Our coronavirus coverage is free for the first 24 hours. Find the latest information at Please consider subscribing or donating.

  1. Cooking

10 ideas for 4-person meals you can make for $10 or less

We've all been there. Hands gripping the shopping cart, crazy eyes darting up and down the shelves, every thought about how to construct an affordable and filling dinner completely gone from your brain. It's the quickest way to end up with a $67 grocery bill when you're shopping for one meal — a last-minute grocery trip with no plan in sight.

When we shop like that, we tend to rack up more charges than we need to, throwing things into the cart on a wild "Maybe I'll turn that into a nice carrot puree" whim. It helps to have a plan. And it really helps to have a plan that will keep that bill as low as possible.

We came up with 10 recipes that you can make for under $10. They all aim to feed four people; some are heartier than others, but all should get the job done.

A couple of things to note. We've priced items that you will likely need to buy; the rest are things most people have in their kitchens already. (See below.) Prices are from our local Publix grocery store; they may vary from store to store, but this is the general idea. If the recipe calls for, say, half a block of cheese, we calculated half of what the entire cheese block costs. (And in many cases, you will be able to use the rest of that ingredient in another one of these recipes.)

Cooking — and grocery shopping — on a budget can take some skill. It's important to know which ingredients can work for you, and which will quickly send you over your price goal. In general, here is our advice:

What to go for: Most vegetables yield a great return on their price. Garlic, onions, carrots, celery and potatoes can go a really long way for their relatively cheap price tags.

Loose fresh herbs like cilantro and parsley can garnish a vast variety of dishes, and often cost $1 or less per bundle.

Chicken thighs and legs are almost always cheaper per pound than cheaper breasts. Plus, those two cuts can develop more flavor with fewer ingredients.

What to stay away from: Buy fruit sparingly, as it can be among the priciest fresh ingredients. Same with packaged herbs like mint or even basil. (This is when a basil plant comes in real handy.) And be wary of more exotic spices you'll only use once. They can add up quickly.

Here are some other tips.

• Check the frozen food aisle for certain vegetables like cauliflower and broccoli. Sometimes you can get almost the same quantity for less money than their fresh counterparts, especially when they are out of season.

• To maximize your budget, see if you can double the recipe and use up all the ingredients you bought. This works for something like the Sausage and Zucchini Pasta, where you'll likely have to buy more sausage than you need. Freeze one entire meal for later.

• Shop the bulk aisle whenever possible. This is very useful when it comes to buying nuts or seeds. Often, you don't need to whole package for a recipe or two. This way, you can buy what you need at a fraction of the price (just make sure to use that scale when measuring out your ingredients).

• At a store like Publix, it can pay to be friendly with the people behind the meat counter. Don't see the quantity of ground pork you want or need? Ask them to create a custom package for you, so you can buy just 1 pound, instead of 1.87 pounds. They will almost always say yes.

To create meals for four under $10, you need a well-stocked pantry. Some of these recipes call for items that are standard items in most kitchens, so we're not counting them toward your $10 total. If you don't have any of these ingredients, take the time to stock up, something you can do for probably $20 or less. The culinary rewards will be well worth it.

• Salt

• Pepper

• Olive oil

• Butter

• Brown sugar

• Sugar

• Flour

• Baking powder

• Paprika

• Red pepper flakes

• Whole-grain mustard

• Maple syrup or honey

• Ketchup

• Vinegar, either red wine, apple cider or white wine

• Soy sauce

1 cup grits $1.89

1 cup grated Cheddar cheese $1.99

2 tablespoons butter

2 plum tomatoes, chopped $1

1 cup frozen corn $1

½ pound peeled and deveined medium shrimp, about 12 shrimp $3.50

2 scallions, sliced $0.50

Cook the grits according to the package directions. Stir in the cheddar cheese and set aside.

Meanwhile, melt the butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the tomatoes and corn to the skillet and cook for about 5 minutes. Add shrimp and cook, tossing occasionally, until the shrimp are opaque throughout, 3 to 5 minutes.

