Ten Budget-Friendly Meals That Aren't Ramen Noodles

Proof that cheap eats can be delicious.


Home-cooked meals—yes, even the ones cooked by you—can be delicious and easy, in addition to being cost-effective. And here are ten-ish recipes and meal ideas from actual YNABers as proof. (I’ve included links to similar recipes for each, as a reference.)

1. Toad-in-a-Hole

Although there’s some debate about what, exactly, to call this meal (eggs in a nest, perhaps?), the prep is simple: make a hole in the center of a slice of bread—you could use a cup to stamp out the hole, or take a stab at it with a knife. Then, butter both sides before placing it in a hot frying pan. Crack an egg into the hole. Cook, then flip, then cook. Toad-in-a-nest is served!

2. Egg Bake

For a portable breakfast, whisk up some eggs and whatever cooked meat, vegetables and cheese that you like. Then pour the mixture into muffin tins or a baking pan to cook. Egg bakes are healthy, portable and easy to prepare ahead of time.

3. Naked Burritos

If a burrito were to hurl itself onto your plate so fast that the tortilla wrapper flew clean off, this is what you’d get: a serving of meat, spices, vegetables, rice and beans. Make enough naked burritos to satisfy your household for a few meals, and cut down on your time in the kitchen!

4. “Old, British Favorite”

During my two years of graduate school in London, I never came across this “old, British favorite,” but I’m rolling with it because it sounds filling and cheap. Mix tuna, corn and mayonnaise together in a bowl, and then serve the mixture over a baked potato.

5. Sopa De Ajo

Also known as “Spanish garlic soup,” this recipe starts with stale bread—talk about stretching a buck! You can save the unwanted heels of your baguettes in the freezer until you have enough for soup. You need about half a pound, cubed.

Next, heat up a generous amount of olive oil in a heavy pot. Add the bread cubes, six to eight garlic cloves, a teaspoon of salt and a teaspoon or more of smoked paprika. Stir frequently, until the bread cubes are a toasty, golden brown and everything smells wonderful. Cover with about eight cups of water or stock. Bring everything to a boil, then reduce heat to medium-low and simmer, covered, for about 20 minutes.

Poach an egg for each person (either separately, or in the same pot if you have confidence in your egg-poaching technique). Serve each bowl of soup with an egg.

6. Venison Sweet Potato Chili

This hearty meal includes ground venison, stewed tomatoes, chopped onions, diced sweet potato and chili spices. Beans, optional.

7. Grilled Cheese

Who doesn’t love a grilled cheese? Butter two pieces of bread and stick a slice of cheese between them (buttered-sides out!). Next, preheat your pan on medium heat. Lay your sandwich in the pan, and grill each side until golden-brown … and maybe serve it with some greens.

8. Egg Roll in a Bowl

Another vote for deconstructed dishes! This meal includes sausage, cabbage, a carrot (sliced or shredded), celery, green onion, ground ginger and soy sauce. You can add a stir-fried egg on top, for good measure.

9. Potato Puff Casserole

This casserole is the epitome of comfort food: potato puffs, ground beef, cream of mushroom soup and cheese. Bake it all together, and tuck into a classic Midwestern tradition.

10. Sheet Pan Dinner

If you like things simple and healthy, this one’s for you. Place a couple of chicken breasts, and as many vegetables as you can, on a baking sheet. Mist or brush with olive oil, sprinkle on some salt, pepper and garlic, and roast it in your oven. Delicious.

11. Ramen Noodles

The title of this post promises ten recipes that aren’t ramen noodles, and I delivered. Still, what kind of budget-eats post would this be if I didn’t include a single one? So, in keeping with the cliché, here’s one YNABer’s twist on how to eat packaged ramen noodles—leave out the seasoning packet, add some fresh vegetables and/or protein and a few dashes of soy sauce. Saute until cooked. Mmmm.

What Will You Cook Up?

If you’re looking for ways to save money, food truly is the low-hanging fruit. Fancy brunches, not-so-fancy lunches, coffee runs, takeout dinners and even prepackaged grocery store fare can add up fast. So why not try out some of these recipes? And, if you’ve got a meal suggestion, join the conversation.

If you want even more help driving down your food costs, drop into YNAB’s free, online workshop called Saving Money on Groceries.