Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in December 2012 and has been updated December 2019
The key to saving money with meals is to look for healthy foods that are versatile and nutritious. Think: peanut butter, oatmeal, canned beans, garbanzo beans, lentils, eggs, almonds, apples, bananas, grapes, fresh or frozen spinach, carrots, kale, canned tomatoes, chicken breasts, broccoli, onions, garlic, brown rice, potatoes, sweet potatoes, nuts, tofu, and milk (almond, soy, rice or cow’s). With these staple items you’ll be able to make so many different, inexpensive meals!
Below you’ll find A TON of cheap and easy foods (and meal ideas) that are all under $5! Whatta’ need? Whatta’ need? Breakfast, lunch, dinner, dessert, or snack ideas? I’ve got you covered!
98 Cheap and Easy Meal Ideas to Make for Under $5…
CHEAP AND EASY BREAKFAST FOODS FOR UNDER $5
Quick Tip: Making Breakfast for Dinner is always a great money-saver!
2. Bowl of Cereal
4. Chocolate-Chip or Blueberry Pancakes – Add a few handfuls of chocolate chips or blueberries to your pancake batter
5. Cranberry and Raisin Oatmeal – Toss in sweetened cranberries and raisins to your old-fashioned store-brand oats
6. Crepes!– If you choose sweet or savory you can’t go wrong. These crepes are unbelievably easy to make and, trust me, no special pan is needed.
7. Egg Bake – Blend a dozen eggs with a splash of milk, a handful of cheese and diced peppers (or tomatoes). Pour the mixture into a 13” x 9” pan and bake at 350 degrees until cooked through which will be approximately 30 minutes.
8. French Toast
9. Fried Eggs and Buttered Toast
10. Fancy Frittata – 1 potato, 5 eggs, chop any available veggies from your fridge (squash, carrots, squash, kale, green peppers, spinach, etc.), add 1 diced onion, and a little cheese. Slice the potato into really thin slices and layer them along the bottom of a pie plate that has been rubbed on the bottom and sides with olive oil. Next, layer the veggies on top of the potato slices. Beat the eggs really well and pour on top and sprinkle with cheese (optional). Bake for approximately 30 minutes at 350 degrees.
11. Frozen Banana Smoothie – I used to make these frozen banana smoothies all the time as a kid. It is also a great way to extend the life of your bananas if they are about to go bad. Peel the skin off the banana, wrap in cellophane, freeze, put in blender with 1 1/2 cups of milk (almond, soy, rice, cow’s- they all work the same), add a teaspoon of vanilla and blend until smooth. Add more milk to change the consistency based on your preferences.
12. Fun Fruit Salad – Slice strawberries, apples, blueberries (and any other on-sale fruits), and stir together for an easy and fresh meal. Quick tip: avoid bananas since they go brown quickly and they also get slimy.
13. Oatmeal Muffins– Super versatile. Can’t go wrong with these bad boys.
16. Scrambled Tofu with Buttered Toast – Drain extra firm tofu, break apart with the end of a spatula, add 2 teaspoons of turmeric, and salt and pepper to taste. Stir frequently until browned.
18. Spinach and Feta Cheese Omelette – Mix 3 eggs well with a splash of milk and a handful of well-washed spinach, pour into a lightly buttered pan, cook well, and fold in a 2 tablespoons of feta cheese.
CHEAP AND EASY SNACKS FOR UNDER $5
19. Apple Slices with Peanut Butter
20. Handful o’ Nuts – Almonds, walnuts, pecans
21. Hummus and Vegetables – Store-brand hummus or homemade with sliced carrots, celery, broccoli, and or pita bread.
22. Nachos – Layer store-brand corn tortilla chips onto a microwave plate, sprinkle with cheddar cheese, heat in microwave until cheese is melted.
24. Yogurt with Toasted Oatmeal
CHEAP AND EASY LUNCHES AND DINNERS FOR UNDER $5. These are perfect Weeknight Dinner Ideas!
25. Almost Lasagna
29. BLT Sandwich
33. Easy Balsamic Chicken
34. Easy-Peasy Baked Potatoes – Use the tines of a fork to create the zig-zag pattern down the center of the potato then squeeze the ends towards the center so the center busts out. Microwave for 8 minutes. Let cool and top with sour cream, cheese, broccoli, or whatever your heart desires.
35.Five-Can Soup – 1 can tomatoes, 1 can of chili (vegetarian works too!) with beans, 1 can whole kernel corn, 1 can vegetable beef soup (or vegetarian), 1 can of tomato soup. Combine all into one pot and heat until warm. Serve with corn chips or cornbread. (Really serious about your soup? Then you need this cookbook: Soup of the Day: 365 Recipes for Every Day of the Year. Now, that’s a lot of soup!)
