10 Healthy Family Meals on a Budget

By: Debra Ronca

Shop the perimeter of the grocery store. See more fruit pictures.
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Sometimes we're so focused on clipping coupons and buying things on sale that we don't pay attention to whether or not something is healthy. Sure, you can take advantage of the "four cans for a dollar" special. But do you really want your family eating sodium-rich, canned food filled with preservatives every night?

If you want healthy meals, you'll need to shop the perimeter of the grocery store, where you'll find the freshest produce, dairy, bread and meat. Processed food is found in the middle of the store, and usually at your child's eye level. Sure, you'll need a few staples from the middle aisles, but the majority of what you buy should come from the perimeter.


That said, what can you cook from ingredients found on the perimeter of the store? We've outlined 10 meal ideas that require few ingredients.

10: Taco Salad

Everyone loves tacos. What's better than ground beef smothered with cheese and sour cream in a crunchy tortilla shell? Unfortunately, while it's cheap, it's not always the healthiest option. But we know how the family can enjoy a Tex-Mex meal in a healthier way: a taco salad.

Instead of ground beef, use ground turkey. It's leaner than ground beef, but you'll still get the protein. If you simply must have ground beef, go for the "95 percent lean" type. Use your favorite taco seasoning on the meat. Swap out full-fat sour cream for reduced fat sour cream. Add tomatoes, shredded lettuce, and reduced-fat cheese. You can also dump in corn, black beans, or kidney beans -- anything you'd like. Skip the refried beans to cut calories and fat. For crunch, use baked tortilla chips crumbled into the salad. Go crazy with your favorite spices and hot sauces. And serve with a wedge of lime on the side.


9: Black Bean and Corn Pizza

Everyone loves pizza.
Everyone loves pizza.
Steve Mason/Photodisc/Thinkstock

Pizza is another main course that puts a smile on kids' and parents' faces. Pizza doesn't have to be unhealthy. It's when you add things like sausage, pepperoni and extra cheese that the scale starts tipping -- and not in your favor.

Instead of spending money on a greasy pepperoni pizza from your neighborhood pizzeria, make one at home. Kids love helping out, and it's a cheap and easy way to devour healthy, fresh ingredients. Start off with some whole wheat pizza dough. If you're brave, you can make it from scratch. Or, to save time, just buy some from the grocery store or local pizzeria. Try out this yummy black bean and corn pizza for something different:


Dice up a tomato and combine it with corn and black beans in a bowl. Sprinkle some cornmeal on a baking sheet and press your dough into the shape of the baking sheet. Spread the dough with barbeque sauce -- make sure to buy sauce made without high fructose corn syrup. Spoon on the corn, bean, and tomato mixture. Sprinkle with low-fat mozzarella cheese. If you can find smoked mozzarella, even better. Bake until cheese is melted and dough is crusty. Be creative with veggies and other healthy toppings!

8: Spaghetti Squash with Turkey Chili

Make your chili any way you like it -- just be sure to use fresh ingredients and ground turkey or 95 percent lean beef. In the meantime, bake your spaghetti squash. If you've never done this before, it's pretty easy. Slice your squash in half lengthwise. Put both halves on a baking sheet, with the cut sides up. Bake for around 45 minutes at 350 degrees until soft.

Handling the squash with a potholder -- it'll be hot -- hold it over a bowl and use a fork to scrape out the insides. They'll come out easily, and you'll see they look just like spaghetti. Scoop some into a bowl, top with chili and you have a healthy, filling meal. Add some reduced fat grated cheese or sour cream if you'd like to add a little bit of flavor.


7: Tortellini and Spinach Soup

Spinach and tortellini soup
Spinach and tortellini soup

Soup is one of the most cost-effective meals you can make because you can make it in bulk, and the ingredients are just about always cheap. And you can put anything you want in soup, making it as healthy and tasty as you'd like.

Tortellini and spinach soup is easy to make. Just sauté some onion, red bell pepper, and garlic in olive oil. Sprinkle in some basil, oregano and crushed red pepper to taste. Add a dash of salt and pepper. Then, add diced tomatoes, chicken broth (veggie broth if you're a vegetarian) and spinach. Bring to a boil and add a package of frozen cheese tortellini. Continue boiling for a few minutes and you're done!


6: Shepherd's Pie

Shepherd's pie is a great way to use leftovers. But with ingredients like lamb or beef, gravy and mashed potatoes, it's not known for being healthy. However, with some substitutions, you can serve this stick-to-your-ribs meal to your family without a lot of guilt. To make a healthy shepherd's pie, just find any traditional recipe, and then use our substitutions below:

  • Meat: Go for ground turkey or ultra-lean beef. You can even try a vegetarian version using "meat" crumbles made of soy; these are easily found at the supermarket in the frozen foods aisle.
  • Veggies: Frozen vegetables are easiest. Think peas, carrots and corn.
  • In place of mashed potatoes, try mashed cauliflower combined with low-fat milk, instead of cream or full-fat milk.
  • Look for low-fat, low-sodium versions of gravy. Or if you're making your own, make sure you remove as much oil and fat as possible.


5: Chicken Lettuce Wraps

Lettuce makes for a healthy wrap for your chicken and veggie concoction.
Lettuce makes for a healthy wrap for your chicken and veggie concoction.

Chicken lettuce wraps are very popular menu items at restaurants. However, an appetizer portion can have more than 600 calories, as well as a lot of saturated fat. But you can make your own at home for a fraction of the price and much healthier to boot.

