With countless health-focused trends from juicing to eating organic, there's no shortage of expensive alternatives to everyday food. Still, it's possible to eat healthy and save money by stocking up on basic and flavorful recipes that leverage low-cost ingredients such as vegetables and legumes. Here are 25 dishes to add to the repertoire.
Rather than cut out breakfast pastries entirely, opt for a recipe that boosts nutrition while cutting out some of the empty fat and sugar calories. Applesauce is a healthy substitute for oil and butter that adds moisture and light flavor to baked goods. These applesauce muffins can be made even lighter by using unsweetened applesauce and skipping the sugared topping. Recipe: Chelsea's Messy Apron
Several nutritious rice substitutes, such as quinoa and millet, are considerably more expensive than the common grain, but cauliflower is budget-conscious. Grating and sautéing half a head of cauliflower yields several portions of grain-free goodness to accompany a meal. This basic recipe leaves room for improvisation with favorite ingredients and seasonings. Recipe: Primal Palate
Crunchy and satisfying, cucumber salad delivers tons of flavor in just a few calories. Start with 2 cups sliced cucumbers and add one-half teaspoon sesame oil (hot or regular), one-quarter cup rice vinegar, one-half cup sliced cherry tomatoes, and one clove grated garlic. Marinate in the refrigerator for at least two hours and enjoy as a side dish, sandwich filling, or rice topper.
Even consumers who are not sensitive to gluten admit that pasta is a major source of empty calories. Cut the carbs with a spiralizer (starting at less than $5 on Amazon) to make noodles out of zucchini. Uncooked "zoodles" absorb sauce nicely and retain a perfect al dente texture. One large zucchini easily makes two to three servings of "pasta."
Beans offer protein plus iron, potassium, and magnesium, all of which are essential to keeping energy flowing. Dried beans are cheapest by far, but even canned beans offer everyday value. Starting with 16 ounces of cooked beans, use a hand blender to combine with the juice and zest of one lemon, 1 tablespoon of olive oil, salt and pepper to taste, and dried or fresh herbs of your choosing. Mix until smooth and creamy. Use as a sandwich spread, on crackers, or with crudité for a tasty and healthy meal or snack.
Depriving yourself of dessert can lead to bigger cravings and overindulgence in unhealthy treats. Stick to a healthy eating routine by working in nutritious dessert options such as apple crisp, which uses fresh apples, cinnamon, lemon, oats, and a touch of sugar and butter. Start with a basic version and cut the sugar in half and the butter by one-third. The flavors will still pop, and so will the nutritional value. Recipe: Allrecipes
Lentils are a quick-cooking source of healthy vegetarian protein. They cost little and keep for long periods in dry storage. Basic lentil soup is simple, filling, and can be modified to use whatever vegetables and spices are on hand. As an alternative to broth, which can be pricey if not homemade, water seasoned with garlic salt and dried herbs turns out a soup that's just as good.
Considered one of the noble food sources of ancient Mesoamerica for its life-sustaining properties, squash is full of essential vitamins (A, B, C, and K) and fiber. It's also very inexpensive and filling. Make squash the centerpiece of a meal by roasting it with smoked paprika and a splash of orange juice and wine vinegar for a tangy and smoky flavor. The sweet and umami flavors shine alongside garlicky sautéed greens and potatoes or rice.
