Bills, clothes, rent—There are a lot of things to pay for when you become an adult. There’s no way around it. We guess what we’re trying to say is that while there are some expenses that you just can’t avoid paying for, there are areas where you can save.
If you look at the average American family’s spending, food spending is one of the most common budget busters. Many Americans eat through their income, knowingly spending more than they can afford on dining out or even groceries. One of the best ways to rein in this easily bloated budget category is to cook at home – and there are a ton of tasty, easy, and cheap meals you can make at home with very few ingredients and not much time.
You don’t have to break the bank to make a delicious dinner. Stick to your budget with ease by trying these 15 meals that you can make for under $5.
1. Savory Steel Cut Oats
A bag of steel-cut oats goes a long way. Eat them for breakfast, lunch, or dinner by topping them with savory ingredients like poached eggs and a dollop of kimchi.
1 cup steel-cut oats be sure to purchase GF certified oats if you are allergic to gluten 1-2 teaspoons olive oil 1 chopped shallot 8 ounces sliced button mushrooms 1 head dinosaur kale stems removed, leaves chopped into ribbons (about 4 ounces after preparation) Salt and pepper to taste 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme optional 2 teaspoons mellow white miso 2 tablespoons tahini 1 tablespoon tamari 1/4 cup nutritional yeast
I. In a large saucepan, combine the water and milk. Bring the mixture to a simmer over medium heat. In the meantime, melt the butter or warm the olive oil in a 12-inch skillet over medium heat. Once the butter is sizzling or the oil is shimmering, add the oats and cook, stirring occasionally, until golden and fragrant, around 2 minutes. This toasting step greatly enhances the flavor of the oats. II. Stir the oats into the simmering water/milk mixture. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer gently for about 20 to 25 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the mixture is very thick. III. Stir in the salt. Continue to simmer the mixture, stirring occasionally and reducing heat as necessary to prevent scorching on the bottom, until almost all of the liquid is absorbed about 10 minutes. (If you have doubled the recipe, your oatmeal might need an extra 5 minutes cooking time here.) The oatmeal will be very creamy when it’s done. IV. Remove from heat and let the oatmeal rest for 5 minutes before serving so it has more time to thicken up and cool down a palatable temperature. Season to taste with additional salt (I added another ¼ teaspoon), pepper and optional spices. Stir in any mix-ins that you’d like now. V. Portion oatmeal into bowls and add any toppings you’d like. Let any extra oatmeal cool completely before covering and refrigerating.
2. Carb-Free Everything Bagel Frittata
Get the flavor of bagels minus the carbs with the help of a creative seasoning blend plus generous dollops of cream cheese to complete the impression.
1 Tablespoon butter 1 medium onion, thinly sliced 1 Tablespoon dried onions 1 teaspoon poppy seeds 1 teaspoon black sesame seeds 1 teaspoon white sesame seeds 1 teaspoon flaky sea salt 8 eggs 1 cup cream cheese, divided 1 Tablespoon olive oil chopped scallions, for serving
I. Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Over medium heat, melt butter in an 8- or 10-inch non-stick skillet and add onions, stirring to coat. Stir every 5 minutes until caramelized, 25 to 30 minutes. Transfer to a plate and wipe skillet clean. II. Meanwhile, combine dried onions, poppy seeds, black sesame seeds, white sesame seeds, and flaky sea salt in a small bowl. Set aside everything seasoning. III. Whisk eggs, 1/2 cup cream cheese, and half of the everything seasoning until thoroughly combined. Over medium-high heat, coat the same 8- or 10-inch skillet in olive oil. Add half of the reserved caramelized onions and stir into eggs. Cook until edges are set and eggs are slightly scrambled but still runny about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and top with remaining caramelized onions and everything seasoning and dollop with remaining cream cheese. IV. Transfer skillet to oven and bake until eggs are puffed up and slightly brown on top, 10 to 12 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool for 10 minutes. Transfer to a plate and garnish with scallions if desired.
3. Green Shakshuka
Our favorite thing about this recipe is that it’s flexible. Use a combination of whichever greens are in-season and affordable at the store, then top with eggs for protein.
½ teaspoon caraway seeds 3 medium bunches green Swiss chard, divided Kosher salt 2 serrano chiles, seeds removed, chopped ½ cup cilantro leaves 1 teaspoon ground cumin ¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons olive oil 1 large onion, sliced Freshly ground black pepper 8 large eggs Harissa powder or Aleppo-style pepper and coarsely chopped dill (for serving)
Instructions: I. Heat olive oil in a saute pan on medium heat. Add the onion and cook for 2-3 minutes, or until the onion becomes translucent. Add the garlic and cook an additional minute. II. Add the shaved brussels sprouts and cook for 4-5 minutes, stirring frequently. When the brussels sprouts have softened, add the zucchini and spices and stir for another minute. III. Add the baby spinach and stir until it just starts to wilt, then turn the heat to low. IV. Flatten the mixture with a spatula and create 5 small wells, then crack the eggs into each well. V. Cook until the eggs are done to your liking. You can also add a lid to steam and cook the eggs faster. VI. Sprinkle the fresh cilantro on top and garnish with sliced avocado.
