Meals Under 3 Bucks- It Can Be Done!

meals under 3 bucks

Since I’m a frugal-living lady I’m often very happy that I also don’t happen to be a foodie, because from what I know being a foodie is expensive. Expensive meals and me just don’t mix company these days.

Day-to-day our meals are pretty (very) simple, and this definitely works in my favor while trying to save money. I love looking at the pretty food photographs on Pinterest, but actually making the big and elaborate meals, spending the money on the sometimes elusive ingredients, and also spending the time to prepare the meals- ? It just isn’t where I’m at right now.

Meals for us mean: simple, cheap, and very quick.

Luckily my husband and I don’t mind it this way so most nights our dinners are things like (oh and we’re vegetarian too, if you start to wonder where the meat is):

  • Tortilla with 1/2 a sliced avocado and rice
  • Rice and beans and a tortilla
  • Beets (love them!) and potato wedges
  • Massive Monster salad that I eat throughout the week

(After writing those meals out like that they feel a little Tiny Tim-ish… d’oh:/ but, they are tasty and they do the trick!)

So, when Amy Sibley who is a food blogger over at Wicked Good Travel contacted me about doing a post on how she creates meals with freezer and pantry items I was all about it!

Non-fussy, easy, and cheap meals = Perfect!

Now, here’s Amy to take it away!

Being a food blogger gives me the excuse to try all sorts of foods and drinks, which is always an adventure! Cooking at home is often less expensive than eating out, but depending on what you’re making, it can still cost more than what your budget can comfortably absorb.

As someone who had over $20,000 in debt not even five years ago (and managed to bring that down to just under $7,000 today!) I can appreciate the pains of determining what groceries to buy, and how to make the most of my money when it comes to meals. In my quest to figure out some cheap meals I’ve discovered some ways to tackle different dinner dilemmas, and I want to share them with you!

Modify and mix them up as desired because they will all keep your stomach and wallet happy! These dishes all use ingredients that can be kept in the freezer or pantry (ie, flour, olive oil, sugar, salt, noodles, etc.) so the ingredients will last a long time. I like to stock up when the ingredients are items are on sale so I always have them on hand.

While chicken nuggets and Top Ramen may not be the pinnacle of healthy eating, they are inexpensive and versatile enough that they can be easily morphed into more complete, healthier, and filling meals with a little fixing up.

Cheap Meal Idea #1: Top Ramen with Veggies (Serves 2):

You’ll need:

  • 2 packages of Top Ramen ($0.58/2 packs)
  • 4 cups water or 2 cups of water combined w/ 1 can chicken/veggie broth (broth $0.89/can)
  • ½ bag of frozen vegetables ($1.00 for ½ bag)

How to:

  • Cook noodles according to package directions. You can opt to add in half of the spice packet or none of it and instead use low-sodium broth (significantly lowering sodium levels). Add frozen veggies to the water with the noodles and you’ll have soup in only five minutes. Options: Add a slice of bread with butter, a tuna fish sandwich, or some crackers/fresh veggies and hummus for a heartier meal if desired.

(Estimated cost per serving: $1.74)

Cheap Meal Idea #2: Chicken Nuggets with Brown Rice and Turkey Gravy (Serves 2):

This is one of my favorites when I’m crazing comfort food. I make this on nights when my boyfriend and I have had long days at work and we don’t want to spend lots of money (or time) on dinner.

You’ll need:

  • 12-14 chicken nuggets – one serving is 6 nuggets but increase/decrease as desired- ($1.95/14 nuggets; $6.99/entire bag)
  • 1 12oz jar of fat free turkey gravy ($1.95/jar)
  • 1 bag of quick cooking brown rice ($0.80/bag)

How to:

  • These nuggets taste far better when cooked in the oven. We’re only talkin’ 14 minutes at most. During that time, cook rice, and then just before everything is done microwave the gravy in a bowl. Simply plate your rice, nuggets, and add as much gravy as desired over the top. Option: For extra vitamins, heat up a bag of frozen vegetables for a side.

(Estimated cost per serving: $2.40)

Soups, casseroles, and sauces are all foods that can be made cheaply. I like that they are also rich and diverse in textures and flavors, and that they freeze well which means- every last bit gets eaten so we truly get our money’s worth!

The main thing I’ve learned is: don’t be afraid to get creative!

Thank You Amy!


