6 Family Meals You Can Make for $17 or Less

KEY POINTS

  • Although inflation has slowed, higher food prices are here to stay.
  • Inexpensive ingredients that can produce delicious meals include pork, rice, hot dogs, and pasta.
  • You can make family-sized portions of Cajun pasta, pork tacos, slow cooker lasagna and more for about $15.

According to the USDA, U.S. households spend 11% of their disposable income on food, cooked at home or ordered out. That’s a big line item on the budget, which is why money experts often recommend optimizing your food spend to conserve cash. The usual advice is to cook at home, rather than dine out.

Unfortunately, the extended inflation trend in the U.S. has made home-cooked meals expensive, too. The US Inflation Calculator reports that food inflation ranged from 7% to 11.4% between January 2022 and March 2023. And although the growth rate of food prices has since slowed, there’s no going back. Once prices rise 11%, we’re stuck with that increase. We can only hope future increases are smaller.

Pot on stove with uncooked pasta.
Source: Canva.

There are two ways to manage that reality. You can raise your income or buy fewer groceries. While I’d love to help you make more, the latter is my mission today. Let’s explore some simple satisfying family meals you can make for about $15 each.

Note that the prices below come from the Walmart in Santa Fe, New Mexico. I did not break down the prices into exact measurements, because that seems unrealistic. You can’t buy a tablespoon of butter after all. That means you will have some leftover ingredients from the recipes below.

Pork, rice, and simmer sauce ($15)

You can make a flavorful and inexpensive dish by using a premade simmer sauce. The steps are:

  1. Slice your choice of meat thinly. Center cut pork loin is a good, inexpensive choice.
  2. Slice or chop a vegetable. I recommend two zucchinis.
  3. Brown the meat in a large skillet, then add the vegetables and brown them slightly.
  4. Add a simmer sauce, such as Tikka Masala by Passage to India.
  5. Cover and simmer for 15 minutes or until meat and veggies are cooked and sauce is hot.
  6. Serve over white rice.

The food costs on this dish are:

  • Center cut pork loin: $2.34 per lb
  • Zucchini: $0.87 each
  • Simmer sauce: $2.96
  • White rice: $1.77

You will probably want 2 to 3 lbs of meat to serve a family of four. You’ll have leftover rice, since the price above gets you an entire bag. If you decide to make it again, it’ll cost you less the second time.

Pork soft tacos ($17)

Yes, you can make tacos from ground pork. I find that a milder meat like pork or turkey allows the taco seasonings to be more prominent. For that reason, you can use one taco seasoning packet for up to 2 lbs. of meat.

Follow these steps:

  1. Heat your oven to 300°F or 149°C. Wrap 12 or 16 fajita-sized flour tortillas in foil. When the oven is hot, put the tortillas in, shut the oven door, and turn off the heat.
  2. Heat a medium skillet over medium-high heat. Add the ground pork and cook, stirring until no pink remains.
  3. Add the taco seasoning packet plus 1/3 cup of water. Stir and bring to a simmer. Let the meat simmer until the excess liquid has evaporated.
  4. While the meat simmers, shred iceberg lettuce.
  5. Serve the seasoned meat in warmed flour tortillas, topped with shredded lettuce and cheese.

Your ingredient list for these tacos is:

  • Small flour tortillas: $2.12 for 20
  • Ground pork: $3.97 per pound
  • Shredded cheese: $2.22
  • Taco seasoning packet: $0.97
  • Iceberg lettuce: $1.94

Tip: Shred the interior of the lettuce for this recipe and save the large, outer leaves. You can make a lettuce wrap dish with them another day.

Hot dogs & baked potato ($14)

Hot dogs alongside baked potatoes makes for an easy and satisfying meal. You have several options for cooking the dogs, too. I won’t rehash all the instructions, since they’re already documented in other places on Blog Chef:

  • How long to cook hot dogs on a grill
  • How to cook hot dogs in a crockpot
  • How to cook hot dogs on the stove
  • How to cook hot dogs in the oven

Also see this recipe for quick baked potatoes. I included butter in your ingredient list below; you can use it lieu of olive oil and as a potato topping.

Don’t forget to warm the buns — you can wrap them in foil and pop them in the oven with the potatoes for 10 minutes.

The ingredients you need are:

  • 10-pack Oscar Mayer Beef Franks: $3.94
  • Great Value Buns: $1.46
  • Mustard: $0.98
  • Ketchup: $1.28
  • Potatoes: $0.58 x 4
  • Butter: $3.78

Rotisserie chicken Caesar salad ($16)

I love a homemade Caesar dressing, but a bottle is way cheaper per serving — especially when you shop at Walmart. The Great Value brand Caesar dressing is $1.97. Sadly, you’ll spend more than that buying anchovy paste for a homemade dressing.

Also, using a rotisserie chicken makes this a meal you can put together fast. Simply wash and shred your romaine, pull apart your chicken, and mix them in a bowl with dressing, pre-made croutons, and shredded Parmesan cheese.

The ingredients are:

  • Rotisserie chicken: $5.97
  • Romaine lettuce: $3.24
  • Croutons: $1.27
  • Shredded Parmesan cheese: $2.22
  • Caesar dressing: $1.97

Cajun pasta with sausage ($15)

The family will love pasta with a creamy, spicy sauce and sausage. You will love that you can make this dish in one pot.

  1. Slice fully cooked Cajun-style pork sausage links into chunks. Brown them in a large, deep pot that’s big enough to cook pasta. Remove the sausage chunks to a bowl.
  2. Add a can of fire-roasted tomatoes to the pot, along with 32 oz. of chicken broth, and 16 oz. of pasta. Bring to a boil, cover, and let simmer for 10 minutes or until the pasta is cooked to your taste.
  3. Add the sausage into the pot.
  4. Scoop spoonfuls of the whipped cream cheese into the pot, stirring as you go. You can use 8 oz. of cream cheese or less, depending on how creamy you want the sauce. Serve hot.

Here is your grocery list:

  • Pasta: $0.9
  • Fire-roasted tomatoes: $1.18
  • Tony Chachere’s cajun seasoning: $2.32
  • 32 oz. chicken broth: $1.37
  • 8 oz. whipped cream cheese: $2.12
  • Cajun style pork sausage links: $5.67

Easy Slow Cooker Lasagna ($15)

I’ve been making this dish regularly because it’s easy, delicious, and economical. My husband loves it, too, which is an added incentive. Here’s what to do:

  1. Cook ground turkey in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add in a jar of marinara sauce.
  2. Grease the inside of your slow cooker. You can use the butter you bought for the baked potatoes or olive oil if you have it on hand.
  3. Pour 1/3 of the sauce into the bottom of the slow cooker. Add a layer of washed spinach leaves. Top with uncooked lasagna noodles, breaking them as needed to fit. Drop spoonfuls of ricotta cheese on top of the lasagna noodles, using 1/3 of the container or less if you prefer. Repeat. Top the last layer of noodles with the remaining sauce.
  4. Cover the slow cooker and cook for 6 to 8 hours. Enjoy.

The ingredients list is:

  • Lasagna noodles: $1.84
  • Marinara sauce: $2.36
  • 1 lb. ground turkey: $4
  • 10 oz. fresh spinach: $2.18
  • 15 oz. ricotta cheese: $2.58

Simple meals for less

Simple meals like hot dogs and pork soft tacos are economical to prepare. Are these recipes going to win any awards? No. But they will satisfy some cravings, taste great, and help you manage your food budget.

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