Cheap Healthy Meals?

Updated on August 02, 2010
S.S. asks from Osgood, IN
21 answers

hey mommies! my little boy is at the age where he is starting to eat a lot of table food. So my husband and I decided that we need to start eating healthier. we use to eat really healthy before I got pregnant, in fact we were vegiatarian. but with the baby money has gotten tighter so we have been eating a lot of $2 meals like spegetti and hotdogs and mac and cheese. I want to know if any one has any good ideas for meals that are healthy but cheap. and by cheap I mean less than $5 for the whole meal. I found a lot of recipes online that claim to be $2 a serving but these receipes rely on you having certain ingrediants in your house, by the end of the week we never have anything so I would have to buy every ingrediant and it can get pricy (hence the spegetti...$1 for the pasta and $1 for the sauce) any ideas? editing again to add that yes we collect food stamps, that is pretty much where all all our food comes from (a quick break down of our bills we make $1200 a month thats $435 for our bankruptcy $160 for gas $65 for water $80 in the summer for electric and$200 in the winter $85 for our phone/internet/cable bill $42 for home owner insurance and $44 for car insurance. if you add that up its about $1200 so we have no extra money) we can pretty much only shop at places that except WIC and food stampes

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So What Happened?

editing to add that we live in a small town with one over priced grocery store so we always go out of town to do our shopping. We are 1/2 hr away from krogers, walmart, and serveral save-alots (one at which my husband works). the closes sam's club is in columbus IN an hr away...but i cant afford the membership, I mean it when I say we are living paycheck to paycheck (about 1200 a mnth for a family of three) and yes my son is on WIC, if it wasnt for the WIC program I dont know how we would have afforded his formula! oh and we did plant a garden this year...but all the rain we had killed alot of it. oh and even when I was a vegatarian I sucked at cooking tofu lol!

I wanted to add that I read Alana's comments about eggs and had to laugh. I love eggs! and you have no idea how many we go through I can go through 2 dozen in 4 days! oh and please no more pasta recipes! I cant really keep pasta in the house I am a recovering bulimic and pasta was a major binge food for me
after reading another comment I want to add yes our bills dont total to exactly $1200 but I was adding in mis. expenses like diapers for my son other tolitries oil changes for the car ect. yes we have been through finacial and credit counsiling it is a requirement when you declare bankruptcy the one thing I do thank god for is that we own our house free and clear so there is no morgage. as fpr gping tp a food bank like i mentioned before we live in a very small town. there is one food bank through the local church. and you are limited to going there once a month and you really dont get much at all (I know every little helps but its really very littl) because donations are down, and I know donations are down everywhere but in a town as small as ours they didnt even get good donations when the ecomony was doing well

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answers from Dayton on

Beans and rice can be healthy but you have to be creative for taste. Also you can help save some money by subscribing to netflix for $9 instead of having cable.

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answers from Indianapolis on

Well, where you're located, I don't know how much access you have to a Sam's Club or Costco nearby. It looks like you may have some near the Cincinnati area.

We save a ton of money by buying in bulk there, but you have to have the room. Meat is considerably cheaper, cereal, eggs, frozen vegetables, etc.

Tortillas are generally cheap with beans, cheese, veggies (we like to do quesadillas a lot).
Soups are usually cheap, rice dishes (beans and rice), chili.

There have been several studies recently discussing the long-term health costs of trying to save money on food in the short-term and eating the foods you mention. Our children's generation is the first on record in the US not expected to live as long as their parents. 1/3 children in this generation will develop Type 2 diabetes, Cardiovascular disease, etc.

So, I know money is tight, and you're doing your best. If possible, use as many veggies (frozen are packed with nutrients and are cheap), fruits (bananas with peanut butter can be a solid, cheap snack), and lean meats as possible to be healthy.

Learn to really read nutritional labels. Avoid foods with high sodium/carb levels and try to get as much fiber as possible into your diet.

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Cleveland on

I saw one other person said it, but buy dried beans! Bean soup, beans and rice, Mexican dishes with beans can really stretch any meat you want to put in something. I'll do quesadillas with lots of beans, peppers, grilled veggies, and just a little bit of shredded chicken. I make bean or lentil soup all the time. I use about a pound of dried beans, a couple of cups of stock and water or canned tomatoes and water, add some veggies like green beans, carrots, potatoes, onions, spinach (all pretty cheap), sometimes sauteed in olive oil first, and some seasoning. It takes time to learn, but once you do you can make bread from scratch pretty quick so we'll have soup with lots of veggies and bread, maybe some cheese and fruit too. You can also make bread dough and freeze it or refrigerate it until you're ready to use it.

