In 2021, grocery prices are expected to increase between 1% and 2%, according to data from the USDA. The increase is partly a result of rising costs at the farm level, where commodities like soybeans and wheat are dealing with decreased stock. Supermarket bills already ballooned in 2020 because of the pandemic and related shutdowns, with food costs surging in September. Many Americans simply cannot afford it, with 1 in 10 unable to pay for food and other essentials as the COVID-19 pandemic drags on. Making hearty meals that can keep one’s family fed for days won’t solve the problem of rising food costs amid a crushing economic downturn, but it helps.
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GOBankingRates consulted chefs, recipe developers and food bloggers to learn their favorite dinner recipes for easy winter dishes that you can make on a tight budget. All of these meals will last a week in the fridge, will feed at least four people and pack a nutritional punch. Read on to see their 10 top recipe recommendations.
Last updated: March 26, 2021
- Cost for 4 servings, approximately: $12
- 3 tbsp. coconut oil (divided)
- 3 tbsp. minced shallots
- 2 cups chicken or vegetable stock
- 1 cup lentils, any color
- ¼ cup chopped cauliflower
- ¼ cup chopped carrots
- ¼ cup chopped onions
- ¼ cup chopped celery
- Salt and pepper, for taste
- Butter (optional)
- Heat 1 tbsp. coconut oil in a saucepan and stir in shallots. Sauté shallots until they are a nice golden brown (about 10 minutes).
- Add stock (chicken or veggie) and bring to a boil.
- Stir in lentils and reduce heat to a low simmer. Simmer uncovered for 5 minutes or until lentils are tender but not too soft. Be aware: Different types of lentils take less or more time to cook.
- Drain excess liquid and set aside.
- Heat remaining 2 tbsp. coconut oil in a large sauté pan over high heat. Stir in cauliflower, carrots, onions and celery and sauté for 5 minutes or until tender.
- Add lentils and sauté for 2 more minutes.
- Season with salt and pepper.
- Stir in butter (if you like).
Recipe provided by: Kevin Templeton, executive chef, barleymash.
What makes it so great: “You can easily double or triple the recipe for a bigger family or to have more servings throughout the week,” Templeton said. “This dish is flavorful and also healthy, as it’s packed full of veggies. Lentils are a great source of protein and fiber, and are also low in fat, which makes them a healthy meat substitute.”
- Cost for 8 servings, approximately: $12
- 2 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
- 1 medium yellow onion, finely diced
- ¾ teaspoon salt, divided, plus more to taste
- 4 medium garlic cloves, minced
- 2 teaspoons dried oregano
- 1 pound dried large lima beans (sometimes labeled butter beans), soaked overnight or for at least 8 hours, drained and rinsed
- One 28-ounce can of crushed tomatoes
- About 3 cups vegetable stock (low sodium, if possible)
- ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- Minced parsley, for garnishing
- Preheat the oven to 325ºF.
- In a Dutch oven or another large heavy-bottomed, high-sided, oven-safe pot, heat the oil over medium-low heat. Add the onion and ¼ teaspoon salt and cook until soft and translucent, stirring frequently to prevent browning, 5 to 6 minutes.
3. Add the garlic and oregano and cook for 30 seconds. Then add the beans, tomatoes, just enough stock to fully submerge the beans, pepper and the remaining ½ teaspoon salt. Cover tightly with a lid and bring to a boil over high heat. Transfer to the oven and cook until the beans are creamy and tender, about 1 hour and 15 mins (the cooking time may be shorter or longer depending on the age of your beans).
4. Taste the beans and season with more salt, if needed. Garnish with parsley before serving.
Recipe provided by: Alexandra Shytsman, recipe developer and food photographer at thenewbaguette.com
What makes it so great: “Inspired by Greek ‘gigantes plaki’, these hearty beans are cooked in the oven with tomato sauce and oregano — an almost entirely hands-off process,” Shytsman said. “Pair them with roasted cauliflower, grilled bread, mashed potatoes, or polenta for the perfect vegetarian meal.”
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- Cost for 8-10 servings, approximately: $22
- 2 pounds ground meat
- 2 large onions, diced
- 2 cans pinto beans
- 2 cans diced tomatoes
- 1 can hominy or whole kernel corn
- 2 cans green chiles, chopped
- 1 package taco seasoning mix, dry
- 1 package Ranch dressing mix, dry
- Grated cheddar cheese
- Sauté meat and onions.
