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Dollar Dinners: Five Healthy Meals on a Budget

The grocery store bill can add up quickly, especially for families with growing and hungry children.

Even when you take advantage of sales; cut coupons; buy frozen produce instead of fresh, and sort through the “manager’s special” shelves, it’s still easy to go over budget. And, for some, that means empty cupboards and hungry bellies until the next paycheck.

But there’s a way for bargain shoppers to save money at the store even before they start pushing the cart -- plan inexpensive meals. You can make a filling, healthy and satisfying meal for $1 or less per serving.

We shared some dollar dinners back in August. Here are five more inexpensive meals to add to your meal plan rotation.

Tuna and Macaroni Salad

Perfect for warmer weather, this recipe features two inexpensive main ingredients -- canned tuna and macaroni. You can pick up a one pound box of macaroni for $1. A 12-ounce can of tuna is $3.50. You’ll also need about $1.50 worth of chopped onion, celery, mayonnaise, mustard and salt and pepper.

For $6 total, you’ll come away with a salad that serves eight. It makes for a great dinner entree. Leftovers can be used the next day for packed lunches.

Here’s how you make it:

1 pound macaroni
1 12-ounce can tuna, drained
1 onion, chopped
3 celery ribs, chopped
1 cup mayonnaise
1 tablespoon yellow mustard
Salt and pepper, to taste

Cook the macaroni according to the box. Drain and let cool. Then, in a big bowl, combine the macaroni, tuna, onion, celery, mayonnaise and mustard. Stir until it’s all combined. Add salt and pepper, to taste.

Slow Cooker Pinto Beans

Dried beans are a budget shopper’s best friend. At about $1 or so per pound, beans are packed full of nutrients, filling and inexpensive. One pound of dried beans turns into about 12 servings once cooked. To cook pinto beans, rinse and sort through the dried beans, picking out any tiny pebbles. Pour into a bowl and cover with cold water to soak overnight.

Then, drain the beans and pour into a slow cooker. Add an onion that’s been quartered and four or five garlic cloves, chopped. Pour in enough water so that the beans are covered by about two inches. Cover and cook on low for six to eight hours. Serve over rice, in flour tortillas or on their own.

Homemade Pizza

Depending on who delivers, a pizza dinner for a family can cost between $10 and $20. It’s much cheaper when you just make it on your own.

You can pick up pizza dough for less than $2 per pizza at many stores. Better yet, make two crusts worth of pizza for about a $1 total by following recipes like this one on From there, top with some pasta sauce and mozzarella cheese. You can pick up a jar of sauce for about $1.50, but you’ll use only a portion of it. A 16-ounce bag of shredded cheese is about $3.20 at most big box stores.

Baked Potatoes

Full of fiber, vitamin C and other nutrients, potatoes pack a lot of nutrition into an inexpensive meal. A five-pound bag of russet potatoes costs about $2.25 at a big box store.

Topped with vegetables, leftover meats, cheeses and other ingredients, they also can make for a hearty dinner. From pizza to Frito pie potatoes, offers 10 inexpensive ways to top a baked potato.

Chicken Legs

To stretch those grocery dollars, making the most of budget cuts of meat, such as chicken legs, is critical. For about $5, you can pick up a four-pound bag of frozen chicken legs at a big box store. It serves 12 people. And you’ll need nothing more than just a little garlic powder, olive oil, salt and pepper to create this satisfying main dish from Serve with some frozen vegetables on the side and you’re spending far less than $1 per serving to feed your family.

If you are experiencing financial difficulty and are looking for a solution, non-profit credit counseling can help you make sense of all your options. Contact us today for a free financial assessment with one of our certified credit counselors.


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