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Budget Concious and Healthy

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I have been searching everywhere for recipes that don't break the bank (OK are really cheap) but are also healthy and satisfying. I know to cook with ground beef and chicken to save money, and to buy what veggies are on sale - but it seems like most of the inexpensive meal ideas I hear are so unhealthy (casserole, spagehtti with meat sauce, etc). We like to eat a lot of veggies but my boyfriend loves EVERYTHING covered in creamy, buttery or cheesey sauce. I want to lower our grocery bill, cook healthy, and still make food tasty enough that he doesn't clog all his arteries in the next few years. Is this possible? Thanks!

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  1. Im not sure how your boyfriend feels about soups and stews but you can make incredibly healthy soups on a pretty basic budget. Ive recently been obsessed with beans- which are incredibly good for you, filling, and cheap. Pureed or whole in soup and stew amps up the nutrition, fills you up and keeps costs low. If cheese is needed- theres nothing better then some good cheddar or monteray jack running through a nice thick soup, or parmesan rinds in a thinner pot...

    22 Replies
    1. re: fmcoxe6188

      Thanks very much - soup is one thing I have NEVER cooked but would like to start becuase I know it can be healthy and inexpensive. I have also never cooked beans but just got a crock pot - I do prefer my soups pureed so that is something I will have to start cooking this winter

      1. re: thegirlwholovestoeat

        Definitely give it a shot! I made a white bean soup just last night (Pureed beans) that Im entirely obsessed with! You can get such great flavors and its a great way to get veggies in there as well! Soups are a bit of an obsession for me right now :-)

        1. re: fmcoxe6188

          I'm crazy about soups, too--making them and eating them. Especially now that colder weather's on its way. Any chance you could share instructions for the white bean soup? And would I be able to puree it with a stick blender, fm? Because that's what I have. :-)

          1. re: Normandie

            Hi Normandie

            Absolutely- I love my stick blender too-I dont see any reason why it shouldnt work!!

            It's actually a really simple soup- basic ingredients:
            2 lbs ground meat (I used chicken and pork because I couldnt find two good packages of all chicken :-))
            2 cans beans- I ended up using Butter beans and Kidney beans (Cannelloni beans were MIA)
            16 oz chicken stock (give or take)
            2-3 cloves garlic-chopped
            1 small onion-chopped
            2-3 stalks celery-diced
            2 large carrots-diced
            1 Serrano pepper- chopped
            2 handfuls of parsley- chopped
            6 leaves sage- I cut into ribbons- but chopped would also be good
            14 oz pumpkin beer (I was feeling fall-ish)
            Green beans- cut into bite sized pieces
            Baby spinach-I never measure this so-whatever looks good to you!
            Salt and Pepper to taste

            I made this really very simply-I sweat the onions with a little olive oil, added the carrots, celery, pepper and sage with a little salt- allowed the flavors to combine. Then I added the ground meat (not a necessity by any means-I just wanted it hearty). I let that brown, and then transferred it to a soup pot. Added the beer- let it simmer off. In my food processor- or in a large bowl with an immersion blender :-)- I combined the garlic, parsley, both cans of beans-one strained and washed the other left as is- and the chicken stock (if you wanted a more vegetarian version vegetable broth would definitely work). Once everything was completely pureed- I added it to the soup pot with the meat, carrots, celery etc. Then I just added in the green beans and spinach.
            The result had a really nice flavor between the hint of pumpkin from the beer, the sage, and the parsley....
            A complete description-with some photos- http://abostonfooddiary.blogspot.com/...
            You're reminding me-I should use my stick blender more!! I love that thing-especially for soups!!

            1. re: fmcoxe6188

              Oops! I knew I'd forget an ingredient- at the end I also threw in some frozen corn kernels-again no measuring just enough to make me happy. I really must get better at writing recipes :-)

              1. re: fmcoxe6188

                That sounds *great*. Sounds like it was tailor-made for this house, too, because we love a little heat (I was actually thinking of tossing a Habanero into my soup last night, but decided not to just for variety) and I love the nuances of pumpkin ale (well, in cooking, anyway; I hardly ever drink). I just love the smell of pumpkin ale. Oh, sage, too. I love it, and never think of enough ways to use it.

