10 Healthy & Cheap Dinner Ideas Under $3/Plate!

One of the most frustrating things ever when looking for cheap dinner ideas is that people so clearly sacrifice the quality of their ingredients. Look, I get it – you’re trying to come up with ways to eat for cheap and if that’s what you have to do, it’s what you have to do. But I am here telling you that it’s not actually what you have to do…

Before we get into the details, here is a summary of the 10 Healthy & Cheap Dinner Ideas Under $3/Plate if you’re like me and just can’t wait to get to the meat of the article…pun intended!

  1. Mexican Ground Chicken Quinoa Bowl
  2. Pork Fried Rice
  3. Crockpot BBQ Ribs
  4. Turkey, Tomato & Sweet Potato
  5. Turkey Sausage & Red Potato
  6. Hearty CMC (Chicken Mushroom Crockpot)
  7. Savory Pot Roast
  8. Chicken Stir Fry
  9. Steak & Potatoes
  10. Cheesy 3-Egg Turkey Sausage Omelet

First off, it all just starts out with a little bit of planning ahead. In general, shopping on the perimeter of the store (i.e. avoiding the aisles) is going to be your best bet to have a cheap & healthy grocery list. Sure, there are going to be some extremely cheap items in the aisles like Ramen noodles, but those have enough sodium for a village for eternity…in every noodle.

Obviously that’s a stretch, but other than the canned goods that are in aisles, I will try to avoid them as much as humanly possible.

I’ve previously written about the 7 most important steps to have a cheap grocery list so while I don’t want to go into much detail, I do think it’s imperative to put them in your mind as you go through the remainder of this post:

  1. Have a Plan/List
  2. Meal Prep Your Meals
  3. Shop the Specials
  4. Buy Ahead of Your Needs
  5. Buy Produce in Season
  6. Understand Unit Pricing and Buy the Cheapest Option
  7. Always Leave Options at Home for “Emergency Meals”

If you can maximize the seven items that are listed above, you’re going to be in a great position to really take advantage of these meals.

I shop at Meijer for all of our groceries, which is similar to a Kroger in quality but has the superstore aspect of a Walmart, and the pricing is really in the middle of those two stores. You can obviously bargain-buy and get great items at Walmart, Aldi and others, but for the purposes of this blog, I am going to have all of my pricing from Meijer since that’s truly where 98% of our shopping comes from.

Something you’re going to learn about myself and my cooking is that I have three priorities:

  1. Cheap
  2. Healthy
  3. Easy

That’s it, and you’re going to see that reflected in these recipes. Ready to get going? Ok, let’s go!

Mexican Ground Chicken Quinoa Bowl

This is one of my favorite meals all around. The taste is good, let’s say a B+, but the beauty of it is that you’re really buying only one thing that needs to be cooked, a couple vegetables to slice up, and then a bunch of canned goods. Throw that stuff in a crockpot and just let it cook.

This is absolutely a staple for my family if we have to work late one night or just feel like being lazy. It also freezes great so we will even make some extra or have two crock pots going and freeze some of it. Planning ahead!

Ingredients:

  • 1lb Ground Chicken
  • 1 15oz. Can of Corn
  • 1 15oz. Can of Black Beans
  • 2 14.5oz Cans Fire Roasted Tomatoes
  • 1 10oz. Can Enchilada Sauce
  • 1 Red Onion (approx. 1lb)
  • 2 jalapenos. Omit if sensitive to spice; add more if desired
  • 4 Servings Quinoa
  • 2 tbsp Cumin

Instructions:

Brown the ground chicken until it’s thoroughly cooked. Throw the remainder of the ingredients in a crockpot and cook on low for 8+ hours. Personally, I throw it in the crockpot at 7AM when I leave for work and it’s good to go around 6PM. I know that it can cook longer and I know it’s also ready to eat in about 8 hours as well.

That’s the beauty of the crockpot!

Below shows the total unit cost for each item, the servings in that package of food and the servings needed for the meal:

$2.92 isn’t bad at all! And below are pictures of the various food items so you know exactly what I buy at the store and what I put in

Pork Fried Rice

Pork Fried Rice is likely the least healthy item on this list for the sole reason that it’s easy to get carried away with the oil when you’re cooking. If you can stick to the serving, which really is hard, you’re going to be just fine and have a lean, hearty meal.

Sometimes I’ll get freaking crazy and add an egg to my fried rice, but that’s not an essential by any means to the meal.

