbs for a meal that is both nutritious and budget-friendly, a staple that never disappoints.

13. Pogie Pie

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“Pie shell filled with cooked ground beef and chopped vegetables and BBQ sauce. Top with mashed potatoes and bake. If you want it fancy, put grated cheese in the potatoes.”

A dish born from necessity yet delightful in taste. Enjoy a pie shell filled with cooked ground beef, vibrant chopped vegetables, and a generous drizzle of BBQ sauce, topped with a layer of mashed potatoes and baked to golden perfection.

14. Transcendent Indian Food

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“Indian food. There’s a culture that knows how to take super simple foods and make them taste transcendent.”

Experience the magic of Indian cuisine with a simple yet flavorful curry, a blend of spices, and tender pieces of meat or vegetables simmered to perfection. Serve it with a side of steamed rice or naan for a meal that transcends boundaries, offering a burst of flavor in every bite.

15. Peanut Butter Banana Sandwich

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“I eat this almost daily not cause I’m struggling but because it’s so good, goes great with coffee.”

Take a bite into childhood with a classic peanut butter and banana sandwich. Add a sprinkle of chia seeds or a drizzle of honey for a delightful crunch and a touch of sweetness. It’s a quick and easy snack that satisfies both the stomach and the soul.

16. Boxed Macaroni and Cheese

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“If you don’t have milk you can use some extra butter instead. Sure it’s not healthy but it’s cheap.”

Transform a simple boxed macaroni and cheese into a gourmet dish by adding steamed broccoli and crispy bacon bits. It’s a comforting meal that brings a smile to the faces of young and old, proving that even the simplest of dishes can be elevated to something special.

17. Fried Eggs on Toast

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“Not exactly healthy, but filling, cheap, and protein. Also, it’s easy to freeze a loaf of bread and just pull out and thaw what you need.”

Start your morning with a hearty breakfast of fried eggs laid on a crisp toast. Sprinkle a pinch of red pepper flakes and a dash of herbs for a spicy kick. It’s a breakfast staple that promises a day started on the right note, with a burst of flavors and textures in every bite.

18. Vegetable Stir Fry

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“You can get a big bag of stir fry frozen veggies for cheap that will keep in the freezer very well.”

Use a medley of fresh vegetables like bell peppers, carrots, and zucchini, stir-fried to perfection with a splash of soy sauce. Serve it over a bed of steamed rice for a meal that is as pleasing to the eye as it is to the palate, a true celebration of vegetables in their brightest form.

Tips for Budgeting Your Meals

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In addition to finding affordable recipes, it’s essential to know how to budget your meals effectively. Here we have compiled a list of tips from reputable sources to help you save more while enjoying delicious meals:

1. Track Your Monthly Grocery Spending

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Keep a detailed record of your grocery expenses to understand your spending patterns better. You can add up receipts or use a budget app to track your expenses. This approach will help you identify areas where you can save and manage your budget more efficiently.

2. Plan Your Meals Weekly

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Before heading to the store, plan your meals for the week. Create a grocery list organized by aisle to avoid impulse purchases and save time. This strategy not only helps in budgeting but also in maintaining a balanced diet.

3. DIY Your Snacks

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Instead of buying snack-sized items, purchase larger quantities and create your own snack portions. This not only saves money but also allows you to control the ingredients and customize the snacks to your preference, offering a healthier and more personalized option.

4. Plan Meals Around Sales

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Be flexible with your meal plan and base it on the items that are on sale each week. This strategy encourages you to try new recipes and enjoy a variety of meals while sticking to your budget.

5. Buy in Bulk Wisely

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Purchase items like rice, grains, and dried fruit in bulk to save money. However, be cautious to buy quantities that you can use before they expire to avoid waste. Storing bulk items properly to maintain their freshness is also crucial.

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sources 1 2
Image Credit: Krakenimages.com/DepositPhotos.
  1. realsimple.com/food-recipes/shopping-storing/food/how-to-save-money-on-groceries
  2. nerdwallet.com/article/finance/how-much-should-i-spend-on-groceries
  3. reddit.com/r/AskReddit/comments/14vb5t2/what_cheap_meals_helped_you_save_money_through/

This article was produced and syndicated by Viral Chatter.

Martha A. Lavallie
Martha A. Lavallie
Author & Editor | + posts

Martha is a journalist with close to a decade of experience in uncovering and reporting on the most compelling stories of our time. Passionate about staying ahead of the curve, she specializes in shedding light on trending topics and captivating global narratives. Her insightful articles have garnered acclaim, making her a trusted voice in today's dynamic media landscape.