Healthy Meals on a Budget - Tips for Easy Cheap Meals
Cooking shows make it seem all-too-easy to whip up a fantastic meal from scratch. But if you're not an experienced chef, you might find the task of making your own meals a little daunting. And when you add in the costs and time it takes to make your own food at home, a takeout dinner looks even more appealing. To make sure you stick to your health goals as well as your financial goals, keep things simple with easy cheap meals. The tips in this guide will help you create cheap healthy dinners for yourself, you and your partner or a whole family.
Shop the Sales
The best way to make your dinners cheaper is to look for sales on ingredients. Look online for your favorite stores' coupons or pick up a weekly circular to see what's marked down. Then, you can decide on what meals to make based on which recipes have the cheapest ingredients.
For example, you might see that tortillas, cheese and chicken are on sale. Pick those items up from the store and you'll have several fast, easy dinner options: chicken enchiladas, chicken tacos and chicken quesadillas. To make these meals healthier, add veggies like tomatoes, lettuce, onions, avocados, bell peppers, black olives, corn or green chilies.
Consider stocking up on ingredients when they're on sale if you frequently use them in recipes. For non-perishable items that won't stay fresh in the pantry, consider freezing them in batches. This is a great way to save on fruits and veggies; buy them in season and freeze them to spend less in the long run.
Buy Whole Ingredients
If you're willing to sacrifice just a bit of convenience, you can save even more on your grocery items for the week. Many ingredients are much more affordable when purchased as "whole foods" instead of pre-packaged versions. For example, you can spend less by buying a block of cheese and shredding it with a grater at home instead of reaching for a bag of shredded cheese. The same goes for items like beans, which are cheaper dry then canned. Instead of getting pre-sliced fruit from the produce department, buy it whole and chop it yourself at home.
Get a Slow Cooker
One of the best ways to make healthy meals on a budget is to use a slow cooker. There are so many cheap crock pot meals that require only a few ingredients and hardly any effort. You can simply dump the ingredients in before you leave for work, turn the slow cooker on low and have dinner ready and waiting for you when you get home later.
You might be surprised by how versatile a slow cooker can be. One delicious and healthy crock pot meal you may want to try is veggie crock pot lasagna. Just break the noodles to form layers and fill the gaps in between with cottage cheese, low-fat shredded cheese, tomato sauce and chopped veggies. It's a fun and easy twist on traditional lasagna that's better for your waistline and your wallet.
Swap in Healthy Ingredients
Consider some of your favorite go-to meals and think about healthy and inexpensive ingredients you could use instead. For example, instead of traditional pasta, consider trying zero-calorie, cholesterol-free shirataki noodles instead. Use olive oil instead of butter or coconut milk instead of cream. You could use rolled oats instead of bread crumbs or use two egg whites instead of a whole egg.
Rethink which meats you use, too. You can make burgers healthier by making veggie burgers, black bean burgers or turkey burgers. Opt for lean prosciutto or turkey bacon over regular bacon, or top your pizza with tons of tasty veggies instead of meat. These small substitutions in your recipes can be a great way to spend less and eat healthier.
Make More for Leftovers
Whether you're making cheap meals for two or cheap family meals for a whole crowd, always plan for leftovers. A great way to spend less is to simply make a bit extra with the recipe you already have in mind, then save the leftovers to enjoy in the following days. This cuts back on the overall ingredients you need to buy at the grocery store for the week and also provides tasty, affordable lunches and dinners for the family.
Don't forget that many budget-friendly meals can be repurposed in fun ways. If you make tacos with shredded chicken, you could use the leftover meat to top a tasty salad for lunch or make a delicious bowl of chicken noodle soup with a little extra flavor.
Cut Back on Snacks
Most of the foods we think of as snacks, like crackers, chips and cookies, are quite expensive. These processed foods are also bad for your health because they offer little or no nutritional value. If you cut way back on your junk food purchases, you'll save a lot of money. You can replace those snacks with healthier options like nuts, fruits, Greek yogurt and whole-grain, high-fiber cereals.
The key to cheap healthy dinners is to find foods you actually love to eat and which don't require a lot of effort. Once you've found those recipes, make a few healthy substitutions and keep those meals on rotation. If you do that, you'll always have filling meals and leftovers to keep your waistline trim and your wallet fat.