15 Family Meals Under $15 To Make, Because The Kids Just Keep Eating
Last week, as I stared down at my grocery store's paltry circular ad, I wondered just how much it was going to cost to feed my family of four for the next week. Our budget is really getting hit, but there are some family meals for under $15 that are delicious, healthy, and filling.
I live in New York City. We are accustomed to spending a lot more than the rest of the country on basic necessities like housing and taxes. However, before the pandemic hit, our grocery costs weren't all that incomparable to other areas of the region. (Other than in Manhattan, and in the vast food deserts that dot our city.) Now, the prices for food have skyrocketed. Pork loin that I was able to purchase in February for $5 per pound is now nearly double that price. Bacon is unaffordable. Chicken has gone up at my local grocery store over 25% in three months. And all those food sales that many of us relied upon before the pandemic? They seem to be a thing of the past, thanks to demand problems. But you can still make tasty, affordable meals if you're willing to get a little creative.
I cross-checked these costs from Instacart prices from stores across the country, and came up with an average that best reflects the costs at the time of publication. I am not adding for costs of salt and pepper, and I am using the average cost of items like butter from the primary grocery stores — Wegman's, Aldi, Giant Eagle, Publix, Kroger, Albertsons, and Costco.
1. Sesame Chicken
The website Budget Bytes is always a great go-to when you're looking for a serious breakdown of price for delicious recipes, and this recipe for Sesame Chicken is no different. She prices it at $5.74 for four servings with no vegetable. However, a pound of boneless, skinless thighs went up a bit to $3.36 per pound. Add in sautéed green beans at $2.29 per pound, plus $.40 of soy sauce, $.50 for fresh garlic, and $.25 cents of olive oil, and a meal for four is $8.91. You could increase portions by half on this recipe and still be under $15.
2. Beans Are Your Friend
This recipe for chickpea curry from A Spicy Perspective clocks in with the heavy cream at just under $13 for everything. However, if you sub sugar for honey, and coconut milk or whole milk for heavy cream, you shave $2 off the top. Plus, it's insanely healthy and delicious, and I've made it in my Instant Pot, which is a real win.
3. Cabbage Pasta (I Swear, It's Amazing)
If you aren't following Allison Robicelli at The Takeout, you're missing out. Fortunately, we've been friends for years, so I know to take her word for what's delicious. Her cabbage pasta is other worldly. The base recipe before the cheese is about $6 give or take — it depends on where you buy your olive oil and butter. I pay about $3.50 per pound of butter, and $10 for a liter of olive oil at Costco. The cheese is the cost here. If you go for imported parm, you'll pay about $15 per pound, so you'll be spending almost $4 of that in this recipe, plus another $3 for feta, because why skimp? (Hint: Bulgarian-style feta is perfection on this recipe and it's cheaper.) But, if you buy domestic parm for $9 per pound, not only are you getting a great product, but this recipe becomes incredibly affordable and you'll just go to town on it.
4. Chicken Spaghetti
Chicken spaghetti is one of the rare foods that can be made entirely from pantry ingredients if you use canned chicken and skip the bell peppers. However, you can also use cooked breast or thighs — whatever is cheapest and you like the best. You can also use the breast meat from a rotisserie chicken. (Save the carcass for stock, please.)
Chicken spaghetti can be boosted with the addition of a bag of frozen peas stirred in at the end, too. This recipe has tons of protein, a ton of nacho-y flavor goodness, and now I'm hungry.
5. American Goulash
This recipe by Budget Bytes clocks in at a cool $12.75 with prices adjusted for the pandemic, and it's giving me real Hamburger Helper (but not from a box) vibes, and I'm here for it. It is saucy and you could easily kick it up a little bit with some chilies or olives for a bit more flavor.
