Trying to eat healthy and eat on a budget can feel like an impossible task. Fresh produce, lean meats and organic ingredients can certainly help you manage your weight well but they can also do a lot of damage to your wallet if you’re not careful.
If money’s tight but you still want to do your best at eating healthful meals, here’s a glance at just a handful of lunches and dinners that can help you meet your two-pronged goal of watching your weight and your bank account.
1. Baked fish & mixed vegetables
Bake fish fillets topped with lemon juice and pepper for a heart-healthy entree to go along with a colorful side dish of broccoli, carrots and cauliflower. If you want, you can create a tin foil packet to bake each fillet along with a serving of the frozen vegetable blend and lemon juice seasoning or you can cook the fillets by themselves, only adding a little bit of water to the bottom of the baking sheet to help the fish not dry out.
For your wallet’s sake, buy a big pack of frozen fish fillets when you can find them on sale so the healthful option is always on hand. Similarly, keep your freezer stocked with dollar bags of frozen vegetable blends so you can whip one out whenever your local fresh produce section has nothing good on sale. You can pick up a cheap, long-lasting bottle of pure lemon juice from the store and keep it in your fridge.
2. Black bean & pineapple salad
Add black beans, corn, pineapple chunks and green, red or orange bell peppers into a bowl along with a calorie-sensible homemade dressing using a touch of olive oil with some lime juice and dried cilantro. Throw in some chopped onion, as desired, and place the tasty concoction over a bed of mixed salad greens. This kind of meal works great for feeding a family or for serving an individual dinner today and lunch tomorrow. If you want to optimize the taste of leftovers, go ahead and hold off mixing the rest of the the bean-and-pineapple mixture with the salad greens until the next day.
To make this healthy meal plan cost effective, buy a big bag of dried black beans for cheap and then cook a couple of servings at a time to use over the course of the next few days. Or, for a quicker result, pick up a can of no-salt-added black beans and simply heat them in the microwave.
Go for canned pineapple if fresh isn’t reasonably available, but make sure to pick a chunked version that is all natural fruit with no added sugar and in 100% pineapple juice rather than a heavy syrup. Keep a bag of frozen corn in the freezer and a container of cilantro in the cupboard. Olive oil is a long-lasting pantry staple that you can buy in bulk and you can keep a small, inexpensive bottle of lime juice in the fridge.
Shop your neighborhood’s produce sections carefully, keeping an eye on local ads to know where the deals are for any given week. Be flexible in your recipe depending on what’s on sale, willing to opt for spinach instead or arugula or mango instead of pineapple as the situation dictates. This way, you’ll still get the benefits of having fresh, nutrient-rich foods without paying too much for off-sale items.
3. Tuna pasta
Combine whole wheat pasta with canned tuna, shredded carrots, chopped celery and a homemade dressing of apple cider vinegar, Dijon mustard and lemon juice according to your tastes.
If you want to switch things up every now and then, use canned salmon instead of tuna or white beans and fresh spinach instead of the pasta. If a vinegar-based dressing is just not your thing unless you add a sweetener like honey, go ahead and add a little bit or stick to an alternative dressing option like olive-oil and lemon juice.
Canned tuna and salmon are some of the most wallet-friendly and diet-friendly options out there. When managing your weight and finances, keep this kind of dish in mind. You can keep a big box of your favorite whole wheat pasta in the pantry for times you have some extra calories to spare and you can stick to just tuna and veggies on nights when you splurged earlier in the day on lunch or breakfast.
4. Breakfast burritos
Who doesn’t love breakfast for dinner? Whip up a batch of scrambled eggs to place in a corn tortilla along with cooked bell peppers, mushrooms and onions. Add some tomatoes and season with a freebie like pepper. Go ahead and run a corn tortilla under water before putting it on a heat-resistant plate and microwaving it for around 20 or 30 seconds to create the perfect low-calorie burrito wrap. If you’re willing, feel free to toss in some extra veggies like spinach or zucchini.
Keeping a carton of eggs in the fridge is one of the cheapest ways to still get diet-friendly protein. If you’re concerned about cholesterol, you can go ahead and use only egg whites for the scrambled eggs in your breakfast burrito. Grab a pepper, mushroom and onion blend from the frozen vegetables section of your local grocery store to keep the meal financially on target. Buy whatever fresh vegetables are on sale and make them work for you, either putting them into the burrito itself or simply creating a separate side dish if the cost-effective veggies of the week really don’t suit your egg meal.
5. Vegetable lasagna
When you’re in the mood to cook and eat something warm that’s been pulled out of the oven, consider making a vegetable lasagna with zucchini instead of noodles. Grab an organic pasta sauce or make a healthy one of your own to layer with zucchini slices, part-skim mozzarella cheese and extra veggies like yellow squash, kale, spinach, mushrooms and onions. Skimp on the cheese and go heavy on the vegetables for a lower-calorie meal.
Wait until zucchini goes on sale to make this yummy dish in order to further minimize the cost. Buy fresh bags of kale and spinach and keep them in the freezer so you always have a handful of each on hand to add into any dish. Serve the lasagna to the whole family or keep single-serve portions in the freezer, which you can grab for quick lunches or dinners throughout the month.