Easy and Budget-Friendly Dinners
We all know the struggle. You’ve had a long day at work, you have a million things to do when you get home, and you walk in the door and instead of a pleasant welcome, you are greeted with the demand of “What’s for dinner?” It’s possible you have a plan or an idea or a few quick go-tos, but if you’re like most people, your immediate and regular response is, “I have no idea.” You could go pick something up, you could microwave something frozen, or you could call and order delivery. But you know that is going to cost more money, be less healthy than a home-cooked meal, and probably take just as much time as pulling together a quick dinner yourself.
But where do you even start?
Easy and budget-friendly dinners are always the goal, but they don’t just happen spontaneously. To save the most money and still have quick, healthy, and delicious meals each night, it’s going to take some planning and preparation. In order to save money on all these meals, it’s helpful to keep the ingredients to a minimum while still choosing the best meals for your family’s needs and likes. Take a look at some of our best tips for preparing easy and budget-friendly dinners, and then take a look at the end of the post for some of our favorite recipes.
Make a Budget
It can be incredibly challenging to know how much to spend on your family’s groceries. It will be different for every family, but the USDA has some charts and guidelines based on the number of people in your family and their ages, as well as your goal for your food budget (do you want to be extra thrifty, low-budget, or can you spend a little extra?). Make a budget and keep track of your purchases while you’re shopping so that you actually stick to your budget. If you are constantly going over budget, reassess and figure out what needs to change—do you need to budget more money for groceries or should you minimize what you’re buying?
Planning Ahead Is Key
Without a doubt, you must plan ahead and be prepared. This planning will account for a majority of your success in making quick, budget-friendly dinners, with the remainder being attributed to you actually cooking the meal. One of the most important factors in creating easy and budget-friendly dinners is to keep your list of ingredients to a low number. It makes sense that a recipe with 15 ingredients will cost you more time and money to prepare than a recipe that only has 5 ingredients. Also, embrace the slow cooker or instant pot if you have them. They are great ways to make dinner prep minimal and to get it done earlier in the day so you come home to a delicious ready-to-eat meal.
Start your preparation by meal planning. Find some good recipes that aren’t going to cost a ton and that won’t take too much time to cook. Make a menu so you can plan ahead by defrosting meat on the right days and making sure you use perishable foods soon after grocery shopping. Some people like to plan three to four days at a time, while others may go as far as planning out two weeks’ worth of meals. Think about when you would need to grocery shop again for your next meal plan and move forward according to that. If you know you won’t have time to grocery shop for at least eight more days, have at least that many meals planned in advance. Also, check out sales flyers for the week ahead. You can cut costs further when you plan your meals according to what’s on sale rather than based on just what sounds good to eat.
Once you have the menu planned out, make a list of ingredients you need for each recipe. As you go through the ingredient lists on the recipes, check your fridge, freezer, and pantry for items you may already have to further minimize how much you’ll have to spend. Be sure to note amounts on your grocery list as well. That way, if you only need 8 ounces of cheddar cheese, you know that ahead of time and aren’t buying a 32-ounce bag just because you’re not certain.
After you’ve compiled a complete grocery list, plan a time to go shopping. The timing of your grocery trip may not seem like a huge deal, but it can be the difference between spending extra money or not. Avoid going shopping when you’re hungry, even if that means eating a snack before you head into the store, as being hungry will encourage impulse buys of items you don’t need that probably aren’t the healthiest options. Try to shop when you aren’t worn out and exhausted, also. The more energy you have, the more you’ll be able to focus on making good purchasing decisions and taking the time to select the best items to match your list. If you have access to a store that does grocery pickup or delivery, that can be hugely advantageous as well. By ordering groceries online, not only will you save time at the store, but you’ll significantly reduce impulse purchases and are far more likely to stick to your list.
Easy, Budget-Friendly Dinners to Try This Week
One-Pan Chicken Fajitas
Place aluminum foil on a cookie sheet and lightly spray it with olive oil spray. Put sliced bell peppers of various colors on one side, sliced red onions on the other side, and a few chicken breasts in the center. Sprinkle salt and pepper over all of it, then sprinkle taco seasoning on the chicken breasts. Pour some salsa onto the chicken breasts and bake for 25 minutes at 400 degrees. When it’s done, serve it in tortillas with other toppings or as is, or put it over rice with some black beans, corn, and cheese.
Mini Chicken Pot Pies
A unique twist on a classic dish, this one is sure to be a family favorite. Using either pie crust or pre-made biscuits, roll out the dough and cut out circles. Put the circles of dough in muffin tins and press them down. In a separate bowl, mix together cooked chicken (cook it ahead of time or purchase cans of chicken), a bag of frozen mixed veggies, and some cream of chicken soup. Spoon the mixture into the muffin pan and bake.
French Onion Sliders
Mix ground beef with pepper, seasoning salt, and some bouillon mix. Flatten it into a casserole dish and bake until cooked. Take the entire patty out of the casserole dish and lay the bottom half of the slider buns in the dish. Put the beef on top, followed by some grilled onions and Swiss cheese. Top it with the tops of the slider buns, and brush some butter on top, followed by some sesame seeds and garlic salt. Bake the sliders again until the cheese is melted and the tops of the buns are browned.
Teriyaki Rice Bowl
For this recipe, you can either purchase a bottle of teriyaki sauce or make your own with a recipe online. Cook some rice either ahead of time or use instant rice or a rice cooker to prepare it faster. Cut up some fresh broccoli or use frozen broccoli and steam or boil it. Brown small pieces of chicken with some basic spices, and when the chicken and broccoli are finished, put them in the same pan with the teriyaki sauce until it all warms up and the sauce thickens slightly. Serve the sauced chicken and broccoli over rice.