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10 Nutritious Family Dinners You Can Make for Under $10 – Recipes

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One of the biggest difficulties of eating healthy on a budget is the family dinner. Given their choice, many young kids would eat nothing but hot dogs and chicken fingers — a diet the adults at the table would find pretty dull. Just coming up with a single dish that satisfies everyone is a challenge, and finding one that’s also reasonably healthy feels like a monumental task. Add in the problem of trying to stay within your food budget, and many parents just feel like giving up.

The best way to approach this problem is to work backward. Start with the money side of the equation, figuring out which foods are both healthy and affordable. Then, once you’ve narrowed down your shopping list to these cheap staples, start looking for recipes to please everyone at your dinner table.

Ingredients: What to Keep in the Pantry & Freezer

Potatoes Onions Carrots

The specific foods that are cheapest at your local store can vary. For instance, if you happen to live in an area with lots of dairy farms, milk and cheese are likely to be cheaper for you than for someone who lives on the East or West Coast. Prices of different foods can also change over time based on the timing of food harvests and the quirks of the market. Food prices can rise in response to a shortage caused by bad weather or fall in response to a glut.

However, certain foods are almost always cheaper than other foods in the same category. You can reduce your grocery bill by treating these cheap foods as staples and keeping a good stock of them in your pantry and freezer. That way, you always have the makings for several inexpensive meals on hand.

Cheap, nutritious, and versatile foods to keep in your pantry and fridge include:

  • Fresh Produce. Potatoes, onions, garlic, mushrooms, carrots, and celery are all fairly inexpensive year-round and work in lots of different recipes. For fruits, apples and bananas are generally the cheapest options. You can add other produce based on what’s in season.
  • Frozen Produce. Starchy veggies, such as peas, beans, and corn, tend to keep well in the freezer. Frozen berries are usually much cheaper than fresh ones and are good in desserts and smoothies.
  • Canned Goods. Canned foods to stock up on include diced or crushed tomatoes, tomato paste, and all kinds of beans. Canned fruits, including peaches, pineapple, and fruit cocktail, are often cheaper than fresh fruits.
  • Dry Foods. Flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and raisins are all handy for home baking. Other cheap dry foods include dry beans, pasta, oatmeal, and popcorn.
  • Meats and Other Protein-Rich Foods. Chicken legs and thighs and ground beef or ground turkey are generally the cheapest meat options. Bacon is also fairly inexpensive, and it only takes a small amount to flavor a pot of soup or beans. Other affordable protein sources include tofu, peanut butter, and canned fish (like tuna, salmon, or herring).
  • Dairy Case Products. Powdered milk can be a cheap alternative to fresh milk. Other dairy case products to keep around include eggs and inexpensive cheeses, such as cheddar or mozzarella, which are useful for making meatless meals.
  • Condiments and Seasonings. Simple, cheap ingredients taste a lot better with a good dose of flavor. Some of the most useful ones include olive or vegetable oil, vinegar, soy sauce, mustard, mayonnaise, Parmesan cheese, vanilla, cocoa powder, and brown sugar or molasses. Other spices can be pricey, but they’re generally cheaper if you can buy them out of bulk bins from the natural foods store rather than in jars. And, of course, you always need salt and pepper.

Pro tip: Before you head to the grocery store, make sure you download Fetch Rewards and Ibotta. These apps let you scan your grocery receipts to earn cash back or gift cards.


Inexpensive Family Dinner Recipes

Bean Burrito Corn Quinoa Food

There are many inexpensive family dinners you can make simply by combining the staple foods in your pantry and refrigerator. On top of that, many other recipes use these staples and a few extra ingredients, such as leafy greens, sausage, or pearl barley. By picking these up whenever you happen to find them on sale, you can expand your dinner repertoire without fattening your grocery bill.

