Cook-cheapSince I don't cook well to begin with, cooking well on a budget tends to be even more problematic. But what I actually do very well is to consult my iPhone about practically everything. In fact, I'm on it daily looking up questions like "Can my tortoise eat (fill in the blanks)?," or "Is (such and so) safe for parrots to eat?" So recently it occurred to me I might consult it for recipe ideas for myself too! I found some neat menu planning recipe apps that are budget-centric—I hope you will find value in them too!

What is a “budget meal?”

Obviously, this definition can differ based on a nearly infinite number of variables. USA Today reports national statistics on this very question. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the average American family (two adults, two children) spends between $146 and $289 per week. This cost includes only meals and snacks prepared at home (factoring out fast food pit stops, vending machines and eating out).

Across the spectrum this breaks down to:

  • $36.50 per person/week – $72.25 per person/week
  • $5.21 per meal/snack – $10.32 per meal/snack (or 28 different menus/week).

So in terms of a "budget meal," here we are looking at any single meal or snack that falls in the $5-$6 range. Your budget may differ up or down from this, of course. And you may find your recipe costs actually decrease the more people you need to feed (here it is all about buying in bulk)!

Now that you have a sense of where the "budget" in recipe planning comes from (according to both the USDA and your own couponing skills!), these apps can give you that extra leg up to save!

1. Woman's Day 100 Budget Meals

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This app features five categories (Quick, Light, Kids, Gluten friendly, Healthy/Low fat) in a searchable database. You can search by your main ingredient(s) and by category. App extras include a cooking timer, customized shopping lists, editable recipes and even photo sharing to Facebook.

2. Slow Cooker Recipes

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I actually own a small Crock-Pot (left over from my glorious past days as a grocery store brand ambassador). Two things amaze me about it: 1) it is nearly impossible to screw a recipe up, and 2) things you can make in it are very cheap! So no "budget recipe app" list would be complete without adding a slow cooker app.

Note: User reviews indicate that the $3.99 CROCK-POT™ iOS app is actually the very best slow cooker app choice—and it does come with free monthly bonus recipes. But I listed both because, after all, we are talking about budgets here—so you can check them both out and decide which app you want.

3. Food Network in the Kitchen

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My mom is a huge Food Network fan. She even has my dad into it (and if there is one being on the planet with fewer cooking skills than me, it’s my dad). As a lifelong couponer, Mom especially likes the budget menu videos by her favorite FN check, Alton Brown. All that to say, for budget recipes, this app is a must.

4. SuperCook

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SuperCook is a virtual, ingredient-to-recipe, matching website. All you have to do is click on the item(s) you have, or type in the names of each ingredient, and the site will pull up a list of recipes that use those items. This app is particularly useful for finding recipes on seasonal or on-sale items so you can find the cheapest recipes out there.

5. Budget Dinners

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Finally, Budget Dinners is a fairly new app that is offered for $1.99 for a limited time only. Each meal featured in the app costs less than $15 and feeds 4-6 people depending on portion sizes (so this is around $3 per person per meal). Best of all, the app features healthy options with a wide variety of ingredients (not always easy to find in a "budget dining" app).