Health | 02.11.2022

45 Cheap, Quick, and Healthy Weeknight Dinners

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By Kathleen Flinn

Stop asking “What should we eat?” and get cooking instead. 

It happens in every household: the dinner dilemma. Sure, takeout is easy, but expensive and not necessarily healthy. Plus, if you cook regularly, you’re likely to have some leftover chicken or random veggies in the fridge that you really ought to eat before they go into the bin.

Fear not. We’ve curated a great collection of cheap & healthy meals for dinner for you to try. All have a few things in common.

First, they feature inexpensive budget-friendly ingredients.

Second, they all focus on using common healthy pantry items and veggies you probably already have in your fridge or freezer or make good staples.

Finally, they’re all highly rated and require less than 30 minutes of active meal prep time.

Cheap Healthy Meals for Dinner with Veggies

Chickpeas

Chickpeas, also known as garbanzo beans, are a type of legume. Although relatively low in calories, chickpeas are packed with protein, fiber, and a variety of nutrients. They’re a good choice if you’re trying to cut down your meat consumption plus they’re endlessly versatile. They’re particularly great combined with coconut milk or lemon.

Recipes: 

Chickpeas Braised with Sweet Potatoes and Greens

Chickpea Thai Curry

Lemon Pasta with Chickpeas and Arugula 

Rainbow Power Salad with Chickpeas 

Black Beans

Sure, they’re not low carb. But black beans contain a big dose of easily digested fiber which provides health benefits including regulating blood sugar and possibly reducing cholesterol. They’re also a great source of protein. A can of black beans can result in all kinds of quick, healthy meals.

Recipes:

Shrimp and Black Bean Tacos

Quick-Cooking Sweet Potato and Black Bean Chili

Quinoa Salad with Corn and Black Beans

Lentils

Lentils are loaded with protein, yet relatively low carb, making these versatile legumes a great addition to meatless meals. They’re also naturally gluten-free. Their earthy flavor lends complexity to all kinds of dishes from salads to comfort foods.

Recipes:

Mediterranean Lentil Salad 

Slow-Cooker Lentil, Carrot, and Potato Soup 

Butternut Squash  

Fresh butternut squash is inexpensive yet packed with Vitamin C, magnesium and potassium, and healthy fiber. Whole squash has a long shelf life, but they can be a hassle to cut up. Save time and energy by buying pre-cut butternut squash or using frozen, chopped squash. While the butternut squash is often thought of in soup, it’s quite versatile.

Recipes:

Quinoa Butternut Squash Salad

Morrocan Butternut Squash, Lentil, and Chickpea Stew

Butternut Squash Curry

Sweet Potatoes

Both butternut squash and sweet potatoes have a nutty, sweet quality. It’s hard to say which is better.  Sweet potatoes contain about double the calories of butternut squash, but they also have double the fiber and protein and tend to cook more quickly. Why not use both? Sweet potatoes can be stored in a fridge for weeks.

Recipes:

Veggie-Stuffed Sweet Potatoes

Rosemary Chicken with Sweet Potatoes

Quinoa Bowls with Sweet Potatoes and Spinach 

Cheap healthy meals for dinner with pasta are easy to customize based on what you have on hand.

Zucchini 

Available year-round and inexpensive, zucchini is a wonderfully versatile vegetable. Cut out the pasta in Italian dishes and serve with tomato sauce over zoodles topped with Parmesan.

Recipes:

How to Make Zucchini Zoodles

Zucchini with Lentils and Roasted Garlic

Easy Cheesy Zucchini 

White beans 

There’s something classy, yet comforting about white beans. They’re also a protein and fiber powerhouse and great for meatless meals.  Or combine with cherry tomatoes and a simple vinaigrette for a quick, no-cook Italian-inspired salad. 

