What are healthy meals that beginners can cook on a budget?
In this blog post you will discover three healthy recipes that you can make with few ingredients for almost nothing. We’ve plenty of quick on the budget meals that will nourish you and your family.
What is a healthy recipe?
As a nutritionist I often get asked by friends and family ‘is this dinner healthy?
So what do we mean by ‘healthy’? To get all the nutrients we need to stay well we need to eat a really wide variety of foods, especially plant foods.
Eating at least 30 different fruit and vegetables throughout the week keeps our digestive health in good condition. And this is important for all generations – young and old. It’s more than about feeling comfortable ‘downstairs’.
Gut health plays an important role in our immune system. And it’s now more than ever we need to support this. As well as fibre, fruit and vegetables also contain lots of healthy nutrients which help with concentration, energy levels and weight control. This is good news for any students who are studying for long periods of time and sitting down!
I would suggest (but also recommend) to choose recipes that are plant rich as these are a really strong foundation to a healthy meal. Such meals don’t have to be vegan – any meals which have a high proportion of vegetables are a great choice.
If you have young children, exposing them to a wide range of vegetables at every meal will teach them lifelong healthy eating habits.
Other food groups you need to include to make the meal ‘balanced’ are:
Fat – this food group has a ‘bad’ reputation but moderate amounts of ‘natural’ sources of fat are needed for good health. Fat gives the food ‘mouthfeel’ and keeps you satiated.
Make sure you include some butter/cheese or plant fats such as avocado/oils/nuts and seeds for a well balanced recipe.
Protein – this food group is often referred to as the ‘building blocks of life’. Proteins are needed for muscle repair and other important health roles in the body. Obvious sources are meat, fish and eggs but tofu, quorn, soya mince, beans, lentils and other pulses are great sources too.
Carbohydrates – these starchy foods are digested slowly to give your body (including your brain) a constant supply of energy. Try to go for wholemeal or whole grain varieties for extra fibre needed for gut health.
What can I eat that’s healthy and within budget?
A good basis for a healthy meal that’s really cheap are jacket potatoes (even try jacket sweet potatoes for change) with protein fillings and a side of veg/salad. Pasta dishes also make a healthy family favourite as they tend to be filling and easy to cook.
If you want to make pasta dishes a bit healthier, use recipes which include foods that offer health benefits such as olives or pine nuts and always serve with plenty of veg or a side salad.
What should I make for dinner on a budget?
The great thing about plant foods is that compared to meat and meat alternatives, they are relatively cheap and healthy!
Peas, beans, pulses and lentils are a brilliant protein source as is tofu. If you’re in a rush you can buy them canned.
To save even more money you can get them dried. You just need to be prepared and soak them the night before.
Planning ahead is key when cooking on a budget. You will be amazed at how much nutritious protein you get from dried pulses. It means you can form the basis of your meals for pennies!
Eggs are also a really affordable healthy source of protein. If your budget can stretch to free range or organic eggs these are a good option if you’re concerned about animal welfare.
It’s true – there are some cheap meats available such as bacon, sausage and economy chicken breast. But the quality of this type of protein isn’t great – you’re better off having a well balanced vegetarian or vegan meal.
Generally speaking, ‘loose’ vegetables are cheaper than the pre-prepared veg that are plastic wrapped. So buying them loose will save you money as well as the environment.
Yes, a bit more time is needed in the kitchen to prepare the vegetables. But this is where the advantage of batch cooking comes in and/ or you can always freeze some of your pre-chopped veg such as onion and garlic to have to hand for another recipe at a later date.
You may be wondering how to get/buy healthy produce.
Here are some places:
- Farmer’s market
- Box delivery (share with housemate, colleague, friend?)
Sometimes buying frozen or tinned vegetables works out cheaper than buying ‘fresh’. It’s still as good for your health – in many cases the nutrient content is the same, if not better.
Quick and healthy dinner recipes
I’ve chosen the following recipes as they are so EASY to make, only have a few steps and use relatively little equipment. Importantly, they are also very healthy.
- 6 eggs
- 1 tbsp oil, preferably olive oil
- 2 small red onions, sliced
- 1 red pepper or orange pepper, deseeded and cut into chunks
- 150g mushrooms sliced or button mushrooms
- 2 courgettes, sliced
- 3 tbs chopped flat parsley or sprinkle of mixed dried herbs
- Preheat the oven to 200C/Fan 180C/Gas Mark 6. Put all the vegetables in a square baking tray or roasting tin, add the oil, salt and pepper and toss well to mix. Roast for 15-20mins or until golden and tender.
2. Whisk the eggs or beat with a fork in a bowl. Stir the parsley and eggs into the roasted vegetables tray and return to the oven for a further 10 mins or until the egg is set.
3. Leave to cool in the tin for 5 mins before cutting into wedges and serving warm with new potatoes/jacket potatoes or a hunk of bread.
Jacket Potato and Vegetable Chile (Serves 4)
This recipe works all year round. It makes either a light dinner or substantial lunch.
4 large jacket potatoes (or equivalent), cooked in microwave or oven
For the filling:
- 1 1/2 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 1 small onion, peeled and diced
- 1 teaspoon vegetable stock powder or ½ veg stock cube crumbled
- 1 red pepper, de-seeded and diced
- 2 large tomatoes, diced
- 1 large can (400g) red kidney beans (use the beans and the water)
- 1 teaspoon chilli powder
- 1 teaspoon dried mixed herbs
1. Heat the oil in a large pan, add the diced onions and bouillon powder and fry, stirring all the time, until the onions soften.
2. Add all the other ingredients and simmer gently, stirring regularly, for about 10 minutes until all the vegetables are soft.
3. Serve over cooked jacket potatoes.
What should you eat when you’re really broke?
One of my favourite plant foods is the humble British pea. Why? It’s a vegetable that is cheap, nutritious, versatile and as it’s from the UK it has a low environmental footprint.
Peas contain important nutrients like protein and folate and they are a great source of fibre. I’ve suggested this recipe below as it’s easy to make, very low in cost and super healthy.
You can get pasta very cheaply – even more so if you can buy in bulk rather than the little 500g packets.
This is important to think about if you’re trying to stretch out your money on a budget. As this recipe is versatile you can use different ingredients depending on what you have in the cupboard.
Healthy Easy Peasy Pasta (serves 2)
Pasta shapes (preferably wholewheat) 200g
150 g or approx 2 cupfuls
2 tbsp grated cheese (Parmesan or vegetarian/vegan cheese alternative), leave a few shavings for serving
½ teaspoon Italian dried herbs
4 tbsp Greek yogurt (you can also try whole yogurt or plant based plain yogurt) or 3 tbsp cream cheese mixed with 1 tablespoons milk
- Cook the pasta following the packet instructions, adding the peas for the final few minutes.
2. Drain, leaving 2 tbsp water in with the pasta and toss with the rest of the ingredients.
3. Season to taste
4. Serve with parmesan shavings while the sauce is hot. If you leave the pasta to sit, it will soak up the sauce.
5. Add a side salad or portion of mixed frozen vegetables to help you get you reach your 5 /day of fruit and vegetables
Hope you enjoyed reading this. Just try any or all of the three healthy recipes (above) and if you like then share it with family and friends.