25 Frugal & Healthy Dinner Ideas

Eating healthy doesn’t have to cost you an arm and a leg, and to prove it we’ve assembled our collection of frugal and healthy dinners that you can cook for two or for the whole family. For each recipe we’ve tried to calculate an Approximate Cost per Serving so you can get a quick idea of whether or not this is something you want to try. Just keep in mind that anything listed here is going to outrank fast food and delivery on the health-o-meter.

salmon collars
Photo: Use Real Butter

1. Teriyaki Salmon Collars

Salmon is so good for you, but often avoided because of its high cost. The most expensive part of the salmon is the fillet, so this recipe shows you how to cook the collar which can typically be found for far less than salmon fillets. The teriyaki sauce that is used with it is made with cheap ingredients that you might already have in your home, like soy sauce. Overall, this might clock in a bit higher than some of the other frugal recipes on our list, but hey, you can finally have salmon night!

24oz salmon collar = $3.50 (~$2/lb)
2 green onions = $.50
misc ingredients & spices = $2
serves = 2 people

Total Cost of $3/person

2. Lemon, Garlic, and Fresh Herb Roasted Chicken- Roasted chicken is a great go-to, because it can feed two with leftovers for a chicken sandwich the next day, or it can feed a family of four or more with the addition of inexpensive side items like carrots and potatoes. This particular recipe caught our eye because it comes out looking great but only uses a few simple and basic ingredients. We like how they’ve paired this with spinach and mashed potatoes so it’s easy to make, and you can use frozen spinach and make the potatoes from scratch for additional cost savings.

3. Fettuccine with Mussels- The mussels will obviously be the most expensive part of this dish, which is why it’s good to shop around and see which store has the best deal. You can sometimes catch them on sale if your grocer discounts them at the end of the day to make room for tomorrow’s fresh shipment. Once you land them at a decent price, it’s game time. You simply pick up some fettuccine and the additional ingredients and you’re on your way to a beautiful dinner that can impress that special someone. Your frugal secret is safe with us.

4. Mujadara- Here’s a middle eastern dish that will impress your family with its exotic tastes and textures. They’ll probably ask you to make it again, and you’ll have no problem saying yes because this is easy on the budget while tasting great and being good for you. It’s made with lentils. Lentils are a great item to have around because you can buy them in dry form and only cook them up as needed. They keep for a long time when they’re dry, and they don’t cost very much at all. They’re also very good for you and have protein and fiber. Your other ingredients are rice and onions so you know it’s coming in low.

5. Chicken Enchilada Pasta- What can you do when you want the taste of enchiladas but you don’t want the expense of all the ingredients and time that goes into making them? Here’s a dish that shows you how to capture the flavor you want, but in a pasta dish that saves you money and fills up the family for less. They even manage to use chicken breast so you’re getting a high quality protein to balance out the carbohydrates from the pasta. Add a bit of cheese on top and your family will ask for this on a weekly basis, guaranteed.

lentil tacos
Photo: Sunday Morning Banana Pancakes

6. Lentil Tacos

Who said taco night needs to have a meat in order to work? If you love the taste of tacos but don’t like the thought of using chicken or steak to make them, why not give this a try? Lentils are hearty and have a texture almost like ground beef. They also have a subtle taste that gets lost when you add the other taco toppings to it. You can buy them by the bag for a few dollars and make as many as you need. They are also filled with protein and fiber and are super good for you.

lentils = $.70
veggies = $4
misc ingredients & spices = $3
serves = 2-3 people

Total Cost of $1.57/person


7. French Bread Pizza- Getting pizza delivered can be expensive. Buying frozen pizza subjects you to the same loss of control over the ingredients used. Making it yourself can be tricky because you want something that tastes good, and sometimes when it’s all said and done you spend more making it yourself than if you would have just ordered out. Here’s a nifty way to make a delicious pizza without worrying if it will taste good or not, and with simple ingredients you can pick up next time you’re shopping. No tipping the pizza driver = bonus!

8. Sirloin Steak Tips Au Poivre- Who says you can’t cook a recipe with French words in the title just because you’re being cost conscious? Au Poivre just means you’re making a pepper steak here. Before you say you can’t make steak because it’s too expensive, it’s just a matter of getting the right cut of steak that tastes great, cooks up well, and can be found either on sale or for a low regular price at the supermarket. Here they’re using sirloin tips, but you can switch that up with other cuts that still provide a lean protein but don’t cost as much.

