Whether you are using this in an emergency — to get yourself through a rough patch OR you just want some different really, really cheap lunch options, I’ve got you covered!
I have to admit that my favorite foods are rarely considered healthy. However, they fill the belly and when finances are tight, that’s as important as eating all the right foods. Especially now when every grocery store has seen price hikes of sometimes 40% (or more) on some items. It’s getting harder and harder to feed ourselves the way we’re used to doing. Sometimes we need to take a look at where we can scale back. This post won’t be for everyone. It’s designed for those folks looking to spend the minimum amount possible and are looking for suggestions as to how they can do that.
I never feel like I should have to apologize for feeding myself for a tiny amount of money. In fact, I pride myself on how little I spend at the grocery store and how well, if simply, we eat. This really comes in handy when money is tight or I prefer to use that money for other things. No one should have to feel bad or embarrassed for doing the best they can.
Here’s what we are making:
- Hot Dogs & Saurkraut
- Cheese quesadillas
- Chicken Noodle Soup
- Blue Box Mac & Cheese
- Homemade Mini Corn Dogs
Here’s what I spent:
Parkview Hot dogs – Aldi – $0.99
Saurkraut – Walmart – $0.74
Martha White or Jiffy Corn muffin mix – Walmart – $0.52
(Martha White mix you only need add water, but it’s not available everywhere)
Pueblo Lindo Flour tortillas – Aldi $1.99 for 20 — used 4 — $0.40
Happy Farms Shredded cheese – Aldi $2.99 for 12 oz. — used 4 oz. – $1
Chef’s Cupboard Chicken Noodle soup – Aldi – $0.68
Cheese Club Mac & Cheese – Aldi – $0.34
You may look at the choices I’ve made and say, “Gross, who would eat that?” That’s OK. (I haven’t even talked about Vienna Sausages yet!! (wink, wink) What this post does more than anything else is show you that there IS A WAY to eat lunch on the cheap even when you don’t have leftovers.
A few points:
- This is 5 lunches for a TOTAL of $5, not $5 each day
- Prices are as of February 2023, prices are in my local area (NE Pennsylvannia), your prices may be higher or lower — yay you, if yours are lower!
- Costs given are for the portion of an ingredient used. Example: if I only use 2 eggs out of a carton, I include the price for 2 eggs, not the whole carton
- I shop primarily at Aldi & Walmart with some shopping being done at our local Redner’s when they have a good sale. The store where each item was purchased is listed.
- This is lunch for a single person, The Hubster wants totally different food for his lunches … the man eats sandwiches EVERY DAY!! I can’t imagine doing that.
- I often eat leftovers from earlier dinners as my lunches. But this post is designed for those that either don’t have any leftovers or chooses not to eat them for lunch.
- These lunches are not necessarily portable – they need to be cooked or heated up. However, they can be heated up at home and added to a thermos.
- These meals can be made in a microwave, instant pot or air fryer — most of which are more easily used in non-typical locations such as RVs, vans, campsites, dorms & hotel rooms. Even the corn dogs can be made in an air fryer in disposable muffin cups.
- Drinks are not included … I drink water or finish my morning coffee with lunch
- Spices & pantry staples are not included, i.e. condiments, oil, butter or margerine, milk, eggs, etc. Mainly because each item is subjective and costs can vary wildly. Butter costs more than margarine; whole milk costs more than non-fat or something like soy milk; and don’t even get me started on the roller-coaster that are egg prices right now.
- I got away with less money because I made my own Jiffy Corn Muffin Mix from pantry staples using this recipe … with that money I decided to buy a can of diced tomatoes ($0.69). I added chili powder and cumin to the tomatoes and used it as a sauce for my cheese quesadillas. I was still right at $5. So, you can definitely swap things out you don’t like for those you do.
- The sauce I make also doubles as a salsa if you have any tortilla chips laying around or decide to fry up some of the flour tortillas to create your own.
- Several of the lunches actually made more than 1 day’s worth of food — the mac & cheese and the homemade corn dogs. So technically, this could be said to be 7 days of lunches for $5.