Stir in the scallions and serve over the grits.

Note: Some cooked and crumbled bacon would be a great topper for this dish, but we ran out of money. If you have some leftover from another recipe, feel free to add.

Total cost: $9.88

Source: Real Simple

1 tablespoon olive oil

1½ pounds bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs $3.50

Salt and black pepper

1 head cauliflower, cut into florets $2.50

¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper

1 tablespoon fresh lime juice, plus lime wedges for serving $0.50

½ cup fresh cilantro leaves $1

2 cups fresh spinach $2

Heat oven to 450 degrees.

Heat the oil in a large oven-proof skillet over medium-high heat. Season the chicken with ½ teaspoon salt and ¼ teaspoon black pepper. Working in batches, cook the chicken skin-side down until crisp and golden, 6 to 7 minutes. Transfer to a plate; reserve the skillet.

Pour off all but 2 tablespoons of the drippings from the skillet. Add the cauliflower, crushed red pepper and ¼ teaspoon each salt and black pepper; toss to coat. Nestle the chicken skin-side up in the cauliflower, transfer to oven, and roast until the cauliflower is tender and the chicken is cooked through, 20 to 22 minutes.

Remove skillet from oven, transfer chicken to serving plates, and add to the skillet lime juice, cilantro and spinach. Stir to combine, and let sit covered for a minute or two so the spinach wilts slightly. Serve with the chicken.

Total cost: $9.50

Source: Adapted from Real Simple

1 cucumber $0.50

2 carrots, shredded $0.99

4 scallions $1

¼ cup vinegar (preferably rice wine, but whatever you have will work)

¼ cup water

Salt and pepper

1 package firm tofu, cut into 1-inch cubes $2.99

1 1-inch piece ginger $0.75

2 plum tomatoes $1

Olive oil

¼ cup soy sauce

1 package udon noodles (you can also use a thick pasta noodle such as linguine), $1.50

¼ cup sesame seeds, $0.89

Using a peeler, shave the cucumber into thin ribbons. Trim the root ends from the scallions; cut the scallions on the diagonal into 2-inch lengths.

In a small sauce pot, bring the vinegar and water to a boil. Remove from the heat, add the cucumber, scallions and carrots, and season with salt and pepper. Cover and let stand, stirring occasionally, while you prepare the rest of the meal.

Bring a medium sauce pot of water to a boil. Add the noodles and cook until just tender, 2 to 3 minutes. Drain and rinse with warm water, then return them to the pot and toss with 1 to 2 teaspoons oil to prevent sticking. Set aside.

While the water heats and the udon cooks, prepare the tofu.

Grate or peel and finely chop ginger.

Cut away the cores from the tomatoes; cut the tomatoes lengthwise into ¼-inch-thick wedges. Season generously with salt and pepper. Set aside for serving.

In a large frying pan over medium-high heat, warm 1 to 2 tablespoons olive oil until hot but not smoking. Add the tofu and ginger and cook, stirring occasionally, until the tofu is browned and crisp all over, 3 to 4 minutes. Stir in the soy sauce and cook until the liquid has thickened slightly and the tofu is coated, 1 to 2 minutes. Remove from the heat and season to taste with salt and pepper.

Transfer the udon to individual bowls and top with the tofu, pickled vegetables and tomatoes. Garnish with the sesame seeds and serve.

Total cost: $9.62

Source: Adapted from Sun Basket

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 tablespoon butter

½ pound stew meat $2.25

1 medium white onion, diced $1

3 cloves garlic, minced $0.50

12 ounces dark beer $1.25

4 cups beef stock $2

2 cups water

1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce, optional

2 tablespoons tomato paste $0.50

½ teaspoon paprika

Salt and pepper

1 ½ teaspoons sugar

4 whole carrots, unpeeled and roughly sliced $1

1 large russet potato, quartered $1.50

Heat oil and butter in a large pot over medium-high heat. Brown meat, setting aside on a plate when brown. Cut pieces in half. Set aside.

