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Money-Saving Meals: Healthy, Low-Cost Dinner Recipes

Eating healthy on a tight budget is easy with these expert money-saving tips for grocery shopping and low-cost meals. The number-one piece of advice: Plan your dinners in advance. It's easy with these healthy, budget-friendly dinner recipes.

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Kate Sears
Kate Sears
Kate Sears
Kate Sears
Kate Sears
Kate Sears
Kate Sears
Buddha Stir-Fry
Kate Sears
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Prev 1 of 11 Next

Farfalle with Watercress, Cherry Tomatoes, and Feta

Price per serving: $3.56*

All recipes make four servings.

Ingredients
8 ounces farfalle pasta
1 cup crumbled reduced-fat feta cheese
2 pints cherry tomatoes, halved
3 cups watercress leaves (from 2 small bunches)
1/4 teaspoon black pepper

Cook pasta according to package directions. Place the cheese in a large bowl; top with the watercress. Before draining the pasta, take 1/4 cup of the cooking water from the pot and pour it over the watercress. (Watercress will wilt slightly, and cheese will get soft.) Place the tomatoes in a colander. Drain the pasta over the tomatoes for a super-quick blanch. Toss with the watercress and cheese; sprinkle with pepper and serve.

*Prices were compiled on November 6, 2008, in Des Moines, Iowa.

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Prev 2 of 11 Next

Souffle Omelet with Zucchini, Artichoke, and Cheddar

Price per serving: $2.63

Ingredients
1 tablespoon olive oil
8 ounces zucchini, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 14-ounce can artichoke hearts, drained and quartered
1 cup chopped tomato
12 large egg whites
4 large eggs, lightly beaten
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
1 1/3 cups shredded low-fat cheddar cheese

Heat the oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add the zucchini, artichoke, and tomato. Cook 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are crisp-tender. Set aside. Beat the egg whites with a hand mixer until they form soft peaks. Add the whole eggs, salt, and pepper; stir. Heat an 8-inch nonstick skillet over medium-high heat; add the egg mixture. Cook 2 to 3 minutes, or until lightly browned on the bottom. Using a spatula, slide omelet onto a plate. Return it to the pan with the cooked side facing up; cook 10 to 12 minutes, until golden. Place vegetable mixture and cheese on half the egg and fold it over to enclose the filling. Press down lightly with the spatula until omelet holds its shape and the cheese melts.

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Spice-Rubbed Flank Steak

Price per serving: $1.81

Ingredients
Nonstick spray
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon cayenne (or to taste)
1 flank steak (about 1 pound)

Preheat the broiler and coat a broiler pan with nonstick spray. Combine all ingredients except the steak in a small bowl; rub mixture over steak. Broil 6 to 7 minutes per side, or until cooked. Let cool for 5 minutes before cutting diagonally across the grain into thin strips. Serve with a green salad.

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Goat Cheese, Caramelized Onion, and Spinach Quesadilla

Price per serving: $3.36

Ingredients
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 cups thinly sliced onion
1 teaspoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
9 ounces baby spinach
4 ounces semisoft goat cheese
4 8-inch whole wheat flour tortillas
2 medium tomatoes, thinly sliced

Heat the oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onion, sugar, and salt; cook, stirring occasionally, until onion is a dark golden brown. Remove from pan. Add the spinach and 1 tablespoon water to the skillet; cook 2 minutes, or until spinach is just wilted. Remove from skillet and turn off heat. Spread a quarter of the goat cheese on each tortilla and top with tomato, onion, and spinach; fold closed and press lightly. Heat the skillet and place two folded quesadillas in it; cook two minutes per side, or until golden brown and lightly crisp. Repeat.

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Prev 5 of 11 Next

Thai Coconut Shrimp Soup

Price per serving: $4.08

Ingredients
4 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1 piece (about 1 inch) peeled ginger, cut into 6 thin slices
2 tablespoons fish sauce
1 tablespoon light brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon Asian chili sauce
1 cup instant brown rice
1 cup light coconut milk
1 cup sliced mushrooms
1 red bell pepper, cut into thin slices
1 cup sugar snap peas
12 ounces large shrimp, peeled and deveined
2 tablespoons lime juice
1/4 cup chopped scallions

In a large pot, bring the chicken broth, ginger, fish sauce, sugar, and chili sauce to a boil. Add the rice and cook 5 minutes. Add the coconut milk, mushrooms, pepper slices, and peas; reduce heat and simmer gently for 2 minutes. Add the shrimp and simmer until cooked through, 2 to 3 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in the lime juice; ladle into bowls and top with scallions.

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Prev 6 of 11 Next

Chicken Tagine with Olives

Price per serving: $2.68

Ingredients
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 cup chopped onion
1 tablespoon minced ginger
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1 14-ounce can diced tomatoes
1/2 cup low-sodium chicken broth
1 cup frozen peas, thawed
1/4 cup chopped pitted kalamata olives
1/3 cup raisins
10 ounces cooked chicken breast, diced (2 cups)
1 15-ounce can chickpeas, drained and rinsed

Heat the oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onion, ginger, cumin, and cinnamon; cook, stirring frequently, for 4 to 5 minutes. Add the tomatoes, chicken broth, peas, olives, and raisins; simmer 7 to 8 minutes. Add the cooked chicken and chickpeas; cook 3 to 4 minutes, or until chicken is heated through.

