When I got married, I had absolutely no idea how to cook. I also completely lacked ideas of what I even would cook if I could.
Fast forward 10 years later, and while I never fell madly in love with cooking, I have an arsenal of quick and inexpensive meals.
If you have a hard time coming up with dinner ideas, or lack confidence in the kitchen, these easy meal ideas are for you!
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Disclaimer: I’m not going to try and call any of these ideas “recipes.” Their virtue lies in their ease of preparation. They also contain some store-bought shortcut ingredients. I do realize that they wouldn’t be Dr. Oz or Bobby Flay approved.
But if you want some easy cheap meal ideas, read on. : )
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1. BBQ Pulled Chicken (in the slow cooker)
It really doesn’t get any easier than this. Simply place a couple boneless, skinless chicken breasts in your slow cooker, and pour over a bottle of barbecue sauce. The End.
You could add some garlic or onion powder, seasoned salt, or any of your other favorite (appropriate) spices. Don’t put nutmeg or anything in there, hehe.
Cook in the slow cooker on high for 3-4 hours or on low for around 6 hours. Shred the chicken up with two forks or your hand mixer.
You can serve it on buns or rolls like a sandwich, or over rice. Or however you want. You could use pork instead of chicken if you’d rather.
I have this Crock-pot and I love it.
Aren’t tacos just the best? Here’s the easiest way to prepare them:
Brown a pound of ground beef (or turkey or chicken), and drain any excess grease. Sprinkle in a packet of taco seasoning (Aldi sells them for 35 cents each) and about a 1/2 cup of water.
Once it simmers for a couple minutes, put it in your favorite tortillas or crunchy taco shells. Or you can put it over chips and make nachos.
Great toppings include: shredded cheese, onions, shredded lettuce, tomatoes, salsa or taco sauce, and jalapeños. Feel free to open a can of refried beans and heat them up for your tacos as well.
UPDATE: Due to the popularity of this post, I put together a printable list of these 10 easy and cheap meals, plus step by step directions for how to make them. These super simple dinner ideas are both affordable and quick – even if you think you can’t cook!
(Note: If you’re already a subscriber, it’s waiting for you in the Freebie Vault!)
You can either make your own burger patties or buy them fresh or frozen.
If you want to patty them yourself, mix in an egg, spices (here’s THE BEST burger seasoning ever), and breadcrumbs. A pound of ground beef (or turkey) should make 4-6 burgers, depending on how big you make them.
If you don’t want to go to the trouble of making the patties, there are great options at your grocery store. They should sell them fresh, along side the other beef. If you buy frozen, just check to make sure the only ingredient is beef.
I also love Morningstar veggie burgers. The spicy black bean version is my favorite.
Be sure to buy some buns to put your burgers on, and any toppings and condiments you like.
4. Sloppy joes
Since you bought some buns for your burgers, you might as well make some sloppy joes soon as well.
Brown a pound of your favorite ground meat. Feel free to add some onions if you want. Pour in either a can of sloppy joe sauce (like Manwich) or a cup of ketchup and sprinkle of brown sugar. You could add a squeeze of mustard and some garlic powder if you’re feeling fancy.
Have you ever put mild pepper rings on your sloppy joe? It’s delicious!
There’s a couple different ways you could go with this. You could buy some frozen meatballs (I like the turkey ones from Aldi) and put them in your slow cooker with a jar of sauce for a few hours. Then when it’s time for dinner, just boil up your favorite pasta (following the directions on the box) and dinner is complete.
Or you could brown up some ground beef or turkey, drain any excess grease, and pour in a jar of sauce. You can add garlic powder or italian seasoning for extra zest. I also like to add a can of diced tomatoes. Let it all simmer for 10 minutes or so.
If you don’t want to use jarred sauce, they sell seasoning packets that require you only add a small can of tomato paste and some water, and it turns into sauce.
You can serve your pasta with frozen garlic bread that you bake up if you want.
6. “Homemade” pizza
You can turn many different things into pizza. Pita bread, bagels, english muffins, tortillas, french bread, naan bread, or store bought pizza crusts, to name a few.
This requires only that you spread some pizza or pasta sauce over your crust of choice, sprinkle on some cheese and your favorite toppings. Bake it in the oven for 10-15 minutes at 400 degrees. The store bought crusts will have more specific instructions.
This is such an easy and inexpensive alternative to ordering pizza. By the time you call and wait for delivery, you can have this simple dinner whipped up.
7. French toast
French toast is good at any time of day, and there’s something extra special about breakfast for dinner. Making breakfast food is easier than you think.
To make french toast, mix an egg with 1/4 cup of milk. Whisk in a dash of cinnamon and a teaspoon of vanilla extract if you have some. Dip four pieces of bread (one at a time) in the egg mixture.
Cook the bread in a lightly buttered skillet over medium heat, flipping over once, until both sides are lightly browned. Serve with syrup or powdered sugar. Feel free to double the recipe if needed.
8. Mini meatloaves
These are so delicious and easy. And cute! Preheat your oven to 375 degrees.
Take a box of stuffing mix (like Stove-Top) and combine with a cup of water in a bowl. Mix in a pound of lean ground beef or turkey.
Once thoroughly combined, spray a muffin tin with cooking spray. Distribute the mixture into the 12 cups of the muffin tin. Bake in the oven for 30 minutes.
For side dish ideas, instant mashed potatoes are very easy to prepare, as are frozen or canned vegetables.
9. Salad or wrap with chicken tenders
The freezer section of your grocery store sells a wide variety of chicken tenders. Buy the ones that look the most appealing (or are on sale). Also purchase a bag of salad, a bottle of your favorite dressing, and shredded cheese or any other salad toppings you like. If you want to make wraps, buy some large tortillas.
Bake the chicken tenders according to the package directions. Put your bagged salad into a bowl, and top it with the chicken, dressing, and whatever other toppings you have. Or put it all into a wrap, and roll it up like a burrito.
Or grilled cheese. They’re made the same way, just with different types of bread. Lightly butter 2 tortillas or pieces of bread. Put one of the tortillas in a skillet (butter side down) over medium heat. Cover it with shredded or sliced cheese, and place the other tortilla or slice of bread on top, butter side up.
Once lightly browned, flip the quesadilla or grilled cheese to brown on the other side. It should only take a couple minutes.
Feel free to add ingredients besides just cheese. You can pull some meat from a store-bought rotisserie chicken for your quesadilla. Or maybe you have some bbq pulled chicken left over you could add.
Try making a “pizza-dilla” with some pizza sauce, mozzarella cheese, and pepperoni inside. Sliced ham is good in a grilled cheese.
There you have it, 10 meals that I know anyone can make, despite your level of cooking aptitude. The ingredients are all inexpensive as well. Don’t forget to shop the sales!
You can easily have friends or family over for dinner with these simple ideas. I think most people would enjoy any of these casual meals.
P.S. Interested in learning how to meal plan on a budget? Check out this post!
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