Eat Well, Spend Less: My Top Five Frugal Meals (Recipe: Lentil Shepherd’s Pie)

Welcome back to another post in our Eat Well, Spend Less series. Last week we talked about Homemade Substitutes for Grocery Staples, and today I’m bringing you some of our ‘cheap eats’.

How fortunate that some of our most frugal meals are also our favorites.  Our family’s love of legumes definitely helps. Meat – especially organic – is one of the ingredients that quickly drives up the cost of a meal, so we aim to eat vegetarian meals three or four times a week.

Four of the five thrifty meal suggestions below are vegetarian, and most would adapt easily to be vegan; in particular, today’s recipe: Lentil Shepherd’s Pie with Sweet Potato Topping.

My Top Five Frugal Meals

Now, bear in mind that the name of this series is Eat Well, Spend Less. There are certainly far more frugal meals one can make, (particularly ones that come from a box and rhyme with *cough* ‘Daft Dinner’) but I really wanted to focus on the eating well part.

These recipes are complete meals unto themselves and pretty darn tasty to boot. Can they be prepared for pocket change? Absolutely. Do they feed a crowd? Indeed, they do – and well.

Beans, Eggs, Soups, Lentils and a little Beef, let’s see how we can turn them into dinner on a dime.

1. Black Bean Burgers

Packed with protein, these vegetarian burgers are an inexpensive alternative to organic, grass-fed beef. We were surprised with how filling they were, making an already frugal meal stretch even further.
Get the recipe: Black Bean Burgers.

2. Crustless Quiche

Quiche in my house usually means collecting leftovers and turning them into a meal. Yep, flavor additions depend on what needs to get used up in the fridge. Cold asparagus, mushrooms, ends of cheese or that last slice of ham – all find their place in this comforting and ample dish that the whole family enjoys.

Because the quiche can absorb odds and ends of ingredients that might otherwise get tossed, it is regarded as a money-saving meal. Bonus? It comes together in about ten minutes and is a favorite with the whole family.

Get the recipe: Crustless Quiche.

Note: That part about ‘crustless’? That’s just a time saver for busy parents. It also means less carbs, if you’re concerned about them. Feel free to make your quiche the traditional way, with a flaky bottom crust. It will still be considered a frugal meal.

3. Chocolate Chip Chili

If the family is requesting meat, chili is an excellent way to stretch it a long way. Double up on the beans to make the dish even more frugal, and remember, the chili is even better on the second day.

Get the recipe: Chocolate Chip Chili.

4. Seasonal Soups

The not-so-secret to success for making a frugal meal out of homemade soup is keeping the recipe seasonal.

In the fall when carrots are plentiful, I can buy 10 lbs for $0.99 – a steal. I roast the carrots to bring out the sweetness and purée them into a rich, smooth soup. Its nourishing, filling and cheap! Since the soup costs next to nothing, we can accompany it with a grilled cheese sandwich and still have a frugal meal.

The similar principal applies for all seasonal produce. Make soup with the vegetables that are the most available. And if it is January? Make lentil soup.

5. Lentil Shepherd’s Pie

As I mentioned above, my boys really enjoy lentils, so although soup is a favorite, I try and incorporate them into some main dishes as well. This vegetarian take on a classic comfort food, Shepherd’s Pie, is popular among all of our family members – and that is saying a lot. We have a few *ahem* ‘selective palates’ around our table.

