Natalie Digate Muth by Natalie Digate Muth

Co-authored by Mary Saph Tanaka, MD, MSEat healthy 

One of the most commonly cited reasons people give for not eating healthy is that healthy food “costs too much.” With the average consumer spending only about $7 per day on food according to the 2008 US Department of Labor Statistics, it may seem near impossible to get the recommended five to nine servings of fruits and vegetables per day on such a tight budget. But that’s not necessarily the case. With a little bit of planning, a family of four can get by on about $28 per day ($7 each) including a wholesome breakfast, lunch and dinner and even a few snacks along the way.

Let us show you how. The recipes are setup so that you can save money and optimize nutritional value by substituting vegetables and meats based on what is in-season or on sale and are based on a family of four. Cost estimates are based on purchase of the generic brands, when available, at non-sale prices at a large supermarket chain. Also check out the sidebar for some other cost-cutting tips that are sure to help boost your family’s health without bankrupting your budget.





5 Tips to Boost Your Family’s Health on a Budget

Put every food dollar to excellent use by adopting some of the following
cost-cutting tips whenever possible. 

  • Eat at home more often. Not only does it cost less, but you also have better control over portion sizes and can freeze any leftovers for another day when you don’t have time to cook.

  • Don’t go to the grocery store on a whim. Rather, check what you already have in your refrigerator and pantry and have your shopping list in hand. This will help you avoid overbuying. First Lady Obama’s Let’s Move Initiative offers an easy-to-use grocery list template that will help boost the nutritional value of your purchases. It’s available online.

  • It seems obvious, but only buy food that you’re actually going to eat. And then actually eat it. If time gets away from you and you’ve got some rotting fruits and vegetables in the refrigerator, think of creative ways to use it – how about tomatoes to make a marinara sauce or ripe fruit for a smoothie?

  • At the store check packages and perishable items for expiration dates and try to pick the latest one possible (these are usually kept in the back of the shelf as the grocer is trying to offload the stuff that will go bad first by displaying it more prominently).

  • Teach your children the value of a food budget. Take them shopping with you and teach them to use price, actual need, nutritional value and portion size to determine buying decisions.

Make Your Own Oatmeal ($0.80)
Basic Oatmeal Recipe
2 cups uncooked oats
3 cups of water
1/2 teaspoon of salt

Bring water and salt to boil over medium heat. Add oats and stir. Cook for 5-7 minutes, or until most of liquid is absorbed.

“Banana bread” Oatmeal: ($1.60)
2 ripe bananas ($.70)
2 tablespoons brown sugar ($.10)
-Cook basic oatmeal as instructed above. Add 2 tablespoon of brown sugar to basic oatmeal recipe. Peel 2 ripe bananas into a bowl and mash with a fork.  Finally, add bananas to oatmeal and cook for another 5 minutes.  

Strawberries and Cream Oatmeal: ($3.40)
1 cup of frozen strawberries ($2.00)
2 tablespoons of brown sugar ($.10)
1 cup of nonfat milk ($0.50)
-Cook basic oatmeal as instructed above. Add 1cup of nonfat milk to oatmeal and stir. Add 1 cup of frozen strawberries to oatmeal and cook for another 10 minutes.

Peaches and Cream Oatmeal: ($3.40)
1 cup of frozen peaches ($2.00)
2 tablespoons of brown sugar ($.10)
1 cup of nonfat milk ($0.50)
- Cook basic oatmeal as instructed above. Add 1cup of nonfat milk to oatmeal and stir. Add 1 cup of frozen peaches to oatmeal and cook for another 10 minutes.

Yogurt Parfaits ($4.50)
2 cups of plain nonfat yogurt ($1.80)
1 cup of frozen fruit ($2.00)
¼ cup of sugar ($.20)
½ cup of water
1 cup of raisin bran cereal ($.50)

Bring frozen fruit, honey and water to boil over medium heat in a pot. Cook for 15 minutes, until fruit is like jam.  Put fruit into a bowl to cool.

To prepare parfaits: In a glass, place ¼ cup of yogurt at the bottom.  Place 1 tablespoon of fruit mixture.  Place another ¼ cup of yogurt on top, followed by 1 more tablespoon of fruit mixture. Sprinkle ¼ cup of fiber cereal on top.  Repeat with another 3 glasses.

