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Easy, Nutritious and Budget Friendly Dinners

Easy, Nutritious and Budget Friendly Dinners

It is estimated that about half of the U.S population has a disease that could be prevented by diet and lifestyle changes.¹ In making nutritious choices, access to food and knowledge on what to eat is important. In this blog post, we will dive into what a nutrient dense diet includes and suggestions for creating nutritious, budget friendly dinners.

You can plan nutritious meals while sticking to a budget! For specifics on how to shop smart at the grocery store, check out the USDA’s Healthy Eating on a Budget suggestions.

A few rule of thumb tips for when you’re putting a nutritious meal together.

  1. Variety is key!

  2. Choose nutrient dense food options from each of the food groups!

  3. Limit added sugars, saturated fats and salt!

These are discussed in more detail below!

Variety is Key:

Different foods offer different nutrients. When you eat a range of foods, you’re increasing the variety of nutrients you get in your diet. Eating a variety of foods promotes health and decreases risk for disease.

Choose nutrient dense Options from Each Food Group:

The main food groups include protein, fats, carbohydrates, fruits, vegetables and dairy. All of these food groups offer essential nutrients. Essential nutrients need to be consumed through the diet as your body cannot make these nutrients on its own. Essential nutrients are required for normal body functioning.

  • Protein: Protein rich foods include both animal based options and plant based options. Meat, eggs, Greek yogurt, beans and tofu are some protein rich options. Protein is necessary to build and repair tissues, contract muscles, including the heart, among other other functions. Proteins are often rich in nutrients such as iron and zinc. Processed meats, such as bologna, should be limited as these meats are associated with greater risk of heart disease.¹

  • Beneficial fats: Beneficial fats are found in foods such as avocados, nuts, seeds, oils, and fatty fish. Beneficial fats include polyunsaturated fats and monounsaturated fats. Polyunsaturated fats are found in fatty fish, such as salmon and tuna, ground up flaxseed and walnuts, and promote heart and brain health.² Beneficial fats promote heart, eye, and brain health, maintains cell integrity, among many other functions.³ Cells make up every part of your body from your skin to your muscles, so maintaining normal cell functioning is crucial to overall health.

  • Carbohydrates: Carbohydrates are found in pastas, bread, quinoa, oatmeal, cream of wheat, beans, fruit, buckwheat to name a few. Carbohydrates are important in providing the body, and especially the brain, with fuel to do every day tasks.

  • Fruits and Vegetables: Fruits and vegetables are rich in vitamins, minerals and electrolytes. Fresh, frozen, canned and dried fruits and vegetables are options. Frozen vegetables have a longer shelf life, potentially limiting food waste and saving you money.

  • Dairy: Dairy is well known as a source of calcium. Dairy is found in foods such as milk,

yogurt, cheese and plant based milk products. For plant based milk products, look for milks that are fortified with calcium and vitamin D. Dairy foods provide important nutrients including calcium, vitamin A, riboflavin, protein, vitamin B 12 among other nutrients.¹

  • In order for calcium to be used in the body, adequate vitamin D status is necessary. The most well known source of vitamin D is sunlight; however, foods such as fatty fish, egg yolk and enriched food products are also sources of vitamin D.⁴

Limit Added Sugars, Saturated Fats and Salt:

These nutrients are found in baked goods, processed foods, pastries among other sources. Consuming too much of these nutrients can negatively impact various organs in the body leading to increased risk of heart disease, liver disease, diabetes among other health concerns.¹ Eliminating them entirely from one’s diet might not be possible, but as dietitians, we advocate for reduced consumption or modification of portion sizes.

4 Easy, Nutritious and Budget Friendly Meal Options

1. Burritos

Burritos are nutritious, quick to make and easy to assemble. Common ingredients found in beans include beans, corn, tomatoes, rice, meats, cheese, lettuce as well as condiments such as salsa. There are endless possibilities. I like adding avocado in mine for added flavor and beneficial fats. Burritos are good around the clock. Make it with eggs, beans, some cheese and have it as an on the go breakfast! This is a very versatile meal that can be eaten as breakfast, lunch or dinner!

Beans are rich in polyphenols which have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Our bodies are made up of cells and antioxidants help protect our cells from damage.⁵

Burritos contain considerable amounts of protein from the meat, cheese and beans. Beneficial carbs can be found in the beans and the wrap and fats will come from the cheese. Veggies are also oftentimes found in burritos and provide micronutrients such as Potassium, Vitamin C and K among others.

2. Stuffed Bell Peppers

This meal uses hollowed or halved peppers filled with a combination of ingredients. This combination may include eggs, cheese, meats, rice and/or sauce. One of my favorite dinners growing up was a stuffed pepper filled with scrambled eggs, breadcrumbs, ground beef, Italian seasoning and topped off with tomato sauce!

