Quick, Budget-Friendly Dinner Recipes You'll Make Again and Again

Shortcut Italian Wedding Soup
Alpha Smoot

There are a few approaches to follow when a quick, budget-friendly dinner solution is needed. This is not the time to fall back on takeout from your local Chinese restaurant or pizza place; in fact, cooking the meal yourself is not only more economical than ordering in, but it's also healthier, too. Instead of picking up the phone, rely on streamlined recipes like the ones in this carefully curated selection. Once you have a few good recipes in your back pocket, you're halfway there.

Several of the quick dinner recipes here rely on products that will make meal prep faster and more effective; be it a bag of frozen shrimp, a tube of pre-cooked polenta, or a bottle of fish sauce. When planning meals, it's important to know where to spend your money and where you can save. Doing the cooking yourself and keeping the recipes simple and fresh is the first step. Then you can justify opening your wallet for a nice piece of Parmigiano Reggiano, which is a good example of where quality really makes a difference. You'll use it for 30-minute pasta dinners as well as the finishing touch on soups like the Shortcut Italian Wedding Soup shown here. It's also delicious over top of polenta and adds a little something extra to many other meals.

There's something for pretty much everybody in this set of quick dinner recipes, whether they are meat lovers, vegans, or vegetarians. Choose from these fast, family-friendly recipes, and—if you set up your pantry, fridge, and freezer accordingly—you'll have a whole new repertoire of meals you can pull off quickly. Other strategies to help you get dinner on the table fast and under budget include using local, seasonal vegetables when possible (they will always taste better and should be less expensive than those that have traveled across the world) or those that have been pre-cut for you. Once in a while, though, a tropical ingredient like fresh pineapple can give you the license to break out of your rut or make your favorite dish from the Thai place you used to have on speed dial.

Let these quick, budget-friendly dinner recipes inspire you to create delicious meals all year long.

01 of 12

Skillet Cod with Bulgur, Zucchini, and Tomatoes

braised cod and bulgur with zucchini and tomatoes
Justin Walker

In true Mediterranean style, this rustic-chic fish dish is as doable as they come. If you can't find harissa powder, use harissa paste which can often be found in jars or tubes (and is a handy panty ingredient to have on hand), or use a mix of equal parts paprika, ground cumin, and ground coriander, plus a pinch of cayenne.

02 of 12

Inside-Out Pork Dumplings

Raymond Hom

Here's a very quick dinner that takes delicious inspiration from Chinese takeout meals. It's as if you took the dumpling filling and tossed it in a pan with the wrappers

03 of 12

Beef and Cabbage Tacos

Yuki Sugiura

Do you have a weekly Taco Night? The quickest, tastiest solution for a filling is seasoned ground beef with raw, thinly sliced vegetables. Here's another trick to get the most flavor from a few ingredients: Grate the zest of the limes before you squeeze them for juice.

04 of 12

Cajun Shrimp and Rice

cajun shrimp and rice in pink bowl
Ren Fuller

Everything simmers in one pan together to create this soulful and filling dinner. Spicy andouille sausage is worth seeking out for its true Cajun flavor.

05 of 12

Thyme-and-Sesame-Crusted Chicken Thighs

thyme-and-sesame-crusted cutlets with copper cutlery
Justin Walker

Boneless chicken thighs are more flavorful and cost less per pound than chicken breast does. They are our go-to cut for easy, budget-friendly chicken dinners. Also, they take to frying beautifully.

06 of 12

Super-Grain Soup with Watercress and Mushrooms

super grain soup with watercress and mushrooms
Justin Walker

A bowl of clear broth, wholesome quinoa, and vegetables is the proof that quick can be healthy, too. Use vegetable broth to make this a vegan dinner or go with chicken broth for a meat-free meal.

07 of 12

Parmesan Pork with Polenta and Asparagus

Parmesan Pork with Polenta and Asparagus
Ren Fuller

This Italian-inspired dinner has only three components, and each one plays off the other perfectly. If you take a short cut and use pre-cooked polenta from a tube, this is a super quick dinner. If you've got a bit more time, save a little money and make a pot of polenta yourself.

08 of 12

Minestrone with Collard Greens and White Beans

José Manuel Picayo Rivera

Beans and greens are two sources of filling fiber in this meatless soup. Make a double batch and you'll have lunch on hand for another day.

09 of 12

Chicken-Teriyaki Noodle Bowls

chicken teriyaki noodle bowls
Chris Simpson

This is sure to become a favorite weeknight dinner—and one that will be easy to pull off if you stock your pantry with staples like rice vinegar and udon noodles, and your freezer with edamame. If you're not an eggplant fan, substitute your favorite vegetable.

10 of 12

Spicy Pork-and-Pineapple Stir-Fry

pork and pineapple stir fry
Justin Walker

Brown rice is the perfect foil for this highly flavored, sweet and spicy stir fry. Plan ahead and start a pot of rice before you begin the stir fry—or cook it ahead of time and store it in the refrigerator or freezer in batches.

11 of 12

Swiss-Chard and Almond Pasta

swiss chard almond pasta on plate with spoon
Chris Simpson

In this fast vegetarian dinner, almonds replace the usual pine nuts to give a nutty flavor and crunch to an unusual and tasty sauce that doesn't require a food processor or a mortar and pestle. It's really that easy.

12 of 12

Grilled Tofu Sandwiches


Another recipe that's bound to become a regular on your weeknight rotation, this vegan baguette sandwich is inexpensive to make and deliciously different. When pressed before grilling and grilled (in a grill pan on the stovetop or on an outdoor grill), tofu takes on the flavors of the spicy marinade and a delicious smoky grilled flavor, too. All the better for pairing with a quick carrot salad that's put together while the tofu marinates.

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