14 Cheap and Easy Summer Meals
Warm weather calls for light, fresh meals that manage to be filling, tasty, and cheap at the same time. Cutting food costs will leave more funds for fun summer activities. To keep the pennies piling up, try these 14 flavor-packed recipes, which combine everyday staples with a few inexpensive extras. The whole family is bound to enjoy this lineup of cheap summer dishes.
Related: 25 Dishes to Make the Most of Summer Produce
This veggie-packed classic is simple to prepare, nutrient dense, and incredibly cost effective. To make four servings, start by cooking one box of dried pasta ($2) in boiling salted water. Meanwhile, chop onion (75 cents), a small head of broccoli ($2), and one red bell pepper ($1.50) and sauté with a handful of frozen green peas (30 cents). Toss the vegetables with the cooked pasta, adding 3 tablespoons of olive oil and salt and red chili flakes to taste (50 cents). Top with minced fresh basil ($1). Total: $2.01 a serving.
Capers are a friend to the frugal cook. A small and low-cost portion (about 60 cents an ounce) yields big flavor and depth. For one serving, rub two chicken thighs ($1) with olive oil, salt, pepper, and a tablespoon of Dijon mustard (30 cents). Place in a baking pan and add one chopped tomato and half of a sliced onion ($1.25). Top with 1 tablespoon of capers (50 cents) and bake at 375 degrees for 40 minutes. Total: $3.05 a serving.
The Italians invented this bread salad to avoid wasting stale bread. For one portion, combine 1 tablespoon olive oil with 2 tablespoons vinegar (any variety) in a bowl and whisk in 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard, 1 teaspoon caper juice, and 1 teaspoon capers ($1). Add one sliced tomato, one-quarter diced red onion, half of a sliced cucumber ($1.50), and 1-inch cubes from three slices of stale or toasted bread (50 cents). Toss to combine and let sit for 30 minutes so the flavors can mingle. Top with minced fresh basil (50 cents), 3 ounces of cubed fresh mozzarella, and a drizzle of olive oil ($1.50). Total: $5 a serving.
This low-cost Israeli dish can be the centerpiece of any meal during a hot summer day. To make four servings, sauté one onion in olive oil in a large pan ($1). Once transparent, add two cans of fire-roasted tomatoes ($5) and cook down over medium heat, seasoning with salt, pepper, paprika, cumin, and cayenne to taste ($1). Crack in eight eggs ($2) without breaking the yolks; cover and cook until the eggs are set. Serve warm with grilled bread ($3). Total: $3 a serving.
Light and flavorful, shrimp are among the cheapest and tastiest ways to add protein to a summer meal. Medium-size shrimp, 16/20 count, cost about $8 a pound, depending on location; figure about 1 pound for four adults. After cleaning and deveining, skewer the shrimp and set aside. In a pan, combine three chopped tomatoes ($2.25) with 8 ounces of chipotles in adobo sauce ($1) and cook over medium heat until combined and thickened. Grill the shrimp skewers until pink, then spoon the sauce over the skewers. Serve with grilled bread ($3). Total: $3.56 a serving.
This bright dish tastes like summer on a plate. For a single serving, heat 2 cups of broth ($1) and toast 1 cup of Arborio rice (50 cents) in a dry pan. Add enough broth to start cooking the rice, about one-half cup at a time. Once the liquid has been absorbed, add another half cup until all the liquid is integrated. Stir in one-half cup frozen peas (30 cents), one-quarter cup grated Parmesan cheese, and 2 tablespoons butter ($1.50). Top with the zest from one lemon (50 cents). Total: $3.80 a serving.
This versatile, time-saving dish can be served warm, chilled, or at room temperature, making it a good choice for large parties or potlucks. To make two servings, combine 1 cup couscous (40 cents) with 1 cup boiling salted water. Stir, cover, and let sit for 5 minutes before fluffing with a fork. Add 1 tablespoon olive oil; salt and pepper to taste; and one-half teaspoon each of cinnamon, nutmeg, and chili powder ($1). Stir to combine. Mix in one-quarter cup toasted and chopped almonds (50 cents), one-quarter cup raisins (30 cents), half a sautéed onion, and half a sautéed red bell pepper ($1). Top with 2 ounces of feta crumbles and some mint leaves ($2). Total: $2.60 a serving.
This vegetarian dish is relatively long on protein and just the thing for summer barbecues. For two servings, cut thick chunks from one red bell pepper ($1.50), one green bell pepper ($1), one red onion (75 cents), two large tomatoes ($1.50), and two large portabella mushrooms ($3). Skewer the pieces in a colorful array and grill until tender. Sprinkle with lemon juice, salt, and pepper (50 cents). Total: $4.13 a serving.
A classic family favorite, hot dogs are a quick, easy, and cheap summer meal. Good quality franks cost about 50 cents apiece, and the bun adds another 30 cents or so. Pile on toppings such as ketchup, mustard, relish, caramelized onion, and sauerkraut ($1) to assemble a tasty meal in no time. Plan on two hot dogs per person. Total: $3.60 a serving.
A light and fresh entrée, this pasta dish for two is a breeze to prepare when using store-bought tortellini. A 9-ounce package from the refrigerated aisle costs about $4. Cook the pasta in salted boiling water until tender. Drain and toss with one chopped red bell pepper ($1.50) and 1 tablespoon each of olive oil and fresh basil leaves (50 cents). Total: $3 a serving.
Replacing wheat- or rice-based noodles with spiralized zucchini is a healthy and cheap way to lighten up any pasta dish. To get tender "zoodles" that hold together and don't get watery when tossed with warm sauce, salt them and drain in a colander for about 20 minutes. Then rinse, pat dry, and put in the fridge on paper or cloth towels for one to six hours before using. One zucchini ($1) mixed with 1 cup of a favorite marinara sauce (75 cents) makes one very large portion. Total: $1.75 a serving.
Traditional lasagna can be heavy, loaded with rich meat sauce and cheese, but this dish is naturally versatile and can be adapted for a light summer supper. Start by cubing and roasting an onion, a zucchini, and a yellow summer squash ($3). Layer a box of oven-ready noodles ($2) with the vegetables, half a jar of marinara sauce ($1), and one small ball of fresh mozzarella, grated or cut into slices ($4). Bake until hot and bubbly and cut into nine large pieces. Total: $1.11 a serving.
This summertime favorite is reminiscent of street festivals and beach boardwalks. Fire up the grill or stovetop and cook down a sliced bell pepper ($2), a large sliced onion ($1), and one large sausage, sweet or hot ($1). Lightly toast a hoagie roll ($1) and pile on the peppers, onions, and sausage, along with their juices, so the flavor sinks into the bun. Total: $5 a serving.
When the grill is going, there's no reason not to toss on an extra onion, pepper, and zucchini ($3). Once nicely charred, this veggie mixture fills 10 corn tortillas ($3). Top each taco with chopped onion and cilantro ($1) and garnish with lime ($2). Serve three tacos a person for a quick, cheap, and lean meal. Total: $3 a serving.