These 10 recipes are excellent examples. They’re simple, inexpensive, nutritious, and family-friendly — everything you need for a healthy family dinner. Recipe costs are based on the prices I typically pay for the ingredients at local supermarkets in central New Jersey, which generally has above-average food prices, according to Feeding America. Costs for your area may be different.

1. Bean Burritos

This vegetarian dinner is so hearty and satisfying you won’t miss the meat. The protein comes from black beans, which cost significantly less per pound than beef or even chicken.

Recipe adapted from “The Clueless Vegetarian

Serves 4

Prep time: 5 minutes | Cook time: 20 minutes | Total time: 25 minutes

Total cost: $4.30 ($8.95 with optional toppings)

Ingredients

  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1/2 medium onion, finely chopped (about 1 cup)
  • 1 medium bell pepper (any color), chopped (about 1 cup)
  • 1 fresh hot pepper, minced (optional; if you use it, wash your hands well after handling or use kitchen gloves)
  • 4 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 8 ounces frozen spinach
  • 2 (14.5-ounce) cans black beans, drained (or 4 cups home-cooked dry black beans)
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 4 burrito-size (8 1/2 – 10-inch) flour tortillasOptional toppings: 2 diced tomatoes, 1 diced avocado, 2 cups shredded Monterey Jack cheese, 1/2 cup sour cream, 1/2 cup salsa

Directions

  1. In a large pan over medium heat, bring the oil to temperature. Add the onion, peppers, and garlic, and cook until the onions begin to soften, about 8 to 10 minutes, stirring frequently.
  2. Add the frozen spinach (no need to defrost it) and continue to stir until it thaws and some of the water has evaporated, about 5 minutes.
  3. Add the beans and cook, stirring occasionally, for about 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
  4. To serve, place a tortilla on a plate and top with a generous scoop of the bean mixture, plus tomatoes, avocado, or shredded cheese if you’re using them. Fold over the top and bottom, fold in the sides, and turn it seam-side down on the plate. Serve with optional sour cream and salsa.

2. Chicken & Dumplings

This recipe is a convenient way to use up leftover chicken. You can serve plain baked chicken legs for dinner on Monday, then use the leftover meat in this dish later in the week. If you have drippings from the chicken, you can use them in place of the butter (or in addition to it) to make an extra-flavorful gravy.

Serves 4

Prep time: 15 minutes | Cook time: About 35 minutes | Total time: About 50 minutes

Total cost: $4.30

Ingredients

For the filling

  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 2 medium potatoes, diced (about 2 cups)
  • 3 medium carrots, diced (about 1 1/2 cups)
  • 1 small leek, chopped (about 3/4 cup)
  • 4 ounces mushrooms, chopped
  • About 6 ounces cooked chicken (equivalent to the meat from three chicken legs), cut into small pieces
  • 1 teaspoon salt (or to taste)
  • 3 tablespoons flour
  • 3 tablespoons water
  • 2 tablespoons butter or chicken drippings
  • 1 1/2 cups milk (or chicken or vegetable broth)

For the dumplings

  • 1 1/2 cups flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 3/4 cup nonfat milk

Directions

  1. In a 4-quart Dutch oven over medium heat, bring the vegetable oil to temperature. Saute the potatoes, carrots, leek, and mushrooms until softened, then add the chicken and saute until heated through. Remove it from the heat.
  2. For the gravy, in a small bowl, combine 3 tablespoons of flour and the water to create a slurry. In a medium saucepan over low heat, melt the butter. Quickly stir in the slurry until well combined. Turn up the heat to medium and add the milk or broth slowly, stirring constantly, until the mixture thickens.
  3. For the dumpling batter, in a large mixing bowl, sift or mix 1 1/2 cups of flour, the baking powder, and the salt. Using a pastry blender or knife, cut in the butter until it resembles coarse crumbs and no lumps of butter are visible. Stir in the milk to form a sticky, somewhat pastelike batter.
  4. Stir the gravy into the Dutch oven with the chicken and vegetables, and stir in the salt. Bring it to a boil, uncovered, over medium-high heat, then reduce the heat to the lowest setting.
  5. Using a measuring spoon, drop tablespoonfuls of dumpling batter into the soup until you have used all the batter and covered the entire surface with dumplings. Cook uncovered for 10 minutes. Then cover tightly and cook for another 10 minutes without removing the lid.
  6. Remove the lid and poke the dumplings with a skewer to see if they are cooked through. If there is batter visible on the skewer, cover again and continue to cook, testing every minute or two, until the skewer comes out clean.