                I have ground beef, ground turkey, sausage I could take out of the casings, and ground veal in the freezer. Do you think the ground veal could work, in combination with one of the stronger meats?

                Thanks for posting that so quickly. I think I might try it this weekend.

                1. re: Normandie

                  I definitely think it could! I would bet that most meats would-fun to play with the different flavors as well :-) Id love to know how it turns out!

                  1. re: fmcoxe6188

                    I will let you know, once I do get to make it.

                    I'm going to C&P the recipe into my own offline files, and I think as I said, I'll have time to make it this weekend, because I know hubby has planned to work this weekend. This will be a nice, hearty welcome-home for him!

        2. re: thegirlwholovestoeat

          I like to make batches of soups and stews in my crock pot as well. I serve some for dinner and then freeze the rest. I'd like to add both black and cannelli beans whole and the crock pot will help break them down. Its not quite puree consistency but its a thicker soup.

          It sounds like your boyfriend really likes flavor and not just a plain grilled chicken, etc. I try to veer away from heavy sauces and add fresh tastes like roasted garlic (which is usually very cheap) or pesto to your protein. It will give you the flavor but will be a lot healthier than a creamy/buttery/cheesey sauce. When cooking fish or chicken, I sometimes make a quick marinade with soy sauce and light mayo. Yes, it sounds gross but it gives you a creamy soy sauce flavor but with a thicker consistency.

          Another cost cutting tip is to try to buy family-size packs of proteins and then immediately separate and freeze them. And while I prefer fresh vegetables, if frozen vegetables are on sale, I stock up on those too for stir-fries or soups. I try to always supplement frozen veggies with a few fresh veggies.

          It sounds pretty obvious but planning ahead always helps. I used to live with a roommate who would constantly buy fresh vegetables like every other day from Wholefoods. While the idea of getting really fresh food was great, she would spend so much money and often forget what she had previously purchased (i.e. leaving rotting old vegetables in the fridge). Not only was this disgusting but it was such a waste of money.

          1. re: CreativeFoodie42

            I shop for vegetables a couple of times a week, Creative, and no matter what I do, some of them get hinky, even with a few days. I think I can thank the current supermarket insistence on spraying them silly the whole time they sit on the shelves in the store, but I guess if some of them have traveled to get here, they're not as fresh as they could be, anyway.

            So I always stock up on those frozen veggies whose texture is okay to me after commercial freezing, like peas, corn, lima beans. Since vegetables lose no nutritive value when flash-frozen properly, it really is the texture of frozen veggies that keeps me from using some of them. But like you I buy them only when they're on sale and therefore I always have some in the freezer, at a reasonable price.

            Word of caution to everyone: I checked the labels of my store brand, since they're less expensive, and I saw that they add salt to the veggies for freezing. This is absolutely unnecessary, so I wait for the major brands to go on sale.

            1. re: Normandie

              Normandie, I definitely am a huge fan of picking up fresh produce, especially during the summer months when they are so cheap and fresh at farm stands. However, if you've ever had to clean out a bin of your roommate's half used onions, squash, and garlic that she kept pushing to the back of the bin after she bought more....let's just say that it wasn't sanitary! :-)

              But on a more serious note, I completely agree with you about using frozen vegetables. For texture and taste, I do like to mix frozen with fresh and I think that everyone should read the labels of what is in their frozen veggies before buying them. Its not just the generic store brands that add salt!

              1. re: CreativeFoodie42

                Seeing that addition of the salt drives me crazy. It's not in every package of veggies, so I know it's not necessary. In fact, that's what makes some frozen veggies mushy upon cooking, I think. I think the salt draws the moisture out. And it's not that I'm against salt. I use it...just not too much, and I think it's better health-wise to control it at the stove, and it tastes better when added at home, too.

                So which veggies do you think do all right in the commercially frozen state? I usually only buy frozen those I mentioned (corn, peas, lima beans and frenched green beans). Do you think I'm missing out on any that also retain their textures?

                1. re: Normandie

                  I have always been afraid to cook with frozen vegetables (unless making spinach dip) becuase i grew up on the them and they were ALWAYS mushy - maybe this is the way my mom prepared them? Any tips for sides made with frozen veggies or on how to prepare without becoming mushy?

