Cheap Dinner Ideas for Families on the Go

cheap dinner ideas meal prep

What should you do when you’re short on time and blowing your monthly budget but still have to feed a family of four? Here are some nutritious and cheap dinner ideas for your weeknight grind.

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What Are Some Good Cheap Dinner Ideas to Eat Healthy?

Cheap dinner ideas start with the right budget-friendly pantry. Furthermore, the trick is to stock up on cost-effective staples when these items are on sale. Check for store brand pasta, spaghetti, veggie, and root vegetables that go on sale on your weekly special newspaper inserts. Taking out your slow cooker can make inexpensive cuts of meats taste tender.

In general, thinking outside of the box can make all the difference when looking for dirt-cheap food budget meals. Focusing on root vegetables that are also nutrient-dense can pad your wallet as well as nourish growing bodies. Instead of defaulting to the white baked potato, which doesn’t have a lot of fiber, switch to the equally budget-friendly sweet potato, full of fiber and vitamins. In fact, easy-to-make meals don’t have to be complicated. Try a loaded sweet potato with paprika, black beans, salsa,  green onions, and sour cream, and add a salad for a healthy dinner that doesn’t break the bank.

cheap dinner ideas

Cheap Taco Dinner Ideas

Are you looking for budget-friendly meal prep during the week? Consider tacos for a tasty and cheap dinner idea. All you need is ground turkey or beef and all the usual toppings of salsa, lettuce, fresh tomatoes, and cheese.  You can even add black beans or use refried beans if you’re short on meat. For a winning taco night, cook your meat, and serve with lettuce, tomatoes, onions, cheese, salsa, and guacamole.

Then you can use the taco leftovers the next day. Just roll them up in a flour or corn tortilla and make your own thrifty burrito or fajita. The Tex-Mex theme is incredibly inexpensive. For vegetarian lovers, remember to replace the meat filling with legumes or even baked sweet potatoes and beans. This is also an incredibly economical version of getting your fill on tacos without breaking the bank.

For those who love easy casserole ideas, try a taco casserole for an inexpensive one-pan entree that will feed an entire family on the cheap!

Cheap Dinner Ideas With Five-Ingredients or Less

When you’re short on cash and low on ingredients, you want to think of nutrient-dense meal ideas that you can whip up quickly.  Unlike processed foods that can add up in cost, oven-baked meals are both cost-effective and hearty for your health. Besides being better for you, home-cooked meals pay off in the long run. Often, fast food doesn’t fill you up and is loaded with preservatives.

If you’re looking for inspiration for family favorites that keep things simple, look into your favorite tastes, and create a simpler version of cheaper comfort foods for your family. Do you have noodles but are sick of the usual marinara sauce? Instead of the usual, mix noodles with pesto and cherry tomatoes.

Pairing simple meals with roasted butternut squash with a drizzle of olive oil and a pinch of sea salt can add color to any meal. Additionally, consider adding a comfort food favorite. Tomato soup on the side provides a cheap meal that gives your kids high returns on nutrition.

Using the broiler for zucchini pizza bites means you can create a flavorful, easy meal that is a cheaper dinner idea than ordering a pizza. This zucchini pizza bite recipe below is perfect for Meatless Mondays when you want to load up on veggies without spending extra on eating meat daily. View the recipe for this crowd-pleaser and a twist on kid food.

crowd-pleaser zucchini bites

Crowd-Pleaser Zucchini Pizza Bites

Enjoy this mouthwatering and nutritious take on a family favorite.
5 from 1 vote
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 5 minutes
Total Time 15 minutes
Course Pizza
Cuisine American
Servings 18 bites
Calories 41 kcal


  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 3 zucchinis cut in 1/4 inch rounds
  • 1 tbsp oregano
  • 1 tbsp Italian seasoning
  • 1/3 cup marinara sauce (can sub fresh tomatoes)
  • 1 cup shredded mozzarella


Crowd-Pleaser Zucchini Pizza Bites

  • Preheat oven to broil.
  • Place zucchini rounds in a bowl and drizzle with olive oil on both sides.
  • Place zucchini rounds on a large baking pan.
  • Sprinkle each side of the zucchini rounds with both oregano and Italian seasoning.
  • Spoon marinara or tomatoes on top of zucchini rounds.
  • Sprinkle mozzarella so it covers the marinara on each round.
  • Sprinkle more Italian seasoning on the zucchini rounds before putting it in the broiler.
  • Broil in the oven for 5 minutes until cheese is lightly brown. Enjoy!


Serving: 1biteCalories: 41kcalCarbohydrates: 2gProtein: 2gFat: 3gSaturated Fat: 1gPolyunsaturated Fat: 1gMonounsaturated Fat: 2gCholesterol: 5mgSodium: 66mgPotassium: 112mgFiber: 1gSugar: 1gVitamin A: 136IUVitamin C: 6mgCalcium: 46mgIron: 1mg
Keyword budget, mozzarella, pizza, Vegetarian, zucchini
Tried this recipe?Let us know how it was!

Easy Dinner Recipes on a Budget

Protein-packed foods don’t always have to include meat, which can be expensive. In fact,  if you have already blown your food budget for the month, there are alternatives. A go-to weekday meal is seasoned lentils with rice and roasted carrots. The lentils make any meal filling while it’s packed with protein. Also, dry lentils can be as low as 99 cents at Target. If you don’t like lentils, try other legumes like chickpeas or black beans. You can also get a bag of rice at the Dollar Tree for $1. Carrots are also less than a dollar, so in short, you can make dinner for less than $4 for a family of four.

Homecooked meals like veggie soup in the Crock-Pot and roasted vegetables are not only cost-efficient, but they fill your family up for longer than the drive-thru. In fact, cheap dinners don’t mean scrimping on the taste. Making Crock-Pot or even Instant Pot chilis are both budget-friendly and can last for days. You can even repurpose chili, eat it with meatballs or sausage one night, and then use it as a pasta sauce the next- pouring it over pasta, zucchini noodles, or even gnocchi. 

cheap dinner ideas

Master Budgeter in the Kitchen

In short, saving money and creating a quick dinner in a pinch means moving away from pre-packaged meals and ramen. By boosting on healthier options, family-friendly dinners can be both inexpensive, delicious, and homemade. With a little imagination and planning, you could make an inexpensive shrimp and bell pepper fajita for less money than takeout. 

A trick that seasoned thrifty moms know is to buy in bulk when things go on sale for cheap dinner ideas. Also, look for bone-in meats that you can toss in either your Crock-Pot or your Instant Pot for tender fall-off-the-bone stews. Your family doesn’t have to live on grilled cheese or peanut butter and jelly to eat well on a budget. In fact, going back to easy, old-fashioned simple recipes can help families feel in control of their food budget while nourishing their family with crowd-pleasers at the dinner table that even picky eaters will love.

For more family money tips and advice, check out the Money-Saving Family category on FamilyApp.

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