Eating well can be a challenge. Between work, family, and social functions, it's hard to maintain a healthy diet while avoiding those tasty indulgences loaded with empty calories. Some of us turn to experts for guidance, but there are so many conflicting opinions about what is actually healthy, and new fad diets seem to come along every week. To make matters worse, food marketed as healthy is often more expensive, leading consumers to believe that they need to spend more to eat well. In truth, healthy food is often cheaper, especially when you prepare your own meals and avoid prepackaged items. Cheapism.com pulled together 12 complete meal plans with healthy, nutritious food for less than $10 a day.
Oatmeal may not be glamorous but topped with fruits and nuts it can be quite satisfying. It's packed with fiber and complex carbohydrates that keep you going all morning. Just half a cup of steel cut oats (50 cents) cooked with the same amount of milk (25 cents) serves as a nice base for a few sliced apricots and drizzle of honey ($1), starting your day off on a nutritious note.
Hummus, the Middle Eastern spread made from chickpeas and tahini (sesame seed paste), has quickly become one of America's favorite foods. Spread one-quarter cup of hummus (50 cents) on a slice of whole-grain bread (25 cents) and top with tomato, onion, pickles (75 cents), and another piece of bread (25 cents) for a delicious, protein-packed sandwich.
Cabbage is your best friend if you are trying to lose weight or save money. At around 60 cents a pound, each leaf of green cabbage is roughly five cents, and quite filling, too. Start by boiling two cabbage leaves (10 cents) to soften and set aside. In a pan, sauté half an onion, two cloves of garlic, and one chopped carrot in 1 tablespoon of oil (75 cents) until soft. Add half a cup of lean ground turkey or organic soy TVP (textured vegetable protein, $1) and season with salt and pepper. Once the meat or soy is fully cooked, add 8 ounces of crushed tomatoes ($1) and simmer for five minutes. Allow the mixture to cool before stuffing the cabbage leaves and rolling them up like a burrito. Place the stuffed cabbage in a baking pan and top with the remaining tomatoes. Bake at 350 for 30 to 45 minutes. Day One Total: $7.35
With a creamy texture and subtle yet appealing flavor, avocados are nature's butter. Yes, they're high in fat, but it's the "good" fat that helps lower cholesterol. For a sweet or savory breakfast, spread half an avocado (75 cents) onto two slices of whole grain toast (50 cents) and top with tomato (25 cents) and sea salt or a drizzle of honey (25 cents).
Switching from regular white rice to brown rice is an easy way to increase the nutrition of your meals. For this hearty lunch, start by cooking half a cup of brown rice (50 cents) in salted water. Once cooled and fluffed, combine with two chopped scallions, 1 tablespoon of dried cranberries, two leaves chopped and massaged curly kale, and six or seven gently crushed walnuts ($1.50). Season with salt, black pepper, and a tablespoon of high quality extra virgin olive oil or walnut oil (50 cents).
Almonds are nature's little protein-packed treats. With their subtle floral aromas, low fat, and high protein content, a small handful can be the difference between saving your appetite for dinner or breaking down and buying a bag of chips on the way home.
A classic comfort food, lentil soup is deliciously satisfying, dirt cheap, and simple to make. Start by sautéing two celery ribs, two carrots, three cloves of garlic, and one onion in 2 tablespoons of oil ($1.25). Throw in a bay leaf and a few sprigs of whatever fresh herb you have; thyme and parsley work well (50 cents). Add 2 cups of lentils ($1), any variety is fine. Add enough water to cover the lentils by two inches and season generously with salt, pepper, and paprika; add smoked paprika, cumin, chili powder, and garlic powder to taste. Cover and let cook until lentils are soft, about 30 minutes, then use an immersion blender to thicken. This recipe makes about six servings, which will keep for a week in the refrigerator or three months in the freezer. Day Two Total: $5.45
This quick and easy breakfast is packed with fiber and protein. Bran cereals come in different varieties, from flakes to pellets, and cost about $1 for a single three-quarter cup serving. Add one-half cup of milk and a small handful of raisins (75 cents) for a nutritionally sound and inexpensive way to start the day.
This four-ingredient meal is so tasty it doesn't feel like health food, but with its high protein and low carbohydrates it is quite healthy. Layer a cored green bell pepper ($1) with a quarter can of black beans (50 cents) and top with one slice of cheese ($1). Bake at 350 degrees for 15 minutes or until hot and bubbly. Top with 1 rounded tablespoon of salsa (50 cents).
Tea satisfies your craving for flavor and fills your stomach with no calories. For maximum enjoyment invest in flavored specialty teas.