9. Creamy Sausage and Tomato Pasta- Here’s a tasty recipe that is using Italian sausage and a hearty amount of pasta to fill you up for less. They’ve also thought about time savings here as well, with most ingredients coming from cans so you can quickly prepare this while making it seem you spent all day in the kitchen. It’s also using onions, as are several other recipes on our list, and those are nice because a bag containing 7 or 8 or more only runs a few dollars. Worried about the creaminess? Sub out the heavy cream for lite cream.

10. Yankee Pot Roast- A pot roast is a classic way to get your meat, veggies, and carbs all cooking at once, absorbing the flavor from the meat, and coming out cooked to perfection. The beauty of this recipe is that you can buy the cheaper cuts of meat, the ones that typically get overlooked because they don’t make for good steaks since they’re too tough, and cook them in a Crock Pot until they’re melt in your mouth tender. You can even find lean cuts that keep the fat down, but maintain a good taste.

falafel burger
Photo: Playin With My Food

11. Falafel Burger

OK, so your biggest challenge might be to get your family to try something new, but subbing out falafel for beef is going to save you a good bit of money, as well as create a healthy alternative to a regular hamburger. It’s not quite trying to replace the taste of a juicy burger, but it can be something that you enjoy in addition to burger night, rather than a permanent surrogate. It’s using chickpeas, which are cheap as chips and provide plenty of healthy benefits. The other ingredients provide extra flavor while being gentle on your wallet or pocketbook.

dried chickpeas = $.70
veggies = $2
misc ingredients & spices = $4
serves = 4 people

Total Cost of $1.67/person

12. Creamy Sausage and Tomato Pasta- Here’s a tasty recipe that is using Italian sausage and a hearty amount of pasta to fill you up for less. They’ve also thought about time savings here as well, with most ingredients coming from cans so you can quickly prepare this while making it seem you spent all day in the kitchen. It’s also using onions, as are several other recipes on our list, and those are nice because a bag containing 7 or 8 or more only runs a few dollars. Worried about the creaminess? Sub out the heavy cream for lite cream.

13. Spaghetti & Meatballs- Can’t beat this classic in terms of taste and cost effectiveness. We like this recipe because it provides a nice checklist to an old standby and makes sure that you’re hitting all of the bases when you go to make it. Some classic sides to go with it would be a simple garden salad, and a loaf of bread can quickly be made into garlic bread with the addition of butter and minced garlic. Pasta is always a good go-to ingredient for its low cost and ability to fill you up while still tasting good. With the meatballs here you’re getting a good dose of protein, which balances the meal and also helps you feel satisfied longer.

14. Grilled Skirt Steak Tacos- Here’s a way to make some impressive looking tacos without having to take out a loan. If you’re tired of the typical ground beef on Taco Night and want to try something different, this is it. Skirt steak might take a little searching for in your local area, but if you can find it it’s not one of the most popular cuts and you can sometimes get a bargain on it. The trick is that most people don’t know how to cook it right, but if you follow this recipe you’ll crack the code and enjoy delicious steak tacos.

15. Salisbury Steak with Caramelized Onion Gravy- If your only frame of reference when it comes to salisbury steak is that it is sometimes seen in frozen TV dinners, it’s time to give it another chance. It’s nice because it gives you the feeling of steak, without actually being steak, and you can make it for a fraction of the price of buying an actual steak. The gravy that goes on top isn’t as fatty as you might expect, and will only add to the flavor and make this easy to eat up. The end result is a low-cost steak replica that your family will likely love.

curried chicken drumsticks
Photo: A Little Yumminess

16. Curried Chicken Drumsticks with Carrots

If you’ve always wanted to try to make your own curry dish, but were worried that the exotic ingredients would set you back too much, here’s a great way to start out with it. Chicken drumsticks can be found year round for a good price, and it’s pairing them with carrots which are one of the most cost effective vegetables on the planet. You can buy curry powder in bulk once you know how to use it right, and it’s actually a healthy spice with healing properties. Serve it on brown or white rice and you’re good to go.

8 chicken drumsticks = $4
veggies = $4
misc ingredients & spices = $3
serves = 4 people

Total Cost of $2.75/person

17. Cornbread Hamburger Pie- The nice thing about his dish is that it provides a well-balanced meal all in one go. You’re getting your carbs from the cornbread, and a sufficient amount of protein from the beef. It has lycopene from tomatoes, but gets it from a can of tomato soup. You’re also getting the goodness of an onion, which is a cost-effective vegetable that you can buy by the sackful and use as needed. Overall this is a hearty meal that will fill up your family for far less than the cost of dining out.