- Drain grease.
- Add all other ingredients and simmer for 30 to 45 minutes.
- Break Doritos or Tostados in a soup bowl and ladle soup over them.
- Sprinkle grated cheddar cheese on top.
Recipe provided by: Robbie Shoults, cooking expert and owner of Bear Creek Smokehouse.
What makes it so great: “This soup includes meat and vegetables and a great Tex Mex flavor,” Shoults said. “This easily lasts a week in an airtight container. Simply microwave as needed or when the late night cravings hit. It is super tasty.”
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Pulled Chicken BBQ Skillet
- Cost for at least 4 servings, approximately: $22 at most
- 2 cups cooked pulled or shredded chicken (you can also use pulled pork)
- 2 cups cooked rice, brown or white
- 1 can of black beans
- 1 15-ounce can of diced tomatoes
- 1 cup of corn
- 1 cup BBQ sauce, can add more if desired
- 1 small yellow onion, diced
- 1 small bell pepper
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
- 1 cup cheddar cheese, shredded
- Green onions, chopped for garnish
- Ranch dressing or sour cream for garnish
- In a large skillet, heat extra virgin olive oil and sauté yellow onions, pepper and garlic until soft.
- Mix in chicken, rice, beans, tomatoes, corn and BBQ sauce and stir.
- Cook for about 10 minutes.
- Top generously with cheddar cheese. You can use the broiler of your oven to brown the top of the cheese.
- Garnish with green onions, ranch or sour cream.
Recipe provided by: Jenny Meassick, founder of the lifestyle and simple recipe blog Chocolate and Lace.
What makes it so great: “Most ingredients are canned or pantry items and under a dollar,” Meassick said. “The highest cost item is chicken breast ($5 to $7). Cheese and ranch or sour cream make this a great way to mix up the standard weeknight meals.”
- Cost for 8-10 servings, approximately: $9.50
- 1 onion
- 3 cloves garlic
- 2 cans crushed tomato (28 ounces per can)
- 2 cups low sodium beef stock
- 3 tbsp. butter
- 1 tbsp. dried Italian seasoning
- 1 tsp. white sugar
- 1 tbsp. red wine vinegar
- 1 tsp. red pepper flakes
- 1/2 tsp. salt
- 1 cup pepperoni
- 1/2 loaf ciabatta bread
- 1 cup Parmesan cheese
- 1 cup pepperoncini rings
- In a blender, combine onion, garlic and crushed tomato. Blend until smooth.
- Add proto-soup to a large Dutch oven over medium heat along with butter, stock, sugar, vinegar, salt, pepper flakes and dried herbs. Bring to simmer and keep it there for 20 minutes.
- As the soup simmers, cube bread and place it on a cookie sheet along with the pepperoni. Toast under the broiler for 3-4 minutes or until bread is browned and pepperoni is just crisp.
- Once the soup has simmered and toppings are done, make a bowl of soup! Top with the cheese, croutons, pepperoni, pepperoncini, and a grind of pepper.
Recipe provided by: Jim Mumford, recipe author/editor and chemical engineer, Jim Cooks Food Good
What makes it great: “This soup hits several pizza notes, but is far healthier,” Mumford said. “It is also super versatile (like pizza); it can handle any other leftover type ingredients you may have easily. At around $9.50 per batch, plus only 30 minutes of cook time, this is an affordable crowd pleaser. Plus, this soup freezes amazingly, so make double.”
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Low-Carb Buffalo Chicken Casserole
- Cost for 4 servings, approximately: $8 to $16, depending on where you shop
- 4 chicken thighs with skin
- 1 large onion
- 3 Serrano peppers (can use jalapeño or red bell pepper)
- 1 celery stalk
- 2 cloves garlic, crushed
- 4 tbsp. buffalo sauce
- 2 cups cream cheese
- 1 cup cheddar cheese, shredded
- 1 ½ tsp. Italian herbs
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Cut chicken legs, separating chicken thighs and drumsticks. Season and roast.
- Debone the chicken, cut it into pieces and pour it into the saucepan.
- Cut the vegetables and prepare a mixture of vegetables and cream cheese.