plate of lentils

Lentil Shepherd's Pie with Sweet Potato Mash
Print
Recipe type: Main
Author:
Ingredients
  • 1 cup lentils, green or French, rinsed
  • 2 lbs potatoes or sweet potato (I used 3 large potatoes and 1 sweet potato)
  • 2 Tablespoons butter
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1 teaspooon apple cider vinegar
  • 1 Tablespoon ketchup
  • 5 drops Tabasco sauce
  • 1 cup frozen sweet corn
  • Salt and pepper
Instructions
Component Prep
  1. Place lentils in a medium pot and cover with an inch of cold water. Add a pinch of salt, cover and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium low and simmer for 20 minutes until cooked. It is okay if they are not completely cooked, they will cook further later. Drain.
  2. While lentils are cooking, peel and roughly chop potatoes. Place in a pot and cover with cold water. Add a teaspoon of salt to the water and bring to a boil. Simmer until potatoes are tender.
  3. Drain potatoes and mash. Add butter and milk and season with salt and pepper. Cover and set aside.
  4. Heat oil in a medium pot and add chopped onion. Sautée for a few minutes until soft. Add cumin, thyme, cooked lentils, vinegar, ketchup, tabasco sauce, 1/2 teaspoon salt and pepper to taste. Stir to combine.
  5. Add 1/2 cup of water and bring lentils to a simmer. Cook for another five minutes or so, stirring often, to let the flavors come together.
Assembly
  1. Preheat oven to 375°F. Place seasoned lentils in the bottom of a medium baking dish. Spread to cover the bottom. Top with corn kernels. Add mashed potatoes on top and spread evenly. Bake for about 30 minutes until heated through. Serve hot.
Notes
You can play around with the recipe quite a bit and still get a dish that is nourishing, tasty and frugal. I do a combination of mashed potatoes and sweet potatoes and sometimes I'll throw in frozen corn from last summer (just a few bags left!) or peas.

Vegan? Replace the butter & milk in the mashed potatoes with a little coconut oil or coconut milk.

 

~ For more weekly menu plans, visit Menu Plan Monday. ~

Your turn! I’d love to hear of a meal where you spend less but still eat well.

About Aimee

Cooking has always been Aimée's preferred recreational activity, creative outlet, and source of relaxation. After nearly ten years in the professional cooking industry, she went from restaurant to RSS by trading her tongs and clogs for cookie cutters and a laptop, serving as editor here at Simple Bites.

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Comments

  1. I love the idea of Shepherd’s Pie with sweet potatoes and lentils! Inexpensive, delicious, I’m sure, AND healthy! Wow!

  2. Amy, these are such great recipes! I’m going to send this link to my husband and see if I can get his ‘selective palate’ to consider it.
    Amber | Bluebonnets & Brownies’s last post: Fresh Flour Tortillas

  3. Aimee, Can’t wait to try some of these recipes. I love lentils – they’re a standby in my house. And lately – with my hens getting spring fever and laying loads – we’re inundated with eggs. I go with the crustless quiche equivalent – frittata regularly. Great for leftovers.

    I just wrote a post on Healthy Fast Food Tips (Simple Bites is featured in it). And the link to my lentil soup recipe and frittata is there, plus some other tips on eating healthy fast (and frugally!)

    http://fitfamilytogether.com/healthy-fast-food-7-ways-to-eat-better-quickly

    Love your posts!
    Sarah Clachar’s last post: Thinking 101- Put Down The Book And Step Away From The Screen

  4. Faustina says:

    I still have several litres of carrot soup in my freezer from last fall. The whole family has absolutely refused to eat it (I’m shocked, they are usually so easy to please) so I just put in chili or pasta sauce and no one is the wiser.

    I’ve been meaning to try out a lentil pie recipe, so maybe this is the week.

  5. Great post! We’re gluten free so I love the crustless quiche–I’ll have to try your version because I’m not enamored of my current recipe for that. Also my kids would love a dish called “chocolate chip chili”!
    Anne’s last post: A Guide to Meal Planning Based on the Grocery Store Sales Fliers

  6. Love these recipes! We’re gluten free so I’m very interested in crustless quiche–I’m not enamored of my current recipe so I’ll have to give yours a try. Also I think my kids would be eager to try chocolate chip chili, for obvious reasons!
    Anne’s last post: A Guide to Meal Planning Based on the Grocery Store Sales Fliers

    • Good point about crustless quiche being gluten free, Anne. Oh and my little guys loooove the chili. I let them stir in the chocolate chips, and the rest is history.

  7. Oh yummy. I love the idea of a lentil shepherd’s pie. I think for us, our “eat well for less” meals often involve beans (black and pinto are our favourites). We love to use them in tacos, soups and salads.

