I’ve Cooked (And Eaten) Hundreds Of Budget-Friendly Meals — These Are The 13 I’d Recommend Most Now That Everything's Expensive

    I try over 100 new recipes every single year. These ones are easily the cheapest of the bunch — and they just so happen to be some of the tastiest, too.

    Hey, folks! Ross here. 👋 I'm a recipe developer and extremely passionate home cook who tries over 100 new recipes each and every year. As proof, I literally document every meal I cook in a very extra (but very useful) recipe tracker, where I rate and record hundreds of recipes from across the internet. Some are OK, others are tasty, but a select few are worth cooking over and over again — and it's my mission to share those Must-Make Meals with you all.

    author's online recipe tracker showcasing a variety of different recipes, all rated

    Unless you're Taylor Swift at the Grammys not realizing that eggs have become extraordinarily expensive, you're probably reminded daily that the rising costs of basic ingredients have made cooking on a budget more challenging than ever. But never fear! Cost-effective meals are honestly the basis of my weekly cooking these days, and I've tried plenty that are just as tasty, if not tastier, than a recipe you'd totally splurge on. Enter: the 13 recipes below.

    There's a little bit for everyone: whether you're a meat-eater, vegetarian or vegan, or whether you're looking for a healthier meal or something downright comforting. And if you have any go-to budget meals yourself, tell me all about them in the comments below so I can try 'em next.

    (For my visual learners out there, you can also get the scoop on these recipes from yours truly over on Tasty's TikTok.)


    @rosscooksthings tries over 100 new recipes every single year, and these are some of the cheapest (and tastiest) ones he's ever cooked. Link in bio for more! #easyrecipe #budgetfriendlymeals #cheapmeals

    ♬ original sound - Tasty

    1. Pastina — Not every dish you cook needs to be a big, sprawling ordeal with "balanced" ingredients...whatever that means. This 10-minute dish lives somewhere between pasta and soup, and it's a great back-pocket meal to lean on when you're trying to save money but have little to no energy left to cook.

    bowl with creamy pasta, black pepper, parmesan cheese, and a drizzle of olive oil

    I recently wrote about pastina — the famed Italian "feel better soup" of tiny pasta, cheese, and eggs — after it had a pretty serious brush with virality on TikTok this winter. Weeks later, I'm still adding at least one box of tiny pasta to all my grocery runs so I can churn out this comforting, cheap, and nostalgic meal whenever the craving hits.

    Each serving comes out to just under $2 per serving, if not less, which means it's also one of the most cost-efficient dishes you can make for yourself.

    author stirring parmesan cheese into saucepan of pastina

    2. Creamy Curried Spinach and Tofu — For just about $2 per serving, this flavorful and filling meal is my go-to when I really need to cool it on the spending for a few days.

    white bowl filled with half steamed rice and half a spinach-heavy curry with tofu, with a spoon inside

    3. Back-Pocket Chicken and Rice Skillet — I live, eat, breathe, and sleep recipes like this one, which are less like "traditional" recipes and more like templates for making use of whatever ingredients are cheap and in season.

    crispy chicken, rice, and veggies in a cast iron skillet, topped with scallions

    4. Crispy Black Bean Tacos — These impossibly crispy tacos check off several very important boxes: They're cheap AF, delicious beyond words, and they just so happen to be vegan, too.

    crispy corn tortillas filled with black beans on a white plate, next to a green and red sauce for dipping

    5. Kale Sauce Pasta — Relying on only a small handful of vibrant, flavorful, and cheap ingredients, this weeknight pasta dish is a lifesaver when you're in the mood for something ultra-comforting that just so happens to be packed with greens.

    author holding a shallow bowl of fetuccine in a vibrant green sauce

    A tip from someone who's made this dish a zillion times: Reserve more pasta water than you think you'll need. The kale sauce tends to stiffen up as it sits, so serve it on the runnier side by adding a more generous drizzle of pasta water to the warm sauce than you normally would. It'll be the perfect consistency when it's time to dig in.

    kale sauce and pasta coming together, looks slightly runny in the pan

    6. Coconut Butter Cauliflower — By using cauliflower, which always plays nicely with whatever flavors it's mingling with, I can guarantee you won't miss the chicken one bit. (And your credit card will thank you for it.)

    author holding bowl that's half steamed rice and half an orange curry with cauliflower

    7. 5-Minute Miso Chili Crisp Udon Noodles — This is one nearly-instant lunch I will never, ever, ever get sick of.

    Ingredients for a dish on a table

    I'd also classify this recipe as endlessly customizable, no matter what you're in the mood for. Top your noodles with a runny fried egg or whatever leftover protein you have hanging out in your fridge. You can even simmer the noodles with some greens to gently wilt them, like spinach, baby bok choy, or even shredded cabbage.

    8. Creamy Skillet White Beans with Parmesan — For a recipe as undeniably simple and easy as this one, it packs in way more than 15 minutes of flavor for its 15 minutes of cooking time.

    skillet filled with white beans, broth, and plenty of kale

    9. Sheet Pan Chicken Fajitas — I've always been wary of "sheet pan meals." That is until this one, which is the definition of simple yet delicious, came into my life.

    sheet pan with roasted chicken, green and red peppers, and red onion, cooked

    10. Warm Tofu with Spicy Garlic Sauce — The sauce here is the MVP of this recipe, and it's only made with a small handful of ingredients. (Many of which you probably already have in your pantry or fridge.)

    block of tofu next to roasted broccoli, with a brown sauce with sesame seeds drizzled overtop

    11. Chicken Cacciatore — It may not be the prettiest meal, but this dish of slowly-simmered, succulent chicken thighs in a zesty tomato sauce is certainly one of the tastiest.

    dutch oven with a deep red tomato sauce and shredded chicken, along with peppers and other veggies

    I'm a sucker for ladling the shredded chicken and sauce over a bowlful of buttered egg noodles, but it's also delicious served over a bowl of creamy polenta. Either way, your accompaniment of choice will cost you very little.

    author holding bowl of chicken cacciatore over egg noodles in front of the stove

    12. Curried Butternut Squash Soup — If you, like me, once thought squash soups were "boring," you clearly have not tasted this one.

    shallow white bowl of orange, creamy butternut squash soup garnished with croutons, herbs, and some cream

    13. Soy-Seared Tofu — I know you're probably like "If I see one more tofu recipe, I swear to god I'll [redacted]," but stick with me. The way you prepare it is key, and this preparation might be one of the most flavorful, low-effort methods out there.

    slices of tofu in a nonstick skillet that are frying on one side and golden brown and crispy on the other

    In this recipe, sliced tofu is simply drizzled with soy sauce and seared in a dry skillet. The intense heat of the unoiled skillet draws out excess moisture, the soy sauce flavors each piece with tons of savory goodness without the need for a marinade, and a final drizzle of oil at the very end of the cooking process allows each piece to caramelize to crispy perfection.

    tofu cooking in dry skillet with soy sauce poured overtop and around

    What's the budget-friendly meal or recipe that you always swear by? Tell me about it in the comments below and be sure to share a link to the recipe, if applicable. I'm always looking to add some new dishes to my repertoire. 👇

    And for even more recipes, you can check out my previous roundups of Must-Make Meals below:

     Best 5-Ingredient Or Fewer Recipes

     Best of 2022

     Best of 2021