3 Simple Summer Dinners for Under $5
Summer fills our noses and taste buds with the flavors of fresh fruits and vegetables -- and our bellies with morsels from the grill.
The catch is that summer meals can be expensive if you're not careful. It's so easy to drop $20 or $25 on a single grill night.
Over the years, my family has figured out several inexpensive and delicious meals. Below are three of our favorites for summer. Two use the grill and one works best in the kitchen on a warm, rainy day. All of these meals cost well below $5 a person and can often feed my wife and three kids for $5 or less.
Grilled Apple Pork Chops and Grilled Vegetables
Buy two inexpensive pork chops and the least expensive 100 percent apple juice for sale at your store. Also buy a pound of whichever non-leafy vegetable happens to be on sale, like potatoes or carrots or broccoli or cauliflower -- mushrooms also work. Go home, add both pork chops to a bowl, add enough apple juice to cover both chops, then stir the chops around a bit. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap, and stick it in the fridge for at least an hour.
As meal time approaches, chop the vegetables and place 2 to 3 cups of the chopped vegetables onto a piece of aluminum foil. Add two or three ice cubes and a bit of salt and pepper (and maybe even a pat of butter), then wrap up the vegetables in the aluminum foil. Then wrap them again. Heat the vegetable packet over medium heat on the grill for 20 minutes.
Put the pork chops on the grill as well. My usual pork chop grilling technique is to turn the heat on the grill up as high as possible for several minutes to preheat the grill, then toss on the pork chops for two minutes. I then reduce the heat to medium, flip the pork chops and allow them to cook to completion (this is usually when I add the vegetable pack). The chops will usually finish before the vegetables, but that's fine, as you can allow the chops to rest.
The total cost of this meal, based on recent prices at my local grocery store, is under $3 per person. Most of the cost is in the pork chops, which have a variable price.
Grilled Fish Fillets With Tomato-Corn Relish
Pick up two fillets of whatever type of fish is on sale at your local store, along with four ears of sweet corn and two tomatoes (which are cheap in the summer growing season). You'll also need dried basil if you don't already have some in the pantry, as well as some olive oil. A side of steamed vegetables works great as a side, so pick up steam-in-the-bag frozen vegetables.
Brush the fillets with olive oil, and dash them with some salt and pepper. Then grill them over medium heat. I usually grill fish by either wrapping them entirely in aluminum foil or covering the grill with a sheet of aluminum foil. I judge fish by their flakiness to determine if they're done. Gently drag a fork across the surface of the fish -- if pieces easily start flaking off, the fish is ready.
While the fish are on the grill, cut the corn kernels off the cob and dice the tomatoes. Then mix this all together with a few dashes of basil, a dash of salt and a dash of black pepper. Cook the other vegetables, then gently season them with salt and pepper as well. Serve the relish and vegetables on the side with the fish.
This meal is often inexpensive, but it depends on the availability of fresh fish, so the price can vary by location. We have prepared this meal in the past for free by using fish we caught ourselves and vegetables from our own garden.
This is one of the most popular dishes around our house -- and it's so cheap! All you need is half a cup of butter, four mashed garlic cloves (I like to grill a bunch of garlic to make it soft, then use it for other things during the rest of the week), 3 tablespoons of lemon juice, two heads of broccoli, two chicken breasts (or fish fillets) and a pound of pasta noodles.
Simply cook the pasta, drain it (saving about 2 tablespoons of the liquid) and put the pasta aside. In the same pot you cooked the pasta in, mix the butter, mashed garlic and lemon juice, and allow it to cook for about two minutes, adding a bit of salt and pepper to taste. Coat the pasta with the sauce and serve it.
Along with this, you can add chicken breasts or fish fillets. No fancy cook is required; just grill them with a bit of olive oil. You can also chop the broccoli head into individual florets, and steam them in a microwave on high for three minutes with 2 tablespoons of water in a lidded bowl.
Altogether, you can assemble this meal at current grocery prices for about $7.50 for two people, meaning dinner for two costs only $3.75!
Enjoy these delicious meals in your kitchen or on your patio. All of them are cheap and full of summer freshness and deliciousness!
Trent Hamm is the founder of the personal finance website TheSimpleDollar.com, which provides consumers with resources and tools to make informed financial decisions.