Healhy, but Cheaper Meals!

Updated on November 02, 2014
B.L. asks from Columbia Falls, MT
24 answers

I am looking for cheaper meals, but that are still relatively healthy. My husband just lost 20 hours a week at work, so we need to save money.

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answers from Iowa City on

Buy what is on sale. If you meal plan for a few months you will start to notice what the cheapest sale price will be and when. For example, my local grocery store has frozen vegetables on sale every 4 weeks so I know to buy most of my monthly frozen veggies midmonth when they are under $1 per package.

I don't know what you consider cheap or healthy. Pasta with a side salad is cheap and healthy enough for most. Black bean tacos. Egg dishes. Veggie chili. Lentil dishes. Roast chicken (whole). Soups. Those all tend to be inexpensive and can be healthy.

Finally google cheap meals or look on Pinterest. You will find so many sites that offer recipes and suggestions.

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Norfolk on

Take a look at this:


Prices are a little out of date but it will give you an idea how to budget for and plan out meals.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Los Angeles on

I started working from home with a nutrition and wellness company. The cost for the program is low and I actually make a decent income from them. Might be a win-win for you!

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answers from San Francisco on

Eat less meat, more beans. Hopefully you like beans (I love them!) because they can be so versatile, especially in soups and stews which go a long way with just a little meat or broth. Lentils, brown rice and barley are good too, and if you buy in bulk REALLY cheap.
Of course make everything you can from scratch, nothing runs up your grocery bill like processed, prepared foods.
Buy produce in season.
Bake as much as you can (and get the kids involved, they love to be in the kitchen!)

8 moms found this helpful


answers from New York on

Stretch your meals by adding beans, and making use of frozen veg when on sale. stop buying soda, prepared teas, coffee or sports drinks. Instead, have water, home made tea and coffee and home made flavored water. Also consider saving by moving off paper products to reusable napkins, rags and cleaning cloths, eat off real dishes and use real cups. frozen juice concentrate can save a few bucks. Also, consider changing out your cleaning products for vinegar, baking soda and soap. finally, if it will help you save, stretch the intervals at which you wash things and do personal maintenance. i.e. a pair of jeans need not go in the wash after a single wear unless they are stained/ soiled; your kids might be able to go three weeks between haircuts instead of two, etc etc.

If the 20 hrs is really hitting your bottom line, and you qualify, you might consider applying for food stamps. Government services are out there to help in a time of need. That's part of what we pay taxes for.

F. B.

An afterthought-
Not sure what you and your family are accustomed to, but if there are certain treats/ food experiences which are important to you, see if you can replicate them, or at least make room for them every so often. If you used to have ice cream sundaes on game night- have them at home, or have them on the two for tuesdays special night at the ice cream parlor. If you used to have pizza and a movie on friday night, see if you can do it on the cheap using frozen or home made pizza and a redbox selection, or go for a matinee instead. None of this is particularly healthy, but sometimes food isn't only about food, but it is also about experience. Kids enjoy and look forward to these ritual things, see if you can find a way to maintain at least some of your fam food rituals.

7 moms found this helpful


answers from Las Vegas on

you can save by buying in bulk and when on sale.. don't be afraid to freeze items... of course, seasonally you ll always save more...
also.. we seldom buy coffee out... ALWAYS bring lunches to school and work.... forget about things like sweetened cereal.. if you must have.. buy plain and sweeten it yourself.. water is king in our house.. which cuts down on things like soda and or juice.. IF we do go out, it's NEVER to fancy places and too.. my husband doesn't drink and I seldom do so the bill isn't as high as those who might order alcohol beverages and or sodas.. little things add up... snacks... make popcorn, cut up fruit/veggies.. stay away from premade... that will cost you..
I find that when I do most of the above, we save a lot more.. especially when years ago, we began to bring all our meals into work.. including snacks and coffee.. it does take more preparation.. but that's how you save more. it's when you don't prepare that you end up eating out too often and over-spending..
best of luck

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Columbia on

Roast a couple chickens Monday in the crockpot. Chicken salad Tuesday, soup weds.

Think about meals you can do for several days. We like chili, bean soup, taco soup, spaghetti...all very cheap.

ETA: Also, if you have an Aldi store or a similar lower-price grocery, I suggest shopping there instead of Walmart or your regular grocery. I save a LOT by shopping there.