This meal is such a fun one to make because you can get really creative. Probably the first ten times I made it I only put in the frozen peas and carrots. Then I tried jalapeños, red onion, broccoli, red and green peppers, and even mushrooms.

You can really tailor it to whatever you see fit, but we’ve settled on a simple recipe shown below:

Ingredients:

  • 1lb Pork Chops
  • 4 Servings Instant Brown Rice
  • 1 Frozen Bag of Peas and Carrots
  • 1 Red Onion
  • 2 tbsp Olive Oil

Instructions:

  • Cut the raw pork chops into bite size pieces
  • Cook them in a large pan with the olive oil
  • Cook the brown rice in a microwave per the instructions on the box
  • Once the pork is cooked, add all of the vegetables. Cook until the vegetables are tender.
  • Add the rice to the pan. Cook for an additional 5-10 minutes on a lower heat.

Bada bing, bada boom – pork fried rice. All for $1.71/plate!

And as you can see, these items are extremely easy to find and once again – healthy, simple and cheap!

Crockpot BBQ Ribs

Guess what – another crockpot meal!! Ribs in general are one of my favorite meals so when my wife introduced crockpot ribs to me, I was willing to try them but I was a little bit skeptical. I didn’t want to fix something that wasn’t broken, you know?

But boy was I wrong! They have become one of our favorite meals to eat on a Sunday after a busy weekend because they’re essentially set and forget it.

Ingredients:

  • 1lb Boneless Pork Ribs
  • 1 Bottle of your Favorite BBQ Sauce
  • 2 Cans of Green Beans
  • 2lbs Red Potatoes
  • 2tbsp Olive Oil

Instructions:

  • Put the ribs into the crockpot with ½ cup water and cook on low for at least 4 hours. The longer they’re in there, the more tender they’re going to be. Once they’re fully cooked, you can do one of two things:
    • Remove any excess water from the crockpot and put in BBQ sauce to your liking. Usually, it’s about ⅓ of the bottle to coat the ribs evenly, but it’s really personal preference.
    • Remove the ribs and finish on a grill. You can put them on aluminum foil and cook them more to get the “char” that I love with regular ribs. When done, cover them in BBQ, similar to the first option.
  • Cut your red potatoes into 1-inch size chunks. Toss them in 2 tbsp of Olive Oil and then cook them in the oven at 400 for 50 minutes. Be sure to flip the potatoes a couple times throughout the cooking process so all sides are cooked evenly.
  • Put your green beans into a microwaveable bowl and microwave on high for 7 minutes. I’ve been told that microwave green beans are “nasty” but I like them just fine and guess what – easy, cheap and healthy!

Below shows the total unit cost for each item, the servings in that package of food and the servings needed for the meal:

One thing that you’ll see below is that I bought a 5lb bag of red potatoes when I only need 2 lbs. Why would I do that? Well, the answer is simple – the unit cost! Check out the three options that Meijer has for red potatoes below:

Makes sense to either buy the 3lb bag or just get the individual potatoes, right? WRONG! The 5lb bag, while it’s way more than needed for this recipe, is a much better deal per lb:

Now it’s only cheaper if you’re going to use those red potatoes in a different meal, otherwise you’re just wasting it. The good thing about red potatoes is they’re versatile and you can use them in many other meals. We cook red potatoes the same way we did in this meal and just grill a chicken breast and call it a day quite frequently. They also will keep for at least a week so you have some time to decide how you want to use them.

Remember how I said a major key is to plan ahead? When you can marry that up with understanding the unit cost of certain items like I showed with the red potatoes, you’re going to be in a great spot!

Below are the ingredients:

Turkey, Tomato & Sweet Potato

This meal is a really good comfort meal and one that freezes great. In fact, when my wife was pregnant with our son, I cooked up 8 servings worth of this meal and just froze it so we’d have some freezer meals and have one less thing to worry about when we were learning how to be first-time parents.

It takes a bit more time on your end than some of the crockpot meals, but it’s still a one pan meal! Easy cleanup!

