5 Easy Cheap Dinners for Families

By: Kim Williamson

Try some of our ideas for feeding a family well on the cheap. See more kid-friendly recipe pictures.

You don't have to spend all your time watching TV to know these are not the best economic times. And even if you're not worried about the economy, the reality is it's still affecting your grocery bill. In August 2011, the weekly cost to feed a family of four, on a moderate plan, was between $195 and $231, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Compare that to just $182 and $217 one year earlier.

These higher costs stem from two items: wheat and corn. Wheat has been in short supply, thanks to droughts in Russia, a major wheat exporter, and disease (wheat rust UG99) in Africa. Corn has its own challenges. Once primarily grown for food, corn is now also used for ethanol, an alternative sustainable fuel source. For shoppers, these supply and demand issues mean higher costs in areas they may not suspect. Cereals, breads and pastas contain corn and wheat; cows, pigs and chickens feed on corn; and many products are sweetened with high fructose corn syrup.


That's why you'll want to read on to discover some cheap, easy recipes for your family. We'll start with a breakfast staple that also works for dinner.

5: Omelets

Omelets are a fun meal that caters to your budget.
Omelets are a fun meal that caters to your budget.

The incredible, edible egg -- it's more than just a catchy slogan; it's also an inexpensive way to feed your family. Omelets are fun meals that cater to your budget. A dozen eggs is less than $2 and can be as low as $1 per dozen on sale. As for ingredients, use what your family likes, what's on sale and what you already have in the house. Onions, tomatoes and peppers are inexpensive and go a long way when sprinkled into omelets. Have some spinach, potatoes or corn in your refrigerator? Throw them in -- the more the merrier. Shredded cheese and deli meats like ham, turkey or bologna, which are great in omelets, are also on sale regularly. These are good items to freeze and stockpile. As long as you have the eggs, it's rare that you won't have something already in your house that goes well in your concoction.

Eggs are a great source of protein, and for those cholesterol-conscious family members, you can mix fewer yolks with more egg whites to get a great taste with less concern. If you have some vegetarians in your clan, stick with cheese and veggies and everyone's happy.


Omelets are also fun. Create your own omelet station with little bowls of chopped ingredients and everyone, from the youngest to the oldest, will enjoy having the cook customize their orders.

4: Chicken Breast Entrée

Chicken breasts can be cooked 100 ways, including grilled with a fruit salsa.
Chicken breasts can be cooked 100 ways, including grilled with a fruit salsa.

The great thing about the chicken breast entrée is you can serve it a few times a week, easily changing the recipe and no one gets bored. Marinade it in your favorite salad dressing or barbeque sauce. Or, make a homemade marinade with citrus juice or vinegar, oil and whatever herbs or spices you have on hand. Just combine chicken and marinade in a baggy to soak until dinner.

Chicken breasts are also great because you can cook them many ways. Use your slow cooker, your oven, frying pan, or take them outside for some grilling action. No matter how you slice it, it's better than fast food and will taste great.


Chicken breasts can be expensive. In August 2011, the average price of chicken breasts was around $2.30 per pound (with bones) and $3.28 if you prefer boneless. However, food warehouses often have sales on boneless, skinless chicken breasts if you buy them in bulk. For those with a little more time and creativity, you can save by purchasing a whole chicken for only $1.29 a pound and cutting it up. One bonus: You'll be left with a chicken frame that you can use in a recipe on our next page.

3: Vegetarian Tortilla Soup

Soup is a great inexpensive way to feed your family, and unless you're Emeril or Wolfgang Puck, there are easy, cheap recipes to follow. A vegetarian soup is great because you can throw in almost any veggie you have in the house -- consider it the last stop for leftovers!

One inexpensive option is a tortilla soup which doesn't so much describe the recipe as how you serve it. Add onions, corn and diced tomatoes to a couple cans of vegetable broth; you can spice it up with carrots, beans, mushrooms, chilies, spinach, a little asparagus or whatever you have in the fridge that you don't want to waste. If the entire family doesn't want to go vegetarian, you can even do a separate pot and add chicken or use a chicken frame left over from a roast to make your chicken stock.


Serve the soup topped with grated cheese and tortilla strips and you'll have a warm, delicious meal. It's healthy and it's cheap so both your doctor and your financial adviser will thank you.

2: Individual Pizzas

Your kids will love making their own pizzas.
Your kids will love making their own pizzas.

Probably 99.9 percent of kids love pizza night. Unfortunately, even with coupons, delivery pizzas can be pricey, especially when trying to cater to individual preferences and toppings. So, why not do your own pizza night?

Using tortillas as an easy, inexpensive alternative for pizza crust, you can have a family create-your-own pizza night. Add some store-bought sauce or make your own from canned tomatoes, Italian seasoning or pizza spice, adding onions and garlic. Then, start the toppings. Use ground beef or ground turkey, or crumble bacon for your meat. Let your family choose their veggies from options like olives, sliced tomatoes, spinach onions -- the list is endless. Shredded cheese tops it off, and you've got an easy, fun dinner in the oven. You're not breaking the bank, you've made a healthy meal for your family and chances are everyone had fun. No tips, no delivery times and no problem.


Our final meal has an international flavor to it.

1: Thai Chicken Curry

Just because you're on a budget, there's no need to be boring. Spice things up a bit with an easy, budget-friendly Thai dish. Roast a whole chicken in the oven and pull off the meat. Simmer this with vegetables and coconut milk for your basic meal. There is one extra expense -- curry paste, which you may have to buy at an international market. But, it only takes a dab of paste, so one container will last you a very long time. Serve Thai Chicken Curry over rice, and your family will love it.

Your body will love it too. According to the Coconut Research Center, coconuts are high in fiber, vitamins and minerals. Fiber is not only a daily requirement, it also fills you up. Coconut milk is also the primary source of lauric acid, a fatty acid that forms monolaurin, which helps prevent disease and infection. You may not think about fiber, fatty acids or low costs when you eat this meal, but they're all there along with great taste. Bon appétit!


Lots More Information

Related Articles

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