With food prices rapidly rising, it's crunch time for family food budgets these days. To help lessen the pressure on your purse, here are 10 suggestions for lunch or dinner entrees you can make for about $5 apiece. The following cheap meal ideas and recipes will show you just what $5 can get you if you invest a little prep time.
1. Egg Entrees
If your supermarket is having a sale, you can sometimes get a dozen eggs for as little as $1! That's an awesome deal, considering that eggs are a great protein source. Each egg white contains 6 grams of protein. If you blend six whole eggs with six egg whites, you can make a lower-fat egg-based dish serving four people. Each serving will contain 18 grams of quality protein -- comparable to the amount in a serving of T-bone steak.
Frittata is one flexible and quick cheap meal option. A dozen eggs will make about four servings (if you use four large eggs and eight egg whites), and you can keep the cost down by using whatever cheese, veggies, and herbs you have handy in your refrigerator. You know how there's always half a tomato or a quarter of an onion wrapped in foil or a little shredded cheese in the bottom of bag waiting to be rescued from the refrigerator? This is your chance to use it up (see the recipe for Fridge Leftover Frittata below).
2.Canned Tuna Entrees
Buying tuna on sale and making sure you get the water-packed kind is the key for this healthy $5 entree. You can sometimes find 6-ounce cans of solid white tuna canned in water for 88 cents on sale. With each can, you can make a tuna casserole for four, or you can make two servings of quick tuna patties (see recipe for Tuna Patties below).
3. Lean Steaks
Top round, London broil, top sirloin or petite sirloin steaks can often be found for about $2.47 to $3.47 a pound. A pound of steak makes about four sensible 3-ounce servings (cooked), or three 4-ounce servings. You can improve the taste and texture of lean steaks by marinating them in the refrigerator for a couple of hours. If you don't want to make marinade from scratch, using half of a bottle of light balsamic vinaigrette or bottled steak marinade adds about $1.44 to the total cost (a bottle of dressing or marinade can cost around $2.89). For $5, you'll get about 1.5 pounds of a lean steak (at $2.47 per pound) plus the marinade (either homemade or half a bottle).
If you can get a couple of key ingredients on sale, you can make six servings of this popular American entree for about $5. Start with a 12-ounce box of multigrain pasta for about $1.25 on sale. You can either make meat sauce (1 pound of lean ground beef at $2.49, a 29-ounce can of tomato sauce at 99 cents, plus seasonings from your pantry) or a mushroom sauce (10-ounce package of sliced mushrooms at $1.99, a 29-ounce can of tomato sauce at 99 cents, and seasonings from your pantry). The total cost will be about $4.73 for about 6 servings!
Meatloaf is a great way to extend a small amount of meat into many more servings by blending it with ingredients that add flavor and bulk. In the Prize-Winning Meat Loaf recipe below, 1.5 pounds of ground beef becomes a 6-serving of meatloaf with the addition of oats, tomato juice, egg, onions, and seasonings. If you can get lean ground beef for $2.49 a pound, that's $3.73 for 1.5 pounds of meat. The additional ingredients add up to about 75 cents per serving.
6. Perfect Pasta Salad
This cold pasta salad is perfect because it uses higher-fiber, higher-nutrient multigrain pasta along with whatever veggies, herbs, and dressing you have in your refrigerator. Start with a 12-ounce box of multigrain pasta, bought on sale for $1.25. If you have some olives, roasted red pepper, sun-dried tomatoes, or pickled peppers, add them to taste. If you have a 3-ounce block of mozzarella cheese in the cheese drawer, grate some and add that, too. If you have a couple of ripe tomatoes, dice them up, and add along with some fresh basil from your garden. Dress it all up with half a bottle of a good bottled vinaigrette (such as raspberry walnut or red wine vinaigrette). A bottle of dressing costs around $3, even for some of the fancy ones.
7. Baked Potato Entrees
At about 24 cents apiece (from a 5-pound bag costing $2.39), a baked potato can be a great start for an entree. Try topping them with shredded cheese, fat-free sour cream, and chopped green onions or chives. If five potatoes cost about $1.20, a cup of shredded cheese about $1, 1/2 cup of fat-free sour cream about 55 cents, and green onions about 50 cents, your grand total will be about $3.25 for five! At that price, you can afford to sprinkle some shredded chicken, turkey, pork, or beef, along with some beans or other vegetables, over the top.
8. Chicken Breast Entrees
Often, buying chicken with the bone and skin on and then skinning it yourself is the best deal. At $1.79 a pound, four bone-in chicken breasts will cost you around $3.58 (that's 2 pounds). You can make a grilling or slow cooker sauce using ingredients on hand, or use half a bottle of your favorite barbecue sauce. A bottle of barbecue sauce costs around $3, so half a bottle will bring this entree to a cool $5. Just coat the chicken breasts with your sauce and cook on the grill or in the slow cooker until done.
