5 Cheap, Easy, and Healthy Family Dinners for $5

What’s for dinner? The answer is simple. It’s got to be quick, easy, delicious, and affordable. It’s also got to be healthy. To help you in your quest to prepare frugal, easy, and healthy dinners I’ve put together a visual guide to five family meals for $5 bucks. I’ve also included ingredient lists, recipes, preparation instructions, and total cost.

At $5 bucks for a family of 3 to 4 members you won’t be eating fillet mignon. But it is very possible to eat a balanced meal comprised of proteins, carbohydrates, and vegetables if you grocery shop wisely. It’s not easy at first, but if you know what to look for and are willing to cook, then frugal family meals are entirely possible. Here are my Five Frugalicious Rules for buying healthy and delicious foods on a budget. Another tip is to purchase many items (like rice, beans, and pasta) in bulk, and avoid foods with packaging and expensive marketing materials. Here are the recipes for 5 cheap, easy, and healthy family dinners for $5 bucks:

1. Simply Elegant Veggie Wrap or Pita Pocket

Get wrapped in whole wheat goodness with these easy to make and quick to serve vegetarian sandwich wraps or pita pockets. Since kids love bread without crusts, why not get them rolled up with these frugal and healthy sandwiches.

hummus_wrap1

Recipe Ingredients:

  • 4 whole wheat wraps or pita pockets
  • 1 cup (250 mL) of dried beans (mung beans, chickpeas, or kidney beans)
  • 1 head lettuce, shredded
  • 2 tomatoes, diced
  • 3 tbsp (45 mL) mustard or Italian salad dressing
  • salt and pepper

Total Cost: $4.92

Preparation:

  1. Soak and cook 1 cup of dried beans. Just 1 cup of dried beans turns into 2-3 cups of cooked beans (depending on the bean).
  2. Mix beans with choice of dressing or mustard.
  3. On a whole wheat wrap, place lettuce, beans, tomatoes and roll.
  4. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Embellish It: Add some cottage cheese or mozzarella.

2. Rotini with Veggies and Hummus Sauce

Whole wheat rotini pasta bought in bulk is an affordable, tasty, and delectable dish. Add some chickpea hummus sauce and serve with colorful veggies to top this creamy dish to perfection.

rotini_chickpea'

Recipe Ingredients:

  • 3 cups (750 mL) whole wheat rotini pasta
  • 2 cups (500 mL) homemade authentic or low fat hummus
  • 1/2 cup (125 mL) water
  • 2 tomatoes, diced
  • 1 zucchini, diced
  • 1 tbsp (15 mL) olive oil
  • 1 tbsp (15 mL) dried basil
  • pinch of cayenne pepper

Total Cost: $5.03

Preparation:

  1. Cook rotini in rapidly boiling water until al dente, then drain.
  2. Heat olive oil in a saucepan. Add the zucchini and saute over low heat, 1 to 2 minutes.
  3. Add the tomato, basil, and cayenne. Saute over low heat, 1 minute.
  4. Add homemade hummus and water. Simmer very gently over low heat, 2 minutes.
  5. Serve hummus sauce over hot pasta.

Embellish It: Sprinkle served pasta with a dash of parmesan cheese.

3. Spaghetti with Sneaky Black Eyed Pea Sauce

Spin into some spaghetti with sneaky black eyed pea sauce for some frugal family fun. By foregoing ground beef and feasting on beans you’ll get an amazing meal packed with protein and kind to your wallet. Add some vegetables to round out these healthful helpings.

vegetarian_spaghetti

Recipe Ingredients:

  • 24oz (700 mL) jar or can of tomato-based pasta sauce, preferably spicy
  • 1lb (500g) of whole wheat spaghetti (buy in bulk)
  • 1.5 cups (350 mL) of dried black eyed peas
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 2 cups (500mL) green vegetable of choice
  • 1 tbsp (15 mL) olive oil
  • 1 tbsp (15 mL) dried basil

Total Cost: $5.21

Preparation:

  1. Soak and cook 1.5 cups of dried beans.
  2. Cook spaghetti in rapidly boiling water until al dente, then drain.
  3. In a large heavy saucepan, heat oil over medium heat. Cook onion until tender, about 5 minutes.
  4. Add jar of pasta sauce, cooked beans, green vegetables, and dried basil. Simmer for 10 minutes, stir often.
  5. Serve sauce over hot pasta.

Embellish It: Find ground beef on sale? Then skip the beans and brown some beef. Also, sprinkle served pasta with a parmesan cheese or mozzarella.