Do you have any tips and tricks for getting more out of your home-cooked meals? What are your cheap go-to meals?  

Would you like to be a contributor on a topic related to personal finance or frugal living? Send me an email at: (Please know that credit or lending companies will not be considered. Only real people with real stories and real experiences should email.)

What are YOUR favorite, inexpensive meals? Tell us in the comments! And, if you found this post helpful we’d be so thankful if you shared it!


16 thoughts on “Meals Under 3 Bucks- It Can Be Done!

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  1. Maryl

    Are you kidding me? $1.95 for a jar of gravy? That stuff is all chemicals. Chicken broth is 65 cents a can, half a cup of flour costs what, 3 cents – maybe- water, pepper. And it sure doesn't take much time to make gravy. I know that the art of making gravy is virtually extinct, but it's well worth the effort. Last night I bought thin-sliced boneless chicken breast for $3.99/lb. Which is not cheap, I'll grant you, but I came home, sprinkled it with Mrs. Dash, sauteed it in under ten minutes (so the time commitment is minimal) and it's not much effort. A salad, some yogurt, and it was a delicious, low fat, low sodium pick-me-up after a six-mile run. Today my daughter packed a chicken sandwich with lettuce and cheese on whole wheat, and I'll probably have the same before I leave for work.

    Sodium content is one thing when you are younger that you don't think about. Do yourself a favor – start thinking about it. Take a look at pasta sauce – the cheap stuff has 40% of your day's allotment of sodium. High blood pressure costs far more later on in your life.

  2. Jo

    I agree with Meryl. I'm investing in my health too, which can save me thousands of dollars in the future. Im all about meals on the cheap, but I refuse to make it so cheap that I'm paying for it later.

  3. ashley

    I gotta agree with the above poster. Sure these are cheap meals. But the biggest issue when trying to eat cheap is to also eat healthily. Because cutting costs on your health will not lead to financial security.

    I know you preempted this with the disclaimer that it's not healthy eating… but I just wonder what place this has. I love love love your blog, but this post misses the mark for me.

  4. Amy

    I totally agree with the health concerns noted! These are merely examples of inexpensive foods you can find in the grocery store and the point is to look around and find a wide variety of items depending on your dietary needs that you can mix/match, definitely look for low-sodium/low-cal options, and add extra vitamins/minerals as needed. Also having things that aren't "healthy" but can make for an inexpensive meal are good sometimes, but moderation is key!

    Other things I love to make include homemade pasta, homemade sauce as well as casseroles and soups that can all be made at home so that you can include/exclude anything you desire. A seasonal favorite of mine is zucchini soup (4 zucchini, water, bullion cube, and 1 onion) definitely filling, healthy, and fast!

  5. Dana

    I agree with all of you commenters, health has to be a concern as well as budget. for me, BEANS are the magic ingredient! buy them in bulk, super cheap and so versatile. I am curious about the ramen though, loved it in my younger days but haven't had it in years after finding out what's in those packets! are the noodles themselves ok i wonder, using veg. broth sounds like a great idea. i'll have to check out the package info the next time i hit the supermarket.

  6. Beth

    To start things even cheaper…make your own staple foods!!
    I have started buying beans and rice in bulk at Whole Foods & Natural Grocers to save money. It takes a little additional work, but with just a little extra preparation time it really pays off. And it's healthier than buying canned beans or quick-cooking rice – BONUS!

    I've also started making my own vegetable broth. A large square container of the organic stuff is about $3-4. I save my veggie scraps in a baggie that I just pop in the freezer (tops of carrots, zucchini, celery stalks, garlic bulbs that look a little dingy, ends of onions, etc). When the bag is full, I dump everything into a large pot with water, and boil for 1 hour. VOILA!! Free veggie broth!

    1. Stefanie Jo

      BETH! I do the same thing! I’ve got ziplocks full of veggie scraps in my freezer and when I get enough, I make veggie broth!

      I also get beef soup bones from local farmers (couple bucks a pound) and make bone broth. Whatever I don’t use I freeze and then I”m ready to make soup whenever I feel like it! (and in Northern, WI, that is A LOT!)

      thanks for the tips! Great minds…..

  7. Elizabeth

    I'm with the rest of the commenters. I want to get out of debt, but I want to keep my self healthy/ strong/ in high spirits. Healthy/ fresh food can sometimes cost more, sometimes less, but powdered/ packaged/ frozen/ dried is not the answer. When I run out of fresh foods, I'll make a big pot of rice and beans, that'll cost me a few dollars (generally already in my pantry) and taste delicious and feed me properly.