Ingredients:

  • 1lb Ground Turkey
  • 2lbs Zucchini
  • 1 Red Onion
  • 1.5lbs Sweet Potato
  • 1 15oz can Tomato Sauce
  • 2 tbsp Garlic
  • 2 tbsp Oregano
  • 2 tbsp Oil

Instructions:

  • Cut the sweet potatoes into ½ inch size chunks and sauté in a large skillet on medium heat in the olive oil. Sauté until tender but not fully cooked. Should take around 20 minutes. Remove the sweet potatoes and place in a bowl.
  • Add the ground turkey to the skillet and brown until fully cooked. About halfway through cooking, add the garlic and oregano.
  • Cut the zucchini into pieces that are similar in size to the sweet potatoes. Slice the onion into bite size pieces. Add the sweet potatoes, onion and zucchini to the ground chicken. Cook for about 8 minutes until the zucchini starts to get tender. To expedite this, you can add a lid to the skillet, which I do, but is not required.
  • Once the zucchini and onion are tender, add the tomato sauce. Reduce the heat to low and cook for 10 additional minutes. The cooking here isn’t truly needed, but it’s good to let that food really soak up the tomato sauce and also get any excess water out of the zucchini so it’s not watery.
  • Serve in bowls

Below shows the total unit cost for each item, the servings in that package of food and the servings needed for the meal:

$1.95 a meal is really just insane for something so hearty and healthy.

Turkey Sausage & Red Potato

This meal is an absolute mouthwatering explosion. The first time we made this meal, I literally went back to the store and got more ingredients and made it for lunch for myself for the rest of the week. It was so good!

It’s a spin on Italian with a very strong garlic taste, which I love, and a delicious sausage taste which is one of my favorite proteins. And again, easy, cheap and healthy!

Ingredients:

  • 1 Package of Turkey Sausage
  • 1.5lbs Zucchini
  • 1 Red Onion
  • 1lb Red Potato
  • 2 tbsp Garlic
  • 2 tbsp Olive Oil
  • 2 tbsp Oregano

Ingredients:

  • Cook the red potatoes in a skillet with oil for 15-20 minutes until tender.
  • Cut the sausage, zucchini and red onion into bite size pieces and add them to the skillet.
    • If you want, one audible that you can do is remove the red potatoes and cook the sausage by itself to get some “char” on the sausage. Then add the red potatoes, zucchini and onion back to the skillet.
  • Add the olive oil and oregano. Toss everything together so the seasoning is evenly coated and cook until the zucchini is tender.

Below shows the total unit cost for each item, the servings in that package of food and the servings needed for the meal:

$1.56/serving….WOW!

Hearty CMC (Chicken Mushroom Crockpot)

I’ll be honest – this is my least favorite meal on the list but it’s definitely the easiest meal to make, so that’s the tradeoff. Sometimes we just know that we’re going to have an absolutely crazy week and I’ll personally make the tradeoff of an easier meal over the most tasty one. Plus, a less tasty meal makes you appreciate the more tasty ones, right? At least that’s what I tell myself…

Ingredients:

  • 1lb Chicken Breasts
  • 1 Red Onion
  • 1lb Mushrooms
  • 4 servings Brown Rice – Not the instant brown rice which I’ve used in a previous example
  • 32oz Chicken Broth
  • 1 Can of Green Beans
  • 2 tbsp Garlic
  • 2 tbsp Oregano
  • 2 tbsp Paprika

Instructions:

  • Cut the chicken breasts into thirds and put in the crockpot.
  • Cut the onions into slices and put in the crockpot.
  • Put everything else except the green beans in the crockpot. Cook on low for 8 hours.
  • Shred the chicken and put it back in the crockpot. Add the green beans and cook for another 30 minutes minimum. No harm in cooking longer.

Below shows the total unit cost for each item, the servings in that package of food and the servings needed for the meal:

Savory Pot Roast

Ok – I think I lied. Pot Roast is definitely the easiest meal on this list and it’s a really, really tasty one too!

Ingredients:

  • 1lb Roast
  • 1 Red Onion
  • 1 16oz bag of Carrots
  • 1.5lbs Sweet Potatoes
  • 2 tbsp Garlic
  • 1/4 Cup Water
  • 2 tbsp Apple Cider Vinegar

Instructions:

  • Put the Apple Cider Vinegar in the crockpot. Mix with ¼ cup water.
  • Place the carrots into the crockpot
  • Place the roast into the crockpot on top of the carrots and spread the garlic on top
  • Cut the onion and place on top of the roast
  • Slice the sweet potatoes and stuff them on the sides of the roast between the sides of the crockpot.
  • Cook on high for 8+ hours

That’s literally it. Super simple. You can make the entire meal with 5 minutes of prep work!

