5 of the Best Meals You Can Make for Under $5

The price of groceries is exorbitantly high. As a thrifty shopper, you’re going to spend between $561 and $843 on groceries per month for a family of four. Even as a single-budget shopper feeding only yourself, your grocery bill is between $150 and $240 per month, according to March 2014 data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Shoppers find all sorts of ways to save money on a grocery bill. Clipping coupons and then matching them with a store’s current advertised sales is one way. Some use applications to compare prices, shopping where prices are low, and even buying generic. However you choose to save, it’s always nice to have those few choice meals you can always count on.

We compiled this list of five meals for less than $5. To determine the best dishes, we chose relatively healthy meals that will feed a at least two adults during dinnertime. The recipes that made the list also had to taste good and be meals you could purchase for $5 virtually anywhere. The pricing data is from the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ list of the average retail food and energy prices.

1. Vegetable spaghetti

This dinner requires few ingredients, all of which are inexpensive. There are also many variations of vegetable spaghetti. To make it in the most basic manner, you’ll only need to buy a 16-ounce box of store-brand spaghetti noodles (average price: $1.24); a bag of frozen broccoli, spinach, or your favorite vegetable (average price: $1.74 per pound); and a jar of your favorite spaghetti sauce (estimated cost: around $2). If you would like to make a more elaborate version, follow this recipe from Fine Cooking.

Ingredients:

  • kosher salt
  • 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 6 to 8 large cloves garlic, halved lengthwise, peeled, germs (the sprout in the center of the clove) removed, and thinly sliced
  • 10 ounces baby spinach (10 loosely packed cups)
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 pound dried spaghetti
  • 1 cup (about 2 ounces) freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

Directions: Bring a large pot of well-salted water to a boil. Combine the oil and garlic in a 12-inch skillet over medium-low heat. Cook, stirring often, until the garlic becomes fragrant and is just beginning to turn golden, 4-6 minutes. Add the spinach, 1/2 teaspoon of salt, and 1/4 teaspoon of pepper, and cook, tossing gently with tongs, until the spinach begins to wilt, 2-3 minutes more. Remove from the heat.

Meanwhile, cook the spaghetti in the boiling, salted water, stirring occasionally until it’s just tender to the tooth (see the package for cooking time). Reserve 1 cup of the cooking water and drain the pasta.

Return the skillet to medium heat. Add the drained pasta and 1/2 cup of the reserved cooking water. Cook for 1 to 2 minutes, tossing and stirring to combine and blend the flavors. If the pasta isn’t tender or seems dry, add the remainder of the cooking water and continue to cook and stir until done. Toss with the cheese. Season to taste with salt and pepper and serve immediately.

2. Grilled Chicken Salad

A pound of iceberg lettuce costs 98 cents, and for romaine, the average price is around $1.57. Considering the high price of chicken breasts, which are currently priced at around $3.40 per pound for boneless skinless breasts, you can replace the chicken breast with legs. At $1.53 per pound, chicken legs will save you nearly $2 per pound. You can then add whatever other low-priced ingredients you desire, such as carrots for around 76 cents per pound. Try out this recipe from Eating Well.

Ingredients:

  • 1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts, trimmed of fat
  • 1 teaspoon canola oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt, or to taste
  • freshly ground pepper, to taste
  • 8 cups washed, dried, and torn romaine lettuce
  • 1 cup fat-free croutons
  • 1/2 cup caesar salad Dressing
  • 1/2 cup Parmesan curls
  • lemon wedges

Directions: Prepare a grill or preheat broiler. Rub chicken with oil and season with salt and pepper. Grill or broil chicken until browned and no trace of pink remains in the center, 3-4 minutes per side.

Combine lettuce and croutons in a large bowl. Toss with caesar salad dressing and divide among four plates. Cut chicken into 1/2-inch slices and fan over salad. Top with Parmesan curls. Serve immediately, with lemon wedges.

