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Healthy Meals on a Budget – Week 1

Posted May 06 2009 1:33pm

In bad economical times a lot of people think that they can’t fix healthy meals because it’s too expensive. A person who is not knowledgeable about what’s healthy and what’s not can really get confused because a lot of modern magazines as well as websites offer meals that include really pricey ingredients. I know that avocado is great for my health but paying $3 for one avocado that won’t satisfy even one person in my family is not a very good idea now. The same thing happens with such fancy ingredients like mango, artichokes or scallops and lobster and shrimp. I picked 13 ingredients that are most essential for a healthy diet but at the same time they are not too expensive and created recipes that utilize all of them. I figured that I can try to create 1 month worth of recipes so that anybody who wants to eat healthy and cheap could use these ideas for delicious and filling supper meals. I am going to publish 7 recipes every week – one for each day of the week, including a more generous Sunday meal. Some recipes might require additional ingredients (I can guarantee that these ingredients will be cheap too), so I will name all the extra ingredients for one week at the beginning of each post. Each of the meals that I offer can be complemented with an easy and tasty salad made of lettuce, tomatoes, carrots and onions and your favorite dressing.
If you already looked through my healthy grocery list you have probably noticed that I didn’t add any type of seafood into it. The reason is very simple: seafood is not the cheapest ingredient that you can get and even if you decide to use it in your diet it’s always preferable to use fresh fish instead of the frozen variant. Seafood is one of the key elements of a healthy diet and that is why I am going to include one bonus seafood meal a week, so you can decide if you want to use this recipe or not. Finally, after I said everything that I wanted to say here are my first 7 meals (plus 1 bonus meal). Enjoy and bon appetite!

Extra Ingredients for the week:
Green beans definitely deserve their place in my list of healthy and yet inexpensive foods. Green beans are low in calories and yet they possess a unique combination of nutrients that make them a heart healthy treat. Magnesium and potassium work together to lower blood pressure. Vitamin A and vitamin C provide an antioxidant effect preventing cholesterol from becoming oxidized and thus from sticking to the walls of blood vessels. Fiber and folate have also been proven to decrease the chances of a heart attack and stroke. Besides their cardiovascular benefits green beans also help to keep your bones strong by nourishing you with vitamin K which keeps your immune system strong and fills you with energy and vitality. Fresh or frozen green beans can be a very good addition to any grocery list as they can be fixed in a numerous number of ways. If you are planning to use all my recipes for this week then I would suggest that you purchase about 1½ pounds of fresh green beans.
Spinach is an optional ingredient in this week’s meals. I personally buy spinach every week and even if I don’t fix meals with spinach I use it in salads. I like the taste of spinach and I also like the fact that it’s extremely healthy for me.

Spicy beans and rice
1 medium onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 tbsp olive oil
1 15-oz can kidney beans, rinsed and drained
1 14.5-oz can diced tomatoes
1/8 to ¼ teaspoon ground red pepper
1 cup brown rice
2 cups water

Cook rice in two cups of water for 20 minutes or till rice is done.
In a medium saucepan cook onion and garlic in hot oil until tender but not brown. Carefully stir in beans, undrained tomatoes and ground red pepper. Bring to boiling; reduce heat. Simmer uncovered for 15 minutes.
To serve, put a pile of rice on each serving plate; make an indention (or gravy hole) in each mound. Spoon the black bean mixture into the hole.

Chicken plov
This is one of the traditional dishes that I brought from Ukraine. Originally it is cooked with beef or pork, but I used chicken instead and created a healthier version of this dish.
1.5 cups brown rice
1 lb chicken breast cut into 1 inch cubes
1 big carrot, graded
1 big onion, chopped
6 cloves garlic, cut in half
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 cups water
I cup corn (optional)
Salt and pepper to taste
½ teaspoon curry powder (optional)

Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a big pot with a thick bottom (like a dutch oven) over medium heat, add onions and sauté till onions are translucent. Add carrots and sauté till they are soft for another 3-4 minutes. Add 1 tablespoon of olive oil and place chicken cubes into the pot, cook till chicken is slightly brown. Pour rice into the pot, stir for 30 sec and then add water. Bring to a boil and add garlic, corn, salt, pepper and curry powder. Cook for 30 min on low heat till rice is tender and all water is absorbed.

Spaghetti with simple tomato sauce
1 12-oz box whole wheat spaghetti (if you are not used to the taste of whole wheat pasta then you can use regular spaghetti and whole wheat spaghetti half and half)
2 15-oz cans diced tomatoes, no salt added
1 cup shredded cheese
2 tablespoons olive oil
Spice mixture:
½ teaspoon minced garlic
½ teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon onion powder
½ teaspoon oregano
½ teaspoon basil
½ teaspoon parsley
¼ teaspoon paprika
1/8 teaspoon chili
1/4 teaspoon bay leaves

Cook spaghetti al-dente according to the directions on the box. In a big skillet heat olive oil and add diced tomatoes and spices. Bring to a boil and simmer for 5 minutes, then add spaghetti, mix them with the sauce and simmer for 5 more minutes. Serve on the plates and sprinkle with cheese.