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Chicago on

One of our family favorites, that I'm actually making right now is Turkey bean stew.....feeds 5 and there are left overs, which we all fight over the next day.

1 pound turkey (buy it frozen in the tube, it's much cheaper)
1 cup salsa
1 cup water (i use chicken broth)
1 cup frozen corn
2 cans beans ( i like one can northern beans and one can black beans)

Brown turkey in stock pot. Add rest of ingredients. Simmer for 30 minutes. We top with sour cream, cheese and avocado. We also eat this with rice.

This whole meal costs about $5. And it's so quick and easy to make.

Hearty chicken noodle soup:
Rostisserie chicken
chopped onion
chopped celery
4 cans chicken broth
1 can vegetable broth
sliced carrots
1/2 tsp dried basil & oregano
egg noodles

Homemade sloppy joes
1 pd ground beef
chopped onion & green pepper
1 tsp mustard
3/4 ketchup
3 tsp brown sugar

Best wishes

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Denver on

I am one of the few people who don't make lists or scour the paper for coupons. Instead, I go to a store and look at their specials and plan meals around that. I head first for the meat manager's specials. I asked the manager when meat specials are marked down (usually after 6 pm). Its perfectly good meat, and often greatly reduced. So I try to time my shopping trip so it's after the meat is marked down. The next few days or week's menus will depend on what is marked down.

The same applies to the dairy, produce and general grocery departments. I know where they put the reduced price items. Often they must be used quickly, but a lot can be frozen, and even if the item says "sell by [date]", it will be perfectly good for several days afterwards. Dented cans often are marked way down (dented are fine, bulging are dangerous).

I have even bargained with a meat manager. Once I saw him trying to make room for quite a large roast that had been marked down. He seemed frustrated by the lack of space. I told him "I'll take that right now if you'll reduce it even more". He looked at me, whipped out his Sharpie and reduced it by an additional 50%.

So figure out which stores have regular mark-downs (not usually stores like Walmart, but stores like Kroger, Safeway, and other supermarket chains), and take advantage of those and use those to inspire your menu.

By the way, I buy the marked-down meat so frequently that my family has jokingly referred to it as "used meat". "Mom, can you see if there's any steak in the used meat department?" Of course, it's not used, but it's the grocery equivalent of shopping in the Goodwill bin. You have to pick through and find the best deal, and it can be fun! Get to know the produce, grocery and meat department managers and ask when foods are marked down and when is the best time to come for those specials.

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Oklahoma City on

There's not really any way to really cut costs with meals. Cut costs elsewhere. Healthy food is more expensive. It is, if you're not dirt poor and having to buy the lower forms of food then you have no idea.

Fresh fruit and fresh veggies are not something we've seen in this house in several years. We cannot afford them. I get to spend about $30 a week on groceries. Not for milk and bread and such staples but for meat and canned stuff. I sometimes stand at the mac and cheese and put those boxes in the cart nearly in tears because I'm tired of it. But I can feed my family 2 boxes of it plus a cheap $.88 cent package of wieners for a meal. Cost less than $2.25 for the whole meal.

I buy the 10 pound bag of leg quarters for a few dollars at Walmart. I boil them all at one time. No spices, nothing but clear water and chicken.

When they are cooked I take the meat out, keep the water boiling, de-bone the chicken meat, put the skin and bones back in the boiling water. I make a wonderful broth this way. When it's cool I scoop the fat layer off the top and dispose of it. Then I pour the broth into a few gallon zip lock baggies. I lay them flat when they go in the freezer, if you do this make sure they are completely sealed! Then when I need chicken broth I rip a bag off and plop the hard frozen broth into a stock pot and turn the heat on.

I put the meat into quart size zip lock baggies and freeze them. Then when I need cooked chicken I have it ready.

Chicken and dumplings

Chicken enchiladas

Chicken helper

Chicken tacos

Chicken in Alfredo sauce

Lemon chicken

And more. I'm sure you have recipes that use cooked chicken.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Los Angeles on

Depends your definition of healthy. we just went plant based and its often expensive (surprising hu?) so we do a few things to temper it. The reason veg is often more expensive than meat (calorie for calorie) is that meat and dairy are full of government subsidies, freezes, and ships easily. fresh ingredients are more expensive than low quality meat. The more processed the meat, the cheaper still. So consider, doing more with bulk beans, legumes, and whole grains, than lowering the quality of your meats.