6. Ramen Noodle Stir Fry
If you don't cook with oyster sauce, this recipe will encounter an initial cost. If you order on Amazon, it's pricier than if they have it in your local store. Thankfully, most major stores do have it. It's cheap, and adds so much flavor to Asian dishes. It's pure umami goodness, and takes sauces over the edge. This recipe for quick ramen stir fry from Damn Delicious is under $10 without an added veg, and you could throw in a bag of frozen broccoli at the end for another $2, and it's a full meal. Or serve it beside a bunch of watermelon. Your call.
7. It's A Midwestern Staple For A Reason
This recipe for tuna casserole from Family Fresh Meals clocks in at $8.55 for four servings, but if you buy all the ingredients at Aldi, wait for it — just $5.42. Make almost three of these babies and freeze them. And then reheat in the middle of the night when your kids are asleep and eat them while sitting on the kitchen floor drinking wine (3-buck Chuck chardonnay is the right one for this) right from the bottle.
8. 8 Servings Of Soup
I've made this recipe for copycat Panera broccoli cheese soup about 10 million times. It costs just about $10, makes eight portions, and holy wow is it ever good. The biggest cost is the cheese and the stock, and both of those are very affordable at Target, Wegman's, or Aldi if you buy the house brand.
9. Teriyaki Tofu & Broccoli
This recipe with tofu (which by the way, you people in Georgia pay a ton for tofu in the suburbs, but it's super cheap at the H Mart) is about $9 on the high end, but if you buy your tofu at Aldi ($2) you can afford to double the tofu and sauce, and still clock in at only $11 if you sub white for brown rice. And before you ask, yes, you can make this with chicken. (But my family and I are firmly team Tofu on this one.)
10. Jacuzzi Chicken
This recipe for jacuzzi chicken from Simply Scratch uses bone-in, skin-on chicken breasts, which average about $2.49 to $3 per pound, but you could easily use legs or thighs, which you can still get at Aldi for $1.29 per pound. The beer is $2, which is the chief flavoring agent of this recipe. Add in rice or polenta, or even tortillas, and a side of grilled veggies, and you're at $12 or less for the whole meal.
11. Chicken Shawarma Latkes
This recipe for chicken shawarma latkes from What Jew Wanna Eat looks intimidating, but that's only because of all the spices. And honestly, having made shawarma a million times, I buy the spices pre-mixed. It's under $7 for a ton of spice, and you can use it on any meat or fish you have. Worth it. If you don't routinely use tahini, that would be a new cost, but I would encourage you to try it, as it's really a great creamy option. This recipe comes in at $14.50, so it's at the higher end, but every penny is put to good use. Plus, if you want to make it cheaper, you could skip the tahini and just make a cream sauce, or you could use whole chicken leg instead of thigh, which tends to be less expensive.
12. Veggie Tortellini Salad
This veggie tortellini salad recipe from Peas and Crayons is one of my favorites of all time. And while she uses Mrs Dash seasoning, I use the Italian dressing packet by Good Seasons, because I am apparently addicted to salt. This recipe costs about $10.50 for four servings if you use the Market Pantry tortellini from Target — sometimes less than that when it goes on-sale. My daughter proclaims it to be "cheesy refreshing," and that's the perfect descriptor.
13. Breakfast for Dinner
This recipe for breakfast casserole from Family Fresh Meals will cost you $16 to $17 on the very high end (thanks to pork shortages), but it serves eight. This is a perfect "eat breakfast for dinner and then breakfast the next day" food. Serve it with your finest drip decaf and a glass of juice.
14. One Pan Wonder
This recipe for sheet pan sausage from A Spicy Perspective is $12.49 on the high end, but if you find italian sausage on sale, it's cheaper. I serve it with buttered noodles, bringing the total to $15. It's legitimately the easiest recipe ever.
15. Stuffed Cabbage
Growing up in an Eastern European house with grandparents who suffered horrible, poor childhoods, I learned a very important lesson: delicious food does not have to be expensive. Stuffed cabbage, like this popular recipe which adds up to a lean $9.20, is very cheap. It stretches by adding rice and the tomato sauce is from canned tomatoes. Cabbage is always cheap. But put everything together? It is pure comfort food.