Below shows the total unit cost for each item, the servings in that package of food and the servings needed for the meal:

$1.29/serving? HOW LOW CAN YOU GO?!

Chicken Stir Fry

Have you ever been to BD’s Mongolian Grill before? That’s how I feel when I make stir fry…but not nearly that good. I do have a wok though…although definitely not needed.

Ingredients:

  • 1lb Chicken Breasts
  • Whatever vegetables you want in your stir fry. We use:
    • 1lb Red Onion
    • 8oz Mushrooms
    • 8oz Carrots
    • 2 Jalapenos
    • 1 Bag of Frozen Broccoli
    • 1 Green Pepper
    • 1 Red Pepper
  • 4 Servings Instant Brown Rice
  • 2 tbsp Garlic
  • 2 tbsp Olive Oil

Instructions:

  • Cut the chicken into bite size pieces and cook in the skillet, with the oil, until fully cooked. Add Garlic and cook for 1 additional minute.
  • Slice all other vegetables into bite size pieces and add to the skillet.
  • Cook the brown rice in a microwave per the instructions on the box
  • Serve the stir fry over the rice

One thing that you can add if you want is some hot sauce or Sriracha – both of which I am a sucker for!

Below shows the total unit cost for each item, the servings in that package of food and the servings needed for the meal:

Steak & Potatoes

I bet you’re stunned to see steak on this list, aren’t you? The thing about steak is that the healthier it is, the cheaper it usually is, and that’s because it quite simply is just a tougher cut of meat. The Top Round and Bottom Round steak is sometimes even $4/lb, a heckuva deal, but it’s really just not nearly as enjoyable as a strip or filet – and that’s primarily because it’s missing a lot of the fat!

So, yes – you can absolutely eat steak for under $3/meal, especially when you take into account that the side dishes for a steak meal can be extremely cheap, just as I’ve shown below:

Ingredients:

  • 1lb Center Steak
  • 4 Russet Potatoes (~.5lbs each)
  • 2lbs Yellow Squash
  • 1 Pint Cherry Tomatoes
  • 4 tbsp Butter
  • 2 tbsp Garlic
  • 2 tbsp Oregano
  • 2 tbsp Olive Oil

Instructions:

  • Poke holes in the potatoes with a fork, wrap them in foil, and cook for 1 hour at 400 in the oven.
  • Grill the steak, or sauté in a pan (will need to use some additional olive oil) to your desired temperature.
    • 125 = Rare
    • 130 = Medium Rare
    • 140 = Medium
    • 150 = Medium-Well
    • 165 = Well Done
  • Cut the yellow squash into chunks, the cherry tomatoes in half, and add them into a skillet along with the garlic, oregano and olive oil. Sauté until the desired tenderness. For us, it’s usually 10-12 minutes.
  • Boom – all is done! Add butter to your potato and you’re all set.

Cheesy 3-Egg Turkey Sausage Omelet

“Andy, these are supposed to be cheap dinner ideas!”

Well…haven’t you ever had breakfast for dinner? I certainly have…and it’s freaking amazing! Especially this awesome meal…

Ingredients:

  • 12 Eggs
  • 1lb Turkey Sausage
  • ½ Bag of Cheddar Cheese (or whatever you like)
  • 1 Red Onion
  • 2 Jalapenos
  • 2 tbsp Olive Oil
  • 4 Pieces of Bread
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 1 Bag Frozen Berries

Instructions:

  • Thaw the berries either in the fridge, room temp or under cold water, pending the amount of time that you have.
  • Cook the sausage in a skillet and set aside
  • Scramble 3 eggs in a bowl and pour into a hot skillet with olive oil. Let the eggs cook until you can flip the omelet over without them spilling.
  • Once the omelet is flipped, add turkey sausage, sliced red onion, sliced jalapenos and cheese. Let the omelet cook another couple minutes before folding in half. Remove from the skillet.
  • Toast the bread to your desired crispiness and add butter

Summary

Hopefully these meals have brought some inspiration to you not only to save some money but also to eat healthy. A lot of these meals can easily be mixed and matched based on the protein on sale or the side dish if you want to make a substitute.

There are always tons of canned vegetables that can be changed out for anything that I’ve listed, potatoes can be swapped, and other random items are on sale – it’s about taking these meals and adapting!

Hopefully they can really help you save some money so you can save even more than you currently are. Saving money is great, but something that’s even better than saving is increasing your income, and I can help you with that, too! 

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