Meals On A Budget – 15 Meal Ideas For $15 Or Less
When I do my meal planning, I try to include as many Budget meals that are $15 or less as I can. This helps me keep within my grocery budget (which is always stretched pretty thin) and allows us to have some splurge dinners as well.
There are lots of meals that are considered budget meals, complete meals that can be prepared for $10 or less for a meal that serves 4. Since I have a larger than average family, I’m happy if I can prepare a complete meal for under $15. If I can prepare one for under $10 I’m thrilled (insert happy dance here). Since I have young kids, I also lean towards FUN dinners, and these are the ones that are family favourites.
All of the meals I am posting here I have been able to prepare for less than $15. Keep in mind that I have a large family, so a lot of these meals can be made for a family of 4 for $10 or less. I generally am cooking for 6, and I cook generous portions. Most meals will give me leftovers which I will use towards another meal (like soup) or for lunches.
I will mention that I buy very few name brand products. I have my favourites of course, some items that I will ONLY buy a specific brand, but I do buy a fair amount of store brand products. These are the guidelines I use when I am preparing my meal plan and grocery lists, and I try to vary up the recipes from week to week so that we don’t get bored. Sometimes budget dinners can become repetitive, so I try to rotate recipes. For instance, when making Mexican meals, I won’t do Tacos each time. One week I’ll do Tacos, the next Fajitas, the next Quesadillas, etc.
I am able to make a big pot of spaghetti for under $10 (with leftovers). I add one large jar (680ml) of pasta sauce into a sauce pan. I normally add 4 Italian Sausages that have been sliced into bite sized pieces (they will end up looking like meatballs). For about the same price, I can also make my own simple meatballs with either ground pork and/or ground beef or 1/2 bag of frozen store bought meatballs. I cook the sausages or meatballs in the sauce until they are done and then add half a bag of frozen asian/stir-fry vegetables and continue to cook until the vegetables are done. Serve with spaghetti (or any other noodles) with a little bit of grated mozzarella or parmesan. For under $10 I can even add a garden salad or dinner buns, and we normally have leftovers, which I will freeze for lunches.
- Vegetable Pasta Salad/Tortellini Salad
In the past I used canned ham when making pasta salad. I don’t make it like that anymore, but of course use whatever protein you want! Shredded chicken, ham, tuna… Pasta Salad is another one of those recipes that you can be creative and add what you like.
Rotini is the go-to noodle in my house, so that is the one I normally have on hand in the cupboard. To the cooked (and cooled) noodles I add whatever fresh vegetables I happen to have in the fridge. Use what you like. My favourites are tomatoes, cucumber, broccoli, mushrooms, and bell peppers. I always load this up with a TON of vegetables. I also like to add a bag of coleslaw mix and a little bit of grated cheese (either cheddar, mozzarella, or both). For the dressing I mix equal parts of Zesty Italian and Ranch salad dressings. For a different pasta salad, I will use tortellini instead of the rotini. There are always leftovers for the next day.
Mexican meals are family favourites and really easy on the budget. A little meat goes a long way, and I generally serve with rice, corn and brown beans. We almost always have leftovers which I will utilize the next night. Tacos, Quesadillas, Enchiladas, Burritos, Fajitas… there are so many great Mexican dishes that can be rotated throughout your meal plan so that it doesn’t get boring.
One of our favourite Mexican meals is Taco in a Pan (which is something my oldest requests every year on his birthday).
- Stuffed Peppers
Stuffed Peppers are another one of my favourites. I played around with recipes for years until I found one that I loved. I serve with corn or peas, brown beans and rice (or sometimes a small salad). There are always leftovers, so the first night the Stuffed Peppers will be the entrée, and the second night they will serve as a side dish for another meal.
*TIP* I like to make Stuffed Peppers the day after I make a Mexican meal because then I can utilize some of the leftovers (rice, corn and beans) making this even more budget friendly.
- Chowders, Soups, Stews & Chili
I can normally make a big pot of Chowder, Soup or Chili for about $10, and there are always leftovers for the next day. Chowder is simple to prepare, and incredibly versatile. There are so many different kinds! I tend to stick to simple chowders with simple ingredients, and I can make a big pot of a variety of chowders for about $10. One of our favourites is Corn Chowder. Other chowders that I make throughout the fall and winter are Root Vegetable Chowder (with sweet potato, carrots, turnips, potatoes and parsnips), and Loaded Baked Potato Chowder (potatoes, bacon, green onion and cheddar cheese). Once you master making a basic chowder, you can get really creative and make a different one each time.I make a wide variety of soups, and one of my favourites is my version of Minestrone. It really more than just a soup, its a complete meal and very filling.
