Welcome to economical. A weekly column where assistant nutrition editor and registered dietitian, Jessica Ball, keeps it real about how to grocery shop on a budget, cook healthy meals for one or two, and make eco-friendly choices without overhauling your entire life.
Being a recovering graduate student, I am on a budget. That said, I still find ways to eat healthy, easy meals that I enjoy almost every night. I admit that working as a dietitian and nutrition editor at a food website has given me a little insight into how I let my dollar go further, without sacrificing any deliciousness (for example, here are: six changes that could save you nearly $3,000 a year per).
Plus, what I eat on any given day varies a lot. Sometimes it’s kind of like “pizza for breakfast, skip lunch and drink too much wine”. But a healthy diet is about what you eat most of the time, not 100% of the time. This is by no means a template for eating the “right” way, but rather it’s a consistent diet that makes me feel my best. This is what I eat in a day as a dietitian on a budget.
Breakfast is a meal that has changed quite a bit since working from home. I have more time to cook, which I like to take advantage of, but there’s a fine balance (I soon learned that I can’t take 45 minutes to make an extravagant breakfast on a workday). I’m currently far less into meal prep than I would if I were going to the office, but now that we’re back to personal work, I’m looking forward to bringing my staples back. I like to make us easy muffin tin eggs-this one Greek Muffin-Tin Omelettes with Feta & Peppers are my personal favorite. They are a great way to add vegetables that I need for my breakfast. When I’m on the go, I pair a few egg muffins or a hard-boiled egg with avocado toast.
I am a big hearty breakfast person. If there’s anything sweet on my plate in the morning, it’s usually fruit. Nowadays I make scrambled eggs with vegetables that need to be used up. Or, to be quite honest, I usually have leftover cereal or salad from dinner the night before. Just add a fried egg and call it breakfast.
Nine times out of ten I eat leftovers from dinner for lunch the next day. Since I live alone and usually only make meals for my partner and I at night, more often than not I have leftovers. There are plenty of recipes, such as Chicken & Tomatillo Enchiladas and Easy Chicken Tikka Masala, that are demonstrable even better the next day. Plus, this helps me get through what I’ve already made so I throw away less food.
When I run out of leftovers or want to replace it, you can usually see me eating a tuna or chickpea salad. US Salad of tuna, white beans and dill recipe is my all time favorite, I think I could make it in my sleep right now. It only takes a few minutes to throw together and always sounds good to me. I enjoy it over a salad or with bread or crackers for something more filling. Not to mention, it relies on super healthy and affordable stock ingredients, like canned tuna and beans.
if i’m real little motivation or groceries (or both), then I make a snack plate. Cut up some cheese, fruits and vegetables, add nuts or meats and maybe some hummus or yogurt dip and voila– it’s a meal.
I love to cook, and dinner is what I get creative with. Rarely do I eat the same meal in consecutive weeks (I also realize this is an advantage of not having a family and maybe having more uninterrupted time in the evening to prepare a meal). Working at a food website, many recipes come to my desk every day. Usually at least something stands out, but if I really don’t know what to make, I go to takeout.
Instead of making something every night on a whim, meal plan dinners for four to five days of the week. This helps me leave room for leftovers, takeout, and spontaneity. In this plan I count one night with fish, at least one night with chicken or red meat and two vegetarian meals. this helps me follow a Mediterranean diet more creative, based on what I feel like. Planning ahead and doing all my shopping ahead of time allows me to be mindful about what I’m buying, so I save money and reduce food waste.
Some of my favorite budget-friendly dinners include: Shakshuka or some sort of cereal bowl, like ours One-Pot Beans & Rice with Corn & Salsa and Quinoa Salad With Feta, Olive And Tomatoes. They can stand alone as a filling dinner and also pair well with salmon, chicken, steak, or haloumi (or a fried egg).
I’m not a huge snacker, but when I really need something, I often reach for cheese and a piece of fruit. Or leftovers. In the warmer months I love smoothies. It’s a great use of budget-friendly frozen fruits and makes it easy for me to add veggies, greens, and other nutritious ingredients like chia seeds, nut butter, yogurt, tofu and more.
Yes, I eat dessert whenever I feel like it. No questions asked (and no guilt). I usually eat quite a late dinner, especially when the days are longer, so my ideal dessert is a nightcap of a glass of wine or beer (cheers to the health benefits from that!). As I said, savory food is my jam, so cheese sometimes comes back on my plate after dinner.
For me a dessert tastes better when it is shared with others. When I host, I make something simple but lavish, like a galette (our Peach Galette is the star of summer) or Blueberry-Swirl Buttermilk Ice Cream. Ice box cookies are another sweet staple for me.
There are so many ways to eat healthy, and there’s no reason your healthy diet should be anything like mine. This is just the pattern that is the most durable for my budget, which is also fun for me and makes me feel my best. Healthy eating is a balanced approach that works for you. For me, that often means refurbishing leftovers or stock items into something that feels special. Check it out for more things I wish I knew before cooking more at home.