Affordable Cook-at-home Meal Recipes from the SmartPath Team

One of the most common topics our clients want to discuss isn't about paying off student loans, buying a home or building better credit. No, our clients ask us again and again how to prepare budget-friendly meals with ease. We get it. Food spending can be a budget-buster, especially if you've been ordering food or visiting the grocery store more often.

Since many of us need to rein in our home-cooked meal budget as tightly as possible right now, we asked your SmartPath team to share their favorite easy-to-make and budget-friendly recipes that are truly delicious and worth the extra time and energy. With a little planning, it's totally possible to enjoy homemade dining without having to spend very much money at all.

Cait’s Crispy Eggplant and Chicken Stack

  • ½ white or yellow onion: $.40
  • 2 fresh garlic cloves: $.40
  • 4 tablespoons of pesto:  $.50
  • EVOO: $.50- 1 (29 oz) can of tomato sauce: $1.25
  • 2 (6 oz) cans of tomato paste: $.80
  • 5 tbsp Italian Seasoning: $.20
  • 1 tsp of salt
  • 1 eggplant: $1.25
  • 4 eggs: $.40
  • 1 ½ cups of Italian breadcrumbs: $.30
  • 2 chicken breasts: $2.80
  • 1 package (16 oz) of angel hair pasta: $.99
  • Optional: Parmesan cheese or shredded mozzarella
  1. Finely mince the yellow onion and fresh garlic. Combine minced onion, minced garlic, pesto, and EVOO into a medium saucepan and sauté for 3-5 minutes on medium heat.
  2. Add tomato sauce, tomato paste, Italian seasoning and salt to the saucepan. Reduce heat to low and simmer with a lid.
  3. Wash eggplant, pat dry and thinly slice into rounds. Set to the side.
  4. Cut chicken breasts into halves, then tenderize and cut into round cutlets.
  5. Heat two skillets to medium heat. Add light oil.
  6. Whisk eggs in a shallow bowl. Season with salt and pepper. Pour Italian breadcrumbs into a separate bowl.
  7. Coat each piece of eggplant in egg wash and dredge in breadcrumbs. Fry in skillet 1 until golden and crisp. Repeat with chicken and fry in skillet 2.
  8. Cook pasta, drain and toss with light EVOO to prevent sticking.
  9. Plate pasta, top with alternating eggplant and chicken, top with marinara.

Optional: Garnish with parmesan cheese or shredded mozzarella.

Serves 4
Price per plate: $2.45  

Mark’s Low-Carb Bacon Cheeseburger Casserole

  • 1 pound ground beef: $4.00
  • 1 cup onion chopped: $.50
  • 2 garlic cloves minced: $.25
  • 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce: $.10
  • 2 oz cream cheese: $.50
  • 2 eggs: $.20
  • 1-2 tablespoons mustard: $.10
  • ½ cup heavy whipping cream: $.75
  • 1 cup shredded cheddar cheese divided: $1.00
  • 1 cup shredded white cheddar cheese divided: $1.00
  • 1 teaspoon burger seasoning like Weber Burger Seasoning or McCormick’s Grill Mates Burger Seasoning: $.10
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 3 slices bacon, cooked and crumbled (add more if you like!): $1.00
  • 1 kosher pickle, cut into pieces (add more if you are a pickle lover!): $.25
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Place the ground beef in a skillet over medium-high heat. Add the garlic, onions, burger seasoning, and salt and pepper to taste. Using a spatula, break the ground beef into chunks.
  3. Add the worcestershire sauce and cream cheese. Cook until the ground beef is no longer pink and the cream cheese has melted.
  4. Remove the skillet from heat.
  5. In a medium bowl, combine the eggs, ½ cup shredded cheddar cheese, ½ cup shredded white cheddar cheese, heavy cream, and mustard.
  6. Spray an 8 x 11 or 9×9 baking dish with oil or cooking spray. Pour the ground beef mixture into the dish. Sprinkle the bacon and sliced pickles throughout.
  7. Drizzle the liquid mixture on top.
  8. Sprinkle the remaining ½ cup shredded cheddar and ½ cup shredded white cheddar cheese on top.
  9. Bake for 15-20 minutes or until the cheese begins to bubble.

Serves 6
Price per plate: $1.66

Abigail's Bagel Bread Pudding

Pro Tip: Excellent leftover user; great for next-day brunch!

