20 Cheap and Easy Meals That Cost Under $10

The average American household spends more than $6,600 per year on food, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Consumer Expenditure Survey. That makes up roughly 10% of the median household income in America.

This is particularly noteworthy from a personal finance perspective because food is one of the major household expenses for which frugal choices can make a huge difference. Committing to preparing most meals at home, coupled with a smart and sensible grocery store strategy, can significantly cut the amount of money spent annually on food. Even cutting your food spending by 30% can save $2,000 per year.

The challenge, of course, is time and effort. For busy families, food preparation is a task that is often relegated to others simply by grabbing takeout, getting delivery, or buying premade meals. The solution isn’t to abandon them entirely, but to move toward a greater reliance on very inexpensive and easy to prepare meals. The easiest way to do this is to center your meals on low cost and easy to prepare ingredients, such as beans, rice, eggs, chicken, pasta and oatmeal, and accentuate them with a wide variety of flavorings and ingredients. If the core of your meal is inexpensive, then your whole meal will be!

Prices listed in this article were taken from Walmart.com at the time of writing, in order to approximately standardize nationwide pricing. The recipes themselves are ones used in our own family kitchen, mostly from handwritten notes.

In this article

    Breakfast meals

    Breakfast meals are inexpensive and fast meals our family uses that work well for family breakfasts, centered on using eggs, oatmeal, yogurt and other inexpensive ingredients. These can be used for other meals as well, but these often come out at the start of a school day, as the children are getting up and ready for their day.

    Scrambled eggs

    Simply crack several eggs into a bowl (three per person is a good number) and rapidly stir them with a fork until the yolk is well combined with the egg white. Add a small amount of salt: just a pinch. Put a tablespoon of butter in a skillet over medium heat until the butter is melted, then pour in the eggs. Every minute or so, gently scrape the bottom of the skillet with a spatula to pull the cooking eggs off of the bottom (so they don’t burn). When the eggs appear to be moist but solid, serve them. You can sprinkle some cheese or other flavorings on at the end, as per your choice.

    1 dozen eggs – $1.99
    1 tablespoon butter – $0.12
    1 cup shredded cheese – $0.80
    Total cost to serve four – $2.91

    Slow cooker steel cut oats

    This uses a small slow cooker. Just put 1 1/2 cups steel cut oats, 2 cups of milk and 4 cups of water into a slow cooker just before bed. To that, add whatever flavorings you like. We often add 2 teaspoons of vanilla extract, 2 or 3 overripe mashed bananas, and 2 tablespoons of peanut butter, as our family loves peanut butter-banana oatmeal. Aside from the oats, milk and water, you can add pretty much anything you like. Just set the slow cooker on low just before you go to bed and you’ll wake up to perfect oatmeal.

    1 1/2 cups steel cut oats – $0.26
    2 cups milk – $0.30
    Flavorings of choice – $1.00 (est.)
    Total cost to serve four – $1.56

    Egg and bean burritos

    Make the scrambled eggs in advance, as described above. Along with them, set out a package of flour tortillas, some heated beans, some shredded cheese, and some salsa, and allow people to assemble their own egg and bean burritos. These are very portable for a grab-and-go breakfast.

    Scrambled eggs with cheese – $2.91
    15 oz. black beans – $0.58
    Salsa – $0.94
    8 flour tortillas – $1.63
    1 cup shredded cheese – $0.80
    Total cost to serve four – $6.86

    Overnight oats

    This is another extremely simple overnight breakfast that’s great during the summer, since it’s a cool breakfast. Pull out a large drinking cup or a jar, add 1/2 cup rolled oats, then add whatever ingredients you like, followed by 1/4 cup yogurt and 1/2 cup milk. Cover the cup and put it in the fridge overnight. In the morning, it’s delicious. For flavoring, any and all fruits, nuts, and nut butters will work – again, we often use peanut butter and bananas with a bit of vanilla flavoring.