When choosing your meat, aim to purchase lean meats as these have less saturated fat. Saturated fat is the less beneficial fat that may negatively impact heart health.¹

The variety of combinations keeps things interesting while offering different nutrients. So switch it up, explore new recipes and expand your nutrient profile!

3. Turkey Noodle Soup

Turkey noodle soup is a great way to use leftover Thanksgiving Turkey! When you use leftovers, you’re saving money and limiting waste. This meal is perfect for the chillier months and provides you with a hearty serving of vegetables, usually coming from carrots, celery, onions and garlic.

Ingredients typically include cubed

  • Turkey

  • Noodles

  • Chopped carrots

  • Chopped celery

  • Minced garlic and onions

Bone broth can be made from scratch using the turkey bones and vegetables. To make the broth, first cook the bones, carrots, onions and garlic for 1 hour at 400°F. Then simmer this combination in a pot on low to medium heat for about 30 minutes. Put in an ice bath until cooled. Cover and refrigerate overnight.⁶

This recipe was inspired by Taste of Home and adjusted for the purposes of this blog.

This meal will pair perfectly with cranberry sauce, checkout the recipe below:⁷


  • 1 cup of Cranberries (fresh or frozen)

  • 2 cups of water

  • 2 cups of sugar or sugar substitute.

  • Because cranberries are tart, a lot of sugar is needed to make them sweet. Consider using unsweetened applesauce or a sweetener such as stevia or honey in replacement of sugar as a less refined option. When using applesauce, add an additional ½ cup of applesauce in replacement of the 2 cups of sugar. Also decrease the amount of water used as apple sauce contains a lot of liquid already.


  • Rinse the cranberries

  • Boil sugar and water over low to medium heat. Stir occasionally. If you’re using fresh cranberries, there is a chance the mixture may begin to stick to the pan. In that case, just add a bit of water to keep it from sticking.

  • Once boiling begins, boil for about 5 minutes and then add the cranberries.

  • Boil the mixture for another 5 minutes or until the cranberries meet your desired texture.

  • Refrigerate for at least 3 hours


This recipe was inspired by Natural Beach Living and adjusted for the needs of this blog post by Helayne Speroni

4. Bean and Pasta Salad

This is a simple and versatile dish. Combine pasta, beans and your favorite veggies! I like to add tomatoes, cucumbers, avocado and onions with kidney beans and a flavorful dressing. You can switch up the vegetables and beans you add to include more variety in your diet. .

Some pastas are more hardy than others. When looking for pastas at the grocery store, try to buy whole grain and whole wheat pastas. In comparison to white pasta, whole wheat or whole grain pastas have higher fiber and mineral concentrations, and therefore provide more nutrients per serving.

Final Thoughts:

Recipes and knowledge on how to eat a balanced diet is an important factor in fighting food insecurity, but it’s not the only barrier people face. Other circumstances such as reliable access to foods require reliable transportation, time to go shopping, time to cook, and skills to cook.

Want More?

Additional budget friendly snacking and meal ideas can be found on my Budget Friendly and Healthy Snacks blog post, the USDA’s website and Cooking Matters website. The Finding a Food Pantry website will help you find a food pantry near you to increase your ability to access food . Lastly, the USDA has a website on Kitchen Time Savers to help you cook meals efficiently.


  1. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and U.S. Department of Agriculture. Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015-2020. 8th ed. December 2015

  2. Santos HO, Price JC, Bueno AA. Beyond fish oil supplementation:the effects of alternative plant based omega 3 polyunsaturated fatty acids upon lipid indexes and cardiometabolic biomarkers-an overview. Nutrients. 2020;12(10):2-19 doi: 10.3390/nu12103159

  3. Burns-Whitmore B, Froyen E, Heskey C, Parker T, Pable GS. Alpha-linolenic and linoleic fatty acids in the vegan diet: do they require reference/adequate intake special consideration? Nutrients. 2019;11(10):1-25 doi:10.3390/nu11102365

  4. Ganesan K, Xu B. Polyphenol-rich dry Zhu K, Prince RL. Calcium and bone. Clin Biochem. 2012;45(12):936-42 DOI: 10.1016/j.clinbiochem.2012.05.006

  5. beans (phaseolus vulgaris) and their health benefits. Int J Mol Sci. 2017;18(11): 1-26 doi: 10.3390/ijms18112331

  6. Old-Fashioned Turkey Noodle Soup. Taste of Home. Accessed November 19, 2020

  7. Easy Homemade Cranberry Sauce that Everyone Loves. Natural Beach Living. Published November, 6 2018. Accessed November 19, 2020

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