What Are The Best Meals Under $2?

Mac and Cheese.
Mac and Cheese. / Monica Schipper/Getty Images

There's a real art to eating well on a budget but, like all art, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. There's merit to trying to get the most nutritional bang for one's buck, attempting to achieve ultimate deliciousness, and taking laziness to an extreme by cutting down on preparatory steps.

But no matter how you slice it, oh what a joy it is to find sustenance without paying a pretty penny. In celebration -- and out of mild boredom -- we've decided to select our favorite foodstuffs under $2.

Kraft Mac and Cheese

This is a very classic, versatile food. Kraft is the Kleenex of the boxed macaroni and cheese world. If you're poor, time-crunched, or just cheap, you can have good old-fashioned processed mac and cheese in, like, 15 minutes. It's perfect for college or kids. You can use this as an easy side or even a main course. Add a couple toppings to mix it up. Experiment with the amount of milk and butter. Go crazy. There are many substitutes from other brands, but you always know exactly what you're getting with Kraft. - Douglas

Taco Bell Double Decker

There was a time growing up when the most innovative science in the world revolved around making existing fast-food products even wilder by finding exotic ways to spice it up. Think stuffed-crust pizza. That blew everyone's minds. Or putting meat betwixt two donuts. Extreme! Taco Bell's double decker is a testament to a so-called radical idea that should have been plainly obvious all along. It solved the problem of loose meat spilling out of a hard-shell taco, which invariably loses structural integrity with a vociferous chomp. As we celebrate its 25th anniversary, let's marvel at how well it's stood the test of time and how each bite is exciting as the first. - Koster

Fortune Udon -- Original Shoyu Flavor

Absolutely not to be confused with its inferior cousin the ramen noodle, this quick and easy lunch is a low-calorie delight. The broth is just flavorful enough but not overpowering -- and not insanely salty like some of the cheaper Asian noodle soups tend to be. Real sleeper item here and a must-try if you haven't had the pleasure. - Koster

Starkist -- Charlie's Snak Kit Tuna Salad and Crackers

Okay, this is going to be controversial and I'll issue the caveat that these are not for shared spaces because no one wants to be downwind of another man's tuna. But dammit, this is a great time. You get to assemble the little cracker sandwiches to your liking and pretend you're a giant scarfing them down. And they're surprisingly filling as lean fish is so protein-rich. Not afraid to admit that I'm into this. - Koster

Ramen / Paul Zimmerman/Getty Images

Maruchan Ramen - Any Flavor

Ignoring the blasphemous nonsense spouted out above about udon "I'm too thick for my own good" noodles, maruchan ramen is the king of salty, savory, internally-warming noodle soup enjoyed by anyone with a discerning palate. Every flavor brings a new dimension and depth to the game and delectable condiments (hot sauce, soy sauce, fish sauce, sriracha) enhance an already scrumpshish dish. Don't be fooled by imposters. Ramen noodle is king. - Giuffra

Ellio's Pizza

Once the roof of your mouth develops a suitable callous layer from the volcanic burn you suffer upon first bite from an Ellio's pizza, you can truly enjoy a delectable mix of crust, sauce, and cheese that frozen pizza rarely offers. A refined Ellio's chef knows the key to perfection is applying Italian seasoning and red pepper flakes to the pizza before putting it in the oven or (gasp) microwave. They also know to add 2-4 minutes to the suggested cooking time to ensure the crispiest crust in the land. At $1 a rectangle, it doesn't get better than this. - Giuffra


You might think I'm cheating here, because we all know a steak-umm can't be eaten alone to enjoy the full extent of its flavor. But at $6.88 for a 14 pack, that's less than $1 per steak-umm. Throw two pieces of American cheese on there (10 cents or less), put it on a roll (20 cents), add some caramelized onions (20 cents) and a dollop of ketchup (not calculating, too cheap) and you have a mouth-watering lunch fit for a Philadelphia cheese steak connoisseur. Just don't tell Pat or Geno you like mine better. - Giuffra

SAUSAGE / James D. Morgan/Getty Images

Italian Sausage

Coming in at just under a dollar a sausage, it's impossible to go wrong. Boil the sausage, toss it on the grill or stovetop for a few minutes to give it a nice and crispy surface, and you're good to go. Want a snack? Slice those bad boys up and serve with a variety of mustards, with spicy being king. Want a full-blown meal? Get some caramelized onions, olive oil, and peppers, cook 'em to perfection, toast a bun, and you have a glorious Italian sausage creation straight off Arthur Avenue. They're also a great compliment for soup, pasta, or even a breakfast dish if you're feeling particularly adventurous. So easy a caveman (me) could make it. - McKeone

Banquet Chicken Pot Pie

I'll be the first to admit you have to be a certain level of twisted to enjoy pot pie that costs $1, but it's good bang for your (literal) buck. The crust is excellent and the chicken is just good enough. Similar to Ellio's Pizza, you must be careful to not permanently damage the inside of your mouth once you're ready to dig in, but it gets the job done. I realize this isn't a ringing endorsement, but if you gotta settle, might as well settle for something that contains the essential food groups and requires you only to work your oven as preparation. - McKeone

Nathan's Famous Hot Dogs

Stick with the classics when eating on a budget, folks. Want a cheap meal and want to feel like you're at the ballpark while quarantined? Then grab a pack of Nathan's Famous hot dogs. A pack of eight is only $3.67, but if you want to splurge you can buy a number of packs and eat them all at once Joey Chestnut-style. That'll give you a solid 20 minutes of quarantine entertainment. - Phillips