Healthy Eating on the Cheap

Photo by: Miss Karen

The $1.99 Value Meal that includes a burger, fries, and a one-gallon drink seems pretty hard to beat when it comes to filling up fast, and for cheap. And yes, the calorie to penny ratio is definitely a “good” one. Plus, when you start adding up the cost of baby eggplants, shoyu, and Ezekiel bread, it’s no wonder Ronald McDonald is a superstar. So is it possible to eat healthy if you’re not a yuppie, DINK, or CEO? Of course it is, friends! You just need to learn some bitchin’ tricks for the market and for your kitchen laboratory. Here are my 13 faves:

  • Plan meals and shopping list ahead of time, and go to the store on a full stomach.
  • Buy apples, potatoes, oranges, etc. by the bag rather than individually.
  • Compare fresh and frozen produce prices, and buy the cheaper. They’re usually equally nutritious. Frozen chopped spinach & green beans are always in our freezer.
  • Buy cereals and other grains in bulk and/or without fancy packaging.
  • Eat as many meatless meals during the week as possible using dried or canned beans for protein. Dried lentils go from dry to delish in just 30 minutes on low boil.
  • Use leftover rice or pasta, frozen veggies, tomato sauce, herbs, and beans to make a giant pot of vegetable soup. Freeze individual portions for lunches and snacks.
  • Buy produce in season, and shred or chop and then freeze portions for later in the year. Shredded zucchini is more versatile than a paperclip!
  • Sneak veggies into every meal: shredded in pancakes and muffins, and added to rice, pasta sauce, and mashed potatoes.
  • Make dips, hummus, breads, muffins, and pancakes from scratch, and freeze leftovers.
  • Shop the perimeter of the grocery store, avoiding unnecessary processed foods. Rely on bulk nuts (1/4 cup per serving) and produce for snacks.
  • Drink water, filtered with your own filter. Spruce it up with sliced cucumbers, or lemon, lime, or orange wedges.
  • Pack your lunch and snacks for workdays using frozen leftovers, bulk foods, and produce.
  • Organic foods are best for about 62 reasons. But, they can be pricey. When it comes to produce, follow Environmental Working Group‘s lists for which ones should most definitely be organic. (If you eat them, meat, dairy, and eggs should always be humanely-raised and organic.)

Check out these value meals! A few examples of the tricks put into action, and how many pennies they’re going to cost:

Confetti Pancakes $0.66 per serving + $0.75 per 2 Tablespoons of pure maple syrup

Yummus Hummus: $2.46 per 2 cups, $0.31 per serving
Makes about 2 cups (8 1/4-cup servings)

This version is simple and lower fat than store-bought brands, just 70 calories and 2 grams of fat per 1/4-cup serving (and 4 grams of protein!). Use this recipe as a base and add dill, roasted red peppers, black olives, or chili powder for an extra zing.

1 15-ounce can garbanzo beans, or 1 1/2 cups of cooked garbanzo beans
1 tablespoon tahini (sesame seed butter)
1/4 cup lemon juice
3 green onions, chopped (white and light green areas only)
1 tablespoon chopped garlic (about 3 cloves)
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon black pepper

If using canned garbanzo beans, drain them, reserving liquid, and rinse beans. Place beans, tahini, lemon juice, green onions, garlic, cumin, and black pepper in food processor or blender and process until smooth. Add reserved bean liquid, or if using cooked beans, water or vegetable broth, as needed for a smoother consistency.

Jen’s Veggie Chili: $0.86 per serving
Makes 10 servings

Serve this chili hot on a cold day or cold on a hot day, with cornbread of course.

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 small red onion, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons chili powder
1 teaspoon cumin
1 28-ounce can stewed tomatoes, fire-roasted if possible
1 15-ounce can kidney beans, drained & rinsed
1 15-ounce can pinto beans, drained & rinsed
2 cups dried lentils plus 2 cups filtered water
1 large green bell pepper
2 cups frozen corn
salt, pepper, and hot sauce, to taste

Heat olive oil in a large pot. Add onion, garlic, and spices and cook until onions are translucent. Add remaining ingredients and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to simmer and cook for about 30 minutes, until lentils are soft.

Curried Lentil Stew: $0.57 per serving
Makes 10 servings

Delicious served with a whole grain roll ($0.25)

2 tablespoons olive oil
4 carrots, peeled and finely chopped
3 ribs celery, finely chopped
1 medium onion, finely diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons curry powder
7 cups water
1 pound dried lentils, rinsed and picked over
3 teaspoons vegetable bouillon
1 cup tomato puree or 1 (14.5-ounce) can crushed tomatoes
8 ounces frozen cut-leaf spinach (no need to thaw)
Kosher salt and coarsely ground black pepper to taste

Drizzle a few tablespoons of olive oil into a dutch oven or stockpot and heat over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot, add chopped carrots, celery, and onion. Saute until the vegetables are just beginning to get tender. Add garlic and sprinkle the curry powder over the vegetables. Continue to saute, stirring, for another 2 to 3 minutes.

Add one cup of water to the pot to deglaze, scraping up the browned bits at the bottom. Then stir in the remaining water, the lentils, and the bouillon. Place a cover on the pot at an angle so that steam can escape, and bring to a boil. Once the stew comes to a boil, stir, reduce heat, and simmer for about thirty minutes, stirring occasionally.

Check the lentils for tenderness at about 30 minutes. When they are fairly tender, stir in the tomato puree and the spinach. Let simmer until the desired texture and consistency are reached. Taste for seasoning and adjust salt and pepper as necessary.

Recipe from Eat Real

What’s the cheapest healthy deal or meal you’ve concocted?

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4 Responses to Healthy Eating on the Cheap

  1. reillybri says:

    Can I have warm chili on a warm day?

  2. Pingback: The Cheapest Healthiest Food on the Planet « Bitchin' Dietitian: Biting Off Just Enough to Chew

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