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For the first time in history, Americans are now spending more money at bars and restaurants than on their groceries --- a staggering $54.86 billion each year. Eating commercially prepared food from restaurants is second nature for many of us. We don't even think twice about grabbing a Starbucks coffee on the way to work or something quick from the nearest counter at lunch.

While these may not seem like huge purchases at the time, the constant spending quickly adds up. When you add in a few dinners with friends and family per week, you're basically eating straight through your monthly budget.

According to the USDA's data on food spending, Millennials spend about $3,000 each year on eating out, compared to Baby Boomers, who only spend $2,600 per year. That's a lot of dough if you're trying to pay your rent or get rid of a student loan!

A big reason behind the massive price tag is that most restaurants mark up their food prices by at least 300% of the cost of ingredients. The Wall Street Journal says that food establishments actually charge you about four times what the ingredients are "worth." So, when you spend $15 on an entrée, those ingredients cost the restaurant $5 or less.

Now, we're not suggesting that you should never enjoy a pint with your pals or half price wings again — but the fact remains that the secret to keeping your wallet and stomach happy is to cook more meals at home regularly.

The good news is that dinner doesn't have to be complicated or time-consuming to be delicious! Check it out: we've compiled a list of some of the simplest and tastiest meals you can make at home.

The best part is if you don't demolish the entire meal in one sitting, you'll have leftovers for lunch. Just the thing to take to work in a snazzy new lunch box — and to keep the savings going all week long.

We've included both good old American flavors and delicious recipes from around the world. At the same time, we kept the list easy to assemble; just a few ingredients and no fancy cookware required.

Grab your apron and let's get cooking!

1. Chicken Curry

Chicken Curry
Africa Studio/Shutterstock
Delicious chicken curry made with just a few ingredients

This chicken curry is made with just a few ingredients and is really worth the short cooking time and effort to prepare. You can serve this savory dish with a side of rice for a complete meal. It's super easy to add veggies too — broccoli or red or green peppers all work well here. Cut down on cooking time by serving the curry with instant rice, and be kind to your wallet by using cheaper cuts of chicken like boneless thighs.

This recipe makes 4 servings

Ingredients for chicken curry:

  • 4 boneless chicken breasts or about 2 lbs of chicken thighs
  • 4 tablespoons yellow curry powder
  • 1 teaspoon fine salt
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • ½ or 1 cup vegetables (optional; cut into approximately equal-sized pieces)
  • 1.5 cups heavy cream
  • 1 tablespoon fresh cilantro (optional)

Ingredients for rice:

  • Uncle Ben's Instant White Rice

Directions:

  1. Prepare the rice by following package instructions. Set it aside and reheat it in the microwave or on low heat on the stove before serving.
  2. Cut the chicken into approximately 1" cubes. Try to get the size of your pieces to be about the same so they cook evenly and in the same amount of time.
  3. In a bowl, combine the chicken pieces with curry powder and salt until they are totally coated in the powder.
  4. Heat the vegetable oil in a large frying pan over medium high heat.
  5. Put the chicken pieces in the pan to brown the chicken, turning the pieces so that all sides are browned. If you want to add veggies to the curry, then remove the chicken from the pan and cook the veg a bit. When you've fried the veggies for a few minutes (but they aren't fully cooked through yet), add the chicken back to the pan.
  6. Add the cream to the pan. Turn down the heat to medium low and cook for about 15 minutes or a bit less, until the cream sauce is yellow and thick.
  7. Put some rice on a plate, pop the chicken/veggies on top, and add some of that delicious sauce from the pan to sweeten the deal. If using cilantro, sprinkle a little on top. Dig in!

2. Classic Grilled Cheese and Tomato Soup

Grilled Cheese and Tomato Soup
Brent Hofacker/Shutterstock
Grilled cheese and tomato soup are made for each other

Grilled cheese and tomato soup are made for each other! This combination is nutritious and filling and it's easy to dress up the sammies to suit your personal tastes. Make the grilled cheese as written here, or jazz it up by using different cheeses, adding a sprinkle of garlic powder onto the cheese, or topping with sliced tomato or bacon. Save on cash by using the traditional Campbell's tomato soup or splurge on a fancy boxed black bean and tomato soup instead. Make it just for yourself or for a crowd!

