5 Frugal Real Food Meal Ideas
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5 Frugal Real Food Meal Ideas

Here are 5 frugal real food meal ideas that we have regularly to keep our budget under control while still eating real foods! Without proper planning, a whole foods diet can be more draining on your wallet than you might expect!  However, by menu planning and incorporating meals with lower cost ingredients into my meal plans, I actually spend the same amount on groceries now as I did before we made the switch to whole foods.

Written by Mindy, Contributing Writer

Without proper planning, a whole foods diet can be more draining on your wallet than you might expect! However, by menu planning and incorporating meals with lower cost ingredients into my meal plans, I actually spend the same amount on groceries now as I did before we made the switch to whole foods.

Here are five of my favorite meal ideas for keeping our grocery budget under control.  We usually have at least two of these meals every week, which helps to keep our grocery budget where it needs to be.

1. Cornbread and Beans

I grew up eating cornbread and beans quite often, and I must be honest – I was always disappointed when I saw that’s what we were having for dinner. However, now as an adult, cornbread and beans is one of my all-time favorite meals!  It’s my ultimate comfort food.

To make this meal, simply cook some dried beans in the crock pot with some bacon or other pork for flavoring. Then serve the beans with/over corn bread (or corn muffins). We almost always serve with fried potatoes also.

Ketchup, maple syrup, and raw onions all make great toppings for this meal.  It might sound strange, but it’s actually really good!

2. Pizza

pizza frugal meal ideas

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We almost always have homemade pizza on Friday nights. When you make everything from scratch, it is a very frugal meal that everyone will enjoy!

Keep the toppings simple, and try to use up things that you have on hand.  Leftover meat (chicken, beef, pork, whatever!) and leftover veggies almost always top our pizzas along with mozzarella cheese.

For the sauce, I make a big batch of this crock pot pizza sauce.  I then freeze it in ice cube trays and then transfer the frozen cubes to freezer bags. It is so convenient to always have pizza sauce on hand, and to be able to warm up as much or as little as I need at any given time.

I have two favorite pizza crust recipes – White Whole Wheat Pizza Dough and Sourdough Pizza Crust.  I seem to go back and forth between the two, but they are both delicious and very easy to make.

3. Soups and Stews

Soups and stews are an excellent way to get a lot of bang for your buck when it comes to taste and nutrition.  Using homemade stock allows you to stretch small amounts of meat and other proteins into a complete meal.

Broth and vegetable based soups are more frugal than cream based soups. Here are a few of my very favorites.

  • Breakfast Lentil Soup – Lentils are delicious, filling, and cheap! Serve this soup for breakfast, lunch or dinner.
  • Creamy Pumpkin Soup – This is my husband’s favorite soup of all-time!
  • Simple Soup for the Spring and Summer – I know it’s not spring or summer right now, but this soup is so delicious and the vegetables can be switched out for whatever is in season.
  • Creamy Tomato Bisque – This recipe calls for fresh tomatoes, but I have successfully used preserved tomatoes with great results also.

4. Breakfast for Dinner

frugal meal ideas breakfast for dinner

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This is what I almost always fall back on when my dinner plans just aren’t coming together.  Throwing together some pancakes and scrambled eggs is so quick and easy, and also very cheap.

The possibilities for breakfast for dinner are endless, but a few of our favorites are

5. Main Dish Salads

Salads are like soups, in that they can stretch small amounts of meat into complete meals.

When serving main dish salads for dinner, I always start with bowls full of lettuce and then top with whatever fresh veggies I have on hand. From there I top with some meat, cheese, and homemade dressing, to complete the meal.

The combinations are never ending!

For our salad meats, we usually use grilled chicken, salmon, or taco meat.  Grilled steak is another yummy (but more expensive) option!

Our homemade dressing for our salads usually alternate between vinaigrettes and ranch, depending on what meat and veggies are on our salads. Here is a list of my favorite homemade dressings.

These are my five favorite frugal meals that my family loves to eat. They are easy to prepare, taste delicious, and are easy on our wallets! You can’t beat that!