4. Green Blender Soup
Make this soup with frozen or fresh veggies — whatever you have available. Sauté ’em up before blending into a silky-smooth meal.
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for garnish 2 large yellow onions, chopped 1 teaspoon salt, divided 2 tablespoons plus 3 cups water, divided 1/4 cup arborio rice 1 bunch green chard (about 1 pound) 14 cups gently packed spinach (about 12 ounces), any tough stems trimmed 4 cups vegetable broth, store-bought or homemade Big pinch of cayenne pepper 1 tablespoon lemon juice, or more to taste
I. Heat the olive oil in a large stock or soup pot over medium heat. Add the onion. Saute onion for 5 minutes, or until it’s clear and soft. Add the garlic and ginger and cook for another minute, or until the garlic is very fragrant. II. Add the potatoes, salt, and broth to the pot. Bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer. Simmer, covered, for 10 minutes, or until the potatoes are fork-tender. Add the broccoli (or another vegetable). Simmer for 5-10 minutes, or until the vegetables are tender. Stir in the kale or other leafy greens, cover, and simmer for 5 minutes, or until the kale is bright green and wilted. III. Transfer the soup to a blender in batches to puree thoroughly, adding water as needed if the soup is too thick (remember that you’ll also add some soy or almond milk after blending). Return the soup to the pot and stir in the plant milk and black pepper to taste, as well as a pinch of salt if desired. Serve with toppings of choice. IV. Soup will keep in an airtight container for up to three days and can be frozen for 2-3 weeks.
5. Cacio e Pepe Chickpeas
Parmesan adds a rich, savory bite to these simply sautéed chickpeas that are reminiscent of the famous Italian pasta dish. Serve them on top of salad greens or zoodles.
Two cans of chickpeas, drained and rinsed. Olive oil, plenty for roasting. Very finely shredded parmesan cheese and very coarsely ground black pepper. The cacio and the pepe. Sea salt, coarse and tasty.
Instructions: I. Heat vegetable oil in a medium skillet over medium-high. When the oil is hot, add chickpeas and let cook until golden and crispy, about 12 to 15 minutes. Transfer to a paper towel-lined dish and set aside. II. Meanwhile, in a small skillet, melt butter over medium-high. Add breadcrumbs and cook until golden, 5 to 8 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside. III. In a bowl, mix chickpeas with breadcrumbs, Parmesan, pepper, and a sprinkle of sea salt until well incorporated. Serve and enjoy.
6. Cilantro Lime Cauliflower Rice: Blitz a head of cauliflower for this low-carb rice seasoned with lime and cilantro for a bit of punch. Scoop it up as a side, or top with grilled chicken or tofu for a main dish.
1 tablespoon olive oil 1/2 cup white onion, chopped 1 large clove garlic (about 1 teaspoon) 1 green jalapeño deseeded & chopped (optional) 3 cups riced cauliflower (about 1 medium head) 2 tablespoons vegetable stock 1/2 teaspoon salt (or as needed) zest from 1/2 lime 1/2 cup fresh cilantro, chopped and divided 1 tablespoon lime juice
Instructions: I. Heat the olive oil in a large skillet. When the oil is hot add the onions and sauté for 4-5 minutes on medium heat or until they become soft and translucent. II. Add the garlic jalapeño and cook for a minute until the garlic becomes fragrant. Stir the whole time. III. Add the cauliflower to the skillet. Stir to mix everything well. IV. Stir in the vegetable stock, about half the cilantro salt and zest. Turn the heat up to high and cook for another minute. The high heat will draw out excess moisture in the cauliflower so it doesn’t get too mushy. Lower the heat again and add the lime juice. Mix into the rice well. V. Taste and season with more salt as needed. Stir in the remaining cilantro. Serve warm and enjoy!
7. Lemon-Roasted Broccoli
This simple broccoli recipe is a price-conscious side dish that will round out your meals. You can also toss the florets with sautéed tofu or cooked chickpea pasta to complete dinner.
2 heads broccoli, separated into florets 2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil 1 teaspoon of sea salt ½ teaspoon ground black pepper 1 clove garlic, minced ½ teaspoon lemon juice
Instructions: I. Preheat the oven to 400°F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. II. Toss the broccoli florets and lemon halves with olive oil, salt, and pepper, and spread evenly on the baking sheet. III. Roast 15 to 22 minutes or until browned around the edges. Sprinkle with red pepper flakes, if desired.