Ingredients for 1 grilled cheese sandwich:

  • 2 slices of bread
  • butter
  • 1 slice of Kraft cheese (or any other melty cheese)

Ingredients for soup:

  • 1 can or box of prepared tomato soup

Directions:

  1. Prepare soup by following the instructions on the package. Once it's ready, turn the heat down to the lowest temperature and keep the soup warm on the stove. Don't forget to stir it occasionally so it doesn't stick to the bottom of the pot.
  2. For each sandwich: butter one side of each slice of bread.
  3. Pop the first slice of bread, buttered side down, into a pan heated to medium. Immediately top with cheese (and other toppings if using), and the other slice of bread with the buttered side facing up.
  4. Cook the first side of the sandwich until it's golden brown. Flip the sandwich and cook the other side until it's as brown as you like it.
  5. Serve immediately with a bowl of the tomato soup.

3. Spaghetti with Chef's Own Marinara Sauce

Spaghetti with Chef's Own Marinara Sauce
Hurst Photo/Shutterstock
This homemade sauce is cheap and easy to whip up

Unless you luck out and find a high-quality sauce on sale, you can spend from $5 to $10 on a decent pasta sauce. Just fuggedaboutit! This homemade sauce recipe is cheap, easy to whip up, and delicious. It can be made as is written for a homey quick dinner or dressed up to impress even the most discriminating guest. If you want to add veggies, then just chop them into small pieces and cook them at the same time as the onion. For a fancy finish, top with parmesan cheese and a bit of chopped basil. Serve this with garlic butter toast for a super filling meal. As with virtually all homemade sauces, this marinara tastes even better for lunch the next day.

This recipe makes 4 servings

Ingredients for sauce:

  • 1 large can of tomatoes (whole peeled or diced tomatoes or diced with Italian seasoning)
  • ½ a medium white or yellow onion, chopped
  • 1 or 2 cloves of garlic or pinch of garlic powder
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable or olive oil

Note: Don't use extra virgin olive oil unless you want to set off your smoke alarm!

Ingredients for spaghetti:

  • 1 package spaghetti or penne (or any other pasta you fancy)

Directions:

  1. Chop onion (and any other veg you're using) into small pieces.
  2. Mince garlic into tiny bits.
  3. Add vegetable or olive oil to a large frying pan that is heated to medium heat.
  4. After heating the oil for a minute, add onion (and other veg if using) to the pan. Cook until the onion starts to become translucent.
  5. Add garlic to pan and cook for 1 or 2 minutes, until it is just turning a light golden color.
  6. Add a small pinch of salt and black pepper, and add the can of tomatoes to the pan. (Add the garlic powder now if that's what you're using.) Turn the heat down just a bit and cook the sauce for 15-20 minutes.
  7. While the sauce is cooking, prepare the spaghetti or your other pasta of choice by following the instructions on the package.
  8. Drain the pasta, top with the sauce, and enjoy!

Adapted from Spaghetti Recipe on The Simple Dollar.

4. Mom's Homemade Mac & Cheese

Homemade Mac & Cheese
Lastavenka/Shutterstock
Make this once and you'll never go back to the packaged stuff

Using just a few ingredients, you can easily give yourself or an entire basketball team a true taste of home. Make this once and you'll never go back to the packaged stuff.

This recipe makes 4 servings

Ingredients for macaroni:

  • One 12oz package of elbow macaroni or shells or any tube pasta like penne

Ingredients for sauce:

  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 3 cups 2% or whole milk
  • 3 tablespoons flour
  • 1 pinch salt
  • 1 smaller pinch sugar
  • black pepper to taste
  • dash of mustard powder (optional)
  • 3 cups shredded cheese (cheddar or Monterey Jack or any melty cheese combo)

Directions

  1. Cook pasta according to package directions. Drain and set aside until sauce is ready.
  2. Put a pot on medium low heat. Melt the 2 tablespoons of butter in the pot.
  3. Stir in the flour. Mix the butter and flour until well combined and bubbling.
  4. Add the milk slowly, a bit at a time. Each time you add a bit of milk, make sure to mix it well into the butter and flour so the mixture is smooth. Keep stirring constantly as the mixture heats up and small bubbles begin to form around the edge of the pot. (This means the sauce is hot but not quite boiling.)
  5. Add the salt, sugar, and black pepper. (And the mustard powder, if using.)
  6. Add the cheese; stir to combine the sauce and melt all that glorious cheese.
  7. Serve your guests a bowl of pasta drowned in this cheesy sauce!

