Four family dinners, less money spent

Four healthy budget friendly dinners and money saving tips.

Preparing a family meal is not only challenging in terms of finding the time to cook meals, but also the cost of food as a major household expense has placed a burden on preparing home-cooked meals. According to Healthy Eating on a Budget by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, a budget-friendly dinner takes some planning. To save time and money, take an hour during the weekend to plan weeknight dinners and create a shopping list.

 Here are four simple dinners recommended by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics:

  1. Stir fry
  • Add 1 to 2 tablespoons of canola oil to skillet or Wok over medium-high
  • Heat. Add 6 ounces of tofu, skinless chicken pieces, or lean beef and cook several minutes until browned. Then stir in thinly sliced vegetables, such as onions, broccoli, peppers, cauliflower, garlic and carrots. Continue to cook for about 5 minutes until the veggies are slightly soft.
  •  Add flavor with low-sodium soy sauce, rice vinegar or red pepper flake.
  •  This recipe makes two servings. Serve with a half-cup of rice per person. Try brown rice for extra fiber.

Money saving tip: Choose and buy in season vegetables and slice them at home

  1. Pasta meat sauce
  • Cook pasta according to the package directions. Try whole grain pasta for added fiber. Serve 1 cup cooked pasta per person.
  • For the sauce, cook 85 percent or 90 percent lean ground beef. If you buy ground beef that is less than 85 percent lean, drain the grease from the beef after cooking. Then rinse the cooked beef in a colander under cool water. One pound of ground beef will serve four people.
  • Mix the cooked ground beef with canned or jarred tomato sauce. Serve the pasta and meat sauce with seasonal vegetables on the side.

Money saving tip: Buy several boxes of whole wheat pasta when it is on sale

  1. Chili
  • In a large pot, combine cooked beans (ex: black, kidney, pinto or navy beans) with canned tomatoes and chopped vegetables such as onions, garlic, peppers and mushrooms.
  • Add cooked ground turkey, chicken or lean beef or try cubed, firm tofu
  • For extra fiber, add leftover whole grains, like cooked brown rice, barley, or whole wheat couscous.
  • Top bowls of chili with small portions of shredded cheese, low-fat sour cream and black olives.

Money saving tips: Dry beans are much cheaper per ounce than canned beans. Be sure to soak dry beans for several hours and cook them before making chili or other dishes. Buy a small block of cheese and shred it at home. To save extra money, choose one or two toppings at most.

  1. Tuna Casserole
  • Classic tuna casserole uses simple ingredients you can stock in your kitchen or pantry: canned tuna, low-fat milk, pasta and bread (for making crumbs). Try whole wheat bread and pasta for an extra fiber boost.
  • Add fresh, seasonal vegetables or frozen chopped broccoli or peas.
  • For extra flavor, use a splash of chicken or vegetable stock. Instead of using packaged stock, make your own once a month and freeze it in small portions.

Money saving tips: Look for sales on larger (12 ounce) cans of tuna, frozen vegetables and pasta, try the store brand.

Michigan State University Extension offers programming that educates on food budgeting and healthy living. For more information, visit the food budgeting section of the MSU Extension website.

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