- Cover the chicken with the cream, add plenty of cheese and bake for 25 minutes.
Recipe provided by: Alex Reed, the founder of Bodyketosis
What makes it so great: “This is a mild version of the spicy Buffalo Chicken Casserole,” Reed said. “It’s a practical twist for the whole family (child-friendly). Very convenient comfort food that’s extremely easy to make.”
Poor Man’s Potato Pasta
- Cost for 5 servings, approximately: $4.50
- 2 pounds potatoes
- 3 large onions
- 5 tbsp. of lard (preferably pork, but anything will do)
- 2 tsp. paprika powder
- Ground black pepper to taste
- Salt to taste
- 16 oounces pasta — the wider the better
- Optional dill pickles as sides
- Remove skin from potatoes and onions, clean them under running water.
- Cook pasta in a pot according to the instructions on the package.
- At the same time, cook potatoes in a pot covered with water for around 15-20 minutes after the water boils. Stick a fork into the potatoes to see if they’re done if unsure.
- Dice onions into small pieces.
- Heat up the lard in a large skillet or deep pan on high, throw in the diced onions, cook until just golden brown, set to low-medium heat.
- Add paprika, ground black pepper and salt to the onions, keep stirring regularly.
- Drain the pasta and put it into the pan with the onions. Give it a stir to distribute the tasty lardy onions.
- Drain the potatoes, mash them up with a fork or use a potato press and add it to the pasta.
- Stir until the potato/pasta/onion mix is evenly distributed on low heat. You should be aiming for a golden red color due to the potatoes and paprika.
- Shut off the heat, cover the pan and let it rest for 5-10 minutes.
- Serve with something sour, like dill pickles.
Recipe provided by: Richard Peter, founder of SteakBuff.com
What makes it so great: “My Eastern European grandmother used to make this, who was so poor growing up she had to share a pair of shoes with her brother to go to school in turns,” Peter said. “She told me that the trick to its fantastic taste is to keep the lid on after it is done cooking, so the pasta stays moist. It is the kind of food that gets tastier as the days go by. The dish can be frozen as well.”
Hungry Munky Curry Chickpea & Potato
- Cost for 8-12 servings: $16.50
- 1 small container vegetable oil
- 2 cans chickpeas
- 1 pound russet potatoes
- All-purpose flour
- Curry powder
- 1 chicken bouillon, or vegan substitute
- Hungry Munky chick’n seasoning (available for purchase here)
- Heat 4 tbsp. of oil. Once hot, add in 1/4 cup of flour.
- Stir this mixture until it becomes a bit caked.
- Now season and let it brown.
- Add in 1/2 cup water and stir until the texture is smooth.
- Add in another 1/2 cup water.
- Stir some more before adding in 1 cup water and let it simmer on low.
- Now skin the potatoes and dice into cubes before adding to the pot.
- Pour in 2 cup water.
- Now add both cans of chickpeas.
- Stir, cover and cook on a low-medium fire.
- Let it simmer for 30-45 minutes (or until potatoes are cooked).
- Stir every 15 minutes so that it’s not sticking to the pot.
- Let it cool for about 10-15 minutes.
- Serve with a side of rice and a cool salad!
Recipe provided by: Tamika Scriven, founder of the food blog Hungry Munky
What makes it so great: “This curry recipe is quick and easy to make, and has the right amount of salt and spice,” Scriven said. “The chicken seasoning gives a hint of poultry taste without the actual meat. Not only is my recipe loaded with minerals and protein, [but] it is also mostly alkaline, and the curry itself is said to have healing powers that fight off cold and flu. When stored properly in the fridge, the stew can last for a week and can be reheated in less than an hour.”
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Vegan Lentil Bolognese
- Cost for 8-12 servings: $16.50
- 16 ounces uncooked spaghetti
- 1 large white or yellow onion
- 4 cloves garlic
- 2 tbsp. olive oil
- 2 medium carrots
- 1 stalk celery
- 1/2 cup red wine
- 28-ounce can plain tomato sauce
- 15-ounce can crushed or diced tomatoes
- 1 1/2 cups dried brown, green or French lentils
- 4 cups low sodium veggie broth
- 2 tsp. dried basil or 3 tbsp. chopped fresh
- 3/4 tsp. Italian seasoning
- 1 tsp. dried parsley
- 1-1 ½ tsp. salt
- 2 large bay leaves
- 1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes (more if you like it spicy)
- Black pepper to taste
- Finely chop the onion and garlic and add to a large pot or dutch oven.