4. Easy Beany Quesadillas

Quesadillas are an easy and quick treat to serve in a snap. Filled with bean healthful goodness, these wonderful wedges can be split between three family members for a fun meal. If appetites run high in your family, this modest meal can be served with soup, chili, or salad on the side.

quesadillas

Recipe Ingredients:

  • 4 large whole wheat tortilla wraps
  • 1.5 cups (350 mL) of dried chickpeas, kidney beans, or mixed beans
  • 2 cups (500 mL) spinach
  • 1 cup (250 mL) broccoli, chopped
  • 1/4 cup (60 mL) shredded mozzarella
  • 2 tbsp (30 mL) chili powder spice
  • 1 tomato, diced
  • 1 tbsp (15 mL) olive oil

Total Cost: $5.11

Preparation:

  1. Soak and cook 1.5 cups of dried beans.
  2. In a large bowl toss beans, chili powder, tomato, and broccoli.
  3. On 2 tortillas, add spinach and then evenly distribute bean filling. Sprinkle mozzarella on top. Cover each quesadilla with a second tortilla.
  4. Place quesadilla in a non-stick skillet prepared with olive oil and cook over medium heat for 3 minutes or until bottom is toasted. Flip over and toast the other side for 3 minutes.
  5. Remove from heat. Please each quesadilla on a cutting board and cut into wedges.

Embellish It: Add more cheese to make wedges even cheesier!

5. Hearty Potato, Chickpea, and Tomato Stew with Basil

This hearty stew recipe may just surprise you with how quickly and simply you can simmer up a pot of soul-warming family supper in about 30 minutes. As a low calorie and cheap dish, you’ll still feel superbly satisfied with these healthful ingredients. A fabulous dish for disheveled students in need of sustenance on a budget. This recipe got my through school, seriously.

potato_chickpea_stew

Recipe Ingredients:

  • 1 tbsp (15 mL) olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 2 medium potatoes, peeled and diced
  • 1.5 cups (350 mL) of dried chick peas beans
  • 28 oz (800 mL) can of tomatoes, undrained and coarsely chopped
  • 2 large cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 tsp (2.5 mL) paprika
  • 1/2 tsp (2.5 mL) dried basil
  • 1/2 tsp (2.5 mL) dried oregano
  • 1 cup (250 mL) water (or vegetable stock)
  • salt and pepper

Total Cost: $5.14

Preparation:

  1. Soak and cook 1.5 cups of dried chickpeas.
  2. In a large heavy saucepan, heat oil over medium heat. Cook onion until tender, about 5 minutes.
  3. Add garlic, paprika, 2 of the canned tomatoes, basil, and oregano. Simmer, stirring often, for 5 minutes.
  4. Add potatoes and water. Cover and boil for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add chickpeas. Reduce heat and simmer for 5 minutes or until potatoes are tender.
  5. Add remaining tomatoes and salt and pepper to taste. Heat for 1 minute and then serve.

Embellish It: Sprinkle stew with fresh parsley, basil, and grated cheese.

Sound tasty? What are your tricks for frugal family meals? Can you make a meal for $5 bucks? Got any recipes?

Your two cents:

  1. A.J. July 29th, 2008

    Pretty photos!

  2. Kerry July 29th, 2008

    @A.J. Thanks AJ! I made the food and photographed each dish myself. Phew!

  3. Four Pillars July 29th, 2008

    Man, those recipes look good…drool….

  4. bigasssuperstar July 30th, 2008

    I concur, gorgeous photos! Any food-photogging tips?

  5. Jules July 30th, 2008

    Yum!

    My personal favorite for cheap eats: canned whole tomatoes. Here, they’re 34 cents a can. Four cans, an onion (which is so cheap as to be negligible), a clove of garlic, and some homegrown herbs, and you have a delicious base that can be frozen and used as soup, or thickened with bread crumbs and used as a sauce. I like to mellow out the tang of the tomatoes with a touch of honey. Strangely, a few anchovies also makes it taste really good, and if you have a can of olives (black, preferably) lying around, then you’ve got the makings for a really cheap and really good meal.

    But if fresh tomatoes are in season, then there’s no reason why you can’t use fresh ones, though the cooking time is longer because the tomatoes have to break down. If you’re growing your own, making a tomato base is a great way to keep the taste of summer around in the depth of winter.

    And I know, canned tomatoes don’t have any vitamin C left, but on the other hand lycopene is stabilized by heat. So you win a few, lose a few–but believe me, nothing this good ever came out of a can.

    The recipe is a bit haphazard, since I don’t actually measure out anything. But basically, you cook the onion and garlic in a little olive oil (don’t bother with the extra-virgin stuff at this point), and toss in the tomatoes–chopped, if you’re using fresh ones, but if you’re not, then it doesn’t matter. Let it come to a boil, stirring occasionally. Fresh tomatoes take about 45 minutes to an hour before they’re finally liquid enough to constitute a sauce. If you want to, you can pour it into a blender. And then you add the herbs, salt, pepper, and honey or brown sugar.