Add diced onions to the pot. Stir and cook for 2 or 3 minutes until softened, then add garlic for another minute. Pour in beer and beef stock, then add Worcestershire, tomato paste, paprika, salt, pepper and sugar. Add beef back into the pot. Stir to combine. Cover and simmer for 1 ½ to 2 hours.

Add carrots and potatoes, then cover and cook for an additional 30 minutes. (If stew gets dry, just add a cup of hot water at a time to replenish the liquid.) Taste and adjust seasonings as needed.

Total cost: $10

Source: Adapted from the Pioneer Woman

8 ounces medium shell pasta $1.25

4 ounces bacon $3.15

¼ cup flour

3 cups whole milk $2.10

6 ounces smoked Gouda or Cheddar cheese, chopped $3

1 ¼ teaspoons paprika

Salt and pepper

½ cup panko breadcrumbs $0.50

Heat oven to 375 degrees. Grease an 8- by 8-inch baking dish.

Cook pasta according to the package directions, reducing the cooking time by 1 minute. Drain and set aside.

In a large pan, cook the bacon until crispy. Chop the bacon and set aside. Pour off all but ¼ cup of the fat in the pan. Heat it over medium-high heat and add the flour, whisking until combined, and then cook for 1 minute. Add half the milk, whisking continuously until thickened, about 5 minutes and then repeat with the other half of the milk. Add the cheese and stir until the cheese melts. Stir in the paprika and salt and pepper to taste.

Fold in the shells and bacon and transfer to the greased baking dish. Top with the panko, a pinch of salt and a few turns of pepper. Bake until the top is browned, about 25 minutes. Cool for 5 minutes.

Total cost: $10

Source: Adapted from Molly Yeh

2 cups cut-up seedless watermelon (about ½ pound) $1.75

½ English cucumber, halved lengthwise and sliced $0.50

1 tablespoon fresh lime juice $0.50

Salt and pepper

¼ cup ketchup

3 tablespoons Sriracha or Asian chili-garlic sauce $0.50

1 pound ground pork $2.99

½ medium onion, finely chopped $0.50

2 tablespoons soy sauce

2 cloves garlic, minced $0.50

4 hamburger buns $2.29

Toss the watermelon, cucumber, lime juice, 1 tablespoon canola oil, ½ teaspoon salt and ¼ teaspoon pepper in a medium bowl. Set aside.

Place the ketchup in a small bowl and mix with 1 tablespoon Sriracha.

Gently mix together the pork, onion, soy sauce, garlic and the remaining 2 tablespoons of Sriracha with your hands in a large bowl until just combined. Form the mixture into four ½-inch-thick patties.

Cook the burgers in a large skillet over medium-high heat, about 4 or 5 minutes per side, until cooked through.

Slather the buns with the ketchup mixture and top with burgers. Serve with the watermelon salad.

Total cost: $9.53

Source: Adapted from Real Simple

¼ cup flour

3 teaspoons sesame seeds $0.89 (look for the Badia brand)

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon pepper

2 teaspoons paprika

6 to 8 chicken drumsticks $6.50

2 medium sweet potatoes $1.50

1 small red onion $1

Heat oven to 425 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and spray with cooking spray. If you have one, fit a cooking rack inside the baking sheet and spray that with cooking spray as well.

In a large zip-top bag, combine the first six ingredients. Shake to combine. Add chicken and shake the bag, coating the chicken well with the spices.

Place chicken on the prepared baking sheet, skin-side up, and bake for about 45 minutes, or until the top is brown and crispy, and the chicken is no longer pink inside.

Meanwhile, cut sweet potatoes into 1-inch cubes, and slice red onion into thin slices. Place on a second baking sheet with a large swirl of olive oil and some salt and pepper. Toss to coat the veggies, then place in the oven and cook at least 25 minutes, checking after 15 minutes to move the veggies around on the pan a bit. Cook until sweet potatoes are tender. Remove chicken and veggies from the oven, and serve.