Note: If you have a bit more time, put the prepared pasta in an oven-safe dish, pour the sauce all over the pasta, and top with buttered breadcrumbs. Pop in the oven at 350F and cook for 20-30 minutes until the topping is golden brown. Om. Nom. Nom.

Adapted from Mac n' Cheese on All Recipes.

5. No-Fail Chili

No-Fail Chili
gkrphoto/Shutterstock
Without chili powder and cumin, it's simply not a chili

Chili is a hearty and cheap meal that's easy to make at home. This recipe is for a great basic chili con carne that you can make with or without more veggies. Feel free to switch up the types of beans, replace beef with tofu crumbles, and adjust the spices to pump up the heat. Serve your chili by itself or with a side of rice, garlic toast, tortilla chips, or over pasta.

The most important part of any chili is the spice mix: without chili powder and cumin, it's simply not a chili! These are also super versatile spices used in all sorts of awesome recipes, so they're worth investing in to have at home.

This recipe makes 4-6 servings

Ingredients:

  • 1 lb. of ground beef
  • 1 large can diced tomatoes
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 2-4 celery ribs, chopped (optional if you don't want to buy a whole celery)
  • 1 red or green bell pepper, chopped
  • 1 jalapeno pepper, seeds removed and chopped
  • 2 cans of beans (kidney, black, pinto, or even chickpeas all work here)
  • ½ to ¾ of one beef bouillon cube
  • 1-2 tablespoons chili powder (add a bit at a time if you're not sure of the heat)
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • half teaspoon garlic powder
  • quarter teaspoon black pepper

Note: If you use a beef bouillon cube, do not add more salt! If you decide against using the flavour cube, then add 1 teaspoon of salt instead.

Directions:

  1. Heat a larger pot over medium-high heat. Place ground beef in a pot and cook it until evenly browned and crumbled. Drain off excess grease.
  2. Pour in the beans, diced tomatoes, celery, peppers, and beans. Add all of the spices and the beef bouillon cube. Stir the pot to blend the ingredients.
  3. Take the heat down to low, cover the pot, and simmer for 1-2 hours, stirring occasionally.
  4. Taste your chili and add a bit more spice if needed. Serve as directed above.

Note: If you have less time to simmer things, then quickly fry up all the veg before adding it to the beef. The chili will still need to simmer for at least a half hour, and the flavors will meld to be even better by lunchtime the next day!

6. Hummus and Cucumber Crostini

Hummus and Cucumber Crostini
MSPhotographic/Shutterstock
Experience some next level snacking

Combine crunchy bagel chips, savory hummus, and fresh cukes for a surprisingly filling snack or appetizer! Just top the chips with hummus, top the hummus with sliced cucumbers and sliced radishes and chow down to experience some next level snacking.

Ingredients:

  • 1 pack of bagel chips
  • 1 container of hummus
  • 1 English cucumber, thinly sliced
  • 4 red radishes, thinly sliced

7. Zucchini Pizzas

Zucchini Pizzas
Irina Rostokina/Shutterstock
Turn this healthy vegetable into a toothsome dinner, side dish, or appetizer

Turn this healthy vegetable into a toothsome dinner, side dish, or appetizer!

Ingredients:

  • 4 large zucchinis
  • 1 jar pizza sauce
  • 2 cups shredded cheese (can be mozzarella or a mix of cheeses)
  • Other pizza toppings of your choice

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 400F.
  2. Wash and cut the zucchinis in half lengthwise.
  3. Drizzle the zucchinis with olive oil and lay them out on a baking sheet covered with aluminum foil (for easy cleanup later). Pop them in the over for 15 minutes.
  4. Take the tray of zucchinis out of the oven. Top each zucch with pizza sauce, shredded cheese and any other toppings you might choose. Bake them in the over for another 10 minutes.

8. Good Ol' Pancakes

Pancakes
Billion Photos/Shutterstock
Pancakes are super easy to make at home and are always overpriced at restaurants

Pancakes are super easy to make at home and are always overpriced at restaurants. Make your own using pre-mixed pancake batter or from scratch — both are budget friendly options. Add in some mashed banana, blueberries, or top with your favorite fruit.