  6. anon due to content- sorry! July 30th, 2008

    Great photos :)

    Spaghetti with black eyed peas! Who wudda thought!
    Gonna have to try that :)
    Thanks! They ALL look good. Great directions also!

  7. Kerry August 8th, 2008

    I’m so happy you guys like these photos and recipes. Since some of you asked so nicely (@bigasssuperstar) here are some food photographing tips:

    1. Make fresh food and add raw ingredients as it just looks nicer.
    2. Photograph food cold. A heated dish will steam your lens.
    3. Use foods with lots of color. Brown food just fails to translate well in a photo.
    4. Use your macro lens (it’s the button with a flower on it). This lens will let you take super close-up and detailed pictures.
    5. Turn off your flash. Don’t be a flasher. :)
    6. Photograph food on a simple white dish.
    7. Frame your shot. Don’t be afraid to have the food outside of your frame. Take lots of various frames (close, far, medium).
    8. Use a tripod. I don’t have one but it helps to keep your camera steady.
    9. Practice! Take lots of pics.
    10. Re-stage your food to make it look prettier if the first few tries don’t work for you. :)

    I don’t have a fancy camera, just an older Canon Elph…so you don’t need super professional equipment to make foody pics a reality. Good luck!

  8. savvysuzie August 21st, 2008

    I LOVE these….I’m always on the lookout for good meals that are frugalicious too. Think I’ll be trying the quesadillas and the pasta with hummus VERY soon :)

  9. bigasssuperstar September 12th, 2008

    Good tips — how ’bout the lighting? Overhead kitchen fluorescents? Daylight coming in from a window? Looks pretty.
    Also, it occurred to me that to minimize shaking when using a longer exposure in low-ish light with the macro setting, perhaps set the camera to a 2-second shutter delay, so you can click and get your hands off the camera?

  10. Liz January 4th, 2009

    These are NOT as cheap as you say. One thing of hummus is like 4 bucks by itself, a bag of spinach 3 or 4, pitas or wraps anywhere from 4 to 7 dollars…. Christ, where ever you’re shopping, I wanna go.

  11. Kerry January 4th, 2009

    @Liz Indeed, buying packaged hummus is very expensive. I make my own hummus by buying dried beans in bulk and soaking them. This is very inexpensive. My latest bag of spinach is 3lb for $4.89. The wraps I purchase are 10 for around $3. The key is to purchase many items in bulk (like rice, beans, and pasta) and avoid foods with packaging, expensive brand names, and marketing materials.

  12. Thomas January 7th, 2009

    Your food looks beautiful… and yummy!

  13. thatgirlinnewyork January 22nd, 2009

    so agree with you, fox–homemade hummus is better than packaged any day! here’s a great site with natural foods recipes galore. seasonal eating , healthy proteins and introductions to some ingredients you may never have considered:

    http://www.101cookbooks.com/

  14. Ruth January 24th, 2009

    Another way to save on ingredients is buy your wraps at a discount bread store. Here in Victoria Canada, McGavin’s Bread Basket shop has breads, buns, flour tortillas, bagels etc for 88 cents each if you buy in multiples of 5. The bread I bought today costs $4.19 in the regular shops but because it expires tomorrow, only 88 cents.
    Check your bulk section or Indian grocery for dried chickpeas(channa)…soak them in hot water, drain, then cook in a pressure cooker for 30 minutes…easy peasy! Rinse well again(it removes some of the gassiness!). Mash, add some lemon juice, pressed garlic, a bit of tahini(sesame butter/paste) or even peanut butter/sunflower butter, salt, cumin and parsley or cilantro.
    Bon appetit!

  15. Anna April 4th, 2009

    Thanks Squawkfox,

    For all the yummy ideas. My hubby and I are going food shopping today and can’t wait to try Easy Beany Quesadillas and of course the others also.

    Hugs,
    Anna

  16. roberto August 14th, 2009

    It seems like you are a either vegetarian or it costs less to eat as a vegetarian than buying meat? In any case those photos are really beautiful.

  17. Kerry August 14th, 2009

    @roberto It usually does cost less to eat vegetarian meals! But if you can get chicken, turkey, or lesser cuts of beef on sale then there’s savings there too – especially if you cook your lesser cuts in a crock pot. Check out these crock pot Recipes for chicken and pot roast: Slow Cooker Recipes: Pot Roast and Southwestern Chicken Soup

  18. Shannon October 20th, 2009

    You actually know what people want and have presented it in a way that an someone like me that is new at starting a healthy diet on a budget can follow and understand. Including the dollar amount lets me know that it is achievable!!! Thank you so much. I can’t use being broke as an excuse anymore.