Breakfast Spinach and Egg Sandwiches ($3.85)
4 whole wheat English muffins ($1.30)
4 eggs ($1.00)
2 cups of baby spinach ($0.80)
½ cup of shredded cheddar ($0.75)

Place pan over medium heat.  Add 2 tablespoons of olive oil to pan.  Place 2 cups of baby spinach into pan and stir for 1 minute.  Break open eggs into a bowl and beat gently.  Pour eggs into pan with spinach and cook for approximately 4-5 minutes, until eggs are cooked.  Sprinkle cheese over eggs/spinach and turn off the heat.  Divide egg mixture into 4 servings.  Place 1 serving of egg mixture in English muffin.



Grilled Chicken Pita Wraps with Creamy Bean Spread ($8.00)
2 whole wheat pitas, separated into 4 pieces ($1.00)
2 chicken breasts  ($5.00)
2 cups of baby spinach, washed and dried ($.80)
2 medium carrots, shredded  ($.20)
1 can (15 ounces) cannellini beans ($1.00)

To prepare bean spread: Place 1 can of cannellini beans (including water in can) in a blender.  Add salt and pepper to taste.

To prepare chicken: Cut each chicken breast in half widthwise (so each chicken breast is thinner). Heat pan on stove at medium heat. Sprinkle each side of the chicken breasts with salt and pepper. Place 2 tablespoons of olive oil in pan. Put two pieces of chicken in pan and cook for 6-7 minutes. Flip chicken and cook for another 6-7 minutes, until well cooked. Repeat with remaining two pieces of chicken. When chicken is finished cooking, lay flat on cutting board and cut into ½ inch strips.

To prepare wraps: Spread 2 tablespoons of bean dip over pita bread.  Next, place ½ cup of spinach over the pita bread. Place carrots and cucumber in the middle of the pita bread. Place chicken strips next to pile of carrots/cucumber. From one side of the pita bread, roll the pita bread.  Cut wrap in half and serve.  

Spinach and Portabello Mushroom Whole Wheat Pita Pizzas ($8.00)
4 Whole Wheat Pita Bread ($2.00)
1 cup of tomato sauce ($.50)
1 cup of shredded mozzarella ($1.50)
1 bag (28 ounces) frozen spinach, defrosted ($2.00)
1 large portabello mushroom, sliced thin ($2.00)

Heat oven to 400 degrees. Place ¼ cup of tomato sauce on  each pita bread and spread evenly.  Top pita bread with vegetables. Sprinkle ¼ cup of cheese on top of vegetables. Place on baking sheet and bake for 10-15 minutes, until cheese is melted.

Broccoli and Black Bean Pita Quesadillas ($8.00)
4 Whole Wheat Pita Bread ($2.00)
2 cups of shredded cheddar ($3.00)
1 large broccoli crown, cut into small pieces ($.50)
1 can (15 ounces) black beans, drained ($1.00)

Place 2 tablespoons of olive oil on pan over medium heat. Place broccoli in pan and cook for 3-4 minutes, until tender.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Open pita bread in half. Sprinkle one layer with cheese. Place layer of broccoli and ¼ cup of black beans on top of cheese, then sprinkle another layer of cheese on top. Put 2nd half of pita bread on top.  Place all quesadillas on a baking tray and place into oven for 10 minutes.



Pork and Vegetable Whole Wheat Chow Mein ($12.00)
1 pack of whole wheat spaghetti, cooked according to package. ($1.75)
2 boneless pork chops ($4.00)
½  medium onion, sliced ($0.50)
2 medium carrots, cut into ¼ inch slices ($0.20)
2 large broccoli crowns, cut into small florets ($1.00)
1 large red pepper, cut into thin strips ($2.50)
3-4 cloves of garlic, finely chopped ($0.25)
1 inch piece of fresh ginger, grated ($0.50)
1 cup of green onions, chopped ($0.50)
¼ cup of soy sauce ($1.00)
½ cup of water

To prepare the meat: Slice the pork into thin slices, approximately ¼ inch in width.