This recipe makes about 4 servings

Ingredients for pancakes from scratch:

  • 1 cup milk
  • 2 tablespoons white vinegar
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons white sugar
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 egg
  • 2 tablespoons butter, melted

Directions:

  1. Combine milk and vinegar in a medium-sized bowl. Set aside for 5 minutes to "curdle."
  2. Mix together flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt in a larger bowl.
  3. Whisk (with a fork) egg and melted butter into milk mixture.
  4. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and whisk until smooth.
  5. Heat a large pan over medium heat and coat with butter or cooking spray. Add about 1/8 – ¼ cupfuls of batter into the pan per pancake. Use a spoon to spread out the pancake mixture after you pour it. Don't worry about them being too thin; these pancakes fluff up in a big way!
  6. Cook the pancakes until bubbles form on the surface. At this point, flip them and cook until they're browned on the other side.

Adapted from "Fluffy Pancakes" recipe by kris on allrecipes.com

9. Mediterranean Pasta Salad

Mediterranean Pasta Salad
Timolina/Shutterstock
This is not your average mayo-soaked pasta salad

This is not your average mayo-soaked pasta salad. If you don't have time to make the simple dressing from scratch, use a light Italian salad dressing instead. Top with feta cheese for more authentic flavour!

This recipe makes 8-10 servings

Ingredients for salad dressing:

  • ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced (or ½ tsp garlic powder instead if this is going to work the next day!)
  • ½ tablespoon dried oregano or 1 tablespoon fresh oregano
  • ¾ teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon black pepper
  • ¼ cup lemon juice (fresh squeezed is best)

Ingredients for salad:

  • 12oz dry pasta
  • 1 cup chickpeas
  • ½ cup sliced olives
  • ½ cup canned diced tomatoes, drained
  • ¼ cup finely chopped red onion
  • 1 cup chopped broccoli
  • 1 cup diced green bell pepper (about ½ a medium pepper)
  • 8oz crumbled feta cheese

Directions:

  1. Prepare pasta by following package directions. Drain and set aside.
  2. Mix together salad dressing ingredients and add on top of pasta. (Or use prepared Italian salad dressing.)
  3. Mix in the veggies, olives, and feta cheese. That's it!

Mediterranean Pasta Salad on A Family Feast.

10. Turbo Fried Rice

Fried Rice
leungchopan/Shutterstock
Fried rice is both cheap and easy to make

Fried rice is both cheap and easy to make, and it's a great way to use up any leftover rice, fresh or frozen veggies, and meat sitting in your fridge. Some vegetables that work great are peas, mushrooms, broccoli, corn, and diced carrots; you can also try adding some pineapple or chopped ham.

If you don't have leftover rice, then start by making a batch of instant rice. Then follow the instructions below to experience a fried rice that leaves the food court stuff in the dust!

Ingredients:

  • 1 sliced onion
  • 1 to 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • sliced and diced veggies and meat
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • ¼ cup light soy sauce

Directions:

  1. In a large frying pan, heat the vegetable oil on medium-low. Add the garlic and fry for 1 minute.
  2. Add the sliced onion and cook until softened and translucent.
  3. Crack the two eggs into the pan and scramble them, collecting them up one side of the pan.
  4. Turn up the heat to medium-high, and add the next tablespoon of oil. Add the cooked rice along with whatever chopped veggies and meat you want to use. Fry for 2 minutes.
  5. Add the soy sauce and sugar and fry for a few more minutes to heat through, stirring constantly.
  6. Serve immediately.

11. Tuna Melt

Delicious tuna melt sandwich
istetiana/Shutterstock
Delicious tuna melt sandwich

Canned tuna is an affordable protein-packed food that can turn a single sandwich into a full meal. Take the humble tuna sandwich to the next level by adding cheese and tomato slices. Serve with a side of sliced apples or grapes for a little crunch and sweetness.

Ingredients for two tuna melt sandwiches:

  • 4 slices of bread
  • butter
  • 2 slices of Kraft cheese (or another melty cheese like Havarti)
  • 1 can of tuna
  • mayonnaise to taste
  • salt and black pepper to taste
  • 2-4 slices of tomato

Directions:

  1. Drain canned tuna and place it into a bowl. Begin by adding 1 tablespoon of mayo. Mix well and taste. Keep adding mayo a bit at a time until it tastes just right! Season with a tiny pinch of salt and black pepper.
  2. For each sandwich: use two slices of bread. Butter one side of each slice of bread.
  3. Pop the first slice of bread, buttered side down, into a pan heated to medium heat. Immediately top with cheese, tuna salad, and tomato. Cover with the other slice of bread, buttered side facing up.
  4. Cook the first side of the sandwich until it's golden brown. Flip the sandwich and cook the other side until it's as brown as you like it and the cheese is melted.
  5. MANGIA MANGIA!