  8. What a great idea! One of my really close friends doesn’t eat meat, so this is a great alternative when she comes over for dinner. And I looooove sweet potatoes. I’m going to have to set up a dinner date with her now!!
    d.liff @ yelleBELLYboo’s last post: Lemon Poppy Seed and Lavender Muffins

  9. Good idea for lentils! I’ll have to try it…
    jamieS’s last post: Menu Plan Monday – 4-11

  10. All such easy, inexpensive, and hearty options. I’m loving this series, Aimee!!
    Cookbook Queen’s last post: A-B-C Fritatta- a Video- and a Whole Family Cookbook GIveaway

  11. I’m always looking for budget friendly meals. Great roundup!

  12. Some wonderful and nutritious meals to try that definitely won’t break the food budget!

  13. I love these frugal ideas. The black bean burgers look really good.

    One other frugal idea for the quiche is to make a hash brown or potato crust, which is how my grandmother made it. It’s really good!

  14. Love these recipes. We make a spicy lentil burger that is pretty darn good. Tasty and inexpensive.
    Melissa’s last post: I feed the hungry Recipe- Lemon Sandwich Cookies

  15. Each recipe even better then the next! These are fantastic. I had to do a double take-chocolate chip chili! Love it and can’t wait to make it
    Maris (In Good Taste)’s last post: Easy Bread Recipe That Anyone Can Make- No-Knead Refrigerator Bread

  16. All of these recipes sound amazing to me! I’m especially loving those black bean burgers. Yum!!

  17. Great ideas! My frugal fast meals usually consist of something with eggs, with just a sprinkling of bacon, plus a simple fresh salad.
    Brenda @ a farmgirl’s dabbles’s last post: Chocolate Marshmallow Bunnies

  18. I’m going to have to try this shepherd’s pie! Thanks for the recipe! Some of our favorite cheap meals are enchiladas stuffed with refried black beans, dal saag (Indian lentils and spinach) and chana (chickpea) masala. We have a minimal food budget so we eat a lot of Indian and Mexican meatless dishes.
    Frances’s last post: Sweet Cabbage

  19. Ooo….with sweet potato mash?!? YUM!
    bridget {bake at 350}’s last post: Leo the Lion cookies

  20. Maggie @ Maggie's Nest says:

    What she said! The sweet potato mash is what makes it yum!
    Maggie @ Maggie’s Nest’s last post: The Healing Power of Food

  21. I do quiches and frittatas as well to use up all my leftover vegetables, it makes a quick and easy meal out of what you have on hand. Great ideas as usual Aimee.
    Sylvie @ Gourmande in the Kitchen’s last post: potatoes with crème fraîche sauce well dressed potatoes for a guest post

  22. I love these recipes. They are the perfect frugal meals, and they sound fantastic.
    Shaina’s last post: How-To- Basic Cinnamon Rolls

  23. I am loving the sweet potato mash idea!
    Tickled Red’s last post: Nutella Toffee Scones

  24. hmmmm I just want to jump into the screen and eat the Lentil Shepherd Pie and lovely creamy sweet potato mash …. I think I may attempt to make that at home as my mother is a vegetarian (and a good way to get into get good books :p ). My mother is also a great at making frugal food!
    Nisha’s last post: Dinner Party Recipes

  25. What a great idea to make it a Lentils for a Shepard’s Pie. I can’t wait to try this!

  26. I made (a half recipe of) that shepherd’s pie for myself, my fiancé, and a friend, and it was a big hit! My first time mashing potatoes, too, but I thought they came out quite well. Great recipe.

  27. Well I have to admit I was a lentil virgin. I made this last night for dinner and it took just a couple bites for a me to realize that lentils are quite tasty. I was impressed with how easy this really was to make and the sweet potatoes/lentils were a pretty good combo. Thanks for the great recipe!

  28. I swear that this is my list too — I grew up with a world class frugal Mom and have carried on the tradition — except for the “chocolate chip chili” (?!). I go pretty heavy on dried beans, and they are still one of the best nutritional values around, along with veggies from the garden, which do too.
    Barbara @ Modern Comfort Food’s last post: Spicy Corn Fritters with Raita

  29. I make a crustless quiche often. You’re right. Great way to use up leftovers.

  30. I decided to cook a good old Chilli- perfectly suitable for cold weather and has the ability to heat you up in more ways than one!
    I had seeen Nigella adding some dark chocolate to her Chilli Con Carne and it looked delicious.
    Adam’s last post: How to Get Free Olive Garden Coupons

  31. I’ve never seen a cottage pie (shepherd’s pie contains lamb) like that! What a great idea!

  32. Can’t wait to try the lentil shepherd’s pie! Can you tell me what size baking dish you used? (I’m not sure my idea of “medium” is the same as yours.) And does it matter whether it’s ceramic or glass? Thank you!

