Cheap Meals for Large Families

Cheap Meals for Large Families

Feeding a large family can get expensive. We've put together five recipes, as well as some meal prep tips, to help you keep your family fed without breaking your budget.

Five Easy, Cheap Meals on a Budget

The recipes below meet the general criteria of the USDA’s MyPlate guidelines, which recommend limiting sugar, sodium, and saturated fats. The guidelines encourage you to eat a variety of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, protein, and dairy each day.

And, since variety is the spice of life and makes for a healthy diet, these cheap and easy meal ideas represent a wide range of cuisines.

1. Turkey and Bean Chili

Chili is full of flavor, affordable to make, and easy to customize. Need to feed a large group? Toss in an extra can of beans and an additional cup of water. Not a fan of pinto beans? Replace with a variety your family enjoys.

You can usually make a big batch of chili, enough to feed four to six people, for less than $15. You’ll need the following ingredients:

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 pound ground turkey
  • 1 bag of frozen, chopped onion and green bell pepper
  • 1 cup frozen corn
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
  • 1 15-ounce can pinto beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 15-ounce can white or red beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 10.5-ounce can diced tomatoes and chilies (optional)
  • 2 tablespoons chili powder
  • 1 tablespoon ground cumin (optional)
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 3 cups water

Heat the oil in a large pot over medium heat. Once it starts to ripple, add the ground meat. When just about cooked through, add the onion and bell pepper. Cover with a lid to cook for about five minutes, until softened. The onion should be slightly translucent. Add garlic and stir, cooking for about a minute.

Next, add the beans, can of tomatoes, corn, and spices. Stir to combine, then pour in three cups of water.

Bring the mixture to a boil, then turn the heat down to low, and simmer covered for about 20 minutes. Keep an eye on the chili and stir often to prevent it from sticking to the bottom of the pan.

Once fully cooked, portion the chili into bowls, and serve with tortilla chips, grated cheese, or cilantro.

2. Fried Brown Rice and Veggies

Brown rice is more nutritious than white rice and typically costs about the same. If your family regularly eats white rice, it’s worth switching to brown for the health benefits.

For an even healthier choice, swap out the rice for cauliflower “rice,” which you can buy frozen or make yourself by roughly chopping a head of cauliflower in a blender.

For fried brown rice and veggies, you’ll need the following ingredients:

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon peeled and grated ginger root
  • 1 teaspoon dried red pepper flakes (optional)
  • 4 cups chopped, mixed vegetables (frozen is fine or you can chop up your favorites)
  • 4 cups cooked brown rice or cauliflower “rice”
  • 1-2 tablespoons low sodium soy sauce
  • 1-2 tablespoons of honey
  • 4 eggs, gently beaten
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

Heat the oil in a wok or a wide, deep skillet over medium-high heat. Quickly add the ginger and pepper flakes, if you're including them. Stir the ginger into the oil and let cook for about 10 seconds.

Add the chopped vegetables. Cook, stirring regularly, for about two minutes or until the veggies soften.

Next, add your choice of rice and stir. Cook until the rice is shimmery, and then pour in the soy sauce and honey to coat both the vegetables and rice. Use one tablespoon of soy sauce and honey to start. You can add more at the end if you wish.

Add the beaten eggs to the rice and veggie mixture and stir to combine. The eggs will cook as you stir. Once the eggs are cooked through and no longer wet, remove the pan from the stove. Divide the mixture into four bowls, then add salt, pepper, sesame seeds, and/or more soy sauce, to taste.

If you want to add additional protein, cook two chicken breasts in a separate pan, slice, and add to the final fried rice meal.

3. Cheesy Baked Enchiladas

Enchiladas are an easy-to-customize, budget-friendly meal. In this recipe, ground beef is mixed with a can of black beans and chopped mushrooms to lower the cost of the enchiladas and add more vegetables and fiber to the dish. Although you can make your own enchilada sauce, it’s often cheaper and easier to use a canned, pre-made sauce.

You’ll need the following ingredients:

  • ½ lb lean ground beef (substitute lentils for a meatless dish)
  • 1 15-ounce can black beans, drained and rinsed
  • ½ lb white button or cremini mushrooms, washed and chopped
  • 1 4.5-ounce can green, chopped chilies
  • 1 can enchilada sauce
  • 6 large flour tortillas
  • 8 ounces of your favorite blend of shredded cheese
  • 1 jar of salsa

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Cook the beef in a skillet over medium-high heat until cooked through and brown. Scrape the beef into a bowl and set aside. Add the black beans and chopped mushrooms to the skillet and cook until the mushrooms have reduced in size and released some of their liquid. Add the beans and mushroom mixture to the cooked beef. Add the chilies to the mixture.

