Trying to stay on a food budget can be difficult, especially if you are new to shopping and having to plan your own meals. Whether you are looking to establish a budget for savings or because you truly do not have any other options, you do have cheap food to buy when broke so you aren't starving and still get the nutrients you need.
1. Ramen Noodles
The king of cheap food to buy when broke or on a budget is ramen noodles. For under a single dollar, you can get several packages and have a few meals on hand. Ramen noodles even allow you to diversify your flavor options, and you can choose your favorite protein flavors in classic or spicy.
2. Spam and Potted Meats
If you have a taste for ham but do not want to splurge for the classic, Spam and other potted meat brands allow you to have a quick meal for just a couple of bucks. This is a favorite among cheap food to buy when broke. You can fry the potted meat or cut it up and add it to noodles or rice for a complete meal.
3. Canned Spaghetti and Ravioli
Another full meal that you can grab and go when broke is canned spaghetti or ravioli. These canned meals come with noodles, sauce and either beef meatballs or beef stuffed ravioli so that you hit the major food groups. These cans are simply heated on the stove or a hot plate in a small pan or you can heat them up in the microwave.
4. Canned Soup
Vegetables, protein, starches, and your favorite broth, you can choose from a variety of canned soup options to help get all your essential nutrients and keep your lunch budget low. You can choose from vegetarian options, bothy soups, or even some spicy options to pack in all the flavor for little cost.
5. Canned Fish
Sometimes you need your Omega-3s and fresh fish is just not an option when you are broke. Whether it is canned tuna or salmon, you can mix it with mayo, relish, and hard-boiled eggs to make a salad. Canned fish works great as an addition to grits or rice for a cheap but hearty meal. The best part is that you can get numerous cans for just a few dollars and you do not have to store them in the fridge.
It is important to have fresh produce even when you are broke. One of the best vegetables you can buy fresh and in bulk is potatoes. In your bag of potatoes, you can choose to make some mashed potatoes, hashbrowns, fries, or even a baked potato without having to spend any additional money.
In most grocery stores, you can get a head of cabbage for under a dollar and stretch it over two or three meals. Chop up your cabbage head and saute it on the stovetop for a crunchy side. If you are looking to make soup and stretch out your meals, cabbage is fulfilling and a great addition. Folks who want cheap food to buy when broke but also have a fresh taste turn to cabbage.
While it may be a breakfast staple, oatmeal is really cheap and can be eaten at any time of the day. Whether you are buying plain oats to blend and make your own flavor, or you are looking to purchase oatmeal pouches, you can add fruit and a side of eggs to make a complete meal any time of the day.
Speaking of eggs, this is one of the cheapest and most nutritious foods you can purchase. Eggs are also pretty versatile, so you can cook them in a number of different ways, pairing them with other proteins or vegetables to make a more rounded plate. They work great as a side or a meal if you cook three or more at once.
Have a hearty and filling breakfast with grits and eggs. A pack of grits will last you between one and two weeks and you only spend a couple of bucks to purchase them. That allows you to maximize your budget, and paired with eggs or even potted meat gives you a full meal.
11. Cream of Wheat
If grits or oatmeal isn't your thing for breakfast, consider cream of wheat which is affordable and will stretch out your budget. Like grits and oats, you can purchase a large bag for just a few dollars and have it last you around 10 meals or more.
A great source of protein and fiber, beans are easily one of the cheapest and most fulfilling meals you can get when you are broke. Choose from dried beans or canned beans and pair them with rice for a complete meal. You can also add other cheap meal options to them, like potatoes or hot dogs to stretch out your meal and make more servings. You can choose from seasoned beans that are already baked to dried butter beans or pinto beans that hold seasoning and flavor.
A staple for cheap meals when you are broke is rice. You can buy it in bulk and still only spend a few dollars. A large bag of rice can last you for weeks or even months and can be paired with a variety of options to make snacks or full meals at a fraction of the cost.
14. Peanut Butter
Whether you make a sandwich, add it to crackers, or just grab a spoon, peanut butter will keep you full longer and last for weeks before you need to get more. Peanut butter is relatively cheap, just make sure you are browsing the store brands and not splurging on the name-brand options.
15. Hot Dogs
Put them on a bun or add them to a pot of baked beans and you have a meal. Hot dogs are one of the cheapest proteins you can buy and you can do so much with them to elevate them beyond the average dog. Condiments and bread are pretty cheap, so stick with the classic or add them to your boxed macaroni.
