Cheap and Easy Recipes and Dinner Ideas

10 entrees you can make for $5 or less.

By Elaine Magee, MPH, RD
WebMD Weight Loss Clinic - Expert Column

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).

4. Spaghetti

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!

5. Meatloaf

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.


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