Place 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a pan over medium heat. Place onions, ginger, garlic in pan and cook for 3-4 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add sliced meat to pan and cook for 3-4 minutes or until meat is almost cooked. Add vegetables to pan, then soy sauce and water.  Cook for approximately 2 minutes.  Lastly, add cooked noodles to pan and mix all ingredients well. Cook for another 2-3 minutes and then serve.

Baked Whole Wheat Pasta with Turkey and Spinach ($12.00)
1 pack of whole wheat short pasta (penne, rigatoni, macaroni), cooked ($1.75)
2 cans (15 ounces) of tomato sauce ($2.00)
1 cup of shredded mozzarella ($1.50)
1 pound ground turkey ($5.00)
1 package (28 ounces) frozen spinach, defrosted ($2.00)

Cook pasta as instructed on label. Place 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a pan over medium heat. Place ground turkey in pan and cook until browned, approximately 7-9 minutes.  Transfer cooked ground turkey into large mixing bowl.  Place defrosted spinach in bowl with turkey and stir.  Add tomato/marinara sauce. Add cooked pasta and stir. Pour contents of bowl into a large baking casserole tray.

Heat oven to 375 degrees. Place dish into oven and cook for 30 minutes. Remove dish from oven and sprinkle cheese on top. Return dish to oven and cook another 15 minute, until cheese is melted.

Mediterranean Chicken and Garbanzo Bean Soup ($12.00)
1 can (15 ounces) garbanzo beans, drained ($1.00)
1 large chicken breast ($3.00)
2 medium zucchini ($3.00)
2 medium carrots ($0.20)
1 can of tomatoes ($1.00)
1 sweet potato ($1.50)
1 bunch of kale ($1.00)
1 medium onion, diced ($1.00)
1 tablespoon of cumin ($0.20)
1 tablespoon of cinnamon ($0.20)
3 cups of water

To prepare vegetables: For zucchini and carrots, cut each in half lengthwise, then cut into ¼ inch pieces.  For kale, cut into ¼ inch ribbons.  For sweet potato, cut into half lengthwise, then again in half lengthwise. Then, cut sweet potato into ¼ inch pieces. 

To prepare chicken: Slice chicken breast in half lengthwise, then again in half lengthwise.  Then, cut chicken into ¼ inch slices.

Place a pot over medium heat. Place 2 tablespoons of olive oil in pot.  Put onion in pot with cumin and cinnamon. Cook for 1-2 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add chicken to onions and stir.  Next, place zucchini, carrots, sweet potato and stir.  Add canned tomatoes and garbanzo beans to pot, followed by the 3 cups of water. Turn heat to low-medium and let simmer for 30-40 minutes. 

Once vegetables and chicken have cooked for 30-40 minutes, add kale and stir until wilted.



Creamy Garlic Bean Spread with Baked Pita Chips ($3.25)
1 can of white beans (also known as cannellini beans) ($1.00)
2 tablespoons of olive oil
2 tablespoons of water
3 garlic cloves ($0.25)

Place all ingredients in a blender until smooth. Serve with baked pita chips, vegetables or as an alternative to mayo on sandwiches. 

Baked Pita Chips ($2.00)
4 whole wheat pitas ($2.00)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Cut each whole wheat pita into 8 wedges. Place in bowl and toss with 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Place pita wedges on a baking tray evenly and put into oven.  Bake for 15 minutes, or until pita chips are crispy.

Strawberry-Banana Yogurt Smoothies ($3.10)
2 ripe bananas ($0.70)
1 cup of plain yogurt ($0.90)
1 orange, peeled ($0.50)
½ cup of frozen strawberries ($1.00)

Place all ingredients in a blender until smooth. Divide into 4 glasses and serve.

Baked Cinnamon Apples ($2.40)
2 apples, cored and cut in half ($2.00)
4 tablespoons of brown sugar ($0.20)
4 teaspoons of cinnamon ($0.20)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Cut apples into half and remove core.  Place apples on a baking tray.  Sprinkle 1 teaspoon of cinnamon and 1/8 cup of brown sugar over each apple half.  Bake apples for approximately 25 minutes.


Recipes in this blog post are provided courtesy of Mary Saph Tanaka, MD, MS. For additional healthy recipes and healthy alternatives, check out ACE’s Healthy Recipes online database. You can search specifically for budget-friendly healthy recipes and many other health and diet considerations.

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