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
5.0 from 1 reviews
Recipe type: Main
  • 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
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.
  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.
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. Her first book, Brown Eggs and Jam Jars - Family Recipes from the Kitchen of Simple Bites, was published in February 2015.

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  1. Kelly Pepper says:

    Thank you so very much for this recipe! We are trying to downsize a bit until I finish college, and this helped me stay in budget and it tasted amazing! My husband ate seconds, and he just kept saying how great it was.

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