Green risotto
1 cup brown rice
2 cups water or chicken broth
1 big onion, finely chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
1.5 cups green beans (fresh or frozen)
1.5 cups sweet peas (fresh or frozen)
1.5 cups broccoli (fresh or frozen)
1 (10 oz) package of frozen spinach or 1 bundle of fresh spinach(You don’t have to use all these vegetables, you can use only the ones that you have in your kitchen, you can also add asparagus, snow peas or anything else to your taste)
1.5 cups shredded cheese
0.5 cup skim milk
salt and pepper to taste
1 tbs olive oil

Heat olive oil in a large heavy pot or a big skillet over medium heat. Add onions and garlic and cook till onions are translucent. Add rice, stir for 30 sec, and then add water or broth and cook for 20 min or till rice is ready. In the meantime cook beans, sweet peas and broccoli in salted boiling water, drain and set aside. In the same water cook spinach for 5 minutes. If you are using fresh spinach leaves, then drain them and chop them up in a food processor. Combine all veggies with cooked rice in a big pot over low heat. Add cheese and milk and stir until the cheese is melted. Add black pepper and salt to taste.


Baked potatoes, carrots, chicken and cheese
4 servings
8 big red potatoes
2 big carrots
1 lb chicken breast
1 cup shredded cheese
1 tbs olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

4 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup olive oil
1 cup orange juice
¼ cup gin or white wine (optional)
Salt and pepper

Wash chicken breasts and cut them diagonally into half inch-width slices. Lightly pound chicken slices using flat side of a meat mallet. Combine all ingredients of the marinade in a big bowl and add chicken slices into this marinade, stir and make sure that chicken is evenly covered with marinade. Cover the bowl and place it into the refrigerator for at least 30 min.
Wash potatoes, cut off potato eyes and slice them. Wash and peel carrots, thinly slice them. Place both carrots and potatoes into a pot with water, bring to a boil, add salt and cook for 10 minutes, then drain.
Preheat oven to 375 F. Place potatoes and carrots on a cooking sheet covered with aluminum foil, put chicken on top, pour remaining marinade over potatoes. Place into the oven for 40 minutes. After chicken is done, sprinkle with cheese and put into the oven for another 5 minutes. Serve warm.
If you want to make this meal a little bit more special you can add canned pine-apples. Place pine-apples on top of each chicken piece.

Macaroni, broccoli and cheese
1 box of whole-wheat macaroni (elbows, shells or any other)
1 lb broccoli (frozen or fresh)
5 slices of American cheese or 1.5-2 cups of shredded cheese like cheddar
1.5-2 cups of milk (you can vary the amount of last two ingredients depending on how cheesy or thick you want to make your dish)
Salt and black pepper to taste

Cook macaroni al-dente according to the directions on the box. At the same time boil or steam boil broccoli in salted water. Drain macaroni and broccoli, combine them in one pot and set the pot over low heat. Gradually stir in milk and cheese, add black pepper.


Turkey loaf with vegetables and mashed potatoes
¼ teaspoon canola oil
2 garlic cloves, chopped
¼ cup each finely diced carrots and onion, broccoli
1 cup finely diced green beans
1 pound 99 percent lean ground turkey
1 can tomato paste (optional)
¼ cup shredded cheese
¼ cup low-sodium chicken broth, skim milk or water
1 large egg
½ tsp dried thyme
½ tsp onion powder
Cooking spray
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

For mashed potatoes
6 medium potatoes, quartered (do not peel the skin)
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground
black pepper

Preheat oven to 350°F. Heat oil in a sauté pan over medium heat. Add garlic and all vegetables and sauté for 4 minutes. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.
In a large bowl, break up turkey well with your hands. Stir in cooked vegetables, Parmesan, broth (milk or water), tomato paste and egg. Season with salt, pepper, thyme and onion powder.
Coat a 3- by 8-inch loaf pan with cooking spray. Place meat mixture in pan and push down. Bake 35 minutes or until internal temperature reaches 140°F.
Meanwhile, to make the potatoes, fill a large pot with water. Add potatoes and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Cook for 30 minutes or until fork-tender. Drain well and place in a large bowl. Mash potatoes with a fork. If you want creamier potatoes, leave about ½ cup – 1 cup of water in potatoes. Drizzle with oil and season with salt and pepper.
Let meat loaf rest in the pan for 15 minutes before slicing, then serve with potatoes.

Bonus Meal
Baked tilapia with brown rice and vegetable side
4 servings
4 large tilapia fillets
2 tablespoons of olive oil
¼ cup of dry white wine (optional)
juice of one lemon or lime
salt and black pepper to taste

Side dish
1 cup brown rice
2 cups water
2-3 cups broccoli
1 cup sweet peas
½ cup carrots, thinly sliced
1 cup green beans cut into 1 inch pieces
1 tablespoon butter
Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Combine olive oil, white wine, lemon juice, salt and pepper in a bowl and whisk together. Cover a cooking sheet with aluminum foil, place tilapia fillets on it and pour the liquid mixture over it. Cook in the oven for 8 to 12 minutes.

For the side, cook rice in 2 cups of water for 30 min or until the rice is tender. Add ½ tablespoon of butter. In salted boiling water cook broccoli, carrots, and green beans for 5 minutes. Add sweet peas and cook for another minute, then drain all the vegetables. Add ½ tablespoon of butter and sprinkle with black pepper.
Serve tilapia over rice and put vegetables on the side.

Continue to Healthy Meals on a Budget - Week 2
Healthy Meals on a Budget - Week 3
Healthy Meals on a Budget - Week 4

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