    2 cups rolled oats – $0.52
    2 cups milk – $0.30
    1 cup yogurt – $0.85
    Flavorings of choice – $1.00 (est.)
    Total cost to serve four – $2.67

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      Soups and stews

      Soups and stews usually take advantage of our family’s trusty slow cooker, as you can dump in the ingredients for a soup early in the day, turn the slow cooker on low, and enjoy a nice soup in the evening. The recipes here that include beans utilize dry beans, which, if soaked overnight in water the night before and cooked with additional liquid as per the bean package directions, turn out incredibly well.

      Lentil stew

      Note that dry lentils do not require soaking like other beans! You use dry ones right off the bat with this recipe. Just mix these ingredients into the slow cooker and cook on low for six hours. It’ll produce a fairly thick stew.

      3 carrots, cut into discs – $0.43
      3 celery stalks, sliced – $0.46
      1 yellow onion, diced – $0.70
      2 tablespoons olive oil – $0.06
      2 teaspoons Italian seasoning – $0.10
      1/2 teaspoon paprika – $0.06
      1 1/2 cups dry green or brown lentils – $0.80
      4 cups water – $0.00
      1 28 oz can crushed tomatoes – $0.87
      1 15 oz can diced tomatoes – $0.72
      1 tablespoon salt – $0.01
      Total cost to serve four, with lots of leftovers – $4.21


      Chili without meat is an incredibly inexpensive and simple meal to make, whether in a slow cooker or on a stovetop. Chili con carne (chili with meat) adds to the price, but not unbearably so. There are lots of variants to chili, but almost none of them are pricy. Here’s the one we use, which cooks in a slow cooker for about six hours after the beans soak overnight. If you don’t want to do that, use 2 cans of cooked beans to replace 1 cup dry beans. If you want extras to serve with the chili, like crackers or cheese, that will add a bit to the cost, but it’s still a great low-cost meal.

      1 cup dry black beans – $0.54
      1 cup dry pinto beans – $0.54
      2 15 oz cans diced tomatoes – $1.44
      1 15 oz can tomato sauce – $0.72
      1 yellow onion, diced – $0.70
      1 packet chili seasoning – $0.50
      2 cups water – $0.00
      4 cups additional water (if using dry beans) – $0.00
      Total cost to serve four, with lots of leftovers – $4.44
      Optional – 1 lb. cooked ground beef – $2.67

      Ham and beans

      This is the best use of leftover ham after the holidays, and a great reason to cut up any leftover ham and freeze it for the future. You can buy a single pound of ham and cube it yourself for $3-$4, which is still cheap, but using leftover ham is the real trick to making this cheap. Just soak the beans overnight, drain them, then cook this recipe in a slow cooker on low for six hours.

      1 lb leftover ham, cubed – $0.00 (or $2.98)
      1 yellow onion, diced – $0.70
      1/2 tablespoon garlic powder – $0.11
      1/2 teaspoon salt – $0.01
      1/2 teaspoon black pepper – $0.01
      1 lb dried great northern beans – $1.89
      6 cups water – $0.00 (optionally, use vegetable broth)
      Total cost to serve four generously – $2.72 (or $5.70)

      Grilled cheese and tomato soup

      Making your own tomato soup is simple. Just take an onion and chop it to size (I like to cut it into wedges, because I like big pieces of onion — the smaller you cut it, the better). Get out a large pot, put it over medium heat, and melt a whole stick of butter in there. When the butter is melted, add the onions and cook over medium heat for 4 minutes. Then, add the crushed tomatoes, raise heat to high until it’s bubbling, then drop it to medium-low so that it’s just barely bubbling, and leave it for 40 minutes. While that’s going, make sandwiches. Just butter one side of eight pieces of bread, assemble cheese sandwiches with the butter side outwards, and cook them each over medium heat in a skillet, flipping halfway through when the bottom is golden.