Most chicken lettuce wrap recipes call for sautéing finely chopped veggies, like celery, pepper, onion, ginger and garlic, in a pan, then adding ground chicken to be browned. Ingredients like water chestnuts, vinegar, cilantro and soy sauce also add to its signature taste -- check recipes for particular combinations of ingredients.


For the wrap, buy some Boston lettuce and fill each lettuce cup with some of the chicken and vegetable mixture.

4: Harvest Pumpkin Soup

To make pumpkin soup, you only need a few ingredients: pureed pumpkin, chopped onion or leek, vegetable or chicken broth, ground cinnamon, ground nutmeg, lowfat or skim milk, pepper, and a chopped green onion top. Sautee the onion in some broth until tender. Add broth, pumpkin and the two spices, and bring to a boil. Turn down to a simmer and cook for a few minutes. Add milk until heated through.

Ladle into bowls, garnish with black pepper and the green onion. You can even put a little dollop of reduced fat sour cream on top if you'd like. If you're feeling really creative, serve this soup in a small, clean and hollowed out pumpkin or gourd.


3: Apple-glazed Turkey

Use this recipe to finish up your holiday turkey leftovers.
Use this recipe to finish up your holiday turkey leftovers.

This one's great when turkey breasts start going on sale around the holidays. This low-fat and tasty dish can be made with ingredients that are mostly found in your pantry already.

Combine lemon juice, olive oil, seasoned salt, garlic and sage. Brush this mixture on each side of two turkey breasts. Broil the turkey for about five minutes, then turn and place some lemon slices on top and broil about two minutes more. Next, brush with apple jelly. Broil until tender. Slice it up and garnish with dried sage leaves. This is a great way to use up Thanksgiving leftovers, too.


2: Stuffed Peppers

Stuffed peppers are a fun dish, not only because they're tasty, but because you get to eat the vessel they're served in. To make this a vegetarian dish, simply swap in crumbled veggie burgers for the ground turkey. Even if you're not a vegetarian family, it's good to eat vegetarian sometimes just for the extra veggies, so why not give it a try?

To make stuffed peppers, you'll need to spend some time in the produce section of your grocery store. This recipe will serve four. Start off with four medium green or red bell peppers. Brown ground turkey along with a chopped onion in a skillet. Stir in tomato sauce, water, and garlic and herb seasoning. Bring this mixture to a boil, then add a cup of instant brown rice. Stir, cover and remove from heat. Let stand for a few minutes.


In the meantime, you should have the oven preheated. Prepare the peppers by rinsing them, cutting off the tops, removing the seeds, and rinsing the insides. Place the peppers in the dish, spoon in the meat mixture, and cover the entire thing in aluminum foil. Pop in the oven, bake until tender.

1: Tuna and White Bean Panini

Tuna is cheap, and if you buy the chunk light, it's pretty healthy.
Tuna is cheap, and if you buy the chunk light, it's pretty healthy.

The tuna melt is a favorite comfort food and diner staple. It's also not the healthiest since it's loaded up with mayo-heavy tuna and cheese. But everybody knows tuna's cheap, so let's make this low-cost sandwich a little healthier:

Combine chunk light tuna (in water, not oil), light mayo, white beans, minced garlic and chopped red onion. Spread this mixture over whole wheat bread. Top with sliced tomatoes and perhaps some basil leaves. Placed the sandwich on a pan and press it down with a spatula until toasted.

For more healthy, budget-conscious food articles, check out the links on the next page.

Lots More Information

Related Articles

  • "20 Cheap Heart-Healthy Dinner Ideas Under $3." Heart Healthy Living. 2009. (Oct. 8, 2011) http://www.hearthealthyonline.com/healthy-recipes/main-dish-recipes/cheap-dinner-ideas_ss1.html
  • Amidor, Toby. "Shepherd's Pie, Lightened Up." FoodNetwork.com. 2011. (Oct. 8, 2011) http://blog.foodnetwork.com/healthyeats/2009/02/02/healthy-shepherds-pie/
  • "Apple Glazed Turkey." Better Homes and Gardens. 2011. (Oct. 8, 2011) http://www.bhg.com/recipe/turkey/apple-glazed-turkey/
  • Bauer, Joy. "Joy Bauer's slimming chicken wraps." Today Health. April 5, 2010. (Oct. 8, 2011) http://today.msnbc.msn.com/id/36149020/ns/today-today_health/t/joy-bauers-slimming-chicken-wraps/#.To5R1xVSncY
  • Coleman, Ann. "Low-Cost Recipes from a Real Mom." DisneyFamily.com. 2011. (Oct. 8, 2011) http://family.go.com/food/pkg-low-cost-recipes-from-a-real-mom/
  • Pratt, Rebecca. "Eating Healthy on a Budget." SparkPeople.com. 2011. (Oct. 8, 2011) http://www.sparkpeople.com/resource/nutrition_articles.asp?id=511
  • "Smoky Corn and Black Bean Pizza." EatingWell.com. June/July 2006. (Oct. 8, 2011) http://www.eatingwell.com/recipes/smoky_corn_black_bean_pizza.html
  • Treuting, Jennifer. "11 Healthy Meals on a Budget." Delish. 2011. (Oct. 8, 2011) http://www.delish.com/recipes/cooking-recipes/budget-friendly-healthy-recipes