Extreme Budget Meal Plan


When you’re at the end of your grocery budget, and don’t have much left, it might be overwhelming to try to make a lot of meals out of a few inexpensive ingredients. I know, I’ve been there! That’s why I created this extreme budget meal plan; so that when you’re overwhelmed, wondering what in the world your family is going to eat, you can make delicious, nutritious meals for cheap!

Eating on a budget doesn’t have to be boring. This meal plan makes seven meals using just 20 ingredients, but each meal is really tasty and packed with flavor!

extreme budget meals

Extreme Budget Grocery List:

To make seven meals, you only need to grab about 20 items from the store! And most of them are canned or boxed. I’ve kept costs SUPER low for this meal plan. For your next trip to the grocery store, you’ll want to grab:

  • 1 can diced tomatoes with garlic and olive oil
  • 1 box macaroni and cheese
  • 2 cans tuna
  • 1 can of black beans
  • 1 can red enchilada sauce
  • 1 sweet potato
  • 1 onion
  • 5 lb bag russet potatoes
  • 1 lb bag lentils
  • 1 can tomato sauce
  • 12 eggs
  • 12 oz bag frozen mixed vegetables
  • 28 oz bag frozen potatoes O’Brien
  • 8 count hot dogs
  • 12 oz frozen chopped spinach
  • 1 lb ground sausage
  • 1/2 gallon milk
  • 1 pound penne pasta

Sweet Potato Black Bean Hash

This meal would be perfect for dinner or a hearty breakfast! Sweet Potato hash has lots of fiber and protein thanks to the beans and will keep you full for a long time. Plus, it just tastes really good!

1 tbsp olive oil
1/4 yellow onion, diced
1 tbsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1 tsp onion powder
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp paprika
1 large sweet potato, diced
2 large russet potatoes, diced
15 oz can black beans, drained and rinsed
1 cup frozen spinach
1/2-1 cup of water

To a large skillet over medium heat add the olive oil. Once hot, add the onion and sauté for about 2 minutes to enhance the flavor. Stir in the seasonings. Add the sweet potatoes, russet potatoes, black beans, frozen spinach, and water.

Cover with a lid and let simmer for 10-12 minutes, stirring often, until the potatoes are fork-tender. While simmering, if the potatoes start to burn and stick to the bottom of the pan, add a little more water. Serve and enjoy!

Potato Sausage Casserole

One of my secret ingredients is frozen hash browns! They’re so inexpensive, easy to prepare, and are already seasoned so they taste amazing. I always add them to my extreme budget meal plan.

1/2 lb uncooked sausage
12 eggs
1/2 cup milk
1 tbsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1 tsp onion powder
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp paprika
28 oz bag frozen potatoes O’Brien

Preheat oven to 350. To a large skillet on the stove over medium heat, add the sausage and break it up. Cook until all the way cooked through. Remove any excess grease from the pan.

To a large bowl, add the eggs, milk, and seasonings. Whisk to break the yolks and combine the ingredients.

Spray a 9×13 baking dish with non-stick spray. Add the frozen potatoes and spread them out evenly, then sprinkle the cooked sausage over the top. Pour the egg mixture over everything and bake for 45-55 minutes or until the egg has set in the middle. Serve and enjoy!

Potato Hot Dog Dinner

Variations of hot dog stews and hashes have been around for the last century. It’s a classic American budget meal! Mine has lots of potatoes, tomato sauce, and seasonings to make it extra flavorful.

1 tbsp olive oil
6-8 medium-sized russet potatoes, peeled and cut into small bite-sized pieces
1/4 yellow onion, diced
12 oz package hot dogs, sliced into small pieces
8 oz package tomato sauce
1/4 cup water
1 tbsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp onion powder
1 tsp garlic powder

To a large skillet over medium heat on the stove, add the olive oil. Once hot, add the onion and hot dogs and cook for 5-7 minutes to sear the hot dogs and make them golden brown. Add the remaining ingredients and stir. Simmer covered, stirring often, for 10-15 minutes, or until the potatoes are fork-tender. Serve and enjoy!

extreme budget meal plan

One Pot Sausage Pasta

A creamy, tomato-y pasta is always a good idea. This one absolutely does not feel like a budget meal! Here I’ve used milk instead of heavy cream to make a rich and creamy sauce for cheap. You’re going to love this one.

1 tbsp olive oil
1/2 lb sausage
14 oz can petite diced tomatoes with garlic & olive oil (or you can use a normal can of diced tomatoes)
1/2 lb penne pasta
2 cups milk
1/2 cup water
1 tbsp water
1/2 tsp pepper
3 tsp Italian seasoning
To a large Dutch oven or pot with a lid on the stove over medium heat, add the oil. Once hot, add the sausage, break it up with a spatula, and cook it through.

Once cooked, remove any excess grease from the pot, then add the remaining ingredients. Stir, cover with a lid, and bring to a simmer. DO NOT BOIL, or the milk will separate. Let simmer, stirring often, for 10-15 minutes or until the pasta is tender. If the liquid line gets too low, add 1/2 cup more water at a time until the pasta is done cooking.

extreme budget meal plan

Lentil Spinach Soup

Lentils are such a wholesome ingredient and are so inexpensive. If you haven’t cooked with lentils before, it’s not hard! Really, they’re like cooking dried beans. All you have to do is rinse them with water and do a quick pass for any little pebbles that may have snuck through during packing.

