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Healthy Recipe of the Month

Meal Planning: 6 Dinners on a Budget

Tight on time and money these days? Are you asking too much if you want quick, healthy, and low-cost dinners after the hectic weekday grind?

By planning dinners ahead on the weekend and shopping for key budget ingredients, you can save time, money, and stress in the days ahead.

For about $15, you can serve delicious all-in-one meals that everyone will love -- from designer nachos or BBQ chicken pizza to fajita sausage wraps.

Here are six budget dinners that are nutritious and easy to make. Each serves four people.

  1. Roasted Balsamic Chicken with Vegetables: This budget dinner costs approximately $14.81.

    Ingredients:
    2 teaspoons canola oil
    1 whole cut up fryer chicken. Remove skin from breast, thigh and drumstick ($6.90)
    1 sweet or yellow onion, coarsely chopped ($0.75)
    3 whole carrots, sliced, or 1 small bag baby carrots ($1.50)
    3 medium potatoes cut into bite-size pieces ($0.83 because a 5-pound bag with 10 potatoes costs $2.50)
    1/2 cup light balsamic salad dressing ($0.83 because a 16-ounce bottle runs $3.30)
    Fresh, in-season fruit ($4)

    Coat the bottom of a 9x13-inch baking dish with canola oil then, lay the pieces of chicken, bone side down, into the dish. Top with onion, carrot, and potato pieces. Drizzle the balsamic vinaigrette over the top. Cover with foil and bake in 425-degree oven for 30 minutes. Remove foil and continue baking until chicken is cooked throughout and vegetables are golden (about 30 minutes more).

    Makes 4 servings.

    Each serving contains: 435 calories, 41 g protein, 41 g carbohydrate, 12 g fat, 3 g saturated, 5.5 g monounsaturated fat, 3.5 g polyunsaturated fat, 115 mg cholesterol, 7.3 g fiber, 280 mg sodium. Calories from fat: 25%. Omega-3 fatty acids = 0.5 grams. Omega-6 fatty acids = 2.5 grams.

  2. Designer Nachos: This budget dinner costs approximately $12.33.

    Ingredients:
    1 can fat free or vegetarian refried beans ($1)
    1 packet taco seasoning ($1)
    10-ounce bag of multigrain tortilla chips ($2)
    1 1/3 cups shredded reduced fat jack or cheddar cheese ($1.33)
    1/2 to 1 avocado, pitted and diced ($1.50)
    2 whole tomatoes, chopped or 1/2 cup fresh salsa ($0.75)
    1/2 cup fat-free sour cream ($0.75)
    Fresh, in-season fruit ($4)

    Combine the refried beans with the taco seasoning in a saucepan over low heat. On a microwave-safe plate, top 2 ounces of the chips with 1/3 cup shredded cheese and a fourth of the bean mixture. Microwave on high for 1-minute. Top with avocado, tomatoes, sour cream, or salsa as desired. Repeat with three other servings. Serve with fresh, in-season fruit.

    Makes 4 servings.
    Each serving contains: 645 calories, 24 g protein, 81 g carbohydrate, 24 g fat, 7 g saturated, 10 g monounsaturated fat, 7 g polyunsaturated fat, 29 mg cholesterol, 14 g fiber, 1,400 mg sodium. Calories from fat: 33%. Omega-3 fatty acids = 0.4 grams. Omega-6 fatty acids = 6 grams.

  3. BBQ Chicken Pizza: This budget dinner costs approximately $15.69. 

    Ingredients:
    10-ounce package 100% Whole Wheat Boboli Pizza Crust (or similar) ($4.89)
    1/3 cup barbecue sauce (or any other leftover sauce like pesto or marinara) ($0.50)
    1 1/2 cups shredded or diced skinless chicken breast, roasted or grilled (or any other leftover cooked lean meat) ($4 if you buy two grilled chicken breasts from the grocery deli)
    2 cups shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese ($2)
    3 green onions, chopped ($0.30)
    Fresh, in-season fruit ($4)

    Spread barbecue sauce over the crust. Add on top: shredded chicken, cheese, and chopped green onions. Bake on baking sheet in 450-degree oven for 8 to 10 minutes. Serve with fresh, in-season fruit.

    Makes 4 servings.
    Each serving contains: 513 calories, 38 g protein, 57 g carbohydrate, 14 g fat, 7 g saturated, 3.5 g monounsaturated fat, 3.5 g polyunsaturated fat, 78 mg cholesterol, 8 g fiber, 900 mg sodium. Calories from fat: 26%. Omega-3 fatty acids = 0.4 grams. Omega-6 fatty acids = 2 grams.