Total cost: $9.89

Source: Michelle Stark, Tampa Bay Times

12 ounces spaghetti $1.25

1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon olive oil

½ pound Italian-style sausage links (turkey or regular), casings removed $3.50

½ pound zucchini (about 2 small), thinly sliced $2

1 medium onion, chopped $1

4 cloves garlic, chopped $0.50

Salt and pepper

½ cup grated Parmesan, plus more for serving $1.50

Dried herbs, whatever you have, such as oregano or basil, for garnish

Cook the pasta according to the package directions. Reserve ½ cup of the cooking water; drain the pasta and return it to the pot.

Meanwhile, in a large skillet, heat 1 teaspoon of the oil over medium-high heat. Add the sausage and cook, breaking it up with a spoon, until browned and cooked through, 10 to 12 minutes. Transfer to a plate.

Reduce heat to medium and add the remaining tablespoon of oil to the skillet. Add the zucchini, onion, garlic, and lots of salt and pepper to taste. Cook, tossing occasionally, until the vegetables are golden and very tender, 15 to 18 minutes (reduce heat if the pan begins to darken).

Toss the pasta with the sausage, vegetables, Parmesan, herbs and ¼ cup of the reserved cooking water (add more cooking water if the pasta seems dry). Serve with additional Parmesan if desired.

Total cost: $9.75

Source: Real Simple

For the dressing:

½ cup red wine vinegar (or whatever vinegar you have)

2 tablespoons honey

1 teaspoon mustard

¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil

Salt and pepper

For the salad:

6 cups stale 1-inch bread cubes $2.99

1 (15-ounce) can white beans, drained and rinsed $0.90

1 medium red onion, thinly sliced $1

1 large peach, cut into 1-inch cubes $2.50

½ cup fresh basil leaves, chopped $2.29

Make the dressing: Pour the vinegar into a small saucepan and bring to a simmer over medium-low heat. Simmer until reduced by half, about 5 minutes. Whisk in the honey until smooth. Remove from the heat and whisk in the mustard and olive oil, and season with salt and pepper.

Make the salad: Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Arrange the bread cubes in a single layer on a baking sheet and bake until crisp and very dry to the touch but not yet toasted, about 10 minutes. Let cool completely.

In a large bowl, toss the bread cubes with the white beans, onion and peaches. Pour the dressing over and toss to coat. Sprinkle with the basil and serve.

Total cost: $9.68

Source: Adapted from

1 pork tenderloin $6.50

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 medium onion, thinly sliced $1

2 cups cabbage, shredded $0.99

1 Granny Smith apple, cored and cut into small strips $1.50

Salt and pepper

½ cup apple cider vinegar (or whatever vinegar you have)

2 tablespoons maple syrup

¼ cup whole grain mustard

Heat oven to 375 degrees.

Wash and pat dry the pork tenderloin. Drizzle with olive oil and then rub to coat. Salt and pepper the tenderloin. Place tenderloin into an oven-safe vessel, like a 9- by 13-inch casserole dish.

Cover with foil and bake 45 to 60 minutes, until the juices of the pork run clear from the thickest part of the tenderloin.

Add some olive oil to a large skillet over medium-high heat, then add onion and season with salt and pepper. Add cabbage and stir, then add apple and salt and pepper to taste, and cook for about 5 minutes, until cabbage is slightly wilted. Remove mixture to a medium bowl, but leave any juices in the skillet. Add cider vinegar, maple syrup and mustard. Mix well, then bring to a boil and cook for 5 minutes. Reduce to a simmer and cook until slightly thickened. Slice tenderloin about ½-inch thick, and serve a couple of pieces on a plate with cabbage mixture. Top everything with pan sauce.

Total cost: $9.99

Source: Michelle Stark, Tampa Bay Times