1 tbsp olive oil
1/4 yellow onion, diced
7 cups water
6 russet potatoes, peeled and cut into cubes
1 cup uncooked lentils, rinsed
1 3/4 cup frozen spinach
2 tbsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1 tbsp paprika
2 tsp onion powder
2 tsp garlic powder
1 tbsp Italian seasoning

To a large Dutch oven or pot on the stove over medium heat, add the olive oil. Once hot, add the onion and let cook for a few minutes, or until softened a bit. Add the remaining ingredients, stir, and bring to a simmer. Let simmer, covered, for 20-30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Once the lentils are tender, serve and enjoy!

extreme budget meal plan

Lentil Enchiladas

As I mentioned before, lentils are a staple in my extreme budget meal plan. They’re so versatile and can be seasoned to fit any cuisine. For this recipe, I use chili powder and paprika to pair with the enchilada sauce.

1 1/4- 1 1/2 cups dry lentils
18 corn tortillas
10 oz can red or green enchilada sauce
1 tsp chili powder
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp salt
1 cup Mexican-style cheese (optional)

Preheat oven to 350.

Cook lentils according to the package instructions and remove any excess liquid from the cooked lentils. Stir in all of the seasonings.

Spray a 9 x 13 baking dish with nonstick spray. Pour half of the can of the enchilada sauce into the baking dish. Place half of the corn tortillas down in the baking dish (they will overlap and that’s ok), then pour the cooked seasoned lentils over the tortillas. Place the rest of the corn tortillas over the top and pour the remaining enchilada sauce over the tortillas. Sprinkle cheese on top, if using. Bake for 30 minutes. Top with your favorite taco toppings, serve, and enjoy!

extreme budget meal plan

Tuna Pasta

It wouldn’t be an extreme budget meal plan if tuna didn’t make an appearance! Canned tuna is an amazing affordable protein that is filling and nutritious. Plus, canned tuna cuts down on prep time since it’s already cooked.

1 tbsp olive oil
1/4 yellow onion, diced
1/2 lb penne pasta
2 tbsp flour
1 1/2 cups milk
5 oz can tuna, drained
12 oz bag frozen mixed vegetables
1 tbsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1 tsp Italian seasoning
1 tsp paprika

Boil the pasta according to the package instructions. Once the pasta is tender, save 1/2 cup of the water the pasta was cooking in and set it to the side.

To a large skillet over medium heat, add the oil. Once hot, add the onion and frozen vegetables and cook for 2-3 minutes. Stir in the flour, then slowly stir in the milk and pasta water. Once simmering (not boiling), add the tuna and seasonings and cook for a couple minutes, until warmed through. Stir in the cooked pasta, serve, and enjoy.

More Budget Friendly Meal Plans

If you’re looking for more budget-friendly meals, check out my Youtube channel or some of my recent blog posts.

Cheap Family Meals Under $10

How to Live on $1 a Day


  1. Christine

    This is such valuable information! It’s a little more expensive at my local Walmart (just over $30) and a little more than that for me personally since I need all gluten free, but that still comes in at $36 which is not bad at all.

    I’m curious at what point you use the box of macaroni and cheese or the second can of tuna as I looked through the recipes several times and I didn’t see those listed.


  2. Thanks for this budget meal plan! I couldn’t figure out where to use the mac and cheese, though. Was that just an extra meal option?
    My family liked several of these that I will put into our meal rotations. They were all easy and inexpensive meals.

  3. I can’t wait to try this! What is the 2 boxes of macaroni and cheese for? Did I miss something?

  4. I enjoy your recipes and the videos I have watched. More importantly, my husband enjoys the food. We are both diabetics and the recipes help us watch our numbers better! Thank you.

  5. Tony Conn

    Hi Julia. These recipes look great. I’ll have to try some.

    That being said, how do you feel about a high-ranking member of the UK government (Lee Anderson, deputy chairman of the Conservative Party) using your recipes to justify his party’s austerity policies? He has claimed that food banks are unnecessary and the real problem is that poor people don’t know how to cook.

  6. Julia, the lentil enchiladas were SO GOOD! I did use the cheese, as you had listed and we really enjoyed them–even my sometimes-picky husband 😉 Thank you for a delicious, nutritious, and economical recipe!

  7. Aileen Wilson

    Oops! You forgot to add the corn tortillas for the lentil enchilada recipe to the shopping list! So, when I added the tortillas and optional cheese to my cart everything added up to $29.57 (before tax) at the Wal-Mart in my area. Way to keep the cost under $30.00! Can’t wait to try these delicious looking meals!

  8. Hello,
    I’ve been perusing your recipes, which all look delicious, but noticed many of them call for “1 tbsp salt.” Is this a typo? Seems like 1 tablespoon of salt is extremely high. I know on your videos you normally say to add a teaspoon to your recipes.

  9. I love this so much! Thank you! I noticed that you listed “boxed Mac n cheese” in the ingredient list, but it doesn’t show up on the recipes. Is that a typo?

  10. So many putative budget meals sneak in extra ingredients such as spices or other pantry items, but when you’re really poor, you may not have these things on hand. Spices are really expensive. These budget meals stick to the actual budget, and I appreciate that. Also, there are a lot of vegetarian options here, and many of the non-vegetarian meals can be adapted to a vegetarian diet.

  11. Alice Stephenson

    would love to be on the newsletter mailing list

  12. Vannessa Briggs

    A friend of mine shared this youtube video and I knew I had to give it a try. I’ve limited myself to a $50 food budget I want to see how do able this is. I work 2nd shift from 3pm til 1am and typically eat light until after I get home from work. I’m considering meal prepping all 7 meals but I’ve never done that before and it seems daunting to say the least lol. I’m going to update after I complete my $25 emergency food budget challenge!!

  13. Thank you for sharing these recipes! We have only three left to try. We’ve been making them every night. I was skeptical at first, but we have loved them all as is. (Very rare!) Keep up the delicious contributions 😊

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