3. Chili & Cornbread

This recipe is for a chili con carne, which simply means “chili with meat.” However, a vegetarian chili “non carne” is even cheaper. Simply leave out the meat and saute the vegetables in vegetable oil instead, then add an extra can of beans to the pot. A pan of homemade cornbread makes a nice (and inexpensive) side dish.

Chili

Serves 4

Prep time: 5 minutes | Cook time: About 2 hours, 10 minutes | Total time: About 2 hours, 15 minutes

Total cost: $7.75 for chili con carne or $4.85 for chili non carne, including the optional toppings

Ingredients

  • 1 pound ground beef or ground turkey
  • 1 small onion, diced (about 1/2 cup)
  • 1 green bell pepper, chopped (about 1 cup)
  • 1 fresh jalapeño pepper, diced (optional)
  • 1 clove garlic, crushed
  • 1 can red kidney beans, undrained
  • 1 (14-ounce) can diced or crushed tomatoes, including liquid
  • 1 tablespoon chili powder (or to taste)
  • Optional toppings: 1/2 cup sour cream, 1 cup shredded cheddar cheese

Directions

  1. In a large pot over medium-high heat, brown the ground beef or turkey. When it’s nearly done, add the onion, peppers, and garlic, and cook until the onions are soft. Drain off the excess fat.
  2. Add all the other ingredients. Bring to a boil.
  3. Turn the heat to low. Let it simmer for about 2 hours, or until most of the liquid is absorbed, stirring occasionally.
  4. Serve in a bowl and top with sour cream and shredded cheddar cheese if desired.

Cornbread

Serves 4

Prep time: 5 minutes | Cook time: 25 minutes | Total time: 30 minutes

Total cost: $1.15

Ingredients

  • 1 cup cornmeal
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 – 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 large egg

Directions

  • Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
  • In a large mixing bowl, combine the cornmeal, flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, milk, vegetable oil, and egg. Mix well.
  • Pour the batter into a 9-inch square baking pan. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until a skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean.

4. Mushroom Barley Soup With Biscuits

This vegetarian soup recipe makes a generous potful, so you can get one family dinner out of it plus two servings left over for lunch. Note that the soup thickens quite a bit when refrigerated, so when you reheat it, add more water, milk, or stock to thin it out. I like to serve it with homemade biscuits.

Mushroom Barley Soup

Recipe adapted from “Vegetariana

Serves 6 – 8

Prep time: 10 minutes  | Inactive time: 30 minutes | Cook time: 50 minutes | Total time: 1 hour, 30 minutes

Total cost: $3.15

Ingredients

  • 1 large onion, chopped (about 3 cups)
  • 2 large celery stalks, chopped (about 1 cup)
  • 1 large carrot, sliced (about 1 cup)
  • 3/4 cup pearl barley
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 tablespoons margarine
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
  • 6 cups water
  • Pepper to taste
  • 10 – 12 ounces white mushrooms, coarsely chopped
  • About 2 cups nonfat milk (or soy milk for a vegan soup)

Directions

  1. In a large soup pot over medium-high heat, add the onion, celery, carrot, pearl barley, bay leaves, margarine, thyme, oregano, salt, and water, plus additional salt and pepper to taste, and bring it to a boil. Turn down the heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer for 30 minutes.
  2. Add the mushrooms and simmer about 20 minutes more, or until the veggies are tender.
  3. Stir in milk. Turn off the heat and let the soup stand about 30 minutes before serving.

