• Sydney Cochran, MS, RD, LD

Nutritious Meals on a Budget


People are always telling us that they want to eat healthfully but that it's just too expensive to do so. While it is true that there are many "natural", organic health food products lining the grocery store shelves these days that have a high price tag, you don't have to purchase those items in order to prepare nutritious, balanced meals and snacks.

While purchasing and preparing more foods at home certainly involves an investment of time, you don't need to buy $8 jars of peanut butter and $5 boxes of pasta to make nutritious meals at home. My hope is to give you a glimpse into a few weeks of groceries in our house and what we used them for to show that eating nutritious, balanced meals and snacks doesn't have to cost a fortune.

A budget is a personal thing and the amount spent on food will vary from household to household. Some people will spend more than what is below and some will spend less. My intent is not to tell you how much you should spend or what you should buy, but to show an example of how purchasing nutritious foods can be relatively affordable, particularly when compared to eating out.

A few things to note before we dive in:

  • Our groceries are mainly for two people that eat three meals and two to four snacks daily. For the first week I discuss below, we had a friend staying with us on weekdays, which meant dinner was for three people most nights.

  • We typically spend between $50-75 per week on groceries.

  • I plan dinner for weeknights and we eat leftovers or other random foods for dinner on weekends. If we eat out, it would be on a weekend but it's rare and, if we do, it comes out of another budget separate from our grocery budget.

  • We essentially always have a baked good or ice cream in the house for sweet snacks and restock those items or ingredients as we run out.

  • We shop at Aldi for most items and then go to Dillon's for anything Aldi doesn't carry. I also check for coupons and sales because some things are cheaper at Dillon's when on sale.

  • We prefer to buy organic meats for the most part but that doesn't happen 100% of the time. For all other items I just buy whatever is cheaper or what we like the taste of better.

  • For more on how we plan meals and make a grocery list, check out this post.

Let's take a look at the first week:

This week, we were completely out of snack items at home and at work, so we bought more of those items than usual. However, we were also eating dinner with family one night to celebrate a birthday, so we had one less dinner to buy ingredients for than usual. It typically evens out like this so that our spending stays pretty consistent.

Here was our dinner plan for this week (for 3 people):

Mexican rice casserole

Turkey chili + cornbread

Black bean soup + leftover cornbread

BBQ chicken pizza

I make the cornbread and pizza crust from scratch, as both use ingredients we always have (flour, salt, sugar, etc) and they're quick to throw together. I found organic chicken on clearance a few weeks before this for about $1.50 per pound (!!) so I bought a lot and froze it. I put the chicken pizza on the menu for this week to use some of that chicken that I had already cooked.

Aside from ingredients for the dinner meals, we got apples, white cheddar popcorn, tortilla chips, string cheese, cheese crackers, wheat crackers, salsa, yogurt, and grapes for snacks. Lunch was leftovers or turkey + cheese sandwiches.

We also got cereal for breakfast for my husband. I currently like toast or frozen waffles with peanut butter for breakfast but we weren't out of any of those things this week. We go through 1-2 gallons of milk per week, mainly for breakfast but also for baking, drinking at other times of day, etc.

Week 1 Total: $72.63

Here's another week:

Unpictured are 2 gallons of milk, potatoes for the roasted vegetables and sausage meal, and frozen waffles for breakfast that I forgot to pick up the first time at time store.

Here's what was on the dinner menu for this week:

Turkey White Bean Chili

Easy Minestrone Soup

Stacked Enchiladas

Cornbread Topped Chili

Roasted Vegetables + Sausage

The week before this, we had an unexpected dinner with friends pop up, so I saved the ingredients for the turkey chili we had planned that night for this week. The minestrone soup makes a TON, so that provided a weekend meal too and we made some homemade bread to go with it. The roasted vegetables and sausage doesn't have a recipe - it's just broccoli, carrots, bell pepper, potatoes, and chicken sausage all tossed on a baking sheet and baked for ~30 minutes.

Aside from dinner ingredients, we got raspberries, apples, graham crackers, granola bars, and hummus for snacks. We also still had some chips, crackers, homemade granola, cake, and popcorn left from previous weeks. For breakfasts, we got cereal, bread, and (unpictured) frozen waffles. We got some deli turkey and cheese for lunches just in case there wasn't enough leftover soup.

TOTAL: $66.08

Overall, this works out to about $5.20 per person, per day for week 1 and $4.72 per person, per day for week 2 for three meals + snacks that have plenty of fruits, vegetables, fiber, whole grains, and protein.

Eating out is a rare occasion for us not because we don't enjoy it but because, even if we get fast food, we have a hard time getting out of any restaurant for less than $15-20. That's more for one meal than we spend on a whole day of eating for both of us otherwise! Even if we get a Hot-N-Ready pizza at Domino's (which we love), we're still spending at least $6 for one meal that usually leaves both of us a little hungry.

No matter what your budget is, my hope is that you found found some useful tips and ideas here and saw that you don't have to buy costly "natural" or organic items from the health food section of the store to prepare nutritious, balanced meals at home, and that you also don't have to spend hours upon hours in the kitchen.

#recipes #mealplanning

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