                  1. re: thegirlwholovestoeat

                    I definitely skip some of the frozen veggies that cut or diced into small pieces from larger units to begin with, girl. For example, I don't like frozen diced carrots, at all, and I don't like frozen broccoli florets. (In an emergency, I think broccoli STEMS can fare better, but I don't really buy those, either.)

                    I find the legumes and hard shelled items like corn survive the freezing. One way to keep them firm is to steam them, but I do cook them in water sometimes, too. I just watch them carefully and take them out just as they're al dente, or a nannosecond before, if I can judge it correctly. Remember they'll keep cooking from residual heat or steam after you remove them from the energy sources and drain them. You can shock them at that point by dumping them into ice water, to stop the cooking, and then reheat them gently or quick-saute them to do the final seasoning or add them into the final recipe. But I only go to that trouble for the occasional special dinner. On weeknights, I just try to pay attention to them and remove them from the burner just before they're done.

                    Things like frenched green beans work well if you toss them into a HOT saute pan, with whatever oil you like or a touch of butter, while they're *still* frozen. You know how to do that, since you stir fry. Then just add whatever spices/herbs compliment your entree. Add some slivered almonds or sunflower seeds. Either of those would be good if you're added the beans into a pan in which you've already sauteed some minced shallots.

                    Pan roasted corn is tasty and versatile and friendly to a diversity of additions. Again, you can sautee an aromatic or two, such as diced onions with diced or thinly sliced celery or fennel, then turn the heat up and when the pan is hot, toss in the still-frozen corn. If you want, you could then add either some chopped raisins (golden ones especially good), or a small-diced apple, and then add a little a heat or spice via Cayenne, or chili powder, or some type of curry. Curries play nicely with corn. :-)

                    I usually keep things simple when I use lima beans, but I like a generous addition of thyme with them.

                    Frozen peas are a wonder invention. They'll take just about any herb--again, to work with whatever your entree is. Add them to white or brown rice, and then season as desire. If you're doing a sauteed pasta, once you drain it and put it in the sautee pan, again, add a small handful of baby frozen peas, and stir-sautee to cook them.

                    You can add the corn and peas to thinks like couscous and bulgar wheat. Sometimes I've put peas in tabouleh, since both the tabouleh and the peas like mint.

                    I think the key to using all of these is quick cooking, which just means watching them whether it's a stir-fry, sautee, steam or simmer, and getting them out before they've overcooked.

                    1. re: Normandie

                      We haven't been using frozen veggies and with winter coming on, this is a good guide to wbat is best in that department. Will give some of this a try.

                      And with frozen peas -- mint and some butter. Sublime.

                  2. re: Normandie

                    You've hit the mark on the ones I use, although I also recently tried frozen brussel sprouts and thought they were good but you have to cook them carefully to avoid the mush factor.

            2. re: thegirlwholovestoeat

              girl, first of all, I want to commend you for taking the initiative to do this and to reassure you that cooking healthfully can be one of the least inexpensive ways to spend your grocery money--especially since you already know how to shop sales.

              I'm going to tell you how to make the soup we had for dinner tonight. If you can stir-fry, you can make this and, moreover, you can substitute my ingredients for the things you and BF like to eat, once you try cooking it. It's really not hard.

              This has a *little* bit of bacon in it, but only 1/4 of a pound, so if you divide it amongst servings, it truly only a small amount per person and it might help BF adjust because it's got a little bit of that satisfying bacon fat-smoked flavor. But if you really don't want to use bacon, you could substitute maybe some lean sliced ham, or Canadian bacon, or prosciutto. I also make soups like this often in the winter using one (butchers-sized) link of hot sausage, or chicken sausage, for a little heartiness. The soup I made tonight also had chickpeas, which are filling and have a pleasing mouthful for people who like "substantial" food.

              So here goes. Use a heavy pot or pan like a dutch oven or a soup pot. Dice a quarter pound of bacon (about four slices usually) in about inch-wide pieces. Put them in the pot and turn the heat on to low or medium low to saute and melt the bacon fat gently.