      For the soup:
      1 stick butter – $0.74
      1 yellow onion, cut up – $0.70
      2 28 oz. cans crushed tomatoes – $1.74
      Dash of salt to taste – $0.01
      3 cups water – $0.00
      Total cost to serve four very generously – $3.19

      For the sandwiches:
      8 slices bread of choice – $0.57
      2 tablespoons butter – $0.21
      8 slices cheese of choice – $1.40
      Total cost to serve four – $2.18

      Pasta meals

      These are very simple and quick weeknight meals that my family frequently enjoys. These are almost always very cheap, and always accompanied with a side or two, which you can read about at the bottom of the article.

      Three-ingredient mac and cheese

      This is based on J. Kenzi Lopez-Alt’s amazing three-ingredient mac and cheese recipe. Our home version is slightly tweaked, but it makes enough for the five of us with leftovers for lunch the next day if served with a couple of sides. It’s so easy and so much better than boxed mac and cheese. Get out a large saucepan or small pot, add the mac, add water until the macaroni is just covered, then bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Stir constantly while boiling for six minutes, then add the evaporated milk, then stir constantly for three more minutes. Stir in the shredded cheese and serve. This stuff is amazing.

      1 16 oz box elbow macaroni – $0.78
      1 12 oz can evaporated milk – $0.70
      4 cups shredded cheese of choice – $3.50 (can vary depending on cheese choice)
      Total cost to generously serve four – $4.98

      Spaghetti with marinara sauce

      This is as simple as it gets. Boil a box of pasta according to package directions. Drain the water. Add a jar of marinara sauce of your choosing. Serve. My family loves this and it’s simple enough that my children often prepare it for dinner (we have our children fully take charge of some meal preparation in its entirety as a teaching tool).

      1 16 oz. box spaghetti – $1.28
      1 20–27 oz. jar marinara sauce – $1.28
      Total cost to serve four – $2.56

      Chickpea pasta

      This is a pasta meal that’s a bit more complex than the spaghetti with marinara sauce, but follows the same idea. You’ll need a blender and a saucepan in addition to the pot for cooking pasta. Just cook a package of angel hair pasta according to package directions. Meanwhile, put two cans of chickpeas, 1/4 cup olive oil, 2 teaspoons cumin, a dash of salt and pepper, and the juice of a lemon into a saucepan and cook over medium heat for five minutes. Put half of the chickpeas and all of the liquid into a blender and puree it, then mix the chickpeas, liquid and pasta all together and serve.

      1 16 oz. box angel hair pasta – $1.28
      2 15 oz. cans chickpeas – $1.76
      1/4 cup olive oil – $0.38
      1 lemon – $0.40
      2 teaspoons dried cumin – $0.08
      Dash of salt and pepper – $0.02
      Total cost to serve four generously – $3.92

      Cheese lasagna

      We often assemble this in the morning, pop it in the fridge, and bake it in the evening. All you need is a box of no-boil lasagna noodles, a small container of ricotta or cottage cheese, 4 cups shredded mozzarella, and a large jar of marinara sauce. We’ll often add a layer of vegetables, too – I particularly like adding a layer of mushrooms.

      Just pour 1/3 of the jar of sauce into the bottom of a 9″ by 13″ pan, put a layer of no-boil noodles on top, then 1/3 of the cottage or ricotta, then 1/3 of the vegetables if using, then 1/3 of the mozzarella. Just repeat those layers twice more — sauce, then noodles, then cheese, then vegetables, then ricotta. Bake at 350 F for 1 hour covered with aluminum foil, removing the foil for the last 15 minutes to brown the cheese a little.

      1 16 oz. box no boil lasagna noodles – $1.97
      1 20–27 oz. jar marinara sauce – $1.28
      4 cups shredded mozzarella – $3.20
      1 15 oz. container cottage or ricotta cheese – $1.17
      8 oz. sliced mushrooms – $1.96 (or another vegetable)
      Total cost to serve four generously with a full meal of leftovers – $9.58

      Bean and rice meals

      These meals rely on beans and rice, two of the most inexpensive staples in your kitchen. Dry beans and rice are easy to prepare (you mostly just add water, put them over low heat, and wait) and provide tons of nutrition for the dollar. We invested in a rice cooker because we cook rice so often; a good rice cooker makes rice incredibly simple to make.