3. Cheese Omelets

Almost everyone loves breakfast for dinner, and you can buy the main ingredients — eggs and cheese — for right around $5. A dozen eggs currently costs around $2.12. For American and cheddar cheeses, the prices are currently around $2.27 and $2.87 per half-pound, respectively. Here is a pretty simple recipe from Food Network.

Ingredients:

  • 3 large Grade A eggs
  • 2 slices American cheese
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil

Directions: Equipment: 9-inch nonstick skillet and an immersion blender. Add oil to the skillet over high heat and heat until small hairline ripples appear on the surface of the oil.

Break the eggs into tall glass and whisk to blend for 1 minute.

While moving the skillet in a circular motion, pour in the eggs. Continue to move the skillet in a circular motion, allowing the outside of the eggs to cook and fluff up. When the outside edges have firmly cooked, flip the omelet and cook on the other side for approximately 30 seconds. Keep moving the pan in a circular motion, but not as often as before it was flipped. (Too much movement at this time will cause the omelet to fall.) Flip the omelet once more to finish cooking — no more than 30 additional seconds.

Overlap 2 slices of American cheese in the center of the omelet in a diamond shape. Fold the omelet in half, being certain to cover the cheese slices, and slide it onto your plate.


4. Broccoli and Cheese Baked Potato

This is a simple meal that virtually anyone can prepare. The main ingredients are potatoes (67 cents per pound), cheddar cheese ($2.87 per half-pound), and broccoli, and you can easily purchase the combination for under $5. If you have a little extra time, try placing the potatoes in the oven at 400 degrees Fahrenheit for about 50 minutes instead of microwaving them. Here is a simple recipe from Living Well.

Ingredients:

  • 4 medium Russet potatoes
  • 1 cup low-fat milk, divided
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 2 ounces sharp cheddar cheese, shredded (1/2 cup)
  • 1 cup cooked small broccoli florets
  • salt and cayenne pepper, to taste

Pierce potatoes all over with a fork. Place in the microwave and cook at 50 percent power, turning once or twice, until the potatoes are soft, about 20 minutes. Heat 3/4 cup of the milk in a small saucepan over medium heat until steaming, about 4 minutes.

Stir together flour and the remaining 1/4 cup milk in a cup until smooth. Add to the hot milk, stirring constantly until the mixture boils and thickens. Remove from heat and stir in cheese. Season with salt and cayenne. Distribute broccoli over the baked potatoes, top with the cheese sauce, and serve.


5. Fajita-Style Cheese Quesadillas

To make the basic version of this recipe, you’ll only need to purchase flour tortillas, cheddar cheese, and peppers. You can purchase an 8-pack of tortillas for around $2 (estimated cost), and for peppers, you are looking at a cost of around $1.20 for a half-pound. If you want to add sour cream for dipping, you can find a generic brand option for around $1 (estimated cost). This recipe comes from Better Homes and Gardens and it has a cost of 43 cents per serving.

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 medium red or green sweet pepper, seeded and cut into bite-size strips
  • 1/2 medium onion, halved and thinly sliced
  • 1 fresh serrano pepper, halved, seeded, and cut into thin strips
  • 2 teaspoons vegetable oil
  • 4 6-inch white corn tortillas
  • nonstick cooking spray
  • 1/2 cup shredded Monterey Jack cheese (2 ounces)
  • 2 thin slices tomato, halved crosswise
  • 1 tablespoon snipped fresh cilantro
  • light dairy sour cream (optional)
  • cilantro and lime wedges (optional)

Directions: In a large skillet, cook sweet pepper, onion, and serrano pepper in hot oil over medium-high heat for 3-5 minutes or until vegetables are just tender. Remove from heat.

Lightly coat one side of each tortilla with cooking spray. On the uncoated side of two of the tortillas, divide half of the cheese. Top with onion mixture, tomato slices, 1 tablespoon cilantro, and the remaining cheese. Top with remaining tortillas, coated sides up.

Heat a very large skillet or griddle over medium heat. Cook quesadillas for 4-5 minutes per side or until cheese melts and tortillas are lightly browned. Cut each quesadilla into 4 wedges. Serve warm and, if desired, with sour cream, additional cilantro, and lime wedges.

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