Tips to Healthy, Easy Meals on a Budget

When eating on a budget there are two challenges which concern dietitians and which are important to keep in mind as you are feeding your family on a little tighter budget than usual.

The first is challenge is nutrient-density.

You want to buy foods that are what we call energy-dense as well as nutrient-dense so that your body is getting the calories it needs to continue conducting all of the basic functions you don’t even know that it does for you.

These types of energy-dense foods include items such as cheese, peanut butter, and avocados. It’s really important to include these healthy fats in the diet as they will help you and your family feel fuller longer as you are getting the nutrients as well as the energy that you need.

cheese

 

The next challenge when eating on a budget is in making sure that you are getting enough protein.

We know that protein items such as poultry, beef, and seafood are always the most expensive products in our cart – but we can’t just forgo protein all together because it is far too important to our body.

Our body relies on protein for growth and development, ensuring the proper structure and function of cells, storing nutrients, and ensuring adequate immune system reactions. Proteins are an essential part of everything that our body does and it is so very important that our body has an adequate source. But, when times are tough, what can we do instead of buying those expensive items?

easy meals on a budget

We have some great tips and tricks for you when eating on a budget.

  • If you are buying chicken, buy it frozen. You can get a full 6-7 pound roaster chicken for $10.99 – that is $1.69 per pound and that chicken can be used for a ton of cheap meals.
  • Look at different sources for your protein – namely, dried beans and lentils. We encourage you to choose the dried options over canned because the dried is much cheaper per ounce. They do take a little longer to prepare, but maybe you can make that into a fun family activity to teach the kiddos some valuable cooking skills!
  • Don’t forget about peanut butter. Peanut butter is one of those nutrient-dense and energy-dense foods (due to the healthy fats) which provide a lot of micronutrients as well as a good source of protein. And it’s so cheap!
  • Give canned tuna and salmon a try – we know that it can get kind of a bad rap, but honestly that is one of the cheapest ways to get an incredible source of fats that are essential for brain function and reducing the stress that we put on our bodies (both mentally and physically). There are some really good recipe suggestions and to be completely honest, my favorite food in the whole world is salmon patties (it has been since I was like 10) so just give them a try. You never know what you might like.
  • Check out our protein budget buys grocery list!
turkey

Photo credit Kaitlin Eckstein

Now, on to the full grocery list. We compiled this list together with some rough estimates of prices (it’s going to vary a bit we are sure) but hopefully this can give you an idea of what will be the best items for you budget as well as some creative recipes for what to do with that big bag of beans! Keep reading to see the prices we found at Giant. Most of the items which are cheapest are the generic option. From what we found, Safeway actually had the highest prices and Aldi tended to have the lowest, but again it does vary!

Meal planning helps make eating on a budget easier

Last thing, we found the Prudent Penny Pincher’s 150 Dirt Cheap Recipes to be really helpful and packed with creative ideas for some of our basic items! Go check out her webpage if you are needing more ideas! We also referenced WIC for this list, so items with an * indicate that they are WIC approved. If you qualify, be sure to look at the WIC Shopping Guide before you head in to the grocery store as there are some specifications as to size and brand of items.

Seven Dietitian Approved Meal Planning Tips

Budget Details when Food Shopping for easy meals on a budget

grocery aisles eating on a budget

Budget ingredients for easy meals on a budget

Oats

Rolled oats 18 oz * $2.59

  • Overnight oatmeal
  • Hot oatmeal
  • Oats with mashed banana
  • Oatmeal muffins
  • Pb oatmeal energy bites
  • Homemade granola bars

oats

Eggs

12-ct white chicken eggs * $2.49

  • Scrambled eggs seasoned with salt, garlic and black pepper
  • Omelet with spinach and cheese
  • Breakfast quesadilla
  • Cheesy eggs on toast
  • Spinach frittata
  • Egg salad
  • Fried egg grilled cheese sandwich
  • Breakfast burritos (can add salsa, spinach, beans, potatoes)
  • Breakfast bowl (can use potatoes, beans, sour cream, avocado, salsa)
  • Egg in a hole

eggs

Bread

White Bread 20 oz $0.99
Wheat Bread 20 oz * $1.99

  • Eggs on toast
  • Peanut butter banana toast
  • Tuna salad sandwich
  • French toast with peanut butter/cream cheese
  • Egg in a hole

