One Busy Mom & Recipe Tester’s Favorite $10 Meals

April  9, 2018

As my family grew from three to four, to five, so did our food costs. It first began with small items like baby food and healthy snacks for our toddler to what it looks like now: a cart full of items for brown bag-lunching, ingredients for the bake sale, and five nights of dinner to get three kids and two adults through the week.

The increase in food costs as my family grew was inevitable. And with my job as a recipe tester, my days are full of cooking. So keeping budget-friendly, $10-ish recipes in my arsenal that are easy and fast has helped tremendously in keeping my spending in check, as well as making meal times more efficient.

One of the ways I do this is by thinking outside of the barn. Following the popularity of Meatless Monday, I started incorporating more vegetable-only nights―and I can feel the difference in my wallet.

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Sometimes I'll make my family’s Taco Tuesday meat-free, always to rave reviews. Once I buy some taco shells or tortillas, the filling options are endless: herbs, hummus (among other spreads), vegetables, and tofu combine for delicious configurations. I set up a table with all of the same fixings, replacing the meat options with veggie-friendly ones. No one will miss the meat if you try.

Another way we try to eat on the cheap (that our kids go crazy for) is our Breakfast for Dinner nights. It's exactly how it sounds: Make some French toast, pancakes, waffles, a little bacon or sausages, and everyone is happy when you’re passing the maple syrup. Inexpensive and fun to mix it up. This one is a real winner.

And, because my mom hat is always securely fastened to my head, in addition to the sweet breakfast options, I try to put something savory on the table, too. So while the kids are drenching their dishes in syrup, they're also getting some tasty greens in. My favorite Skillet Strata with Bacon, Cheddar and Greens does just this.

Another trick to eating for $10 is turning to the incredible, edible egg. Breakfast, lunch, or dinner, eggs never disappoint. My brood loves them, and the fact that eggs can be prepared in so many ways make them very valuable to me. I reach for them at dinnertime more often than you would think. A BIG hit in my house is pasta alla carbonara. The kiddos call it bacon and egg pasta, and they request it at least once a month. It’s on the table in less than 20 minutes, delicious, and inexpensive. Best of all, I always have the ingredients on hand. Throw peas in and you are hitting all of your food groups―a keeper!

Another favorite egg dinner is my dad’s go-to when I was a kid, and he had to get dinner on the table when my mom was working late. Taught to him by a roommate at the University of Rome, Eggs in Purgatory is always an inexpensive and delicious meal option. It’s two ingredients: some leftover marinara sauce, and a handful of eggs. This particular recipe is a fantastic version.

Finally, you can never go wrong with a grilled ham and cheese. It’s nice to have an easy, quick dinner, isn't it? Sometimes I like to fancy it up with a French sauce, like a cheesy Mornay (which is essentially a creamy Béchamel with added cheese). Eating a sandwich with a knife and fork makes it dinner in my book. I love this easy version that transports me to Paris whenever I have it.

Cooking on a budget has a number of advantages for my family. Beyond the intended point of saving money, the recipes I turn to often have a minimal ingredient list, giving them the added edge of being easy to prepare and quick to get on the table (a true bonus with three kids in the house!).

What are your favorite family-friendly $10-ish meals? Share them with us below!

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Cookbook Author. Heirloom Kitchen.Food52 contributing editor & Recipe Tester.


Tracy T. April 22, 2018
Or favorite weeknight dinner is “salmon toasts”: toasted sourdough, smeared with butter or mayo, topped with baked salmon and bruschetta. Throw on whatever else you want - capers, shredded lettuce, hot sauce. $8 salmon fillet and 20 minutes from start to finish feeds my family of four (number five doesn’t eat solids yet.)
Anna F. April 22, 2018
Love it!
Selina April 17, 2018
I feel like the simple idea of a few fixed meals per week is incredibly cost-effective. For almost three years now, I make crepes every Wednesday, we stuff them, or roll them with honey, fruit, yoghurt. And EVERYONE, even my fussy 5 year old, loves them. Then add a pizza night on Fridays where I whip up a dough in my mixer, using whatever is leftover from the rest of the weeknight meals (and cheese) as toppings. On Mondays I usually turn to some variation of this recipe from Anna Jones which is easily adapted to a whole assortment of simple ingredients. http://annajones.co.uk/recipe/a-modern-way-to-cook-is-out
Anna F. April 17, 2018
Love Anna Jones! And I'm stealing your crepe night for sure! I think my kids will love them too.
Mimi May 2, 2018
Oo crepes sound like a great idea! Do you mind sharing your crepe recipe?
Ida April 15, 2018
I love Jaime Oliver's recipe for Butternut Squash dahl. It freezes too which is great.
Anna F. April 17, 2018
Oh, will check this one out for sure!
Janet M. April 15, 2018
We like a clean-out-the-fridge stir fry with ramen noodles--bits of cooked meat or bacon, sliced onion, bell pepper, mushrooms, the baby greens too limp for salad, or a handful of fresh herbs, a scrambled egg or two julienned, some minced garlic and ginger. Any leftover veggies work, and for sauce we like a big spoonful of hoisin, some chili sauce with garlic, and splashes of soy and toasted sesame oil. Fresh ramen noodles are wonderful, but cheap dried ones work fine--reconstituted, of course. My family loves this. I also do a lot of soup--chicken corn chowder, potato, French onion, vegetable beef, etc--so cheap!!!
Anna F. April 17, 2018
fantastic idea and I love how the fridge gets cleaned out, hence, less food waste. Thank you for sharing such a great idea/recipe.
Holly April 13, 2018
Ditto to chili+cornbread dinner. Split pea and ham soup with really good bread+butter is also a winner.
Anna F. April 15, 2018
split pea soon sounds good right about now! yum!
Scott April 10, 2018
Everyone does the "breakfast for dinner" thing. I go the other way.

Dinner for breakfast can work just as well! As ktr says, chili is an inexpensive dish that's just as tasty at 6AM as it is at 6PM- sometimes it's even better because the time in the fridge allows for the flavors to blend. Spaghetti sauce is the same- the tomatoes, onion and garlic improve overnight.
ktr April 10, 2018
One of my favorite breakfasts is leftover pork roast with roasted cabbage cooked in the pork drippings.
Anna F. April 13, 2018
Omg I love this idea! Thanks for sharing!
Tracy T. April 22, 2018
Love that idea! I did that while on vacation for a couple days. Leftover grilled fish wth steamed broccoli and carrots made a great breakfast at 7am in the hotel room, as did leftover seafood cioppino the next morning - with a yogurt cup I’d brought from home!
ktr April 9, 2018
I actually look to make my meals more meat heavy when trying to save money. Fresh vegetables aren’t cheap and we have 2 freezers full of wild game. Chili is always a good meal. The meat cost very little and the tomatoes were grown in my garden and canned.
Anna F. April 15, 2018
My husband is a hunter as well. I love a good pot of venison stew! Thanks for the suggestions!
Tracy T. April 22, 2018
Agreed. Getting extra sauces, spreads and ingredients to make up for the meat can easily end up costing more. With growing kids, an extra package of chicken thighs for $6 gets them the calories they need without breaking the budget.