You can stock up on dried beans, lentils, and rice and other grains, and flour at one of the stores that are further away because you won't have to worry about them going bad right away. Lots of ethnic dishes - Mexican, middle Eastern, Indian, etc., are vegetarian and cheap! You probably already know this from being a vegetarian, but when you combine a grain and a bean you get a complete protein so you don't really need the more expensive meat.

I recommend a cookbook called "More with Less." There a lot of good things in there and it's been around forever so you could probably even borrow a copy from the library. The cheapest way to eat is to make everything from scratch, which is hard, but this cookbook has a lot of things that are quick or where you can do most of it ahead of time (like making your own pancake mix.) It also tells you what foods to eat together to get the most out of them, like the beans and grains together.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Harrisburg on

Lentil burgers - 1 cup lentil cooked till soft, add eggs and breadcrumbs, fry until golden brown.

Green peas and Pasta - Blend green peas with milk (can use evaporated milk too). Add to cooked pasta. Add cheese.

Chicken Quesadilla - 1 pack quesadilla (8 in a pack), shredded cheese (or shred your own) and canned chicken breast - Warm chicken, add blackpeper, onions (or whatever seasonings you like). Put aside. Slightly brown quesadillas on both sides, add the chicken, cheese, fold over once, cut in halves

Rice and chilli - Cook plain rice, add canned chilli (turkey or beef). Serve with green beans or corn

Sphagetti and cheese - Break sphagetti into really fine pieces and cook till tender. Drain. Pour milk and add cheese and (whatever vegetable you like)

Just a few....

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Dallas on

Two of our local grocery stores have a place in the meat section where they put items that are reaching their expiration date. The other day, I got 5 T-bone steaks for $5. I can often find chicken breasts or tenders for half price.
I also look for trucks parked around town selling produce. They are much less expensive than the farmer's market or grocery store and the produce tastes better, too.



answers from Sacramento on

You can do pasta primavera: cheap 99cent penne noodles and whatever fresh veeggies you have in the fridge w/some olive oil.
Grocery Outlet has some $2 pizza dough sometimes and I top w/olive oil, dried spices, salt, raw veggies (zucchini, red onions and tomotoes)
For lunch tuna fish sandwiches on toasted bread or sliced tomatoes and sharp cheddar cheese on toast. (salt the tomatoes)
Tacos but your big exense will be the ground beef. However they taste good and you can top w/all kinds of veggies.



answers from San Francisco on

Hi S.,
I don't have any recipes but I do have money saving tips. Tofu is the cheapest protein you can buy. I get it for $1.50 a block and that is 2 meals worth. My husband sautes it with onion & mushroom in teriyaki sauce and serves it with noodles. But you can also marinade it and stirfry it with veggies over rice.
Grilled cheese night is also great. Buy some wheat bread, cheese and add different things to personalize it...left over chicken, tomatoes, what ever you have in the fridge.
I buy lots of frozen veggies but if I see fresh ones at a good price I load up and clean & freeze them when I get home.
You should also check out some crock-pot recipes. Most call for a can of this and a can of that and they make a lot.
I think the best idea is to plan out you meals in advance so you have less spoiled food. It also pays to change your grocery store. A year ago I switched to Food Maxx and have saved a bundle. Their produce is better and they take 5 cents off for each reusable bay you bring (that's 50 cents off every time I go). Sure I have to bag my own groceries and they don't have everything but if I get the majority of my groceries there I end up ahead in the long run.
Hope this helps!
Suzy & her men



answers from Cleveland on

Hi S.,

I am coming in late....

Beans, beans and more beans (dried are so much cheaper, canned are quicker, it is a trade-off).

Think of meat as a seasoning rather than a main course. You can get the complete proteins by combining a legume (bean or pea or peanut) with a whole grain (whole wheat bread, brown rice, oatmeal, etc).

The foods you mention may not be healthy for you in the long run unless you are going with whole-grain pasta; I would say if you want to eat healthy, go for the least-processed foods you can (I heard someone refer to them as "one-ingredient foods"). That means (for example) potatoes made from scratch rather than the instant, flavored ones full of stuff you can barely pronounce. I know it probably seems more expensive, but I think the whole foods (unprocessed) fill you up better than the other stuff, so therefore you eat less. I think when we give our bodies empty calories, we are not nourished, and the body makes us eat more in an attempt to get what it still needs. Just my theory....

