Eating on a Budget with Variety

Are you making meals on a budget, either for lunches to take to work or for a whole family meal?

Food is expensive, especially when eating out. It seems even more depressingly expensive when your child refuses to eat or only eats a couple bites of a meal you made.

You may be trying to stretch each buck as far as possible or maybe you are just trying to spend less money overall. You don’t have to live like a college student on ramen noodles or eat the same dish over and over; I’ve been there, it’s no fun.

Just because you are eating on a budget doesn’t mean you have to eat the same old meal over and over. I’ve compiled a list of foods that I make often which are relatively low budget and kid-friendly.

I’ve added links to some great recipes, so check them out!

Eating on a Budget




I often bring sandwiches to work because it is cheap, easy to pack in the morning, and I can eat it quickly before meetings or at my desk.

  • Peanut butter & jelly
  • Lunchmeat & cheese
  • Salad – tuna salad; ham salad; chicken salad; egg salad
  • Grilled cheese
  • Grilled cheese with ham
  • Meatball sandwiches


Soup is a favorite of mine to make because there are so many different kinds, and with so many recipes you can change up the ingredients however you like or use what you have on hand. My kids like to have soup and grilled cheese sandwiches.

I love Hurst’s HamBeens brand bags of beans to make soup. They are very inexpensive and are a wonderful addition to all kinds of soups.

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My kids love having “breakfast” for dinner. So many breakfast ingredients are cheap and quick and easy to cook that on evenings when we arrive home late making “breakfast” is a no-brainer.

  • Eggs
  • Breakfast burritos
  • Pancakes
  • Biscuits & gravy


Oatmeal is a food that I’ve found very versatile. I always buy steel cut or old-fashioned oats. I usually have oatmeal for breakfast, but I try to change it up a little often so that it doesn’t get old or boring. My favorite ways to fix oatmeal:

  • Add 1/2 c pumpkin puree (not pumpkin pie mix), a dash of cinnamon and nutmeg, & sweeten to taste
  • Add raisins, a dash of cinnamon, and a little maple syrup
  • Add blueberries, vanilla, & sweeten to taste
  • Add 1/2 a mashed banana, nutmeg and cloves, & sweeten to taste
  • Add a spoonful of your favorite jelly or jam
  • Add 1 tbsp of peanut butter powder (like PB Fit)
    & sweeten to taste
  • Add chopped strawberries and vanilla yogurt (add the yogurt after cooking)
  • In a bowl, mix 1/2 c oats, 1 mashed banana, and 1 egg (and spices if desired) spoon into a warm greased pan to make an oatmeal “pancake”


I love pasta.  There are so many different kinds of pasta and so many different sauces you have like a zillion choices. Pasta dishes are great because they are inexpensive to make and are pretty filling. Plus, most kids love spaghetti. We ate a lot of goulash growing up and my kids can’t get enough when I make it.

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  • Spaghetti – with or without meat
  • Goulash
  • Macaroni & cheese with chopped hot dogs (I try to be a little healthier and use hot dogs made with turkey instead of regular ones)


I always keep tortillas on hand.  They are great for roll-up sandwiches, to eat with a banana and peanut butter, or to roll up with cheese in the middle (my kids go crazy for something as simple as cheddar cheese and a tortilla!)  Use with or without meat and add rice & beans to make a hardier meal.


  • Quesadillas
  • Soft tacos
  • Burritos


Casseroles are so easy and can be made in a variety of different ways with so many different ingredients. Growing up, tuna noodle casserole was a favorite in my house. My kids love tater tot casserole; we love Spend with Pennies’ recipe, link below.


Other meals


  • Chopped beef over bread
  • Hamburger gravy over bread
  • Meatloaf
  • Hamloaf
  • Barbeque meatballs

Other tips for saving money on food and eating with variety:

  • Changing ingredients in a recipe, like vegetables, spices, or sauces can keep meals that you make often not get boring
  • Eat your leftovers until they are gone
  • Start a small garden in the spring to have fresh veggies all summer long
  • Take advantage of local fruit-bearing trees or bushes, like cherries, plums, blueberries, etc.
  • Add rice or beans to stretch any meal
  • Chop meats into smaller pieces so it goes farther
  • Add inexpensive vegetables to bulk up a dish (onions, celery, peppers, etc.)
  • When you have a lot of food left over, freeze the extras to have at a later time
  • If you do eat out, ask for a to-go box when your food arrives and place half in the box right away to eat for another meal
  • Have lots of leftover ham, turkey, or other meats on holidays? Use the meat for other meals, like turkey enchiladas, ham & bean soup, etc.
  • Use older or dried bread for bread pudding or stuffing
  • Use leftover rice to make rice pudding or fried rice
  • Buying a whole chicken instead of chicken breasts is cheaper
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Do you have any low-cost recipes that you would like to share or tips for saving money on meals?  I would love suggestions to add to my menu.




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