Because arborio rice is naturally creamy, you can skip the butter and cheese and still get a rich texture and flavor. Begin by sautéing 1 cup of sliced mushrooms and two cloves crushed garlic in 1 tablespoon of oil and a bit of salt ($1); set aside and reserve. Next, toast one-half cup of arborio rice (40 cents) in a pot and add in 1 cup vegetable stock (75 cents), one-quarter cup at a time, letting the rice absorb the liquid before adding more. Once the rice is cooked, stir in the mushrooms and season with a tablespoon of high-quality extra virgin olive oil, sea salt, and 1 tablespoon of chopped parsley (75 cents). Day Three Total: $8.15
Bananas are full of potassium, which helps the body build muscle and maintain healthy cardiovascular activity, and yogurt is rich in probiotics that promote healthy digestion and intestinal function. Slice one banana (30 cents) and top with one-half cup of plain low-fat yogurt ($1), a drizzle of honey, and a sprinkle of cinnamon (25 cents) and enjoy.
By replacing your carbohydrate-laden flour tortilla with a nutrient-dense collard leaf you will fill up faster and sharply increase the level of vitamins, minerals, and protein in your meal. Remove the tough stems from two large collard leaves (70 cents), then run the back of your knife along the remaining veins to soften until the leaf is pliable. Fill each leaf with julienned carrot, diced tomato, scallions, avocado, cilantro, yellow bell pepper, and (optional) jalapeño ($3); roll up like a burrito and dip in hummus or chili sauce (50 cents) and marvel at how a small serving of veggies leaves you satisfied.
Chocolate that has high cacao content is full of antioxidants and endorphin-producing components. A small serving of dark chocolate can satisfy a sweet craving for a surprisingly long time.
This fiesta of a meal is so good you can make it for guests. For two servings, sauté 1 cup of lean ground turkey or chicken (or mushrooms for a vegetarian option), one chopped onion, jalapenos (optional), and one chopped green bell pepper ($3) in 2 tablespoons of oil. Season with plenty of salt, chili powder, and cumin. Serve over greens such as crunchy romaine hearts or iceberg lettuce (75 cents) and top with salsa, a sliced avocado, and a few crushed tortilla chips ($2.25). Day Four Total: $9.75
This is a light and tasty way to rev up for the day, especially in warm weather. Full of natural sugars for energy, this recipe will make two servings and keep in the refrigerator for three days. Slice a banana, an apple, a pear, and a peeled orange and toss with a handful of seedless grapes, 1 tablespoon of freshly squeezed orange juice, and 1 teaspoon of freshly squeezed lemon juice. Toss in a few julienned mint leaves for extra brightness.
This is a good lunch when you want something easy and satisfying. The protein-rich beans will fill you up and the bright flavors will please your taste buds. Using a simple recipe for white bean dip ($1), spread one serving on a piece of whole grain bread (25 cents) and top with a leaf of crunchy lettuce, a few slices of juicy tomato, and pickled jalapenos (50 cents) for a spicy kick. Finish with a sprinkle of salt and freshly ground pepper, 1 teaspoon of good quality extra virgin olive oil, and another slice of bread (50 cents).
Carrots are filling and full of healthy carotene. Peel the outer skin to avoid the bitter taste and cut into strips for easy storage. Eat when late-afternoon hunger strikes.
The nutritional benefits of sweet potatoes are numerous, including lots of vitamin A, potassium, and fiber, all packed into a deliciously sweet platform for savory toppings. Roast a sweet potato ($1) and then add a few tablespoons of cooked black beans (25 cents), chopped scallions (25 cents), and shredded cheese (50 cents) for a rich and tasty dinner. Day Five Total: $8.75
Sure, they're delicious, but mangoes also pack quite a nutritional punch and freeze well for later use. If you don't have access to fresh, frozen mango can be found at most grocery stores for about 50 cents an ounce. In a blender combine 3 ounces of frozen mango ($1.50), one-half cup of low-fat yogurt (50 cents), one-quarter cup of milk (25 cents), and 1 tablespoon of honey (25 cents); blend until smooth and creamy.
Kale is all the rage among foodies and for good reason – it's chock full of vitamins, minerals, and plant protein. It comes in different varieties, all of them good. Start by removing the tough stem from four kale leaves ($1.50), then chop and massage by rubbing the kale between your hands; this breaks down the fibers and makes it soft. Add one-half diced red bell pepper (75 cents), 1 tablespoon of raisins, one minced clove of garlic, 10 roughly chopped almonds (75 cents), and season with salt, pepper, and olive oil (25 cents).
Loaded with vitamin C, this citrus fruit is the perfect snack; it comes it its own package and delivers a lot of sweet satisfaction for less than 100 calories.