Do you have any favorite frugal meal ideas that you rely on to keep your grocery budget under control?

Top photo by Sharyn Morrow

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  1. Great list! I’ve just gotten into making soups this winter and it has been very frugal and a good way to use up our extra veggies!

  2. We do a lot of brown rice, black bean and veggie bowls (frozen veggies that we sauté in a pan to cook). So healthy, delicious and cheap! Breakfast for dinner is another great option and one we fall back on frequently.

    1. I love your veggie and rice bowl idea, Brittnie. I’ll have to add that to my list of quick, easy, frugal (and yummy!) meals.

  3. I love stir fries and similar foods. Just throw small amounts of leftover meat into the large frying pan (sometimes no meat at all) with veggies of any kind and either pasta, potatoes or rice. Then I make some kind of homemade sauce either a thickened broth or a flavored which sauce. (This is where I used to use canned cream of soup but discovered I could make my own sauce for cheaper and its much healthier). Sometimes just melted cheese works. Plus any left overs can be frozen and then thrown back in the pan later to reheat.

  4. This are great tips, Mindy!! And thanks for the raw acv dressing link. That is our absolute favorite dressing! Guests love it too 🙂

  5. Love this post! Thank you! I am SO into serving up healthy for less…what a wonderful list to think on. 🙂

    Many Blessings,

  6. Soups and stews are definitely on my list of frugal dinners. I find that dishes that use beans or casseroles with only small amounts of meat with seasonal veggies (esp. cheap ones, like potatoes) are great, too. Chili, Shepherd’s Pie, Pot Pie, chicken & rice casseroles (I tend to make these with random leftovers and ingredients), that sort of thing. I totally agree that incorporating some meals like this each week really makes a big difference!

    1. It really does, Stephanie. I love your ideas too. I’m getting some wonderful ideas from the comments on this post! 🙂

  7. We’ll be talking about this on LABB this Thursday, too! I love your ideas and shared your post on our FB page. Blessings!

  8. What a wealth of knowledge!!! Thank you soooo very much for these links and recipes Mindy:) I am totally pinning this for future reference. It’s homemade pizza for us tonight!

  9. Fried Egg and chips (fries) seems to be very much a British dish, but simple and cheap using only eggs, potatoes and oil! I tend to make potato wedges or homemade oven chips/fries. It’s such a pity my Children don’t enjoy eggs that much, only one will eat them but he prefers scrambled eggs or omelette.

    1. We love eggs and potatoes too, Rachel. Especially my husband. I think he could eat that every day!

  10. This is my frugal but nourishing meal. I cook a one pot meal out of soaked/sprouted grains(wheat, rye, barley), sprouted mung beans, red onions, fresh garlic, bunch of chopped non starchy veggies(stems and all), spices(pepper, cumin, etc) and butter. Add the grains first and the veggies in the end so that they are not overcooked. You can go low on the grains if you want to reduce the starch content. Top with a generous serving of butter and you have a nourishing one pot meal. We also drink homemade milk kefir and eat pickled ginger along with this meal. Its very light on the stomach and is great after too many heavy meals.

    1. Yum! Sounds delicious Ann. I love that you drink homemade milk kefir with it. That’s one of my favorite things to drink 🙂

  11. We have beans at least once a week if not more with either cornbread, rice or both. In the cold months we always have plenty of soups and stews. In the warmer months lots of salads. We have oatmeal for breakfast several days a week. Thanks for all the great ideas.

    1. You’re welcome, Elizabeth. Thanks for sharing your ideas too 🙂 We usually have oatmeal a few times a week for breakfast also. Baked oatmeal loaded with fruit is a real favorite of ours – yum!

  12. Nice list, and most of these are on my menu plan for this week!
    Some of my other standbys are chili, tacos or burritos with beans & rice, and veggies and chicken over pasta with various sauces, or mixed into rice as a stir-fry.

  13. I am all over that pizza sauce recipe…thanks. We do pizza a lot, with the Artisan bread in 5 minutes a day….I take a hunk of that dough and add olive il and use that for crust….awesome easy.