These days I temper our expensive veg with lots of bulk rice and beans (also consider quinoa, lentils, barley, wheat berries). I love pinto beans in a slow cooker. We eat it over brown rice and pile salad on top. You can do a lot of variety with a rice and bean bowl. You can do it up Mexican style (lettuce, tomato, corn chips, olives, ((and of course cheese and sour cream if you like))) or do black beans and add boiled sweat potatoes, and a sprinkle of peanuts for a more African theme. Flavor it up with salsa, tzikki, chopped veg, onions, cilantro...... yes, bulk rice and beans can be used in a lot of stuff. And cooking more from scratch than convenience foods helps too. Though I pay more for my produce at a local organic CSA, my produce lasts 2 and sometimes 3 times as long as grocery store produce, so it almost never goes bad on me.
skip boxed cereals for oat meal or wheat berries. Try steal cut oatmeal. Make your own salad dressings, stir fry sauces etc, etc.
Lentil soup, african peanut soup, chili, potato soup.
Stir fry with tofu over rice (tofu is a very inexpensive protein if you buy it at the right place)

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Los Angeles on

Beans (buy the bags of beans, soak them overnight then cook them
according to the pkg.
Chicken rotisserie ($5), eat it then save the carcass for a soup
Chicken legs (cheaper to buy). Separate into smaller bags & freeze. Bbq
them, make them into soup.
Salads (chicken on top, taco salad)
Soups w/bread

Never buy store brand, buy generic.
Buy some things at the Dollar Store like chips, salsa.
Don't buy steaks. Stick to ground turkey.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Washington DC on

My husband actually just lost his job as well, and the immediate hit is going to really hurt us.

Meals is a place I have looked to save money. I have been clipping coupons which help. Also using the croock pot allows me to make meat go further - or casseroles. I have done tons of Google searches for "meals under $10" and TONS of things come up. Not all are healthy, but not all are bad either.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Portland on

You can eat magnificently on a small budget if you avoid processed foods. And many diets include more animal proteins than are needed for good health. We generally have only 2-4 ounces daily, with a day or two of vegetarian meals weekly. As Mamazita says, beans and other bulk grains/seeds are filling, healthy, and very economical. Squash is versatile and full of goodness.

The tradeoff, of course, is that you invest the value of your time to save money, but if you or someone in your household enjoys cooking, it's perfect. Unfortunately, I don't "love" cooking, but I have become a more than decent cook out of economic necessity, and my meals are tasty and healthy, so overall, it's been a good tradeoff. I just wish my husband would take more interest in the creative end of the meal.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Grand Forks on

Utility turkeys go on sale for less than $1/lb around each of the holidays. I usualy keep a few of those in the freezer. One 10lb turkey will feed the family for a few days for under $10. Pork shoulders and stewing hens are pretty cheap and can be used for pulled pork/chicken. Only buy the fresh fruits and veggies when in season. Buy everything else only when it is on sale.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Los Angeles on

If your location is accurate, then it is pretty tough, but you can do some research and find the best prices for things. The growing season in MT is just about done for 2014, and it's short, but consider doing a garden next summer. You could do an herb garden indoors over the winter if you get it going now. Then you can a little something fresh to your meal plan.
First, don't assume Costco is going to be your best deal - do some research on your typical purchases and try to identify waste. Also, the grocery stores in the Flathead tend to be really expensive because they're trucked in from far away. On every receipt try to figure out what the most expensive products are - they'll tend to be things like packaged cereal (instead of plain oatmeal), or cheese (which isn't healthy anyway), or granola bars (total rip off).
Best bet is to learn to cook from whole foods, and avoid packaging and marketing costs that companies have to have in order to sell their "food products". I've found meat to be cheapest at Costco, but you have to be disciplined to not buy other packaged foods that are very expensive. Buy in bulk only foods that won't go bad, or that you can prep & freeze in bulk. Bulk up your foods with healthy, cheap additions - beans, brown rice, broths, etc. Buy whole foods that haven't been processed, and try to buy what's in season locally - potatoes, roots, onion, apples will be in season in the fall. Buy frozen veggies and fruits which often maintain their nutrients better than things that have been shipped long distances.
Try to reuse as much as possible - do hamburgers from bulk ground beef on Sunday night, and turn it into tacos for monday, and spaghetti for Tuesday and meatball soup for Thursday. Roast chicken the next week for Sunday, to do stirfry Monday, chicken soup Tuesday, Tacos Wednesday. I also recommend having a list of "cheap eats" that can be put together from staples in the cupboard/fridge: pancakes, french toast (from sandwich bread that's stale), fried rice, omelets, grilled cheese & tomato soup, any kind of soup from left overs, etc. Also, think about big time investments - roast a turkey anytime - not just Thanksgiving - and you've got loads of meat for sandwiches, enchiladas, soups, broths, etc. And it costs time, but will yield a lot for the $.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Chicago on

