11 Budget-Friendly Meals for When You Want to Eat Healthy But Spent All Your Money On the Holidays

And simple tips for saving money with every meal!
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As Jonah and I tighten our budget in anticipation of our wedding and some upcoming medical costs (hooray for adulthood!), we've taken a closer look at our grocery expenses. Because we both love cooking and are equally skilled at justifying the price of a $14 blue cheese, there was plenty of room for improvement. In the past, our go-to budget meal had always been brown rice cooked with lots of butter, topped with chickpeas and spinach, and finished with a squeeze of lemon. Jonah and I are living proof that the human body can survive on those five elements alone. As much as I love beans and rice, we were both starting to feel fatigued of the old staple. I turned to the Internet in search of some delicious meals that won't break the bank. 

The tricky thing with finding budget meals is finding healthy budget meals—I've inherited my father's belief that dinner isn't dinner unless it includes a protein, fat, carb, and lots of fresh vegetables, which doesn't come cheap. After doing some trial and error of my own, I've added on 11 budget-friendly, healthy dinners (that we of course pack the next day for lunch!) to our rotation:

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Image via Food52

Image via Food52

A huge benefit of this recipe is that you likely already have most of the ingredients on hand. Last week, I made it and only had to buy kale—and when I run out of soba noodles, I plan to use the buckwheat flour I bought over the holidays for blinis to make them at home with my pasta maker (yes, I'm still talking about that thing!). I always double the kale and peanut butter in this recipe to pack in more greens and fat, but feel free, as always, to skip the garnishes if you're looking to save a bit more - they make the dish better but aren't essential! 

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Image via Not Without Salt

Image via Not Without Salt

There's a rule of thumb I like to follow that goes a little something like this: The more canned goods, the less expensive the meal. (It isn't the catchiest phrase, but hey.) A shakshuka-inspired dish is the perfect example, and I love that this one is further bolstered by kale and wheat berries to create a well-rounded meal! Help it go even farther by serving it with rice! 

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Chickpeas are a pantry staple for me because they're so hearty, inexpensive, and an excellent source of protein. Double or triple this herby chickpea salad so you can add it to salads, soups, baked potatoes with a dollop of Greek yogurt, or simply add a few eggs over easy to a big bowl of it! 

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When I ate vegan in high school, my mom taught me how to make this simple lentil soup so that I always had access to a hearty and nourishing snack between cross country practice and dinner. I like to kick it up a notch by adding even more carrots, as well as sweet potatoes and kale—add a dollop of Greek yogurt on top for additional protein (unless you stuck with your high school ethics, of course). 

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Despite the number of ingredients in this raw Pad Thai from my friend's blog, it's actually very reasonably priced when you swap out the kelp noodles for classic Pad Thai noodles and omit the chicken. Plus, it's one of those recipes where, once you've purchased the pricier staple ingredients, you can make it again, and again, and again for next to nothing. When I made it last week, I skipped the garnishes and simply bought broccoli slaw, red cabbage, and carrots, in addition to a bundle of cilantro and limes, and made do with what was already in my pantry, making small swaps as necessary! 

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Image via Love and Lemons

Image via Love and Lemons

I could be happy eating a meal of roasted sweet potatoes every single night. My version of Carrie's Saltines and fashion magazines is cutting sweet potatoes into fries, roasting them, and dipping them into a miso-mayonnaise for dinner while I watch something mindless like Mrs. Fletcher or The Bold Type. Buuut, these stuffed sweet potatoes are a close second :) While I don't follow the recipes exactly, I've taken inspiration from the curried chickpeas stuffing many an evening. 

P.S., I love the 5-pound bags of organic sweet potatoes from Trader Joe's because, while they're about 40 cents more expensive than the conventional sweet potatoes, they contain enough to last two people a week (or me about two nights at home alone...)

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Image via The Kitchn

Image via The Kitchn

Pretty much any vegetarian version of a dish is going to be less expensive than it's meaty alternative. Beans are a lot less expensive than chicken, but can be just as delicious! I rarely follow an actual recipe when making black bean tacos (but here's one if you do!). Instead, I just cook black beans with kale (do you recognize a pattern yet?), add the mixture to soft flour tortillas, then add shredded cabbage on top, maybe some avocado if I'm feeling fancy, Cotija or Greek yogurt, and a squeeze of lime. 

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Image via goop

Image via goop

If you have a busy week, making a hearty soup on Sunday that you can eat throughout the week is an excellent option. The title of this soup is a bit of a misnomer, since it uses summer ingredients like zucchini and basil, but it is delicious, hearty, and affordable!

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An exceedingly simple, but delicious dinner

An exceedingly simple, but delicious dinner

I'm a recent convert of Trader Joe's canned Grecian Style Eggplant with Tomatoes & Onions. After warming it a bit in a saucepan (though I often eat it at room temperature straight from the can), it's delicious over polenta, as are most things... I often layer the following over polenta or even mashed potatoes (as I did above), in this order: pesto or Trader Joe's Eggplant, sautéed spinach, and any leftover vegetables. Recipe courtesy of Chez Leslie and Jonah. 

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Image via Bon Appetit

Image via Bon Appetit

Jonah and I have been living on pasta ever since we bought our pasta maker because it's just so inexpensive and easy! We rarely use a recipe, instead just throwing in sun-dried tomatoes, whatever vegetables we have on hand, and more Parmesan, cream, and butter than any doctor would recommend... but this recipe looks delicious—and cheap! 

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If you ever feel like you're coming down with a cold, make a pot of Congee, or Chinese rice porridge. It's basically slow-cooked sushi rice with chicken broth, but you can always add to it, with a soft-boiled egg, shredded chicken, sautéed spinach, or all three! I prefer the New York Times recipe linked here, but if you don't subscribe, the recipe at the bottom of this article is almost exactly the same.