By Melinda Maryniuk, MEd, RD, CDCES
No question about it… everything costs more lately, including groceries. At a glance, it may seem that healthy foods cost the most, and less-nutritious foods cost the least. However, with a little planning, you can enjoy a variety of good-for-you foods that are also tasty… and keep within your food budget. Here are a few tips and recipes!
-Plan your weekly meals ahead of time. Get into a routine by having themes: for example, Meatless Monday, Taco Tuesday, Chicken Wednesday, etc.!
-Make a shopping list… and stick to it. This can help you avoid impulse buys.
-Build your menu for the week based on the weekly specials in the circular and use your coupons.
-Keep a list of what you have in your freezer – and use it!
-Try online shopping – you generally spend less as there are fewer impulse buys.
Avoid Food Waste
It is estimated that the average family of 4 tosses out $1,820 worth of food each year. Here’s how to cut down on that:
-Use clear storage containers so you can see what you have.
-Make a plan for using leftovers. (If you don’t like leftovers, it’s possible to re-purpose dinner leftovers for lunch the next day– for example, adding a few eggs to greens for a frittata, or using leftover rotisserie chicken for sandwiches.)
-Have some “kitchen sink” recipes – such as a stir-fry that is great for using leftovers and combinations of veggies.
-Shopping more often with a smaller list generally saves money (and there is less waste) than shopping less frequently and buying more.
Recipe idea: Saucy Stir-Fry (see below)
Expand Your Options
-Canned beans are very inexpensive and there are many varieties. They are a great source of protein and fiber to add to soups, salads, stir-fries and grain bowls.
-Keep canned fish in your pantry. Salmon and mackerel are both great sources of heart healthy omega-3 fats.
Recipe idea: Salmon Patties (see below)
-Ready-to-eat items generally cost more. Build in a little time and get chicken with the skin on. Remove it yourself and save money.
-Buy the “family size” packages of meats and fish and divide them up into meal-size portions for freezing.
-Buying foods in larger quantities (by shopping at Costco or Sam’s Club, for example) can also save money. Cooking large batches of meals means you can freeze some for later and save yourself time too!.
Recipe idea: Oven-Baked Greek Chicken Thighs (see below)
Eat more plant-based meals
Meat is usually the most expensive item at the store, so aim for more plant-based entrees.
Try tofu as a low-cost meat alternate. Make sure you buy the right kind of tofu for the recipe (usually firm or extra-firm) and (for most dishes) press as much liquid out as you can.
Use smaller amounts of meat. The amount of meat that is about the size of a deck of cards (3 oz) provides plenty of protein and nutrition.
Recipe idea: Vegetarian Chili (see below)
-Check out the chart below comparing costs of popular protein foods. You might be surprised!
-Find the store that has the best prices – even if it means you have to drive a bit farther.
-As much as possible, cook at home. Homemade pizza is less than half the cost of having pizza delivered.
Recipe idea: Roasted Red Pepper Skillet Pizza (see below)
1. Saucy Stir Fry
The secret to a good stir-fry is the sauce… as well as not overcooking the veggies. This is a great recipe for using up leftover meat and veggies. It’s also a delicious way to work some tofu into your diet.
Serves: 4, Serving size: 2 cups, Calories: 327, Carbs: 24, Protein: 33, Fat: 11
Stir Fry Sauce:
- ½ cup low sodium broth (chicken or vegetable)
- ½ cup low sodium soy sauce
- 2 Tbsp honey
- 2 tsp sesame oil
- 2 Tbsp grated fresh ginger
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 Tbsp cornstarch
- Optional: crushed red pepper flakes, sriracha, or sweet chili sauce to add some heat
- 2 Tbsp canola oil
- 1 pound of protein (such as cubed chicken, tofu, sliced pork, fish, or chickpeas).
- 6 cups of chopped vegetables (broccoli, onions, snow peas, carrots, bell peppers, asparagus, zucchini… whatever you need to use up!)
- Cooked brown rice, for serving.
Directions for Sauce:
- Combine all ingredients in a bowl or jar with lid (for storage). Whisk until fully combined.
- Use with recipe, or store in the refrigerator for up to one week.
Directions for the Stir Fry:
- Heat 1 Tbsp oil in a large skillet or wok. Add the protein (meat, fish, tofu or beans) and cook until browned and almost cooked through. Transfer to a clean plate.
- Add the remaining 1 Tbsp oil to the skillet and toss in the veggies. Stir fry until crisp-tender. Return your protein to the pan and add the stir fry sauce, cooking for 2-3 minutes until the sauce has thickened and is evenly distributed. Serve over brown rice.
2. Salmon Cakes
A pound of fresh salmon can cost close to $20 a pound. Canned salmon (or mackerel) is great to keep in your pantry and can be used in so many different dishes. A tzatziki sauce makes a nice topping for this salmon cake.
