Nearly 40 million people today depend on food stamps (formally, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP). The average benefit? Around $133 a month, or about $4 a day for food.
Many of the rest of us struggle with food prices, too. So who doesn’t want ideas for cheap but tasty meals?
Clipping coupons and taking advantage of manager’s specials only go so far. What we really need are good, nutritious, and cheap meals to make for our families – meals they will actually eat and enjoy.
If your food budget is tight (and even if it isn’t), finding nutritious, affordable foods is an on-going challenge. The Environmental Working Group (EWG) has published a free booklet “Good Food on a Tight Budget” to help American families put healthy food on the table. You can download this free recipe and grocery shopping guide, which lists the 100 best foods that are good for you, economical, simple to prepare and good for the planet. Using the Good Food guide will help families eat healthy while staying within a budget.
“Putting good food on your family’s table on a $5-or-$6-dollar-a-day budget is tough, but it’s possible,” said co-author Dawn Undurraga, EWG nutritionist and registered dietitian. “When shoppers fill their grocery carts with the foods on EWG’s lists, they’ll be doing something good for their health and the environment, meanwhile lowering their grocery bills and exposures to the worst chemicals.”
The Environmental Working Group is a nonprofit organization that seeks to provide information designed to change consumer demand in ways that safeguard your health and prompts national policy changes. EWG wants to help you make smarter, healthier purchasing decisions, for you, your family, and our environment.
To create the “Good Food on a Tight Budget” guide, EWG assessed nearly 1,200 foods and hand-picked the ones that provide the most nutrition per dollar, as well as contain the fewest pesticides and artificial ingredients. The booklet also includes a lot of practical advice for making healthy meals and snacks, pictures illustrating the best foods, “best buys” in each category, tips for avoiding wasted food, recipes for busy families and kid-approved foods, plus tools for tracking prices and planning menus a week at a time. Planning meals is a key step to cutting food costs.
The guide emphasizes home cooking because experts know it is the best way to enjoy good food while saving the most money. Featured recipes are perfect for today’s busy families, such as double batches that freeze well, and comfort food favorites like turkey chili that stretch expensive proteins deliciously. The recipes are chock full of healthful rice, beans and other dry grains that you can buy in bulk, save scads of money, and use in nutritious, great tasting meals. The 15 low-cost, delicious recipes average less than $1 a serving.
We looked for 15 more delicious ideas on the popular free recipe site allrecipes.com. The following user-approved recipes focus on using the “best buy” foods from the EWG 100 list. We hope you find some new favorites here — and save money, too.
- Slow Cooker Chicken Taco Soup (Notes: use 2 cups frozen corn, non-fat plain yogurt instead of sour cream, and baked corn tortillas instead of chips)
- Beef, Bean and Barley Stew (Notes: use cubes of turkey or chicken instead of beef, and any type of bean from the EWG list. Be sure to use whole grain hulled or hulless barley, not pearl or scotch barley, which have been refined.)
- Stuffed Cabbage Rolls (Notes: substitute brown rice for white rice, ground turkey for ground beef, and 2/3 cup tomato juice for the tomato soup)
- Fish Tacos (Notes: use perch, whiting, or silver hake instead of codh.)
- Broccoli Coleslaw with carrots, green onions, and ramen noodles (Notes: you can skip the ramen if you want to, and use the dressing from the slaw recipe in the EWG guide.)
- Gujarati Carrot and Peanut Salad
- Tasty Collard Greens uses smoked turkey instead of bacon or ham for great flavor.
- Barley Salad with Almonds and Apricots (Notes: substitute nuts or seeds from the EWG list for the almonds. Be sure to use whole grain hulled or hulless barley, not pearl or scotch barley, which have been refined. Combine with 3 parts water to 1 part whole grain barley and simmer for 60-90 minutes, or until tender.)
- Orange, Walnut, Gorgonzola and Mixed Greens Salad with Fresh Citrus Vinaigrette (Notes: substitute any type of fresh fruit in season such as nectarines or pears. If your budget is tight, skip the blue cheese or cut the portion in half, or simply use cottage cheese)
- Spicy Bean Salsa (Notes: use frozen corn instead of canned and the recipe for step-by-step salad dressing from the EWG guide. Instead of tortilla chips, buy corn or whole wheat tortillas, cut them in wedges, spread them in a single layer on a baking sheet and bake in a 375°F oven for 12-15 minutes, or until crisp.
- Carrot Cake III (Notes: Try substituting half whole wheat for the all-purpose flour. Instead of cream cheese frosting, try this Yogurt Glaze.)
- Zucchini Spice Cake
- Banana Sour Cream Bread (Note: substitute yogurt for the sour cream)
- Jo-Ann’s Power Bars
- Summer Berry Parfait with Yogurt and Granola (Notes: use plain yogurt, crumbled breakfast cereal, and fresh fruit on the EWG list instead of vanilla yogurt, granola, and berries. For example, use sliced banana or papaya and toasted oat cereal.)
The book Good and Cheap: Eat Well on $4 a Day by Leanne Brown took limited SNAP budgets into consideration. The author created healthy, tasty recipes that could be made for under $4 per day. You can download a PDF of the book for FREE .
Included are recipes for yummy starters like curried butternut squash soup. For dinner, maybe broiled tilapia with lime? And for dessert? Caramelized bananas. The book is heavy on vegetables and grains – good for you and your budget. Check it out, modify recipes as needed to take advantage of store sales or seasonal produce.
At Cheap Cooking, find recipes for budget cooks that include an option to calculate your meal cost. You will find comforting meal ideas like Chicken Tetrazzini from Leftover Chicken Cutlets, or Charred Tomato Salsa. The site also has ideas for meal planning and inexpensive things to pack for kids’ lunches.
Whether or not you are a college student, you might get some ideas here, including 7-up ice cream and Chinese egg-fried rice. Or head to University Visitors Network for some quick and easy ideas. You can pick up The Starving Students’ Cookbook and find fast and cheap ways to feed your family in a pinch. Remember, the idea is to stay on budget and still eat healthy, so go back to school and learn how to pinch the food dollars.