How to Plan Healthy Family Meals on a Tight Budget

by | Oct 31, 2019

If you’ve got a big family and a tight budget, there are plenty of ways to cut back on spending. It takes a combination of careful planning and flexibility at the grocery store. You never know what’s on sale until you’re shopping – but if you let sales define your spending habits, you might wind up with a lot of junk food that doesn’t give you many options when you’re planning dinner.

Instead, try to divide your shopping into food groups, and go for the deals by category. Make the most of your purchases by considering how it will make you feel. Simple sugars, like the ones you find in fruit and white bread, digest faster and stimulate your appetite, while foods with high fiber or protein content will keep you full longer. 

If you’ve got picky kids, there are plenty of ways to win them over with vegetables and fruits – either by sneaking them in with other food, serving them with a favorite dip, or presenting them as something fun. (Honestly, adults can be just as bad as kids, but having a little fun with your veggies can bring out the kid in anyone.)


A little work saves you a lot of money

Cooking healthy meals on a budget means doing a little bit of the work yourself. Pre-chopped veggies are packaged in small quantities so you don’t realize how much you’re paying for someone else to cut them. Baby carrots seem fun, but you get a lot more for your money if you peel and chop them yourself. Broccoli crowns are more expensive than whole broccoli, and the stem is delicious in soups or casseroles, 

The same goes for packaged food. Boxed macaroni and cheese is a perfect example. Sure, it’s usually less than a dollar per box, but you can make a lot more mac and cheese for only a couple dollars more, and have plenty of leftovers for lunch.

Canned beans are easy, but they’re very expensive compared to dried beans. Cooking dried beans will save you money and let you season them to your preference. And it’s not hard, especially if you invest in a pressure cooker. 

The more work you’re willing to do for your meat, the cheaper it will be. Whole fish and chicken are a lot cheaper than the cuts you get at the store. But if cutting your own meat is difficult for you, wait for the sales and freeze the excess – or go plant-based!


Healthy Family Meals on a budget

1. Butternut squash mac and cheese

A sneaky vegetable upgrades a family favorite! Pair it with a protein for an easy weeknight meal and or try adding other veggies, like broccoli, to stretch it out while making it even more nutritious.

2. Chicken Enchiladas 

Cheap ingredients are elevated by excellent preparation. Enchiladas are the perfect vehicle for all kinds of fillings, and the leftovers reheat well. Switching up the sauce you use is an excellent way to add variety to a simple staple, and it lets you take advantage of sales. 

3. Pasta with Hidden Veggie Tomato Sauce

Try this sauce recipe and use it to top your favorite kind of pasta. Or use it to make a pizza bagel for an easy way to load up on veggies without extra prep work. 

4. Veggies and Dip 

Nothing hurts more than letting fresh vegetables go to waste. But a delicious dip will inspire you to clear out your crisper drawer in no time. Perfect for a snack, appetizer, or a side in a lunch box. Try one of these dip recipes to make raw veggies a lot more appetizing.

5. Fried Rice

Rice is a staple worldwide for a reason— it’s cheap, filling, and can stretch out just about any meal. And surprisingly, fried rice can be a healthier option than steamed rice (try this recipe here). By cooking rice with a little coconut oil and letting the rice cool, the starch becomes more resistant to digestion. This will keep your blood sugar from spiking and help you stay full longer! Add protein to make it into a full meal. Switch up your veggies and spices, and you can have flavors from around the world with a cheap, easy meal.

6. Broccoli, cheese, and potato soup 

Potatoes are always a cheap crowd-pleaser, and this soup is filling enough to be a meal on its own. Make plenty so you can take some leftovers with you for lunch as a side to your sandwich. 

7. Tomato soup and grilled cheese

This one’s a classic for all ages. You can use a hearty multigrain bread or tangy sourdough bread for complexity and variety. When making grilled cheese, try grilling the inside of the sandwich in butter, too. Flip it over and add garlic and your favorite herbs before putting the cheese on it, and you’ll be amazed at the difference. Having a warm cup of tomato soup to dip it in rounds out this quick meal. 

8. Hidden veggie chili 

This protein-packed meal is another sneaky way to use up those vegetables. Plenty of fiber keeps you full, and leftovers can be stretched out by eating them as tacos. Chili is also a perfect cheap freezer meal!

9. Breakfast quesadilla

If you prefer a hot meal to start your day, a quesadilla is a cheap, painless way to get out the door in time. You can eat them at the table with your family or take them to-go if you’re in a hurry. Changing up the ingredients will add variety to your morning routine. 

10. Overnight oats

Cheap, filling, and delicious! If oatmeal makes you think of a flavorless mush, give these overnight oats a go, and you’re sure to change your mind. Make them in single-serving containers if you want to eat on the go, or use one big jar to save space in the fridge.

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