20 Cheap meal ideas to feed your family

Cheap meal ideas

The rising cost of living has made the weekly grocery store shop a scary mission. With a family of four, including three fast-growing teenagers, I am always on the hunt for cheap meal ideas.

More than ever I am relying on inexpensive ingredients such as pasta, beans, and cheaper cuts of meat. The trick is knowing how to cook them and create a delicious dinner that the whole family will enjoy.

Luckily, there are heaps of cheap meal ideas online but hunting down the winners is a time-consuming task. Since I’ve already invested lots of time browsing and cooking, I’m going to share my favourites with you. 

In addition to the below recipes, here are a few suggestions to stay on budget while keeping everyone happy and healthy at mealtimes.

  • Learn to use your freezer to your advantage. It is your best friend when it comes to saving money in the kitchen. Cook in bulk and freeze. And never take a chance with leftovers. If you think they might be wasted, stick them in the freezer for a ready-made meal another day. I honestly believe food that has been frozen tastes better, apparently freezing allows the flavours to develop.
  • Bulk out dishes with pantry staples where possible. I always have tinned beans and pulses on hand to add to make pasta dishes or shepherds pie go further. They are filling due to their high protein and fibre content. Best of all they are cheap to buy.
  • Don’t underestimate dried herbs and spices. They can lively up the blandest budget dish without the cost of fresh herbs or other expensive ingredients.
  • If, like our family, you love your fresh herbs, grow them. We have a vertical herb garden on our balcony with five different herbs at any one time. Parsley and chives are particularly easy to grow and you change them up with the seasons. 
  • Stretch each meal and don’t waste a thing. Use leftover chicken for salads, sandwiches, and soup. Most pasta dishes can be served cold in a packed lunch the following day. Uneaten casserole can be used in pies for a filling dinner another night.

20 Cheap meal ideas to feed your family

1. Tuscan Style White Bean Stew

Whip up a hearty bean stew for whole family with affordable ingredients. I like serving this during the cooler months to warm up the tummy and fill it with fibre.

Tuscan Bean Stew | Beanstalk Single Mums

I found this on: Taste

2. Peanut Butter Chicken

Peanut butter and chicken are surprisingly good together if you haven’t tried it yet. It’s one of the cheap meal ideas that I always have on file when I’m batch cooking.

Cheap Meal Ideas | Peanut Butter Chicken | Beanstalk Single Mums

I found this on: BBC Good Food

3. Creamy Tuna Mornay

It doesn’t get any easier or cheaper than tuna pasta. I love this creamy recipe that is on the table in 30 minutes, and it’s easy to double the servings for freezing.

Creamy Tuna Mornay | Beanstalk Single Mums

I found this on: Best Recipes

4. Simple French Onion Potato Bake

Cheap Meal Ideas | Simple French Onion Potato Bake | Beanstalk Single Mums

When I’m in the mood for vegan but don’t have any greens in the fridge, I throw together spuds, onion, and cream/cheese and call it a day. This cheap meal is super filling and kid-friendly.

I found this on: Kid Spot

5. Easy Meatloaf

Whenever I have leftover ground beef, I transform it into this easy meatloaf recipe with other ingredients that are already in my pantry. Just add egg, breadcrumbs, milk, and seasoning. Easy peasy.

Easy Meatloaf | Beanstalk Single Mums

I found this on: All Recipes

6. Sardine Spaghetti

Whole wheat pasta, sardines, and baby spinach make a pretty filling and healthy weeknight dinner that’s on our table in 30 minutes. I use tinned sardines if I don’t have fresh a la Jamie Oliver.

Cheap Meal Ideas | Sardine Spaghetti | Beanstalk Single Mums

I found this on: Jamie Oliver

7. Slow Cooker Steak & Mushrooms

A steak and mushroom dinner doesn’t have to break your wallet. I use the cheaper beef chuck steak and pop it in the slow cooker for up to 8 hours on low, then serve with mashed potatoes and greens.

Slow Cooker Steak & Mushroom | Beanstalk Single Mums

I found this on: Kid Spot

Family meals on a budget

8. Baked Cheesy Meatballs

Here’s my other go-to recipe for leftover beef mince: cheesy meatballs! The whole fam loves it and it freezes well, too, if you happen to have leftovers.

Cheap Meal Ideas | Baked Cheesy Meatballs | Beanstalk Single Mums

I found this on: Best Recipes

9. Ground Chicken Tacos

When I want something a bit healthier than beef, ground turkey or chicken is a great option, especially for taco night. Top with avocado, veggies, cheese and spicy seasoning.