Here’s how it all works:
I have to note that this first one is one of my favorite quick lunches — I ate low carb for many, many years and always loved hot dogs with sauerkraut. Eating low carb means I wasn’t able to eat hot dog buns, so I started just leaving out the bun to stave off my hot dog & sauerkraut cravings! Good for me?? Who cares! It’s tasty and filling. Definitely a treat!
Hot Dogs & Sauerkraut
4 hot dogs, cut into 1″ pieces (1/2 of the package)
1 can sauerkraut
Combine in small to medium saucepan and cook on medium until hot.
4 flour tortillas
4 oz. shredded cheese, I use sharp cheddar
Chili powder & cumin to taste
Heat a bit of oil in a frying pan over medium heat. Place 1 flour tortilla down and swirl in oil to cover well.
Sprinkle 2 oz cheese on tortilla, any spices you decide to use and place a second tortilla on top.
When cheese becomes melty and bottom of tortilla is browned, gently flip and brown second side. When all cheese has melted, remove to a plate. Repeat with remainder of ingredients
Cut into strips or triangles. I use my kitchen scissors.
If you have any on hand, dip in salsa, spiced diced tomatoes, sour cream or a combination of these. It’s not necessary … the quesadillas are yummy without dipping sauces.
Blue Box Mac & Cheese
Easy, peazy … follow the directions on the box of mac & cheese and serve.
The box makes enough for 2 lunches. If you have salad greens, serve a side salad with your mac and cheese. It will make the meal a tad bit healthier. Save the 2nd serving in a container and refridgerate until ready to eat. Use a bit of water or milk to mix up the cold mac & cheese … warming up in a saucepan is, in my opinion, a better option than the microwave if you have a choice.
Mini Homemade Corn Dogs
4 hot dogs, cut into 1 inch sections (about 5 sections per dog)
1 pkg. Martha White Corn Muffin Mix
If you aren’t able to find Martha White, use Jiffy but it requires an egg in addition to the milk or water.
Mix corn muffins according to package instructions. Spray mini muffin tin with oil. Spoon about 1 tbsp. of muffin mix into each muffin cup. Place a hot dog section in the center of each cup.
Bake in a preheated 375 degree oven for 8-12 minutes.
Serve with yellow mustard for that nostalgic corn dog experience! All that is missing is the stick. You know the one I mean … the stick most of us managed to poke ourselves in the throat with. No? Just me? Alrighty, then!
This recipe makes enough for 2 lunches.
Chicken Noodle soup
Come on! You can’t tell me this isn’t a favorite. Nothing is easier than heating up a can of soup and enjoying it (especially on a rainy day) curled up with a good book.
1 can chicken noodle soup
1 can water
Heat until bubbly and serve. If I have any on hand I like to add some potato chips or crackers, but the soup is all I need.
Feel free to substitute tomato soup instead of chicken noodle. I just found that chicken noodle soup stuck to my ribs longer than tomato, so I always go for the chicken noodle and both are the same price. Again, if you have some salad greens, baby carrots or a piece of fruit. Add it to your lunch to make it more filling and healthier.
So there you have it … 5 to 7 simple, quick and tasty lunches for only $5!
You know, math is hard — but even I can figure that’s about $1 per day for lunch … if you get 7 meals then it’s only $0.71 per lunch. Not bad!
OK, so here’s my disclaimer. I know I’m probably going to get some folks telling me that these lunches are not healthy or don’t include those who have a special diet. Well, these can definitely be considered an emergency menu and healthier items can be added, but I wanted to give the bare bones of what you can do with just $5. I never claimed that these lunches would be considered healthy or were for those who were vegetarian, vegan, keto, etc. And I didn’t try to make them anything other than what they are. I made them frugal and filling and cheap! The title of this blog post is “filling and frugal” lunches, not healthy and not all inclusive of every special diet.
I talked about a way of feeding a single person lunch (or any meal, really) for 5 days so their belly would be full and I showed how to do it for $5 total. Sometimes, if your health allows it, finances dictate that choices be made in order for us to have the fuel necessary to go to work or school and get on with our day. Every day we are out there with a full belly is a day we can learn more and earn more so that in the future healthier food can be an option and different choices can be made if so desired. If you are not able to use these suggestions, that’s OK. I am hoping to help as many as I can. I hope everyone was able to get some ideas, at least, and use them to build your own inexpensive lunches that meet your dietary requirements.