Pasta is avoided by many dieters these days, but with whole grain varieties it's easy to incorporate a nutritious pasta dish into a healthy meal plan. Boil one serving of pasta (50 cents) in salted water. While that cooks, sauté one sliced tomato and one chopped clove of garlic in 1 tablespoon of olive oil with salt ($1). Throw in a handful of spinach ($1) and turn off the heat. Add the cooked pasta and toss to combine. Sprinkle 1 ounce of feta cheese on top for a salty bite (50 cents). Day Six Total: $9.25
With all of the artificial color in processed foods, it's nice to eat something that gets its color directly from nature. In a blender, combine three leaves of kale ($1), one pear (75 cents), the juice of one lemon (30 cents), a small piece of ginger (10 cents), and one-quarter cup of orange juice (25 cents). Blend, drink, and enjoy the natural buzz.
This dish is found in many cultures, so feel free to adjust the seasonings. Combine one-half cup of brown rice (50 cents), one-quarter cup of cooked pinto beans (25 cents), two cloves of chopped garlic, and one chopped tomato ($1) with 1 cup water, 1 teaspoon of salt, 1 teaspoon cumin, 1 teaspoon smoked paprika, and 1 teaspoon olive oil (25 cents). Cook the rice as you would normally, and serve with fresh chopped scallions and a squeeze of lime (50 cents).
Peanuts are not only healthy and inexpensive, they are also fun to eat. Buy peanuts in the shell to avoid excess salt; having to work for your snack will help you eat less.
Raw fruits and vegetables contain many essential vitamins and minerals. Replacing cooked vegetables with raw ones cuts down on prep time while increasing the health benefits, including making you feel more full. To make two generous servings, chop up one celery stalk, one carrot, one bell pepper, and one small stalk and head of broccoli ($2.50). Arrange over 1 cup of cooked rice (75 cents) and set aside. In a small pot combine one-quarter cup soy sauce, 1 tablespoon hoisin sauce, 1 tablespoon chili sauce, a 1inch piece of minced ginger, and one clove of chopped garlic (75 cents) and simmer for 5 minutes. Pour the sauce over the rice and vegetables and garnish with a few cashews and cilantro sprigs (50 cents). Day Seven Total: $8.15
There's a lot of information out there that suggests bread is not a health food, but that doesn't include bread made from whole rye. Rye is rich in nutrients and some studies suggest it may even help with weight loss. Two slices of hearty rye bread with a small amount of butter is a full-flavor first meal of the day.
This is a good way to get tons of flavor and protein into your busy day without taking up a lot of time. Blend together one-quarter cup of peanut butter (75 cents), one-quarter cup of frozen berries (50 cents), one banana (30 cents), and one-half cup of milk (50 cents) for a thick and tasty smoothie that tastes like a classic peanut butter and jelly sandwich.
The simplest thing anyone can do to become healthier is to eat more leafy greens. Roughly chop 1 cup of romaine hearts (75 cents) and toss with one chopped carrot, one-half of a sliced cucumber, and 1 tablespoon of sunflower seeds (75 cents). Dress with 1 tablespoon of olive oil, a splash of vinegar, and salt and pepper (25 cents).
Simple and delicious, roasting vegetables caramelizes their natural sugars. Lightly coat one cubed potato, one quartered onion, one-half cup of Brussel sprouts, and one cubed turnip ($3) in olive oil, salt and pepper (25 cents); roast in a 375 degree oven for 40 minutes or until browned. Serve with thick-sliced sourdough toast rubbed with fresh garlic ($1.50). Easily serves two. Day Eight Total: $7.45
If you like apple pie for breakfast, this will quickly become one of your favorite morning meals. Core an apple ($1) and stuff with raisins; sprinkle with cinnamon, vanilla, and a squeeze of lemon juice (50 cents); then bake in a 350 degree oven until soft, about 45 minutes.
Soup fills you up with low-calorie broth so you feel satisfied without feeling heavy. Start by sautéing one chopped carrot, one chopped celery stalk, and one shallot in 1 tablespoon of oil ($1). Add 1 tablespoon of bouillon (15 cents) to 2 cups of water and one-half cup of cooked white beans (50 cents); simmer for 20 minutes. Serve with a squeeze of lime, freshly ground black pepper, and freshly chopped parsley (50 cents).
