I remember being a brand new wife. 22-years old. My husband and I both working full-time. Getting home at 6:30 every night and trying to figure out how to squeeze a decent meal in before we passed out on the couch watching Seinfeld. You know, the typical glamourous newlywed life!

Having just recently graduated college, anything was a step up from the Ramen Noodles and a variety of cereal, or anything that you could heat up in the microwave. But we were adults now, and ready to start acting like it. 

Growing up, my mom ALWAYS had delicious meals waiting for us every night when my dad got home from work. Now being in that position myself, I began to scratch my head and wonder how in the world she managed to do it! My husband and I basically had three options:

  1. Eat processed, frozen foods or basically the same thing every night to stay within budget.
  2. Spend the extra money to buy real ingredients (because we know how expensive it seems to be to eat healthy) and make our own gourmet meals. But honestly, who has the time OR the money for that?
  3. Just bite the bullet and get take-out or head to a restaurant practically every night, putting a strain on both our wallets and our waistlines.

We tried all three of these, and none of them really worked for us. It wasn’t until I asked myself, “Why can’t I make good, healthy meals without spending an arm or a leg?” then things really started to get on track. 

I started reading through the grocery ads to see what was on sale, cutting coupons, going to more than one store on the weekends, and creating actual meal plans that not only made this possible, but also fun!  I’ve always loved to cook (and at least I think that I’m good at it!) so being able to create delicious meals on a budget is an exciting challenge for me every week.

The Menu

Here is how to feed a family of four (or in my case 3, but we probably eat like a family of 8) on a budget: 

5 nights (plus plenty of leftovers). $50 per week.

Assuming that you have basics already in your pantry or fridge (Ketchup, seasonings, etc.)

  • Day 1:  Meatball Subs & French Fries
  • Day 2:  Mom’s Chicken Casserole, Mashed Potatoes & Corn
  • Day 3:  Grilled Chicken Tacos with homemade Pico de Gallo & Gooey, cheesy nachos
  • Day 4:  Spaghetti & Meatballs with salad & garlic toast (the quick, semi-homemade version!)
  • Day 5:  Vanilla French Toast and Sausage

Grocery List

I’m not going to give you the price on every single item because I know that it varies from store to store, but I’ll clue you in on any big sales or special deals around the county! 

In general, I tend to buy most of canned/boxed goods at Aldi’s, and go to Giant Eagle for any of the specialty items. It just makes the most financial sense for me and fits into my budget nicely!

  • 1 ½ lbs ground beef (I normally buy 80/20, but any combination is fine)
  • Buns
  • 5 lbs. russet potatoes
  • Frozen French Fries
  • Mozzarella cheese
  • Cheddar cheese (Block cheese at Aldi’s is $1.50, and you can always shred it yourself!)
  • 3 lbs chicken (Giant Eagle has a special on this for $5.97.  Just de-frost the breasts as needed.)  You can normally find chicken SOMEWHERE on sale for $1.99 a lb.
  • Box of stuffing (Chicken flavored)
  • Bag of frozen corn (or canned if you prefer)
  • 1 can Cream of Chicken soup
  • Sour cream
  • Small tortiallas (Soft taco size)
  • 2 large tomatoes
  • 1 red onion
  • 1 yellow onion
  • Small head of garlic
  • 2 jalapenos
  • 1 lime (or refrigerated lime juice if you already have it handy!)
  • 1 bag tortilla chips
  • 1 lb. spaghetti noodles
  • 2 jars spaghetti sauce (my family’s favorite is Prego Three Cheese)
  • Bread
  • 2 Bags of salad ($1.99 at Aldi’s, and Giant Eagle has a BOGO on these that brings it down to $1.70 each.
  • Eggs
  • Breakfast sausage
  • Italian Bread crumbs


Meatball Subs

  • 1 lb. ground meat
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 c. Italian bread crumbs
  • 1 T Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/4 c. parmesan cheese (Fine to use the big Kraft shaker, it doesn’t have to be freshly grated, although that’s always delicious if you have it at home!)
  • 1 T minced onion
  • 1/2 t garlic powder
  • 1/2 t oregano or Italian seasoning
  • 1/2 t salt
  • 1/4 t black pepper
  • Buns (Deli rolls are preferred, but hamburger or hotdog buns work just fine!)
  • 1 jar of spaghetti sauce
  • 1/4 c mozzarella cheese

Preheat oven to 375 degrees and combine all but last three ingredients in a large bowl. Be sure to mix well, just jump in there and use your hands!

Pinch off pieces in desired sizes and roll into balls. Place on a cookie sheet and bake for 30 minutes or until done (cook time will vary depending on size- normally this makes me 20 meatballs.) 