9. O-Brien Casserole
Everyone likes a good potato casserole every now and again. Armed with a few key items on sale, including 2 pounds of O'Brien potatoes for $2, the O'Brien Potato Casserole below is a real budget helper. To make it seem more like a main dish, you can add some extra protein from beans or lean meat: Just stir in two cups cooked fava beans or edamame, or three cups roasted or grilled diced lean meat (like skinless/boneless turkey or chicken breast, pork tenderloin, or extra lean ham) before you spread the mixture in the pan. It costs about $7.50 to make the original O'Brien Casserole (serving 16 as a side dish); stirring in beans or meat adds about $2.50 to the total. If you assume the dish makes eight larger portions as a main dish, that's $10 -- or $5 for four servings.
10. Last-Minute Chili
Chili is a popular entree at any time of year. For the Last-Minute Chile recipe below, you'll buy a pound of braised beef tips for $2 to $2.50 per pound, plus some Mexican-style stewed tomatoes and kidney beans for $1 or less a can. The rest of the ingredients are mostly items you have in your spice cabinet and liquor cabinet. That's right, I said "liquor" cabinet -- I like to use a couple tablespoons of whiskey or brandy. But if you don't have that on hand, just leave it out. Even if you have to buy an onion, a batch of this chili will cost you right around $5, and it serves six.
5 Cheap and Easy Recipes
Here are five easy recipes for cheap family dinner entrees:
Fridge Leftover Frittata
2 cups chopped vegetables (use whatever you have on hand: onions, bell pepper, mushroom slices, tomato, broccoli, asparagus, etc.)
1 tablespoon canola or olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste (optional)
4 large eggs
8 egg whites (toss the yolks or save them for another dish)
1 cup shredded reduced-fat cheese (any type will work)
Canola or olive oil cooking spray
1 teaspoon no-salt herb seasoning blend
- In a large, nonstick skillet, cook the vegetables (except tomato, if using) in 1 tablespoon oil over medium heat, stirring often, until veggies are tender (about 3 minutes). Stir in chopped tomato if you're adding it (it doesn't need to be cooked like the other veggies). Add salt and pepper, if desired. Set aside.
- In mixing bowl, beat or whisk together the eggs and egg whites until blended. Stir in the shredded cheese and the sauteed veggie mixture.
- Begin heating the large, nonstick skillet again over medium heat until hot. Coat the pan generously with cooking spray and quickly pour in the egg mixture, distributing the veggies evenly in the bottom of the skillet. While it begins to cook, sprinkle the herb blend over the top. Cover the skillet and cook, without stirring, for about 6 minutes (the frittata should be set and the bottom nicely brown).
- If desired, brown the top of the frittata in a preheated broiler, about 4 inches from the heat, for 1-2 minutes. Slide frittata onto a large serving plate and cut into 4 wedges.
Yield: Makes 4 servings
Nutritional Information: Per serving: 231 calories, 21 g protein, 8 g carbohydrate, 12.8 g fat, 4 g saturated fat, 5.5 g monounsaturated fat, 2 g polyunsaturated fat, 210 mg cholesterol, 2 g fiber, 365 mg sodium. Calories from fat: 50%. Omega-3 fatty acids: 0.5 gram, Omega-6 fatty acids: 1.5 gram.
WebMD Weight Loss Clinic members: Journal as: 2 eggs without added fat + 1 cup vegetables without added fat.
1 can (6 ounces) solid white tuna canned in water, drained
2 tablespoons chopped onion or green onions
1 egg white
1 tablespoon pickle relish (optional)
1 tablespoon light Italian salad dressing
1/4 cup panko crumbs (dry bread crumbs can be substituted)
2 teaspoons canola oil or olive oil (canola cooking spray can be substituted)
- In medium bowl, combine tuna, onion, egg white, relish, Italian salad dressing, and panko crumbs.
- Shape into 4 patties. Begin heating nonstick skillet over medium heat. Coat surface with oil or cooking spray. Add patties and fry on both sides until lightly browned. Serve with salad, soup, or whole-grain bread.
Yield: Makes 2 servings (2 patties each)
Nutrition Information: Per serving: 297 calories, 44 g protein, 12 g carbohydrate, 7.5 g fat, 0.8 g saturated fat, 3.2 g monounsaturated fat, 2 g polyunsaturated fat, 47 mg cholesterol, 1 g fiber, 697 mg sodium. Calories from fat: 23%. Omega-3 fatty acids: 1 gram, Omega-6 fatty acid: 1 gram.
