How to Make 25 Family-Friendly, Extreme Budget Meals For $40

All Things Mandy
by All Things Mandy

We’re creating extreme budget meals by making as many dinners as we can for a family of four for $40. Each serving counts as a meal for one person, and each night the meal will serve at least four people. Some dinners will have leftovers, so we’ll get 25 meals over five nights for $40.

Grocery supplies for the budget-friendly meals

Grocery supplies

  • 2 onions
  • 1 honey crisp apple
  • 1 green pepper
  • 1 roasted potato
  • 1 sweet potato
  • 1 bag of frozen mixed vegetables
  • 1 bag of frozen waffle-cut fries
  • 1 bag of tater tots
  • 1 package of cheddar jack shredded cheese
  • 1 package of hot dogs
  • 1 pound ground beef 
  • 2 pounds of chicken breasts
  • Zatarain's chicken fry mix, New Orleans Style Hot and Spicy. 
  • 2 cans of baked beans
  • 1 can of mushrooms
  • 1 can diced tomatoes
  • 1 big can of tomato juice
  • 1 packet of brown gravy mix
  • 1 French bread loaf
  • 1 package of hamburger buns

Total: $40.63

My budget could have been even lower - maybe $35 - if some of the value options had been available, but I had to substitute some items.

Fall sheet pan meal

Fall sheet pan

The first budget meal is a fall chicken and potato sheet pan meal. I'm going to start chopping and peeling my sweet potato, russet potato, and my apple. Place all on the sheet pan.

1. Prep the pan

I'm going to cut my chicken, put it on the sheet pan, and reserve four pieces of chicken for another recipe. I'm going to season this with salt and pepper. 

Easy and cheap emergency meal

2. Bake

I baked this for 40 minutes at 350 degrees, stirring about halfway. I also added a few pats of butter just to add some fat to the sheet pan meal. 

Fall sheet pan serving

Here's the finished meal.

Sautéing the beef and veggies

Philly cheesesteak tater tot casserole

For the second dinner, we are going to be using the pound of ground beef, green pepper, and onion. We're also going to use the tater tots and the cheese. We're going to be making a Philly cheesesteak tater tot casserole. 

1. Sauté the beef and veggies

First, brown the ground beef and chop it into small pieces as it browns. Once my meat had browned, I drained it. I'm now adding the onion and green pepper that I chopped. Stir and sauté the veggies.

Next, add the seasonings. I'm going to use salt and pepper, Worcestershire sauce, and stone ground mustard with the can of mushrooms that I've drained. Stir.

Mixing the gravy

2. Mix the gravy

I'm going to be adding in a packet of brown gravy mix. I'm going to follow the gravy mix instructions and add one cup of water. I'm going to give this a stir and let this saute for just a few minutes. 

Creating the meat mixture layer

3. Create the meat mixture layer

While that is sautéing, I’m going to spray a 9 by 13 pan with nonstick cooking spray. Then I'm going to pour the meat mixture into the casserole dish. 

I have the oven preheating to 350 degrees. Now we're going to assemble the topping for the casserole.  

Adding the tater tot casserole topping

4. Add the casserole topping

Take some of that cheese, and put a layer of that on top of the meat mixture. Then I add my tater tots on top, and I still have about half the bag left. Now I'm going to cover it with the rest of my cheese.

Baking the Philly cheesesteak tater tot casserole

5. Bake

I'm going to stick this in a 400-degree oven for about 30 minutes.

Philly cheesesteak tater tot casserole

This made 6 meals.

Sauteing the hot dogs and onion

Beanie Weenies

Tonight’s meal serves four, but with the leftover ingredients of two hot dogs and some tater tots, that's going to give me two extra meals. 

For tonight's meal, we're going to take half of the onion, the maple-baked beans, and the hot dogs. We're going to use this to make homemade beanie weenies. 

1. Saute the hot dogs and onion

I'm going to start by chopping up six hot dogs and the onion and getting that in the pan.

I have a pan preheating on the stove. I put a little bit of oil in the bottom of the pan. I'm going to saute the onions for just about a minute, and then I'm going to put in the hot dogs. 

Adding baked beans

2. Add the baked beans

I'm going to give this a stir and let this sauté for about a few minutes, just until I start getting some brown edges on the hot dogs. Next, we're going to be adding in our cans of baked beans and we're going to stir them. 

I’m going to add stone ground mustard and I'm going to add a little more than a pinch of brown sugar. We're going to stir this and let it come to a simmer. 

Beanie Weenies budget meal

This is a delicious budget meal.

Mixing the batter for the chicken

Hot chicken sandwiches

The next meal we're going to be making is hot chicken sandwiches. I'm going to be using the chicken fry mix. 

1. Mix the batter

We're going to have this with some waffle fries. I already have some oil heating up on the stove. Follow the package directions on the fry mix to make the batter.

Coating the chicken in batter

2. Coat the chicken

I'm going to take my chicken, dip the chicken in the batter, then dip it in the fry mix. 

Frying the chicken

3. Fry the chicken

I dropped the chicken in my hot oil. I'm going to cook this for a few minutes on each side, and I'm going to make sure the internal temperature comes up to 165 degrees Fahrenheit. 

Emergency meal idea

4. Serve

I've got my buns buttered and ready to toast in the oven, and the waffle fries are in the air fryer. Place the chicken on a toasted bun and serve.

Hot chicken sandwiches

Here's the finished meal.

Dumping everything into the crockpot

Crockpot vegetable soup

For tonight's meal, we're going to be throwing together a super easy dump-and-go crock pot meal of vegetable soup. I'm not going to be adding in any meat. You could add in some beef if you wanted. 

1. Dump everything into the crockpot

We're going to be using tomato juice, mixed vegetables, and a can of diced tomatoes with onion, celery, and green bell peppers. I'm also going to use the rest of that chopped onion. We're just going to dump this all in the crock pot and let this cook. 

Cooking the crockpot vegetable soup

2. Cook on high for 4 hours

I'm going to add some salt, pepper, and garlic powder. Give this a stir. Cook this on high for 4 hours. We are serving this up with some of that French bread and we still have a lot left.

Extreme budget meals

25 extreme budget meals for $40

These were the five extreme budget meals that I made this week. I had a budget of about $40 and I even had leftovers. I had things that could be used in lunches or future recipes so we ended up with 5 dinners that served four meals each and enough leftovers to make another 5 meals.

Do you have a favorite extreme-budget meal? Share them in the comments below, we love to hear from you!

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2 of 8 comments
  • Leah Lintz Leah Lintz on Aug 11, 2023

    Great ideas! One of our favorite meals is chicken fried rice. Onions, carrots, green onions, peppers, cabbage....whatever we have really, goes into it with my daughters favorite addition of chopped up omelet. Fry together with some kikkomans and you've got a lovely meal. We also have a chest freezer and we keep a large bag of rice in it. 100 lb of rice is a LOT of rice! It's great in the freezer though.

  • Roz28473504 Roz28473504 on Aug 11, 2023

    How come you always push your food around, but never taste it?