37. Goulash – 2 cups of cooked elbow noodles, 2 cans of tomato soup,1 pound or less of hamburger (or faux-meat crumbles), and a squirt of ketchup. Cook noodles, brown hamburger, drain noodles, mix everything together and simmer in pan for 5-10 min.
38. Good ol’ Rice and Beans – Black beans cooked with garlic, cumin and a bit of salt spooned over rice. If you have cheese, salsa, cilantro or lime handy add for tastiness.
39. Grilled-Cheese Sandwich with Tomato Soup
40. Grilled Peanut Butter and Banana Sandwich – Make your peanut butter and jelly sandwich like usual then butter the bread and grill in pan until the peanut butter gets gooey and delicious.
41. Grilled Salmon with Lemon and Asparagus Spears
47. Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwich – Classic.
48. Pear, Walnut, and Goat Cheese Salad
49. Pesto, Pear, and Swiss Sandwich on Wheat Toast – Toast your bread, spread a layer of pesto on each side, then pile sliced pear and swiss in the center.
51. Poor Man’s (or Woman’s ;) Soup – 1 large baking potato (or a few small red ones) cut into bite-size pieces, 1 or 2 cans of mushroom soup, add 1 or 2 cans of water, 1 can of carrots, 1 can of peas, 1 can of corn, 1 can of green beans, salt, pepper and hot sauce to taste. Cook on high for 3 hours in crock pot or until potatoes are done.
52. Potatoes! Mashed Potatoes, Potato Pancakes, and Shepard’s Pie
53. Pretty Perfect Pasta – Whatever whole-wheat pasta in on sale, diced tomatoes, garlic, basil, olive oil, feta cheese and salt.
55. Ramen with Veggies – Toss the salty packet of doom straight into the trash.
57. Rice, Black Beans, and Avocado – Simple. A scoop of beans, a scoop, or rice, sliced avocado and serve with a pan-warmed tortilla on the side.
59. Sliced-Bread Pizza – Put a couple of pieces of sliced bread onto an un-greased baking sheet, layer with marinara sauce, cheese and any vegetables from your fridge. If you have a broiler broil until the cheese melts (a few minutes at 350 degrees). Baking is fine too if you don’t have a broiler. It will cook quickly so keep a good eye on it.
60. Sloppy Joe’s
62. Spicy-Peanut Noodles– Add hot sauce to taste.
63. Stuffed Shells
64. Tuna Salad in Pita or Wrap – 2 cans tuna in water, drained, 1/4 cup mayonnaise, mixed with a bit of garlic. If you like a little crunch, chop celery and include.
66. Vegetarian Lime and Cilantro Chili– Add lime and cilantro to taste.
67. Vegetarian Fried Rice – Cook rice, oil pan, add chopped or frozen veggies (whatever is on sale), mix with rice, and add soy sauce to taste.
68. Whole-Wheat Noodles with Butter and Melted Cheese – Instant Mug o’ Mac ‘n’ Cheese (microwave): 1/3 cup pasta (whole grain), 1/2 cup water, 1/4 cup 1% milk, 1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese. (Found via Pinterest)
CHEAP AND EASY SIDE-DISHES FOR UNDER $5
70. Deviled Eggs
73. Homemade Bread
74. Matzo Ball Soup– Great for when you’re sick or need to be warmed up!
75. Miso Soup – Use whatever vegetables you have in your fridge: carrots, peppers, onions, zucchini, potatoes, sweet potatoes, tofu, squash, even pumpkin!
76. Parmesan Garlic Knots – Get in ma’ belly
79. Tomato, Black Olive, Onion, and Feta Cheese Salad – Drizzle with balsamic vinaigrette
CHEAP AND EASY DESSERTS FOR UNDER $5
81. Baked Fruit
86. Graham Creams
87. Ice-Cream Sundaes
88. Mango Lassi
89. No-Bake Cookies
90. Orange Julius– I made this all the time as a kid. It’s the perfect thing to make if you’re in the mood for something sweet, cold, and packed full of sugar.
92. Peanut Butter + Marshmallow Cookies (Gluten-free)
97. Stove-top Hot Chocolate AKA Old-Fashioned Hot Chocolate
98. Sugar Cookies
Hopefully this list will be a list you can refer to when you are stuck for something easy, and healthy (desserts don’t count;) to make!
What are your cheap and easy go-to recipes?
image (without text) by giovana milanezi
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