So, you want to save money? Well meal prep is a fantastic place to start. But...meal planning can be hard. The prep can be hard. Even figuring out what to make for dinner tonight or what to pack for lunch tomorrow can be a challenge.
But, I have great news!
If you're looking for simple, cheap, and fast meal ideas made with everyday, common, frugal ingredients that you probably already have at home (even better, right!?) - you've come to the right place.
I'm not going to lie - I've had my share of popcorn for dinner or expensive fast food for lunch, only because I couldn't decide what to make for dinner, or even further, didn't have the energy to prep a big meal! That's when I really started to build a list of items that I love eating, and making, for busy or tired days.
Being prepared can help us to save money because lets me honest, we don't always feel like making a big meal, or even packing lunch. Prepping meals in advance, having freezer meals on hand, and having a list of go-to quick meals are all great habits that can save a lot of money in the long run, especially when made with fairly frugal ingredients.
The best thing about most of the meals I'll share below is that they can generally be made in advance if you're doing a meal prep batch for the coming days and some even freeze well, but if not, are super quick to make on their own too. Let's talk food!
To get started, feel free to check out the free gallery of printables we offer for meal prep and planning - from grocery lists to freezer trackers.
1. Mac & cheese casserole
What is better than a warm bowl of yummy, cheesy, mac & cheese? To me, not many foods. The ultimate comfort food, mac & cheese is a wonderful quick, low prep meal that can be customized to what you have in stock.
I like to use macaroni noodles, cheese sauce, cheese, breadcrumbs, bacon, and veggies. As you can see in the photo her, I used broccoli for this batch. It was delicious.
This yummy meal is quite simple to make and prep, and it just takes some time to cook. So worth every second!
2. A protein box
A classic, go-to lunch for on-the-go. There are so many options when you're making a protein box, but some items you might like are as follows:
peanut butter sandwich
almonds or mixed nuts
hard boiled egg
cheese and crackers
hummus and crackers
My typical version of this is the above items all placed together in a cute little arrangement in a Tupperware. I would suggest using a cupcake liner or small container that fits inside the dish you're using to keep items separate.
The beauty of this is that it can really be made of any grouping of items you like or have at home. Full of multiple little items, this box is filling! A smaller version would also work for a delightful snack.
3. Pasta salad with veggies
If had to sum up veggie past salad in just two words, they would be tasty and pretty. You would start by boiling some pasta noodles, draining them, and then adding chopped veggies (such as peppers, celery, and tomatoes, or to your tasting). Adding a chopped hard boiled egg can be a yummy protein addition as well, but is best if you are eating it right away. Mix in some dressing, coating all of the noodles, and you're done.
A wonderful, filling, frugal meal full of veggies. When I make this, it doesn't tend to take more than 20 minutes total.
4. Egg casserole
Another classic & perfect for ANY meal of the day. There are so many different versions of egg casserole that you can customize to your taste. This is a wonderful freezer meal as well, which can even be frozen in individual servings for taking out in advance to thaw and then just heat up, for busy days. I often make a full size casserole dish and freeze in individual baggies for breakfast, lunch, or suppers.
I usually make this with the following layerings from bottom to top - hashbrown patties, ground beef, chopped green peppers, milk/eggs mixture, and cheese. I don't use a specific recipe, but like I said, there are so many different recipes out there if you're looking to follow one - so much yummy-ness to try.
5. Taco salad
Taco salad is a really nice and simple meal for dinner or lunch. There are so many ways to mix it up such as switching dressings, types of cheese, types of meat, etc. You could have it with lettuce instead of chips, or both, and you could even add veggies like corn, etc. A wonderful quick meal that is versatile to what you have in stock!
I've also found that taco salad actually is one of the best meals for packing and taking to work, as it holds up really well. I'l typically mix the lettuce, chips, cheese, and corn, then add the warmed up meat in right when I'm about to eat it. Delicious!
6. Pasta and meat sauce
A true classic, but come on, it is so good! There are so many different kinds of pasta noodles, and so many sauces other than meat sauce as well, so this meal can be easily customized. Buying pasta in bulk on sale is a great way to save money and it is a nice pantry staple.
When making this for dinner, it is a quick and simple meal. But this is one of my favorite bulk freezer prep meals, because the noodles freeze well and so does the sauce when packaged separately. By far an amazing, simple work lunch, or easy supper to take from the freezer and reheat.
7. Upgraded canned soup
If you're one who will reach for a can of soup or a quick soup mix for a simple meal - you might love this one! This is a particularly fast (5 minute) meal that really only requires a can of soup and any additions of your choosing.
One thing I like to do is pour just a little bit of the broth out, and add in some water to replace it. This is just something I've found helps prevent the soup from tasting more salty than I prefer. Another thing you can do if you're looking to upgrade your soup is add in some more items such as chopped up potatoes, veggies, or rice, etc. This can truly take even a simple soup mix with very few (or very little) fixings and turn it into an amazing, filling meal.
8. Pita pizzas
Out of all of the items listed, this by far must be the most fun to make. All it takes is a pita, some tomato sauce, some cheese, and then pizza toppings - pepperoni/peppers/etc. Use your pita as a pizza crust, decorate it with all of your toppings, and warm it up! This is a delicious and super fast meal, perfect for speedy dinners or lunches.
This is sure to be a hit with everyone in the family, and would make a wonderful frugal version of pizza night. It is much cheaper and healthier than having a pizza delivered, or even having a frozen pizza. If end up having extras of the pizza toppings, this is an enjoyable one to have for a few days to use up all of the yummy ingredients as well.
9. Ham & cheese melt
Another simple lunch that just needs to be warmed - a fresh bun (the bakery section at the grocery store is sure to have some fresh and yummy ones), some cheese, and some sliced ham.
If you let the sandwich warm just until the cheese is melted - oh my, it smells amazing - and is so tasty and so fast. Add a few chopped up veggies as a side and you've got a perfect weeknight dinner.
Check out the free printables here to get your meals organized (which makes it so much easier to stay on track and budget!)
You can find plenty more free frugal meal prep resources here.