  8. @chocolatelegz

    I def. Love stretching and repurposing food…here's a lil tip add veggies,rice,potatoes or beans example: tacos only get 1/2 lb (or less) of meat then I add cooked rice and frozen corn the presto I still have meat for spaghetti the next day which I add a can of mushrooms or frozen carrots…sometimes I turn 1lb if ground turkey into 3 meals

  9. Jay

    Beth – that's a great idea, I make my own vege broth but have never thought about hanging onto (& freezing) ends of carrots & onions etc. You're a genius! Thanks. I share the same opinion as the other comments, the chicken nugget recipe made me cringe a bit … I'm trying really hard to eat on a budget and I AM a foodie. Plenty of staple items are also very tasty, I don't know what prices are like over there (I'm in New Zealand) but canned chopped tomatoes, various dried beans, chick peas & rice are always in my pantry. And eggs, eggs are a great cheap healthy meal.

  10. Jay

    Oh one more thing – Parmesan cheese.

    It might sound pricey, but you use about 1/8 of the amount of cheese you normally would. Especially when making chicken parmiagiana (sp?) or pasta dishes, because of the strong taste. So $9 for a 150gm block/wedge is the same price as a 1kg of Edam or Colby (regular eating cheese) here (NZ) and it also keeps a lot longer.

  11. Vicki

    I have to admit I was a little horrified by the meal suggestions in this post. Especially one entire meal without any vegetables. I would rather cut back in other areas and spend a little more for quality food for both my health and the environment. Additionally you can now buy organic/natural foods at Walmart and can also use coupons for other items in other stores. Using what you have, shopping at a discount store and paying with coupons is a better way in my opinion to save money on food, not cutting out whole food groups and eat processed food!

    1. Anna Newell Jones

      Hi Vicki, This post hit a nerve with a lot of people. I totally hear you! The guest posts are all about seeing what others do to save money so if it works for them, cool; if it can work for you too, cool; and if not that’s okay too! :)

  12. Pingback: Healthy Ramen & Workout | the family bean

  13. Stefanie Jo

    I am agreeing with everyone else here – these are horrifying meal suggestions. It’s possible to eat healthy and still stick to a budget.

    My favorite mantra that my boyfriend and i use all the time is “pay now or pay later”. I’d rather pay a little extra for quality fruits, veggies, eggs, and meats then pay in high health care costs later.

    Health is an investment!

    Check this book out by Leanne Brown. GREAT suggestions to eat WELL on $4/DAY

  14. Sarah

    Hey! New to And Then We Saved, and I’m reading it from the beginning. I love it! So many ideas and perspectives about paying off debts and saving. Keep it up! Anyway, I can understand people saving money with foods that have a longer shelf life, and I have a recipe to share:

    – 1 jar salsa
    – 1 can of black beans
    – 1 can of red beans
    – 1 packet of taco, or chipotle, or fajita seasoning
    – 4 cups of cooked rice
    Drain the beans, add the packet of seasoning, and mix to coat. Add the jar of salsa and spoon over 4 one cup portions of rice.
    This is a versatile recipe because you can use any kind of beans, and swap canned for dried to save even more money. You can purchase low sodium options for the canned beans (or just get dried, or rinse the canned ones really well, it removes some of the sodium used as a preservative/ stabilizer), and the packet of seasoning, or you can throw together the spices yourself if you have a recipe. You can purchase all organic if you prefer, or add things like avocados, cheese, anything that works for your budget and tastes.

    This is only the most basic form of the recipe, and now that I’m out of school and working full time, I still like this dish, it packs well for lunches, and freezes well for later. I have since bought organic items, and I make a rice blend of my own with bulk rices and grains like white and brown rice, barley, quinoa, and amaranth. But I remember, even when I was poor/broke, and didn’t have much hope for a real income until school was over (I went as an adult at 25, didn’t graduate til I was 29), I would heat this up in the break room at my part time job, and people would think it smelled and looked so good. I would laugh and call it ‘Poor Man’s Rice and Beans’!

    It saved me from an empty stomach many times, and these were all items I could stock up on and store in the cupboard. Now I even make it for people at work, only I omit the rice, add cheese on top, and serve it with tortilla chips as a hot bean dip.


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