16. Canned Chicken
Having a canned protein means that there may be some additional salt, but canned chicken is affordable and can be used in a variety of dishes. It is also shelf-stable so buy it in bulk when it is on sale and use it in your different dishes for quick meals and lunches.
17. Dry Pasta
If you want to make a spaghetti dish or a cheap pasta dish, dried pasta noodles are very affordable. A small box will cost you under $2 and last you for several meals. You can also store this pasta on the shelf and have it last for several months before you have to use it, giving you some diversity in your menu options over the coming weeks.
Like dry pasta, you can purchase dried quinoa and add it to your soups or stews that you are preparing when you are broke. They have more nutritional value than rice but carry a similar texture. They are also great if you need to add more fiber to your diet.
Once tortillas are packaged, they have a much longer shelf-life than bread and hold any protein or ingredients that you would like. Make cheap breakfast burritos, lunch tacos, or quesadillas with these tortilla shells.
It is important to have high levels of potassium and fresh fruit every day. With bananas costing less than a dollar per pound, there is no reason to not have one a day for great nutritional value. They make a great snack or can be added to oatmeal for a more fulfilling meal option.
Like potatoes, you can get a bag of onions for under $5 in most places and use this when you are cooking. Onions provide a fresh flavor to your dishes and nutritional value, helping to break up the sodium and starchiness that are found in many cheaper food items.
22. Frozen Meals
If you are broke and short on time for cooking, check the frozen section at your grocery store. Periodically, you can find frozen meals on sale that, while having high levels of sodium, also include well-balanced meals that replicate that home-cooked taste. There are some frozen meal brands that specialize in being affordable and you could find yourself getting enough dinners for the week for under $10.
If you want to add something green to your dishes, lettuce is pretty cheap for a head of it in the produce section. Make sure you are getting fresh lettuce and not bagged lettuce, since bagged lettuce is much more expensive and has a shorter lifespan than a head of lettuce.
24. Sweet Potatoes
If you want to break up your potato options a little further this week, grab fresh sweet potatoes during the fall months. They are usually on sale between $1 and $2 a pound, allowing you to get a few potatoes for the week. You can do the same great things with sweet potatoes as regular potatoes and gain just as much nutritional value.
Whether you purchase the flower and roll them out or grab a roll of biscuits from the breakfast area, biscuits are cheap and make great sandwich meals. With biscuits, you can take that potted meat and eggs and make a full sandwich to enjoy.
If you want a sweet snack but can't break the bank, Jello makes a great option. It does take a little time to make, but the ready-to-mix packs are usually a dollar or less in most locations. Mixing it with water and then cooling the jello will give you a lasting sweet treat. You can even boost your jello by adding fruit chunks to it while it is cooling to give it an additional texture later.
Like jello, pudding is pretty easy to make and affordable. While jello comes in fruity flavors, pudding comes in your classic vanilla and chocolate flavors that will satisfy any sweet tooth that you may be experiencing.
Some meals are complete with a bowl of cereal and milk. Large boxes of cereal make for a great snack or a quick meal when you are tired and do not want to spend the evening cooking. In order to maximize your budget, make sure you go with the store brands of cereal as they are usually about 25 percent cheaper and similar in taste and texture.
29. Saltine Crackers
Slap some peanut butter and jelly on saltine crackers and you have yourself a quick lunch that costs almost nothing. They are also great to pair with a can of your favorite soup so that you have a hearty dinner on colder nights.
Depending on how you feel about pumpkins, you can use this cheap vegetable in a variety of dishes. You can pull out the seeds and toast them for a snack when you need something crunchy. The flesh of the pumpkin can be used in a variety of desserts that are affordable when you have no extra money to spend.
A box of popcorn will give you anywhere from 6-8 different snacks to enjoy for only a few dollars. You can easily pop it in your microwave or purchase the popcorn that heats on your stovetop. You want to make your own though because you will spend too much on already popped popcorn.
32. Green Peppers
You can spruce up beans, eggs, rice, and stews with green peppers. They also make a great snack if you enjoy them raw. They can be sauteed with onions to amplify the flavor in your dish and cost you less than a dollar a pepper.
Full of nutrients, fiber, and sweetness, kiwi makes a great fruit snack to enjoy and is relatively affordable. They are not as cheap as bananas, but for a few dollars at your local Walmart, you can get a couple of pounds of kiwi that will last you for a week or two.
34. Canned Tomatoes
If you need to make pasta sauce, chili,or soup, canned tomatoes are very cheap and can improve the overall flavor of your dishes. Canned tomatoes are also a great addition to rice and beans or grits. Even as cheap as canned tomatoes are, you can purchase them already seasoned or stewed with other vegetables and spices in the tomatoes.
