30 Frugal Meal Ideas (for when you’re broke) + Video

A collage of frugal meals.

Check out this list of 30 extremely frugal meal ideas for when you’re broke and need to feed your people on a small budget. Here you’ll find lots of cheap breakfast, lunch and dinner ideas, so read on to save money my friend.

A collage of frugal meals.

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30 Frugal Meal Ideas (for when you’re broke)

Most people overspend on food simply because there are too many options at the grocery store. Think about what our ancestors ate: meats, vegetables, breads, soups, etc. They kept it simple because they didn’t have a lot to choose from.

If we take a page from history and limit our dining options as our grandparents probably did, then we’ll end up healthier and be able to save a lot of money in the process.

WARNING: If you’re afraid of carbs then this list is not for you. When you have no money, carbs are your friend because they’re cheap and filling.

Also, if you’re interested in getting cash back on grocery purchases that you’re already buying such as milk or produce then you’ve got to check out IBOTTA.

I use this app regularly to save money on my grocery bill. No coupons needed. They have offers for almost every store and you can even use it when you do a grocery pick up at Wal-Mart. Now on to the frugal meal ideas!

Want more Cheap and Frugal Meal Ideas and Recipes? Here are a few of my favorites:

40 Groceries to Stop Buying and Start Making to Save Money
50 Cheap and Easy Recipes for When You’re on a Budget
35 Frugal Recipes to Make When You’re Broke
35 Frugal Foods to Buy When You’re Broke

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A collage of frugal breakfasts.

Breakfast

Egg Muffins with Toast

Baked Oatmeal or Regular Oatmeal with Brown Sugar and Cinnamon

Brown Rice with Butter and Sugar

Cinnamon Sugar Toast with Yogurt

Banana and Yogurt

Scrambled Eggs with Sautéed Veggies

Pancakes with Fruit

Fried Potatoes and Eggs

Homemade Biscuits and Gravy

Homemade Waffles

A collage of frugal lunches and dinners.

Lunch

Leftovers

Cheese and Crackers with Fruit

Pasta Salad with Fresh Veggies

Turkey or Ham Sandwich and Fruit

Beans on Toast

Baked Potato and Side Salad

Grilled Chicken Salad with Veggies

Grilled Cheese and Tomato Soup

Peanut Butter and Jelly with Fruit

Homemade Tuna Salad Sandwich with Fruit

Dinner

Spaghetti with Homemade Tomato Sauce and Homemade Bread

Beans and Cornbread

Homemade Bean and Cheese Burritos

Vegetarian Chili

Chicken Noodle Soup and Homemade Bread

Super Simple Beans and Rice

Homemade Vegetable Soup and Homemade Bread

Breakfast Bowls

Spanish Rice with Beef

Chicken Legs  with Veggies and Homemade Biscuits

I hope you’re inspired by this list to keep your meals simple and save some money in the process. What meal ideas would you add? Be sure to check the comment section below for tons more ideas!

These inexpensive meal ideas will get you through when your wallet is empty!