8. Oven-Baked Falafel
A few cans of chickpeas form the base of this healthy vegan recipe. Keep things low-carb by wrapping the baked falafel in lettuce leaves.
2 15-ounce cans chickpeas (see Recipe Note for dry chickpea version) 1/2 large red onion, roughly chopped (about 1 cup chopped) 4 cloves garlic, roughly chopped 1/4 to 1/2 cup loosely packed parsley 1/4 to 1/2 cup loosely packed cilantro 2 tablespoons olive oil 2 tablespoons lemon juice 2 teaspoons cumin 2 teaspoons coriander 1 1/2 teaspoons salt 2 teaspoons baking powder 1/4 cup all-purpose flour, optional for binding
Instructions: I. Preheat oven to 400F. II. Rinse and drain soaked chickpeas. III. Add chickpeas to the bowl of a food processor and pulse until coarse. IV. Add onion, garlic, parsley, lemon juice, and spices. V. Pulse the mixture until In a food processor until finely ground and no large pieces remain. VI. If your food processor is struggling to process all of the ingredients at once, do it in two batches and then combine the batter before baking.
VII. Using a small cookie scoop or dish, portion approximately 2 tablespoons of batter onto a parchment-lined baking sheet. VIII. If desired, spray tops of falafel balls with oil cooking spray for more even browning (but it is not necessary at all). IX. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until golden brown and cooked throughout. X. Enjoy with a lettuce wrap or pita with hummus and tahini sauce, or any other way you like to eat falafel!
9. Roasted Sweet Potatoes
Roasted sweet potatoes area tasty base for all of your meals, ready to be stuffed with anything from chickpea salad to shredded chicken.
1 lb. sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed into 1″ pieces 1 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil Kosher Salt Freshly ground black pepper
Instructions I. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Peel and cube the sweet potatoes into 1/2 inch pieces. Add to your largest sheet pan and add the melted coconut oil, salt, and brown sugar on top. Toss to coat all the sweet potatoes and then spread out to arrange in an even layer. You don’t want any potatoes overlapping or you’ll end up with steamed potatoes instead of roasted potatoes. Flip every 10-15 minutes cooking for a total of 27-35 minutes. (I flip every 10 minutes and bake around 30 minutes)
10. Slow Cooker Marsala Veggie Grain Bowls
Marsala wine offers a big flavor to these veggie and grain bowls. Fill your slow cooker with all the ingredients at once for a budget-savvy, hands-off meal.
2 medium sweet potatoes ½ onion 1-2 garlic cloves ½ lemon 1 ½ cups quinoa 1 can reduced-sodium black beans, drained and rinsed 1 cup reduced-sodium vegetable broth 2 cups of water ¼ cup Holland House ® Marsala Cooking Wine
Instructions: I. Peel sweet potatoes and cut into cubes. Dice onion and mince garlic. Juice lemon. Set aside. II. Rinse quinoa and add to slow cooker. Drain and rinse black beans. Add black beans, sweet potato, onion, garlic, and lemon juice. III. Add Holland House cooking wine, vegetable broth, and water. Mix. IV. Cook on high for 2-4 hours. V. Spoon into a bowl and top with spinach, a drizzle of honey, and yogurt. Enjoy!
11. Toasted Coconut Millet
Add more whole grains to your diet with this quick-cooking toasted coconut millet. With a fluffy texture like white rice and toasted popcorn flavor, it goes with just about any meats and veggies.
Instructions: I. In a small saucepan, combine water and coconut milk; bring to a boil over high heat. II. In a heavy saucepan, warm oil over medium heat. Add millet; toast until fragrant, moving millet around the pan with a wooden spoon, about 3 minutes. Stir in boiling coconut milk mixture and salt; cover, reduce heat to low and cook until millet just begins to stick to the bottom of pan and liquid is absorbed, about 25 to 30 minutes. III. Remove from heat; fluff millet with a fork. Add basil and toasted coconut; fluff again with a fork. Cover the pan and let stand for 5 minutes. Serve millet with lime slices and a sprinkle of sea salt, if desired. Yields about 1/2 cup per serving.
12. Instant Pot Butternut Squash
We love butternut squash. Not only is it affordable when in-season, but it also lasts for weeks at a time when stored properly, so you don’t waste money on an ingredient gone bad. Try it stirred into polenta with wilted greens.
1 (1916g or ~4lbs) butternut squash, rinsed 1 cup (250ml) cold water
Instructions: I. Wash the outside of the squash well and trim the peel from the outside. Scoop out the seeds and cut into 1-inch cubes. II. Place the cubes into the insert of a 6-quart Instant Pot with 1 cup of water. Set the Instant Pot pressure to HIGH and set time for 3 minutes if you want your squash to hold its shape, or 4 minutes to make it even softer easier to mash. III. When time is up, quick release and carefully remove the lid. Transfer the squash to a bowl, season with kosher salt and mash with a fork or a potato masher and season with butter or other flavorings if you like. Or, keep cubed and use in other recipes as suggested above.