Biscuits

Recipe adapted from “The Joy of Cooking

Yield 15 – 24

Prep time: 10 minutes | Cook time: 15 minutes | Total time: 25 minutes

Total cost: $1

Ingredients

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 4 tablespoons cold butter
  • 3/4 cup nonfat milk or water

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. In a large mixing bowl, sift or mix together the flour, salt, and baking powder. Using a pastry blender or knife, cut the butter into the dry ingredients until the texture resembles coarse crumbs and no chunks of butter are visible.
  2. Add the milk to the dry ingredients and stir until the dough comes together, about 30 seconds.
  3. Lightly flour a clean work surface. Turn the dough out onto it and knead for about 30 seconds. Add a little more flour if it’s too sticky to work with. If it’s so dry that it crumbles, add a little more water.
  4. Using a lightly floured rolling pin, roll out the dough until it’s about 3/4-inch thick. Using a biscuit cutter or the rim of a glass dipped in flour, cut out the biscuits, pressing the cutter directly and firmly down without twisting. You can use any size cutter or glass you need to achieve the size you want. When you run out of dough, gather up the leftover edges, press them together into a ball, roll it back out, and cut more biscuits. When there’s too little left to do that, wad up what’s left to form one last slightly lumpy biscuit.
  5. Place the biscuits on an ungreased baking sheet and bake for about 15 minutes. Check after 10 minutes or so and flip them over if they look like they’re getting too brown on the bottom.

5. Roasted Chicken & Veggies

One of the easiest ways to prepare chicken is to roast it in a pan surrounded by vegetables like potatoes and carrots. Everything cooks in a single pan, so you only have one dish to wash afterward. The ingredients for this dish cost between $6 and $8 and make enough to feed a family of four with plenty of leftovers. For a healthier meal, drain off the fatty juices after the chicken finishes roasting and avoid eating the fatty parts of the skin.

Serves 6 – 9

Prep time: 5 minutes | Cook time: 1 hour 40 minutes | Total time: 1 hour, 45 minutes

Total cost: $7.60

Ingredients

  • 1 teaspoon salt, plus more for seasoning
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons paprika
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons garlic powder
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose seasoning blend (such as Mrs. Dash or Market Pantry)
  • 1 whole chicken (about 5 pounds)
  • 1 – 1 1/2 pounds (3 – 4 medium) russet potatoes, peeled and cut into quarters
  • 8 ounces baby carrots
  • Pepper to taste

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. In a small bowl, combine the salt, paprika, garlic powder and all-purpose seasoning and mix well.
  3. Remove gizzards from the chicken and rub the spice mixture all over the skin.
  4. Place the chicken in a deep oven-safe pan or roasting pan, surrounded by the quartered potatoes and baby carrots. Season the carrots and potatoes with salt and pepper if desired.
  5. Roast it for about 20 minutes per pound. The chicken is cooked when a meat thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the thigh reads 165 degrees F.

6. Spaghetti Carbonara

If the only way you know to cook spaghetti is with meatballs and tomato sauce, this recipe will be a real eye-opener. It combines eggs and Parmesan cheese to make a creamy sauce that requires only the heat from the pasta to cook it. Cooked, chopped bacon adds flavor, and green peas supply the vegetable to make it a one-pot meal.

