Here are four of our favorite budget dishes - I haven't priced them out individually, but can always count on them to be affordable and liked by the whole family!
For each pizza - 1/4 c marinara sauce,
1 small whole-wheat pita, 2 slices deli turkey chopped or shredded, 1 Tbsp chopped scallions, 2 Tbsp part-skim mozzarella. Heat under broiler or on cookie sheet in 400 oven until cheese melts slightly. These are so much cheaper and healthier than take-out!
Mock Shepherd's Pie
Brown at least 1 lb of ground turkey or beef with finely chopped onions, some garlic or garlic powder to taste, and salt/pepper. While meat browns, whip up one batch mashed potatoes - homemade, envelope, box, whatever - your choice! When meat is done, blend in 1 can mushroom soup thinned with 1/2 can milk or water, 1 TB soy or worcestershire sauce, 1 - 2 cups frozen peas/carrots or mixed vegetables. Place meat/veg mixture in baking dish, top with mashed potatoes. If you have a little grated cheese, sprinkle on top. Heat in 350 oven until heated through and potatoes begin to brown. This is a really cheap recipe that our family has always loved - just watch for the ingredients on sale, then you can have them in reserve.
Variation on Meat Pie as above: Prepare the same way, but top with frozen "Tater Tots" instead of mashed potatoes. The generic brands are cheap and good!
Buy the veggies that are the cheapest in-season and that family will like: zucchini, yellow squash, broccoli, red onion, red/green bell pepper, carrot, celery, etc. Saute in large skillet or wok in thin layer of cooking oil. Add minced garlic (watch for jars on sale), tofu or leftover meat if desired. When ingredients reach your preferred level of done-ness, remove from heat and season to taste with hoisin, plum sauce, and/or chili garlic sauce, bought at sales of course - try the dollar store or Asian markets for these. Serve over brown rice. The trick to keeping this dish on budget is finding the veggies at their lowest price, and stocking the sauce and rice into the pantry when you find a deal.
I now buy lots of pastas, spices and sauces at the Dollar Tree - it's helped my cooking budget, just as the cleaners have for our household expenses. Best of luck!