Pour about ½ cup of the salsa into the beef and bean mixture, then stir to combine. Pour ½ cup of enchilada sauce into the bottom of a 9×13-inch pan or baking dish. Spread the sauce evenly over the bottom of the dish.

Fill a tortilla with 1/6 of the beef and bean mixture in the center of the tortilla. Sprinkle some shredded cheese over the beef mixture. Roll up the tortilla and push to one side of the baking dish. Repeat with the remaining tortillas.

Pour the remaining enchilada sauce all over the rolled-up tortillas in the baking dish. Sprinkle any remaining cheese over the tortillas, then place the dish in the oven.

Bake for about 25 minutes, or until the cheese has melted and the sauce is bubbly. Let the enchiladas rest for about five minutes, then serve with a dollop of plain Greek yogurt, guacamole, or chopped green onions.

4. Whole Wheat Homemade Pizza

Homemade pizza is cheaper than delivery. While you can purchase pre-made dough, it’s not too difficult to make your own from scratch.

You’ll need the following ingredients:

  • 2 cups whole wheat flour
  • 2 teaspoons (1 package) instant yeast
  • 1 cup water (you might need more depending on humidity)
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 1 15-ounce can tomato sauce
  • Dried oregano, onion powder, garlic powder, salt (to taste)
  • 8 ounces mozzarella or your favorite cheese blend, shredded
  • Toppings of your choice, such as chopped vegetables, fresh herbs, olives, cooked sausage, or chicken

About an hour before you assemble the pizza, make the dough. Mix the flour and yeast together in a bowl, then add the water. Stir to combine, then add the salt and honey. Don’t add the salt too early, or you’ll kill the yeast. If the dough is dry and crumbly, add warm water – one teaspoon at a time – until it holds together. The dough should be slightly tacky but shouldn’t cling to your hands or be soupy. If it’s soupy, add a bit more flour to dry it out.

You can mix and knead the dough by hand or use a stand mixer with the dough hook attachment if you have one. If using your stand mixer, knead on medium-low speed for 10 minutes.

If you’re kneading by hand, sprinkle some flour on your counter, then scrape the dough onto the counter. Knead for 10 minutes.

Lightly coat or spray a bowl with oil, place the dough in it, and cover with a towel or plastic wrap. Let the dough rise for about an hour.

Preheat your oven to 500 degrees.

When the dough doubles in size, scrape it out onto your counter. If you want to make two smaller pizzas, divide the dough into two halves. Roll out the dough into two circles, then place on a baking sheet.

To make one larger, rectangular pizza, keep the dough in one piece. Roll out onto an 18×16-inch baking sheet and set aside.

Prep your pizza sauce. You can use a pre-made jar of pasta or pizza sauce, but it’s often cheaper to get a 15-ounce can of tomato sauce and add spices to taste. Pour the sauce into a bowl, and then add dried oregano, onion or garlic powder, and salt until you like the flavor.

Coat the dough with a thin layer of sauce. Next, sprinkle the shredded cheese over top. You might not use all the cheese, depending on how cheesy you like your pizza. If you’re using toppings, sprinkle them on top of the cheese.

Bake the pizza for about 10 minutes, or until the crust is golden brown and crisp, and the cheese has melted and started to brown.

Let your finished pizza rest on a cutting board for three minutes, then cut into slices to serve.

5. Garlicky Pasta

Garlic adds a lot of flavor to recipes – plus, it’s healthy and cheap. A few cloves of chopped garlic can turn a boring old dish of pasta into a delicious and exciting – but still affordable – meal.

You’ll need the following ingredients:

  • ¼ cup melted butter
  • ½ cup panko (Japanese breadcrumbs)
  • 1 pound whole wheat pasta (or try spelt, black rice ramen, or quinoa)
  • 4 tablespoons olive or other vegetable oil
  • 1 head of garlic, cloves peeled and minced
  • 2 pounds washed and chopped cooking greens (such as spinach, kale, Swiss chard, or mustard greens)
  • Dried Italian herbs, salt, and pepper, to taste

Heat the butter in a sauce pan over low heat and add two cloves minced garlic. When the garlic begins to brown slightly, add the breadcrumbs, and stir until the panko is golden brown.

Bring a six-quart pot of salted water to boil. Add the pasta and cook according to the directions on the package, until al dente. Don’t overcook or you’ll have mushy pasta. Drain the pasta, preserving about one cup of the water.