  4. Quick Sausage Fajita Wraps: This budget dinner costs approximately $13.66.

    Ingredients:
    2 teaspoons canola oil
    1 sweet or yellow onion, cut in half and thinly sliced ($0.75)
    1 bell pepper (any color), cut in half and thinly sliced ($1)
    1 package Turkey Polska Kielbasa such as Hillshire Farm, cut into 4 pieces and then cut each of those pieces in half lengthwise ($2.49)
    1 cup shredded reduced-fat cheddar or jack cheese ($1.87)
    8-multigrain soft taco tortillas ($3.55)
    Fresh, in-season fruit ($4) 

    In large, nonstick skillet, over medium-high heat, saute onion and bell pepper in canola oil until golden. Push the vegetables to the side of the skillet to keep warm and lay the sausage pieces, cut side down, onto the center of the skillet. Cook until the sausage is lightly brown. Start warming up one of the tortillas in a medium nonstick skillet, lay one of the sausage pieces in the center of the tortilla, and sprinkle about 1/8 cup of the cheese over the top along with 1/8 of the onion and bell pepper mixture. Fold the sides of the tortilla over to wrap up the sausage and vegetables. Serve sausage wraps with fresh fruit and mustard if desired.

    Makes 4 servings.
    Each serving contains: 570 calories, 29 g protein, 71 g carbohydrate, 17 g fat, 4.5 g saturated, 4 g monounsaturated fat, 8 g polyunsaturated fat, 55 mg cholesterol, 13 g fiber, 1440 mg sodium. Calories from fat: 25%. Omega-3 fatty acids = 1 grams. Omega-6 fatty acids = 5 grams.

  5. Baked Chili Potato: This budget dinner costs approximately $10.25. 

    Ingredients:
    4 medium/large potatoes ($1 because a 5 pound bag with 10 potatoes runs $2.50)
    15 to 22 ounce can of your favorite chili or “grilling” beans ($2)
    1 cup shredded reduced fat sharp cheddar cheese ($1.50)
    4 green onions, chopped ($0.50)
    1/2 cup fat-free sour cream ($0.75 because a 16-ounce container is $2.89)
    1 to 2 vine-ripened tomatoes, chopped ($0.50)
    6 slices turkey bacon, cooked crisp and then crumbled (optional)
    Fresh, in-season fruit ($4)

    Pierce each potato twice with a fork and cook in microwave until tender. Cut each potato in half and open up wide. Top with about 1/4 cup chili (nice and hot from the stove or microwave), cheese, green onions, sour cream, tomatoes, and bacon bits if desired. Serve each chili potato with fresh fruit.

    Makes 4 servings.
    Each serving contains: 430 calories, 22 g protein, 60 g carbohydrate, 12 g fat, 5 g saturated, 3 g monounsaturated fat, 3 g polyunsaturated fat, 51 mg cholesterol, 9 g fiber, 864 mg sodium. Calories from fat: 25%. Omega-3 fatty acids = 0.4 grams. Omega-6 fatty acids = 2 grams.

  6. Baked Penne Pasta: This budget dinner costs approximately $12.61. 

    Ingredients:
    1/2 pound dry whole wheat or whole-wheat blend penne noodles ($1)
    3/4 cup sweet or yellow onion ($0.75)
    8 ounces very lean ground sirloin ($2.25)
    26-ounce jar marinara sauce ($2.50)
    1 cup fat-free sour cream ($1.44)
    2/3 cup shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese ($0.67)
    2 tablespoons grated or shredded Parmesan cheese (optional)
    Fresh, in-season fruit ($4)

    Cook noodles as directed on package and drain well. Brown onion and ground sirloin in large, nonstick skillet. Pour in the marinara sauce, reduced heat to simmer, cover and cook 15 minutes. Coat a 9x9-inch baking dish (or similar) with canola cooking spray and add half the noodles, half the cheese, sour cream, and meat sauce. Layer with remaining noodles, cheese, sour cream, and meat sauce. Sprinkle parmesan cheese over the top if desired and bake in 350-degree oven until cheeses are melted (about 30 minutes). Serve with fresh, in-season fruit.

    Makes 4 servings.
    Each serving contains: 493 calories, 28 g protein, 76 g carbohydrate, 8.5 g fat, 3.5 g saturated, 3 g monounsaturated fat, 2 g polyunsaturated fat, 47 mg cholesterol, 12 g fiber, 900 mg sodium. Calories from fat: 15%. Omega-3 fatty acids = 0.3 grams. Omega-6 fatty acids = 1.2 grams.

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This information is provided by The University of Texas System, Office of Employee Benefits and is not intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor or health care provider. Please consult your health care provider for advice about a specific medical condition.

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