5 Tasty Budget Dinners for Less Than $3 Per Serving

Cheese-&-Spinach-Stuffed PortobellosBy Jessie Price deputy editor of food for EatingWell Magazine

When you're busy and trying to stick to a budget, dinner needs to be quick and cheap. But you also want it to be healthy…and fresh…and delicious too. Is it really possible to have it all? Yes, it is! Save money and time with these cheap and easy weeknight dinner recipes your family will love. All of the main dishes cash in at less than $3 per serving. (P.S. You want a shopping list too? We've got that for you: Get a 7-Day Menu Plan & Shopping List for the recipes featured here.)

More Healthy Budget Ideas from EatingWell:
6 Simple Changes That Could Save You $2,997 on Food
A Week of 5-Ingredient Dinners for Less Than $50
Best Healthy Foods to Buy on a Tight Budget
Get Your Copy of the EatingWell on a Budget Cookbook

Budget Tip #1: Go meatless. Going meatless a few times a week is good for your health (you'll be eating less saturated fat), good for your wallet (meat is often the most expensive food on the plate) and good for the environment. You can eat vegetarian and still be satisfied, by including ingredients like rice, eggs, beans and tofu.

Cheese-&-Spinach-Stuffed Portobellos (pictured above)
($1.65 per serving), serve with whole-wheat fusilli

Active time: 20 minutes | Total: 40 minutes

4 large portobello mushroom caps
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper, divided
1 cup part-skim ricotta cheese
1 cup finely chopped fresh spinach
1/2 cup finely shredded Parmesan cheese, divided
2 tablespoons finely chopped kalamata olives
1/2 teaspoon Italian seasoning
3/4 cup prepared marinara sauce

1. Preheat oven to 450°F. Coat a rimmed baking sheet with cooking spray.
2. Place mushroom caps, gill-side up, on the prepared pan. Sprinkle with salt and 1/8 teaspoon pepper. Roast until tender, 20 to 25 minutes.
3. Meanwhile, mash ricotta, spinach, 1/4 cup Parmesan, olives, Italian seasoning and the remaining 1/8 teaspoon pepper in a medium bowl. Place marinara sauce in a small bowl, cover and microwave on High until hot, 30 seconds to 1 1/2 minutes.
4. When the mushrooms are tender, carefully pour out any liquid accumulated in the caps. Return the caps to the pan gill-side up. Spread 1 tablespoon marinara into each cap; cover the remaining sauce to keep warm. Mound a generous 1/3 cup ricotta filling into each cap and sprinkle with the remaining 1/4 cup Parmesan. Bake until hot, about 10 minutes. Serve with the remaining marinara sauce.

Makes 4 servings.

Per serving: 216 calories; 12 g fat (5 g sat, 4 g mono); 29 mg cholesterol; 16 g carbohydrate; 0 g added sugars; 14 g protein; 3 g fiber; 683 mg sodium; 692 mg potassium. Nutrition bonus: Calcium (31% daily value), Vitamin A (28% dv), Potassium (20% dv).

Sweet-&-Sour Chicken DrumsticksBudget Tip #2: Get chicken-savvy. Poultry often goes on sale, so when it does, stock up and keep it in your freezer. Also, learn to cook whole chickens, thighs and drumsticks--not just boneless, skinless chicken breast, which tends to be more expensive.

Sweet-&-Sour Chicken Drumsticks
($1.37 per serving), serve with roasted sweet potatoes and salad

Active time: 40 minutes | Total: 40 minutes

1/2 teaspoon freshly grated orange zest
1/4 cup orange juice
1/4 cup water
3 tablespoons honey
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon cider vinegar, divided
1/2 teaspoon salt, divided
1/4 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon cornstarch
1/4 cup chopped fresh mint
8 chicken drumsticks (about 2 pounds), skin removed, trimmed
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

1. Preheat grill to medium. (No grill? See Broiler Variation, below.)
2. To prepare dipping sauce, combine orange zest, orange juice, water, honey, 1 tablespoon vinegar, 1/4 teaspoon salt and coriander in a small saucepan; bring to a boil. Whisk cornstarch and the remaining 1 teaspoon vinegar in a small bowl until smooth. Add to the saucepan and return to a boil, whisking until thickened, 30 seconds to 1 minute. Remove from the heat. Stir in mint.
3. Sprinkle drumsticks with the remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt and pepper. Oil the grill rack (see Tip). Grill the drumsticks until crispy on all sides and an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part registers 165°F, about 15 minutes total. Serve the drumsticks with the dipping sauce on the side.

