Get expert advice delivered straight to your inbox.

Skip to Main Content

Budget-Friendly Meal Ideas

Imagine this: You’re gathered around the dinner table, conversation flowing, plates and hearts full. Someone smiles and compliments, “Wow. This is so good!” And you respond, “Thank you. It’s a savory and budget-friendly meal.” You both high-five.

Okay, maybe it’s more like you’re rushing from one thing to the next, so everyone’s scarfing down the meal and you just get a muffled “yum” before everyone’s out the door.

Either way, you’re trying to balance life and your budget while eating real food. And you can—with these seven recipes! Try them all in a row, and you’ll have your whole week covered. Or sprinkle them throughout your month. However you decide to serve them up, these budget-friendly meal ideas will help you fill those plates without busting the bank.

1. Salsa Chicken Rice Bowls

Serves: 4–5
Estimated meal cost: Less than $25


For Salsa Chicken

3 pounds frozen, boneless chicken breasts
1 jar salsa
1 packet taco seasoning
1 cup water

Other Ingredients

1 can corn
1 can black beans
2 cups dry rice
1 can chopped tomatoes
1 head of lettuce, chopped
Shredded cheese
Sour cream


Dump frozen chicken, salsa, taco seasoning and water into a slow cooker. Cover and cook on high for 6 hours. Then use a fork to shred the chicken. You can serve from the slow cooker to keep warm.

Open the cans of corn and black beans. Heat separately until warm (either in pots on the stove or microwave-safe bowls in the microwave). Meanwhile, cook rice according to package directions. Set out the rest of the ingredients and let everyone build their own bowls with rice, chicken, salsa, corn, black beans, tomatoes, lettuce, shredded cheese and sour cream.

Budget Tip

Yes, fresh tomatoes taste better. If they’re in season and on sale, grab them. But if not, find canned tomatoes without added salt and use those instead. You’ll still get nutrition at a way smaller cost.

Pro tip: Toss in some extra meat when prepping this recipe, and then use the leftover chicken for cheesy chicken quesadillas and use the extra lettuce to make a salad to go with spaghetti later in the week. If you want, you can also make an extra 1 1/2 cups of dry rice here for the upcoming chicken fried rice meal.

2. Turkey Meatloaf and Potatoes

Serves: 4–6
Estimated meal cost: Less than $25


For Turkey Meatloaf

1 pound ground turkey
1 egg
1 box stuffing mix
1 cup water
1/8 cup barbecue sauce
1/3 cup ketchup

For Potatoes

4 large potatoes
Olive oil
Salt and pepper (or your favorite spices)


Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F. Throw all the meatloaf ingredients except that ketchup into a bowl and mix it up until everything is evenly combined. (Use your hands for better mixing results. It’s gross and cold but worth it.) Pat the meat mixture into a greased loaf pan and cook for 30 minutes. Remove and cover with ketchup. Return to oven for 15 more minutes.  

Side Dishes

Make roasted potatoes! First, cut about 4 large potatoes into small cubes, tossing them in olive oil and whatever spices you like (salt and pepper are classic, or you can add some Italian seasoning to mix it up). Place them in a single layer on a baking sheet and cook at 450 degrees F for 25–35 minutes. It’s super simple and super delish. Add a bag of steam-in-the-bag frozen veggies, and you’ve got a complete and wonderful meal.

Budget Tip

When the steam-in-the-bag frozen veggies go on sale, stock up! You can often find them for just $1 a bag! But don’t forget they’re in your freezer when you’re meal planning later in the month.

shopping cart

Try our free Meal Planner to save money on groceries!

Also, grab a bag of whatever fresh potatoes are on sale. If you’re cooking all of these recipes in one week, you’ll use some for baked potato night too.

