It can seem like an oxymoron…inexpensive healthy meals. So many of the things we title as healthy “fresh produce, grass fed-beef, organic, and gluten-free” seem to come with a expensive price tag. But, healthy and inexpensive can go hand-in-hand with a little planning and creativity.
How to Create Inexpensive Healthy Meals
Embrace Weird Vegetables.
Vegetables are a great starter in order to create inexpensive healthy meals. Not only are they loaded with vitamins, fiber, and minerals but they are close to 50% less per pound than meat or dairy. And while carrots, onions, potatoes, peppers, lettuce, and beans are awesome, I’ve found that some of the “weird” vegetables can be even cheaper. Next time you are at the market, check out squash, rutabagas, cabbage, cilantro, leeks, bok choy, and sweet potatoes for best yield vs per pound price.
Purchase from Ethnic Markets.
I used to be opposed to shopping at ethnic markets. I didn’t understand them. I didn’t know any of the brands. But, in many cases, these “weird stores and brands” are directly from the country of origin and every bit of good as our “American” counterpart but for half of the price. If the ethnic market is too weird for you, try the ethnic food aisle. All the comfort of your regular store, with all the variety of an ethnic store.
If you use certain spices, grains, or nuts over and over again, you may want to consider buying in bulk at either a warehouse store or in the bulk-food section at your local store. Buying bulk can save you 10 – 20%. Most items you purchase in bulk can be frozen and stored easily.
Cook from scratch.
As a general rule, cooking from scratch is less expensive than using pre-made items, mixes, or boxed goods. Plus, you have the added benefit of knowing the ingredients of everything you’ve made. If you are new to cooking from scratch, I recommend the Better Homes & Garden New Cookbook. It’s filled with basic recipes and easy to understand instructions for how to make gravy, mashed potatoes, pie crust, cookie dough, bread dough, stir-frys and more.
Make a Meal Plan.
It seems so simple, but actually making a meal plan, buying the right ingredients and cooking the meals is one of the best ways to keep your budget on track and create inexpensive healthy meals. By making a meal plan (and executing it) you are eliminating waste. So you can afford a higher quality meal when your family devours every last bite vs. a lower quality meal where half of it is thrown away. Here are some more Frugal Meal Planing Tips.
Stock Up When Meat & Dairy Are On Sale
Meat and dairy are the two most expensive ingredients in any meal. By tracking prices, having a price book and purchasing meat and dairy when it is at its lowest price, you can save 20 – 30% per meal. Stock up on your favorite meats and dairy when it is on sale and never worry about only having rice and beans again.
Pantry List of Inexpensive Starter Items for Healthy Meals
Having a well stocked pantry and refrigerator of inexpensive healthy meal starter items is a great way to insure success. Here is a list of items that are always in my pantry.
– Dried Black Beans, Lentils, White Beans, Red Beans, and Split Peas
– Par-Boiled or Long-Grain Rice
– Brown or Wild-Grain Rice
– Whole Wheat Spaghetti
– Wheat Bulger
– Raisins or Cran-Raisins
– Canned Pineapple
– Canned Tomatoes
– Various Nuts
– Green, Red, or Napa Cabbage
– Acorn, Butternut, Delicato, and Spaghetti Squash
– Sweet, Red, and Russet Potatoes
– Red, Green, and Jalapeno Peppers
– Bread Crumbs
– Tahini and Garbonzo Beans
– Frozen broccoli, corn, peas, etc.
– Any seasonal fruit under $1 per pound
– Romaine and Butter Lettuce
– Sour Cream Dips with Fresh Veggies
What about you? How do you create inexpensive healthy meals? What are your go-to items?