WebMD Weight Loss Clinic members: Journal as: 1 serving "lean fish with 1 tsp fat maximum" + 1 slice bread OR 1 portion "frozen dinner light"
Prize-Winning Meat Loaf
1 cup V8 Picante (vegetable juice) or tomato juice
3/4 cup quick or old fashioned oats
2 egg whites or 1 large egg
1/2 cup chopped onions
1/2 teaspoon salt (optional)
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1 teaspoon minced or chopped garlic (or 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder)
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 1/2 pounds lean ground beef
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Generously coat an 8-by-4-inch loaf pan with canola cooking spray.
- In large mixing bowl, combine all ingredients except the ground beef and mix well with your hands. Add the ground beef and mix thoroughly.
- Shape into a loaf in the prepared pan. Bake for 1 hour. Let stand 5 minutes before slicing.
Yield: Makes 6 servings
Nutritional Information: Per serving: 195 calories, 25 g protein, 10 g carbohydrate, 6.4 g fat, 2.2 g saturated fat, 2 g monounsaturated fat, 1 g polyunsaturated fat, 95 mg cholesterol, 2 g fiber, 190 mg sodium. Calories from fat: 30%. Omega-3 fatty acids: 0.2 gram, Omega-6 fatty acids: 0.4 gram
WebMD Weight Loss Clinic members: Journal as: 1 serving lean meat without added fat + 1/2 cup vegetables without added fat.
O'Brien Potato Casserole
2 pounds Ore-Ida Potatoes O'Brien (about 8 cups)
2 cups fat-free or light sour cream
6 green onions, white and part of green, finely chopped
10 3/4 ounces-can Healthy Request condensed cream of mushroom soup (or similar)
1/2 cup low-fat milk
2 tablespoons butter sprinkles (such as Molly McButter)
8 ounces shredded reduced-fat sharp cheddar cheese
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
2 ounces reduced-fat Ruffles potato chips, crushed (optional)
1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Coat a 13-x-9-inch baking pan with canola cooking spray.
2. Thaw potatoes and combine with all ingredients except the potato chips. Spread into prepared pan and top with crushed chips if desired. Bake for about 30 minutes
Yield: 16 side-dish servings or 8 as a main dish
Nutrition Information: Per side-dish serving: 115 calories, 7 g protein, 14.5 g carbohydrates, 3 g fat, 1 g fiber, 10 mg cholesterol, 308 mg sodium. Calories from fat: 26%
WebMD Weight Loss Clinic members: Journal as: 1/2 cup starchy foods and legumes without added fat
1 teaspoon canola oil
2 tablespoon whiskey or brandy (optional)
12 to 16 ounces braised beef tips (small lean cubes)
1 1/2 teaspoons minced or chopped garlic (or 3/4 teaspoon garlic powder)
1 yellow or white onion, chopped
2 cups cubed vegetables (whatever you have on hand: eggplant, zucchini, etc.)
2 teaspoons dried parsley flakes (crumble while adding)
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon chili con carne seasoning
1/2 teaspoon black pepper (add more to taste)
24 ounce can stewed Mexican-style tomatoes (or 2 14.5-ounce cans)
1 can (15.5 ounces) kidney beans, drained and rinsed well
2 tablespoons tomato paste (optional)
- In large, nonstick skillet or saucepan, heat oil and garlic over medium-high heat. Add beef cubes and saute for a minute, stirring constantly. Add whiskey, brandy, or water and stir.
- Stir onions and vegetables (eggplant, zucchini, etc.) into beef mixture and simmer about a minute. Stir in spices and reduce heat to medium-low. Stir in tomatoes with juice, tomato paste (if desired), and beans.
- Cover skillet and simmer 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Yield: Makes 4 to 6 servings
Nutrition Information: Per serving: 246 calories, 22.5 g protein, 24 g carbohydrate, 7 g fat, 2.2 g saturated fat, 3 g monounsaturated fat, 1 g polyunsaturated fat, 41 mg cholesterol, 7 g fiber, 538 mg sodium. Calories from fat: 25%. Omega-3 fatty acids: 0.2 gram, Omega-6 fatty acids: 0.4 gram.
WebMD Weight Loss Clinic members: Journal as: 1 cup "hearty stews, chili, bean soup" + 1/2 cup "vegetables without added fat"
Recipes provided by Elaine Magee; © 2008 Elaine Magee
Elaine Magee, MPH, RD, is the "Recipe Doctor" for WebMD and the author of numerous books on nutrition and health. Her opinions and conclusions are her own.