Putting cheap healthy meals on the family dinner table can feel like a military operation on a good day, let alone on one where you have soccer practice, parent conferences and a traffic jam thrown into the mix. Here are ten recommendations, none of which require a tremendous amount of time.
Lentil Sloppy Joes
There’s no doubt about it. Learning to cook with brown lentils is an extremely affordable way to put food on the family dinner table. They also cook quickly compared to certain kinds of beans, making lentil sloppy Joes a cheap, healthy meal you can easily enjoy on a regular basis. They are even affordable for those buying organic food, because organic brown lentils are still far less expensive than even the most affordable beef product. Mix in a can of Manwich sauce or a can of tomato sauce with a packet of dried Sloppy Joe seasoning and pile a serving in a hamburger bun with some sprouts or spinach leaves. It’s an easy dinner that can be paired with corn on the cob, carrot sticks, baked tortilla chips and other simple sides. Time saving tip: Use canned lentils to reduce prep time.
Vegetable Bean Soup
I’m a huge fan of having at least one crock pot in the house. Slow cookers make home cooked food possible for busy professionals, whether they are working inside or outside of the house. When it comes to cheap healthy meals, one of my favorite options is vegetable bean soup. I use frozen mixed vegetables, black-eyed peas, vegetable broth, water and a small can of tomato sauce. The seasonings vary depending on what I have available, but an Italian herb blend is one that I use frequently, along with herbs de Provence, sea salt and black pepper. I put in on high for the afternoon, and serve it with homemade corn muffins or dinner rolls once we wind up our work day.
Sweet Potatoes with Greens and a Protein
With greens being one of the more affordable weight-loss foods and sweet potatoes being so high in nutrition with such a low price per pound, this is a combo we enjoy at least once per week during the cooler months. For a protein element, you can stir in some black-eyed peas with ginger while you are sautéing the greens, or simply open up a can of Bush’s vegetarian baked beans to serve on the side. Of course, you can always take things to the next level with homemade veggie patties or lentil loaf, but if the idea is to get cheap, healthy meals on the table in a hurry throughout the week, there’s no shame in taking a shortcut or two.
Whether you prefer to relegate this dish to your repertoire of money-saving side dishes or use it for the main event, fried rice is an extremely economical recipe to prepare. You can do a breakfast rice with chopped leftover ham, scrambled eggs, scallions and a bit of garlic, or use leftover cooked chicken with some thawed frozen veggies such as peas and carrots. Of course, veggie fried rice is always an option too. The point is, you can whip this up for less than twenty-five cents per serving and have something the kids will actually eat without drama. Score!
If you like harvesting produce from your yard, then berry-topped oatmeal can come to your rescue at any time of day. Of course, breakfast is the meal that first comes to mind, but there certainly are no hard and fast rules on the subject. As cheap healthy meals go, this is certainly one of the most affordable, and doesn’t require much prep time at all, provided you are using the old-fashioned rolled oats instead of steel cut.
Whether you are having a weekend brunch or enjoying breakfast for dinner, veggie omelets are a go-to solution for many families in search of ideas for cheap, healthy meals. Use whatever veggies you have on hand, or consider going Mediterranean with spinach, sundried tomatoes and a few thinly-sliced portabella mushrooms. Toss some toast and tomato juice into the mix, and you have a meal you can enjoy morning, noon and night.
As frugal food strategies go, dinner pies are tough to beat. Made with biscuit mix and whatever extras you have on hand, these cook quickly in the oven and make good use of leftovers such as chopped broccoli, picnic ham and shredded cheese. You can literally create your dinner around whatever additional bits and bobs happen to be in your fridge. This recipe for dinner pies is a suitable solution for those who are able to consume milk and eggs.
Baked Potato Topping Bar
For a dinner party’s worth of cheap healthy meals on the fly, consider preparing a baked potato topping bar. Potatoes are one of several cheap produce items that last a lengthy time in the refrigerator, and have the added benefit of being hearty enough to fill up hungry guests without a great deal of muss and fuss. Have some hot toppings on hand in a triple holiday crock such as chili, cheese sauce and seasoned cream-style corn, as well as some chilled options such as guacamole, chopped scallions, minced onion and bacon bits. Toss some microbrews and sparkling waters in a tin tub full of ice and you’ve got yourself a party-worthy menu!
Chili and Cornbread
More on Saving on Food
If you enjoy spicy,international foods as much as we do at our house, chances are you serve chili on a regular basis. It can be prepared a variety of ways. Meatless chili with beans and tempeh is an option, as well as turkey chili with kidney beans, traditional chili and even black bean chili if you’re feeling adventurous. I typically serve mine with cornbread or homemade jalapeno corn muffins, as it’s easy to prepare from a homemade bulk mix and adds to the fun factor if you serve it with some Earth Balance and molasses.
Dinner Salad with a Chicken Wing Appetizer
One way to save money with chicken is to consider it a side dish rather than the main event. A fun way to put this into practice is to serve large dinner salads with one – three seasoned chicken wings or drummies on the side. This keeps things fun and still celebrates chicken for those who don’t want to go without, but doesn’t require there to be an enormous amount of meat on the plate.
These cheap, healthy meals are possible to serve without taking up too much of your time, particularly if you use canned or prepared items to supplement when your schedule is tight. Do you enjoy any of these menus on a regular basis? Are there other cheap, healthy meals your family enjoys?
A lifelong money cruncher who can squeeze a nickel ‘til it cries, Myscha is a syndicated columnist, best-selling author, and founder of Trek Hound and We Be Sharin’.