Eat Right, Save Money
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 many conflicting opinions about what is actually healthy, and 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. We pulled together 12 complete meal plans with healthy, nutritious food for less than $10 a day.
The first day
Breakfast: Oatmeal ($1.75)
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.
Lunch: Hummus Sandwich ($1.75)
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.
Snack: Apple ($1)
An apple a day … is delicious and full of nutrients. Apples were the original sweet treat when sugar was expensive and in short supply.
Dinner: Stuffed Cabbage ($2.85)
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 5 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 a half-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
Breakfast: Avocado Toast ($1.50)
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).
Lunch: Brown Rice Pilaf ($2.50)
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).
Snack: One-Quarter Cup of Almonds ($1)
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.
Dinner: Lentil Soup (45 Cents)
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 2 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
The third day
Breakfast: Bran Cereal ($1.75)
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.
Lunch: Black Bean Stuffed Pepper ($3)
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).
Snack: Tea (50 Cents)
Tea satisfies your craving for flavor and fills your stomach with no calories. For maximum enjoyment invest in flavored specialty teas.
Dinner: Mushroom Risotto ($2.90)
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
Breakfast: Yogurt and Banana ($1.55)
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.
Lunch: Collard Wraps ($4.20)
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.
Snack: 2 Ounces Dark Chocolate ($1)
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.
Dinner: Taco Salad ($3)
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, jalapeños (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
Breakfast: Fruit Salad ($4)
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.
Lunch: White Bean & Tomato Sandwich ($2.25)
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 jalapeños (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).
Snack: Carrot Sticks (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.
Dinner: Loaded Sweet Potato ($2)
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
Breakfast: Mango Smoothie ($2.50)
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.
Lunch: Kale Salad ($3.25)
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).
Snack: Orange (50 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.
Dinner: Whole Grain Pasta With Feta, Tomato, and Spinach ($3)
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
Breakfast: Green Smoothie ($2.40)
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.
Lunch: Rice and Beans ($2.50)
This dish is found in many cultures, so feel free to adjust the seasonings to reflect one that appeals to you.
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).
Snack: One-Half Cup of Peanuts ($1)
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.
Dinner: Raw ‘Stir Fry’ ($2.25)
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 1-inch 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