12. Curry Chickpeas with Greens

Chana masala in a white bowl with ginger and pepper with lime
AmbientShoot/Shutterstock
Chana masala in a white bowl with ginger and pepper with lime

Using canned chickpeas and frozen spinach makes this dish both affordable and super easy to whip up even after a long day. Serve this healthy meal over rice or with a side of bread for dipping in the sauce.

Note: It's worth your buck to buy fresh ginger as it stays fresh for a very long time. You'll have plenty of opportunities to use it in your cooking.

This recipe makes 4 servings

Ingredients:

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely minced
  • 1 inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and finely minced
  • 1 ½ tablespoon curry powder
  • 8oz spinach (fresh or frozen spinach, thawed or rapini or kale)
  • 1 (15oz) can of tomato sauce
  • 1 (29oz) can chickpeas, drained and rinsed

Directions:

  1. Heat the olive oil over medium heat and add the onion, garlic, and ginger. Cook until the onion softens (about 3 to 5 minutes).
  2. Add the curry powder and keep sautéing for 1 more minute.
  3. Add spinach or whatever leafy veg you're using to the pan (add ¼ cup of water as well if using fresh spinach). Let the spinach steam for a few minutes.
  4. Add the chickpeas and tomato sauce to the pan. Stir everything to combine and heat for 5 minutes.
  5. Serve with rice or bread on the side.

Adapted from Curry Chickpeas on Budget Bytes.

13. Chicken Shawarma

Chicken shawarma durum doner kebab
Alp Aksoy/Shutterstock
Chicken shawarma durum doner kebab

This recipe is awesome! It tastes a little different from store-bought shawarma, which is roasted slowly on a rotisserie. The marinade for this chicken makes it juicy, tender, and flavorful. For best results, cover the chicken in this magic sauce in the morning or the night before cooking it.

This recipe makes 4 servings

Ingredients for chicken marinade:

  • 2 large chicken breasts or about 1 lb of chicken thighs, cut into strips
  • ½ cup plain yoghurt
  • 1-2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • ½ teaspoon cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon dried oregano
  • ½ teaspoon salt

Ingredients for yoghurt sauce:

  • 7oz cup plain Greek yoghurt
  • ¼ teaspoon garlic, minced
  • ¼ teaspoon dried dill
  • ¼ teaspoon salt

Ingredients for sandwiches:

  • 4 pitas or smaller naan
  • 1 cucumber, chopped
  • 1 tomato, chopped
  • lettuce

Directions:

  1. Combine the ingredients for the marinade in a medium bowl. Add the chicken strips and cover the bowl with plastic wrap. Marinate in the fridge from 4-24 hours to ensure BOMB flavor.
  2. Mix together the ingredients for the yoghurt sauce and keep in the fridge until ready to use.
  3. Chop and prepare cucumber, tomato, and a few lettuce leaves. Set aside.
  4. Grill the chicken strips on the barbeque, an indoor grill, or cook on medium-high to high heat in a frying pan. It's best to cook these quickly on a high heat.
  5. Assemble the sandwiches: spread some yoghurt sauce inside the pita or on the naan and top with the chicken and vegetables. Roll the sandwiches closed and wrap them in foil so they stay closed while you eat.

14. Nonna-Approved Baked Rigatoni

Baked rigatoni pasta
Joe Gough/Shutterstock
Baked rigatoni pasta

Here's another affordable and oh-so-satisfying pasta dish! Although this recipe uses a more ingredients than others, it saves you money because you make enough food for several meals in one go. Use two jars of store-bought marinara sauce or quickly make your own, like they do in the old country.