Adapted from Allrecipes

Serves 4 – 8

Prep time: 10 minutes | Cook time: About 20 minutes | Total time: About 30 minutes

Total cost: $5.60

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 1 pound dry spaghetti
  • 2 tablespoon olive oil, divided
  • 8 slices bacon, diced
  • 1 medium onion, chopped (about 2 cups)
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 cup frozen green peas
  • 1 cup grated Parmesan cheese, divided
  • 4 large eggs, beaten
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley (optional)

Directions

  1. Fill a large pot with water and stir in the salt. Bring to a boil over high heat. Cook the spaghetti until al dente (slightly firm when bitten), about 6 or 7 minutes. Drain, toss with 1 tablespoon olive oil, and set aside.
  2. Meanwhile, in a large saucepan over medium-high heat, cook the chopped bacon in a large saucepan until slightly crisp. Remove the bacon from the pan and drain it on paper towels. Drain off all but 2 tablespoons of the bacon grease.
  3. Add the remaining 1 tablespoon of olive oil to the bacon grease and return to medium-high heat. Add chopped onion and cook until translucent, about 10 minutes. Add the minced garlic and cook 1 minute more.
  4. Return the cooked bacon to the pan. Add the cooked, drained spaghetti and frozen peas. Toss to combine, adding more olive oil if the pasta seems too dry or is sticking.
  5. In a medium bowl, combine 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese with the beaten eggs. Add it to the pasta and cook, tossing constantly with a large fork or tongs, until the eggs are cooked but still soft.
  6. Sprinkle with chopped parsley and serve with the remaining Parmesan cheese.

7. Tortellini Soup

Tortellini is a type of pasta filled with cheese, meat, or vegetables and formed into ring shapes. You can often find fresh tortellini in the gourmet foods section at the grocery store, but frozen tortellini is much cheaper and takes only a little longer to cook. Simmering it in broth with tomatoes and herbs makes a filling, flavorful soup. This version uses pasta only, but for a heartier soup, you can fry a pound of ground Italian sausage (or the contents of four links removed from their casings) in a pan and add it to the pot.

Serves 4

Prep time: 5 minutes | Cook time: 30 minutes (or 35 if using sausage) | Total time: 35 – 40 minutes

Total cost: $5.50 ($9.50 with sausage added)

Ingredients

  • 48 ounces boxed or canned reduced-sodium beef broth or vegetable broth
  • 1 (19-ounce) bag frozen tortellini
  • 1 (14-ounce) can diced tomatoes, including liquid
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon dried parsley
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • Salt to taste

Directions

  1. Pour the beef broth into a large stockpot and bring to a boil over high heat.
  2. Add the tortellini, diced tomatoes, oregano, parsley, pepper, and salt to taste. Cover and reduce the heat to low.
  3. Let it simmer for 25 minutes to allow the pasta to cook through and the flavors to mingle.

8. Tuna Potato Cakes

I first encountered this dish as “crabby potato cakes,” a simple version of crab cakes made with grated potato and canned crabmeat. However, I found it works just as well with canned tuna, which is both cheaper and easier to find. The original recipe suggests serving them with tartar sauce, lemon juice, or Tabasco, but we like them with applesauce.

Adapted from “The Small Potato Cookbook

Serves 3

Prep time: 10 minutes | Cook time: About 20 minutes | Total time: About 30 minutes

Total cost: $3.50

Ingredients

  • 2 medium potatoes (about 12 ounces), grated (with skin)
  • 1 medium carrot, grated (about 1/2 cup)
  • 1 – 2 green onions, finely chopped
  • 2 large eggs, beaten
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 1/4 cup mayonnaise
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon dry mustard powder
  • 2 – 3 shakes (about 1/2 teaspoon) Worcestershire sauce
  • Salt to taste
  • 1 (5-ounce) can tuna, drained and flaked
  • 2 tablespoons olive or vegetable oil
  • 1 1/2 cups applesauce (for serving)

Directions

  1. Press the potatoes, carrot, and green onions between layers of paper towels to remove excess moisture. Transfer them to a large bowl and mix in eggs and flour.
  2. In a separate small bowl, combine the mayonnaise, lemon juice, mustard powder, Worcestershire sauce, and salt. Gently stir the tuna, then fold it into the coated vegetables until blended.
  3. In a large skillet over medium heat, bring the oil to temperature. Form the crab mixture into patties about 2 to 2 1/2 inches in diameter and 1/2 inch thick. Fry the patties 3 to 4 minutes on each side, or until golden brown. You can turn the heat up to medium-high if you find the cakes aren’t cooking quickly enough.
  4. Serve with applesauce.