35. Granola / Protein Bars
If you need to grab a quick snack throughout the day and you don't have money for the vending machine or a coffee run, granola bars are a great option to keep you full until your next meal without costing a fortune. A small box of protein bars will cost you a few bucks for the week and keep you from overspending on expensive coffees and treats that are overpriced in the snack machine.
36. Canned Peas
Another vegetable that pairs well with other cheap food options is canned peas. They only need to be seasoned quickly and then heated on the stove. These cans are usually purchased under a dollar a piece, so you can grab a can and add to your soup to give another layer of texture and flavor.
Packed full of protein and fiber, yogurt makes a great snack any time of the day or complements your breakfast meal. The best thing about yogurt is how affordable it is in your grocery store. You may need to diversify your brands from week to week in order to get the best sale, but you will have a variety of flavors to choose from and add to your diet a healthy and cheap option.
A bag of carrots will usually cost you less than two dollars and they can be roasted easily as a side to your meal or added to a soup. Many who are on a budget find this snack to be cheap and nutritious if they enjoy raw carrots. You can purchase them in their full size for the most affordable price. When you start looking into shaved carrots or slices, you will pay more and it isn't worth breaking your budget.
Supplement your dish with a cup of your favorite chicken, beef, or vegetable broth to magnify the flavor without the extra cost. The broth goes well when you are cooking some of the cheaper vegetables on this list, soups, stews, or you can heat up a cup of it and enjoy it; for protein and additional nutrients.
No matter how broke you are, bread is a staple to have around so that you are able to make some of the cheapest dishes and be fulfilled. Bread is essential for sandwiches, toast, or just to snack so that you have something available.
If you need a salty snack to enjoy, pickles are great to keep in the fridge and they are one of the cheapest condiments on the shelf. A small jar of spears will cost you less than $2 and you can enjoy them periodically. Pickles are great to replenish you with electrolytes quickly, just do not overeat on them because of the high salt content.
42. Lemon and Limes
If you want fresh citrus in your home but you are broke, you can get several limes or lemons for under a dollar at large grocery stores. Use them to flavor your dishes when you want a fresh flavor on the canned chicken or fish you are adding to your dishes. They also make great additions to the water that you are drinking, packing it full of flavor at a minimal cost.
43. Chicken thighs
If you want fresh meat that will cost you under $5 for dinner, grab a small bag of chicken thighs for your next meal. If you opt for bone-in and skin-on chicken thighs, they will be even cheaper. These thighs are easy to clean and only take a few minutes, saving you several dollars.
44. Ground Beef
If you want to throw together some hamburger, meatloaf, or Hamburger Helper for a cheap dinner, ground beef should be on your next shopping list. This meat is affordable and cheap. Just make sure you cook it soon because it has a shorter shelf life than other proteins.
45. Oyster Crackers
One of the cheapest crackers you will find in your supermarket is oyster crackers. There are hundreds of crackers available in these bags and they are purchased for only a couple of dollars. You can add oil and seasonings to these crackers for a nice snack that is cheap and affordable.
If you want to improve your calcium and protein intake, there are times of the year when a spinach bunch is relatively cheap and great as a meal addition. A fresh spinach bunch is usually under a dollar and wilts down in a pasta dish as a nice side as a cheap food to buy when broke.
47. Mustard Greens
In the winter months, you can get a bunch of mustard greens very cheaply at your grocery store. These greens are larger than others, so even when they cook, there are large portions that are great for leftovers or meal prepping. They pair well with meats and seasonings and will last in the fridge for several days after being cooked.
48. Grape Jelly
A small jar of grape jelly will last a long time in the fridge and only cost you a dollar or two. When you have toast, biscuits, or want to make a PB&J, you have it available. Even if you purchase a name-brand grape jelly, you still won't spend a lot of money and get a lot of products for your money.
49. Fish Sticks
A freezer staple, a box of fish sticks only costs a few dollars and you can stretch these out for a few meals. They cook in the oven for about 20 minutes but add some ketchup to your plate and you have dinner for the evening for just a few bucks.
50. Chicken Nuggets
If you prefer chicken to keep in your freezer, chicken nuggets make a quick and easy meal to enjoy when cooking is not in your plans. You can heat these nuggets up in the microwave for just a few minutes, pair them with your favorite dipping sauce and call it a night, saving time and money as cheap food to buy when broke.
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Written by Allen Lee
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