Recipes:

White Bean and Cherry Tomato Salad

Tuscan White Bean Skillet Recipe

White Beans and Sausage

Cheap Healthy Meals for Dinner with Meat

Meatballs

Who doesn’t love a good meatball? This classic baked meatball recipe is endlessly versatile; make it spicy or try it with ground turkey in place of ground beef. Then, use the meatballs in any host of Italian dishes, from classic spaghetti to whole wheat pasta and roasted veggies. Slide some on a sandwich slicked with parsley, cilantro, and garlic chimichurri sauce. Or just serve on skewers with a nice cucumber and tomato salad.  

Recipes:

Basic Baked Meatballs

Easy Teriyaki Meatballs

Buffalo Chicken Meatballs

Chicken Breast

Quick, convenient, low in fat, and high in protein, boneless chicken breasts are the go-to for many busy cooks. Buy on sale and then freeze individually by wrapping first in parchment or wax paper then adding another layer such as foil or plastic wrap. Defrost slightly in the microwave and you’re good to go. One easy recipe: slather a chicken breast in store-bought or homemade pesto and baked for about 15 minutes or cooked through.

Recipes:

Baked Pesto Chicken

Easy Thai Chicken Curry

Crispy Oven-Baked Chicken Breast

Easy Chicken Piccata

Steak

Red meat might not seem cheap or healthy, but lean cuts rounded out with lots of vegetables can be budget-friendly options.

Recipes:

Skillet Steak with Mushroom Sauce 

Beef Stir-Fry with Three-Ingredient Sauce

Spice Crusted Flank Steak with Crispy Potatoes

Pork chops

Pork chops cook quickly and they’re as inexpensive as they are versatile. This is a great basic crispy breaded pork chop recipe from The Food Network. 

Recipes:

Breaded Baked Pork Chop

Pan-Fried Pork Chop

Whiskey Miso Pork Chops 

Other Cheap Healthy Meals for Dinner

Quesadillas, Tacos & Burritos

A stack of tortillas in your fridge or freezer opens up all kinds of Mexican-inspired meals. Add some cheese and leftover chicken breast with sliced bell peppers in between tortillas and cook in a lightly oiled skillet for a quick quesadilla. Or, create elegant dinner-worthy tacos. Try some sliced steak, bleu cheese, and cherry tomatoes or combine seared salmon and slaw. 

Recipes:

Basic Quesadilla Recipes

Make-Ahead Chicken Enchiladas

Salmon Tacos 

Bleu Cheesesteak Tacos

Cheap healthy meals for dinner with shrimp can be light, but full of healthy protein.

Shrimp

Shrimp are great for last-minute dinners. You can stow them in the freezer and they cook quickly. This spicy Cajun shrimp pasta recipe comes together quickly with olive oil, cherry tomatoes, bell peppers, or whatever veggies you have on hand. No cajun spice? Try making your own.

Recipes:

Spicy Cajun Shrimp Pasta

Easy Shrimp Cakes

Lemon Garlic Shrimp and Grits

Cheap Healthy Meals for Dinner with Flexible Ingredients

Some meals are so versatile, it barely matters what ingredients you have. Instead, use the framework and what you have on hand to throw something together.  

Stir-fry

Quick and versatile, you can easily mix-and-match protein (including shrimp, chicken breast, tofu, or beef) and veggies using a classic stir-fry sauce. Make it twice and then try your own combos. Amp up the nutrition by pairing it with brown rice.

How to Make Basic Stir-Fry 

Fried Rice

In terms of using up leftovers, nothing beats fried rice. Learn this basic recipe featuring soy sauce, sugar, and cornstarch and then mix and match to your heart’s desire, adding in shredded chicken breast, shrimp from the freezer, or just veggies. You can also amp up the nutrition by using leftover brown rice, too.

How to Make Basic Fried Rice

Dinner doesn’t have to be difficult. With the staples on hand in the pantry and freezer, along with some inspiration, you can have a healthy meal in the time you’d wait for takeout.

Want some help eating healthy? We’ve rounded the most common advice from dieticians for eating better.

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