Healthy Menus on a Budget

It’s easy to create healthy meals without breaking the bank by choosing less-expensive proteins and varying your cooking techniques. Complete, low-cost menus (healthy from start to finish) are easy to create following a few simple guidelines. Add more fruits, vegetables and whole grains to your diet and use less meat and cooking oil and you’ll reduce fat, cholesterol and sodium.

Soup Course

Start your menu with a tasty bowl of soup featuring one main ingredient, like a tomato or potato soup, or using a combination of ingredients to make a vegetable soup. To save money, create vegetable soups using items from your garden or local farmer’s market. If you have a garden, your only cost will be stock and any seasonings you add. Use a low-fat, low-sodium stock. In addition to familiar vegetables like potatoes, celery, carrots, peppers, onions and mushrooms, add beans and legumes such as like lentils peas and navy, butter and black beans.

Tasty Salad Course

To avoid the monotony of the same-old salad every night, vary the lettuce you use, trying romaine, cobb, iceberg, spinach and other leafs. Vary your vegetables, featuring only one or two on some salads and the traditional mix of carrots, celery, red onions, tomatoes and mushrooms on others. Add crunch and nutrition to salads with seasoned, baked croutons, nuts and seeds. Some nuts, like peanuts, walnuts and Brazil, nuts can help fight poor cholesterol numbers. Use a different low-fat, low-calorie dressing each night to add more variety to your salads. Low-fat cheese adds protein and flavor. Don’t forget the pepper for an additional kick.

Awesome Entrees

The key to healthy entrees is to decrease the saturated fats, cholesterol and sodium. The key to reducing costs is to use lower-priced cuts of protein and less meat, fish and poultry. Read our article on healthy substitutes for specific ideas.

Use cookware that decreases your need for oil, like a Wok or nonstick pan. Cook with oils from monounsaturated fats, like olive, almond, avocado, canola and peanut oils. Bake, broil, grill or roast meats instead of frying, placing them on a rack to let fat drip away from the protein.

Use protein as part of an entree, rather than offering a large piece by itself. For example, instead of serving each person a steak, slice low-cost cuts of beef (like flank or skirt steak) into a stir fry, pasta dish, salad or stew. Turkey breast is the leanest part of the bird, while lower-priced beef has the least fat and cholesterol, except for hamburger, where the opposite is true. Remove the skin from chicken to reduce fat and cholesterol. Shrimp is a low-fat seafood, while certain high-fat fish (like salmon, tuna and sardines) contain Omega-3 fatty acids, which contribute to better cholesterol levels. Because shrimp and salmon are more expensive than other types of proteins, use them to add flavor to dishes, like a stir fry, pasta or salads, rather than serving them as the main item during dinner.

Vegetarian entrees save money on protein costs, but don’t have to consist of tofu, sprouts and lentils. Bean burritos with lettuce, tomatoes and onions makes a filling, familiar meal. Try veggie tacos with a variety of fillings, low-fat cheese and sour-cream for added flavor. Saute onions, green and red peppers and other veggies in olive oil and season with lime juice, cilantro and chili powder for fajita fillings. Add baked chips and fat-free salsa to round out a Tex-Mex dinner. Try whole grain pasta with tomato sauce and canned tuna. Serve with a cup of minestrone soup and garlic bread made with whole grain bread, olive oil and roasted garlic gloves. You can also have fun serving breakfast for dinner with pancakes, waffles or French toast, or omelets made with egg substitutes or egg whites.

Salads are filling and you can serve them as the main portion of a meal by adding diced or sliced cuts of meat. Like salads, soup or stew can form the basis of a meal, served with a side salad, bread and dessert.

Dessert

Choose fruit and low-fat or fat-free sorbets, sherbets and frozen yogurts. Make your own fruit salad, and add walnuts for crunch. Many of your favorite cookies now come in low-fat recipes—look for natural brands which don’t contain trans fats or partially hydrogenated vegetable oils.

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