9. Ugly Eggs

The creator of this dish says she used to make it for breakfast at Girl Scout camp, where it was known as “casualty eggs.” However, it works equally well as a dinner. The recipe is relatively flexible, so you can throw in just about any kind of veggies you happen to have on hand.

Adapted from “The Small Potato Cookbook

Serves 4 – 6

Prep time: 10 minutes | Cook time: 20 – 30 minutes | Total time: 30 – 40 minutes

Total cost: $4.70

Ingredients

  • 8 slices bacon, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 1 pound russet potatoes (about 3 medium or 4 – 5 small), quartered and cut into thin slices
  • 2 teaspoon vegetable oil
  • 4 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 medium (about 6-ounce) green bell pepper, cut into strips
  • 1 large onion, chopped (about 3 cups)
  • 4 ounces mushrooms, sliced
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 8 – 10 large eggs, beaten

Directions

  1. Fry the bacon until cooked but soft. Drain off most of the grease.
  2. If you have a microwave, heat the potatoes for a minute or 2 until they’re half-cooked. If you don’t, they will require more cooking time on the stove.
  3. In a large skillet over medium heat, bring the oil to temperature. If you have preheated the potatoes, add the potatoes, garlic, bell pepper, onion, and mushrooms to the pan all at once. Otherwise, cook the potatoes by themselves until they start to brown, then add the garlic, bell pepper, onion, and mushrooms. Cook until the onions are soft and the potatoes are tender.
  4. Add the eggs to the pan and cook until firm.

10. Veggie Pizza

Why pay $10 for a takeout pizza when it’s so easy to make your own? This homemade veggie version costs less than half as much. I usually top mine with mushrooms and green pepper, but you can easily customize the recipe by changing the toppings to fit your tastes. You can also replace about three-quarters of a cup of the white flour in the dough with whole-wheat flour for a heartier and healthier crust.

Serves 4

Prep time: 15 minutes  | Inactive time: 1 hour | Cook time: 35 minutes | Total time: 1 hour 50 minutes

Total cost: $4.05

Ingredients

For the dough

  • 2 teaspoons active dry yeast (about half a packet)
  • 3/4 cup warm water (105 – 110 degrees F)
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups flour

For the sauce

  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 4 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 cup crushed tomatoes (about 2/3 of a 14-ounce can)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons dried basil
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried rosemary

For the pizza

  • 1/2 pound mozzarella cheese
  • 1/4 medium (about 1 1/2 ounces) green bell pepper, sliced
  • 4 ounces mushrooms, sliced

Directions

For the dough

  1. In a large mixing bowl, dissolve the yeast in the warm water. Add the vegetable oil, sugar, salt, and flour and stir to combine.
  2. Lightly flour a clean work surface, turn the dough out onto it, and knead for about 5 minutes. If the dough is too dry and crumbly to work, add water, 1/2 teaspoon at a time, until it feels pliable. Return the dough to the bowl and cover it. Place the bowl in a cold oven along with a bowl of hot water (just below boiling temperature) and allow it to rise for at least an hour, or until it doubles in size.
  3. Stretch the dough across a pizza pan (or use a rectangular cookie sheet), pressing it into place with your fingers. Spread it as evenly as possible over the surface while avoiding holes.

For the sauce

  1. In a medium saucepan over low heat, bring the oil to temperature. Saute the garlic until fragrant, 1 to 2 minutes. Add tomato paste, crushed tomatoes, salt, sugar, basil, thyme, oregano, and rosemary, and cook the sauce down, stirring frequently, for about 10 minutes, or until it reaches your desired thickness.
  2. Spoon the sauce onto the pizza dough, and spread it nearly to the edges.