Makes 4 servings.

Per serving: 255 calories; 8 g fat (2 g sat, 3 g mono); 93 mg cholesterol; 16 g carbohydrate; 29 g protein; 1 g fiber; 389 mg sodium; 315 mg potassium.
Nutrition bonus: Selenium (27% daily value), Vitamin C (15% dv).

To oil the grill rack: Oil a folded paper towel, hold it with tongs and rub it over the rack. (Don't use cooking spray on a hot grill.)

Broiler variation: Position oven rack in the upper third of the oven; preheat broiler to high. Prepare sauce (Step 2). Coat a broiler pan with cooking spray. Sprinkle drumsticks with salt and pepper (Step 3), then broil, turning once, until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part registers 165°F, about 15 minutes total.

Beef & Cabbage Stir-Fry with Peanut SauceBudget Tip #3: Stir-fry for dinner. Stir-frying with plenty of vegetables and just a little bit of meat is an obvious choice when you want to make a quick and healthy dinner. It's also very forgiving, so if you have a little extra onion or half a leftover zucchini you want to use up, just throw it in your stir-fry.

Beef & Cabbage Stir-Fry with Peanut Sauce
($2.49 per serving), serve with brown rice

Active time: 40 minutes | Total: 40 minutes

1/4 cup smooth natural peanut butter
1/3 cup orange juice
3 tablespoons reduced-sodium soy sauce
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
2 teaspoons sugar
4 teaspoons canola oil, divided
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 pound sirloin steak, trimmed and thinly sliced (see Tip)
1 small head Savoy cabbage, thinly sliced
2-5 tablespoons water
2 medium carrots, grated
1/4 cup chopped unsalted roasted peanuts (optional)

1. Whisk peanut butter, orange juice, soy sauce, vinegar and sugar in a medium bowl until smooth.
2. Heat 2 teaspoons oil in a wok or large skillet over medium-high heat. Add garlic and cook, stirring, until fragrant, 30 seconds. Add steak and cook, stirring, until browned and barely pink in the middle, 2 to 4 minutes. Transfer to a bowl.
3. Reduce heat to medium. Swirl in the remaining 2 teaspoons oil. Add cabbage and 2 tablespoons water; cook, stirring, until beginning to wilt, 3 to 5 minutes. Add carrots (and more water if necessary to prevent sticking or burning) and cook, stirring, until just tender, about 3 minutes more. Return the steak and any accumulated juices to the pan, then pour in the peanut sauce and toss to combine. Serve sprinkled with peanuts (if using).

Makes 4 servings.

Per serving: 364 calories; 17 g fat (3 g sat, 5 g mono); 42 mg cholesterol; 23 g carbohydrate; 31 g protein; 7 g fiber; 469 mg sodium; 866 mg potassium. Nutrition bonus: Vitamin A (140% daily value), Vitamin C (110% dv), Folate (40% dv), Potassium (25% dv), Magnesium (19% dv).

Tip: For thinly sliced beef, freeze for 30 minutes to make it easier to cut into very thin slices.

Salmon RöstiBudget Tip #4: Discover great ways to use canned fish. Doctors recommend eating fish or seafood twice a week, especially fish rich in omega-3s, such as salmon and tuna. If you're looking to save money, try budget-friendly canned tuna and canned wild salmon as well as sustainably fished or farmed shrimp, tilapia, catfish and trout.

