35 budget-friendly meals, from fried rice to one-pot pasta
It’s always a good idea to have a repertoire of cheap and easy dinner ideas for when you’re on a budget. When you’re cooking up an inexpensive, family-friendly meal, pantry staples like canned beans, crushed tomatoes, boxed pasta and dried spices are your friends. They’re what allow you to make a meal that will satisfy the whole family without breaking the bank.
Some of these recipes find inspiration in the ready-made: relying on inexpensive, time-saving hacks like grocery store rotisserie chicken or a creative riff on Hamburger Helper. Others play around with classic comfort food dishes that have been around for years, like Italian pasta e fagioli and Indian rajma. When you want big flavor on a small budget, check out this collection of budget-friendly recipes. Bonus: most of them go from pantry to plate in under 30 minutes.
One-Pot Mexican Rice with Black Beans and Corn by Maggie Shi
Pantry staples such as rice, canned black beans and canned tomatoes come together on the stove to make a hearty meal that is far more than the sum of its parts. Melty cheese and fresh cilantro are the finishing touches that make it extra delicious.
Spaghetti Aglio e Olio by Sal Lamboglia
This pasta dish is the best way to dress up day-old bread or that container of bread crumbs languishing in your cupboard. A garlicky olive oil sauce and just-cooked pasta offset the delicious crunch of breadcrumbs in a dish that’s as good for rent week as it is for a dinner party.
Rotisserie Chicken Fried Rice by Kevin Curry
This dish takes less than 30 minutes to prepare thanks to leftover rice and grocery store rotisserie chicken. Cheaper and healthier than takeout, it’s one the whole family will love.
Spicy White Bean Soup with Greens and Turkey by Melissa Clark
Bright lemon and creamy white beans are what make this greens-packed soup satisfying and hearty. It gets plenty of heat from red pepper flakes, while the turkey adds heft, resulting in a dish that offers a one-way ticket to winter comfort food.
Sheet-Pan Fish with Tomatoes and Green Beans by Yasmin Fahr
This sheet pan dinner idea is a healthy weeknight option. Cherry tomatoes and green beans are baked until they’re roasted and juicy, and then a lemony fish filet is added last and cooked until flaky. Topped with a lemon-dill dressing, it’s zingy and satisfying.
One-Pan Chicken, Broccolini and Carrots by Karina Heinrich
Low-carb quick and easy, this sheet-pan dinner is a whole meal in one pan. Simple chicken breasts pair nicely with roasted carrots and broccolini, but they’re not the only vegetables that work. Think of this recipe as a guide for using up any vegetables you have in the fridge.
Cacio e Pepe by Evan Funke
Cacio e pepe — the classic dish that hails from Rome — is as delicious and comforting as it is easy to make. Salty pecorino Romano cheese and cracked black pepper are what make this dish so irresistible.
Black Bean and Sweet Potato Chili by Gaby Dalkin
Black bean and sweet potato chili is a simple and filling dinner that vegetarians and meat eaters will both love. Easy to cook and even easier to clean up, this one-pot dish is spicy, creamy and healthy.
Sheet-Pan Korean BBQ Cauliflower with Shiitakes, Bok Choy and Cashews by Casey Barber
Soy sauce, garlic and ginger-inflected Korean BBQ sauce dresses up simple cauliflower, bok choy and mushrooms for a vegan sheet pan dinner. Cashews, which are roasted alongside the vegetables, add crunch in every bite.
One-Pot Pasta Fagioli by Casey Barber
An Italian classic, pasta fagioli is a time-tested combination of beans, pasta and tomatoes. These three pantry staples, along with a simple mirepoix and garlic, make a soup that’s a delicious budget meal any time of year.
Rotisserie Chicken Stuffed Shells by Jocelyn Delk Adams
Rotisserie chicken (easily found at grocery stores) is the savior of weeknight dinners. Here, the chicken is shredded and mixed with cheese, broccoli and Creole seasoning before being stuffed into large pasta shells and baked. The resulting dish is bubbly, warm and a little bit spicy.
Mexican Quinoa Stew by Romel Bruno
Inspired by the flavors of Mexican cooking, this black bean and quinoa stew is a healthy vegan dinner. Packed with crushed tomatoes, bell pepper, cumin and coriander, it’s delicious served with warm corn tortillas. Not vegan? Sprinkle salty cotija cheese over the top!
Spinach Noodle Casserole by Ayesha Nurdjaja
Born out of an Italian mother’s desire to have a light pasta dish on her Thanksgiving menu, this pasta bake is delicious no matter the occasion. Healthier than some other casserole options, it incorporates a hefty amount of frozen spinach in one golden-brown bake.
Vegetable Lo Mein by Grace Young
Whether you’re used to having it delivered from your favorite restaurant or made on a wok in your kitchen, lo mein noodles are decidedly a comfort food. This one-pot vegetarian option is a delicious way to quickly pull together a dinner that features any in-season produce of your choosing.
Sheet-Pan Pesto Chicken with Broccoli Rabe and Baby Potatoes by Casey Barber
What if you could cook a protein, starch and veg all in one pan? Sheet pan pesto chicken with broccoli rabe and baby potatoes is the answer. With only 10 minutes of work, you’ll have an impressive-looking dinner plate without all the fuss.
Baked Cheeseburger Stuffed Pasta Shells by Casey Barber
Riffing on the delight of a box of Hamburger Helper, cheeseburger-stuffed pasta shells take everything there is to love about the packaged dinner and make it homemade. Instead of being stacked and layered like in a burger, all of the usual condiments — relish, ketchup and mustard — get mixed together and stuffed into a cheesy pasta bake that’s an instant crowd-pleaser.
