Eating real food on a budget is a real issue. As a reader recently pointed out, there are some families that have a food budget of $125 -$150 for the week, including meals, snacks, etc., and others who have a lot more or a lot less. And yes, there’s the fact that not everyone has access to local, seasonal and/or organic foods – but that’s a topic for another day. Not to mention many families include two parents who work outside the home or a single parent who works.
No matter the situation, though, we’re all striving for the same goal: getting good-quality food on the table every night and feeding our families well. So, whether your weekly food budget is $125 or $275, I hope you’ll find the following real food budget meals helpful and easy on the wallet. Each can feed a family of four, and each is $15 or under (with two notes, since we use some of the food twice during the week).
I also tried to make these meals not too labor intensive – something I know everyone can appreciate. Though there are times I’m ready to bust out the homemade pierogies or spring rolls, many times I’m racing to have any old solid meal on the table that can either be prepped in advance or made in 30 minutes. I guess that’s just life.
Note: I did not add in costs for salt, pepper, and olive oil, as I’m assuming most people have those in their pantries. My apologies if this is an incorrect assumption. Now let’s take a peek at the meals!
Meal #1: Black Bean Pasta with Marinara Sauce and Broccoli
Minimizing your meat intake is a sure-fire way to cut costs. And using black bean pasta is a great way to add beans in a different form – a great way to up your fiber (which can help fill you up) while adding some variety to your meal. Trader Joe’s recently debuted an organic version which you can always find in my pantry. Top this off with some jarred marinara and cook up some broccoli on the side for a super fast dinner option.
Note: black bean pasta does not taste exactly the same as whole wheat pasta, but I encourage you to try it. And for those who don’t have a Trader Joe’s nearby, you can find another brand at Amazon.
- 2 packages of Trader Joe’s organic black bean rotini – $2.99/each = $5.98
- 1 jar of Trader Joe’s organic marinara (or brand of choice) = $2.49
- 1 bag frozen organic broccoli = $2.79
>>Meal total: $11.26<<
Follow package directions for preparing pasta and top the cooked pasta with marinara. Follow package directions for preparing broccoli.
Meal #2: Chicken Salad Sandwiches with Baby Carrots and Banana
Canned chicken does the trick in making this meal a quick one to get on the table. And while carrots and bananas may not be the fanciest of sides, they add in a serving of vegetables and fruit and up the full factor, too.
- 2 5-ounce cans Valley Fresh Organic Chicken – $2.60/each = $5.20 (or pay $4.74 for 10 ounces with Amazon Prime)
- 1/4 cup relish or finely diced pickles = $3.40/jar
- 3 tablespoons mayonnaise = $2.98/jar
- 1 loaf whole-wheat bread (I got mine at Great Harvest Bread, but feel free to purchase whatever is most accessible for you) = $5.60*
- 1 bag organic baby carrots = $1.50
- 4 bananas = $0.80
>>Meal Total: $19.48<<
*You will also use the bread for meal #4.
Follow our recipe for the Chicken Salad.
Meal #3: Cheeseburger with Sliced Tomatoes and Fruit
You may think I’m a little bizarre with this, but I always add in a handful of oats to my burgers. I do this because it stretches the meat mixture, and I like adding in some solid whole grains to the mix. I realize that this recipe is about as basic as it gets, but we’re talking time and money here, so I’m keeping it simple. Feel free to dress this up as you see fit.
One more thing to note is the meat. If you can, choose local or organic ground beef. If you don’t have access to it or you simply need to cut costs, get what is available in this order: look for local, next look for organic, and next look for grass fed. You’ll notice that we go over the desired $15 for this meal, but we are going to use half the cheese in the next meal.
- 1 pound grass-fed ground sirloin = $4.99 (I got this on sale at Earth Fare; Costco apparently has organic ground beef for $4.66/lb.)
- 1/2 cup rolled oats = $0.42
- 1 egg = $0.41
- Salt/pepper to taste
- Whole wheat buns = $4.49
- 1 package of cheese = $4.49*
- 2 organic tomatoes = $1.80
- 1 melon or fruit of choice (Buy what’s in season and what’s on sale.) =$2.00
>>Meal Total: $18.60<<
*You will use half in this meal and the other half in meal #4.
Prepare burgers by mixing the beef with the oats, egg, salt, and pepper before grilling/cooking. Top with cheese (optional) and tomato slice and place on buns. Serve with fruit on the side.
Meal #4: Grilled Cheese with Roasted Carrots and Cauliflower and Corn
This is where having a plan comes in handy. We already have a loaf of whole-wheat bread from meal #2, and we have cheese slices from meal #3. I don’t know about you, but this is just screaming grilled cheese to me! It’s also screaming simple, which I love to hear.
- Whole-wheat bread (from meal #2) = no charge since cost was incurred already
- Cheese slices (from meal #3) = no charge since cost was incurred already
- 1 pound organic carrots (I prefer cutting them into sticks to roast, but if time is an issue, use baby carrots and adjust cost) = $0.99
- 1 head organic cauliflower = $3.99
- 4 ears corn on the cob = $2.00
>>Meal total: $6.98<<
Meal #5: Baked Sweet Potatoes with Garlic-Sautéed Kale and Goat Cheese
This is another meatless meal that is quick to prepare, filling, and full of those bright colors we love.
- 4 large organic sweet potatoes = $6.90
- 2 cloves garlic, chopped = $.20
- olive oil
- 1 bunch kale = $0.99
- Salt to taste
- 1 4-ounce container goat cheese = $6.99
>>Meal total: $15.08<<
To prepare, pierce the sweet potatoes with a fork and place on a baking sheet. Cook in a preheated 450° F oven for 45 minutes – 1 hour until a knife can be inserted easily.
In the meantime, remove stems from kale and chop. In a large skillet, sauté garlic in olive oil for 1 minute. Add kale and cook for 3 – 5 minutes, until kale is cooked through and wilted.
When potatoes are cooked and still hot, slice them open and top with sautéed kale and goat cheese.
What’s your favorite budget-friendly or time-saving meal – either one from above or another idea that you can share?