  19. Kerry October 20th, 2009

    @Shannon YAY! Be sure to download the Frugal Food and Fitness free eBook to get all the recipes in one place. So happy you’re enjoying the posts.

  20. Rosanna October 31st, 2009

    I really enjoyed reading your article especially these cheap and healthy meals for families. I am a believer of home cooked meals and have made many meals from scratch that taste delicious and nutritious. This not only make us feel good about what we eat but also make us save for future. I often wondered why many families are unhealthy eaters and big spenders on this kind of food.
    Your website is full of ideas and information, pls. keep it coming…

  21. Bryan March 20th, 2010

    Just so you know, the Potato, Chickpea, and Tomato Stew w/ Basil is absolutely delicious and the picture you presented is so appetizing. Although I enjoyed the dish itself; the thing my girlfriend and I couldn’t believe was the unexpectedly beautiful turnout we had. Apparently, there is some sort of physical reaction between the chickpeas and tomato sauce that is only catalyzed by the basil leaf being placed on top. When we added the single basil leaf to garnish the dish, there was a loud ‘BANG-fizzzz’ noise and purple smoke filled the room. After the vent fan circulated for a second, we gained our vision back, only to realize that this strange explosion had left delicious pieces of zucchini sprinkled greenly throughout the dish we were previously thinking to be brown and nasty looking. I dont know how you do it, but you know whats up :-) Thanks for the unexpected science project

  22. Kerry March 20th, 2010

    @Bryan Your comment gave me a serious case of the LOLs! Are you sure that was basil you put in your stew? I’ve never had basil blow up in my budget meals. :D I agree, the chickpeas mix very well with tomato. Another switch you could try would be to add a potato or two to the dish. A potato thickens up the tomato base in a very delicious way. I still can’t believe your basil blew up!

  23. crickett April 12th, 2010

    tried the Spaghetti with Sneaky Black Eyed Pea Sauce!
    yum yum!! love beans, all beans! especially lentils.
    i also make my own 100% olive oil garlic mayo!
    start with one healthy free range omega3 egg add the oil VEEEEERY slowly thru the lid hole. healthy mayo. wooooo.

  24. crickett April 12th, 2010

    while i am on SF, does anyone know where to get the black olive bread from Ace bakery for cheap? i buy it at 6 dollars for one large boule, it is sooooo good! considering getting a breadmaker and making it myself chockful of black pitted olives, but i am afraid of eating too much bread!

  25. mick May 25th, 2010

    I shoot a deer or 2 every year, this way I buy zero or very little meat all year and its organic. I buy a large sack of rice at cosco, basmati, its like ten bucks. Then i just need to buy fresh veggies when our garden is not in season. The rest of the time i eat beans and pasta.

    I’m surprized none of your recipes included rice, like rice and beans? Rice is super cheap and keeps forever.

  26. crazysaver August 11th, 2010

    I have found many uses for left over taco meat, one of our favorite things to do is make taco tots.

    simply bake your tots, top with leftover taco meat, shredded cheese, and return to the oven untill the cheese melts, and top with salsa. Its cheap, and tastes great!

  27. crazysaver August 11th, 2010

    Another way I save tons of money is I use coupons faithfully! I am blessed to have a store that will double $1.00 coupons, so I save lots of money.

  28. Ryan January 11th, 2011

    All of these recipes definetly look like they are health and budget friendly.However,I am work out and require high amounts of protein.Other than the chick peas and other beans,can you recommend some frugal sources of complete protein?

  29. tacobelle April 16th, 2011

    re: hummus. I used to make it from scratch till I came across chickpea with tahini puree in the ethnic foods section of Superstore. Yes, it’s canned but costs from 88 cents to $1.49 for 380 grams depending on brand. All you do is add other seasonings to taste. Really thick, too. Great to keep on hand in the cupboard. It’s true that you could make it cheaper from scratch but for me it’s worth the little extra price for convenience. Still way cheaper than the prepared stuff. The only downside for me is that it’s quite smooth and I prefer it a little on the chunky side. Great blog!

  30. zk February 13th, 2012

    These recipes look really good & sound tasty {enjoy for us!} but with severe food allergies family can’t eat chickpeas/soya/dairy/zucchini/nuts/eggs making cheap meals becomes an art form. So lots of reduced sale food & foodstuffs from friends gardens & coupons with sales help to keep it cheap.

Leave a reply:

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked with a "*".

*

*

Technorati Profile