Padma Lakshmi's Ribollita (Italian Vegetable Soup) by Padma Lakshmi
Padma Lakshmi’s take on ribollita is packed with greens, beans and vegetables — and it’s ready in less than 30 minutes. Make dinner planning even easier by prepping it days or even weeks in advance and freezing it until you’re ready to bake.
Skillet Mushroom and Winter Herb Pot Pie by Alejandra Ramos
Warm, creamy and filling, this herby mushroom pot pie is the vegetarian answer to the chicken classic. Baked in an oven-safe or cast iron skillet, it makes for a beautiful (and simple!) edible centerpiece.
Barbecue Chicken Quinoa Salad by Gaby Dalkin
Great for a weekday meal prep, this refrigerated, packable salad from Gaby Dalkin is easy to pull together. She likes to use quinoa as her base grain, but farro, rice or bulgur all work here.
Skillet Lasagna by Lidia Bastianich
Instead of baking your lasagna in a casserole pan, try it in a large cast-iron skillet. With more potential for crispy edges, this is a complete meal that comes together in one pan. Using no-boil lasagna noodles and store-bought sauce means that this dish can come together in 30 minutes.
Giada's Artichoke Risotto by Giada De Laurentiis
Frozen artichokes, roasted garlic and a cup of leftover prosecco are what flavor Giada’s creamy risotto. With some technique and a little bit of time, you can transform a bag of arborio rice and a few pantry staples into an extraordinary dinner.
Anne Burrell's Turkey Fried Rice with Sunny-Side Up Egg by Anne Burrell
Leftover rice, ground turkey and eggs make up the basis of a fried rice that’s luxurious, despite being easy and affordable.
Sheet Pan Chicken Parm with Garlic Bread and Broccoli by Elena Besser
Stovetop frying results in some of our favorite meals but it’s a pain to clean up. Instead, enjoy an easier chicken Parm with this baked version of the Italian classic. Broccoli and garlic bread get cooked right alongside the meat so when it’s time to eat, you’ve got a full meal ready.
Tex-Mex Hotdish by Derrell Smith
Pulling inspiration from the midwestern staple and Mexican-inflected tacos, this baked dinner idea is spicy, zesty and filling. A slice of this casserole is sure to become a dinnertime favorite in no time.
Sheet-Pan Honey-Chile Chicken with Corn, Zucchini and Peppers by Casey Barber
Ancho chile powder and honey combine for a dinner that’s spicy and then sweet. Take advantage of all of the flavors of summer produce but any season’s produce could easily be swapped in for a recipe that works year-round.
Joy Bauer's One-Skillet Enchiladas by Joy Bauer
Enchiladas that are layered instead of rolled are the secret behind one-skillet enchiladas. With fillings and tortillas stacked on top of one another, each slice of this budget-friendly single-pan meal is chock full of flavor.
Sheet-Pan Gnocchi by Ree Drummond
Cooking gnocchi on a sheet pan makes the plump, potato pasta crispy on the outside and tender on the inside. Combined with pesto and vegetables and cooked without a hint of boiling water, it’s pasta like you’ve never had it before.
Lemony Chicken and Rice Casserole by Jocelyn Delk Adams
Cooking rice with chicken thighs in the oven makes the grains extra creamy and full of rich, salty flavor. Using all parts of the lemon — zest, juice and slice — infuses everything with a notable citrus flavor.
White Bean Stew with Cumin and Tomatoes by Padma Lakshmi
Adapted from the Indian rajma, Padma Lakshmi’s take on the dish swaps white beans for kidney beans. Relying on cheap and easy pantry staples like canned beans and tomatoes, it’s the spices that make this dish full of flavor.
Hamburger Helper Pasta by Gaby Dalkin
Creamy, comforting and hearty, homemade Hamburger Helper is just a little bit more time-consuming than the version that comes from a box — but it’s so worth it. Smoked paprika and dried oregano add depth to the meat, cheese and pasta mixture.
No-Sugar Ginger Beef and Broccoli by Kevin Curry
If you love takeout but are looking for a healthier option, look no further. Inexpensive but flavorful, flank steak is the star of this dish. Combined with broccoli, ginger and soy sauce, this steak dish tastes even better served over rice or lo mein noodles.
One-Pot Chicken and Wild Rice in Honey Mustard Sauce by Casey Barber
Wild rice adds texture and a nutty flavor to honey-mustard-slathered chicken. Cooked in a single pan, not only is this dinner delicious, it’s also a breeze to clean up.
Weeknight Fried Rice by Sam Sifton
Learn how to make weeknight fried rice and you’ll have a recipe that you can prepare time and time again with whatever frozen vegetables you’d like to use up. Topped with tofu or an egg for protein, it’s filling, riffable and yummy.
Butternut Squash Chili by Joy Bauer
Buying whole butternut squash will always be cheaper than buying it prepared, but sometimes time is money! Store-bought cubed butternut squash is a cheap and easy base for a creamy, spicy chili that’s kicked up with cumin, smoked paprika and cinnamon.
Pesto Vinaigrette Pasta by Ali Rosen
The secret to this pesto pasta is Dijon mustard for a hit of acidity. It only takes a few minutes to make this blender sauce and only a few more to boil the pasta, which means dinner can be on the table in less than 30 minutes.
This article was originally published on TODAY.com