Eating healthy on a budget isn’t easy, so many people scour the web for cheap healthy meals they can make at home. Many trendy diets require absurdly expensive food but they aren’t really necessary. There are many affordable, nutritious ingredients that you can use to create cheap, healthy meals at home.
What’s healthy, anyway?
Healthy food means food that promotes good health. This food is nutritious and provides the vitamins and substances your body requires to grow and maintain your well-being.
Cheap healthy meals start with nutritious ingredients.
Nutritious ingredients are critically important. You can’t magically turn processed, unhealthy foods into a health-promoting, life-sustaining meal. If healthy meals are a puzzle, the pieces are quality ingredients.
The human body requires several major types of nutrients in order to function best. These can be obtained by eating an optimal balance of fruits, vegetables, protein, dairy, grains and oils. The exact amount of each nutrients you need depends on your age, gender and level of physical activity.
However, as a general guideline, the USDA recommends that at least half of your plate be fruits and vegetables. They also recommend a portion of lean protein, whole grains and dairy with each meal.
This can be a real challenge for low income households because most healthy food, especially produce, can be expensive.
Use smart shopping techniques to get more for your money.
The first major hurdle to creating cheap healthy meals at home is buying the ingredients you need. However, if you use these smart shopping techniques, you may be able to stretch your budget.
Shop at Farmer’s Markets for affordable fresh produce.
Your local Farmer’s Market is always a great place to pick up affordable, locally-sourced produce. If you have WIC, EBT or senior vouchers, it’s even better!
Many markets offer dollar matching programs for EBT and WIC shoppers. Some offer senior vouchers, which provide free produce for seniors. Our local Farmer’s Market even provides free produce for kids, so we get an automatic $10 in free produce every time we visit!
Grow a garden of your own.
Growing a garden is easy, even if you’re renting an apartment or don’t have dedicated yard space. If you have EBT, you can purchase seeds and starts that can help you start your own garden!
Use Ibotta to get cash back on grocery purchases.
Shop wisely with these money-saving tips.
There are some ways to save money on healthy ingredients.
Fruits and vegetables can be purchased fresh, frozen or canned. Buy fresh when it’s in season, because it’s cheaper and tastier than out-of-season produce. In the off-season, purchase frozen and canned options that do not include salt, sauces or syrups. Remember that fresh produce is usually the most expensive and the most wasteful.
You can also opt for cheaper fruits and vegetables. Potatoes only cost about 19 cents per serving, making them one of the most affordable vegetables available. They contain a lot of potassium, which is a nutrient most Americans are lacking.
Grains are usually very affordable. At least half of the grains you consume should be whole grains, so keep an eye out for brown rice and other whole grain options. Brown rice is a great staple for your cheap healthy meals, because it only costs about 10 cents per serving!
- 25+ affordable rice recipes that don’t taste cheap
- 25+ pasta recipes that taste great and don’t break the bank
Protein isn’t limited to just meat! Lean meats can be very costly, especially compared to other protein options. Try eggs, beans and canned fish to meet your protein requirements on a budget.
If you really like meat, you can extend your recipes by substituting half of the meat you usually use with a cheaper alternative. You can add beans to your tacos and hard-boiled eggs to your salads, for example.
You can also save money on protein by buying meats in bulk. Watch for sales and buy a large amount at a time. Store the excess in a freezer so you can use it over time.
Dairy is cheaper when purchased in bulk and frozen for later use. You can also monitor the “per unit” price of each item to make sure that you’re getting the best deal. At certain times, promotions may make shredded cheese cheaper than blocks of cheese so be sure to check those unit prices every time you shop!
Enjoy these cheap healthy meals!
We’ve found several recipes for affordable, delicious and nutritious meals. Of course, there are plenty of recipes that didn’t make the list. Feel free to share your own in the comments!
Frittatas resemble omelettes because the primary ingredient is a fried beaten egg. It’s very similar to a quiche, but the major difference is that frittatas do not have a crust.
Basically, all it takes to create a delicious frittata is to preheat the oven to 400 degrees, melt some butter in a pan, add some veggies, some meat, and some beaten eggs. Cook it for just a few minutes and then put it in the oven to finish cooking. It’s done when it’s golden and set, in about 7-10 minutes.
You can put anything you like in your frittata but here are some of my favorites:
- Broccoli-Cheddar Frittata
- Carmelized Onion and Cheese Frittata
- Cheddar and Chives Frittata
- Ham and Potato Frittata
- Veggie Frittata
Pasta is a staple in our diet. It’s just so easy to customize! You can do almost anything you want with pasta. It’s very hard to ruin (believe me, I’ve tried).
- Chicken Pasta Bake with Spinach & Parmesan
- Pasta Carbonara
- Poor Girl Pasta with Veggies
- Vegetable Stroganoff
Pasta Salads make awesome cheap healthy meals, especially in the summer when you don’t want to labor over a hot stove. There are nearly infinite combinations for pasta salads. My favorites include:
Potato Casseroles are my go-to, long-day-lazy-mom, cheap healthy meals. I love potato casseroles.
Typically, I don’t follow a recipe and I just dump a bunch of canned veggies, a can of beans and some cheese in a pan with a little butter. I throw it in the oven and bake it until it’s all tender and piping hot.
If you prefer recipes, though, here are a few I like:
- Twice Baked Cheddar Potato Casserole
- Winter Spinach and Potato Casserole
- Potato, Broccoli and Pepper Jack Egg Casserole
- Mexican Street Corn Potato Casserole (but I use normal cheese, not vegan cheese sauce)
Potato Salads are another staple in our cheap healthy meals. Like pasta salads, they are very easy to create and customize.
Bean Bowls are some great cheap healthy meals, too. These use a bean base with various add-ins to create scrumptious and surprisingly affordable food.
- Tex Mex Skillet adds taco-seasoned meat, lettuce, bell pepper, tomato, onions, garlic, cheese and seasonings to a black bean base. You can serve it in whole-grain tortillas for an easy burrito!
- Poor Man Burrito Bowl
- Black Bean Bowl with Peach Salsa
Rice Bowls are some of the best cheap healthy meals you can make. Just start with basic brown rice and add produce, proteins, dairy or other mix-ins. Some of my favorite varieties include:
- Egg Bowl with tomatoes, green onions, bell peppers, scrambled eggs and shredded cheese.
- Jambalaya Bowl with sausage, onion, celery, green bell pepper, tomatoes, carrots and garlic.
- Southwest Fajita Bowl with colorful bell peppers, grilled chicken, black beans, shredded cheese and salsa
- Taco Bowl with tomatoes, onions, bell peppers, lean ground beef and shredded cheese.
Do you have more ideas for cheap healthy meals?
I’d love to see your suggestions in the comments!