5 Home-Cooked Meals That Will Make Your Budget Happy

One thing that can really increase the cost of feeding your family is eating out at restaurants too often. Cooking at home is not only healthier for you and your kids, but it’s easier on the wallet as well!

See for yourself in this post just how much less expensive it is to eat home-cooked meals, with examples of the costs of family dinner recipes compared to several fast-food meals.

Is cooking at home really cheaper than eating out?

With so many families now living rushed lives in this day and age, we are choosing to eat out at restaurants more often than ever before.

It seems as though kids’ activities usually take up the majority of the late afternoons and evenings, just at the time that a family should be sitting down for dinner.

This means that mom doesn’t usually have a lot of time to prepare a full on dinner for her family that they can sit down to eat. She might also feel exhausted after a busy day and opt to call for take-out rather than get into the kitchen for an hour or two of cooking and clean up.

Unfortunately, those easy-t0-get meals are adding up to big restaurant bills every month. The cost of the convenience of buying ready-to-eat food is taking away our abilities to pay for other items in our budgets, or for adding to our savings accounts.

We might believe that eating at low-cost fast-food restaurants aren’t hurting our budgets too badly. After all, they have dollar menus and family meal deals!

While it may be nice to go out to eat once in a while, the reality is that it IS much less expensive to eat meals at home, and I have the analysis to prove my case.

chicken and tomatoes in a cast iron skillet.

The cost of eating out for a family of 4

So in order to take a look at how much cooking at home saves the average family, I looked up what meals cost at 3 popular fast-food restaurants for a family of 4.

Eating out at McDonald’s

For example, if your family decides to eat at McDonald’s, you would need to purchase 4 meals…2 adult meals and 2 kids’ meals, or, if your kids are older, 4 adult meals. Let’s say that you like the Quarter Pounder hamburger, while your kids like the hamburger happy meal.

The cost of the meals varies based on location, but in my area (Central Maryland), a Quarter Pounder with Cheese meal, which includes a medium fries and drink, runs about $5.79 plus tax. A hamburger happy meal, which includes one side (fries, yogurt or fruit) and a drink (milk, juice or soda), runs about $2.49.

So the cost of 2 Quarter Pounder meals and 2 hamburger Happy Meals is $16.56, plus tax, or about $17.55. The cost of 4 Quarter Pounder meals is $23.16, plus tax, or about $24.55.

Eating out at KFC

At KFC, you can easily feed a family of 4 with one of their bucket meals. The basic bucket meal comes with 8 pieces of chicken, mashed potatoes, gravy, coleslaw and 4 biscuits.

The cost of the basic bucket meals is $20, plus tax, or $21.20. If you want to add drinks, the total will increase.

Eating out at Pizza Hut

The price of a large pepperoni pizza from Pizza Hut in Central Maryland is $16.24, plus tax, or $17.21. I

But a single pizza might not be enough for a family of 4, especially if you have one or two teenage boys living under your roof! And if everyone wants a drink, this price will increase.

While eating one dinner for under $25 doesn’t sound like that big of a deal, remember that the cost is often more because we don’t always pick the cheapest option when eating out. And this price is just for 1 meal…no leftovers to eat later for lunches or a second dinner.

Now let’s take a look at 5 of my most popular dinner recipes and break down the cost to prepare each one.

bowl of roasted kielbasa sausage and vegetables on the kitchen table.

The cost of eating at home for a family of 4

These simple meals are dinners that I’ve made for my family countless times, so I know that they are not only tasty, but pretty easy to make as well. I don’t like meals that take a lot of prep work or require me to babysit them.

So when calculating the cost of each meal, I thought about my own grocery-buying habits and what an average mom might decide to purchase.

For example, I don’t always take the time to grate my own cheese. It’s probably cheaper to do so, but I like the convenience of buying already shredded cheese.

I also use a good number of store-bought items, like salad dressing and rice mix. Again, it’s probably cheaper to make your own, but I opted to use some store-bought ingredients in these cost-breakdowns.

When it comes to brand names, I don’t usually have a favorite, and will buy whatever is the least expensive. For these lists below, I chose the store brand item whenever possible.

The cost of these meals can be lower if you chose to make your own salad dressing or made plain rice instead of buying a box of already seasoned rice mix. I just wanted my pricing to look more realistic and reflect what I think the average mom would use.