Buying the fresh fruits/veggies that are in season will help reduce the price. If you can freeze, dry, or otherwise preserve them , then you can have them in the other seasons too.

Check out the Tightwad Gazette books from your library (get them on inter-library loan if you have to) for cheap recipes and other money-saving ideas.

BTW when I added up your numbers, it came to $911 for summer expenses and $1031 for winter. I realize these are round numbers, but did I miss something? you said you make $1200 a month, is the rest taxes? housing? you may have already gone through a credit counseling agency, since you mentioned a bankruptcy; I think they can help you with budgeting also. I believe the ones specifically called "Consumer Credit Counseling Agency" do not charge a fee.

Soup is a cheap meal and can be very healthy.. When you cook veggies, save any leftovers plus their cooking water in a container in your freezer. (I'm talking abouteven the little bits of leftovers, the tablespoon or so where you think, "Nah, it's not worth saving"--but it is!). When you reach a quart or so, thaw it out and add whatever you feel like--more veggies, pasta and/or rice (can be leftovers or fresh), meat or chicken, beans etc. plus more water, bouillon or stock. I keep three containers going in my freezer: meat, chicken and Veggie. In the meat and chicken ones I put cooking liquids from those things. I then mix one with the veggie stuff if I want.

Lentil, split pea, or bean soups should also be very cheap and healthy.

You can bake bread without a bread machine. Ask your friends /family if anyone bakes it who can give you a lesson or two.

I have heard that some farmers markets can accept food stamps. You might want to check that out.

How about pancakes? If you use whole wheat flour rather than the white stuff they will be healthier. Or you can ease into it with half whole wheat, half white flour.

Obviously you have cut down or eliminated junk foods, pop, kool-aid type drinks etc, right? Have fruit for dessert instead of cake, ice cream etc.

Keep trying with the garden. You can plant green or yellow beans all through the summer. In mid to late August, plant letttuce and spinach so it will mature in the cooler weather in September. I believe food stamps can be used to buy garden seeds.

Good luck!

K. Z.



answers from Dallas on

Cheap meals aren't fun, are they???

One cheap meal I really like is chicken nuggets. I use one, boneless, skinless breast. Cut it up into pieces using scissors and bread it. Then put foil on a pan, spray it with pam or drizzle with olive oil and bake at 350 until it looks done. I use the Zataran's....similar to shake n bake but tastier. One breast feeds my family of 4. For a side I microwave frozen broccoli and add salt and pepper and butter or for me I use the pepper vinegar sauce (YUM!)

You can also just season the chicken breasts and bake them for about an hour or so and microwave some veggies for the side.

Chalupas are delicious! YOu can buy already made chalupa shells or bake corn tortillas (then you can use the corn tortillas for other things). Either cook ground beef and season with taco seasoning or cook beans (add at least a half a can of mild rotel with no juice). Cook the shells, top with the beans or meat and add whatever veggies you half. If I'm lucky and have lots of veggies on hand I will use lettuce, tomato, avocado, onion, bell pepper and a little bit of cheese. THen I drizzle with Pace Picaunte. If I don't have any of those veggies I just do cheese.

Chilli is another good, cheap meal because it's just ground beef, 3 alarm chili seasoning and tomato sauce and of course onions and bell peppers if you happen to have any.

Stir fry using frozen stir fry vegetables and left over meat. Cook with a little soy sauce and seasoning and eat over rice.

Can't think of anything else for now.



answers from Columbus on

Hi S.,
I got a book from the library called the $5 dinner moms cookbook(or something along those lines). You can search for it in the libraries search engine. It had some good cheap ideas, some rely on previously purchased ingredients but a lot of stuff you could buy and keep for all the recipes.
Good Luck



answers from Columbus on

As much as you can, buy in bulk & cook from scratch. I know that's not always possible.....

Go whole wheat/whole grains. We go to GFS and big the super big bag of whole wheat pasta, and buy the generic sauce that is lowest in fat & salt. :) Or, buy the big can of tomato sauce & make your own pasta sauce from that.

GFS is awesome & doesn't require a membership. They have some of the same types of stuff as Sam's/Costco, but it's more food oriented.

Beans & rice - lots of different varieties and ways to spice 'em up. Get the brown rice if you can--it's better for you. We get ours at an Indian grocery, or a Chinese grocery. We also get the 4# bag of black beans at the ethnic grocery near us (Somali, I think?). We cook up the beans and then freeze them.

Fresh or frozen fruits & veggies. We buy the bags of frozen veggies on sale when they are $1 each (at Kroger). We buy the frozen fruit when it's on sale.