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122 Comments

  1. we make beans and corn bread too but we add rice too it. I can find a 50lb bag of white rice at the local food outlet store here for $10- $12 and we have it with meals we want to stretch. We also make corn bread casserole. We use 2 boxes of jiffy corn bread mix (47¢ each for us) and a pack of hot dogs (for a $1 or less) mix the corn bread as the box says, cook the hot dogs and cut them to bite size pieces, mix them in the corn bread and bake. It's a family favorite!
  2. there is a great British meal called bangers and mash which I grew up on consisting of mashed potato with two breakfast sausages and a soup ladle of stewed tomatoes on top . Kids love it and it is dirt cheap.
    1. As a kid my mom would make what we called Tuna Cheese Biscuits. Make a batch of biscuits adding a can of tuna and a cup of shredded cheddar. Then while they are baking make a white sauce and add a cup of shredded cheddar and a can of tuna. Serve like you would biscuits and gravy.
  3. Hi! This is my first time seeing your page. I must say I love the ideas. The only down side is I have two picky eaters (they won't eat anything with beans or oatmeal.). I would love more options to help with them too. Also one that did not involve tomatoes due to allergies. Thanks in advance if you can help.
    1. Hi Mandi, do your kids like eggs? They are inexpensive and full of protein. You could serve them with toast and fruit for an easy meal. Also, chicken thighs are really affordable and can be cooked in the slow cooker with carrots, onions and potatoes. I hope these options are helpful! Let me know if you need more.
  4. I have 3 Favorites: 1] American Chop Suey - browned hamburg, elbow macaroni, tomato sauce; 2] Hamburg and Creamed Corn, with mashed potato on the side [like Shepherd's Pie without using an extra pan to bake it in the oven; 3] Sweet & Sour Whatever - whatever meat you have, whatever veggies you have, whatever starch you have (pasta, rice, potatoes, etc), mixed with Sweet & Sour Sauce. I like to add onions and garlic to almost everything.
  5. Our cheap,quick, kid-friendly go-to's: 1. Cheese quesadillas - we cut them in triangles and serve with bottled salsa & sour cream 2. Chicken nuggets parmesan - top each nugget with spaghetti sauce, parmesan and mozzerella & bake (serve with pasta on the side) 3. Mexican chicken bake - cooked spaghetti, can nacho cheese or nacho cheese soup, can cooked chicken - mix all and bake (can top with crushed tortilla chips)
  6. my friend us to invite us for her cheap meals. The best was roti , like flat tortilla, use to pick up curried potatoes, and curried chicken. To us this was a big treat. Yum....I love this still.
  7. Great advice! So much can be made with basic groceries and/or whole foods. Tuna casserole using whole wheat pasta, frozen corn and Cajun spices...affordable and delicious! Salmon cakes (canned salmon & healthy oil) with salad (homemade dressing) - yummy, healthy-ish and filling. Using bread ends to make your own stuffing or bread crumbs...Also, even a small garden bed to grow some herbs and veggies can save money (and feels so rewarding!).
  8. Breakfast - toast with 2 T peanutbutter and an apple. Suppers - Boiled cabbage, potatoes, carrots, onions and sliced kielbasa, then cook kluski noodles in with what is left, drain and saute in olive oil/butter the 2nd day for leftovers meal. Mac and cheese with a can of tuna and 1 cup of mixed vegetables. Hamburger "steaks" with onion/mushroom gravy and mashed potatoes. And, finally, Homemade noodles are easy to make!
  9. This is a great list! I found it while crusing through Affimity, and it is spot-on. I use eggs and beans a lot when I am really broke; my son loves them and they're an easy and cheap protein. Rice and beans, with goya seasoning, costs maybe $2 to make for the entire family. I am definitely saving this! Thanks a bunch!
  10. Love this post! Mostly, because I think people forget to eat this way these days. I grew up eating cheap meals so I find these are comfort food all the way! My mom taught me tne plan to reuse leftovers method. Like we would have spaghetti one day. Then she would make Mac & cheese with the leftover pasta another day. We had egg salad a lot for lunch or tuna salad. And Tina casserole for supper. One of my favorite meals was when my mom made rice and tomatoes and fried potatoes. Which is canned tomatoes cooked with a reason of sugar, salt, pepper and a teaspoon of bacon grease or butter. Served over white rice. Often she made homemade biscuits with this meatless supper and we gobbled it down!for breakfast I make lots if baked oatmeal variations. My non oatmeal eating 27 year old daughter even loves it! Love the ideas here!!