Soups are a good way of using leftovers, especially when you don’t have enough meat left for a meal for everyone. A little meat goes a LONG way in a soup or stew. I keep soup mix (green and yellow split peas, rice, barley and red split lentils), barley, rice, canned six bean mix (chick peas, red and white kidney beans, romano beans, and baby lima beans) and small noodles on hand so that I always have the ingredients to make a really hearty soup. These are my staple soup making ingredients.
*TIP* When I have chicken bones (or any other meat bones) I make my own broth by boiling the bones down with whatever vegetables scraps I have handy (potato and carrot peels, the ends off of celery, leftover vegetables that probably won’t get eaten, etc). I freeze the broth and use it for soups, casseroles, gravies, stews, and any other recipe that calls for broth/stock. I do buy some ready made, but I use my own as much as possible.
Like Soup, Stew is easy to prepare, you can be creative with your ingredients and a little meat can go a long way! My favourite is Beef Stew, but I also make a really good Chicken Stew (my secret ingredient is to use a little bit of bacon, and to brown the chicken in the bacon fat). I prefer to make Dumplings to go with stew, but I often serve with dinner buns instead since my family do not really like dumplings.
- BBQ Pulled Pork On Buns or Pulled Beef (Beef Dip)
For Pulled Pork I use the $9 seasoned pork roasts from Walmart and cook it in the Crock Pot. I add some garlic, 1/2 cup of barbecue sauce, 1/4 cup water or chicken broth (or vegetable broth) and 1/4 cup of Zesty Italian salad dressing. I cook for 8-10 hours. I shred the pork and add some of the sauce until I have the desired consistency for pork sandwiches. I serve with coleslaw and a little grated mozzarella, and french fries. There is always enough for lunch the next day.
To make Hawaiian Pulled Pork, instead of the Zesty Italian salad dressing and chicken broth, use 1 can of crushed pineapple (including juices) and one diced bell pepper. The cooking method remains the same.
To make Pulled Beef (or Beef Dips) I also use the crock pot. The crock pot is definitely my friend when it comes to simple, budget friendly meals! I use a cheap cut of beef, and place into my Crock Pot with a cup of beef broth, 1/4 cup soy sauce and some garlic (lots of garlic because I love garlic). I cook for 8-10 hours and then shred the beef with a fork (keeping enough of the Au Jus with the beef so that it is moist but not soup). Add the beef to fresh buns and top with sautéed mushrooms (if desired) and grated swiss (or mozzarella if you prefer). If you like onions, add some sautéed onions as well (I don’t like onions, so I don’t add them). Use the juices from the Crock Pot as the Au Jus for dipping. I normally serve with a garden salad and/or some sort of potatoes.
- Chicken And Dumplings
My favourite Chicken & Dumpling recipe is this one I saw on Oprah years ago, courtesy of Tim McGraw. Its super easy, and really cost efficient. I normally follow directions and use a whole chicken, but I’ve also made it using bone-in chicken thighs (which are generally cheaper than a whole chicken). There are plenty of other recipes out there, but this one is my favourite.
- Breakfast For Dinner
I absolutely love Breakfast for Dinner. Its one of my favourite budget tips for making my grocery dollar stretch. I normally include some sort of Breakfast-type meal each week. Pancakes, French toast, Quiche, Eggs and Bacon, Eggs and Breakfast Sausages, Omelettes, Frittatas, Breakfast Sandwiches or Wraps, Sausage Gravy and Biscuits… the possibilities are almost endless.
- Stir Fry and Fried Rice
Stir Fry and Fried Rice are one of those meals where you can be creative and just use what you happen to have on hand. My current favourite is this Egg Roll Stir Fry recipe I found that uses ground pork. I make a quick and easy vegetable fried rice to go with it and I will normally pick up some frozen spring rolls or dumplings to round out the meal. There are ALWAYS leftovers, and everything still comes in under $15 for the entire meal.