Buy a pork shoulder, use the carnitas recipe from all all.recipe-double the spice- I also make beans in the crockpot, I like the refried without the refry from the same site. I also love th Mexican rice 2 recipe. The ingredients shouldn't cost much, but you should get a bunch of meals from it.

We butcher own our chickens and make stock and soup from it.

Lentils are a other way to go. Make some Dahls. They freeze great.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from New London on

Meat has gotten so expensive. Research says people will live longer and healthier on more of a vegetarian diet.

I buy organic pasta when it is on sale (Because wheat is genetically altered). And I cook beans according to the package.

I buy quinoa when it's on sale. too.

If I make a big soup, I make sure that it will last 2, maybe 3 days.

Do u have a Trader Joe's near you? The kalamata olives are 5.99 at the grocery store. The same size is 2.99 at Trader Joe's !!!! ...Same taste, too !

I do not buy the expensive brand name cleaners for 2 reasons: 1) Most are toxic 2) White vinegar and water is just as good

We used to eat Annies organic mac and cheese ---If you do a search :
Annies coupons 2014-----You will find some.

Saving $ takes more planning !!!

We have a fridge w/ a filtered water dispenser.
I drink a ton of water.
Every so often I make iced tea using tea bags that were on sale !

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Boston on

I try to keep in mind that something I don't need or don't use is the most expensive item in my grocery basket. So I would suggest that it might help to look over your typical purchases in food stores, pharmacies and convenience stores. You may find items that you don't need (water, fruit juice, soda, pre-cut veggies or fruit, non-protein snacks, etc.) And then try to notice anything that you might be able to salvage for another purpose (bits of meat, veggies, pasta for soup or salads). If you end up saving any money, then you can use it for all the healthy meals tip you are getting from these other posts.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Chicago on

Make your own pasta sauces in the crock pot, or even on the stove if you don't have a slow cooker. Pinterest has great recipes, but basically a large can (15+ oz) of diced tomatos, tomato sauce, tomato paste - all very inexpensive. I usually double the recipe and freeze meal size portions - I get usually get 3-4 meals at a time. Add garlic, onions, other veggies (peppers etc) if you have them. It's a great way to use a little of this and a little of that you have left in the fridge. You can add some of the lesser cost chicken pieces to add a protein (drum sticks or wings) and they will cook up nice in the sauce. Then just a box of pasta and you are set. Good luck!

Also think breakfast for dinner sometimes. A big bowl of oatmeal with added in fruit (can be frozen and defrosted) is yummy. Eggs and toast for dinner too.

It's healthier and I skip the carbs at dinner. Just the lean meat and a veggie - often a couple veggies. If you are not buying the rice you have a little more to spend on the veggie and they can be frozen too.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Boston on

Use coupons wisely but only for those items you cannot buy more cheaply otherwise. Manufacturers of name-brand processed foods mark up their products, then offer a coupon for $1 off 2, which is 50 cents each. But often the generic or store brand (made in the same factory!) is more than 50 cents cheeper.

Go to company websites for coupons that don't appear in the circulars. Combine company coupons with store coupons for double savings. Look at stores that accept competitors' coupons.

Buy in bulk but only if you will consume that food within a month - otherwise you are stockpiling while the store keeps your money. Look at what's on sale this week, and then search for recipes by listing the key ingredients. Rachael Ray, for example, has recipes you can find that way but so do other websites.

Start family meal prep as an activity. Unfortunately your husband has fewer work hours, but that means he has more family hours. Cook a few foods and combine in interesting ways. Turkey and all the root vegetables are on sale now, for example, so roast a turkey, then make sliced turkey with roasted sweet potatoes, a turkey casserole with noodles or bread stuffing (your own, not packaged, using some cubed unpeeled apples, diced onion and some apple cider to moisten) and freeze half, turkey wrap sandwiches with spinach leaves and carrot shreds, and use the carcass for turkey soup (add onion, carrots, celery, potatoes). Do the same thing next week with chicken.