18. Sausage & Pepper Primavera- It’s always fun to cook fancy-sounding recipes but knowing in the back of your mind that you’re not paying fancy prices. Here is a pasta dish that looks absolutely amazing, and tastes great too, but won’t break the bank in terms of ingredients. She’s kept the calories down, so you don’t have to feel bad about eating this one. It’s maybe not the best choice for those on a low-carb diet, but barring that this can be enjoyed by most. The ingredients are a who’s who of wholesomeness, and perhaps the most expensive buy is the Italian sausage which can usually be found on sale.

19. Mongolian Beef- No need to go to that expensive Mongolian restaurant downtown when you can serve up Mongolian-style fare at home. Here’s a recipe that figured out how to use ground beef but serve it up in a way your family probably hasn’t seen before. It’s rested on a bed of rice, so you’re getting a good combination of protein and carbs, while keeping costs down since rice is relatively cheap. The other ingredients can be had for a song, and you probably have the peanut butter that’s required already in your cupboard or fridge.

20. Chicken Florentine Lightens Up- The mere mention of the term chicken florentine and most people think it’s a fancy dish only served at 5 star restaurants. But really it’s a simple mix of chicken and spinach. Here they’re making it lighter, and as it turns out lighter on your wallet as well. They’re placing a chicken breast on top of a bed of rice, and then layering the spinach on top. They’re calling for fresh spinach, but you could use the frozen variety if you have it on hand. You may have heard the term budget gourmet before but this is the real deal.

bean and vegetable curry
Photo: Two Spoons

21. Bean and Vegetable Curry

Here’s another curry option you can try, and it cuts out the meat. If you’ve got a family of meat eaters they might not like the idea of having a dinner sans meat. In that case you can use this as a side dish, and pair it with a simple and cost-friendly meat dish. Either way, when you cook this up you’ll be getting a cost and time savings you can’t ignore. You’ll also be introducing them to new and different tastes to round out their palate, and also keeping their health in mind.

beans = $.50
veggies = $2
misc ingredients & spices = $3
serves = 2 people

Total Cost of $2.75/person

22. Salt and Pepper London Broil- Here’s a way to have your steak and eat it too. London broil often uses top round as the cut of choice, and this can usually be found on sale in the meat department. Here’s a trick to find good meat prices: the next time you go shopping jot down the prices of meats that you see that you’re interested in. Do this the next 3 to 4 times you go shopping and you’ll be able to get an average price for your area. It’s better than relying on memory or being duped by a sale sticker.

23. Cheesy Cauli Mushroom Patties- If you don’t tell your family there’s no meat in these patties, they might never know. It’s using the versatility of cauliflower with the heartiness of mushrooms to form the patty, and holding it together with a little cheese. Before you think that the cheese will make it unhealthy, consider that you’re opting out of the meat here and if you were to use beef you’d have to counter the saturated fat. So this makes a nice compromise, and easier on the budget.

24. Oven Fajitas- If you love getting an order of sizzling fajitas at your local chain restaurant, but don’t like the stiff price tag that comes with them, here’s a way to pop everything into the oven, and have it come out sizzling and yummy with a taste that rivals going out. Here’s a secret: all the restaurants are doing is grilling up the veggies and placing them in the oven until they start to sizzle. You can do the same thing once you have the step-by-step, which is provided here. Get the flour tortillas ready and fill ‘em up. Can easily be scaled or repeated to feed larger crowds.

portabella pasta
Photo: Budget Bytes

25. Simple Portabella Pasta

Portabella mushrooms taste great, present well, and aren’t as expensive as some steak options. When you pair them with pasta you’re getting a dish that will leave you feeling satisfied, both because you had a great meal and saved a great deal. The other ingredients here are few and far between, so you can actually see each one in the finished product. This gives it the look that it’s a really gourmet meal, and this adds to the taste sensation.

Total Cost of $1.24/person

25 Frugal & Healthy Dinner Ideas- great list of healthy & delicious dinner recipes that can be made without burning a hole in your wallet.

Do It Your Way

When looking at any recipe you find online remember that it’s not set in stone, and you can modify it as needed to stay on budget, but still eat great. A lot of recipes these days call for organic or premium ingredients but there are typically conventional or generic ingredients that you can substitute so that you still get the taste, still keep it relatively healthy, and save on the total cost of the meal. It’s best to think of recipes as idea starters rather than exact blueprints.

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