      Sticky rice, vegetables and soy sauce

      This is incredibly simple, yet my whole family enjoys it. This often turns up as a quick lunch, one that my kids often prepare. Simply cook two cups of uncooked rice according to the package directions. Take a package of frozen vegetables and cook them according to package directions. Then, add three tablespoons of soy sauce to the cooked rice and mix in the steamed vegetables. It seems comically simple… but it’s tasty and fast and cheap!

      2 cups uncooked rice – $0.52
      1 bag frozen mixed vegetables – $1.19
      Soy sauce – $1.99 (full bottle, you’ll have lots of leftovers)
      Total cost to serve four – $3.70

      Red beans and rice

      There are some wonderful pre-made kits for this — basically a mix of seasoning, dry red beans and dry rice — and I highly recommend them, especially on sale. If you want to make your own any time, it’s easy.

      Just bring two cups of water to a boil, add 1 cup uncooked rice, reduce heat to low, cover, and let it sit on low heat for 20 minutes. Get out a skillet, add 1 pound of sliced kielbasa, and cook over medium-high heat for five minutes. Add a chopped onion, chopped bell pepper, 2 15 oz. cans kidney beans, and a 15 oz. can diced tomatoes. Add a dash of oregano, salt, pepper and garlic powder and let this all simmer together for 15 minutes. When the rice is done, you can either mix it all together or serve the beans over rice.

      1 cup uncooked rice – $0.26
      14–16 oz kielbasa – $2.87
      1 yellow onion, chopped – $0.70
      1 green bell pepper – $0.88
      2 15 oz. cans kidney beans – $1.76
      1 15 oz. can diced tomatoes – $0.88
      Dash of oregano, salt, pepper, and garlic powder – $0.02
      Total cost to serve four – $7.37

      Cheesy risotto

      This is an extremely kid-friendly recipe that we sometimes serve as the main course with a few sides. It also works as a side for something else, if you’d like.

      Heat the butter in a large saucepan over medium-high heat until melted. Add the onion and stir regularly for 8 minutes, seasoning with the salt and pepper. Add the rice and stir for 2 minutes. Add 2 cups of broth and stir regularly for 10 minutes, then add the rest of the broth and lower heat to a simmer for another 10 minutes, stirring once about halfway through. Stir in the grated Parmesan and serve!

      3 tablespoons butter – $0.31
      1 yellow onion finely chopped – $0.70
      Salt and pepper – $0.02
      1 cup uncooked rice – $0.26
      4 cups chicken broth – $1.98
      1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese – $0.50
      Total cost to serve four – $3.77

      Fried rice

      This is our family’s favorite use of leftover rice and why we don’t sweat it if we cook extra rice. Just take three tablespoons of butter and melt over medium-high heat in a skillet. When it’s melted, add four whisked eggs and cook until scrambled, and then remove the scrambled eggs to a separate plate. From there, add a bag of chopped frozen mixed vegetables right to the pan and cook for 6 minutes. Then, add four cups of leftover cold chilled rice and 4 tablespoons of soy sauce and cook for 3 more minutes. Mix the eggs back in and serve.

      4 cups leftover cooked rice – $0.50
      3 tablespoons butter – $0.31
      4 eggs – $0.66
      1 bag frozen mixed vegetables – $1.19
      Soy sauce – $1.99 (full bottle, you’ll have lots of leftovers)
      Total cost to serve four – $4.65

      Chicken and tuna meals

      These four meals are focused on chicken and tuna, which are the least expensive meat staples consistently found in grocery stores. If you want a bargain, canned tuna and whole chickens are the best deal. Tip: If you have a recipe that calls for cooked chicken, consider buying a whole rotisserie chicken from the grocery store and tear it apart. You can get cooked chicken for as little as $1 per pound doing this.

