How to create Dirt Cheap Meals

Dirt Cheap Meals – Tasty Menu, Tiny Budget

Last Updated on January 7, 2021.

This year has been a total disaster. Between a global pandemic, raging forest fires, and virtual school (just to name a few), our lives have been turned upside own. To make matters worse, grocery prices are straining family budgets everywhere. But you can reign in your food budget with the right ingredients and a little bit of meal planning.

Whether you’re looking for dirt cheap meals for large families or dirt cheap meals for 2, you can throw together a menu in minutes. It’s also super easy to pull together vegetarian or vegan meals with this strategy. Here’s how you can make tasty, dirt cheap meals at home today.

Ditch the Recipes

You should avoid complicated recipes if you’re trying to save money. Often times you’ll hear that meal planning will save you money, so you’ll dive into recipe books collecting dust on your shelf, only to realize they require many ingredients you don’t have. This will cost you MORE in the long run! So stick to recipes that require very few ingredients, and avoid specialty items!

Better yet, skip recipes all together. Instead of trying to pull together a meal plan based on recipes, create meals using ingredients you already have! [Hint, I’ll show you how below.]

This is a great opportunity to express your creativity. You could also get your kid’s involved by making meal planning or meal prep into one of their family contributions (or chores) if you’re following a positive parenting approach.

Dirt Cheap Ingredients

If youre budget allows, head to the grocery store and stock up on dirt cheap ingredients in your fridge and pantry. Ideally, these would be ingredients that are versatile, filling, and have a long shelf life.

I like to shop around and find the best price per serving on these items. I often find the best deals at discount grocery stores like Aldi. Here’s my list of Dirt Cheap items I always keep on hand:

  • Rice (Brown or White)
  • Beans (Any Variety)
  • Oats
  • Dry Pasta (Any Variety)
  • Dressings and Marinades
  • Tortillas
  • Bread or Dinner Rolls
  • Canned & frozen veggies (especially tomatoes)
  • Bananas
  • Apples
  • A full selection of spices
  • Dry cereals
  • Potatoes
Ultimate guide to dirt cheap meals

Inexpensive Protein Options

Sometimes moms are concerned with adding protein to their meals. Beef and chicken can get expensive. Frozen chicken can work well in slow cooker recipes. You can buy beef in bulk when it’s on sale (and freeze it). But there are other options as well! Consider these add-ins to increase the protein in your meals.

  • Peanut butter
  • Eggs
  • Canned Tuna or Salmon
  • Ground Turkey
  • Chickpeas (Garbanzo Beans)
  • Quinoa
  • Lentils
  • Cottage Cheese
  • Black Beans
  • Plain Greek Yogurt
  • Tofu
Ultimate guide to dirt cheap meals

Variety is the Spice of Life

Eating beans and rice every day can get old. You can spice it up by using a different marinade or sauce. Or add different regional seasonings. You can stock different varieties of beans, rice, veggies, and proteins to mix and match for even more variety. Here are my favorite seasonings and sauces to keep on hand for a really nice variety:

  • Taco Seasoning
  • Chili Seasoning
  • Italian Seasoning (dry)
  • Italian Dressing
  • Ranch Seasoning (dry)
  • Ranch Dressing
  • Honey Mustard Dressing
  • Citrus/Lime Marinade
  • Parmesan Garlic Marinade
  • Chili Garlic Sauce
  • Teriyaki Sauce
  • Generals Sauce
  • French Dressing
  • Caesar Dressing
  • Jerk Seasoning
  • Caribbean Marinade
  • Barbeque Sauce
  • Pasta / Tomato Sauce
  • Hawaiian Marinade
  • Salsa
  • Buffalo Sauce
  • Greek Seasoning
  • Lemon Pepper Seasoning

Pull Together a Dirt Cheap Menu

So how do you pull together a dirt cheap menu? Start by taking a Pantry Inventory. Separate items into 3 columns: base ingredient (often a starch), add-ins (protein, veggies, etc), and seasoning/sauce. It might look something like this:

List your pantry items in 3 columns

Keep this list up to date. As you use up one item, cross it off the list. If you make a grocery run, add any new items to the list. It will make your life super easy when it comes to figuring out what’s for dinner.

The cheapest dinners are one-pot meals or slow cooker meals, where all the ingredients meld together, and you can use less of expensive ingredients without anyone noticing. Use your pantry list to create custom meals with items you already have in the house. Pro Tip: Large, one-pot meals are the perfect dirt cheap meals for large families!

The formula is simple: Base Ingredient + [2 to 4 Add-Ins] + Seasoning = Dinner!


Get Our Free Pantry Inventory Printable!


In this example, there are literally thousands of possible combinations. This will help you keep dinner time interesting, but stay on budget! No splurging on takeout or pizza delivery.

Tips to Stretch Meals

Here are a few more ideas to help stretch your dirt cheap meals a little farther.

  • Create casseroles, slow cooker meals, and one-pot dishes
  • Serve expensive proteins (chicken, beef) diced or shredded
  • Serve dinner rolls or bread with meals
  • Add extra frozen veggies
  • Serve in tortillas
  • Add rice or pasta to a dish

Did you skip ahead? No Problem!

Here are the big take aways:

  1. Skip the recipes!
  2. If possibe, stock up on dirt cheap staples.
  3. Take an inventory of your pantry (use our free printable).
  4. Use our formula to build a tasty meal [Base Ingredient + [2 to 4 Add-Ins] + Seasoning = Dinner!].
  5. Cooking for a large family? No problem, use our tips to stretch the meal even further!

Do you have any tips on how to build a dirt cheap meal plan? What are your favorite dirt cheap dinner means? I’d love to hear from you. Share your suggestions in the comments!

Ultimate guide to dirt cheap meals

14 thoughts on “Dirt Cheap Meals – Tasty Menu, Tiny Budget”

  1. This is a really good list of ways to budget meal time and I know there are a lot of households out there that are having the problem of putting food on the table. I’ll definitely share this post.

  2. These are great tips!! I’m admittedly someone who gets sucked into trying to make recipes with 20+ ingredients, and it definitely adds up. Thanks for sharing!

  3. In todays economy, we are all trying to make do with less including what we eat,
    I`ve enjoyed your post as it shows you don`t have to splash out to eat well.Thanks for sharing.

  4. What a great idea with the list. Nowadays everything is going up and it’s so expensive to go to the store. I know plenty of people that could really use your ideas, I’m sharing~

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