During the last 3 minutes, split buns and place them in the oven as well to toast. Heat spaghetti sauce in Dutch oven on the stove over medium heat. Add the meatballs and coat evenly. Place meatballs on toasted bun, top with cheese and ENJOY!

Mom’s Chicken Casserole

  • 1 lb. boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • 1 box Stovetop stuffing
  • 1 can cream of chicken soup
  • 1 8-oz container sour cream

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.  Prepare stuffing according to box.  Boil chicken until done, cube and layer in bottom of 9×9 pan. 

Combine cream of chicken soup and sour cream, then spread over chicken.  Top with stuffing and cover with foil.  Bake for 20 minutes, remove foil, and bake for another 20. 

**For a larger crowd, this is a GREAT recipe to double.  I make a double order of this for anyone I know who has a baby and needs a quick meal to heat and eat!

Grilled Chicken Tacos with Pico

  • 1 lb. boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • 2T olive oilmeal-plan
  • Garlic Powder
  • Onion Powder
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Cumin
  • Cayenne Pepper (optional)
  • 2 tomatoes
  • Red onion
  • 1 jalapeno
  • Juice of 1 lime
  • Flour tortillas
  • Shredded cheddar cheese
  • Lettuce
  • Sour cream

Sprinkle chicken on both sides with garlic, onion powder, salt, pepper & cumin (cayenne being optional). I don’t use exact measurements for these spices, just sprinkle a liberal amount onto each. Heat 2 T of oil over medium heat in a large skillet, and cook chicken until done, flipping to brown on both sides. (Or if it’s warm enough, jump out and cook it on your grill instead!)

To make the pico, dice both tomatoes, red onion, and jalapeno (be sure to take out the seeds and ribs or it will be incredibly hot!) Juice the lime over top, sprinkle with ½ t of salt, ¼ t of pepper, ¼ t of garlic powder and ¼ t of cumin. Mix well. Reserve at least ½ cup of this for the nachos.

Grill flour tortillas or heat them up in the oven until warm. Dice chicken and scoop onto shells. (Reserve ¼ c. of chicken for nachos below.) Top with cheese, lettuce, pico and sour cream. YUM!

Gooey, Cheesy Nachos

  • 1 bag tortilla chips (dealer’s choice!)
  • ¼ c diced grilled chicken from recipe above
  • ½ c + pico from recipe above
  • 1 c shredded cheddar cheese
  • 1 jalapeno (diced and seeds/ribs removed)
  • Sour cream
  • Any additional toppings you choose

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.  Layer tortilla chips in 13×9 pan.  Top with chicken, cheese, pico & jalapenos (and any additional toppings that you like: green onions, bbq sauce, etc.) 

Bake for 5-7 minutes or until cheese is melted and bubbly.  Throw a dollop of sour cream for dipping on your plate, and you’re all set!

Semi-homemade Spaghetti & Meatballs

1 jar spaghetti sauce (Prego is our favorite)

  • 1/8 c parmesan cheese
  • ½ lb. ground meat
  • 1 yellow onion
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 lb. Spaghetti noodles
  • Leftover meatballs from Meal #1

Boil water in large pot, and cook spaghetti according to package. Drain.

Chop onions and garlic and add to skillet with ground meat. Cook until meat is browned and onions are tender. Add jar of sauce and parmesan cheese, and stir well. 

Pour sauce over noodles, and top with leftover heated meatballs and a bit of parmesan cheese if desired.

Homemade Garlic Toast

  • 4 slices bread (Fresh bakery bread is my favorite, but you can use plain white bread, or -whatever your family likes best!)
  • 2T butter
  • 1/2 t garlic powder
  • 1/4 c mozzarella cheese

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.  Place bread on cookie sheet and butter the top side of each.  Sprinkle garlic powder evenly over the slices (use more or less as you see fit.)  Top each with cheese.  Bake for 5-7 minutes or until cheese is melted and bread is toasted.

Vanilla French Toast

  • 8 slices white bread
  • 4 eggs
  • 1/4 c milk
  • 1 t vanilla
  • 1 t sugar
  • 1 t cinnamon

Melt butter on skillet over medium heat. Lay bread out for approximately a half hour to stiffen it up (not required, but it will hold up better once it’s dipped in the batter.)

Beat eggs, milk, vanilla, sugar & cinnamon until mixed well. Dip each slice in the egg mixture on both sides, and place in pan. Flip after about one minute, and cook on the other side (make sure the bottom side is set before flipping.) Sprinkle with powdered sugar or garnish with fresh berries if you’re feeling fancy. As always, smother in syrup and enjoy!

Allie is a lifelong resident of Beaver County. She is a 2006 graduate of Blackhawk High School, and still resides in Patterson Heights with her husband Andy and their 3-year old son, Luke. She is a Regional Manager at PLS Logistics and a sports fanatic. You can find her on Facebook as Allie Dixon.