      One-pot chicken, broccoli, and rice casserole

      This is a comfort food that my parents made when I was younger and we now enjoy as a family. It’s also a great use for cooked rice. Just mix the following in a casserole dish and bake at 350F for 30 minutes.

      4 cups leftover cooked rice – $0.50
      2 cups shredded cheddar cheese – $3.20
      1 lb. cooked chicken (rotisserie) – $1.25
      2 cups chicken broth – $0.99
      1 cup milk – $0.50
      2 tablespoons melted butter – $0.20
      Total cost to serve four – $6.64

      Chicken noodle soup

      Egg noodles, cooked in chicken broth, with some diced chicken added. It’s so simple and yet, so delicious. You can add diced vegetables as desired — carrots, celery and onions all work here. Just get a 16 oz. package of egg noodles and cook according to package directions using 6 cups of chicken broth as the liquid and adding the chicken and vegetables before cooking.

      6 cups chicken broth – $2.97
      1 lb. cooked rotisserie chicken – $1.25
      1 16 oz. package egg noodles – $1.98
      1 bag diced frozen mixed vegetables – $1.19
      Total cost to serve four – $7.39

      Tuna melts

      This is one of my family’s favorite meals, and it’s super easy. OK, so this one goes a bit over $10, but it’s oh, so good. Just mix up tuna, mayonnaise, and pickle juice, then put a large teaspoon of the mix on each hamburger bun. Top with cheese, wrap each sandwich in aluminum foil, place the sandwiches on a baking sheet, and bake at 350F for 20 minutes. Delicious!

      4 5-ounce cans tuna, drained – $5.43
      4 tablespoons mayonnaise – $1.59 for the full bottle
      2 teaspoons pickle juice – $0.05
      8 hamburger buns – $1.59
      8 slices cheese – $1.29
      Aluminum foil – $0.15
      Total cost for 8 sandwiches – $10.01

      Tuna patties

      These simple tuna patties fry very well in a skillet. Just add a tiny bit of oil and fry these in a skillet over medium heat until golden brown on both sides, 5–6 minutes per side. The patties are made by mixing the below ingredients and forming them into patties. You can serve them on the plate or on bread or buns as a sandwich (with a slice of cheese on top).

      2 5-ounce cans tuna – $2.71
      2 teaspoons Dijon mustard – $0.17
      4 slices white bread torn into small pieces – $0.26
      1 raw egg – $0.17
      Dashes of salt, pepper, hot sauce, and lemon juice – $0.05
      Total cost for four patties – $3.36

      What about sides?

      These 20 meals can each provide a main course, but what about side dishes? We usually pair our main dishes with two of the following items, depending on what pairs well and what’s on sale.

      Flash frozen vegetables in a microwave steamed bag, which usually cost $1.29 and are often found on sale for $0.99. We usually cook them for about a minute less than the directions on the bag then season them extensively with salt, pepper, and other odds and ends.

      Fresh fruit including apples, bananas, grapes, oranges — whatever’s on sale that week.

      Fresh vegetables from our garden are almost always our side dishes during the summer months.

      Baked potatoes just need to be wrapped in foil and baked in the oven at 350 F for up to an hour, depending on size. They’re cheap and are wonderful topped with butter or sour cream.

      A side salad, usually a kit from the store when they’re on sale, is commonly on our table. Kits provide a side salad that’s adequate for our family for $2 when on sale.

      Yogurt is often on sale, and we just buy whatever’s on sale. Containers of yogurt are an inexpensive finish to many meals.

      We welcome your feedback on this article. Contact us at inquiries@thesimpledollar.com with comments or questions.

      Trent Hamm

      Founder & Columnist

      Trent Hamm founded The Simple Dollar in 2006 and still writes a daily column on personal finance. He’s the author of three books published by Simon & Schuster and Financial Times Press, has contributed to Business Insider, US News & World Report, Yahoo Finance, and Lifehacker, and his financial advice has been featured in The New York Times, TIME, Forbes, The Guardian, and elsewhere.