Heat the oil in a large skillet. Add the rest of the minced garlic and cook for about 30 seconds, until slightly golden and very fragrant. Add chopped greens and cook until they wilt. You’ll most likely have to add them in handfuls at a time. Cook the greens for a few minutes, then add the pasta.

Stir in some of the reserved cooking water to make a sauce. Start with half a cup and add more if the pasta mixture seems dry. Add the dried herbs, salt, and pepper to taste, then put the pasta mixture into a large serving bowl.

Top the pasta with the breadcrumbs. You can also toss in some grated Parmesan cheese. Divide the pasta into six bowls and serve.

More Meal Ideas for Large Families

While the recipes above can fill almost an entire week, there are tons of additional tasty and cheap meals you can make without following a strict recipe.

1. Grilled Cheese and Tomato Soup

A classic for lunch or dinner, grilled cheese and tomato soup is cheap whether you make your own soup or use a box or can of prepared soup.

2. Vegetable Frittata

Eggs are an easy ingredient for a cheap meal for a large family. A frittata, which is an egg casserole full of vegetables and cheese, is readily customizable. 

Making a frittata is easy. Simply cook your veggies in a large skillet, add some cooked meat or other protein, then pour beaten eggs in the mixture. Use two eggs per serving. Cook the eggs a bit on the stove top, and then slide the entire skillet into a preheated oven and cook until the eggs are set.

3. Chicken and Rice Casserole

Lean protein, grains, and vegetables – a chicken and rice casserole offers plenty of nutrition for a low price. It’s often one of the more popular quick, cheap meals for families since it relies on packaged, inexpensive ingredients and comes together in a snap.

An easy way to make a chicken and rice casserole recipe is to use a canned cream of chicken soup, rice, frozen broccoli, and shredded chicken breast. You can toss it together and bake in less than an hour, making it a good pick for busy weeknights.

4. Huevos Rancheros

Here’s egg again, taking the starring role in an inexpensive meal. You might see huevos rancheros on the breakfast or brunch menu at restaurants, but it is also a satisfying meal to make for dinner. Usually, the recipe uses fried eggs, corn tortillas, and black beans.

5. Taco Lettuce Wraps

Tacos are a cheap meal. To make them healthier, replace the high-calorie crispy shells with crunchy lettuce leaves. Iceberg lettuce tends to be a cheap and easy choice.

Tips for Prepping Inexpensive Meals for Large Families

It’s not only what you make for your family, but how you shop for groceries and prepare ingredients that will influence your grocery budget. These tips can help you cut your food spending:

  • Buy in season. You’ll spend extra money buying produce when it’s out of season. The peak of summer is the best time to stock up on many fruits, and the early fall is the ideal time to buy many fresh vegetables. If you find a great deal on in-season fruits or vegetables at your supermarket or farmers market, stock up. You can freeze or can the produce to extend its shelf life.
  • Buy in bulk. Buying in bulk doesn’t always save you money, but if you’re smart about it, you can reduce the amount you’re spending. If you’re going to take the “buy more, save more” approach, purchase items that your family uses frequently and that don’t spoil quickly. Dried grains, like rice or beans, tend to be great bulk purchases.
  • Expand your grocery store horizons. While at the grocery store, you’ll save money if you stop buying name-brand items. Store-brand items are usually the same quality but cost much less. If you're open to switching stores, don’t forget to check your local grocery bargain outlet and discount stores for deals.
  • Buy meat from the farmers market or butcher. Consider buying your meat in bulk, then freezing or canning it. There’s a real risk for foodborne illness if you don’t preserve meat properly, so always follow the guidelines from the USDA.
  • Don’t shop when hungry. Many people have a tale of buying something that looked delicious when they were hungry, only to have that food spoil or languish in their pantry after they got home from the grocery store. To reduce impulse buys, make sure you eat before you shop.
  • Only buy what you need. Buying only what you need helps you spend less at the store and reduces food waste. Before you head to the supermarket, check your pantry and fridge, and take stock of what you already have. Try to plan your meals based on what’s available rather than stocking up on new ingredients each week.
  • Use a cash rewards credit card. Using a cash rewards card, such as the Founder’s Rewards Card from PSECU, won’t lower your grocery bill, but it will give you cash rewards on every purchase*, which you can put toward future shopping trips.

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*Some exclusions may apply. See the Visa® Founder's Card and Visa® Alumni Rewards Card Rewards Program Terms and Conditions for full details.


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