Serves: 2, Serving size: 2 patties, Calories: 246, Carb: 1, Protein: 14, Fat: 17
- 1 can (14.75 oz) salmon (skinless, boneless)
- 2 large eggs
- 2 Tbsp mayonnaise
- 2 tsp Dijon mustard
- 2 cloves fresh garlic minced
- 2-3 stalks finely chopped green onion
- ½ tsp salt
- ¼ tsp black pepper
- ½ tsp dried thyme
- ½ cup chopped parsley
- ¼ cup canola oil for frying
- Drain canned salmon thoroughly (or the cakes may fall apart while you are cooking them. Place in large bowl and flake well with a fork into tiny pieces.
- Add the eggs (must be large or jumbo), mayo, mustard, garlic, onion, salt, pepper and thyme. Mix well. Then, fold in the chopped parsley.
- Heat oil over medium heat in a large skillet for about 3 minutes.
- Using an ice cream scoop, transfer four mounds of the mixture to the heated skillet.Gently flatten into patties. Cook until well browned and crispy, about 3 minutes on each side. Serve immediately – on its own or on a bun.
3. Oven-Baked Greek Chicken Thighs
Using yogurt as a marinade helps to tenderize the meat. The dark meat thighs are moister than white breast meat, so this makes for a very juicy and flavorful dish. Serve with brown rice and a salad. The chicken is also great on the grill.
Serves: 4, Serving size: 2 thighs, Calories: 353, Carb: 5, Protein: 36, Fat: 21
- 8 chicken thighs (with skin removed)
- ½ cup plain Greek yogurt (full fat preferred)
- ¼ cup olive oil
- Zest of 1 lemon
- 1/3 cup lemon juice
- 4-5 cloves garlic minced
- 2 Tbsp dried Italian seasoning
- 1 tsp kosher salt
- ½ tsp black pepper
- Whisk together ingredients for marinade. Toss chicken in marinade to fully coat. Allow to sit for at least 15 minutes, or keep in the refrigerator for longer, up to overnight.
- When ready to cook, preheat oven to 425°F.
- Line a baking sheet with foil for easy cleanup. Arrange chicken on a baking sheet in a single layer. Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until cooked through.
4. Vegetarian Chili
This is a very flexible recipe. Add more or less of whatever veggies you like. Amp up the heat by using more cayenne pepper and use whatever beans you have on hand.
Serves: 8, Serving Size: 1 cup, Calories: 179, Carb: 33, Protein: 9, Fat: 1
- 1 Tbsp corn or olive oil
- 1 medium onion, chopped
- 4 carrots sliced
- 1 green bell pepper, chopped
- 1 zucchini, chopped
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 Tbsp chili powder
- ¼ tsp cayenne pepper
- 1 16 oz can kidney beans, rinsed and drained
- 1 16 oz can black beans, rinsed and drained
- 1 15 oz can tomato sauce
- 1 14.5 oz cans diced tomatoes in juice
- Heat oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add onion and carrots and sauté for 5 minutes. Add green pepper and zucchini and sauté’ for another 2 minutes. Add garlic and sauté for less than a minute and add the chili powder as well as the rest of the ingredients. Bring to a boil. Cover and reduce heat. Simmer for 30-40 minutes or until the veggies are tender.
5. Skillet Pizza with Roasted Red Peppers, Spinach, and Chicken
If you don’t have a cast iron skillet, this can be baked on a pizza stone or baking sheet – as long as you preheat whichever one you use. If you don’t want to try the roasted red pepper sauce for a little change, a traditional jarred pizza sauce will also be delicious. Once you’ve done this one time, you can try many variations.
Serves: 5, Serving size: 1 slice, Calories: 272, Carb: 40, Protein: 19, Fat: 16
- ½ cup jarred roasted red peppers, rinsed
- 1 Tbsp olive oil
- 1 clove garlic
- Pinch salt
- ¼ tsp ground pepper
- 1 lb whole wheat pizza dough
- 1 cup chopped fresh spinach
- 1 cup shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese
- 2 oz goat cheese, crumbled
- Fresh basil for garnish
- Position rack in lower third of oven and place large cast-iron skillet on it. Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
- Combine red peppers, olive oil, garlic, salt and pepper in a blender. Puree until smooth.
- Roll and/or stretch pizza dough on a lightly floured surface into a 12” circle. Place the pan on a heat proof surface (and don’t touch the handle!) and transfer the dough to it.
- Spread the sauce. Top with chicken, spinach, mozzarella, and goat cheese.
- Bake on a lower rack until crust is browned and cheese is melted – about 15-20 minutes.
- Garnish with basil, if desired.
While this article provides guidance about healthy eating, it’s important to stress that for many people, diet and exercise alone aren’t enough to reach a healthier weight. The good news is that there are safe and effective medical treatments available that can address the biological issues that make sustained weight loss difficult. To find a physician near you who specializes in weight management, click here.