Probably the number one reason I hear from people in my office as to why they can’t eat healthy is this: “I don’t have time.” I get it. We are busy people. Our culture and society push us to do more and more. Most of us feel this pressure plus the need to be “perfect” at it all as well. Many important things in our life suffer because of this, and one of those things is what we eat.

I’m not sure when it happened. Maybe it was the 50’s when convenience foods came on the scene, but what we ingest has taken a back seat to supposedly more important things in life: jobs, family, entertainment, etc. In fact, the percentage of our income that we spend on food is one of the lowest globally. Another factor is the sheer lack of education on food and nutrition in our public schools. Ok, maybe it’s gotten better (admittedly it’s been a long time since I’ve been in grade school) but the one health class I remember in school is clearly not sufficient to raise kids who are aware and equipped to make healthy food choices. I should know. My diet in college was absolutely appalling. It’s amazing I made it out alive. No, my undergrad education was not in nutrition. That came much later, after I wised up and started eating things besides jube jubes and Hamburger Helper. I’m not joking.

So yes, we are busy, and on top of that we are poorly educated. Not a good combination. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised then that people choose to spend as little as possible on food. The tide does seem to be turning but still you can see our grocery stores are filled with processed, boxed foods that are touted as healthy AND economical. Economical? Ok, sometimes. Healthy? Almost never.

What I thought I’d do is tell you a little bit about how I save money and still eat healthy. I have two little ones, so eating healthy and providing the best food I can for them has never been more important. That being said, I still watch my budget. When my husband is home (he travels frequently for work) we eat more hearty meals that require more prep and planning. He does most of that for me (yay!). When he’s not home, we are bare bones and economical. I need things are quick, convenient, budget-conscious, and most importantly, healthy.

Listed below are some of my favorite “go-to” meals that I use for me and my kiddos during the week. These are all pre-schooler approved so should work well for any kids that are willing to eat more than chicken nuggets and tater tots. If your kids only eat chicken nuggets or tater tots …. call me. I can help.

Budget-Friendly & Healthy Family Meal Ideas:

1. Roasted chicken, broccoli and brown rice
It’s easy. Get a roasted chicken from your local grocer. Preferably organic. C’mom, we are talking about an extra $2 -$3. I buy a Ranger Chicken at PCC for $9.99. Next, get some brown rice going in the rice cooker. Remember that brown rice takes 40ish minutes so get that baby going as soon as you walk in the door. Lastly, blanch some broccoli. If you need more flavor, sauté it in garlic and olive oil. That’s what my hubby does, but when he is out of town we just eat it straight up blanched. Time is of the essence! Lastly, cut up some avocado cubes. Gotta get those healthy fats in there which is so important for growing those kids nice and tall. If you are without kids and just looking for healthy ways to keep the weight off, cut out the brown rice but keep the avocado.

2. Salmon, quinoa and green beans
They say we are supposed to eat low-mercury seafood twice a week. Well it doesn’t get much easier than salmon. All you have to do is literally open the package, sprinkle salt and pepper, and slap it on a non-stick frypan. I don’t even bother cutting the skin off. After cooking on both sides for a couple of minutes you can easily pull the skin right off. Before you get the salmon going get some water boiling for the quinoa. Quinoa cooks up just like rice, so simply rinse, dump into boiling water, cover, and simmer for 15ish minutes. Also, getting another pot of water going to blanch some green beans. Even the slowest of cooks should have this done in under 30 minutes. Delicious and protein rich.

3. Annie’s Macaroni and Cheese
I know, I know. You are saying “Mac and cheese, whaaat??” Normally I’m not a processed foods person, but once in awhile, let’s admit it, those “cheesy noodles,” as my son calls them, are delicious. What I do however, is bump up the protein by adding some edamame beans or flaked salmon. Ocassionaly I’ll stir in some broccoli, peas, or cauliflower. Even picky eaters can be coaxed into eating the healthy stuff when it’s slathered in cheese sauce and bug-shaped noodles. Yes, making your own homemade mach & cheese would be better, so if you have the ability to make a roux with two kids tugging at your legs, you let me know how.

4. Spaghetti
Speaking of noodles, spaghetti has always been a family favorite. But please, don’t buy the jarred stuff! Homemade is SO easy and relatively inexpensive. First, choose whole grain pasta over the white stuff to give your family that extra vitamin/mineral/fiber boost. Next, get a box or jar of diced tomatoes (or BPA-free canned, if you can find it). After sautéing garlic and a bit of rosemary in ¼ cup of oil for a few minutes, add the tomatoes and then simmer for 20ish minutes. Add meat if desired. Throw over the noodles and there you go. Now you know me. Feel free to add some extra goodies in there like those yummy edamame beans or finely diced vegetables like carrots or broocoli. Another high protein option to consider is hemp seed. While not the cheapest thing ever it does add a nice dose of protein, Omega 3’s and calories, all of which are great for growing kids.

5. Sandwich
Who says you can’t have a sandwich for dinner? Subway certainly would agree. But don’t buy those processed meat creations. Make you and your kids a whole-grain, Omega-3 rich treat that will keep you full and satiated until morning. My favorite? I take a tin or two of sardines, mash them up with mayonnaise and salt much like you do with tuna, and slather onto Dave’s Killer Bread. Add some veggies or a salad on the side and you’ve got a great, simple meal. I swear you can’t tell the sardines aren’t tuna – the taste is almost the same. In addition to the Omega 3’ it’s s also full of calcium and Vitamin D. Clearly a powerhouse food for the whole family.

6. Leftovers
I can’t stress the beauty of leftovers enough. Whenever you cook something that requires more than 30 minutes of your time, make a double or triple batch so that you have a decent quantity to freeze or save for the next day. Talk about a time saver in the quest for healthy meals. Ideas? How about a stew that you simmer for a couple hours one afternoon? Make a giant pot so that there is plenty for the next night. Chili? Soups? Veggie lasagna? Same idea. Or freeze it so that you have something ready in a pinch when other dinner plans don’t go as planned. I’ve been there. I know full well that just having the ingredients on hand doesn’t mean the dinner planned on paper days in advance is going to come to fruition. Freezer meals can be a savior in such a case. Plus, this saves you from resorting to those processed freezer boxed meals that are way too high in salt and a bit pricey for the budget.

So there are just a few of my quick go-to’s that keep me away from fast food and other processed convenience foods. What are yours?

About Danielle VenHuizen

Registered Dietitian, Certified LEAP Therapist