Cheap Healthy Meal Plans
Planning your food expenditures can be one of the more difficult aspects of budgeting, particularly when you wish to maintain a healthy diet. Healthier food is often either more expensive or more time consuming to prepare. Sometimes it is both! Moreover, if you are anything like me you will find yourself overestimating your time and commitment to preparing meals, which will ultimately result in a busted budget and a busted diet. So, to help you avoid the traps I fell into when I first started budgeting for a healthy diet here are some tips.
First, be realistic about your expectations. If you are unused to preparing meals or making food that require large amounts of preparation recognize that about yourself. Otherwise you will find yourself with a refrigerator full of groceries you are to tired to use and a fast food bill for a diet that would be difficult to categorize as healthy by anyone's standards.
Begin with only one or two small changes. Consider adding one higher preparation meal to your meal rotations. Switch one or two items in your cart for healthier alternatives (i.e. buy whole grain bread instead of white bread or buy a whole grain cereal instead of marshmallow cereal). After a month with the new change add another meal to your repertoire. To help you get started I've include four healthy, inexpensive meals to help you get started.
Hot Cereal Ingredients
- 1/4 cup per person 7 Grain Cereal, Rolled Oats, Brown Rice or other hot cereal
- 1/8 cup per person apples, blueberries, cranberries, raisins, or other fruit, dried (see insturctions for fresh)
- 1/16 cup per person walnuts, pecans, or other nuts, chopped
- to taste cinnamon, maple, orange zest, nutmeg, or other spice
- 5/8 cup per person water
Hot Cereal Instructions
- Add the water and dried fruit to a pan and place on the stove on high. (Use 1/8 less water per person in using fresh fruit and save the fruit to add with the nuts.)
- Go fix your hair or put on your make-up. When you are done the water should be boiling. Add the oats and spice(s), stirring for about five minutes. (If you are using rice the cover, reduce to simmer and leave it for 10 to 15 minutes.)
- Top with nuts and serve with milk.
Hot Breakfast Cereals
Oatmeal (or any hot whole grain cereal) is a healthy breakfast that only takes about ten extra minutes of your morning. Buy the cereal from the bulk foods section of your local grocery store or, if you have the storage space, consider buying larger quantities online. Wheat Montana sells 50lbs of hot cereal for only $38.29 - that is less than a dollar a pound. With only a ten minute time investment this can be a good place to start trimming the fat from your budget and your diet.
To the right I've listed some of your oatmeal options from which you can mix and match. My family particularly loves oatmeal (made with orange juice rather than water), cranberries, walnuts and orange zest. It is a breakfast that makes me love fall.
Also, if you are making rice, which I personally love with raisins and cinnamon, there is less preparation time but more total cook time so plan accordingly. Start the water boiling early, like when you hop in the shower. When you get out the water is boiling so add your rice, cover and simmer. The rice can simmer for 20 minutes before you need to worry about it so that should give you the time to dress. Then sit down to a warm meal before rushing into the cold world.
Homemade Chili Ingredients
- Pinto, white, navy, garbanzo, kidney, black beans, or other beans dried or canned
- Bell pepper, green chili, banana pepper, jalapeno or other pepper
- Tomatoes, corn, garlic, onions, olives
- Chili powder, paprika, cumin, garlic salt or other spice to taste
Homemade Chili Instructions
- If you are using dried beans you will need to soak them overnight.
- Rinse your beans and add to your slow cooker. (Unless you are using canned, spiced beans, in which case add spices and all to the pot.)
- Add your choice of peppers and any remaining vegetables.
- Add a chili spice package or spices of your choice.
- Cook on low for the day.
Chili is another inexpensive, yet healthy meal choice. Beans are an easy way to get protein at a fraction of the price. And, should you decide to splurge for a more expensive protein to add to the pot, it will go much further than a more traditional meal of meat and potatoes. Moreover chilies are chock full of vegetables.
Dried beans are cheaper with less sodium than canned varieties. However, dried beans require more preparation and canned beans can often come pre-spiced, which can be a boon when you are not yet confident of your cooking choices. The link to beans under ingredients will give you a whole list of beans to choose from. If you are nervous begin with pinto beans, which are a traditional chili bean. In my family we like to mix our beans - most recently pinto, white and garbanzo with green chilies and olives in a chicken stock.
There is also a link to peppers in the ingredient list. It includes pictures and a brief description of the peppers. As a place to start know that bell peppers will make a sweeter chili, while mild green chilies will add just a touch of heat (which paired nicely with the cooler taste of the olives).
As to your other vegetable options corn will provide a sweeter chili. Onions will bring out the flavor. Tomatoes have a more acidic flavor. Olives can provide a touch of contrast to your chili. Garlic has a very strong flavor so use sparingly.
Chicken broth provides a nice base for your chili and will pick up other flavors well. I usually skip the salt as I often buy canned beans. But I will add a little cumin for a milder flavor or chili powder and/or paprika for more of a bite.
I tend to make an entire pot of chili. Then I freeze the leftovers in freezer bags. That way I can portion out family sized amounts, which will freeze flat. And when next we want chili all I have to do is heat and serve.
Spaghetti Sauce Ingredients
- tomatoes diced or stewed
- tomatoe sauce
- onions, green olives, black olives, garlic, bell peppers, mushrooms, spinach or other vegetables
- ricotta, Parmesan or mozzarella cheese
- garlic salt, bennel seed, basil, oregano or other spices
Spaghetti Sauce Instructions
- Add tomato sauce, tomatoes, garlic, other vegetables and spices to the slow cooker.
- Cook on low till dinner.
- Add cheese and serve over your favorite noodle.
Homemade Spaghetti Sauce
One of my favorite dinners (and one which my husband is particularly good at making) is spaghetti sauce. Before you get started remember the rules: be realistic and start simple. Don't attempt to make the sauce completely from scratch if you've never made homemade sauce before. Choose an organic canned sauce as your base.
Here are a couple of notes on ingredients before you get started. The green olives will add a very tangy flavor, which not everyone will enjoy. (I love it myself and find this difficult to fathom but apparently it's true.) I've often used fennel with a little hamburger to give the impression of sausage. Spinach and ricotta cheese are another good combination.
Pair the sauce with a whole wheat or vegetable noodle for full nutritional value.
- Cooked pinto, black or refried beans and brown rice
- Olives, tomatoes, corn, lettuce (romaine, oak leaf, or other lettuce), peppers, green or white onion
- cheddar, Monterrey jack, pepper jack or mozzarella cheese
- cumin, paprika, chili powder or other spices
- whole wheat, corn or vegetable tortilla
- Heat beans and rice (if you are using it) with spices.
- Place on warm tortilla.
- Top with vegetables and cheese.
- Wrap and serve.
Burritos are fast and easy. Because you are dealing with food that has either already been cooked or does not need cooking this meal can be put together in a matter of moments. And again, because you are using beans instead of a more expensive protein this is a very inexpensive meal. In addition this is a meal that can be made to fit a variety of palettes. Wash and chop the vegetables then set up a burrito bar so that each family member can choose the ingredients that he or she likes best. Top with a little sour cream and salsa and you have a very satisfying meal.
These are four meals that my family uses to trim our budget and maintain healthy (or at least healthier) diets. The whole family enjoys them and they preparation times work with our busy schedule. I hope they work as well for you and your family.