              Slice a small onion or half a large onion of your choice in very thin slices as for onion soup. I usually cut the onion in half, and then slice the halves into the think slices, just so the onion is distributed more evenly through the rest of the ingredients. Low-saute the onion until it softens. Season with S&P to taste, a little thyme, oregano, rosemary...whatever you like. I also add a small amount of red pepper flakes (probably about 1/4-1/2 teaspoon's worth) and a pinch of Cayenne pepper. Stir now and then.

              Slice a fennel bulb very thinly in the same manner, after removing its core. (Save and freeze the stalks to slice thinly for future soups, salads, casseroles, whatever.) Mix the fennel slices with the rest of your veggies, continue the low saute and stir intermittently.

              Peel one large carrot, grate it into the pot and stir it to mix with the other veggies.

              Mince two to three garlic cloves and mix those in. Grate a very small amount of frresh nutmeg--a pinch, no more than 1/8 of a teaspoon into the pot, and then add in a teaspoon of freshly grated lemon zest. Stir those in.

              Then you want to add a fresh, healthy dark green leaf vegetable. You could use spinach, baby spinach, escarole, whatever you like. I used Swiss Chard tonight, so while the veggie mix was continuing its saute, I cut the leaves off the wide stems of the Chard. Slice the stems and add them to the pot and mix in. Rough chop the leaves but hold them out on the side. You'll add them last since they take such little time to cook.

              Drain and rinse one can of chickpeas and add them to the pot, stirring them in.

              Then add two cups of the poultry stock of your choice. Store-bought is fine. I had homemade Cornish game hen stock in the freezer, so I used that. Add two cups of water, or if you like, 1-3/4 cups water and 1/4 cup dry white wine. Stir it all together and taste and adjust seasoning. Cover and simmer gently for a while, maybe twenty minutes or a half hour. Just before you're ready to serve, add the rough chopped Chard leaves (if you use Swiss Chard) and cook to wilt.

              A couple of points:

              If you think the veggies need it at some point--meaning, if they seem to have absorbed all the bacon fat, add a small amount of a healthy oil you like.

              When I use homemade frozen stock, I melt it on low heat in a separate saucepan and then bring it up to a gentle boil for two minutes before adding it to the soup pot.

              If you're using another dark green that doesn't have the tougher stems that require more cooking that the leaves (as mature Chard does), then you can just rough chop the greens and add them toward the end of cooking.

              If you don't like any of the veggies here, you could substitute virtually anything you like: sweet peppers, diced tomatoes, green beans, corn, diced potatoes, mushrooms, celery, beansprouts--whatever you enjoy or whatever you'd like to use up. But I do think the small portion of bacon or sausage, plus chickpeas, give it the bulk and mouthfeel that would help make it appealing to your BF.

              Seems like a long recipe, but you know it's really not, since you like to stir-fry. Just takes some slicing and dicing. I'd estimate it took me an hour and fifteen minutes from start to finish. This amount makes about four servings; you could certainly increase the amounts.

              I served this tonight with the basic drop biscuits whose recipe is in Joy of Cooking, but I replaced about a quarter of the AP flour with whole wheat flour.

              1. re: thegirlwholovestoeat

                just made this recently - very tasty, inexpensive, filling... and healthy! :)
                the original recipe also included a packet of ranch dressing mix, but I hate that so I left it out.

                Chicken Taco Soup

                Ingredients:
                3-4 frozen chicken breasts
                1 envelope taco seasoning mix (or make your own blend)
                1 medium onion, diced
                1/2 jar salsa (or 1 can diced tomatoes)
                1 can black beans
                1 can cannelli (or any white) beans
                1 can kidney beans
                1 can vegetarian baked beans
                1 can kernel corn

                Directions:
                Put everything in crockpot in order listed. Do NOT rinse or drain beans. Do NOT stir. Cook on low for 6 to 8 hours. Take chicken out and shred with two forks. Put chicken back in, stir, and eat. Freezes well.

                1. re: jujuthomas

                  This sounds great, but how long to cook without a crockpot?

