Cheap Meals and Easy Dinner Ideas: Recession Dining For Under $10

by Silicon Valley Blogger on 2009-02-2525

How’s your eating? While surfing the net, I found some great resources that covered one of my favorite topics: tasty food! And it’s not everyday you find the terms “cheap” and “gourmet” juxtaposed in the same statement either. So let’s check out what I uncovered.

Eat For Under A Dollar?

Sometime ago, I heard about this crazy-sounding project that a couple decided to partake in, that involved limiting their food budget to a $1 a day. It’s called the One Dollar Diet Project. This intriguing family experiment was concocted by a pair of teachers who decided to make a go of an ultra-cheap diet plan during September of last year — they thought they’d try to keep their meal budget down to a dollar a day and kept with the program for a month (ala Super Size Me).

Ultimately, they ended their “project” and now recommend that nobody try to replicate this experiment due to its potentially unhealthy and dangerous consequences. Although I do think that the $1 a day idea may be a bit extreme, eating for a few (or several) bucks a day doesn’t seem that far-fetched, after checking out this list of healthiest foods for under $1. This inspired me to compile a short list of tips to help you save money on meals.

cheap meals, easy dinner ideas, potato heartPotato heart image by Neona

#1 Eat Out For Less With Discounts and Coupons

You can certainly eat out for much less if you so choose. For example, you can take a look at these restaurant discounts and dining coupons that can immediately cut down the costs of your dining experience. Some of these coupons are a pretty good deal if you enjoy dining at the restaurants that provide these price breaks.

#2 Feed A Family of 4 For Under $10 With Cheap Meals and Easy Dinner Ideas!

Now if you’re one of those people who’ve decided to cut food costs by limiting your excursions to restaurants that serve the fancy meals because of our iffy economy, it still doesn’t necessarily mean that you should be resigned to boring your taste buds with endless pizza and ramen. Could there be home cooking alternatives that are both cheaper and healthier?

Have you heard of the terms “recession dining” and “depression cooking”? These are just new terms that have caught on to refer to those affordable meals we can make, eat and still enjoy. Following are a few ideas for cheap meals you can cook at home to save money that you may find useful.

With a little creativity, families can feel stuffed with the right amount of proteins, carbs, fats and fiber. For $10 or less, you can feed a family of 4 people with a meal of Red Beans and Andouille Sausage or a Cranberry Chicken Piccata or a Veggie Pasta, as is mentioned and demonstrated in this CNN tidbit:

recession dining, gourmet meals for under $10, feed a family of 4
Click here to watch the CNN video.

If these meals whetted your appetite, or just got you curious about how they’re made, then check out the actual recipes for the three dishes shown right here.

So what are your favorite comfort foods that you can make for $10 or less?

#3 Recession Dining? What About Depression Cooking With Clara!

Here’s a 91 year old great grandmother who’s become a You Tube celebrity thanks to her cooking videos, where she highlights recipes from her childhood, during the height of the Great Depression. Some of her simple recipes include pasta with peas, potatoes and cheese, as well as egg drop soup. Then there’s this interesting dish she christens the “poor man’s meal”. It has potatoes, onions, and hot dogs:

Clara cooks her Poor Man’s Meal

For more about Clara and her home cooking, you can visit her site here (although she’s having some connectivity issues at the moment). She reminds me a lot of my grandmother and she cooks a lot of the stuff my mother-in-law already loves to do, bum economy or not.

I also find Clara’s depression era stories strangely comforting. Could this be one of the silver linings we face during harder times? Times like these, we tend to develop stronger bonds and relationships, gravitating towards our families more, in search of some extra comfort and support (whether financial or emotional).

So how is it like in your kitchen? Care to share any of your favorite cheap meals?

Copyright © 2009 The Digerati Life. All Rights Reserved.

{ 25 comments… read them below or add one }

owain February 25, 2009 at 5:50 am

Hey. New to this blog so thought I would say hi. I tend to eat really healthy food and sadly that is usually the food that tends to be most expensive. I am a bodybuilder so I generally spend about £10-£15 a day (I guess that would be about $15-$20 a day) on food. No way I could live off $1. Haha. : ) February 25, 2009 at 7:45 am

I like these ideas – another cheap way to eat but still enjoy good food is to search for restaurant recipes online and make them yourself. I’ve found things from Olive Garden, Outback and Applebees. Much cheaper than eating out, but still fun.

