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Meal planning can not only save you time, but also money, as you are less likely to buy fast food on the way home for a hungry, impulse buy. While it may seem easier said than done, with a few tweaks to your daily or weekly routine, you’ll be surprised how much better you and your wallet feel.
Read: How to get cash back for everyday purchases
8 great cheap healthy meals
Eating healthy can seem more like a guideline than a rule when temptation is around every corner. However, with a little thought and execution, you can save a lot and feel better. Here are eight meals that are cheap, healthy, and doable for less than $3 a serving:
- Vegetarian stir-fry
- Stuffed sweet potatoes with chili
- Ham, cheese and apple pastries
- Spicy ground beef salad wrap tacos
- Cauliflower alfredo with zoodles
- Baked Potato and Black Bean Breakfast Burrito
- Peanut noodles with onion and cucumber
- Falafel-style stuffed pitas
1. Vegetarian stir-fry
This is a simple recipe that can be prepared and assembled with what you have in the fridge or pantry. You can also change it whenever you make it, depending on your current ingredients or budget.
Here’s a simple recipe to make six servings:
- 1 red pepper, diced
- 1 diced yellow pepper
- 1 diced jalapeno (optional for seasoning)
- 1 cup green beans
- 1 cup sliced mushrooms
- 2 cups of broccoli
- 3 minced garlic cloves
- 1/4 cup soy sauce
- 1/2 cup vegetable broth
- 1 teaspoon of sesame oil
- 1 tablespoon of cornstarch
- 3 tablespoons coconut brown sugar (or regular brown sugar)
Simply add the olive oil and all the vegetables to the pan and cook for two to three minutes. Mix the ingredients for the sauce in a separate bowl, then pour it over the vegetables. Cook until the sauce thickens. You can serve this stir-fry over rice or with a protein of your choice.
2. Sweet potatoes stuffed with chili
If you have a chili recipe that you love or just a brand of canned chili that you prefer, this meal is quick and easy. Best of all, it costs about $1.50 per serving.
Here’s what you need to serve four:
- 2 cups chili (either homemade or canned)
- 4 large sweet potatoes
- 1 cup diced onion (optional for serving)
- 1 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese (optional)
Bake the sweet potatoes on a baking sheet for about 40 minutes at 400 degrees. When they are done, take them out, open them and pour in the chili. If you wish, you can add some plain or light cheese, as well as diced onions.
3. Ham, cheese and apple pastries
Delicious with a touch of sweetness, these homemade hot pockets are easy and usually a big hit with the family. They also cost less than $2 per serving and are freezable.
Here’s what you need for eight pastries:
- 1 thawed package of frozen puff pastry (2 sheets)
- 2 cups diced lean ham
- 2 cups shredded cheese of your choice
- 1 large apple, peeled and diced
Roll out the pastry sheets and cut them into eight equal parts. Place eight pieces face down on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Coat with olive oil, then coat with ham, cheese, apple and finally add a little honey. Place another puff pastry square on top of each pocket. Brush the pockets with oil, seal the edges with a fork and use the fork to poke a few holes in the top for ventilation. Cook until golden brown and melted.
4. Seasoned ground beef salad wrap tacos
Everyone loves taco night, but here’s a cheap and healthy way to do it. Here’s what you’ll need:
- 1 pound lean ground beef
- 1 package of taco seasoning
- 1 head of lettuce
Just cook the mince and add the seasoning packet. Lettuce will be your taco shells. You can add your desired toppings like onion, bell pepper, avocado or whatever you want as an option.
Pro tip: Keep an eye out for in-store specials to see if ground beef will be on sale for extra savings. Or try substituting a cheaper ground protein of your choice that you can find, perhaps chicken, turkey, or plant-based tofu.
5. Cauliflower Alfredo with Zoodles
Cauliflower is versatile and a great way to lighten the calories and cost of classic alfredo sauce. Here’s what you’ll need:
- 2 cups uncooked cauliflower
- 2 minced garlic cloves
- 2 tablespoons of olive oil
- 1 teaspoon dry mustard (or dijon)
- 1 cup milk of your choice
- 3 spoons of nutritional yeast
- Salt and pepper to taste
Throw everything in a pot and boil. Then let it simmer for 15 minutes until the cauliflower is soft. If you have it, use an immersion blender to puree it until smooth. A regular blender will also work well. Serve over your favorite pasta or roasted vegetables.
6. Baked potato and black bean breakfast burrito
You simply can’t go wrong with a breakfast burrito. They are extremely easy to make and can be modified to your liking. Here are some suggestions to keep it under $3 per person for four people:
- 2 to 3 potatoes
- 4 eggs
- 4 large tortillas
- 1 can of black beans
Chop the potatoes into small pieces and put them in a pan with olive oil, salt and pepper. Bake the potatoes in the oven at 400 degrees for 30 minutes. Then beat the eggs and cook them to your liking. Then you can assemble your burrito with all the ingredients. Feel free to add cheese, guacamole, tomatoes or hot sauce, whatever you have in the fridge or pantry.
7. Peanut noodles with onion and cucumber
Delicious, spicy and ready in 10 minutes, these peanut noodles are incredibly healthy and cheap to make. Here’s what you’ll need:
- Rice noodles
- 2 tablespoons of peanut butter
- 1 tablespoon of soy sauce
- 1/2 tablespoon of rice vinegar
- 3 cloves of garlic
- A pinch of sugar
- 1 teaspoon of chili crisp oil
- 1/2 teaspoon sesame oil
- 2 tablespoons of hot water
Cook your noodles according to package directions, then scoop out two tablespoons of hot pasta water. Take warm water and add it to the other ingredients. This will melt together into a delicious sauce. Add it to your noodles and garnish with onions, sesame seeds, or more chili oil.
8. Falafel Gyro Style Stuffed Pies
Falafel pies are hearty, healthy and full of flavor. They cost about $1.75 per serving. Here’s what you’ll need:
- 1 package of frozen falafel balls (or homemade)
- 1 package of whole grain pies
- Topping options: tomato, cucumber, red onion, tahini, hummus, hot sauce, feta cheese
Simply heat up the falafel and pita balls, then place the pita shells with whatever you want on your gyro.
Final Take To GO
Planning always helps when organizing inexpensive healthy meals, especially when you’re trying to cut costs. Here are some tips and takeaways:
- Most recipes are adaptable to your budget or dietary restrictions.
- Once you find some recipes that you like, try to stock up on some staples and common ingredients that can be used for multiple meals.
- Be sure to expand your recipes throughout the week with leftovers to repurpose or freeze into sauces or soups for later rainy dates.
- Try to stick to a shopping list when you’re at the grocery store and only buy items for the recipes you have planned.
- Fresh produce is always great, but a good way to cut costs and food waste is to buy canned goods, especially if it’s brand name or if you have a coupon for something.
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