Budget Burrito Bowls Recipe

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Need an easy, budget-friendly, real food dinner? Burrito bowls are an allergy-friendly, plant-based pantry meal that even help you reduce food waste (who doesn’t love taco leftovers?!).

burrito bowls pin

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When we were really broke, we struggled finding beans and rice dinners that we enjoyed. Certainly, there are plenty of pasta and other budget-friendly dinner ideas, but at some point, I need something that worked with our children’s emerging food sensitivities, and I needed something we could serve to company that didn’t look like “Wow, you’re really broke. Beans and rice, huh?”

Enter Burrito Bowls. They change beans and rice from Boring Budget Meal to Taco Tuesday!

This meal is everything: easy, delicious, comfort food, kid-friendly, flexible, make-ahead, crowd-pleasing, allergy-friendly, real food, and budget-friendly.

We literally cannot ask for more from a meal.

Budget Burrito Bowls

Burrito Bowls are the perfect budget-friendly, crowd-pleasing dinner because you can make it work for you and use whatever is in your kitchen. As long as you have some combination of the basic ingredients, you can make a delicious real food dinner.

To make burrito bowls, serve any combination of the following. At our house, the first 5 ingredients are the most important:

  1. Beans (usually our go-to cumin beans, sometimes just leftover black beans)
  2. Rice (try homemade Mexican rice!)
  3. Meat (ground beef, usually with lentils stirred in to make it stretch, chicken, etc.)
  4. Salsa
  5. Sour cream or plain yogurt
  6. Shredded cheese (try queso fresco!)
  7. Lettuce (or shredded cabbage)
  8. Cheap & simple guacamole or diced avocado
  9. Lime juice
  10. Black olives
  11. Green onions or cilantro
  12. Tortilla chips
burrito bowls collage

Burrito Bowls are:

  • Easy
  • Delicious
  • Comfort food
  • Kid-friendly
  • Flexible
  • Pantry meal
  • Make-ahead
  • Plant-based
  • Crowd-pleasing
  • Allergy-friendly
  • Real food
  • Budget-friendly
  • Vegetarian (options)
  • Vegan (options)
  • Egg-free
  • Dairy-free (options)
  • Gluten-free
  • You can even make them Keto or low-carb!
burrito bowls basics

How Burrito Bowls Help Us Save Money & Eat Healthy

These are the perfect real food budget-friendly dinner for a few reasons.

1. Easy Real Food

Beans? Rice? Meat? Taco toppings? Unless you really love that hot yellow nacho cheese dip, burrito bowls are extremely easy to make from simple real food. You can find the ingredients at most grocery stores, and there’s a good chance you have some combination of them at your house right now.

2. Make it Meatless

Sure, we love them with The Only Beef You Need to Make or The Only Chicken You Need to Make. But they’re also perfect for those days when the budget is tight or you forgot to thaw the meat. Again.

3. Use What You Have

You just need a combination of beans, rice, and toppings (salsa, sour cream, and whatever else strikes your fancy). Done!

4. Awesome Leftovers

Make it once, eat it twice. Or three times, or eight times. Burrito bowls have all the basic ingredients for so many delicious, crowd-pleasing variations (nachos, tacos, taco soup). No one will protest leftovers.

cabbage, cilantro, and green onions

Make-Ahead Burrito Bowls

These are kind of Make-Ahead Meal 101. Not only are burrito bowls extremely easy, but they are extremely easy to make ahead of time.

When I prepare Burrito Bowls on a Meal Prep day, I typically do this:

  1. Make a big pot of beans (pinto or black)
  2. Make a pot of rice (smaller, because leftover rice isn’t as great)
  3. Thaw the meat OR
  4. Make The Only Chicken You Need to Make or The Only Beef You Need to Make
  5. Wash and chop veggies (lettuce, cabbage, tomatoes, peppers, etc.)

Allergy-Friendly Burrito Bowls

Burrito bowls have so many variations that make this extremely allergy-friendly.

Gluten-Free

Done! Burrito bowls are typically cooked with rice and maybe serve with tortilla chips. No flour, no gluten.

Check the ingredients on your tortilla chips. Sometimes gluten is sneaky.

Dairy-Free

  1. Guacamole or sliced avocado give dairy-free burrito bowls that creamy fatty element they’re missing.
  2. If you don’t have or don’t like avocado, try cashew cream! It’s amazing and very easy to make. If you are dairy-free and you haven’t made cashew cream yet, you are missing out!
  3. Try the Vegan Taco Sauce in this recipe!
  4. You can also stir together equal parts salsa and mayonnaise for a creamy taco dressing that makes dairy-free burrito bowls delicious.
Easy Taco Dressing: Combine equal parts salsa and plain yogurt or mayonnaise

Kid-Friendly Burrito Bowls

There is a lot for kids to love about burrito bowls.

From the time our kids were little, we made it a serve-yourself dinner. Everyone makes their own bowls however they like. The only rule is that it needs some veggies.

Our kids have pushed that rule as far as they possibly can (“See? One piece of lettuce!”), but it is still one of their favorite meals.

Budget-Friendly Burrito Bowls

Because the ingredients are so flexible, burrito bowls make dinner extremely budget-friendly. No pinto beans? Use that random can of refried beans in the pantry. No meat? Use extra cheese. No one will mind. No sour cream? Use plain yogurt. Nothing to top it with but salsa and sour cream? The picky eaters will love that.

These leftovers are easy to love, so that prevents food waste. Plus you can easily convert them to more family favorites: burritos, tacos, nachos, nacho dip, taco salad, chili, or taco soup.

chicken, beef, and beans

Keto, Low-Carb, or Paleo Burrito Bowls

If you are on the Ketogenic, Low-Carb, or a grain-free diet you can still make Burrito Bowls budget-friendly! Use cauliflower rice, spaghetti squash, sautéed cabbage, or zucchini noodles instead of regular rice, and skip the beans.

