7 Dinners for $16

You’ve probably heard the news that food costs have been rising and will likely continue to increase. Since February, produce prices have grown by nearly 2%, and the index for meats, poultry, fish, and eggs has risen by 0.4%. The spike results from higher gas prices, an increase in commodity prices, severe weather in the Midwest, and supply chain disruption from the pandemic, among others. Many experts have provided sound advice, such as using coupon aggregator apps and calculating unit price before selecting which product to purchase. To help with your immediate desire to eat without breaking the bank, I have created a menu of seven meals and included the cost of ingredients (based on where I live). Hopefully, this menu will help you learn how to integrate cheaper ingredients into your menu without sacrificing taste or nutrition. 

Meal One: Eating Well’s Black Bean Quesadillas (makes 4 servings)

  • 1 15-ounce can black beans, rinsed ($1.00)
  • ½ cup shredded Monterey Jack cheese, preferably pepper Jack ($2.20 for an 8 oz bag; $0.55 for ½ cup)
  • 1/2 cup prepared fresh salsa  ($1.72 for a 12 oz bottle; $0.49 for ½ cup) 
  • 4 8-inch whole-wheat tortillas ($2.47 for 10; $0.99 for four tortillas)
  • 2 teaspoons canola oil, divided ($3.17 for bottle; $0.02 for 2 tsp)
  • 1 ripe avocado, diced ($1.99)

Cost of quesadillas: $5.04 for four servings/$1.26 per serving

Suggested side dish: bagged “Southwest Chopped Salad” $3.63 per bag/$1.04 per serving)

Cost of quesadillas and salad per serving: $2.30

Meal Two: Better Homes and Gardens’ Tuna Potato Cakes (makes 4 servings)

  •  1 cup packaged refrigerated mashed potatoes with garlic ($3.27 per container; $1.32 for 1 cup) 
  • 1 12 ounce can tuna, (water pack) drained and broken into chunkss ($3.28)
  • ⅓ cup seasoned fine dry bread crumbs ($0.92 per 15 oz container; $0.07 for ⅓ cup)
  • ½ cup finely chopped celery ($2.46 for 16 oz; $0.25 for ½ cup)
  • ¼ teaspoon ground black pepper ($2.68 or 3 oz; $0.01 for ¼ tsp)”
  • 2 tablespoons cooking oil ($3.17 for bottle; $0.06 for 2 Tbsp)
  • ¼ cup tartar sauce ($1.06 or 12 oz bottle; $0.18 for ¼ cup)

Cost of tuna cakes: $5.17 for four servings/$1.29 per serving

Suggested side dish: asparagus spears $3.98 for 10 oz/$1.14 per serving

Cost of tuna cakes and asparagus per serving: $2.43

Meal Three: Real Simple’s Sheet Pan Chicken and Sweet Potatoes (makes 4 servings)

  • 4 bone-in, skin-on chicken leg quarters (about 2 lb.) ($1.28/lb; $2.56 for 2 lbs)
  • 2 mediums sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-in. Wedges ($0.70 each; $1.40 for 2)
  • 1 teaspoon chopped fresh sage ($1.98 for ½ oz; $0.20 for a tsp)
  • ¾ teaspoon kosher salt, plus more to taste ($0.84 for 26 oz; $0.01 for ¾ tsp)
  • ½ teaspoon black pepper, plus more to taste ($2.68 or 3 oz; $0.02 for 1/2 tsp)
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil, divided ($4.48 for 17 oz bottle; $0.39 for 3 Tbsp)
  • 3 slices bacon ($3.47 for 16 oz; $1.04 for 3 slices)
  • 3 cups baby watercress ($3.49 for a 4 oz package; $1.75 for 3 cups)
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice ($2.48 for 32 oz bottle; $0.04 for 1 Tbsp)