3. Breakfast for Dinner

Serves: 4–5
Estimated meal cost: Less than $25


For Pancakes

1 cup milk
1 cup self-rising flour (or 1 cup all-purpose flour plus 1 teaspoon baking powder and 1/4 teaspoon salt)
1 large egg
2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon (optional)
Nonstick cooking spray

For Scrambled Eggs

8 eggs
3/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon pepper
1/2 cup milk
2 teaspoons of butter


Whisk all the pancake ingredients until the lumps are long gone. (Be careful not to overmix!) Heat a griddle, pan or electric skillet to 370 degrees F and spray with a nonstick cooking spray. Use 1/4 cup of batter per pancake, and space each about an inch apart. Flip when large bubbles form in the batter, and remove the pancake after about 2 minutes on the second side. Reapply cooking spray and continue to make pancakes until all the batter is gone. You’ll have 10–12 pancakes.

Side Dishes

Serve with scrambled eggs. You already have a bunch of eggs in your fridge for multiple recipes this week. Just crack 8 eggs into a bowl and add salt, pepper and milk. Scramble the mixture with a whisk or fork. Melt butter in the bottom of a skillet over medium-high heat and pour in the egg mixture. Scramble them in the pan to your preferred consistency. This is a super cheap protein!

Budget Tip

Notice this is a meatless meal night. Add at least one of these to your plan every week because meat isn’t cheap. Try bringing in other proteins to your menu like eggs, beans, lentils, chickpeas, green peas, quinoa and nuts. And don’t be afraid of generic brands when you’re loading up on spices, flour and sugar. They’re the same as the name brand—they just didn’t spend as much on advertising or fancy labels.  

4. Cheesy Chicken Quesadillas

Serves: 4
Estimated meal cost: Under $25


For Quesadillas

Flour tortillas
4 cups shredded cheese
Salsa chicken (see previous recipe)
Sour cream (for dipping)

Other Ingredients

1 can black beans
Tortilla chips


Set your stovetop to medium-high heat. Spread a thin layer of butter on one side of two flour tortillas. Sprinkle lightly with salt. Place one tortilla butter side down in the skillet, sprinkle the top side with cheese, add shredded chicken and sprinkle with a little more cheese, then top with remaining flour tortilla butter side up. Heat until golden brown on the bottom, then carefully flip and brown the other side.

Side Dishes

Heat up a can of black beans for a side dish. Grab some tortilla chips and pop open a jar of salsa. So simple. So yummy. So cheap.

Budget Tip

If you’re using the leftover salsa chicken from your rice bowl night, not only did you make your prep work way easier, but you’ve also just stretched your dollars even further. Bravo, savvy chef.

5. Spaghetti With Meat Sauce

Serves: 6–8
Estimated meal cost: $15–18


For Spaghetti

1 pound ground beef or turkey
1 can marinara sauce
1 package spaghetti noodles
1 jar parmesan cheese (optional)

For Side Salad

Bag of salad (or a head of lettuce)


Place the meat in a large saucepan on medium-high heat. Stir until it’s browned all the way through. Drain the grease. Lower the heat to a simmer and add the can of marinara sauce to the pan. Stir until heated through. Cook the noodles separately according to the package directions. After cooking, you can mix the pasta and sauce into one pan or let people build their own plates. Sprinkle with parmesan cheese if desired. 

Side Dishes

Salad goes so well with pasta—and it’s good for you! If you find a bagged mix on sale, grab it. Otherwise, use regular lettuce and do the chopping yourself. Use the parmesan cheese you sprinkled all over your pasta and sprinkle it on those greens. Top with some croutons or any chopped veggies you have handy. As the Italians say, “è molto buono!” (aka “it’s very good”).

Budget Tip

Save some money with this meal by using the leftover lettuce from Salsa Chicken Rice Bowls night for your side salad. And if you buy a bag of croutons, don’t forget about them in the pantry. Make another salad soon! (Yeah, you can totally eat healthy on a budget.)

Plus, this meal itself makes great leftovers. And leftovers are a perfect way to save money on food! Take it from Kristin L. in the Ramsey Baby Steps Community Facebook group: “Plan a couple meals per week that make enough for a second meal that you either serve again the same week or freeze and save for another week.” Great idea, Kristin! We’re on it.