(Go here for more budget-friendly Ketogenic Diet ideas!)

Real Food Burrito Bowls

Real food burrito bowls might look a little different depending on what you’re used to. For me, I try to build my meals around simple, natural, budget-friendly ingredients.

Make these works for you, but some simple swaps that have helped me:

  1. Instead of using a taco seasoning packet (usually full of ingredients besides spices) season the meat with garlic, salt, and pepper, and let the other flavors do the talking. You can also use homemade taco seasoning blends.
  2. Instead of pre-shredded Mexican Cheese Blend (usually full of anti-caking ingredients), shred your own cheese or try Queso Fresco. It’s delicious on burrito bowls, and you don’t need to shred it!
  3. Use real sour cream or plain yogurt. Some brands add a bunch of other stuff to their sour cream that isn’t necessary. Check your sour cream ingredients list – there should only be two or three ingredients.
  4. Tortilla chips aren’t necessarily a real food, but #balance. I try to find affordable organic or non-GMO tortilla chips. Costco, Aldi, and Trader Joe’s are my go-to grocery stores.
burrito bowls cheeses
Queso fresco, plain yogurt, and shredded cheddar cheese

One-Pan Burrito Bowl

We prefer to serve Burrito Bowls buffet style, with each element in its own container so everyone fills their own bowl.

However, if you prefer one-pan meals or you are re-heating leftovers, try the One-Pan method instead:

In a greased 9×13-inch pan, layer the rice, beans, meat, chopped tomatoes and/or peppers, salsa, and shredded cheese. Bake at 350 F for 20-25 minutes, until heated through, Spoon into bowls and top as desired (sour cream, cilantro, green onions, etc.)

Slow Cooker Burrito Bowl

If you’re going to be out all day, and you want your food to be ready when you get home, you can toss it all in the slow cooker.

There are a lot of methods for this, from just precooking everything and letting it warm up together in the slow cooker, to cooking the chicken with everything else in the slow cooker.

If you don’t want to cook your meat ahead of time, try this recipe!

If you try this recipe, let us know! Leave a comment, rate it, and tag a photo #cheapskatecook and @cheapskatecook on Instagram. 

Budget Burrito Bowls

Simple, flexible, flavorful and crowd-pleasing, here's how we build our budget-friendly burrito bowls

Ingredients
  • Beans, cooked (canned or homemade – see Notes)
  • Rice, cooked (brown or white – see Notes)
  • Meat, cooked (chicken, ground beef, or ground turkey – see Notes)
  • Salsa
  • Cheese, shredded (or queso fresco)
Toppings (choose any or all of the following):
  • Lettuce, shredded
  • Cabbage, shredded (red or green)
  • Tomato, diced
  • Bell pepper, diced
  • Sour cream (or plain yogurt)
  • Avocado, diced (or guacamole)
  • Black olives
  • Pickled jalapeños (or fresh)
  • Hot sauce
  • Lime juice
  • Green onions, sliced
  • Cilantro, chopped
  • Tortilla chips
Instructions
Serve-Yourself Burrito Bar
  1. Place beans, rice, meat, salsa, and shredded cheese into individual serving bowls (budget-friendly tip: stir the beans and meat together to help the meat stretch further). Place toppings in their own containers, then have everyone fill their bowls as desired.

One-Pan Burrito Bowls
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 F.

  2. In a greased 9×13-inch pan, layer the rice, beans, meat, chopped tomatoes and/or peppers, salsa, and shredded cheese. Bake for 20-25 minutes, until heated through.

  3. Spoon into bowls and top as desired with the rest of the toppings.

Slow Cooker One-Pot Burrito Bowls
  1. Grease the slow cooker and layer the rice, beans, meat, chopped tomatoes and/or peppers, salsa, and shredded cheese. Cook on low 3-4 hours until heated through.

  2. Spoon into bowls and top as desired with the rest of the toppings.

Recipe Notes

Beans

You can use canned or home-cooked. We like cumin beans or we make homemade black beans. Refried beans (canned or homemade) work great as well!

Rice

 White or brown, or try homemade Mexican rice! You can use quinoa in a pinch or see the Keto options below for more veggie-based ideas. 

Meat

 Usually, we use The Only Chicken You Need to Make or The Only Beef You Need to Make. If I need to stretch the meat further, I stir in cooked lentils (like this). You can also use ground turkey or half turkey and half beef. 

Dairy-Free

Guacamole or sliced avocado give dairy-free burrito bowls that creamy, fatty element they’re missing.

If you don’t have or don’t like avocado, try cashew cream! It’s amazing and very easy to make. If you are dairy-free and you haven’t made cashew cream yet, you are missing out! Check this post for a vegan taco sauce recipe

You can also stir together equal parts salsa and mayonnaise for a creamy taco dressing that makes dairy-free burrito bowls delicious.

Ketogenic/Low Carb/Grain-Free

If you are on the Ketogenic, Low-Carb, or a grain-free diet you can still make Burrito Bowls budget-friendly! Use cauliflower rice, spaghetti squash, sautéed cabbage, or zucchini noodles instead of rice and beans.

Make-Ahead Burrito Bowls

You can make all of these ahead of time:

  1. Beans (pinto or black)
  2. Rice (small pot, because leftover rice isn’t as great)
  3. The Only Chicken You Need to Make
  4. The Only Beef You Need to Make
  5. Wash and chop veggies (lettuce, cabbage, tomatoes, peppers)
burrito bowl toppings

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What You Can Do Now:

What are you favorite Burrito Bowl toppings?

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