Greg / Wise Bread February 25, 2009 at 8:18 pm

Hey SVB — great post! I’ve been trying to cut out all the eating out (takeout) I do. One of the best tricks I’ve learned is to love the crockpot handed down to me from my mom. I had no idea a slow cooker was so awesome before last year!

Let me count the awesomeness:

1. I save money by cooking at home.

2. I don’t eat junk (PB&J, frozen pizza) even when eating at home.

3. It’s fast! Well, you know slow cooking takes 4-10 hours, but since there’s usually little prep required and little cleanup (just one crock instead of several pots and pans), I actually save a lot of time crockpotting.

So the crockpot helps me save money, save time, and eat better. That’s a win-win-win, baby!

Check out the Crockpot Lady for recipe ideas.

Rachel February 26, 2009 at 8:52 am

I agree that a slow cooker is the way to go especially when you just don’t have the time, as you get use to using one you find that you can throw anything into it, try different spices perhaps even a splash of wine now and again (cheap wine!) and the same old chicken tastes different every time and tender as can be. (Doesn’t always have to be chicken though…)

Sandy February 27, 2009 at 10:25 am

This is great! One of my posts every week is “Feed A Family of Four for Under $10”. I’ve had requests for more of them so people are out there looking for bargains beyond coupons and rebate. And Clara is a doll. I watch her Youtube all the time.

Morgan February 28, 2009 at 7:37 am

Thanks for showing Clara. What a gem.
When my dad was growing up in the depression his father had passed away so his mother grew horseradish on her farm in upper New York state. This was their sole means of support. Grandma would cook a small piece of meat on Sunday, make gravy, and they would have gravy and bread, or, when they were lucky, gravy and potatoes for the rest of the week.
Like Clara my dad missed a lot of school because he had no shoes and in that cold climate this must have been a real misery.
(When my grandma was little they had a large goose who was very mean. Every time she went to the outhouse the goose would chase and bite her. Thank God for indoor plumbing!)
Even though things are tough today I think of my dad and am so grateful for what we have.

On the Money February 28, 2009 at 3:18 pm

Cook vegetarian, , buy from local markets, invest in tupperware and a freezer and you will be sorted … probably for not much more than a dollar a day in the longer-term … Though I’d personally miss the chocolate peanuts …

Isabelle March 2, 2009 at 12:40 am

Cheap food is not necessarily unhealthy. During WW2 here in Britain the rationing was very tight, especially for meat, cheese, butter, margarine, lard, sugar and eggs (all I can remember offhand). During this time the Government worked very hard to encourage people to eat a healthy diet. Flour was called ‘National Flour’ – what we now know as wholemeal, all the goodness was left in. ‘Eat greens (cabbage) for vitality’ was one of the posters people saw. Recipe books were created and the recipes printed in newspapers and given to people as leaflets. I have a book made up of these and there are many recipes I make that are very popular with the family.

The result was a fit and healthy nation. More so than before because people HAD to take their rations which meant poor people had more and better food than before. More so than after because the fat and sugar was restricted.

Right now – in the last month of winter – carrots, swede (rutabaga), onions and cabbage are cheaper here than the more ‘exotic’ vegetables. Dried beans are cheap and healthy and very easy whether in a slow cooker or pan. Rice, potatoes and pasta are not expensive, it is what you put on top of them that matters! There are cheap cuts of meat to stew and braise.

That healthy food has to be expensive is a myth that puts a lot of people off even trying, that is a shame. Our grandmothers could teach us a trick or two, fortunately there are a few around – thank you Clara.

Isabelle March 2, 2009 at 1:29 am

How could I forget to mention one of my favourite cookbooks – and it is American – ‘More with Less Cookbook’ by Doris Longacre. It is a collection of international recipes contributed by Mennonite missionaries and is based on simple natural ingredients. It is FANTASTIC, I bet there is a copy in most American libraries.

Well worth a look. March 2, 2009 at 8:25 am


I have to completely agree with you. The More-With-Less Cookbook is a must have. Its one of the few cookbooks to get a 5 star rating on

What I really like about the book is that it shows you how to use relatively cheap ingredients to make great meals. There is a special emphasis on using less meat which has obvious health benefits as well as environmental benefits.