- Pizza Pasta
For Pizza Pasta, any type of small noodles will work (I normally use shells or rotini). For the sauce I use two cans of pizza sauce, some chopped up salami or pepperoni (packs are $3 at Walmart and I use half the package) and some grated mozza cheese. Mix the sauce and noodles and pepperoni together and top with the cheese and bake for about half hour until golden on top. You can always add other “pizza” type topping to this like mushrooms or bell peppers etc. I always serve this with some chicken wings (made from scratch) and a side salad. Even with the wings, we are normally able to come in right around $10 for this one, and this is a really Fun meal!
- Lasagna Buns
Lasagna Buns are a family favourite and super easy. It tastes very similar to lasagna but is less expensive and quicker to prepare. All you do is get some nice crusty buns from the bakery and scoop out the insides to make room for the filling (I freeze the scooped out bread for when I make roast chicken and use it for the stuffing). Make a meat sauce (make it on the thick side – if you ever have left over spaghetti sauce, freeze it to use for making this meal). 1lb of ground beef and 1 can of spaghetti sauce is normally what I use. I spread the inside of the buns with a bit of garlic butter. I add a tbsp of cottage cheese and a sprinkling of parmesan. I fill the bun with the meat sauce and then add some grated mozzarella on the top. I pop it in the oven for about 20-30 minutes until heated through and golden on top, and serve with a side salad or fresh vegetables.
- Casseroles, Meatloaf and Pot Pies
Casseroles and Pot Pies are a great way to use up leftovers, and a little meat can go a long way. My favourite casseroles are Chicken Broccoli Divan, Shepherd’s Pie and Chicken Pot Pie. With casseroles, almost anything goes, so you can be as creative as you want, and you can normally pull off a good sized casserole or pot pie for around the $10 mark (or less).
- Roast Dinners
I love Roast Dinners, especially in the fall and winter because I can get several meals out of them. With Chicken (and Turkey) I can also make homemade broth with the carcass the next day which I freeze to use in other recipes like soups, stews, and stir-fry dishes.
Roast Chicken and Roast Pork are the most budget friendly. I can get a pork roast at Walmart for $9, and I can generally get a whole chicken for under $10. Last week I was able to get a whole chicken for just over $6.
Roast Beef dinners are a little more expensive unless I can find a really good deal on meat. Because an inexpensive beef roast is normally $15, roast beef tends to be one of our splurge meals.
With roasts, whether its chicken, beef or pork, there is normally enough meat left to make a nice soup the next day.
- “Swedish” Meatballs and Salsbury Steak with Mashed Potatoes
Both Swedish Meatballs and Salisbury Steak are easy to prepare and budget friendly. For Swedish Meatballs I normally use 1/2 a package of frozen store bought meatballs and for Salsbury Steak I use frozen store bought burger patties. For the sauce, I mix 1 can of Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom Soup with 1/2 a can of milk and 1 package of brown gravy mix. I add 1 package of sliced mushrooms and then serve over mashed potatoes. I normally serve with peas or green beans or a garden salad. You can add sautéed onions to both if you like (I don’t like onions, so I don’t add them to mine).
- FUN Take-out Inspired Budget Meals:
Burgers, Smokies (or Hot Dogs) & Fries, Pizza & Wings, Sloppy Joes, Beans & Weiners, etc.
The kids love fast food dinners but eating out is really expensive so I make fast food at home for an inexpensive fun meal. I can make Burgers, Hot Dogs and Pizza and Wings all for under $15, and sometimes for under $10 depending on the sales that week. For Pizza I normally just buy frozen pizza, but we also love English Muffin Pizzas, which are fun, budget friendly, and everyone can customize their pizzas the way they want.
Chicken Wings can be expensive, but I buy the big packs at Walmart for about $10 and split the package in half to use for two meals making wings a budget friendly fun meal option.
What are some of your budget tips or recipes for staying on budget but keeping your meal plan varied and exciting? I’d love to hear about some of the recipes that are your family favourites!
Andrea resides in Calgary, Alberta, and is the mom to five boys between the ages of 6-22. Running mainly on coffee and sarcasm, in her spare time she enjoys listening to Canadian Rock, watching Calgary Flames hockey, reading YA Dystopian novels, binge watching 90s television on Netflix, and entering contests.