  14. Great list! With the exception of beans -which my husband can’t have- these show up on my weekly menu rotation!

  15. This is such a great list! thanks for the ideas! It’s hard to be motivated to plan sometimes and it’s great to have a reference list to pull from!

  16. We do a lot of similar things. One thing I started doing lately (to get in more salad greens, although this meal is much more frugal in season when the greens are cheap or home grown) is starting with salad greens in a huge bowl. Add some chopped/grated veggies eg. carrots, cucumbers, peppers, celery, etc…whatever is frugal/in season/on sale/etc. Sometimes orange slices, apple pieces, seeds, etc. then mix it all together. Serve with a bowl of pasta (cooled) and a bowl of hard boiled eggs, and a container homemade dressing. This way everyone can put the salad on their plate, add the amount of pasta they want, a few eggs they can chop up themselves, and then some dressing if they want. My kids prefer not sometimes. If I mix it all together it doesn’t work as well for leftovers.

    We also do a meal where I cook pasta, add in some frozen peas when the pasta is done (and the water still hot), then drain, add a can or two of salmon, then add a homemade dressing (we use the ACV one). Its simple, fast and nutritious, as well as frugal, especially because I stock up on salmon on sale.

    I favour ideas that are fast and easy as well as frugal. We sometimes do baked oatmeal and smoothies for supper as well.

  17. I learned a couple fast, frugal recipes from my host mom while living in Japan, and my husband and I make them frequently, 7 years later! The only special ingredient we keep on hand is a Japanese barbecue sauce called “Okonomi sauce,” which has begun to be available at some large chain groceries that sell a lot of international food items.
    Okonomiyaki – my husband calls these “Japanese pancakes.” My host mom put together flour, egg, and water in a 1:1 cup ratio, then added chopped cabbage, shredded carrot, and a little cheese if we had any on hand. She fried pancake-sized portions of the resulting dough in a little oil on both sides until cooked through. In restaurants in Japan, okonomiyaki are often cooked with a slice of bacon or ham on one side, and they put mayonnaise and okonomi sauce on top to flavor them. That might sound weird, but boy is it delicious.
    The other dish she taught me that I love is called “Omuraisu” (omelette rice). This was her favorite fast comfort food in the winter. She mixed steamed chopped vegetables (again, often cabbage and carrot, which are cheap in winter) and shredded cheese into cooked rice mounds, then covered them with a round fried egg. Same topping of mayonnaise and Okonomi sauce went with this dish, but your family could use any condiment they prefer (or none at all).

  18. Thanks for the great ideas–beans and cornbread sound so good together! We eat a lot of soups this time of year, as well. I roasted a chicken the other night, and the leftovers (from a four pound chicken) have made one dinner and two lunches of chicken barley soup for our family of five.

    We also like brown rice pasta with whatever veggies we have, a can of salmon or tuna, and a small amount of beans. I make a vinaigrette dressing to go with it, and the whole family loves it!

  19. Thanks for sharing these ideas! I have a hard time finding frugal meals, because my husband is such a meat-lover, and doesn’t really like soups, salads, or beans much! We should definitely do more homemade pizza though, and breakfast for dinner is always good and quick. 🙂

  20. Cooking a whole chicken has been a big value meal for us. I’ll get a wonderful dinner the first night, loads of chicken broth, then leftover chicken for either chicken salad sandwiches or another chicken dinner. I always pick up two when there is a sale on antibiotic-free chicken.

  21. Cooking a whole chicken has been a big value meal for us. I’ll get a wonderful dinner the first night, loads of chicken broth, then leftover chicken for either chicken salad sandwiches or another chicken dinner. I always pick up two when there is a sale on antibiotic-free chicken.

  22. i recently blogged on how to save money while eating good food. i love the meal ideas that you shared here. we tried your breakfast lentil soup idea last night for dinner since i had collard greens in our csa box and it was so great i am making more to freeze for easy dinners (and breakfasts) later! thanks for the new idea!

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