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Prev 7 of 11 Next

Rosemary-Apricot Pork Tenderloin

Price per serving: $1.60

Ingredients
Nonstick spray
1 tablespoon country Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon apricot fruit spread
1 pound pork tenderloin
1/3 cup dried apricots, chopped
1 tablespoon fresh rosemary, chopped

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. Coat a baking pan with nonstick spray. Combine the mustard and fruit spread in a small bowl; microwave until the spread is soft. Make a lengthwise cut in the tenderloin about three-fourths of the way through; open the two sides like the pages of a book. Spread half the mustard mixture over one cut side of the pork; top with the apricots and sprinkle with half the rosemary. Tie the roast closed every couple of inches with cooking string and place it seam side down on the baking sheet. Spread the remaining mustard mixture over the outside of the pork and sprinkle with half the remaining rosemary. Bake in the center of the oven for 24 minutes. Just before serving, remove the string and cut the roast diagonally across the grain into 1/2-inch slices. Sprinkle with the remaining rosemary.

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Buddha Stir-Fry

Price per serving: $3.04

Ingredients
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 3/4 cup water
1/2 cup low-sodium soy sauce
1/2 teaspoon Asian chili sauce, or to taste
1 tablespoon sesame oil
1 tablespoon minced garlic
2 tablespoons minced ginger
1/2 pound green beans, cut into 2-inch pieces
1 red bell pepper, thinly sliced
2 14-ounce packages firm tofu, drained and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 cup shredded carrots
1 cup snow peas

Dissolve the cornstarch in 2 tablespoons of the water. Stir in the remaining water, soy sauce, and chili sauce; set aside. Heat the oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add the garlic and ginger; cook, stirring, 15 seconds. Add the green beans and red pepper and stir-fry 2 minutes; push them to the perimeter of the skillet. Add the tofu and cook, stirring once or twice, 4 to 5 minutes, or until lightly browned. Stir the sauce and pour it into the skillet. Cook, stirring occasionally, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the carrots and snow peas; cook 1 to 2 minutes, or until the vegetables are crisp-tender.

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12 More Money-Saving Recipes

Here, a dozen more dinner recipes that are good for you and your budget.

Chicken with Lemon-Caper Sauce
Price per serving: $1.58

Curried Lentils and Rice
Price per serving: $0.77

Butternut Squash and White Bean Soup
Price per serving (with water): $1.55
Price per serving (with broth): $2.30

Huevos Rancheros
Price per serving: $1.43

Baked Cheese, Spinach, and Bean Burritos
Price per serving: $2.06

Pasta e Fagioli
Price per serving: $2.18

Chipotle Chili
Price per serving (with ground beef): $2.18
Price per serving (without ground beef): $1.18

Sesame Salmon with Spinach
Price per serving: $3.98

Fish Veracruz
Price per serving: $2.55

Pasta with Clam Sauce
Price per serving: $2.86

Beef Fajitas
Price per serving: $2.57

Peanut Noodles with Tofu
Price per serving: $2.37

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Smart Shopping Tips to Help You Save Money

In the Produce Aisle
Don't overbuy. If you need only a small amount of a food -- say, a quarter cup of bell pepper or shredded carrot -- getting it from the salad bar can be cheaper than letting the extra go to waste, according to Andrea Astrachan, vice president of consumer affairs for Stop & Shop.

Halve your fruit and eat it too. At Whole Foods Market and Stop & Shop, ask an associate to cut your pineapple in half or sell you just half a bag of grapes.

Know how long each fruit or veggie will stay fresh. Stop & Shop posts a "Food Keeper" guide for customers to consult.

In the Cereal/Grains Aisle
Buy grains and cereal from the bulk bins. "No packaging means they're cheaper, good for the environment, and you can purchase only what you need," says Barry Hirsch, a spokesperson for Whole Foods.

Look for private-label products. Most food chains have them, and some, including Stop & Shop and Albertsons, have introduced organic store-brand lines, which are often priced about 15 percent below national brands.

Take a taste. Just ask and both Whole Foods and Trader Joe's will let you open any package in the store to make sure you like the product enough to buy it. (Leftovers are often given to other customers as samples.)

In the Refrigerator/Freezer Section
Eat more eggs. "At less than 25 cents each, they make a nutritious, low-cost meal," points out Heidi Diller, RD, corporate dietitian for Albertsons.

Buy blocks of cheese instead of preshredded. Convenience foods are more expensive and generally spoil faster, Diller says.

Portion foods yourself. Individually packaged yogurts and other snacks save you time, but the multiserving tub or bag is usually cheaper.

In the Meat/Poultry/Fish Section
Buy frozen fish. "It's often less expensive than fresh, with no sacrifice in quality," Diller says.

Get cold cuts at the deli counter. Packaged from the refrigerator case, they can cost as much as 40 percent more.

Go vegetarian one or two nights a week. Swapping chicken breasts for canned black beans can save you more than $4.

Originally published in FITNESS magazine, February 2009.

Click here for a handy grocery shopping list of the ingredients in these recipes

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