  33. These are some wonderful options for meatless meals. Black bean burgers are a favorite in our house and I can’t wait to try that lentil shepherd’s pie.

  34. I have to admit I was dubious of the shepherd’s pie, but my whole family enjoyed it and I’ve made it a couple times since reading this. It is quite flavorful. I often have a hard time finding food to make that is flavorful yet not too spicy for the kids. We used all sweet potatoes. Over the past few years we’ve abandoned white potatoes completely. Figure if you’re going to eat potatoes might was well get all the beta carotene and extra nutrients while you’re at it.

  35. They all look delicious, but for me the best one here is the Lentil Shepherd’s Pie. I’m gonna try that one.

  36. In step 5, do you add the lentils and water to the onion mixture?

  37. Steph (The Cheapskate Cook) says:

    Your recipe changed dinner plans from chicken alfredo to this lentil shepherds pie! My toddler loves it too, btw.
    Steph (The Cheapskate Cook)’s last post: Why I Buy Processed Food That I Don’t Eat

  38. I made this shepherd’s pie for dinner tonight and it was great! My meat and potatoes husband even took seconds. I made the lentils and mashed potatoes last night so tonight I could just throw it all together and bake it. Fantastic recipe!

  39. Wonderful post! I have been reading all the EWSL posts, and I love that you included several recipes, not just ideas. I am pretty good with cooking frugally, but new recipes are always great! My husband loves sweet potatoes, so I will be trying the Shepherd’s Pie for sure! Thanks!

  40. I just made this using tomato sauce instead of ketchup. Ohhhhhhhhh jolly! All my roommates love it!
    Lauren’s last post: Berry Kiwi Oatmeal

  41. This dish was wonderful!
    Jay’s last post: Celebrating 34 years with a harvest dinner (photo & video recap)

  42. I made the roasted carrot cilantro soup and it was so good. I am making the lentil sheperd’s pie right now with garlic mashed potatoes. Thanks for all these great recipes.

  43. Laurie Brown says:

    My Shepard’s Pie was a fail :-( I consider myself a pretty good cook but I guess this dish just wasn’t my forte’. I followed the recipe to a “T”…other than I didn’t have sweet potatoes so I used regular. The potatoes were probably the best part of the dish. The lentils/filling were DRY….to a point that my hubby and I both had to down a huge glass of water as we were trying to eat this. I’m not sure what went wrong – by concept I loved this dish. Just bleh….so sorry. Any pointers/suggestions would be appreciated. Thanks!

  44. Julia O'Brien says:

    Thanks so much for the shepherds pie recipe – its delicious! It’s really easy to make and cheap too.
    I bought ready made lentils in a pack that didn’t need cooking which made it even easier!
    Thanks again.
    Julia

  45. We made your sweet potato shepherd’s pie tonight and it was delicious! Thanks for the recipe!
    Bethany’s last post: Serious Pictures, Happy Faces

  46. Thanks for more delicious ideas – that shepherd’s pie is in the oven now, with sweet potatoes mashed with coconut oil and almond milk; the virgin cold pressed coconut oil imparted the most delightful coconuttiness to it.

    I haven’t made the black bean burgers yet but I make vegan gluten-free kidney bean burgers. They are baked and the recipe source said to press the burgers down and reform them halfway through cooking. Not sure what reform means becuase I don’t actually reroll and squash the pattie, but just squisking them with a spatula leaves them very strong after cooking. They never crumble, which I was very impressed with considering that they have no egg or breadcrumbs.

  47. Terrific recipe! I made it tonight and everyone (eventually) enjoyed it, though my picky eater made a lot of noise in advance of actually trying it and discovering he liked it.

  48. I added portobello mushrooms and substituted olive oil in the mash. It was delicious. Thanks! Best thing is that I have been on a lentil kick this spring and had plenty at the ready. I’m also looking for my signature veggie burger recipe and your black bean burger just made my list of recipes to try this summer. Last week it was a smoky sweet beet lentil burger.
    Cassandra’s last post: Why Lanterns?

  49. I linked to this in my March Real Food Monthly Meal Plan post. This is a great recipe for lots of flavor super cheap.

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