                  1. re: cheesecake17

                    er... um... I'm really not sure and all the crockpot conversions I see online are oven/crockpot. I'd say as long as it takes for the chicken to get really well cooked so it can be shredded.
                    You'd probably want to add some chicken broth/stock to it if you're cooking it on the stove because you don't use very much liquid when cooking in the crockpot, even when making soup.

                  2. re: jujuthomas

                    This looks good for one of those days when I just couldn't decide what to take out of the freezer the night before, juju. I like that I could put the frozen chicken right in.

                    I'd also be doing this without a crockpot and I'm guessing, if I'm using low heat or a simmer, an hour and a half, or two hours, until the chicken is tender?

                    1. re: Normandie

                      I'd be guessing too... but that would probably do it! You could test it of course and continue cooking if it doesn't shred. :) I think I'm going to dump this in my crock Saturday morning, before I leave to shop for new fall clothes. (all the old ones got too big! yay!)

              2. It appears to me that your boyfriend has never learned to eat food without having it camouflaged in some way. Some mothers camouflage foods so their toddlers will eat it and they never learn to eat the primary ingredient in a recipe. There are, of course, other ways through which we learn to avoid the primary ingredient - so let's not blame it all on mom.
                I'd suggest you research some low fat "camouflage" recipes; perhaps some of these:
                http://www.lowfatlifestyle.com/sauces...
                and develop your skills with stir fry (a wok helps, but it isn't entirely necessary).

                1 Reply
                1. re: todao

                  I try stir-fry every week but he is not happy with it unless it is in a thick peanut-y sauce. Will not give up on this though. Also - a lot of these sauce recipes look great and looks like he might like a few. Thanks!

                2. My boyfriend used to be a lot like yours but since we've been together and I've been using him as my guinea pig, he's had no choice but to expand his culinary horizons and eat the generally healthy food that I prepare. For pasta, I usually make a sauce with tinned tomatoes, basil, oregano, black pepper and veggies. Sometimes, I use low-fat créme fraiche and it turns out really well.

                  Another suggestion I would make is barley risotto: very cheap and very healthy. If you add grated carrots, zucchinis, mushrooms, some toasted almonds (or other nuts) and an assortment of spices, it's delicious. A favourite at home is mixing mashed butternut squash into the barley once it's nearly ready. It gives it a lovely flavour.

                  Vegetable cakes are great: you can use chickpeas or other beans, mix them up with cooked vegetables, egg and some wholemeal flour or breadcrumbs and then fry them in low fat srpy or bake them in the oven.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: Paula76

                    Your mention of grated vegetables, and then your vegetable cakes reminded me--for another low-meat meal this week, I made grated vegetable "turnovers" and used phyllo dough to make the triangular cases. They looked like turnovers, but with much less fat. I usually use just olive oil to brush the phyllo layers and this week, I didn't even coat the whole sheet...just sort of drizzled it here and there and then only brushed the tops once the turnover was formed. They were fine with the reduced amount of oil. I didn't even use a egg or egg white for binding, but I did toss in a handful of crumbled feta into the veggies, which I sauteed lightly before stuffing.

                    So that was another healthy meal that was low-cost. I think the most expensive ingredients were the spinach and a half package of phyllo. I served them with a salad.

                  2. Think beans (black beans, garbanzos, pintos, kidney beans, etc) and lentils for healthy inexpensive protein.

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: lgss

                      I find lentils to be very filling and one of their special benefits is that they absorb the seasonings and flavors of whatever you're including them in.

                      1. re: lgss

                        I make quesedillas with black beans and tons of sauteed bell peppers and onions. Sometimes cheese, sometimes soy cheese. Delicious and inexpensive. Leftovers are great over brown rice the next day or as a salad topping.

                        I like the Ezekiel sprouted grain tortillas. .

                      2. Maybe try and do dishes healthier in cuisines he likes...
                        burritos with whole wheat tortillas, beans, veggies on sale, etc.
                        polenta (made then allowed to solidify, slice, and broil, top with tomato sauce)
                        paninis
                        sloppy joes (lightened ingredients) - can use TVP instead of meat
                        chili
                        frittatas - do egg whites with one or two yolks
                        brown rice with spring rolls then made fried rice with leftovers
                        veggie burgers made from whole grains... etc.

