It’s not easy to find food recipes that taste half-way decent, where you can buy all of the ingredients for a reasonable price. Even if you find a great-tasting meal that you can make for a low cost, oftentimes, it takes forever. For people with busy schedules, it’s really tempting to choose a frozen pizza sometimes, instead of slaving over a hot stove for two or three hours.
This may be part of the reason why American families spend so much money on groceries. The USDA’s most recent estimates indicate that a family of two can spend as much as $715.80 per month on a grocery bill, and a family of four can spend up to $1,292.80. That is, if you choose a liberal spending plan.
By throwing a one or two $5 meals into the weekly mix, you can drastically reduce this bill, and have a little fun trying out the recipes. This list of $5 meals contains meals that require less than 30 minutes of prep time, and all of them will feed at least two people.
When, calculating pricing, we assume you already have ingredients like salt, pepper, spices, mayonnaise, and other dressings. All pricing data come from the Bureau of Labor Statistics unless otherwise noted. Prices are also rounded.
1. Penne Pasta Salad
This is a very simply recipe that will stretch out to be at least two meals. Also, the main ingredients are penne pasta, mayonnaise, tomatoes, celery, and hard-boiled egg. With pasta prices currently at $1.40, field grown tomatoes currently priced at 77 cents for a half pound, a half-dozen eggs priced at 99 cents, and celery stalks priced at around $1 (according to Food Lion), you can easily create this meal for under the $5 price point. Try out this recipe, which only takes around 30-40 minutes to complete from start to finish:
- 1 14.5 ounce box of cooked Penne pasta (you can use elbow macaroni instead if you like)
- 1 cup of mayonnaise
- 2 tomatoes diced
- 2 celery stalks diced
- 3 diced hard-boiled eggs
- 1/2 teaspoon of pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon of salt
- Other veggies of your choosing (like raw broccoli)
- Combine all of the ingredients except for the mayonnaise, salt, and pepper in a large bowl.
- Add mayonnaise until pasta and veggies are well-coated. Add salt and pepper to taste.
2. Broccoli and cheese bowl
You can pick up the main ingredients in broccoli and cheese dishes for less than $5, with broccoli currently priced at $1.66 per pound and cheddar cheese at $2.79 per half-pound. You create a soup, a casserole where you add rice, or even a bread bowl. Try this broccoli and cheese soup recipe from All Recipes. It received around 4.5 out of five stars and it only requires 10 minutes of prep time.
- 1/2 cup butter
- 1 onion, chopped
- 1 (16 ounce) package frozen chopped
- 4 (14.5 ounce) cans chicken broth
- 1 (1 pound) loaf processed cheese food, cubed
- 2 cups milk
- 1 tablespoon garlic powder
- 2/3 cup cornstarch
- 1 cup water
- In a stockpot, melt butter over medium heat. Cook onion in butter until softened. Stir in broccoli, and cover with chicken broth. Simmer until broccoli is tender, 10 to 15 minutes.
- Reduce heat, and stir in cheese cubes until melted. Mix in milk and garlic powder.
- In a small bowl, stir cornstarch into water until dissolved. Stir into soup; cook, stirring frequently, until thick.
3. Tuna Panini
High in protein, tuna actually provides a variety of heath benefits. It contains omega-3 fatty acids and vitamins, like B12. Canned tuna is also great for those on a budget. And hey, it’s much better than fast food. According to Food Lion, a can of tuna costs around 88 cents. To turn tuna from bland to fabulous, add in some minced onion and pickle, hard boiled egg, or whatever else you like.
To make your panini, you may need a loaf of bread, too. These days, a loaf of whole wheat comes with an average cost of $2.07. If you want to get fancy, try this tuna panini recipe. It comes from My Recipes and it received rave reviews. If you use all of the recipe’s ingredients, your cost may exceed $5. You can cut out the bacon and use regular mayonnaise if you want to save on costs.
- 3 tablespoons finely chopped red onion
- 3 tablespoons organic canola mayonnaise
- 1 teaspoon grated lemon rind
- 1/4 teaspoon fennel seeds, crushed
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 3 slices center-cut bacon, cooked and crumbled
- 2 (5-ounce) cans albacore tuna in water, drained and flaked
- 8 slices sourdough bread
- 4 (1/2-ounce) slices provolone cheese
- Cooking spray
- Combine first 7 ingredients in a medium bowl, stirring well to coat. Place 4 bread slices on a flat surface; top each bread slice with 1 cheese slice. Divide tuna mixture evenly among bread slices; top each serving with 1 remaining bread slice.
- Heat a large skillet over medium heat. Lightly coat sandwiches with cooking spray. Place sandwiches in pan; top with another heavy skillet. Cook 3 minutes on each side or until lightly browned (leave skillet on sandwiches as they cook).
4. Chicken Nachos
Because you only need a small amount of meat, you may be able to add a bit of chicken to your nachos, while still creating a low cost meal. If you really want to save, use chicken leg meat (with a price of $1.56 per pound) instead of breast meat (which is priced at $3.47 per pound). A bag of generic-brand tortilla chips only costs $2, according to Food Lion.
This chicken fajita nachos recipe is from 5dollardinners.com. It is easy, delicious and is certainly worth trying out:
- 2 cups cooked and shredded chicken
- 1 Tbsp olive or vegetable oil
- 2 or 3 peppers, seeded and sliced
- 1 large onion, sliced
- 1 Tbsp homemade taco seasoning, or store bought fajita seasoning
- Tortilla chips
- 1 cup shredded cheese
- Salsa, sour cream, guacamole, optional toppings
- Fresh fruit, baby carrots or other simple side dish
- Thaw the pre-cooked and shredded chicken, or grilled chicken. If need be, saute 2 chicken breasts in oil until cooked through, then slice.
- In a large skillet, heat the oil and then toss in the sliced peppers and onion. Saute for 4 to 6 minutes, or until onions begin to turn opaque. Add in the chicken with the taco seasoning and saute together for a few minutes. Remove from heat.
- To serve, place tortilla chips on the plate or bowl, top with the chicken-pepper mixture, then add a pinchful of shredded cheese.
- Serve Chicken Fajita Nachos with sides of guacamole, or salsa, or sour cream with side of fresh fruit or veggies.
5. Breakfast hash
With white potatoes currently priced at 69 cents per pound, and eggs priced at around 99 cents for a half-dozen, you can make a potato and egg breakfast hash for a few bucks. Even if you add in a few slices of cheese and a breakfast meat like ham, you should still be able to stay under the $5 price point. This recipe for breakfast hash from Taste of Home is not only inexpensive, it’s one of the best we’ve tried:
- 1/4 cup butter, cubed
- 2 packages (20 ounces each) refrigerated shredded hash brown potatoes
- 1 package (7 ounces) frozen fully cooked breakfast sausage links, thawed and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
- 1/4 cup chopped onion
- 1/4 cup chopped green pepper
- 12 eggs, lightly beaten
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 1 cup (4 ounces) shredded cheddar cheese
- In a large skillet, melt butter. Add the potatoes, sausage, onion and green pepper. Cook, uncovered, over medium heat for 10-15 minutes or until potatoes are lightly browned, turning once.
- Push potato mixture to the sides of pan. Pour eggs into center of pan. Cook and stir over medium heat until eggs are completely set. Season with salt and pepper. Reduce heat; stir eggs into potato mixture. Top with cheese; cover and cook for 1-2 minutes or until cheese is melted. Yield: 8 servings.