- Saute with the olive oil for about 5 minutes or until the onion begins to look translucent.
- Add in the peeled and chopped carrot and diced celery.
- Cook for 5-10 minutes, until the veggies soften and brown slightly on the bottom.
- Stir in the wine (don’t skip it! it’s key for flavor), and let simmer over low heat until the liquid is absorbed, or reduced by at least 50%.
- Once all of the wine is absorbed, add all remaining ingredients.
- Stir well to incorporate. Bring to a low boil.
- Once boiling, reduce heat to low, cover and let simmer for about 30 minutes or until the sauce has thickened and the lentils are fully cooked. Stir roughly every 10 minutes throughout to ensure nothing is sticking to the bottom and the lentils cook evenly. You want to keep the heat on low to ensure the liquid doesn’t cook off before the lentils get a chance to cook.
- About halfway through, bring a large pot of water to a boil and cook pasta according to package instructions.
- After about 30 minutes, the sauce should be thick and the lentils cooked. If the lentils aren’t cooked well but the sauce is thick, add in another 1 cup of broth and simmer, covered, until cooked.
- Discard the bay leaves. Taste and adjust seasonings as desired. Add more salt, pepper, or any additional herbs if desired.
- Use an immersion blender to very lightly puree the sauce. You definitely don’t want to completely puree the sauce, there should be plenty of texture, but blending slightly gives it a really nice texture. If you don’t have an immersion blender, transfer about 2 1/2 cups worth of sauce to a regular blender and process until mostly smooth.
- Serve the sauce over pasta with parmesan cheese if desired!
Recipe provided by: Claire Cary, founder Eat With Clarity
What makes it so great: “This Lentil Bolognese is perfect meal prep for the week because it stays fresh in the fridge for a full week and is even freezer friendly where it will last for about 2 months,” Cary said. “It’s made with pantry staple ingredients like spaghetti, lentils, vegetable broth, canned tomatoes and every day spices for an average cost of about $10 for the full recipe. Even though it’s plant-based, it’s a favorite among all types of eaters thanks to the meaty texture and delicious flavors from basil, parsley, red pepper flakes and garlic. It’s a high protein and high fiber recipe and made in just one pot.”
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Thai Coconut Curry
- Cost for 6 servings: $10
- 3 tbsp. neutral oil like canola oil
- 1 packet curry sauce, or curry paste
- 1 can coconut cream
- 1 onion, sliced
- 5 slices ginger
- 5 cloves garlic, crushed
- Salt, to taste
- 1 brick tofu
- Green beans
- Gather the ingredients.
- If using aromatics, brown the sliced onions, garlic and ginger over medium heat with 1 tablespoon of oil until golden, about 2 minutes.
- Mix the curry sauce and the coconut cream over medium-high heat. Bring to a boil, about 3 minutes.
- Add the tofu to the curry sauce. If adding meat or hardy vegetables, follow the Thai coconut curry cooking process. Bring these proteins and hardy vegetables to boil to ensure they are thoroughly cooked, about 10 minutes.
- Add the remaining vegetables to the curry sauce and bring to a boil. Cover with a lid and cook until the vegetables are tender, about 5 minutes.
- Mix the vegetables and tofu to ensure the curry is evenly combined. Check that all the ingredients are cooked, especially if adding meat. Now is the time to add seafood if you want it in your curry. Once everything is fully cooked through, turn off the heat and serve.
- Enjoy your Thai coconut curry with rice and garnishes.
Recipe provided by: Anna Rider, food writer and recipe developer at GarlicDelight.com
What makes it so great: “This curry is about $10 for 6 servings (which comes out to about $1.67 per serving), which is much cheaper than food at a Thai restaurant,” Rider said. “This curry is delicious because coconut cream adds more fat than coconut milk. More fat equals more flavor. Using authentic curry paste makes a huge difference in providing a taste that’s similar to restaurant-style Thai food. Only it’s super easy and convenient that you can recreate this dish at home. Plus buying curry paste or sauce saves you from having to buy dozens of ingredients like fish sauce that you might not use up later.”
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