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8 Big Healthy Dinners For Under $3 Per Serving

June 12, 2023
Image credit: Make It Dairy-Free

As grocery prices change constantly, it can be hard to find a balance between being a welcoming host and staying within your budget. To make matters a little easier, we found truly delicious, cost-effective summer dinners that will help you entertain your favorite people without breaking the bank, sacrificing flavor, or using low-quality ingredients. These dinners under $3 are perfect for making in large batches for a big crowd, and make great use of in-season produce and inexpensive proteins — so you can serve friends and family a great meal for $3 or less per person.

For these recipes, we checked each ingredient’s current prices, using a variety of sources, including Amazon, Thrive Market, Target, Walmart, and Whole Foods. 

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1. Grilled Chicken Drumsticks

Grilled Chicken Drumsticks

Image credit: Real Simple Good

Drumsticks are one of the cheapest cuts of chicken (they usually cost between $1.50 to $2 a pound) and this is one of those situations where “less costly” definitely doesn’t mean “less tasty.” Drumsticks are a universal favorite because they’re flavorful, juicy, and fun to eat — plus, they’re packed with B vitamins. This grilled drumstick recipe is incredibly easy to make and is an easy hit, and if each person in your party enjoys two drumsticks, the cost should be around $1 a person. Serve with inexpensive summer sides like our favorite potato salad and smoky corn on the cob, and you’ll still be able to provide everyone with a great meal for well under $3 a head.

Try the recipe from Real Simple Good.

2. Vegan Red Lentil Curry

Vegan Red Lentil Curry

Image credit: Rainbow Plant Life

This red lentil curry is surprisingly easy to make, and it’s incredibly creamy, thanks to the inclusion of both coconut milk and almond butter (although you could easily swap the almond for cashew butter if you want it to taste even richer). The whole recipe takes about 40 minutes to put together, and then it lasts days in the fridge — honestly, it tastes even better the next day. Since it’s so good made ahead of time, it’s an ideal dish to feed a large crowd because you don’t have to worry about timing and can focus on the people around you. This recipe is also seriously inexpensive to make since red lentils cost about $3 a pound if you buy them in bulk. With the spices, coconut milk, and other ingredients, this recipe should still work out to less than $2 a person. Naan and basmati rice are traditional accompaniments but feel free to serve with cauliflower rice, brown rice, or quinoa if you want a whole-grain option.

Try the recipe from Rainbow Plant Life.

3. Slow Cooker Pulled Pork

Slow Cooker Pulled Pork

Image credit: Inspired Taste

You can serve pulled pork with whole grain buns for some seriously delicious sandwiches, but also consider using this recipe to make sweet potato hash, chili, and pulled pork burrito bowls. Pork shoulder (commonly called “pork butt,” but we swear this cut comes from the pig’s shoulder) usually costs about half of what pork loin does — it’s among the least expensive cuts of pork you can find (usually around $3 a pound). This is because it’s also one of the toughest, which makes it a perfect fit for slow cooking, a process that turns this tough cut to a perfect melt-in-your-mouth consistency. If you’re making classic pulled pork sandwiches, you can serve them with a bright, vinegary coleslaw and still clock in under $3 a head.

Try the recipe from Inspired Taste.

4. Summer Vegetable Chili

Summer Vegetable Chili

Image credit: The Garden Grazer

This recipe packs plenty of protein with both black and pinto beans, not to mention tons of seasonal produce that’s inexpensive and delicious in the summer, like zucchini, yellow squash, and fresh corn. Even if you opt to garnish with admittedly pricey fresh avocado, you can still make this summer vegetable chili recipe for less than $2 a serving. Serve with homemade baked sweet potato fries, and you’ll have a really well-rounded meal that still costs less than $3 a person.

Try the recipe from The Garden Grazer.

5. Jamaican Jerk Tofu

Jamaican Jerk Tofu

Image credit: Make It Dairy-Free

We don’t normally think of Jamaican cuisine and tofu going well together, but since recipe author Andrew Bernard called his mom to help him make the perfect jerk sauce, we’re sold — if it’s mom-approved, you know it’s the real deal. Bernard’s is a traditional jerk sauce recipe, but as he notes, you can swap regular cane sugar for coconut sugar for a lower GI option. This jerk tofu is incredibly flavorful, and it’s also delightfully inexpensive — even organic tofu usually clocks in at just $2.50 a pound. We’d follow Bernard’s suggestion and serve with his partner Larisha’s vegan Jamaican rice and peas, which rounds the meal out beautifully and doesn’t add much to the cost. All told, the jerk tofu served with rice and peas should cost quite a bit less than $3 a serving.

Try the recipe from Make It Dairy-Free.

6. Cold Chopped Quinoa Salad with Eggs

Cold Chopped Quinoa Salad with Eggs

Image credit: Walder Wellness

This is a nutritionally balanced, easy-to-make meal, with plenty of protein, healthy fats, whole grains, and fresh vegetables. This cold chopped quinoa salad stores beautifully, so you can make it up in advance and serve it right from the fridge when guests are ready. We think that it’s a perfect all-in-one light dinner option, or a great side dish to bring to a barbecue. Since it’s summer, we’d swap out the pomegranates for grape tomatoes, and you could toss in any other fresh, seasonal produce you’d like, too — corn, bell peppers, berries, whatever you have on hand. Even with some great extras, this dish should still cost less than $2.50 a person.

Try the recipe from Walder Wellness.

7. Slow Cooker Beef Barbacoa

Slow Cooker Beef Barbacoa

Image credit: Shutterstofck

Brisket is the cheapest cut of beef by quite a lot — right now, it can be found for $4-5 a pound.  Like other tough cuts, brisket benefits from a low-and-slow approach, which is why a slow cooker is a great way to handle it. This barbacoa recipe uses a medium-sized brisket that yields 12 portions. We’d suggest serving with sprouted corn tortillas, sliced radishes, quick-pickled red onions, and fresh cilantro for excellent tacos that cost less than $2 a serving or opt for barbacoa burrito bowls that still cost less than $3.

Try the recipe from Wholesome Yum.

8. Mediterranean Black Lentil Salad

Mediterranean Black Lentil Salad

Image credit: Healthy Seasonal Recipes

This cold lentil salad is such an elegant dish, and it’s also incredibly versatile, because it’s great served either at room temperature or cold from the fridge. It’s a perfect option to bring along to a cookout or picnic since it’s a complete vegetarian main all on its own — but if you want to serve another protein with it, these lemon-and-thyme baked chicken thighs would be a perfect addition. The lentil salad alone works out to less than $1.50 a serving; add a chicken thigh per person and you’re still under the $3 mark.

Try the recipe from Healthy Seasonal Recipes.

Read next: 5 Organic, Healthy Dinners From Costco That Cost $4 a Serving

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