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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.)
7. 5-Minute Miso Chili Crisp Udon Noodles — This is one nearly-instant lunch I will never, ever, ever get sick of.
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.
12. Curried Butternut Squash Soup — If you, like me, once thought squash soups were "boring," you clearly have not tasted this one.
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.
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.
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