Nickel & Dine

How to Make Filling & Flavorful Dinners in $2.50 (or Less!)

The Nickel & Dine recipe column feeds four, for a ten-spot.

July 29, 2021
Photo by Julia Gartland

I’m always looking for a good deal. I buy my clothes from resale sites and my glassware at antique stores—and before the pandemic forced us to eat at home every night, I regularly opted to make dinner instead of dropping $40 at a restaurant. This penchant for thrift often led me towards recipes that slant on the cheap side, but I discovered that most budget-friendly recipes simply don’t suit my lifestyle: hefty casseroles and pastas to serve a large family (I live in a two-person household); cheaper cuts of meat swapped in for thicker chops to make a big, meaty entree (I rarely eat meat, and when I do, I don’t want it to take over my meal); and ingredients purchased in uber-large quantities (my apartment has minimal storage).

While these styles of recipe are indeed helpful to many, to find recipes I like and save money, I decided to take matters into my own hands in the form of a monthly recipe column called Nickel & Dine. Every one of these recipes makes at least four servings, and will run you about $10 in total—that’s just $2.50 per serving!

I’m not saying I don’t still splurge on a nice bottle of wine or fancy tinned fish when the urge strikes, but I am saying it’s not hard to make flavorful, nuanced meals you’d feel just as excited to make on a random Wednesday as you would when entertaining friends for the evening—and you don’t have to spend a significant chunk of your paycheck to do it.

Six dinners, for $10 or less

A Pot of Beans & Greens

The meal I make over and over (and over): dry beans and aromatics cooked into a pot of soupy goodness. Wilt in whatever hardy greens are in the fridge, serve with bread.

Smashed Potatoes With Bacon & Eggs

Everyone loves a tiny, crispy, smashed potato, but why not give Russets the same treatment? Top the taters with spicy sour cream sauce, crumbled bacon, two bacon-fat fried eggs, and a side of tender greens. Breakfast for dinner just got way more fun.

Vegetarian French Onion Soup With Asparagus & Cheesy Croutons

Classic French onion soup is great, but this vegetarian version tastes just as rich, thanks to the biggest pile of caramelized onions you ever did see. If it’s asparagus season, use them; if not, any green thing (green beans, chopped broccoli rabe, frozen peas, snap peas, and edamame, to name a bunch) will do nicely here.

Toast Frittata

Frittata with a side of toast is great, but how about toast baked right inside it? The toast pieces are fried in a skillet with olive oil, then the beaten eggs go right into the same pan along with creamy feta, frozen peas, and sliced red onion. Eat it warm or cold, inside or out.

Grilled Tofu Cabbage Cups With Garlicky Yogurt

A totally gluten-free recipe, these cabbage cups are here to remind you that grilled tofu doesn’t have to be boring. Taking inspiration from lettuce and cabbage wraps all over the world, tuck smoky grilled tofu into cabbage leaves with a crunchy-juicy cucumber, tomato, and onion salad and a creamy Greek yogurt dressing.

Tuna Toasts With Spice-Dusted Tomatoes

If a tuna sandwich met tomato toast, you’d get this tuna toast. Shower slices of juicy tomato with ground cumin, crushed fennel seed, and a mild chile flake, then layer them over a quick tuna salad tossed with celery and pickles and piled on garlic-rubbed toast. The nonnegotiable side dish? A big handful of potato chips.

Bookmark Nickel & Dine’s recipe page for a new one every month. Which meal sounds good to you?

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Emily
  • liveyummy
Rebecca Firkser is the assigning editor at Food52. She used to wear many hats in the food media world: food writer, editor, assistant food stylist, recipe tester (sometimes in the F52 test kitchen!), recipe developer. These days, you can keep your eye out for her monthly budget recipe column, Nickel & Dine. Rebecca tests all recipes with Diamond Crystal kosher salt. Follow her on Instagram @rebeccafirkser.


Emily August 12, 2021
I want to be excited about cheap meal, but all of these recipes were pretty underwhelming
liveyummy July 29, 2021
I absolutely LOVED these suggestions! Can't wait to try them out!