13. Two-Ingredient Vegan Ice Cream
Blend frozen bananas with non-dairy milk for this inexpensive vegan treat. It’s a much cheaper alternative than shelling out for a pint of pricy vegan ice cream at the store and skips the sugar in favor of the fruit’s natural sweetness.
5 ripe bananas 1/4-1/3 cup non-dairy milk Optional add-ins
Instructions: I. Peel your bananas and cut them into chunks. Freeze in a single layer overnight. II. Once frozen, add your bananas to a food processor. Pulse until the large chunks are broken up, then puree until a creamy consistency is achieved, adding up to 1/3 cup of non-dairy milk until everything comes together. III. Add any optional flavorings and pulse a few times until combined. IV. Scoop the ice cream into an air-tight container and freeze for 30 minutes before enjoying.
14. Black Bean Soup
A classic black bean soup flavored with a smoked ham hock and topped with plenty of onion, bell peppers, and sour cream. This hearty black bean soup recipe is perfect for warming up with a touch of spice and cool sour cream.
2 tablespoons olive oil 1 cup diced onion (1/2 large onion) 3/4 cup diced carrots (1 large carrot) 1 tablespoon minced garlic (3 cloves) 1 teaspoon ground cumin 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar, apple cider vinegar or lime juice 1/2 to 1 pepper from 7-oz. tin chipotle chiles in adobo or use 2 tablespoons hot sauce, see notes 1 (15-ounce) can dice tomatoes, try fire-roasted tomatoes 4 cups vegetable stock, see our homemade veggie broth 4 (15-ounce) cans black beans, drained and rinsed or use 6 cups cooked black beans 1 bay leaf 1/2 cup cilantro leaves, roughly chopped For serving: Avocado, lime wedges, cilantro, sour cream, cheese
Instructions: I. In a large pot over medium heat, heat oil. Add onion and cook until soft and translucent, about 5 minutes. Add jalapeños and garlic and cook until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Add tomato paste, stir to coat vegetables, and cook about a minute more. Season with salt, pepper, chili powder, and cumin and stir to coat. II. Add black beans with their liquid and chicken broth. Stir soup, add bay leaf and bring to a boil. Immediately reduce to a simmer and let simmer until slightly reduced about 15 minutes. Remove bay leaf. III. Using an immersion blender or food processor, blend the soup to desired consistency. IV. Serve with a dollop of sour cream, sliced avocado, and cilantro.
15. Stuffed Bell Peppers
Loaded with protein, veggies and healthy grains, these stuffed bell peppers will provide the nutrition that you need for a healthy, balanced meal! Stuffed Bell Peppers are a great way to enjoy summer’s favorite veggie.
1/2 c. uncooked rice 2 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling 1 medium onion, chopped 1 tbsp. tomato paste 3 cloves garlic, minced 1 lb. ground beef 1 (14.5-oz.) can diced tomatoes 1 tsp. dried oregano Kosher salt Freshly ground black pepper 6 bell peppers, tops, and cores removed 1 c. shredded Monterey jack Freshly chopped parsley, for garnish
Ingredients: I. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. II. Cut the tops off the peppers. Remove and discard the stems, then finely chop the tops; set aside. Scoop out the seeds and as much of the membrane as you can. Place the peppers cut-side up in a baking dish just large enough to hold them upright. III. Heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the beef, season with salt and pepper and cook, breaking up the lumps, until the meat is cooked through and just beginning to brown, 8 to 10 minutes. Remove to a paper towel-lined plate to get rid of the fat. IV. Wipe out the skillet and add the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil. Add the onions and chopped peppers and cook until beginning to soften 3 to 4 minutes. Add the garlic and zucchini and cook for another minute. Add the tomatoes and season with salt and a pinch or 2 of red pepper flakes. Cook until everything is heated through, then stir in the beef and rice. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Stir in 1 cup of the cheese. V. Fill the peppers with the rice mixture and top each with a sprinkle of the remaining 1/2 cup cheese. Pour a small amount of water into the bottom of the baking dish and drizzle the peppers with a little olive oil. Cover with foil and bake for 30 minutes. Uncover and bake until the peppers are soft and the cheese is melted and lightly browned, another 15 to 20 minutes.
To Wrap It All Up
When you sit down to meal plan for the week, consider these cheap and healthy recipes for the menu. They make use of nutritious pantry staples and in-season produce to churn out flavorful yet fiscally responsible dishes and snacks. Add any of these 15 recipes to your usual repertoire, and you’ll be making your body and your bank account happy.