For the pizza

  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
  2. Sprinkle the cheese evenly over the top of the sauce, then layer on the bell pepper slices and mushrooms. Bake for about 20 minutes, or until the cheese is beginning to brown a bit on top, the crust is lightly browned, and the vegetables appear cooked.

General Tips for Eating on a Budget

The key to staying within your food budget is to cook as much as possible from scratch. You don’t have to go as far as baking your own bread or making your own yogurt, though you can save money if you do. But in general, the less you rely on prepared and convenience foods like rotisserie chicken, precut veggies, or TV dinners, the more you can lower your food bill. Whole, unprocessed foods are nearly always cheaper — and as a bonus, they’re often healthier as well.

Other tips for stretching your grocery dollars include:

  • Plan Your Meals. When you plan your meals, you waste less food, so more of your food dollars can go toward filling your belly and not into the trash. That doesn’t have to mean writing out your entire menu for the week before you head to the store. Just be aware as you shop. If you pick up a 10-pound bag of potatoes, think about what you can make with all those potatoes and what other ingredients you need for those meals.
  • Eat Less Meat. Meat costs more per serving than most other foods, so a meat-centered meal is practically guaranteed to cost more than one that focuses on grains or vegetables. You don’t have to become a vegetarian, but you can save money by choosing dishes that treat meat as a bit player rather than the star of the show. Many foreign cuisines, from Chinese to Indian to Mexican, are good for this. When you do buy meat, choose cheaper options like chicken, turkey, or ground beef and freeze it only in the portions you can use at one time since you can’t safely refreeze it once it’s been defrosted.
  • Focus on Cheaper Ingredients. You can lower your overall grocery bill significantly by choosing cheaper ingredients over pricey ones. To save on fruit and vegetables, focus on what’s in season and look for frozen or canned fruits and veggies instead of fresh ones. Also, try powdered milk in place of fresh milk for cooking and baking. Since it keeps for a long time, it’s handy to have around as part of your emergency food storage.
  • Use Up Leftovers. Instead of seeing leftover food as waste, treat it as raw material for new meals. You can use up leftovers by reheating them for lunch, freezing them for a quick meal later, serving up a bunch of odds and ends in a leftover buffet, or making them over into a new dish, such as a soup or casserole.
  • Use All Your Kitchen Tools. If you have kitchen gadgets, such as a microwave or a slow cooker, they can be handy tools for cooking on the cheap. Microwaves are suitable for reheating leftovers, while slow cookers and pressure cookers are more practical for make-ahead meals, soaking and cooking dry beans, and tenderizing cheap cuts of meat. And if you have a stand-alone freezer, you can put it to good use by stocking up on inexpensive, bulk-purchased foods.

Final Word

Although dinner is the toughest challenge for many home cooks, it’s certainly not the only one. The money you save by preparing healthy, homemade family dinners can disappear pretty quickly if you always eat out for breakfast and lunch or if you rely heavily on pricey convenience foods like frozen breakfast sandwiches.

To make your food dollars stretch as far as possible, extend your new money-saving habits throughout the day. Reheat leftovers from dinner for a cheap lunch, or use up leftover raw veggies in an omelet, sandwich, or salad. Oatmeal or toast made with homemade bread are both excellent choices for a cheap and healthy breakfast. Easy and cheap snacks include popcorn, apples, baby carrots, or plain old bread and butter.

Do you have any favorite dinner recipes that can feed a family of four for $10 or less?

Amy Livingston
Amy Livingston is a freelance writer who can actually answer yes to the question, "And from that you make a living?" She has written about personal finance and shopping strategies for a variety of publications, including ConsumerSearch.com, ShopSmart.com, and the Dollar Stretcher newsletter. She also maintains a personal blog, Ecofrugal Living, on ways to save money and live green at the same time.

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