                        1. Don't forget things like tacos and burritos, either. (Edited to add: Oops, I see Emme and I were thinking alike, with the burritos.) As long as you skip the sour cream, they present another way to stuff your guy with veggies in a format he'd probably be comfortable with. I just use a little bit of grated cheese on the top, as a token, but sometimes I skip that and nobody cares, if the meat is seasoned well.

                          Substitute ground turkey for the ground beef and don't tell him. Or used diced pork. Guacamole is fatty, yes, but it's a healthy fat, so I feel free to include that when I want to, or just use an avocado, sliced simply. Or skip that if you like--tacos with the spices and the crunchy shell make people feel like they're not depriving themselves. Pan roasted corn kernels work well in tacos, too.

                          1. These chickpea veggie burgers have become a staple in my house and in several friends' houses. We all make them somewhat differently (I leave out the tahini, a friend adds extra, I use parsley instead of cilantro, another friend omits the feta while I add extra, etc) and each version is yummy. They are great with guacamole on them (which would give the gooiness and creamy mouthfeel your boyrfirend seems to like) or with tahini sauce (google for recipes if that appeals) or a fried egg on top. While I do not put them in burger rolls, some of my friends do and they work either way. They also freeze great so I try to always have some in the freezer to avoid the takeout temptation. http://www.boston.com/lifestyle/food/...

                            1. Not a whole lot to add that others haven't mentioned, but even when I am on a budget I keep bacon in the house. It makes a nice flavouring, even if you only use two or three slices, and can give dishes that luxurious taste/mouth feel.

                              For instance, my mom used to make a version of carbonara (which I now make for my husband who loves it). Not entirely low-fat, but you can play with it a bit. I just cook however much pasta I need, and add an egg or two while it's hot along with a splash of some dairy product (ranging from low-fat milk to heavy cream), and stir well so that it cooks the egg. Then I add however much cooked bacon I felt I could add (mostly depending on budget... low budget is one or two slices, no budget cares means about 6 or 7 slices), along with a teaspoon or tablespoon (depending on how much fat you want to add) of the grease (the little bit of grease will help the bacony flavour spread very well throughout the dish). Then a spoonful of tomato paste, or a bit of sauce (just something tomato-based), a couple of spoonfuls of pesto, and finally however much parmasan ("real" or powdered will work) makes the dish for you.

                              1. Thanks everyone for the very helpful ideas so far - I have definitely been inspired to try some soups. Last night I made healthy chicken cordon bleu (with whole wheat bread crumbs and low fat swiss) and a side of roasted carrots and potatoes - when I told my boyfriend what I was making he came home with ingredients to make Bearnaise sauce! A perfect example of what I posted about - I think the ideas to make healthy sauces to have on hand is going to be very helpful for me since everything obviously has to be coated!

                                1. To achieve a "creamy" sauce without as much dairy and fat, incorporate instant mashed potato, pureed cooked beans, or pureed cooked cauliflower. You'll probably be more successful if you don't try to go without any dairy right off the bat, but if he liked a 50% blend, you could change the ratio over time. Use some of the powdered butter flavorings or butter-flavored sprays (is Butter-Buds still sold?) for increased butter-flavor without the fat and calories of the original.

                                  For making soup: If you cut pancetta or kielbasa into small dice (1/4 inch or a little larger) or very thin slices, then sear thoroughly over fairly high heat, your pot will have a lot of intensely-flavored fond. Remove the meat, returning it to the pot when the soup is nearing completion. Add your chopped onions and other aromatics to the fond, which will deglaze the pot. Stir a minute or two, then add your water, stock, or other liquid ingredients. This will add a great dela of flavor to your soup, and as a result, you won't need as much meat for it to be satisfying. I make 2 quarts of soup with 4 oz. of sausage.
                                  I make chicken stock periodically, but when I don't have it on hand, I like Better Than Bouillon soup base. It has less salt and better flavor than cubes, and I like the convenience of lugging and storing an 8 oz. jar rather than many heavy cans/boxes of liquid broth for an equivalent yield. Remember that while soup can be a main course, it need not be, if himself isn't satisfied by such a meal. A smaller bowl, particularly if eaten at least a half hour before the meal, will mean you're satisfied with smaller portions of entree and sides.