Cheap Meal Ideas | Ground Chicken Tacos | Beanstalk Single Mums

I found this on: Country Living

10. Bangers Pumpkin Mash

Bangers and mash are as easy as they come when it comes to cheap meal ideas for the whole family. This recipe calls for premium sausages and pumpkin mash, but don’t sweat it if you only have potatoes and regular sausages. I always like to cook with what I have on hand.

Cheap Meal Ideas | Bangers Pumpkin Mash | Beanstalk Single Mums

I found this on: Coles

11. Lemony Roasted Chicken and Potatoes

When I’m in a rush, I throw roast chicken, potatoes, and some greens in a pan and pop it in the oven for around 20 minutes. This recipe looks like it takes a long time to prep, but it’s actually super easy and quick.

Lemony Roasted Chicken | Beanstalk Single Mums

I found this on: Taste of Home

12. Rosella Classic Bolognese Sauce

Do you have a tried and tested pasta sauce that you always use? This classic bolognese sauce recipe made with Rosella tomato soup is freezer-friendly and great not only for pasta but also for pie fillings.

Cheap Meal Ideas | Rosella Classic Bolognese Sauce | Beanstalk Single Mums

I found this on: My Food Book

13. Chickpea and Quinoa Bowl

I love plant-based protein bowls for lunches and snacks. These chickpea and quinoa bowls are easy to make and super tasty with a kick of roasted red pepper sauce.

Chickpea Quinoa Bowl | Beanstalk Single Mums

I found this on: Eating Well

14. Hearty Black Bean Quesadillas

I saved this popular recipe for meat-free quesadillas for a healthier snack for the kids. Black beans, corn, cilantro, onion and cheese are all you need and you can double the recipe to freeze for later.

Cheap Meal Ideas | Hearty Black Bean Quesadillas | Beanstalk Single Mums

I found this on: Budget Bytes

Cheap dinner ideas

15. One Pot Sausage Stew

Looking for other ways to cook sausages? I love this one pot stew with cannellini beans and extra lean sausage that’s packed with flavour and smoky goodness. It’s ready in 45 minutes and a guaranteed winner with kids.

One Pot Sausage Stew | Beanstalk Single Mums

I found this on: Taste

16. Cauliflower Cheese Pasta Bake

Pasta bakes are one of my favourite recipes to sneak in some veggies for the kids. The cauliflower in this recipe is cut into chunks, but I like to cut mine smaller so they’re almost invisible in the sauce (picky kids am I right?).

Cheap Meal Ideas | Cauliflower pasta Bake | Beanstalk Single Mums

I found this on: Woolworths

17. Salmon Patties

Here’s an easy, healthy seafood dinner that’s cheap and tasty. I use tinned salmon but you can also use fresh. The best part is that it’s ready in 20 minutes.

Salmon Patties | Beanstalk Single Mums

I found this on: Delish

18. Loaded Sweet Potatoes

When you’re craving a loaded baked potato with all the fixings but trying to eat healthier, give this recipe a try. I love the veggies toppings (broccoli, chickpeas, feta) and that yogurt sauce is to die for.

Cheap Meal Ideas | Loaded Sweet Potatoes | Beanstalk Single Mums

I found this on: Bon Appetit

19. Slow Cooker Chicken Korma

For curry night, I love a classic chicken recipe that you can pop in the slow cooker and forget. This one takes only 15 minutes to put together. If you’re in a rush like me, use prepared curry paste instead of making your own.

Slow Cooker Chicken Korma | Beanstalk Single Mums

I found this on: Coles

20. Macaroni Lamb Pasta Bake

Last on my list of cheap meal ideas: Another pasta bake, this time with diced lamb. I like this one because it’s super customisable. I always add more veggies like spinach, shredded broccoli, or cauliflower.

Cheap Meal Ideas | Macaroni Lamb Pasta Bake | Beanstalk Single Mums

I found this on: Best Recipes

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Sally Love

About the author

Sally Love is a pseudo single mum author who has been writing about single motherhood, separation and divorce for 8+ years. She has been a single mother for 10+ years and has two daughters, one of whom she co-parents and the other she solo parents. Sally has experienced all aspects of single motherhood from legal, financial, parenting, dating, travel as a single parent, re-partnering and re-building a career. She is an integral part of the Beanstalk community chatting and helping single mothers across the globe, as well as sharing her expertise, experiences and genuine reviews with major national newspapers and appearing on nation-wide television shows.

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