What are cheap, easy, healthy meals on a budget?
The most challenging aspects of eating healthy meals are the costs associated with them and the time they take to cook. The price of produce and quality food from the supermarket can seem too expensive and take way too much time to prepare, which is why many of us end up resorting to TV dinners and fast food for the sake of convenience. Luckily, there are ways to stick to an easy, healthy diet without going over your budget.
To enjoy cheap, easy, and healthy meals on a budget, you will need to learn to improvise standard meals, read nutrition labels carefully, swap out unhealthy ingredients for more nutritious options, and become more efficient in the kitchen.
There are many kitchen and grocery shopping strategies you can take advantage of when committing to an affordable and nutritious diet. Below, we’ll discuss the many ways you can start creating affordable, simple, and—most importantly—healthy meals.
Healthy Breakfast Options
There is no better way to start your day than a nice hearty, healthy breakfast. Whether you like a big plate of breakfast classics or a quick bowl of cereal in the morning, there are a few ways you can make morning meals healthy, efficient, and within your budget.
Bacon, Eggs, and Toast
Few breakfast meals hit home as well as bacon, eggs, and toast. Luckily, there are ways to keep this your favorite morning meal without sacrificing your health or wallet.
- Eggs: How you cook your eggs plays a significant role in adding unwanted calories and fats to your diet. Instead of frying your eggs with oil, try an alternative method such as poaching or boiling. If you feel inclined to fry, try doing so with some vegetables in the mix—an omelet tends to work best for this approach.
- Bacon: A hard breakfast item to replace, but not impossible. Next time you’re in the, consider switching to turkey bacon for a change. You will find it has considerably less fat and is just as easy to cook. If you want to be more health-conscious, swapping the bacon for a plant-based option like avocado is even better.
- Toast: The type of bread we eat varies not only in flavor but also in nutritional value. Swapping from a standard white bread (full of empty calories) to a whole wheat option will give you a healthy boost. Whole wheat bread is full of complex carbohydrates that provide you with energy throughout the day, has fiber, and significantly reduces the risk of a heart attack.
Cereal is a quick and easy alternative to cooking a meal in the morning. However, it is often loaded with sugars and lacks nutritional value. If you want to get more out of your breakfast cereal—and avoid spending more for a nutritious option, consider these tips:
Choose Cereals with Less Sugar
Checking the back of your favorite cereal brand’s nutrition facts is an excellent place to start when deciding whether it is a healthy way to start your day or not.
Many classic, big-brand kinds of cereal are loaded with sugar and lack nutrient value, even though they often advertise themselves as healthy. Look for brands that have less sugar and processing, and have more essential ingredients like nuts, seeds, and oats.
Additionally, you can add more nutrients to your bowl by simply adding your own healthy ingredients, like fresh or dried fruit.
Use Alternative Milk
While standard cow’s milk is the norm and is assumed to have many health benefits—including reducing chances of developing osteoporosis, this is actually a myth.
Choosing alternative kinds of milk, like soy, almond, or goat milk, is a great way to add extra nutrition to your breakfast or other meals that traditionally include milk as an ingredient.
Tip: Some alternative milk options can cost more than standard dairy, which is why we highly encourage taking advantage of sales and utilizing less expensive almond milk.
Healthy Lunch and Dinner Options
When in the middle of a hectic workweek, finding the time to make a healthy meal at a reasonable cost can seem practically impossible. However, you will find this doesn’t have to be the case with a little planning and smart shopping.
The following are some affordable lunch and dinner solutions for a healthier diet:
While pasta is a straightforward dish, adding some ingredients to the mix will be a game-changer in getting more nutrients out of this classic lunch and dinner meal.
With the pasta itself, opt for a whole-wheat option. When making your sauce (whether out of the can or from scratch), throw in some ingredients like mushrooms, eggplant, beans, or chicken breast to the pan to make your meal not only healthier but more delicious as well. Adding some fresh herbs and spices such as oregano or basil is highly encouraged to give your pasta some more flare.
Tip: To save yourself time in the kitchen, start your prep and cook your sauce while your pasta is boiling.
The great thing about roasting vegetables is how easy, healthy, and versatile this dish can be—without requiring you to spend a whole lot. They can also be paired with various healthy foods, like whole-wheat pasta, roasted chicken, and more.
Some ingredients suit this dish better than others, but you will find getting experimental and chucking all sorts of vegetables in gets the job done. Many of the hearty vegetables that fit into a roast are often among the most affordable in the supermarket: potatoes, squash, and pumpkin, as well as some bell peppers, onions, or carrots work very well.
One thing we like about this dish is how little cooking is required. Once you have prepped and seasoned your veggies, throw them in the oven on a baking sheet for 20 to 40 minutes at 425 degrees. This bit of time can be used to take care of other tasks around the house as you wait, from catching up on work emails, doing the laundry, or simply relaxing on the couch.
Tip: To save yourself more on cooking time, cut your vegetables into smaller pieces, and don’t overfill your baking pan.
Tips for Creating Affordable, Easy, Healthy Meals
The above quick meals are just a few of the many options for eating healthy while on a budget. Generally speaking, if you want to save money, save time in the kitchen, and feel good about the food you eat, consider these final tips:
- At the store, try to stick to buying ingredients on sale and in season. Some grocery stores have sections dedicated to discounted produce or meat to sell them before they reach their expiration date or go bad.
- Be sure to check the nutrition facts on the back of product labels. A golden rule of thumb is the fewer ingredients, the better.
- Canola oil has a higher smoke point and makes frying healthier; it’s also quite affordable.
- Frozen vegetables have just as many nutrients as fresh, have a longer shelf life, and often are cheaper.
- Replace red meat in your diet with healthy and inexpensive poultry, fish, or even better—plant-based food.
- To save yourself time in the kitchen, meal prep, and designate a day to cook several meals you can store in your fridge or freezer to eat throughout the week.
Eating easily-made, healthy meals on a budget can seem intimidating, but with a bit of planning and conscious shopping, there is no reason you can’t make it happen. Try out one of the quick meals we mentioned above, or keep our tips for shopping for healthy, affordable ingredients in mind the next time you go to the grocery store.
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