Summer is an expensive season for my family. Between Father’s Day, 3 birthdays, summer camps, and vacations our monthly expenditures far surpass our average for the rest of the year. Consequently, I pay closer attention to our budget and try to find ways to squeeze more out of our income. With 6 family members, the grocery bill is a big chunk of our monthly budget and one of the first areas I look to make adjustments when we need to tighten our financial belt.
When we are in cost-cutting mode, I have several dinner recipes that I rely on so that I can continue to feed my family healthy meals without spending a fortune. These are my favorites.
Spaghetti With Meat Sauce
Whole grain spaghetti (Barilla Plus is my family’s favorite), organic spaghetti sauce, one pound of ground turkey or lean ground beef combine to make a hearty, inexpensive meal. Throw in salad and a loaf of Italian bread for a couple dollars more if you want to round out the meal and you’ll still come in under $10 for a family of four.
1-2 pounds of ground beef or turkey, taco seasoning, lettuce, tomato, onion, taco sauce and/or salsa, shredded cheese and taco shells make a colorful, festive meal that also happens to be affordable. Even when we aren’t cutting costs, this meal is one of my family’s favorites.
Smoked Sausage Skillet
I use smoked turkey sausage to reduce fat and cholesterol, but you could substitute regular smoked sausage. I slice it into ½ in pieces, and sauté it in olive oil with onions, bell peppers, and potatoes for a quick and easy dinner.
The bacon is the bulk of the cost in this meal. For my family, I make both turkey and regular bacon and most of us use a combination of the two on our sandwiches. Lettuce, tomato and bread (and mayo for those who like it) are all that you need to complete the meal. I usually serve it with fruit, either a berry medley or melon chunks. If my husband has helped with the grocery shopping, we might also have a bag of chips in the house and we’ll serve those with the sandwiches too.
Baked Tilapia With Zucchini
Tilapia is an easy fish to get kids to eat since it has such a subtle flavor. I typically season mine with garlic powder, pepper, lemon juice and a pat of butter but you can use whatever seasonings you enjoy since tilapia absorbs flavors well. I like to eat it with spinach, but my kids prefer zucchini (either grilled or cut into “chips” and roasted in the oven sprinkled with seasoned salt or parmesan cheese). We usually also have brown rice on the side.
Chicken in a Pot
Not only is this meal cheap, it’s also super easy to make. Put a whole chicken in the crockpot with sliced carrots, celery, and onion. I season mine with garlic powder, thyme, salt and pepper. You don’t need to add any liquid, but sometimes I will add ½ cup of white wine. Cook on low 5-6 hours. The meat is so tender that it falls off the bone. Although not especially healthy, I love to serve crescent rolls or biscuits with this hearty meal.
I love crab cakes, but when I am being budget-conscious, shellfish rarely makes an appearance on the dinner menu. So, I make tuna cakes instead. In an effort to keep them healthy, I bake them rather than fry them using this recipe. I like to serve them with broccoli slaw.
We make these whenever we go camping, but they are just as tasty made at home on the grill or in the oven. Basically, you make foil bundles that you fill with ground beef or turkey, mixed vegetables, and diced tomatoes. You grill or bake them until the meat is cooked through. You can top with shredded cheese at the end if you want.
This is one meal that pleases my vegetarian daughter and doesn’t make my other kids turn up their noses. I combine corn tortillas cut into strips, black beans, corn, diced tomatoes, chopped onions, diced bell pepper, salsa or enchilada sauce, cream of mushroom soup, and shredded cheddar cheese in a 9×13 in casserole dish and bake for 15 minutes at 350 degrees.
Chicken Lo Mein
Eating on a budget doesn’t mean you are stuck with vegetarian meals or ground meat. Even though boneless, skinless chicken breasts cost a little bit more, the rest of the ingredients are really inexpensive so you can still put the whole meal together for under $10. I cut about a pound of chicken breasts into strips and sauté them in sesame oil. Add a package of frozen stir-fry vegetables, a tablespoon of peanut butter and a generous dose of soy sauce (or substitute your own favorite stir fry sauce for this mixture) and a little chicken broth. Serve over whole wheat spaghetti noodles.
I promised you ten meals for under $10 and there they are. I do have one more that I very rarely use as a fallback option since it’s not my personal favorite (and obviously, not in my top 10). However, because so many people I know like to substitute breakfast for dinner when they are constrained by time, energy, and/or finances, I am adding it for your consideration.
Breakfast For Dinner Casserole
Since I typically only make breakfast casseroles for holidays or special occasions, when I substitute it for dinner I don’t get the same complaints I sometimes run into when serving a typical breakfast for dinner meal (e.g. pancakes, bacon, and eggs). Eggs are a really inexpensive protein source so this meal is easily the cheapest one on the list unless you spring for bacon or sausage as one of the ingredients.
Do you have a great, inexpensive meal that your family loves? If so, PLEASE share it in the comments. I have a teenaged son who alone accounts for half my grocery bill. Any help to curb our food costs is appreciated by me, and I’ll assume by my readers since they all have families of their own to feed too.