5 Frugal Meal Ideas: Eat Well, Spend Less

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5 Frugal Meal Ideas

As a young bride several years ago, I found myself hopelessly lost in the kitchen when it came to putting together a complete meal for my family. After four years of “cooking” for just me and my daughter, my quick fix meals for two just didn’t cut it anymore. I found myself relying on store-bought convenience meals and frozen pizza all too often.

Thankfully for my husband (and children!), I have come a long way since then, but I am still a work in progress. I also struggle with the temptation of eating out, so if I am not prepared to make a meal, it is all too easy to bring home takeout. This is not only hard on the budget, but certainly our health.

There are several strategies I have embraced to make meal time a success in our home. First and foremost, I like to keep it simple. The times I have brought out my inner foodie and went all “gourmet” were total flops. Simple meals, around five ingredients or so work well with my picky eaters and save my sanity.

My next trick is using garlic liberally. Seriously. It makes the whole house smell delicious and my husband adores it. Even the simplest meal of beans and rice is made tempting with some fresh garlic thrown in.

In addition to garlic, I cook with lots of healthy FATS. Comfort foods satisfy for a reason. The body needs those fats! I find that adding real butter to fresh vegetables makes them more palatable to my children. I sneak butter into soups and pasta, fry eggs in it, and include olive and coconut oil whenever possible.

The biggest key to meal planning is a well-stocked pantry. Back in the day when I was seriously couponing, my pantry was bursting at the seams, but not necessarily with ingredients for eating well. Now that I have simplified, I keep basics on hand so that I can always throw together a meal. My pantry musts include lots of beans and rice (of course), stocks, potatoes, garlic, onions, pasta, canned tomatoes, flours, and more. Always in my freezer are frozen veggies, fruits, chicken and beef.

With these strategies in mind, I am sharing five of my favorite frugal meals. This was not easy to narrow down, since I love trying new recipes, but I often return to these five favorites.

1. Pasta
We enjoy a pasta dish about once a week (now gluten-free). Pasta is kid-friendly, cheap and filling. It can be made in so many ways you’ll never run out of recipes to try. One of our favorites is this Chicken & Spinach Pasta Bake.

2. Beans and Rice
Ah yes, the old frugal standby. This is also versatile in that rice and beans will adapt to any flavor you serve them with. You can add ground beef or toppings for a new twist. My kids prefer them with a side of chips and liberal amounts of cheese. Here is a quick and easy version from your pantry. We also love this Brown Rice & Lentil casserole.

3. Soups
I am convinced that soup is one the biggest restaurant rip-offs. Wanna know a trade secret? “Soup-of-the-Day” is often just re-purposing the previous days’ leftovers. You can make an entire pot of soup at home for less than the price of one bowl in a restaurant. If you keep stock and veggies on hand, you have soup. I resisted making my own soups for years until I realized just how easy and frugal it really is. We enjoy it year round!  Use up your leftover mashed potatoes for soup.

4. Roast Chicken
Roasting a whole chicken is a lost art, replaced by the ease of boneless skinless chicken breasts. Get a whole lot more bang for your buck by buying the whole bird. Once I discovered how much juicier and nutritious meat cooked on the bone truly is, I never went back! I love Jamie Oliver’s chicken in milk, and make it about once a month. I save some meat for lunch the next day or to throw in some soup. Then I make homemade chicken stock with the bones.

5. Tacos/Burgers
Number five was a toss up. These are my standbys when I am burnt out on cooking and just want something easy. My 10 year old can handle tacos almost completely on her own and my husband grills a mean burger. These simple family favorites are always a hit. Frugal tip: if you are low on ground beef or turkey, sneak in some lentils. No one will ever know!

If are not a meal planner by nature, there are some great resources here on the web to help you get started.

Do you have any kitchen strategies to share? What’s your favorite frugal meal?


  1. Angie W says

    I’ve been making black bean burgers lately. They’re fast, easy and frugal! I love that I can make so many versions – spicy, italian, savory, etc. Just whip up some ingredients in the food processor, pat into patties and sizzle in a fry pan – 15 minutes tops for dinner! Works great with tortilla chips, a salad, or fruit on the side. Also works great since I always have a jar (or several) of beans in the freezer, left over from cooking the whole bag.

    • Alyssa Francis says

      @Angie W, Those sound delicious, Angie! I have eaten black bean burgers, but never actually made them before. I have a ton of black beans in my pantry so I will definitely be trying this soon! Thanks for sharing.

  2. says

    Yay – I need to get back to some better meal-planning habits. Thanks for the help!

