When I was a college student, I burned through my meager paychecks pretty quickly. The primary offenders were fancy chai tea lattes and fast food. Why did these little “treats” of mine do so much damage?
The reason is twofold. I wasn’t living within my means, and I lacked a proper budget to help guide my money in the right direction. Now that I’m in my thirties with a food budget in place and cooking meals at home for my growing family, I think back on how much money I could have saved on food if I’d tried more meals at home.
I also imagine my meals would have been significantly healthier. For some reason, I always thought healthy automatically meant complicated and expensive. Now that I’m in my thirties, I’ve come to find a happy middle ground comprised of some healthy at-home recipes that aren’t complex and don’t break the bank.
With three children at home, I’ll take easy meals that turn out to be healthy, budget-friendly, and delicious any day.
Herb-Baked Tilapia Fillets
Cooking fish has always been intimidating to me. However, it’s delicious and can be one of the healthiest meats on the menu. Therefore, I’ve concluded it’s worth venturing into less familiar territory. Here is a go-to method I learned from my mother for an inexpensive fish dinner that’s so easy and never fails to satisfy my palate.
What you need:
Frozen tilapia fillets (buying them frozen versus fresh will reduce the expense)
Thaw your fillets before baking. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit. Drizzle olive oil in a 9 x 13 baking dish. Sprinkle a dash of garlic salt, parsley, thyme, pepper, or any other seasoning you want to add. Bake for 5 to 7 minutes, then turn each fillet. Continue baking until the fish flakes apart.
These go great with steamed cinnamon sweet potatoes (follow this link for the full recipe).
In my twenties, one of my favorite recipes was also as simple and delicious as it sounds. My aunt first served this to me with creamy mashed potatoes as a side and it was heavenly.
What you need:
1 pound of chicken breasts, sliced lengthwise in butterfly-style cut
1 bottle of Zesty Italian dressing
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Drizzle zesty Italian dressing on the bottom of a 9 x 13 baking dish. Open each butterflied chicken breast and lay it flat in the dressing. Apply more dressing atop each breast and bake covered with lid or aluminum foil for 30 minutes or until chicken is cooked all the way through.
Dial the healthiness up another notch by tossing some fresh or lightly steamed broccoli florets into the dish to bake with the chicken. The zestiness of the dressing creates a delicious and powerful flavor that can be paired with nearly any pasta, rice, bread, or potato as a side.
How about a healthy snack any member of the family could enjoy? Let’s give the classic PB&J a fancy and healthy twist by swapping out just a few ingredients.
What you need:
Whole wheat tortilla wraps
Any nut butter of your choice
Spread the nut butter evenly on the wrap. Drizzle honey. Roll tightly and secure with a toothpick in the center. Children love helping with this one and it makes a great portable option (e.g. snacks during a picnic in the park).
One final incredible way to keep your food budget on track is to work ahead with freezer meals. This takes some extra work up front, but you can then reap the reward of one delicious meal after another waiting in your freezer.
Ready to get started? Here is our master list of 38 freezer meals we think you’ll enjoy.
Do you have a favorite meal or snack that is quick, healthy, and inexpensive? Please share it with us in the comments below.
-- Laura Harris
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