Cost of chicken and sweet potatoes: $7.41 for 4 servings/$1.85 per serving

Suggested side dish: steamable green beans $1.97 per bag/$0.49 per serving

Cost of chicken with sweet potatoes and green beans per serving: $2.34

Meal Four: Taste of Home’s Skillet Pork Chops with Apples and Onion (makes 4 servings)

  • 4 boneless pork loin chops (6 ounces each) ($6.72 for 24 oz)
  • 3 medium apples, cut into wedges ($0.66 for each Gala; $1.98 for three)
  • 1 large onion, cut into thin wedges ($0.70 each)
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1/3 cup balsamic vinaigrette ($0.92 or a 6 oz bottle; $0.30 per ⅓ cup)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt  $0.84 for 26 oz; $0.01 for 1/2 tsp)
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper  ($2.68 or 3 oz; $0.01 for 1/4 tsp)

Cost of pork chops: $9.72 or 4 servings/$2.43 per serving

Suggested side dish: microwave-ready “Savory Herb Potatoes” $3.97 per 1 lb package; $0.99 per serving

Cost of pork chops and potatoes per serving: $3.42

Meal Five: Food.com’s Quick n’ Easy Meatballs and Gravy (makes 6 servings)

  • 1 pound ground beef ($5.48 for 1 pound of 93% lean)
  • 1 envelope dry onion soup mix ($1.52 for box of 2; $0.76 for one envelope)
  • 1 can cream of mushroom soup ($0.94)
  • 1 ¾ cups water
  • Whole-wheat egg noodles ($1.56 for 12 oz bag; $1.04 for 4 servings)

Cost of meatballs and gravy: $8.22 for 6 servings/$1,37 per serving)

Suggested side dish: steamable green peas $1.00 per bag/$0.33 per serving

Cost of meatballs with gravy over noodles with peas per serving: $1.70

Meal Six: Taste of Home’s Gnocchi with White Beans (serves 6)

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil ($4.48 for 17 oz bottle; $0.13 for 1 Tbsp)
  • 1 medium onion, chopped ($0.70 each)
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced ($0.45 per bulb; $0.09 for 2 cloves)
  • 1 package (16 ounces) potato gnocchi ($2.50)
  • 1 can (15 ounces) cannellini beans, rinsed and drained ($0.58)
  • 1 can (14-1/2 ounces) Italian diced tomatoes, undrained ($0.72)
  • 1 package (6 ounces) fresh baby spinach ($1.98)
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper  ($2.68 or 3 oz; $0.01 for 1/4 tsp)
  • 1/2 cup shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese ($2.78 for an 8-oz bag; $0.70 for ½ cup) 
  • 3 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese ($2.22 for 6 oz; $0.23 for 3 Tbsp)

Cost of gnocchi with white beans: $7.64 for 6 servings/$1.27 per serving

Meal Seven: Eating Well’s Mozzarella, Basil, and Zucchini Frittata (serves 4)

  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil ($4.48 for 17 oz bottle; $0.26 for 2 Tbsp)
  • 1 ½ cups thinly sliced red onion ($0.78)
  • 1 ½ cups chopped zucchini ($0.75 for 1 zucchini; $1.50 for 2)
  • 7 large eggs, beaten ($1.19 for 12; $0.69 for 7)
  • ½ teaspoon salt 1/2 teaspoon salt  $0.84 for 26 oz; $0.01 for 1/2 tsp)
  • ¼ teaspoon freshly ground pepper ($2.68 or 3 oz; $0.01 for 1/4 tsp)
  • ⅔ cup pearl-size or baby fresh mozzarella balls (about 4 ounces) ($1.56)
  • 3 tablespoons chopped soft sun-dried tomatoes ($2.97 for a 3-oz bag; $0.50 for 3 Tbsp)
  • ¼ cup thinly sliced fresh basil ($1.99)

Cost of Frittata: $7.30 for 4 servings/$1.83 per serving

Suggested side dish: bagged “Mediterranean-Style Chopped Salad Kit” $3.33 for 11 oz bag; $0.83 per serving

Cost of frittata and salad per serving: $2.66