This simple and tasty recipe ensures a satisfying meal even for hardcore carnivores on the occasional Meatless Monday. Enjoy alongside a baked potato and steamed corn, or as an alternative for a burger patty. At just a few dollars per pack, this is a good way to hold the lid on food costs without compromising flavor or meal diversity. Recipe: Wake Up and Eat
One of the cheapest, most filling, and most nutritious vegetables available, cabbage has been praised since Roman times for its ability to keep the human digestive system clean and performing optimally. Slaws are essentially cabbage salads that often rely on heavy mayonnaise dressings. Carolina-style slaws are healthier and cheaper thanks to their vinegar-based sauces. This basic version yields roughly six portions and costs just a few dollars to make. Recipe: Southern Living
This recipe for oven fries is healthier than regular french fries for two reasons: Swapping out regular potatoes for sweet potatoes adds nutrition and cuts calories; baking them instead of deep frying them in oil takes the calories even lower. These guilt-free fries are a great staple for comfort food cravings. Recipe: Cookie + Kate
Spaghetti squash can do much more than stand in for standard noodles. It can easily and cheaply replace slow-cooked meat such as pulled pork. Doused with barbecue sauce (or another favorite sauce, such as marinara), it makes a hearty and satisfying filling for sandwiches, tacos, and burritos. Recipe: Kitchen Treaty
Making vegetable-packed wrap with protein-rich hummus cuts calories and adds nutrients. The concept is versatile, so wraps stay interesting. Start with any vegetable assortment, raw or cooked -- maybe avocado, cucumber, and roasted peppers -- along with a few tablespoons of hummus, and roll it up.
Kale is a green leafy superfood that has become trendy in recent years, and with good reason. Its toughness allows it to hold up to dressings and cooking better than greens such as chard and spinach. In this recipe, massaging the kale helps break down some of that natural toughness to create a tender leaf that retains the benefits of the raw plant. Recipe: Eating Well
Stews are generally heavy with meat, making them rich in flavor but also in calories. This vegan alternative uses chickpeas as the star, creating comfort food that's low in calories without skipping any of the indulgent texture or flavor. Starting with dried chickpeas saves money and yields a better texture, plus plenty of broth from the leftover cooking water. Recipe: Healthier Steps
Potatoes contain a lot of nutrients that often get lost by adding oil for frying or cheese and cream toppings. Blended into a soup, though, potatoes create a creamy texture with no dairy needed. This lightened-up potato leek soup relies just on the natural texture of the potatoes for a velvety mouth feel low in calories and fat. Recipe: The Full Helping
Making salad the meal instead of a snack or side dish means filling up on healthy vegetables rather than on carbs and calorie-rich dairy and meat. Adding grilled, boiled, or baked chicken to a Greek salad upgrades it from midday snack to filling lunch, and vegetarians can substitute mushrooms or beans for a similar burst of protein. This recipe can be customized with substitutions and additions such as artichoke hearts or celery. Recipe:Cooking Light
Burritos are hard to resist, even for those trying to be healthy. In some cases, though, the contents of a burrito (rice, veggies, maybe meat) can be healthy -- especially if you skip the flour tortilla. This recipe drops the cheese, also, but includes a flavorful chipotle crema to make the meal feel as complete and satisfying as any burrito. Recipe: Damn Delicious
Rich and thick like chili and hearty enough to be considered a meal on its own, this soup is protein-packed and works well with a variety of healthy toppings such as sautéed onions, fresh avocado, chopped herbs, or a favorite hot sauce. An easy vegetarian dish, it can be customized to taste. Recipe: Greatist
Traditional eggplant Parmesan is breaded and fried, adding a substantial caloric load to an already cheese-laden dish. Lightened up, this dish can be surprisingly healthy. This recipe skips the breading and bakes the eggplant instead. The pan gets a topping of breadcrumbs and Parmesan cheese to keep the authentic flavor and texture, but the amount of bread and cheese per serving is far less than is traditional while keeping the flavor.Recipe: Alexandra's Kitchen
Who says dessert can't be healthy? This vegan pie is packed with nutrition and contains such a tiny amount of natural fat and sugar that it makes a wholesome breakfast treat. Canned sweet potatoes will do in a pinch, but roasting this fresh root vegetable cuts the cost and enhances the flavor. Recipe: Wake Up and Eat
Chia seeds are healthy and inexpensive, which is why it's confusing that store-bought chia puddings often cost more than dairy-based versions. Making it at home using this basic recipe ensures an inexpensive, pure product with no additives that can be customized to taste, such as a blended version or a pudding that keeps the pearly texture of the seeds. Recipe:The Minimalist Baker