The crock pot is great for cheaper cuts of meat. But other sources of protein are less expensive than meat. Use beans, either canned when on sale or dried and soaked overnight. We use cooked beans in stews and chili (meatless or with beef or turkey). We make our own enchiladas - put a strip of refried beans in the center of a tortilla and top with diced onion, peppers, a handful of frozen peas or corn, and some cheddar or jack cheese, or whatever you have. If you have diced cooked chicken or leftover shredded BBQ chicken, use that. Then fold over the 2 sides and secure with a toothpick, place in a baking dish and top with tomato sauce to which you have added any herbs and spices you like such as cumin or coriander, bake for 20 minutes at 350). If you have a picky eater, you just make an enchilada without the thing they don't eat, and this is also a good way to use up peppers that are a little soft but still good. If you avoid bottled enchilada sauces and ready-made taco seasonings and use your own, you can use half a can of tomato puree for this and the rest for a spaghetti sauce, just changing the seasonings, for much less money.

We also make our own chicken nuggets or tenders when chicken goes on sale, dipping in beaten egg and then a mix of whole wheat bread crumbs and wheat germ, then quick frying in olive oil to crisp them up, then finish by putting a rack on a baking sheet and baking them in the oven.

Pizza is a great food for using up leftovers. Frozen vegetables are just as healthy as fresh, and more so if you are buying a fresh vegetable out of season and it was picked 2 weeks ago and kept in nitrogen gas. Same thing for frozen fruits to use in smoothies or desserts.

W also make our own hamburgers using whatever meat is on sale (beef, turkey, chicken, or a a mixture). Lean meats have less fat so the burgers need more moisture - we add frozen chopped spinach, leftover beans from the recipes above, onion (including the juice), a teaspoon of horseradish, leftover green or red peppers, and salt/pepper to make our own mixture. We grind up everything except the meat in the food processor, then combine into patties. English muffins on sale can make a good alternative to buns.

Serve sweet potato oven fries with either the burgers or the chicken nuggets - peel, cut into wedges, and toss in a little olive or canola oil with some salt/pepper or an herb/spice of choice (dill and caraway are both good).

Eggs are incredibly cheap - make a hand-held breakfast "muffin" by putting any little vegetables (peppers, onions, tomatoes) and any leftover bits of meat (ham, bacon) into the cups of a muffin pan. Beat eggs and some milk separately,then pour into the muffin tins and bake until set and golden brown on top. Great on-the-go breakfast and much cheaper/healthier than a "breakfast bar" or pop tart.

Chinese style stir fry is a great use for things you don't have enough of to make a full meal. A couple of broccoli florets can be added to carrot coins/strips, a few pieces of peppers, half an onion in rings or half-rings, etc., cooked in a little oil and with an added sauce of part soy sauce, part water and a little cornstarch to thicken it. Serve over brown rice with a little soy sauce added to the cooking water.

The more you start with raw ingredients rather than short-cut, instant or prepared foods, the cheaper it will be.

Also, cut out things like paper towels by using those reusable, washable cloths, and use cloth napkins instead of paper ones. That's an unnecessary expense for a single-use item. Cut out sodas and juices which are expensive forms of liquid sugar.

Go for breakfasts of oatmeal (very cheap, sticks to your ribs) instead of expensive cereals.

Good luck - make this into a fun family activity and hopefully you will discover the joy of healthier food. Hope he finds more work hours soon!



answers from Phoenix on

If weather permits, plant a garden! You can grow all kinds of veggies to add to casseroles, soups, stews and salads.



answers from Provo on

Check out the site budgetbytes.com I just discovered it and loved the sesame chicken and the penne pasta with sausage was tasty as well.



answers from Des Moines on

Pasta is one of the least expensive foods out there. You can buy the Barilla high fiber pasta fortified with omega 3's. It's a lot healthier than just the plain white stuff. You can make sphaghetti, you can mix it in a pan with vegetables, or make casseroles.

Also, I make my own mexican food from scratch. I cook my own beans (very cheap but healthy) I soak pinto beans overnight, then cook them in some broth with onions, celery and garlic. When they are cooked I mash them then fry them in a little olive oil with some beef. Then I make beef and bean burritos with hardly any fat at all.

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