Are there any "scratch & dent" stores near you? There's one near us (well, that's all relative, it's more like 30 minutes away) that we're going to check out.

If you can scrounge up the $ for a used bread machine, you can buy wheat & white flour in bulk (GFS has 20# bags of white for not much $) & make your own bread (which tastes better anyway!). Buy the yeast in bulk, too (at GFS... can you tell I love it there!?!) & store it in the fridge.

Sometimes, u-pick farms can be a good deal if the fruit is in season; like apples in the fall or blueberries this time of year. Freeze what you can't use right away (you can cut up apples and freeze them for pies/applesauce)

If you know any gardening friends, almost all of them plant too many tomatoes and are more than glad to share some (or other produce).

You're in IN, and if you're rural IN, check with your local Amish.Mennonite ladies for the local bulk store.



answers from Dayton on

We try to grab the rotisserie chicken when we see it on sale (even 2). On sale it's cheaper than buying a whole chicken to cook, most times, and our family of 5 gets 2 or more meals out of it. Generally, I grab it when it hits like 4.99. Also, go to and They help you combine sales and coupons to get lots of things cheap or free. Thanks to them I don't have to pay for toothpaste, toothbrushes, or deodorant anymore. Also, I get most shampoo and conditioners for less than a dollar. Both of those sites are free.



answers from Austin on

don't you qualify for food stamps?



answers from New York on

What about eggs?You can always have breakfast for dinner...good protein for your family and cheap...
One easy meal I make a lot is lasagna rolls - lasagna noodles (boiled) then make filling of ricotta 1 small container (or you could sub cottage cheese) 1 egg, parmesan and a package of frozen chopped spinach thawed and squeezed out. put a couple Tablespoons of filling on each noodle and roll it up - top with jar of spaghetti sauce. There are a million variations...
What about tuna? You can always throw that into a salad or pasta. I buy those pasta roni's when they are on sale for $1 and add tuna and some peas to it - instant casserole.
For your son simple veggies are cheap buy and bake some sweet potatoes mash and serve w/ or w/o cinnamon
Same with any kind of squash - way cheaper than baby food.
Beans - my son's favorite finger food since he was about 11 months (16 months now) has been plain pink beans rinsed and drained from the can. Perfect finger food and super cheap and good for him.
Homeade pizza? - Buy a ball of dough at the grocery or pizza store (1.50 here) make sauce with 1/2 can of tomato paste, water, oil if you have it, and italian seasoning. - top with cheese and whatever else - we like frozen spinach again...
Sorry for my thoughts being all over the place - just trying to think of cheap food!
Good luck!



answers from Gainesville on

I second buying large bags of veggies at Sam's club. Use whole wheat pasta because then you are getting protein and fiber to keep you full and more nutritional bang for your buck. Brown rice and beans-again good fiber and protein.

Have you checked to see if you would qualify for WIC for your son? That would help out with getting milk, cereal, juice, eggs and now some places you can get fresh fruit and veggies with WIC.

Here's another idea for you as well:



answers from Cincinnati on

Check with your county or at churches. Many have food banks and some do fresh veggies in the summer that they grow on the grounds. While you many not get organic foods or much fresh in the way of things. It does help the food stamps last longer and sometimes they have personal items.



answers from Dayton on

My church offers Angel Food once a month. It is a selection of foods for $25 and we even have some packages that are given away to those in need each month. For more information, call Centerville Chrisitian Fellowship at ###-###-####. Please leave a message and someone will call you back with the information.



answers from New York on

Stir fry is great. You don't use much meat (you can do just veggies) and add what ever is on sale that week or even left overs.

An oven stuffer roaster, when it's on sale. It feeds our family of 4, and there's always leftovers for hubby and I to have lunch the next day. After that make some soup.

I find that potatoes and carrots aren't very expensive and make good side dishes.

For your son, buy a large box of Cherios, try the generic brand. They're healthy, good for breakfast, and great for a snack.

Have you tried getting assistance from a local food bank.



answers from Tampa on

Beans & Rice. Buy a bag of dried beans (Black for example) and a bag of brown rice. We get more than 10 meals out of this and it costs about $5 for the rice, beans and onion. I season with some garlic, dried red hot pepper and tomatoes...adding just a few cents more per serving.



answers from Indianapolis on

Check out You pay about $5 a month for the service but there are many menus to choose from. They plan the menus around sales at the store you choose. We choose the Aldi one and pay about $80 a week for groceries. We get WIC too so sometimes it's even less. You can still pick and choose what you want to fix but it helps me get organized and has some really good, healthy meals.

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