This meal is fancy enough to serve at dinner parties to impress friends, even ones who are not too concerned about their health. Peel and cut one butternut squash ($2) into 1-inch cubes, toss with olive oil, salt, and pepper (15 cents) and roast in a 375-degree oven until soft, about 30 minutes. While the squash cooks, boil 2 cups of salted water; then add 2 cups of whole wheat couscous ($1); remove from heat and let stand 4 minutes before fluffing. To the couscous add the zest of one orange (50 cents), 1 tablespoon of orange juice, 1 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil, and salt and pepper to taste (25 cents). Toss the couscous with the roasted squash and 1 cup of cooked chickpeas ($1), and garnish with torn tarragon (50 cents). Serves four. Day Nine Total: $6.50
This rich and creamy Mexican drink is light in calories and inexpensive. There are lots recipes and variations; this is a particularly simple one using common pantry items. Combine 1 tablespoon cornstarch with one-quarter cup of water (15 cents) and stir to combine, making sure to remove all lumps. In a pot combine 1 cup milk, 1 teaspoon of vanilla, and 1 tablespoon of cinnamon (75 cents), and whisk to combine; bring to a simmer. Stir in 1 tablespoon of agave syrup (25 cents) and the cornstarch mixture and simmer for 5 minutes or until slightly thick.
Avocados can turn a simple snack into a satisfying and well-balanced meal. Over a bed of arugula ($1.50) layer one sliced avocado ($1.50) with grapefruit slices ($1.50) and two chopped Brazil nuts (15 cents); dress with olive oil, lemon juice, salt, and pepper (25 cents).
Low on the glycemic index, dates are full of fiber and components that help regulate blood flow, making them an excellent source of natural sweetness for those with concerns about blood sugar levels.
This life hack is recommended for those who simply cannot live without pasta but are trying to cut down on carbohydrates. Well worth the $35 investment, spiralizers turn vegetables into long strands of pasta-like goodness. Spiralize one large and firm zucchini ($1.50) into perfectly textured al dente 'noodles' and top with your favorite sauce ($2). Prepare to have your mind and taste buds blown. One large zucchini makes three servings of faux pasta. Day 10 Total: $7.75
This quick and satisfying smoothie is a go-to breakfast for the budget and health conscious. Combine one banana (25 cents) with half a cup of milk (50 cents), 1 tablespoon of almond butter (20 cents), a splash of vanilla and a tablespoon of honey (25 cents) and blend until smooth. Use a frozen banana to make it extra thick and cold.
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Fries for lunch? Yes, please! Sweet potatoes are loaded with healthy minerals, and combining them with protein-packed tahini creates a nutritionally balanced meal that will fill you up. To make the "fries", cut 1 sweet potato ($1) into wedges, toss to coat lightly in oil (30 cents) and season liberally with a favorite spice blend or combination of salt, pepper, garlic powder, paprika, and chili powder (25 cents). Roast in a 400-degree oven until the outsides are crisp and the inside is tender, about 45 minutes. Drizzle the fries with 1 tablespoon smooth tahini (30 cents) and additional salt or hot sauce to taste (25 cents).
This popular snack from Mexico provides a ton of flavor and texture for just a few calories. Peel, seed, and cut one large cucumber ($1.50) into crudité-sized sticks, sprinkle with chili powder and a squeeze of fresh lime juice (25 cents). Mix up the vegetables for variety, sticking with refreshing options (like jicama) to offset the sour and spicy flavors, or include fruits like sweet pineapple or melon. Prepare in a plastic zip bag for on-the-go snacking to thwart cravings.
Spaghetti squash comes in handy when trying to save on carbs, calories, and money. The calories and carbs foregone by shunning real pasta leaves room for an indulgent slice of cheese that take this dish to the next level. Mix one-half cup of marinara sauce (50 cents) with 1 cup of cooked spaghetti squash (75 cents). Top with one cooked and sliced chicken thigh ($1) and a piece of cheese, such as provolone or mozzarella (50 cents), and place under the broiler until the cheese is hot and bubbly. Day 11 Total: $7.80
Tuna is one of the healthiest and most sustainable fish on the market, and available at low cost. The key to making tuna healthy rather than fattening is going light on the mayonnaise and skipping the bread. Mix one can of tuna ($1.50) with a few condiments, such as chopped pickle (10 cents), 1 tablespoon of mayonnaise (10 cents), one celery stalk (15 cents), a squeeze of mustard, and plenty of salt and pepper (20 cents) over 1 cup of crunchy romaine or iceberg lettuce (75 cents).
Full of potassium and natural sweetness, bananas are an ideal fruit for afternoon munchies. Eating a banana between lunch and dinner can even improve sleep thanks to the magnesium and potassium in the fruit, which helps relax muscles.
Sausage and peppers may seem as though they don't belong in a healthy meal plan, but spicy, low-fat chicken sausage keeps the calorie load down. Sauté two sliced chicken sausages in 1 tablespoon of oil ($2.50) until browned, then set aside, leaving excess oil in the pan. To the pan add one-half sliced onion and one sliced bell pepper ($1.50), and sauté until soft. Add the sausage to the pan and toss to combine, seasoning with salt and pepper to taste. Day 12 Total: $7.30