  • 3 leftover plain or sweet bagels: $1.90
  • 3 large eggs: $.30
  • 1 c. milk: $.50
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract (imitation is fine): $.25
  • 1 tsp cinnamon: $.50
  • 2 tbsp brown sugar: $.25
  • 2 tbsp butter (salted or unsalted), melted: $.80
  • Powdered sugar, for finish: $.251.
  1. Tear bagels into 1-inch size pieces and line a buttered baking pan, insides up and in a single layer.
  2. Whisk eggs, milk, vanilla, cinnamon together.
  3. Pour mixture over the bread pieces, pressing down to ensure they are well coated.
  4. Cover pan and place in fridge for 8 hours (can do overnight as well).
  5. Take the pan out 30 minutes before ready to bake. Sprinkle top with brown sugar.
  6. Pour melted butter evenly on top.
  7. Bake for 30 minutes at 350 degrees. Bread should be golden brown and puffy.
  8. Sprinkle powdered sugar for finishing touches.

Serves 4
Price per plate: $1.20

Vanessa’s Asian Lettuce Wraps

Pro Tip: I have found that I have been craving Asian take-out at least once a week while I have been quarantining. The problem is I can’t get it! All mix-ins can be swapped out with what you have in your fridge or freezer.

Lettuce Wraps

  • ½ lb ground turkey (or meat/tofu of choice): $1.90
  • 1 head lettuce (My favorite is Butter Lettuce): $2.00
  • ½ onion, sliced thin: $.50
  • 2 cups tri-color slaw mix (or just cabbage): $.80
  • ½ zucchini (cut in small cubes): $.50
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder: $.10
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce: $.10

Peanut Sauce:

  • ¼ cup smooth or crunchy peanut butter: $.50
  • ¼ cup hoisin sauce: $.50
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice (optional) $.10
  • 2 teaspoons water (free)

Lettuce Wraps:

  1. Heat a large pan to med/high on your stovetop.
  2. Add in ground turkey and onions. Cook until brown.
  3. Remove onions and turkey from pan.
  4. Add all other solid ingredients (other than Lettuce) to the pan and cook until soft. Return turkey and onions to the pan, and mix all items.
  5. Add soy sauce and mix well.
  6. Remove mixture from heat.

Peanut Sauce:

  1. Mix hoisin sauce, peanut butter, and lemon juice together in a small bowl.
  2. Add water to thin (more water may be needed... add until a spoonable consistency).
  3. Sit out turkey mixture, lettuce leaves and sauce.
  4. Let dinner guests make their own wraps buffet-style or plate smaller portions of each item on plates and each person can construct their dinner.

Serves 4
Price per plate: $1.75

Kayce’s 3-1-1 Stir Fry

The 3-1-1 refers to the key ingredients in this recipe: 3 tablespoons soy sauce combined with 1 teaspoon chili oil and 1 teaspoon sesame oil.

Pro Tip: Frozen vegetables will release excess water in the wok if not thawed prior. Make vegan by substituting tofu or all vegetables for chicken. Make gluten-free by substituting gluten-free soy sauce (tamari).

  • 1 lb chicken breasts: $2.98
  • Boil-in-bag jasmine rice: $.67
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce: $.10
  • 1 teaspoon chili oil: $.10
  • 1 teaspoon sesame oil: $.10
  • 1 teaspoon minced garlic: $.10
  • EVOO or grapeseed oil: $.10
  • Optional: Add Frozen Stir-Fry Vegetables, Canned Water Chestnuts, or Baby Corn: $2 - $6
  1. Dice chicken breasts.
  2. Heat wok with olive or grapeseed oil. When oil is heated, add minced garlic.
  3. After 1 minute, add chicken to cook.
  4. When the chicken is nearly cooked through, add the 3-1-1 sauce mixture (as well as any optional additions such as veggies) and let all ingredients sear in wok over medium-high heat for no more than 3-5 min.
  5. Serve with the jasmine rice.

Serves 4
Price per plate: $1 - $2 (depending on additions and potential dietary adjustments)

Christen's Caribbean Chicken

  • Canned pineapple chunks: $1.20
  • Red onion: $.50- Cilantro: $.50
  • 1 lb chicken breasts: $2.98
  • Jerk seasoning: $.60
  • EVOO: $.50
  • Boil-in-bag whole grain brown rice: $.671.
  1. Combine chopped pineapple, onion and cilantro for salsa; season with salt.
  2. Pound chicken to 1/2 inch thick, then cut each breast crosswise into two equal pieces; sprinkle with jerk seasoning.
  3. In large skillet, cook chicken in EVOO over medium until browned and cooked through, about 3 minutes per side.
  4. Top with salsa and serve over the brown rice.

Serves 4
Price per plate: $1.74

Prices as of May 2020