Splurge on a few ingredients; penny-pinch on others. Striking that balance makes it easy to be creative while feeding a family of four.
Roast Chicken Feast
The meal: Roast chicken makes the perfect special occasion meal. Use smaller broiler/fryers and roast potatoes along with the bird to save money. Carrots gussied up with butter and dill make an inexpensive side. Cost: about $7.
The splurge: A Tin Roof Sundae bar for dessert. Buy a pint of generic vanilla ice cream, a jar of fudge sauce, and snack-pack peanuts. Cost: about $6.
The meal: Less costly than spaghetti and meatballs, Spaghetti Carbonara calls for eggs, bacon, and Parmesan to flavor noodles. Serve with chopped iceberg salad. Cost: about $9.
The splurge: Garlic Bread. Cost: about $3.
Chili for Four
The meal: One-pot meals are crowd pleasers, not to mention easy on the cook. Elevate this bare bones recipe with the garnishes below and a side of baked cornbread. Cost: about $8.
The splurge: Shredded cheddar cheese, chopped scallions, cilantro, and sour cream. Cost: about $5.
Mac & Cheese Comfort
The meal: The ultimate in comfort food can be a little pricey with four cheeses and cream, so buy bulk dairy products to keep cost down. Serve with steamed broccoli. Cost: about $10.
The splurge: Chocolate Pudding. Cost: about $4.
Made in China
The meal: A veggie-rich stir-fry is so easy on the budget you'll have money left over to add a few extras. Start the meal with Egg Drop Soup and finish with fresh fruit. Cost: about $9.
The splurge: Fresh pineapple. Cost: about $4.
Tomato Soup & Grilled Cheese
The meal: Tomato soup goes gourmet with the addition of roasted bell peppers and cream. Try different cheeses and breads to send your usual grilled cheese upscale. Cost: about $10.
The splurge: Fresh basil to stir in soup. Cost: about $2.
The meal: A store-bought piecrust keeps this broccoli and cheese quiche simple. Serve with a side of mixed salad greens. Cost: about $9.
The splurge: In-season fresh berries. Cost: about $5.
The meal: Switching to hamburger instead of beef tips cuts down the price of Stroganoff without sacrificing flavor. Serve with steamed zucchini. Cost: about $10.
The splurge: Fresh parsley to garnish Stroganoff and zucchini. Cost: about $1.
The Ultimate Tuna Noodle
The meal: What budget meal repertoire would be complete without Tuna Noodle Casserole, particularly one with a crunchy potato chip topping? Serve with steamed broccoli florets. Cost: about $9.
The splurge: Homemade butterscotch brownies. $4.
The meal: This well-loved enchilada recipe is made to serve eight, so cut it in half, or make the full recipe and freeze leftovers. Cost: about $10.
The splurge: Sliced avocado to serve on the side. Cost: about $2.