Healthy meal plans on a budget
01 September 2021
Eating healthily is about finding good foods that you enjoy, make you feel well and keep you full. It can take some time to find your groove with this, but here are some healthy meal plans that could work for you.
Are you really going to be full if you plan to have soup for lunch? Will you really want a cold salad if the weather is going to be miserable? The best way to make a good healthy eating meal plan is to be realistic. Look back at your eating habits and anticipate what foods you might crave, and build healthy versions into your plan.
You also need to plan healthy meals that you’ll actually enjoy! Before you start pouring spirulina on your cornflakes, have a think about what kinds of food you enjoy now, and how you can tweak them to become healthier and maybe even save some cash.
Variety is the spice of life
You won’t be excited to eat the same thing every day, so plan in some variety to your meals. Think about whether you can stick to healthy eating seven days a week, and whether you need to give yourself a night off each week for an affordable takeaway or ready meal, or whether you want to plan to have a light dessert a few times a week.
Don’t forget drinks!
A lot of the sugar in our diet can come from cans of pop, sugary tea and coffee. Not to mention how much we spend in cafes. Can you swap out some of the pricey, sugary drinks for water or herbal tea? Remember, fruit and veg juice all count towards your five a day.
Healthy breakfasts on a budget
Classic breakfast foods can be full of carbs - like toast, pancakes or pastries - and still leave your stomach rumbling for elevensies. To feel full all morning, try swapping some carbs for cheap high protein ingredients like eggs, baked beans, porridge oats or tinned fish. Having a high protein breakfast will save you cash on mid morning snacks.
If you want to up your fruit and veg at breakfast or need something portable to take to work, try a smoothie with your choice of frozen berries, cheap green leafy veg such as frozen or tinned spinach, and thickened with low fat, low sugar yoghurt (for example, plain Greek yoghurt bought in bulk), banana or oats.
Grow your own veg if you can - curly kale is super easy to grow and keeps giving you leaves for around seven months in the year. Some types of spinach give you leaves all year round. Don’t forget, dried, tinned or frozen versions of fresh fruit and veg are cheaper and all count towards your five a day.
Not everything that’s called a ‘superfood’ really is worth the money. What you need you can find cheaply online or in the supermarket. (Remember though, only buy what you’ll actually enjoy eating.)
Healthy lunch and dinners on a budget
You can build a short and economical shopping list to create a wide range of meals around a few cheap, filling and healthy ingredients such as:
- Wholegrain rice - remember, the bigger the pack, the cheaper the rice! The ‘world food’ aisle at the supermarket is a great place to bulk buy.
- Potatoes - boil ‘em, mash ‘em, stick ‘em in a stew! You can have these roasted, microwaved, as chips or mashed. Give sweet potatoes a go too as they are packed with vitamins.
- Pulses and beans - chickpeas, lentils and kidney beans can be made into hummus, falafel, chilli, veggie burgers or added to salad to make it more filling.
- Tinned tomatoes - with a tin of tomatoes, there’s nothing you can’t make! OK, we’re exaggerating a little, but they do form the basis to a massive range of meals, such as pasta sauce, ratatouille, bolognese, chilli, some curries and so on.
- Frozen or tinned fish - so many options! Grill, poach, roast or shallow fry a range of seafood.
- White meat - always using minced beef for family favourites? Try switching with turkey mince. It’s a lot leaner and cheaper and is just as delicious (especially when you’re using a load of herbs and spices!).
- Lean red meat - beef mince or Quorn can be made several ways such as cottage pie, lasagne, burgers and meatballs. Love chilli con carne? Use tinned beans instead of mince beef and you’ll slash the cost of your favourite meal, while keeping the dish healthy.
There are also types of meals that go a long way towards filling your week with healthy food: soups, stews, casseroles and curries are great ways to make cheap cuts of meat and tired vegetables go further. These make economical meals and will boost your five a day.
Healthy weekly meal plans on a budget
On weekends it can be nice to spend hours cooking up something new and interesting, but typically, after a long day at work - you want meals that are quick and easy to knock up.
Meal planning and only buying what you’ve planned to cook and eat is a great way to avoid impulse buys and save money.
Build your shopping list around cheap ingredients
Build your meals around cheap staples. Make bigger batches so that you can eat leftovers from dinner for lunch the next day, or freeze portions for later in the week. Plan filling lunch options that you can enjoy cold, such as a pasta salad with leftover chicken from a weekend roast, or a quiche which is cheap to buy ready made and is also cheap to make with frozen pastry, eggs, ham or leftover veg.
Try meals that you can warm up in a microwave like jacket potatoes (make this with sweet potatoes for extra health brownie-points) with cheap fillings like cottage cheese or tinned tuna, a simple fried rice made with frozen mixed vegetables, spices, egg and chicken, or a chicken noodle soup - make it with brown rice instead of noodles for an even healthier option.
Vegetarian meal plans on a budget
Create nutritious meals with ingredients from the back of the cupboard. Bring loads of flavour to your meals without buying ready made sauces: use peanut butter to make satay sauce, and ketchup and golden syrup or to make barbecue sauce.
Swap high fat cheeses for economical, lower fat cheeses like quark, paneer or cottage cheese. Use these to create tarts with filo pastry, a hearty saag paneer (spinach and cheese) dish or a veggie cottage pie.
Make the most of tinned items - turn a can of chickpeas, beans or even dried pearl barley into a chunky chilli for a midweek meal that won't break the bank.
Thrifty versions of veg like frozen peas can be made into minted pea soup with dried herbs, and frozen sweetcorn can be made into fritters. Frozen veg and tinned beans also make great veggie burgers. When you can use fresh veg, keep it as the centrepiece of your meal - like stuffed peppers or grilled aubergines, and fill out the meal with frozen, dried and tinned veg.
Vegan meal plans on a budget
With this little trick, you can enjoy creamy sauces and soups using cheap ingredients. Make this base and use it in multiple recipes: stir fry cauliflower with onions, add vegetable stock, (you can even add porridge oats to thicken it,) boil until softened and blend. This creamy blend can be used to make a 'cream' of vegetable soup, or add texture and flavour to a pasta sauce.
Cauliflower and broccoli are great for bulking out curries, salads, fried rice and pasta bakes. Stock up on these items frozen to make a variety of meals in the week. More low cost ingredients that are useful to have on hand are tinned tomatoes, chickpeas, dried red or green lentils and couscous.
You don’t necessarily have to pay boutique health food shop prices for vegan ingredients - lots of more specialist items are available to buy in bulk online. For example, go online for more price options on tahini for making hummus or baba ganoush, almond or cashew butters and tofu. Nut butters can be used to make high protein snacks, and are great for added flavour in a tray bake of brownies.
Rich desserts are also available using dairy free yoghurts, halva made with glucose, frozen or tinned fruit, agave syrup or sweeteners.