  11. I'd be curious to see your grocery bill, and to know what region of the country you are from, because if you are truly broke, veggies and eggs are a luxury item that many families do without.
    1. Shelli, Where I am from (the south) you can buy a 2 lb. bag of mixed frozen veggies for less than $2 that can easily be stretched over several meals such as adding to a simple soup or rice dish. Also, I regularly see eggs for .99 per dozen and compared to chicken or beef they are a cheap and healthy protein. Thanks for stopping by!
    2. while i love some of the ideas, i have to concur about the price of eggs being "reasonable" right now. the walmart here in vegas was selling them for $6 a dozen a couple of weeks ago. until we get more chickens in those coops, eggs are quite pricey. there is something wrong when a dozen eggs costs more than a gallon of gas...or a gallon of milk...
  12. i just wanted to mention desserts (whole point of the meal)!: box of cake mix and can of soda (we favour choc with root beer) or box of cake mix and 2 cans of pie filling 3 eggs and 3 XL chocolate bars (melt chocolate and then add egg yolks - fluff egg whites to mergenie and bake in double pan _ VERY rich!) dice up an apple and in a foil bake with carmel or brown sugar and add a little granola) fry banana til brown. mix 2tbsp of honey and water and then add to banana (i also add 1 scoop of ice cream - usually on sale) chocolate pudding (on sale) and add colored marshmellows for topping jello! with whipped cream pineapple slice then slice of jelly cranberry - small squirt of whipped cream banana with peanut butter and nuts (or raisins) grapes and cheese
  13. I volunteer at the local food bank. Most of our clients when broke do not meats, eggs,yogurt,milk fresh fruits or veggies. But for myself, I love your ideas. L
  14. Sometimes I have ABOUT $50 a month for groceries. Other times nothing...literally NO MONEY left for groceries. Those are the months the car has broken down, or I've gotten sick, or all my medications need refilling, or SOMETHING has gone wrong. Those are the months I hit my freezer...because on the GOOD months, I've prepped or used my crock pot for future meals. I make stuffed pepper soup, split pea soup, baked potato soup, broccoli chedder cheese soup, a vegan chili made with only canned beans, diced onions, tomatos,green peppers, red peppers, water and spices...another fav is a cheesey sausage veggie bake. That one costs about $10 to make, but I get 2 meals out of it....and if you look for sales it could be even cheaper.I also bake my own bread, and make anything I can. I stock up on canned or frozen veggies, and have learned to love chicken thighs and black beans. ( you can make everything from burgers to BROWNIES with black beans!!!! =) I also only drink water, sun tea or homemade "lemonade" made with"lemon in a jar".
  15. I used to make stir fry. You can used less meat (sliced thin), lots of vegetables, and stretch it with plenty of rice. When you make rice double the amount. Then you can make fried rice. Cook some diced vegetables, or use left over canned mixed vegetable. Add some onion. Put the rice in the pan. Heat it through add an egg or two and mix with the rice and cook until it's done. Then add some soy sauce.
  16. Hamburger gravy used to be a favorite. Brown some burger with some onion and season how you like. Sprinkle flour over the mixture to make a roux of sorts. Add milk or beef broth and stir intil thickened. You can add corn, peas, or any leftover veggies you want. Then serve over mashed potatoes(my fav), rice or even toast. Good filling comfort meal.
  17. I really appriciate this post and your blog. Ive been struggling with feeding our family on a $235 a month food and household budget. Im not even sure its do-able but I need to keep trying. Thank you for these terrific ideas and sharing your menu plans! God Bless!
  18. Frugal - doing more with what you have. Here are a few ideas if you don't mind. Family with non-standard work schedules does not worry about limiting breakfast foods to standard breakfast hours. Starches rice, grits, potatoes, pasta, etc. tend to be interchangable.in most recipes. For example, left over plain mashed potatoes may be breaded and fried, seasoned and made into a burrito as sold in Texas, sub for bread crumbs in ground meat mixtures, made into mashed potato salad, encased veges and meat dishes, made into knishes, reserved for thickening stews and some sauces, etc. I tend to freeze to avoid waste when possible. Freezing leftovers saves time and money. Left over barely al dente pasta lightly coated in olive oil, or plain rice may be spread out in a pan, frozen, and placed in sealed bag for next time to quickly cook or to reheat at work without becoming mushy. Even beans or tomato based sauces may be frozen without degradation. Ice cube trays are good for those sauces and broths. Cream cheese may be frozen if not making cheese cakes. Freezing buttermilk makes it thinner and kills the active ingredient in it, but is still usable. Freezing rice keeps those bugs from ruining the grain.