This recipe makes 6-8 servings

Ingredients for sauce:

  • 6-8 cloves of garlic, minced
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • Two 28oz cans San Marzano whole tomatoes (or other whole tomatoes)
  • 8 leaves fresh basil, chopped (or 4 teaspoons dried basil)

Ingredients for pasta:

  • One 16oz package of rigatoni pasta

Ingredients for ricotta mixture:

  • 1 handful chopped fresh spinach (or ½ cup frozen spinach, thawed and drained of extra liquid)
  • 1 lb fresh ricotta cheese
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon black pepper

For topping: 1-2 cups shredded cheese (parmesan, pecorino, AND/or mozzarella)

Directions:

  1. Heat olive oil in a medium sauce pan. Add garlic and sauté in the oil until it's just beginning to get some color.
  2. Add the whole tomatoes and use a wooden spoon to squish them into smaller pieces in the pan. Add basil to the sauce and simmer on low or medium-low heat for 20 minutes.
  3. While the sauce is cooking, combine the ingredients for the ricotta mixture in a medium bowl. Set aside.
  4. Cook the pasta as per package directions — BUT don't cook for the entire length of time if you are putting the pasta in the oven. For example, if the box says to cook the rigatoni for 14 minutes, you can cook it for 10-11 minutes. Drain the pasta.
  5. Assemble the dish in layers: Put a little oil or butter around the baking dish first. Spread some of the tomato sauce on the bottom of the pan and add about 1/3 of the cooked pasta. Top the pasta with dollops of ricotta and a bit of shredded cheese. Add two more layers of tomato sauce, pasta, and cheese for three layers in all. Make sure the top layer has a good amount of shredded cheese!
  6. Cover the pan with foil and put in a 360F oven for 25 minutes. Remove the foil after the first 10 minutes so the top can finish cooking.
  7. Dig in!

Baked Rigatoni on Proud Italian Cook.

15. Sloppy Joes

Sloppy Joe on a white bun
Charles Brutlag/Shutterstock
Sloppy Joe on a white bun

A time-honored American classic, the sloppy joe takes less time to prepare than burgers or pulled pork. It doesn't have to look perfect — instead, the focus is on the awesome meaty sauce. You can use the Manwich sauce if it's on sale, but we recommend making this tasty and healthier sauce on your own.

This recipe makes 4-6 servings

Ingredients for sauce:

  • 1 lb ground beef (or turkey or chicken or ground tofu/ meat protein)
  • One 16oz can of tomato sauce
  • 1-2 cloves minced garlic
  • 1 finely chopped green or red pepper (optional)
  • ½ cup Ketchup
  • 1 teaspoon mustard
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder

Directions:

  1. Cook the ground meat (or tofu/meat protein) in a skillet on medium heat until browned. Make sure to crumble the meat into small pieces as it's cooking. Once it's browned, drain off almost all excess fat.
  2. Add garlic and pepper (if using) and cook, stirring, for about 5 minutes.
  3. Add the rest of the sauce ingredients and stir to combine. Turn the heat down to low and simmer the sauce for about 5 more minutes, stirring occasionally.
  4. Slap some of that sloppy joe onto a bun and enjoy!

16. Black Bean and Roasted Veggie Tacos

Black bean and veggie tacos
Alexander Prokopenko/Shutterstock
Black bean and veggie tacos

Here's a scrumptious vegetarian meal full of great flavour. These tacos are colourful and look impressive but are easy to make. All it takes is a few minutes of chopping veggies and then you toss them in a pan in the oven to bake. Prepare to wow your taste buds!

Although this is a vegetarian recipe, consider adding small cubes of grilled chicken for the carnivores in your family!

This recipe makes 10 tacos

Ingredients:

  • 8oz can whole tomatoes, chopped into largish pieces (canned tomato with garlic/herbs is fine)
  • 1 small can of corn kernels, drained of juice
  • 1 zucchini, diced
  • 1 summer squash AKA “yellow zucchini,” diced (or another green zucchini)
  • 1 small yellow onion, chopped
  • 1 red bell pepper, chopped
  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder (you will use ½ a teaspoon at a time)
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • 1 cup canned black beans, drained
  • 1/3 cup fresh cilantro (optional)
  • 1 ½ tablespoon fresh lime juice

Ingredients for serving:

  • Corn or flour tortillas
  • Shredded cheese (cheddar or mozzarella or other cheese mix)
  • Sour cream and hot sauce

Note: Try to cut all the veggies to be about the same size so they cook evenly (except for the corn, which is tiny, and the tomato which should be in bigger pieces).

