7 Cheap And Easy Meals To Make When You’re Low On Cash And Time

Read this before you think about hitting up the dollar menu.

You’re on a tight budget and can’t stomach the idea of another dollar menu meal while you wait for payday to come. Or, you just need to trim some fat from your grocery bill. Fret not, cheap meals can still be delicious and creative. (Plus, here are nine ways you can save at the grocery store.)

We’ve put together a week’s worth of dinner ideas to hold you over until payday.

1. Sheet Pan Meal

Take a good look in your fridge and check out what’s hanging out in the crisper. Sheet pan meals are a great way to use up a random assortment of veggiesthat half of a red onion, some leftover cherry tomatoes, the lone bell pepper and the asparagus you forgot about. Plus, veggies are high in fiber. Translation: They’ll keep you full. You can wing it or follow a recipe, like this one from Skinnytaste. An easy way to make this dish though is to coat chicken in balsamic vinegar and olive oil and let it marinate for an hour. Then toss your veggies in olive oil and balsamic vinegar, adding a dash of salt and pepper. Spread them out on a foil pan and arrange the chicken on top of the veggies. Cook for 25 minutes at 450 degrees.

sheet pan meal

2. Pasta With Pesto

If you came to this list and thought, “I better not see the obvious pasta and jarred marinara sauce idea on here,” we totally get it. You know that trick by now. But here’s a more unexpected spin that feels more sophisticated. Use whatever pasta you have, cook it and then toss it in a pesto sauce. You can get a 7-ounce tub of pesto in the refrigerator section at Trader Joe’s. If it’s been a while since you’ve had pesto, it brings a bright flavor to meals with a combination of fresh basil, nuts, garlic, Parmesan cheese and oil. If you’ve got some leftover, make a homemade pizza with it! Vegetarian? Here are 11 more cheap meal ideas.

pesto pasta photo

3. Salsa Chicken

One of my girlfriends—who makes the most delicious dinners—taught me this trick a few years ago and it’s been a game changer for busy weeks. It’s also super cheap and can be re-imagined into different dinners throughout the week. Put a pound of chicken, seasoned with cumin and a little salt and pepper, in your slow cooker. Toss it in with a jar of salsa. (My favorite is a salsa verde from Target.) You can also add a broth to the mix. Shred the chicken and use it throughout the week, paired with rice, in a burrito, on a salad or, my favorite, with some jalapeños and mozzarella on a tostada shell.

4. Sausage And Hash Brown Skillet

Heck yes to brinner! For the uninitiated, that’s breakfast for dinner. You can whip up this protein-packed sausage and hash brown skillet in about 20 minutes. It’s got sausage crumbles, cheddar cheese and crispy hash browns topped with four eggs. Since breakfast foods tend to be inexpensive, some other ideas include making an egg bake loaded with veggies or a savory waffle with eggs and bacon. Or, keep it simple and make breakfast burritos with scrambled eggs and black or pinto beans and hash browns or chopped potatoes. You can dress it up with salsa, cheese, hot sauce and sour cream, too.

sausage and hash

5. Mediterranean Pasta Salad

If you’ve got some Italian dressing in your refrigerator and a box of penne or farfalle pasta in your pantry, you’re halfway there. Prepare your pasta and toss in chopped tomatoes (or a can of diced tomatoes), add a can of chickpeas and some sliced olives or tomatoes. Mix it up with Italian dressing and sprinkle with salt and pepper and top with some crumbled feta cheese.

pasta salad photo

6. Chicken And Dumplings

We couldn’t round out this list without a savory comfort meal. But here’s a time (and money) hack: You can make a filling chicken and dumplings meal with just two ingredients: a pre-made hearty chicken pot pie soup and refrigerated biscuits. Got guests coming over? Sprinkle on some chopped parsley and this dish will look like it took way longer than it actually did! Find the full recipe at Pillsbury.

chicken and dumplings

7. Homemade Pizza 

If you’re on the hunt for more cheap eat recipes, bookmark the The 99 Cent Chef. The next time you’ve got a pizza craving, skip the urge to make a delivery order and save money (and probably calories) by making one at home. Here, The 99 Cent Chef will show you how to make a homemade pizza with fresh basil sourcing ingredients from the dollar store.

homemade pizza

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