So recently, I asked members of the BuzzFeed Community to share their favorite low-budget meals that don't feel cheap. Here's some of what they had to say:
1."What I made tonight: bow tie pasta, bacon, microwaved broccoli, and garlic. Use the bacon fat and a little butter to heat up the garlic, add the broccoli in, and pour it right over the cooked pasta. I use whatever I have left over of my bacon from breakfasts so it’s not really 'expensive.' The whole meal is like $5, and it makes three or four servings for myself."
2."A traditional Venezuelan meal! It’s delicious, filling, nutritious, and incredibly cheap. Start with some simple rice and beans. Then add some arepas. They’re a simple type of bread made from P.A.N. (cooked white cornmeal), salt, water, and oil that you make on the stove. If you can, fill the arepas with some protein, like meat, eggs, or cheese. To complete the meal, include some fried plantain — or fried bananas, if you must. It’ll cost only a few dollars, tops, per meal."
3."Soak black beans overnight, then cook with water, a bay leaf, thyme, chopped green and red pepper, and some garlic until soft. To serve, make rice with water (or chicken stock, if you have it), onions, and thyme. Then, when the rice is cooked, add chopped cilantro. Serve the beans over the rice."
4."A simple potato soup: You just need a few potatoes, an onion, garlic, broth (chicken or vegetable), cream cheese, and whatever toppings you’d like."
5."Zucchini lasagna: Slice up your zucchini and layer it with your favorite pasta sauce (pesto, tomato, etc.). Then add some cheese and put it in the oven for 20 minutes."
6."Mujadara! Recipes vary from family to family, but this Lebanese staple of lentils and rice is warm, flavorful, comforting, and filling! This recipe is great, but the crispy onions shouldn't be optional; they give the dish that extra pop."
7."Tuna fritters. Can of tuna, one egg, garlic powder, onion powder, salt, and pepper. Mix together in a bowl and fry like a crispy tuna pancake. Absolutely delicious and nutritious for CHEAP."
8."Honestly, when in doubt, I make veggie burrito bowls: some grain (rice, quinoa, etc.) with some canned black beans and corn. I also like to add some peppers and sweet potatoes."
9."I like to buy a rotisserie chicken and use that for a meal (we often have the chicken on salad over two nights, but you can use it in many ways). After you've eaten the flesh, put the bones and remaining fleshy bits in a cheesecloth bag in a big pot of water and boil for a few hours."
10."My household's favorite low-cost and low-effort meal is a baked sweet potato topped with chili. It sounds a little questionable, but don't knock it until you try it. We've used homemade and canned chili for this, and both work amazingly well. You get protein, vegetable, and all the satisfaction from your favorite chili toppings in one cozy meal."
11."Vegetable soup! I probably spend like, MAX $10–$15 on ingredients and get about five or six meals out of it. I live on this as a chef, haha."
12."Add lentils and/or veggies to ground meat dishes. I’ve been doing this for years with sloppy Joes, tacos, meatloaf, etc. I used to do it to boost nutritional content and add protein, fiber, and vegetables to my kids' diets. But now? It’s due to the cost of groceries. Spinach helps meatballs stay together. Ground carrot, celery, peppers, and onion add flavor and texture to meatloaf. Chop lentils in with ground meat and seasoning, and nobody is the wiser."
13."Not the most balanced meal, but it sure is filling and tasty! Spaghetti cooked in olive oil, with white onion and fresh garlic. Boil the spaghetti al dente and then add it into the sautéing garlic and onion. Sometimes I add in black olives if I’ve got them in the fridge (and they last forever). It’s all stuff you probably already have in the cupboard and can buy in bulk for cheap; also takes only 10 minutes to make."
14."Frittatas — you can use leftover proteins and vegetables, cook everything in one pan, and stick it all in the oven."
15."Chicken and dumplings! If you make it from scratch, it goes a long way with leftover chicken broth and bones for bone broth, and it can easily feed a large family or be split and frozen for multiple meals."
16."I’m Indian, and I truly think rice is a blessing food. Super cheap, and you can literally eat it for every meal. Breakfast: fried egg with runny yolk, rice, soy sauce. Lunch: mock fried rice with frozen veggies, old leftover rice, soy sauce/sesame oil, egg, any meat you have on hand (or none!). Dinner: can of chickpeas with spices (chana masala) over rice! Truly, the best cheap, but filling and healthy meals ever come from rice."
17."A loaded baked potato! Bake a potato and top with any number of items: Taco baked potato with ground meat, onion, jalapeños, sour cream, and avocado. Greek baked potato with feta, chickpeas, and Kalamata olives. Curry baked potato with curry powder, peas, and chickpeas. There are so many options you can do based on what you have at home. It is so versatile and can have as many or as few ingredients as needed, AND it’s super filling. Remember: Seasonings and spices are your friend (especially when it comes to giving sour cream that extra flavor!)."
18."Buy a cheap bag of mixed dried peas, beans, or lentils; soak overnight; and then cook for a couple of hours with basic curry spices and some paprika (honestly, whatever you like and have that will taste good with curry), and add some form of fat (coconut milk or butter) to the curry while cooking. You could also add a dollop of sour cream or yogurt on top when done. Make some rice and add a few chopped-up fresh veggies or some frozen veggies (really, whatever you have or is on sale). Voilà, you have a meal that costs under $5 and will last for multiple dinners. And it's delicious."
19."Sweet potato taco boats. Bake sweet potatoes (or russets, but sweets are especially good) whole with skins on (roughly 50 minutes at 400 degrees), then split open and top with taco-seasoned black beans, salsa, sour cream, and cheese. So delicious, incredibly good for you (tons of vitamins and fiber!), and pretty low-effort."
20."I take a package of hot dogs and cut them up into bite-size medallions. Throw those in a pot to get a little color on the edges, then add a large jar of sauerkraut (drain about two-thirds of the juice) and simmer it all together until everything is nice and warm. Sometimes I'll pair it with whatever frozen veggies or can of baked beans I have on hand, or we'll eat it on hot dog buns with potato chips for a fast and cheap dinner."
21."I love making this pasta dish with red peppers and kidney beans. I simmer the pasta and beans together until al dente. Then, in a sauté pan, I toss a thinly sliced red bell pepper in oil and paprika over medium heat, and add the beans and pasta to the pan to coat them. Season with salt, obviously, and voilà! Tasty, cheap, very nutritious, and done in about 15 minutes."
22."Mac 'n' cheese with tuna and peas mixed together. Also a one-pot meal."
23."Easy fried rice: 3 cups of cooked and cold rice, a bag of frozen veggies, two slightly beaten eggs, 2 tablespoons of soy sauce, and 2 tablespoons of sesame oil. Heat the sesame seed oil in a skillet, then fry the vegetables. Either push to the side or remove from the pan and scramble the egg. Mix with vegetables, add rice and soy sauce, and cook till hot. Boom: cheap and easy fried rice."
24."Mix frozen cheese tortellini with some frozen veggies and Italian dressing. Cover it and put it in the fridge — it thaws by lunch, and you have a delicious cold pasta dish! Cheap and easy, and goes well in a kid's sack lunch!"
Do you have a favorite low-cost meal? Tell us all about it in the comments!