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 400F. Put the first 6 ingredients (all the chopped vegetables) in a pile on a large baking sheet or pan.
  2. On the side, mix together the vegetable oil, cumin, ½ teaspoon chili powder, salt, and pepper in a small bowl. Drizzle this oil mixture over the veggies in the pan, making sure they all get covered evenly. Spread out veggies in a single layer.
  3. Put the pan of veggies into the oven for 10 minutes.
  4. Remove from the oven, mix them up, spread them in a thin layer again, and put back in the oven for another 10 minutes (if you like your veggies firm) to 15 minutes (if you like them softer).
  5. When the veggies are almost done roasting, put the black beans in the microwave for a minute to warm and add a bit of salt and the other ½ teaspoon chili powder. When the veggies are done roasting, add the black beans and chopped cilantro (if using) to the veg and drizzle all over with lime juice. Toss to combine.
  6. Serve on warmed tortillas with cheese, sour cream, and hot sauce on top. ¡Qué rico!

Adapted from Black Bean Tacos on Cooking Classy.

17. Super Foodie Sweet Potato, Shrimp & Kale Skillet

Sweet potato, greens and shrimp
julie deshaies/Shutterstock
Sweet potato, greens and shrimp

With its tiny ingredient list, this healthy dish is big on flavor and easy to slap together any night of the week. Plus, it's waaaay cheaper than buying anything half as healthy at a restaurant! For maximum savings, buy frozen shrimp when it's on sale. Enjoy this meal by itself or add cooked ground meat to the pan, or serve as a side dish with chicken or fish.

This recipe makes 4 servings

Ingredients:

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • ½ cup onion, diced
  • A pinch of crushed chili flakes
  • A pinch of cumin (optional)
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 cups sweet potato, peeled and chopped in ½ inch pieces (equivalent to 1 large or 2 medium sweet potatoes)
  • 2 cups frozen shrimp, thawed, rinsed, peeled (buy peeled shrimp to save time)
  • 3 cups trimmed and coarsely chopped kale leaves
  • Pinch of salt
  • Ground black pepper to taste

Directions:

  1. Heat the olive oil in a large frying pan over medium heat.
  2. Add onions and crushed red pepper flakes. Cook until the onions are golden.
  3. Add garlic to the pan and cook for 30 seconds.
  4. Add the sweet potato and cook until soft. Add a couple of tablespoons of water to the pan to steam the sweet potato and cook it faster.
  5. Add the shrimp to the pan and cook for about 3 minutes until they turn pink.
  6. Turn down the heat to low and add the kale. Stir it until it wilts.
  7. Add the salt and pepper. That's it!

Sweet Potato, Kale & Shrimp Skillet on Primavera Kitchen.

18. Finger-Lickin' Chicken Strips

Chicken strips with fries and ketchup for dipping
koss13/Shutterstock
Chicken strips with fries and ketchup for dipping

For some reason, premade chicken fingers are one of priciest frozen foods at the supermarket. At the same time, they are stupid easy to make at home for half the price and with no funky preservatives or science juice added.

These chicken strips are coated in a crunchy parmesan breading and would go great with a smoky BBQ sauce, salad, and an ice-cold beer. Perfection!

This recipe makes 2-3 servings

Ingredients:

  • 2 large boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into 8 or 10 strips
  • ¼ cup milk
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 2/3 cup parmesan cheese, grated (this is a salty cheese, so don't add any more salt.)
  • 2/3 cup plain breadcrumbs
  • ¼ teaspoon onion powder
  • ¼ teaspoon garlic powder
  • ¼ teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon paprika (optional)

Directions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 400F.
  2. Cover a baking sheet with foil (optional, for easy cleanup) and spray with non-stick spray. Set aside.
  3. Combine milk and egg in a shallow dish.
  4. In a plastic bag, mix cheese, breadcrumbs and all the spices.
  5. One at a time, dip the chicken strips into the milk/egg mixture, then put in the bag and shake to coat with the breadcrumbs and cheese.
  6. Put the strips onto the prepared baking sheet and bake for 20 minutes, or until golden.
  7. Enjoy with your favorite ranch or BBQ sauce and sliced veggies or a salad on the side.

Adapted from Oven Baked Parmesan Chicken Strips on food.com.

19. Fresh Lemon Tilapia Filets

Lemon tilapia fillets with dill and lemon
kostrez/Shutterstock
Lemon tilapia fillets with dill and lemon

If you like a mild and zesty fish dish, this is the recipe for you! Baked quickly in the oven in small foil packets, these fishies pair amazingly well with potato salad and a dill sauce. Tilapia is a great cheap protein source that can be bought fresh or frozen, and it defrosts easily for fast food prep.

