Meal planning on a budget

By Marcia Kyle | Jan 22, 2009

How to afford foods that make up a healthy diet is one of our biggest challenges today. With a little planning and keeping an eye on the grocery store sale flyers, you can plan a menu that satisfies and stays within a budget. Stock up on the following food items to have the basics, and try some of my quick, easy and low-cost recipes.


Carrots, squash, potatoes, onions, apples and bananas are the most affordable all year, but if your favorites are too costly for your budget in the off-season, buy canned fruit packed in its own juices or frozen vegetables. Try taking a can of mixed fruit and adding sliced fresh banana and chopped fresh apple to give more eye and taste appeal. Do you think $4 is too much for a 3-pound bag of apples? Compare that to the $3.79 bags of chips (not even one pound!) that are high in artery clogging fat. Switch to apples as a nutritious side to a sandwich or as a low-calorie snack.


Stock up on brown rice, corn tortillas, whole-grain pasta (purchase in multiples when on sale -- remember to look at the weekly grocery flyers) and 100 percent whole wheat bread (often found in packages of three at a reduced price -- use one loaf and freeze the other two). The most cost-effective and nutritious cereal is oatmeal. The store brand equivalents of dry cereals like Cheerios, Shredded Wheat, Grapenuts and Bran Flakes provide whole grains at a lower cost. Purchase name brand cereals only when on sale.


When in the dairy aisle, look for:

Low-fat or fat-free milk.

Plain fat-free yogurt in cost-saving one-pound size (for sweetening, add your own fresh or canned fruit to a 3/4 cup measure and get 10 grams of protein and 35 percent of your day's calcium).

Low-fat cottage cheese (1/2 cup can be a substitute for the meat in the meal and still provide a good source of protein and calcium).

Buy the hard cheese that is on sale but try to limit hard cheese to 1 ounce a day because of the naturally high fat content.

Remember, it takes a gallon of whole milk to make a pound of hard cheese. A light meal of fruit, low-fat cottage cheese and a slice of whole wheat toast is easy on the budget and provides all food groups.

Meat and meat substitutes

Select lean cuts like chicken breast, ground turkey, pork tenderloin and round steak or London broil (of course only when on sale). Often you have to buy more than you need in family-pack quantities, but freezing individual portions for a later meal is possible even with a small freezer. Stay away from those costly ready-made frozen entrees that take up precious freezer space.

Fish is usually the one food people say they can't afford. Canned tuna when on sale is a nice sandwich filling or salad topper, and buying chowder fish from the butcher is a great way to include 5 to7 ounces of fish a week (the goal of a heart-healthy low fat diet, even when times are tough). Often people buy bologna or hot dogs because they think they are affordable, but because they contain more fat and fillers than meat, they aren't a bargain. Dried beans (legumes), peas and lentils are an excellent plant-based substitute for meat and the most economical protein-rich food. The high soluble fiber content also will help lower your cholesterol. Keep a few cans of low-salt black beans in your pantry when there's no time to cook dried beans.

Now, try several cost-saving delicious recipes that will make you forget you're on a budget.

Tummy-Filling Apple Cinnamon Oatmeal

Cook oatmeal according to manufacturer's directions on the box, except omit the salt and add a chopped apple and cinnamon for natural sweetness.

Nutrient analysis per 1 ½ cup serving: 175 calories, 30 g carbohydrates, 3 g fat, 0 mg sodium, 10 g fiber and 5 g protein.

Turkey and Black Bean Tacos


12 six-inch soft corn tortillas
1 pound turkey, ground without skin
1/2 cup chopped onion and 1 teaspoon minced garlic
15-ounce can low-sodium black beans, undrained
1 teaspoon dried parsley
1 tablespoon chili powder
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin (optional)

1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 cup shredded low-fat cheddar cheese (optional)
6 tablespoons salsa (optional)

Cooking instructions

Preheat oven to 250 degrees F. Wrap tortillas in foil. Place in oven while preparing filling. In a large skillet, cook ground turkey, onion and garlic over medium-high heat about 5 minutes. Drain well. Stir in beans, parsley, chili powder, cumin, salt and pepper. Cook and stir over medium-high heat until heated through, about 5 minutes. Spoon mixture over half of each corn tortilla; fold over. Add tomatoes, lettuce, cheese and salsa if desired.

Nutrition analysis (serves 6; 2 tacos per serving): 195 calories, 25 g carbohydrates, 2 g fat, 1/2 g saturated fat, 205 mg sodium, 6 g fiber, 22 g protein.

Yogurt Parfait

Layer ¾ cup plain yogurt with canned fruit or banana slices; top with 1 tablespoon Grapenuts cereal or store-brand equivalent.

Nutrition analysis per serving: 175 calories, 25 g carbohydrates, 0 g fat, 150 mg sodium, 5 g fiber, 10 g protein.

For more information, visit The Diabetes and Nutrition Care Center is online at
Comments (1)
Posted by: David Berry | Jan 22, 2009 19:50

It seems such a shame that we pay so much in taxes on everything that we have to budget to eat a proper diet.......

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