13 Weeknight Dinners That Will Make Your Family (and Your Budget) Happy
A home-cooked dinner “on a budget” often gets a bad wrap.
It brings to mind weeknights filled with rice and beans, PB&J sandwiches, canned soup and flavorless, unhealthy microwave meals.
But with a little planning and creativity, you can make delicious meals on the cheap. With the help of some of our favorite food bloggers, we put together this list of cheap dinner ideas on a budget.
13 Easy Weeknight Dinners on a Budget
These meals are perfect for that panicked moment of “Oh no! What are we going to do for dinner?” Most of them consist of pantry ingredients with maybe one or two extras.
- Cacio e pepe
- Baked ziti
- Taco-stuffed potatoes
- Fried rice
- Turkey meatballs and spaghetti
- Vermicelli noodle bowls
- Black bean chili
- Potato and sausage foil packs
- Grilled cheese sliders
- Chicken cutlets with white beans
- Beef and ramen noodles
1. Cacio E Pepe
Um, what? Cacio e pepe, which translates to “cheese and pepper,” is the name for a simple, Italian classic. It consists of four ingredients — pasta, butter and (you guessed it) parmesan cheese and pepper.
The trick, as described with this recipe at Budget Bytes, is to reserve some of the hot pasta water and use it to help melt the cheese, creating a delicious glossy sauce that melds with the pasta.
The most expensive ingredient here will be your parmesan cheese. Use fresh if you can manage it.
An app called Upside can help you save money every time you buy food — an average of 13% on groceries. Download the Upside app and create a free account.
2. Baked Ziti
Let’s stick with an Italian theme and turn to another classic, baked ziti. Who doesn’t love this delicious comfort food, also known as lasagna’s less demanding cousin?
You could make a meatless version and stay really cheap. You’d simply need a box of ziti, a little olive oil, a jar of pasta sauce, a mozzarella cheese blend, ricotta, plus some pantry staples, such as an onion and your seasonings.
We really like this version from Spend With Pennies, which uses Italian sausage. If you want meat in your baked ziti, you could use ground beef, as well, to keep your costs lower.
Breakfast for dinner!
Your main expense here, as of 2023, will be the cost of eggs — which are at record high prices right now. But, still, omelets can definitely be a cheap dinner option by comparison.
The great thing about an omelet is you can get as creative and inexpensive as you like. You don’t need fancy cheddar cheese or high-end ham or bacon. You don’t need meat at all. Throw in a few of your favorite cheap veggies and you’re good to go.
Something about the warm cheesiness of freshly prepared enchiladas that makes the stomach swoon, right?
And they’re so simple. Tortillas and cheese with some type of sauce and topping — throw it in the oven and dinner is done. We love Budget Bytes’ weeknight bean and cheese enchilada, which includes refried beans, pepper jack cheese and a quick and easy homemade sauce full of pantry staples that only takes five minutes to make.
5. Taco-Stuffed Potatoes
If you’re looking for an inexpensive delicious meal, potatoes should absolutely be on your go-to list. You can get a 5-pound bag for just a few bucks. And those delicious spuds are flexible enough to be a side or a main course.
In this case, we love the potatoes as a main feature. Bake them, then like any taco, fill them up with the toppings of your choice. Include staples like onions, tomatoes, garlic, a taco seasoning packet and add on some ground beef or grilled chicken, salsa, sour cream and green onions if you wish.
6. Fried Rice
Bring this hibachi steakhouse staple home for a fantastic weeknight dinner. Just like a taco or an omelet, fried rice is a great way to throw together a bunch of pantry ingredients and make a meal of it.
All you really need is some white rice, eggs, soy sauce and maybe carrots, green peas and green onions. Josh Weissman’s $1 fried rice is a great recipe with those classic ingredients. Averie Cooks has another classic inexpensive version with chicken. You can always substitute cauliflower rice for an even healthier version.
Use pre-cooked, cold rice for fried rice. Chill overnight or throw it in the fridge just long enough to get cold. The cold grains separate and become crispy, rather than turn into sticky mush.
7. Turkey Meatballs and Spaghetti
Ground turkey is cheaper than ground beef, plus it’s healthier. Use both to your advantage for a weeknight take on this Italian classic.
Well Plated makes a version with dried herbs, spaghetti, ground turkey, breadcrumbs and parm. All of this comes together rather inexpensively and is perfect for leftovers to revisit throughout the week.
8. Vermicelli Noodle Bowls
Vermicelli are simply slimmer rice noodles that are used in Asian and Thai dishes. They are vegan-friendly, gluten-free and pair beautifully with veggies and a nice soy-based sauce.
For example, this recipe developed by From My Bowl hits on all the right notes, using pantry staples for the sauce and a mix of veggies, herbs and peanuts. Add some tofu for a few bucks and you have a relatively inexpensive delicious weeknight meal.
9. Weeknight Black Bean Chili
Some canned black beans, ground turkey and few pantry staples equals a delicious, super easy weeknight chili. It really doesn’t get more foolproof than this.
This Budget Bytes recipe is perfect for your chili mood. You can throw it all together in less than 30 minutes — or let it simmer in the slow cooker for a few hours and intensify those flavors! Go an extra step with Add A Pinch’s recipe that includes bacon. Bacon!
10. Potato and Sausage Foil Packs
This simple meal is perfect if you’re in the mood to go camping but weeknight duties are keeping you at home.
A few peppers, an onion, sausage, two potatoes and some seasoning — wrapped in foil and placed in the oven at 400 degrees, and you have a delicious, comforting dinner. Better yet, stick with the camping vibe and throw the foil-wrapped dinner on the grill for about 30 minutes.
This hearty recipe from Taste of Home gets our approval.
11. Grilled Cheese Sliders
Sure, you could throw together a normal grilled cheese sandwich on white bread with American cheese.
Or you could follow Six Sisters’ Stuff’s lead with these grilled cheese sliders. It all comes together with Hawaiian rolls, mayo, cheddar, provolone and butter. It’s that easy.
Pair your sliders with a can of tomato soup for the perfect dinner pairing.
12. Chicken Cutlets With White Beans
This protein-filled weeknight meal comes together with some canned beans, inexpensive chicken cutlets, a little buttermilk and a few pantry ingredients.
Give this cutlet recipe from Food Network a try. In just a total of 40 minutes, you’ll make a comforting and inexpensive weeknight dinner.
13. Beef and Ramen Noodles
Take the classic dorm room meal up a notch with just a few extra ingredients. Some ground beef, packaged ramen (ditch the seasoning packets) and fresh veggies make this dish a weeknight winner.
What’s In The Pan has a tasty recipe to satisfy anyone’s ramen cravings. It’s not just cheap. It’s healthy too!
Robert Bruce is a senior staff writer at The Penny Hoarder covering earning, saving and managing money. He has written about personal finance for more than a decade.