  19. One idea I remember from when I was on a tight budget for four was to buy whole roasting chickens when they were on sale (like $.79 a pound, so about $3.50 for a good sized bird) roast it with simple seasoning, salt pepper poultry seasoning. Have the legs and drumsticks for one meal, us the breasts shredded up in casserole or stew, then boil the 'rest' of the chicken with carrot and celery and seasoning..remove wing and other remaining meat and add back to stock for the base of chicken soup. If you could buy four you would have protein for 12 meals for 4 people for about $14
  20. We make chili chili dogs, boiled hot dogs, slice of cheese and some chili wrapped up in a flour tortilla and fried til light brown, Chili and egg burritos, scrambled eggs mixed with a can of chili with some cheese wrapped in a flour tortilla. Chicken and dumplings, boiled chicken, diced potatoes, carrots, celery, onion with dumplings in the broth. and suprisingly a ham can make cheap dinners. We can get at least 3-4 meals out of a ham...baked first night, BBQ ham sandwiches next night, diced ham and cheese omelets or ham and scrambled eggs and a pot of beans and cornbread with the bone.
  21. about twice a month we have my gringo version of cheese quesadillas, which is pretty inexpensive: I buy packages of tortillas when on sale and freeze them. Thaw, spread any cheese you like on a tortilla( we like mozzarella, top with another tortilla, bake on a cookie sheet until golden brown. Serve with salsa and sliced avocado or guacamole if you have time to make it.
  22. We grew up in the military with 8 family members. My dad would make "Payday Slum". My sister and I still make it. 1 lb hamburger, 2 cans beans of your choice (pork and beans and kidney beans are my choice do not drain), 1 can stewed tomatoes, 2 tsp tomato paste, 1 small can tomato sauce. Brown meat and add everything else. Simmer for 15-20 minutes. Serve. Delicious! Thanks Dad!!
  23. I keep zip-lock bags in my freezer for veggies peels and trimmings and when one is full I pop them in the crockpot, cover with water and simmer all day. Strain and I have veggie stock for gravies, soup bases, thickening sauces, loaded with flavour and nutrients. The strained stuff then goes into the compost. I paid for those stalks, stems and peels and get everything out of them that I can. You can have one bag that is the classic mirepoix of onions, carrots and celery and another of all the veggies you use, keeping in mind that strong flavours will dominate so be wary of turnip, cabbage, cauliflower if you want subtlety of flavour. I do keep a separate bag for asparagus trimmings so that I can treat myself to homemade cream of asparagus soup without the prohibitive cost of several pounds for one pot of soup. I do the same thing with bones and skins from cooked poultry. When there is enough for the crockpot its time to make stock. For me the best part is that I am not adding chemicals to my diet beyond the unavoidable ones from the original food. Since I cannot afford organic foods I cannot eliminate them entirely. I do buy as much locally produced food as possible and trade the fruits if my garden with my neighbours where I can.
  24. IN my town skinless, boneless chicken breasts sell for $1.89-$1.99/lb. pretty cheap and very stretchable. White beans, a couple of chicken breasts, some onion and seasonings you like in a slow cooker make a tasty meal for several people/days. With or without rolls or bread.
  25. Try mashed potatoes with chopped up hotdogs and a can of sauerkraut and some caraway seeds if you like them. Mix all together and heat in oven till piping hot. Serve with rye bread.
  26. My mom would make what she called "Cream Tuna & Rice," lots of casseroles, fried fish (which back then was cheap), pancakes for dinner, eggs, toast, and fruit for any of the meals, grilled cheese sandwiches, PB&J, hamburger helper type meals, but normally from scratch, homemade cookies, tuna salad sandwiches, egg salad sandwiches, especially before and after easter, and more!

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