Yes, you CAN eat healthy on a budget! Very healthy!
Put down that boxed meal and hear me out…
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I know it can be hard to get a meal, any meal, on the table in a decent amount of time when you work full-time, have kids to haul to various activities. Heck, it’s hard if you’re home with the kids all day. Any of the above scenarios can make you want to give up and dial take-out. In fact, according to the USDA Americans spend more money eating food away from home than they do on groceries. And we have for almost a decade! You may be tempted to just open up a box and cook up a meal in 30 minutes or less. Been there, done that, gained the weight…
Wanna know a secret?
You can make a healthy meal from scratch in one dish in under 30 minutes as well. It doesn’t always require meal prep in advance either. Still with me? Good. Cooking at home can be healthier, less expensive, and have a ripple effect across your lifestyle and budget!
Instead of pulling up to the drive-thru on the way home prepare a simple, healthy meal (like the sheet pan chicken posted on my Recipes page) with a side salad and homemade dressing. The dressing is easy; pour a little olive oil in a jar, add minced garlic and other spices to taste, put the lid on, and shake. Voila! Salad dressing without preservatives! Maybe cut up a cantaloupe (under $2 in season here in Northwest Arkansas) or other fresh fruit for dessert.
After dinner, you probably feel pretty good (instead of bloated and icky from your fast food meal that sat who knows how long under a warming light) so you gather up the kids, or the dog, your spouse, and take a walk or play together outside as a family.
Not only did you eat well, but you also got some healthy movement in too without really even thinking about it. Over time this can result in a smaller waistline, fewer medications/doctor visits (even just a reduction in indigestion would be nice, right?), and money typically spent dealing with those issues can now go to beef up your Emergency fund or pay down debt.
Examples of healthy meals that can be made inexpensively are included on my Meal Plan on a Dime page. Eating healthy on a budget is so much easier if you make a meal plan before you go grocery shopping. This helps ensure only what you need goes on the list and saves you the headache of wandering the aisles hoping for some dinner inspiration before settling on the frozen food aisle.
Dinner doesn’t have to be complicated; you need a protein, a few vegetables, and if you choose a (preferably) whole grain. One handy trick I like to use is to make sure to eat the rainbow; the food on your plate should be really colorful, not monotone. This will help you make sure you are getting a better variety in your diet. I am no nutritionist, but it’s a good rule of thumb.
Don’t have a lot of time to cook or just don’t like to cook? Batch cook! You can easily double a recipe and freeze one batch to heat up for an effortless meal on a day you’re not feeling the motivation or won’t have time to prep a meal. I love batch cooking a turkey meatloaf or in the winter chicken pot pie filling. It makes the second time around a breeze! Either place the frozen batch in the fridge the day before or allow more time in the oven.
Batch cooking can also come in really handy if you are fixing a meal for friends or family. Just double the recipe and you won’t be left wondering what you’ll be eating for dinner when you get back from delivering the gifted meal.
Portion control is also a lot easier at home than in a restaurant. This is both healthier and good for the budget. We eat pasta two to three times a month, which is very economical and filling. Pasta dishes at restaurants tend to be much larger than a typical, healthy portion. It is much easier to control how much you eat when you control the plate size!
Stretching your meat out is both good for your bottom dollar and your waistline; when cooking pasta dishes opt for a meat sauce or make it a casserole and use less than you typically would by cooking up meatballs or individual chicken breasts or tenderloins to serve on the plate next to the pasta.
Sheet pan meals are an excellent way to stretch your meat as well; simply chop up several veggies and add chopped meat to the mixture. Clean up is a breeze when everything is cooked together as well!
Take a dish you typically order out and hack it to make it cheaper, easier, and healthier to prepare and eat at home! This can be a great way to get your “treat” meals in without breaking the bank going out to eat when the urge to eat it hits. If the ingredients are simple enough keep them on hand so you can make them without making an extra trip to the store. Incorporate them into your regular meal plan.
It helps a lot to have ten to fifteen tried and true recipes you know you can pull off easily, are health conscious and don’t have expensive, hard to find ingredients. Once you have a good set of recipes to fall back on meal planning and list making gets easier and less stressful. Free recipe apps and food blogs can help a lot for inspiration and cook times. Eventually, you will find yourself coming up with your own favorites and new combinations.
What are you waiting for? Get cooking! Can’t figure out how to hack a recipe to make it healthier? Reduce the sugar and/or salt. Reduce the portion size. These are always good places to start.
Would you like to see healthy, budget-friendly recipes/meal plans in your inbox on a regular basis? Let me know! If enough people are interested we will make it happen!