The book has also been updated since it was first released.

Meaghan March 7, 2009 at 9:35 am

Great ideas! Thanks for sharing.

victoria March 19, 2009 at 12:09 am

I loved this.. My parents have made almost the exact same meal for years. They don’t add the sauce, but do add a whole lot of pepper and we kids always ate it with ketchup and the adults with salsa so almost like adding it in while cooking. 🙂

rani March 23, 2009 at 3:56 pm

I have seen the video with the grandmother before. My children and I loved watching them.

Karla March 25, 2009 at 9:39 am

Back in January, we took on our own “Dollar-A-Day” Challenge and stuck to some different rules; ones that kept us on track for more of a balanced diet. We also were a bit more restricted though due to my food allergy to wheat, rye, barley, oats…all things gluten.

For our archives go here:

We have since taken on other projects…. like Freegan February and currently in March…our Helping Hands Project…all of which can be found at our blog:

We’re especially looking forward to April’s project which will be revealed this Saturday in our blog.

It IS food-related and it’s taking Dollar-A-Day to a whole different level.

Connect with us!

Karla n’ Amy

Hope Heals
Grand Rapids, Michigan

Mick June 2, 2009 at 9:08 pm

Hey – was hunting for cheap recipes and found this website – Have only tried the Lamb Chop Casserole and the Chicken Pesto but both were great and actually well under 2.50 a serve….

Roll Off Abilene September 25, 2009 at 11:54 pm

Great advice. One of the first things that must go during tough economic times is junk food, including fast food and soda and other expensive and unnecessary delicacies.

Manda December 27, 2009 at 12:22 pm

I think people forget that simplicity is the best/cheapest way to go. Following a recipe for involved meals is what gets you into trouble. Having to buy this, that, and the other thing to make a meal. How bout just making a meat, a starch, and a veggie. Simply seasoned…its how most moms and grandmas cook when they have lots of people to feed on a budget. Sometimes a simple meatloaf with mashed potatoes and peas is all ya need to feel satisfied.

Maija Haavisto February 23, 2010 at 1:35 am

It’s definitely possible to eat healthily on $1 a day. You just need to drop the idea of the necessity of eating milk and dairy – no one needs those anyway.

Adam July 1, 2010 at 3:27 pm

Awesome article! Thanks for the tips (still don’t know that I’ll be trying the poor man’s meal – hot dogs in the mix kind of throws me off). We’re working on a website where we’re compiling ideas for low cost meals and we’d love to hear your comments/suggestions.

Thanks again, good stuff!

Debadutta December 13, 2010 at 7:44 am

I love to eat economic food with a good taste; i search for these types of food always in net!

Lisbeth March 14, 2011 at 9:13 pm

Eat vegetarian (but don’t eat cheese). Eat unprocessed foods. I find eating healthy for less easy. Some of the stuff suggested is just fattening.

Ben Byekwaso August 22, 2011 at 6:47 am

I find that it’s cheaper and very convenient to prepare my own meals in the comfort of my home. It might not be $1 meal but if you make an effort to buy food from the food stores and follow a few step by step instructions on how to prepare easy and cheap meals, you save a lot of money and also eat freshly prepared meals. If you don’t have any ideas on what to cook, go to the internet and get recipes of what you want to prepare, there are 100s of recipes available at a click of a mouse.

lisa March 25, 2012 at 9:12 am

Oh my gosh, that video had me in tears… Pulled at my heart strings. It sure did. I did not finish school, went back later and got my GED, but it was my choice, not because of cost. She is so nice… Her spirit I mean, you can tell… Just wanted to say thank you for sharing… 🙂

Silicon Valley Blogger March 25, 2012 at 10:27 am

Thanks Lisa, I agree. Clara is indeed, a lovely lady. And very inspiring.

Eric November 18, 2012 at 10:25 pm

I can’t really see myself spending just a dollar a day. When I was trying to budget at one point, I was eating subway to save money and I think I was spending close to 10 dollars a day…..but if you add that up, you can probably buy groceries every week and it would come out to be about the same. So I purchased The Paleo Recipe Book, which helped me budget and eat right!!

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