The prices in this list come from the Kroger website, accessed in late May 2020. I chose Kroger because it is a very large grocery chain and I thought that a good number of people would be familiar with it. I noticed that their prices were a bit cheaper than what I find in stores local to me…you may find that the prices are more expensive than in your area.

To see the amounts used for each recipe, just click on the recipe name and it will take you to the recipe page, where you can find the ingredient lists and directions for making each meal.

Easy One Pan Sausage and Veggie Dinner

Sheet pan meals are some of my favorite things to make for dinner because they cook by themselves in the oven, and because there is only one pan to clean up afterward!

This easy dinner contains protein and healthy vegetables in the main entree. I’ve added a loaf of bread and a simple salad, consisting of romaine lettuce, tomato, cucumber and store-bought bottled dressing, to round out the meal.

Here’s how much our kielbasa dinner costs:

Olive Oil$.89
Parmesan Cheese$.14
Onion Powder $.05
Loaf of French Bread$1.99
Salad (romaine lettuce, tomato, cucumber and salad dressing)$2.97

Quick and Easy Broccoli Cheddar Soup

This warm and comforting soup is great to serve up for dinner on chilly evenings. The recipe makes such a big batch, that you’ll probably have leftovers for lunches for several days.

To go along with our soup, I’ve added a loaf of French bread and the simple salad that you saw in the recipe above.

Here’s how much our Broccoli Cheddar Soup costs:

Cheddar cheese$3.99
Chicken Broth$2.72
Loaf of French Bread$1.99
Salad (romaine lettuce, tomato, cucumber and salad dressing)$2.97

Baked Spaghetti and Meatballs

Spaghetti and meatballs is one of my family’s favorite meals…the kids especially love it! It’s also pretty simple to throw together on a busy weeknight.

In this cost-breakdown, I looked at purchasing fresh meatballs from the meat case, as well as a package of frozen meatballs from the freezer section. For a package of 12 good-sized fresh meatballs, the price was $3.99. The frozen meatballs came to $4.99, so I went with the fresh variety.

I’m also adding our bread and salad, as in the previous meals.

Here’s how much our Baked Spaghetti and Meatballs costs:

Spaghetti sauce$.75
Sundried tomatoes$2.00
Parmesan cheese$.22
Mozzarella cheese$.57
Fresh parsley$.40
Loaf of French bread$1.99
Salad (romaine lettuce, tomato, cucumber and salad dressing)$2.97

Slow Cooker Vegetable Soup

This soup is another one of our family favorites. It’s not only delicious and full of veggies, but I can throw everything into the crock pot and forget about it until it’s time to eat.

There is also a lot of leftovers with this soup, which helps to stretch the budget further. I’ve only added a loaf of bread to this meal in the cost-breakdown, as there are so many veggies in the soup itself that I don’t usually feel the need to add a salad.

Here’s how much our Vegetable Soup costs:

Ground turkey$7.58
Canned lima beans$.98
Canned mixed vegetables$1.42
Canned corn$.61
Canned carrots$.71
Canned diced tomatoes$2.20
Loaf of French bread$1.99

Oven Baked Chimichangas

I’ve been making this recipe since I was first married, a LONG time ago! 😉 It’s a favorite because it’s just so delicious, and I have to say, easy to make after a long day.

These chimichangas pair well with a Spanish rice. Homemade rice is good and less expensive (usually), but I’m including the price of a boxed rice mix here.

A bag of frozen mixed vegetables, cooked on the stove or in the microwave, completes the meal.

Here’s the cost of our chimichangas:

Canned chicken$3.69
Canned refried beans$.82
Canned green chiles$.77
Green onions$.25
Cheddar cheese$1.14
Boxed rice mix$1.28
Bag of frozen mixed veggies$1.00

Cooking at home IS less expensive than eating out

So you can see that every single home-cooked family dinner was less expensive than all of the fast-food restaurant meals.

I would argue that the price of the homemade dinners is even less than shown above, because most of them make so much food that you often have leftovers. This means that the price of each recipe is stretched between 2 and sometimes 3 meals, making it much smaller.

The other benefit of eating at home is that the food is usually much healthier! Did you see any vegetables in any of the fast-food meals? I only saw the coleslaw that was included with the meal at KFC. There are also a lot of additives and preservatives in fast-food, which are not good for growing kids, or adults, for that matter.

Do yourself…and your budget…a favor and think about cooking at home more often. As you can see, it is less expensive, healthier, and it doesn’t have to take a lot of time!


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