toast

Flour

All-purpose flour 5# bag $1.99

  • Waffles
  • Pancakes
  • Tortillas
  • Pizza dough

Blueberry Almond Flour Waffles

More ingredients for easy meals on a budget

Cereal 10-20 oz *$1.88-$4.88

cereal

Bananas 4-6ct * $1.99

bananas

Apples – 3# bag * $4.99

treat or treat

Dried beans are our favorite easy meals on a budget

Black beans 16 oz * $1.49
Lima beans 16 oz * $1.49
Kidney beans 16 oz * $1.49
Pinto beans 16 oz * $1.49
Garbanzo beans 16 oz * $2.29

beans

  • Hummus
  • Beans and rice
  • Bean and cheese quesadilla
  • Black bean burgers
  • Black bean soup
  • Bean burritos
  • Crunchy black bean tacos
  • Chickpea nuggets
  • Spinach and refried bean quesadillas
  • Crispy roasted black beans (or chickpeas)
  • Three bean salad
  • Mango chili

budget meal

  •  

Dried Lentils

Dried lentils – 16 oz * $1.00

  • Lentil tacos
  • Baked sweet potato with lentils
  • Lentil tacos with avocado (good source of energy and healthy fats)

Slow Cooker Coconut Curry Lentils

Rice

White rice long grain 32 oz $1.79
Brown rice long grain 32 oz * $2.69
Mahatma brown rice 2 lb bag * $3.19
White rice long grain 5lb bag $3.29

  • Egg fried rice
  • Rice and beans

rice

Potatoes

2 ct * $1.79
5# bag – 0.05/oz * $4.19

  • Loaded potato with ranch, salsa, or cheese & sour cream

frozen food

 

Sweet Potatoes

Sweet potatoes – 2# bag (2-4 ct) * 2.49

  • Baked sweet potato with lentils
  • Sweet potato chickpea patties
sweet potato and salmon cakes

photo credit Kaitlin Eckstein

Squash

Butternut squash $2.69

  • Butternut squash soup
  • Cheesy squash lasagna
  • Spaghetti squash $3.79
  • Parmesan spaghetti squash
  • Spaghetti squash bread sticks
  • Meatball and spaghetti squash
  • Garlic spaghetti squash
  • Caprese spaghetti squash
  • Pepperoni pizza spaghetti squash boat
  • Spaghetti squash tater tots
  • Instant pot tomato basil spaghetti squash

Zucchini

Zucchini – 2 ct $2.49

  • Zucchini fries
  • Zucchini quiche
  • Zucchini chips
  • Zucchini sauté
  • Margherita zucchini boats
Baked Zucchini Hash Browns

photo credit Klara Knezevic

 

Spinach

Spinach 6 oz bag * $2.50

  • Spinach and refried bean quesadillas
  • Spinach black bean rice bowl

Frozen broccoli – 16 oz bag $0.11/oz * $1.79

Peanut Butter

Peanut butter – 16.3 oz jar $0.15/oz * $2.39

  • Toast with PB & banana
  • PB & J tortilla
  • PB energy bites
  • PB & fruit / veggies
  • Peanut butter overnight oats

Banana Overnight Oats

Canned tuna in water

Canned tuna in water – 5oz (Bumble Bee) * $1.19

  • Tuna salad with boiled egg and pickle
  • Tuna melt
  • Tuna casserole
  • Tuna penne pasta
  • Tuna and crackers
  • Tuna stuffed avocado
  • Tuna cakes

tuna salad with yogurt

Canned salmon

Canned salmon in oil or water – 14.7 oz (Bumble Bee) * 3.90

  • Salmon patties
  • Salmon Caesar salad
  • Salmon and egg omelet
  • Salmon fried rice
  • Salmon stuffed avocado
  • Salmon meatballs & spaghetti
  • Salmon mac & cheese
Salmon Cakes

Photo credit Kaitlin Eckstein

Dairy

2% Reduced Fat 1-gallon milk Giant brand * $3.79
1% Reduced Fat 1-gallon milk Giant brand * $3.49

  • Cheddar 16 oz packaged block * $4.89
  • Colby 16 oz packaged block * $4.89
  • Monterey jack 16 oz packaged block * $4.89
  • Mozzarella 16 oz packaged block * $4.89

 

More easy meals on a budget

Need more meal ideas?

Check out our blog about cooking with pantry staples and $10 meals!

Did you know we also have a pinterest page on budget meals?

pinterest

 

And don’t forget CANNED FOOD FACTS!

 

 

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