This recipe makes 2 servings

Ingredients:

  • 2 tilapia filets
  • Pinch of salt
  • Pinch of black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 lemon, sliced into 8 circular pieces (discard ends)
  • 2 handfuls fresh spinach leaves, rinsed
  • A few thyme sprigs

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 425F.
  2. Take 2 large sheets of aluminum foil and lightly cover with cooking spray.
  3. Put 3 slices of lemon along the center of each piece of foil.
  4. Put one handful of spinach on top of the lemons on each piece of foil.
  5. Sprinkle tilapia filets with salt and pepper on both sides. Place one filet on top of each spinach pile. Drizzle filets with a bit of olive oil. Put some thyme sprigs on top of each filet.
  6. Carefully fold up the aluminum foil to enclose the food and place on a baking sheet in the hot oven.
  7. Bake the packets for 20 minutes. Remove them from the oven and let them rest for a few minutes.
  8. Toss away the lemons and thyme sprigs, and enjoy as is or with your favourite side!

Lemon Thyme Tilapia Filets on 28 Cooks.

20. Green & Gold Baked Potatoes

Baked potato with cheddar and broccoli
MSPhotographic/Shutterstock
Baked potato with cheddar and broccoli

These broccoli and cheddar baked potatoes are great all year long: they'll keep you warm in the winter and rock your summer BBQs. Baked potatoes take about an hour to cook completely. So, the best way to prepare these is to assemble them first, then pop them in the oven and let them do their thing while you toss together the rest of your meal.

This recipe makes 4 servings

Ingredients for baked potatoes:

  • 4 baking or russet potatoes (approx. 2lbs)
  • 1 tablespoon olive or vegetable oil
  • Pinch salt

Ingredients for broccoli cheese sauce:

  • ½ lb. fresh or frozen broccoli florets
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 3 cups milk
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon garlic powder
  • 6oz shredded cheddar cheese

Directions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 400F.
  2. If using frozen broccoli, take it out of the freezer to thaw while the potatoes bake. Cut the florets into small pieces once they are thawed and set aside.
  3. Wash and scrub the potatoes well, but don't peel them. Prick a few holes in the potatoes with a fork. Coat the potatoes in the oil.
  4. Put the potatoes on a baking sheet or dish and sprinkle all over with a good amount of salt.
  5. Place the potatoes in the oven and bake for 45 minutes to an hour, until you can easily push a fork or knife all the way through.
  6. You can start making the cheese sauce when the potatoes are almost done. Put a pot on medium low heat and melt the butter in the pot.
  7. Stir in the flour. Mix the butter and flour until well combined and bubbling.
  8. Add the milk slowly, a bit at a time. Each time you add a bit of milk, make sure to mix it well into the butter and flour so the mixture is smooth. Keep stirring constantly as the mixture heats up and small bubbles begin to form around the edge of the pot. The sauce should begin to thicken as you stir it.
  9. Add the salt and garlic powder to the sauce. Start adding the shredded cheese, one handful at a time, mixing to combine the sauce after each handful. When all the cheese is melted in the pot, add the broccoli. Turn the heat down low to keep the sauce warm, and stir it occasionally.
  10. When the potatoes are done baking, take them out of the oven and slice them open. Use a fork to lightly mash the insides of the potatoes while taking care to keep their skins intact.
  11. Serve potatoes with a generous amount of cheese and broccoli sauce on top.

These recipes are designed to balance low cost with amazing flavour, and they are easy to adjust to suit virtually any dietary need. If you're new to cooking, start with the easier recipes and work your way up. You'll be cooking like a pro in no time!

If you have cooking skills but you find the process time-consuming, consider getting back in the habit. You can save time by taking advantage of canned, frozen, and pre-sliced and diced veggies, and save even more money when you pick up ingredients on special.

Not only will you be spending 3 times less money on your food than if you went to a restaurant, but you'll be avoiding the well-documented negative health effects of eating too much fast food, including weight gain, unbalanced hormones, acne, depression, and (ye gads!) even cognitive decline.

Rather than wasting your hard-earned money on low-quality food or massively overpriced "healthy" options (avocado toast, anyone?), use your money for things you CAN'T do yourself! Replace your eons-old computer, book a flight to a beach resort, or save it for a down payment on a home. Spend wisely now and you'll reap immediate and long-term benefits all around.

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