    One of my family’s favorite dinners is when I serve a whole bunch of leftovers, crackers, and cut fruit served on small dishes, sort of a version of tapas. They think that is the coolest thing to have the table filled with little bits of this and that, but really it’s me not wanting to cook and instead I dig around the fridge for bits and pieces. :)
    Charlotte Mason in the City´s last blog post ..Ditched a book today

  3. caroline garner says

    One crazy question- On Jamie Oliver’s chicken it says to start it on the stove, then finish in the same pan in the oven. What kind of pan is he using bc i’m not sure i own anything that goes on the stove and in the oven?? I may just be clueless though and all dishes may do both?

    A trick I’ve used forever is I buy my ground beef (we buy chuck) in the big family sized pkgs and when I divide it up, instead of doing 5 sections of 1 lb each, I divide it into 6. The “pounds” are a little smaller but not enough to notice, and it gets us an extra meal out of it. Just a thought. It may not be a big impact on our budget but over time it adds up.

    Back in our ramen noodle days (when we were just starting out and to the point that we were out of ramen and money!), I became very good at using everything I had and not wasting any food! Once I turned some leftover spaghetti sauce (noodles were all eaten), chicken nuggets, and a little mozzarella into chicken parmesan! Another day I had 1/2 a can of refried beans, a small piece of cheese, and broken tostada shells and made them into nachos for dinner! I’m so glad we’re not there anymore but I have been known to make some quick chicken parm or nachos when the craving hits! lol

    • says

      @caroline garner,
      Any all-metal pan can go from the cook top to the oven, cast iron skillets are great for this! I have put a pan in the oven before that had a plastic-y heat resistant handle, but I covered the handle with several layers of foil first, and I think it was just to quickly finish something under the broiler. Not sure if that technique would work for long cooking time, wouldn’t want to ruin a good pan!

  4. says

    Beans are our friends. I make red beans and rice and black bean soup all the time. Not to mention chili–you can tailor it to your family’s taste and it’s so cheap and easy.

  5. Julie says

    I just made one of my favorite’s last night. Crock pot carnitas, or pulled pork. I use whatever pork I got on sale and add a bottle of bbq sauce (honey or chipotle are my favorites ) then cook on high for 4 to 6 hours. It is tender and delicious on tortillas or buns! It makes great leftovers too.

  6. says

    LOVED this post! We are on a super tight grocery budget, so I am always looking to the Lord for creative ways to stretch the buck! One of our favorite frugal meals is Chicken Goulash (recipe here – http://happyhomefairy.com/2011/02/19/recipe-chicken-goulash/) as well as Taco Pizza (recipe here – http://happyhomefairy.com/2011/02/16/recipe-taco-pizza/). I just found your site tonight through Balancing Beauty and Bedlam! You have wonderful ideas – no doubt that yours is a Happy Home indeed!!! Thank you for sharing!

  7. says

    So excited to discover your site through Katie at Kitchen Stewardship! I just love your mission of Keeping the Kingdom First and look forward to following your site and trying out many of your recipes. Thanks so much for sharing! Blessings, Kelly

  8. Sarah Hardisty says

    I LOVE making warm subs! These work well with homemade bread or hoagies as well as storebought.
    Leftover chicken or steak (tender meat is best), veggies (onion, broccoli, zuccini…anything that you like cooked), teryaki sauce or BBQ sauce (worshestire or soy would work, too)
    Saute in a pan all the veggies & meat (meat should be cooked first), until heated thru. Scrape to one side and lay a slice of provoloe, swiss, cheddar….etc, over the top of your mixture. Let the cheese just melt. Scoop up your creation onto a dry hoagie or similar (juices from the mixture will replace any mayo, etc, you may use. I don’t usually put anything on the bread). Serve immediately! :)

  9. Jocelyn says

    I know it is not the healthiest option but I always keep real bacon pieces or bits and canned chicken in my pantry along with the beans. You can sub the bacon bits in for ham in soup, add to the top of a meatless bean with soup for a pretty presentation or to potatoe soup. I also add them to steamed veggies and green beans. My hubby started calling it fancy broccoli, I added butter, garlic, minced onions, salt and pepper. I steamed the broccoli and then melted the butter with all the ingredients in it. Yumm-O! I did something similar to brussel sprouts only I added 1cup of chicken stock at the end. It spruced up the veggies and my 4 year old asked for 2nds on them! I also do a quick white chili with a can or two of great northern beans, 1can of chicken, and a can of green chilis. A medium onion if you like, with garlic, cilantro, and oregano. Easy meals, fast fixes, yummy and big enough for a small family!

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