It can feel hard to eat well on a tight budget, but it’s not as difficult as you might think. When you are looking for the cheapest healthy meal ideas, it helps if you have some basic cooking skills and are prepared to experiment a bit. The more confident you are, the more likely you are to be able to create a decent dinner with the ingredients to hand. So get some cookery books or get online and just have a go!
Here are some things that I do to keep our meals cheap and healthy.
Cheapest healthy meal ideas
Get your fibre
Use brown rice and whole wheat pasta where you can. You can pick up both really cheaply these days in Aldi, Lidl and Home Bargains.
Oats are great for porridge in the mornings. I never get bored of them! They can also be used as a thickener in stews and soups. Value versions of Weetabix may be a little smaller but are equally full of fibre for breakfast and much better for you than sugary cereals.
You might think that fish is too expensive to eat on a tight budget. However, tinned fish is fantastic value. We used a lot of tuna in brine and sardines in tomato sauce as the basis for cheap dinner.
Frozen fish is cheaper than fresh and a recent report suggests it’s also fresher. So called fresh fish can sit around for weeks!
I am not a massive fan of tinned meat as it seems to be too salty or over processed. However, corned beef can make a good budget dinner. This corned beef hash recipe from the Hairy Bikers is delicious and cheap. (Oddly, it serves 40 so you will need to scale it down!). Make sure you have it with some vegetables or baked beans.
Frozen meat is cheaper than fresh. However, if you go too cheap you might find the quality is compromised. This is where it’s great to use a slow cooker to make cheaper types and cuts of meat tender and tasty.
Whether you buy fresh or frozen, chicken tends to be the cheapest meat and is low in fat (particularly if you remove the skin). Thighs, wings and drumsticks are the best value. I prefer them to chicken breast, which can easily be over cooked and dried out. If you are concerned about such things, chicken also has the lowest carbon footprint of commercially produced meats.
A little meat can go a long way. For example, bacon and chorizo can be used in small quantities to pasta dishes to add a lot of flavour.
If you really want the cheapest healthy meal ideas, you might be better to eat more vegetarian food – meat is simply more expensive than many other foods. There is quite a lot of evidence that a vegetarian diet is better for you (such as this study, which, oddly enough, I took part in!)
Not just a load of old lentils
Dried pulses are cheapest but take some soaking and cooking. If you have a pressure cooker, that speeds the process up considerably. Kidney beans in particular need proper cooking (boiling for 10 minutes) as they are poisonous otherwise.
Canned pulses are still super cheap, though. Cans of mixed beans in chilli sauce make a nice topping for rice or baked potatoes. Chick peas are great for some of the cheapest meal ideas and get thrown into all sorts of dinners here.
Red lentils are great for adding thickness, protein and fibre to dishes and cook quickly too. Dried pulses in soup mixes are fantastic for filling soups and stews.
Eat your greens
Frozen vegetables are cheaper than fresh, are often more nutritious and you waste less. You can save a lot of money on fruit and vegetables if you have a market nearby, particularly if you go at the end of the day. We once had a market trader practically begging us to take his cabbages away at 10p each!!
Canned vegetables are perfectly nutritious, although I’m not keen on the taste of most of them. We eat canned sweetcorn, tomatoes and potatoes quite a lot as these are extremely good value.
We also use canned and frozen fruit. The canned varieties in juice are best, although they aren’t always that cheap and you might be better buying it fresh.
The best thing you can do with fruit or veg is to buy it cheaply in season and preserve it in some way. A freezer is a brilliant piece of kit for storing your bargains. You can often pick them up second hand very cheaply. We have one now that someone gave us when they were downsizing and the previous model came to us via Freecycle!
Make a meal of eggs
Even if you buy free range – which I always do – eggs are a cheap source of protein. It is also super quick to thrown an omelette together or a frittata such as this cheese and spinach one.
Buying in bulk
If you have the space, even if it is just a box under your bed, buying large packs of non-perishable foods are always cheaper. I recently bought large bags of rice and pasta from home bargains for our emergency stores, which I wrote about in this post.
Recipes for cheapest healthy meal ideas
Here are some super cheap but healthy recipes that we cook regularly here at Shoestring Cottage.
Whole wheat spaghetti with tinned sardines
There are lots of recipes online, but you don’t need to make it complicated. I like this one from BBC Good Food. You could make it cheaper still without the olives or capers.
Chicken tray bake
Chicken thighs or drumsticks are very inexpensive and pair well with roasted vegetables such as peppers and red onions. This recipe from Jamie Oliver is really delicious.
There is something really warm and comforting about a sausage stew. Sausages aren’t massively healthy, of course, being quite fatty. However, these days I make it with low fat sausages, or you could use vegetarian ones.
I enjoy this sausage ragu served with pasta. It contains lots of healthy veg.
Mixed chilli bean stew
I mentioned before about how useful a can of mixed beans in chilli sauce can be, served on a jacket potato or with some rice. They also make the good base for a hearty vegetable casserole.
Chop up some onions, carrots and celery, fry them for a few minutes in a small amount of oil, then add the beans and a can of chopped tomatoes. Sprinkle over some mixed herbs and season to taste. Nice with mashed potato and you can play around with the ingredients.
Chicken and butter bean stew
Butter beans are another pulse that is useful to have in cans in your larder. In this recipe they are delicious teamed up with chicken thighs and smoky paprika.
Brown rice and Mediterranean vegetables
Whilst my favourite rice is basmati, there is something really satisfying about a big bowl of fibre filled brown rice. This recipe combines it with courgettes, peppers and mushrooms for a tasty vegetarian dinner.
Tuna with penne and olives
A big pasta dish is always a cheap way to feed a crowd, especially when teamed with tinned fish. This tuna penne with olives recipe is a family favourite.
Pasta with bacon
As I said previously, adding just a small amount of a strong flavoured meat such as bacon will mean that nobody notices there is little meat overall. This recipe is a quick and easy healthy meal idea and really easy to make too.
Red dragon pie
Sarah Brown’s red dragon pie recipe is justifiably famous and so delicious. It’s the perfect vegetarian version of shepherd’s pie, but it contains less fat and is cheaper to make. What’s not to like?
Spicy chicken wings
As I said previously, chicken wings are super cheap. Ainsley Harriot’s easy chicken wings are easy to make and delicious. Great if you are having people round and want to feed them on a budget.
I hope you enjoyed my cheapest healthy meal ideas post. There are hundreds of delicious budget recipes to cook if you do a little research and you can find more of mine here. Please share yours below!