Salmon Rösti
($2.72 per serving), serve with steamed green beans

Active time: 30 minutes | Total: 30 minutes

2 6- to 7-ounce cans boneless, skinless wild Alaskan salmon, drained
1/2 cup finely chopped red onion
2 large eggs plus 1 large egg white, lightly beaten
1 tablespoon whole-grain mustard
3 tablespoons chopped fresh dill or 3 teaspoons dried, divided
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 cups frozen hash-brown shredded potatoes (about 12 ounces)
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
1/3 cup reduced-fat sour cream
1 tablespoon capers, rinsed and chopped
1 teaspoon lemon juice

1. Combine salmon, onion, eggs and egg white, mustard, 2 tablespoons fresh dill (or 2 teaspoons dried), pepper and salt in a large bowl. Add potatoes and stir to combine.
2. Preheat oven to 200°F.
3. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat until shimmering. Fill a 1-cup measure two-thirds full with the salmon mixture and firmly pack it down. Unmold into the pan and pat to form a 3-inch cake. Repeat, making 3 more cakes. Cover and cook until browned on the bottom, 3 to 5 minutes. Gently turn over and cook, covered, until crispy on the other side, 3 to 5 minutes more. Transfer the cakes to a baking dish; keep warm in the oven. Wipe out the skillet and cook 4 more cakes with the remaining 1 tablespoon oil and the remaining salmon mixture.
4. Combine sour cream, capers, lemon juice and the remaining dill in a small bowl. Serve the salmon cakes with the dill sauce.

Makes 4 servings, 2 rösti (salmon cakes) each.

Per serving: 317 calories; 18 g fat (5 g sat, 7 g mono); 143 mg cholesterol; 19 g carbohydrate; 0 g added sugars; 21 g protein; 2 g fiber; 559 mg sodium; 605 mg potassium. Nutrition bonus: Potassium (17% daily value), Vitamin C (15% dv), source of omega-3s.

Pork Chops au PoivreBudget Tip #5: Know your portions. You can enjoy pork chops, a steak dinner or a lean leg of lamb for less than a takeout meal if you're savvy. At EatingWell, we always keep serving sizes to a healthy 3 ounces of cooked meat--which makes it healthier and more affordable.

Pork Chops au Poivre
($1.69 per serving), serve with roasted carrots, brown rice and green salad

Active time: 20 minutes | Total: 20 minutes

1 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt, divided
4 4-ounce boneless pork chops, 1/2 inch thick, trimmed
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium shallot, minced
1/2 cup brandy
1/4 cup reduced-fat sour cream

1. Combine pepper and 1/4 teaspoon salt in a small bowl. Pat the mixture onto both sides of each pork chop. Place flour in a shallow dish; dredge each chop in the flour, shaking off any excess.
2. Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the chops, reduce heat to medium and cook until browned and just cooked through, 2 to 3 minutes per side. Transfer to a plate and tent with foil to keep warm.
3. Reduce heat to medium-low. Add shallot to the pan and cook, stirring, until softened, about 1 minute. Add brandy and cook, stirring and scraping up any browned bits, until most of the liquid has evaporated, 1 to 2 minutes. Remove from the heat; stir in sour cream and the remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt. Serve the pork chops with the sauce.

Makes 4 servings.

Per serving: 299 calories; 15 g fat (4 g sat, 8 g mono); 72 mg cholesterol; 3 g carbohydrate; 22 g protein; 0 g fiber; 342 mg sodium; 319 mg potassium.

What are your tricks for sticking to a food budget?

By Jessie Price

Jessie Price

Jessie Price is the deputy editor of food for EatingWell magazine, where she directs all food content. Besides her work on 11 other EatingWell books, she is the author of the James Beard Award-winning The Simple Art of EatingWell and EatingWell One-Pot Meals. She lives in Charlotte, Vermont where she stays busy growing her own vegetables in the summer and tracking down great Vermont food products when she's not working.

More from EatingWell:

Financially Fit Feedback:Take our Survey »

Follow Shine


What extra baking essentials do you purchase?

Poll Choice Options


  • Bad financial habits to ditch in 2013
    Bad financial habits to ditch in 2013

    Don’t let these bad financial habits keep you from your long-term spending goals. Identify your weaknesses and start remedying them. …