If your food dollar isn't stretching as far as it used to, you don't have to derail your healthy eating habits just to stay under budget. You can enjoy affordable and nutritious meals with a little planning and smart-shopping skills. These frugal meal suggestions will help you prepare delicious dishes that are healthy for both you and your wallet.
Brand-name cereals and flavored oatmeal packets are pricey items on your food list, and many are loaded with added sugar and processed ingredients. To save a few bucks and avoid unwanted additives, buy a container of quick-cooking oats for your morning oatmeal. For a cheap fruit option, head to the frozen foods section and buy a bag of frozen fruit. Top your oatmeal with frozen blueberries or make a breakfast smoothie with frozen strawberries, canned pumpkin, cinnamon and vanilla yogurt. Eggs are a cheap and healthy protein source. For quick scrambled eggs, crack the eggs open and stir in a bowl. Microwave for 30 seconds, then stir the eggs again. Cook for 30 more seconds.
Save yourself a run to the sandwich shop by using leftovers for lunch. Chop leftover chicken breast with onion, garlic powder and an oil-based salad dressing for a tasty chicken salad sandwich. Vegetarian proteins, like beans, nuts and seeds, are less expensive than meat, so use them to add bulk to your lunches. Combine 1/2 cup of black beans, salsa and leftover vegetables in a tortilla shell for a delicious, low-calorie wrap. Top a fresh salad with 1/4 cup of nuts. When you're short on time, soup provides a a quick and affordable meal. If you buy canned soup, choose low-sodium or reduced-sodium varieties. Better yet, make your own soup with leftover meat, veggies and rice. Freeze in individual containers that you can grab on your way out the door.
The price of meat can drive up your food bill, so use less meat and more vegetables in your dinner recipes. Cut back on the ground beef in your baked pasta dish and add a bag of frozen vegetables for bulk. If you're craving Chinese food, make a delicious lo mein with frozen veggies, peanuts, chopped onions, garlic, ginger, ramen noodles and a hint of teriyaki sauce. Make hearty vegetables the main course in your meals. Cut a spaghetti squash in half, fill with tomato sauce, onions, red peppers and a few pieces of chopped chicken and bake in your oven. Remove the squash from the skin with a fork to create a spaghetti-like texture.
Planning is the key to affordable meals. Save money on fresh fruits by buying in-season fruits and vegetables. If fresh produce is too expensive, stock up on low-sodium canned vegetables and fruits canned in water. Fish provides heart-healthy omega-3 fats, so buy a few cans of tuna or canned salmon. Use sales and coupons to stock up on healthy grains like brown rice, oatmeal, barley and whole-grain pasta. If you're running low on cooking oil, try canola oil. Canola is cheaper than olive oil and provides a rich source of heart-healthy fats.
- USDA: Ten Tips to a Great Plate
- USDA: Eating on a Budget: The Three P’s
- USDA: Smart Shopping for Fruits and Vegetables
- USDA: Eating Better on a Budget
- USDA Nutrition Assistance Programs: Eat Right When Money is Tight
- University of Texas at San Antonio: Does Healthy Eating Really Cost More?
- Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: All About Oils
Jennifer Dlugos is a Boston-based writer with more than 10 years of experience in the health-care and wellness industries. She is also an award-winning filmmaker and screenwriter who teaches screenwriting and film production classes throughout New England. Dlugos holds a master's degree in dietetics.