6. Chicken Fried Rice

Serves: 3–4
Estimated meal cost: $20-$25


2 tablespoons sesame oil
2 cups cooked, day-old rice
2 cooked chicken breasts, cubed
1 fried rice seasoning packet
1/2 cup frozen peas and carrots
2 eggs

Optional Toppings

Yum Yum sauce
Soy sauce


Heat sesame oil over medium-high heat. Add the cooked rice, and sauté until heated through. Add cubed chicken and seasoning packet. Cook for 5 minutes until the chicken is warm. Add frozen peas and carrots, and sauté for 2 minutes. Push rice to one side, making space in the pan. Crack the eggs, scramble until cooked, then mix through fried rice. Serve with soy sauce or Yum Yum sauce.

Budget Tip

With a meal as all-inclusive as this, you’ll save money by skipping a side dish! Buy a big bag of rice this week since you’ll be making two meals that call for it. Also, say thank you to those frozen peas and carrots. Goodbye chopping, hello savings.

7. Baked Potato Bar

Serves: 5
Estimated meal cost: Less than $20

5 potatoes
Olive oil

Optional Toppings

Sour cream
Shredded cheese
2 cans chili
Steam-in-the-bag broccoli


Preheat your oven to 400 degrees F and move the rack to the middle. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil. Scrub each potato with cold water and dry completely. Then poke holes in each one with a fork 8–12 times so they don’t explode. Coat each potato evenly in olive oil and sprinkle with salt. Lay them on the baking sheet and cook for 45 minutes to 1 hour, depending on the size of the spuds. Flip them every 20 minutes so they’re cooked through evenly. Test the doneness by sticking a fork in—the outside should be crisp while the inside is soft. Set out toppings and let your hungry fam build their potato plates however they please.

Or if you want to cook potatoes in your slow cooker, try this: Rub each potato in olive oil, sprinkle with salt, wrap them individually in foil, and put them in a slow cooker on low for 8 hours or high for 4 hours.

Side Dishes

If you still have some lettuce left, make a salad! Chop up some cucumbers and add some of that shredded cheese to give it extra flavor.

Budget Tip

Serve with canned chili or other beans to top. This added protein will help fill up your crew without a huge added cost.

Bonus Recipe: Rachel Cruze’s White Chicken Chili

Serves: 5–6
Estimated meal cost: Around $25


3–4 chicken breasts (frozen or thawed)
2 cans Rotel
3 cans white great northern beans (liquid and all)
12 ounces shredded cheddar cheese
1 medium onion, chopped
2 teaspoons cumin

Optional Toppings

Tortilla chips
Sour cream


Dump all ingredients in a slow cooker and stir. Cook on low for 8 to 10 hours. Shred chicken with a fork. Serve on top of tortilla chips and top with sour cream.

Budget Tip:

We’ve mentioned how important it is to plan out your meals before, but it’s seriously a budgeting must for saving money—and time. We aren’t the only ones who love this tip. On Facebook, Paige S. says, “We are hard-core meal planning and making sure we are utilizing everything at home and not purchasing new ‘meals’ each week. It helps for sure. I end up at the store about every 10 days instead of once a week.” Um, yes.

Budget for Meals to Save Serious Cash

Those moments you spend sharing a meal together (even rushed ones) are valuable. And just like so many other valuable life moments, they don’t have to cost a fortune. With these easy, budget-friendly meals, you can spend less time worrying about and making dinner—and more time on what really matters in life.

And if you want to keep your grocery expenses from eating away at the rest of your budget, you need a budgeting tool. You need EveryDollar. It’s quicker and easier to use than any recipe. Download EveryDollar and become top chef in your kitchen and top boss of your money.

Did you find this article helpful? Share it!

Ramsey Solutions

About the author


Ramsey Solutions has been committed to helping people regain control of their money, build wealth, grow their leadership skills, and enhance their lives through personal development since 1992. Millions of people have used our financial advice through 22 books (including 12 national bestsellers) published by Ramsey Press, as well as two syndicated radio shows and 10 podcasts, which have over 17 million weekly listeners. Learn More.

Related Articles

ways to save money on groceries

How to Save Money on Groceries

Don’t let grocery shopping eat into your budget!

Rachel Cruze Rachel Cruze
why is food so expensive?

Why Are Food Prices Going Up?

Suffering from sticker shock? Find out why food is so expensive right now and what you can do to save more money at the grocery store and beyond.

Ramsey Ramsey