How can we make a quick healthy meal on a budget? When it comes to meals I use five criteria to measure success: taste, health, speed, digestion, and budget. Let’s jump right in.
My secret ingredients to add flavor
Have you noticed when you eat something that tastes good, stress doesn’t exist for that moment? Bland food is quite boring and can leave us unsatisfied. Let’s fix the “bla” with a little “bam-bam”. Here are some of my favorite flavor touches that are easy to use and budget-friendly:
I make my own garlic bread with fresh garlic, I simply use a mincer. It’s a much cleaner and healthier way than garlic powder or garlic salt.
This herb helps fight bacteria, it’s high in antioxidants, helps reduce viral infection and many more benefits.
We love our salt but need to watch the blood pressure and bones. Salt helps with fluid balance, nerve transmission, and even muscle function.
Methods for a healthier meal
My second criteria for reducing stress in the kitchen is to concoct a healthy meal using the right tools. I have five main ways to cook healthy meals:
The oven. Baking fish and starches instead of frying save us a lot of heartache…literally…and calories for that matter. Roasting potatoes, squash, and even cauliflower are super easy and a healthier method. All you need to do cube the veggie and toss it in olive oil with a little salt set the oven at 350 degrees and bake for 30-40 minutes with a little toss mid-way. Simply test with a fork for your liking.
The toaster oven. If I’m in a hurry yet want a break from the microwave, I opt for the toaster oven. I love this thing! I use it for warming up homemade waffles, a small batch of cookies or brownies, garlic bread, a small pizza, and chicken nuggets. The toaster oven I use automatically shuts off when the timer is done, so I can put my dish in it and forget it. Here’s my favorite toaster oven.
The grill. We use our grill all year round and we live in Michigan! To keep grilling safe and healthy, it’s important to keep it clean. Be sure to scrape the grill with a brush before using, and clean the grill at least three times a year if you’re a heavy user; meaning, giving the grates a good soak in Dawn dish soap.
The microwave. Yes, I use the microwave to warm up meals when I’m in a hurry. My main reasons for the microwave are frozen veggies, chicken nuggets, and microwave popcorn.
Cast Iron Pan. This is my secret weapon in the kitchen when it comes to speed, taste, and easy cleanup. Everyone should have a cast iron pan. This pan, as my son would say, is ‘Beast’…meaning cool. When it gets hot, it stays hot. And cleaning it is a piece of cake, no soap! Simply rinse and heat back up on the stove to dry. Easy peasy! I love my cast iron pans.
I do love my Crockpot, but I only use it maybe once a week. There are loads of kitchen gadgets promising this or that; we get excited for a few weeks then tuck it away in an abyss cupboard. Keep it simple in the kitchen, stick to the old fashion way of cooking. You’ll find it actually goes pretty fast.
Cast iron pan
I wasn’t joking about old fashion. Like my son says, “It’s beast!”
The old saying to put a wooden spoon on top of the rim of the pan to make the water boil faster? Well, it works. Simply lay a wooden spoon across the top of the pan, kind of like a bridge. In about a handful of minutes, the water is ready for the pasta.
I’m not a fan of freezing meals unless it’s leftover chili or stew. Lasagna is another good freezer meal, but other than that, it’s easier to resort to the grocery’s freezer meals. You should venture into your freezer and clean it from old food every quarter.
There are a lot of factors leading to diarrhea, gas, bloating, constipation, acid reflex, and cramping. They range from food allergies, food sensitivities, food combining, eating too fast, the lack of digestive enzymes, hormones, bile acid, autoimmune disorders, gut flora, leaky gut, and/or viruses and bad bacteria.
My first strategy in figuring out why I feel icky is to eliminate the most common inflammatory foods: dairy, gluten (wheat), nuts, soy, and eggs. Food elimination will take time, but it’s worth it when you figure it out.
*Please note, I’m not a doctor, nor am I trying to be. I share information I have either experienced myself or are extremely interested in, and then I keep things simple and give you the nutshell version. Please consult your physician before jumping into new things.
Just so you know, it takes about three weeks for cow’s milk protein to vacate your system. For wheat, it takes two weeks to feel a bit better, but around three months for it to be out of your system. For soy and eggs, it’s two weeks. Here’s a good post from All Ways Well on how to go about it. Keep it simple, your body will love you, and you’ll help it heal!
Budget: 6 ways to save on meals
1 – Join store membership
One of the ways I save money on meals is to join the store membership. One of my stores kicks back $7.00 after I reach a certain goal. They also have online coupons. Not to mention member only specials! And you can even shop and scan with the app.
2 – Buy what’s in season
Another way I save is to adjust my menu with what is growing in season. For squash dishes, I delay until fall and early winter. Strawberry pie is good in March. Here is a quick guide to knowing what fruits and veggies are in season so you know when you’re getting the best deal on them. Download my In-Season guide now.
3 – Go to different stores
A third trick is to go to different stores to get the best price. For instance, the coconut milk ice-cream I buy isn’t on sale at my normal store, but it is on sale at my secondary store. This may be a lot of running around, so you’ll have to make the call whether it’s worth the gas, but I find this technique helpful. I have about five go-to stores to get the best deals. But how do you remember where you got what? You can download myWhere I Buy Memory Guideand tuck it in your planner or handbag. Now you’ll never have to remember where you got what again!
4 – Buy store brand
Buy store brand. There is not much difference in taste and quality from name brand goods to store brand.
5 – Watch the ingredients
Watch the ingredients! Yes, you can save money by reading the nutrition label. How? Some food manufacturers use ingredients that are addictive, like High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) and MSG…not to mention salt and just plain sugar. When you eat more, you buy more of it! Steer clear of HFCS and MSG. I know they’re tasty but they don’t do you any favors from a wallet and health perspective.
6 – Don’t skimp the protein
Don’t skimp on the protein. Sure some proteins can be expensive, but so are second helpings and snacking! When our bodies don’t get the protein we are hungry all the time, which can lead to overeating, weight gain, and crankiness…yes, carbs do that. Make a point to eat some protein at every meal. To save even more money, buy protein in bulk at a membership store like Costco or Sam’s. Be sure to look at the price per unit to make the best decision.
Sources of protein include nuts, dairy (unless you’re sensitive), seeds, chicken, fish, pork, beef, turkey, tempeh (soy), quinoa, broccoli, and lentils.
When it comes to meals, use your head not your stomach. My five criteria get the job done for me. I go for taste, health, speed, digestion, and budget. My hope is that you found some new ideas to test out. As an added bonus, here is a 5-day menu plan based on all my criteria. Enjoy!
Cooking and I have a love/hate relationship. There are days when it is soothing to my soul, and other days it’s like a ton of bricks on my shoulders. For those hard days, it would be easy for me to tell you to look at it with a fresh perspective; like a form of entertainment or a ‘serenity scene’. There are times when kitchen-time will do that for me, but let’s face it, just figuring out what to eat has been a chore. Today I have a simple yet powerful solution for you when you have to answer the question “What’s for dinner?”. It’s my secret weapon to reduce stress for everyone under the roof!
What’s for dinner?
During my morning coffee time with my husband I noticed when we ask each other what we want for dinner I start sweating. How could three little words stress me out? What’s for dinner?
Starting the day out with these words was not doing me any favors. The problem? I didn’t know how to answer the question. Foods would start swirling in my mind with questions like What does Mark like? What can Dave eat? What is easy? What is healthy? Should we go out? But where? When can we all eat together? Hence, the sweat.
There are times in life when it’s actually nice to have someone tell you what you’re having for dinner instead of giving you a choice. Have you ever looked at all the different kinds of jelly and jam at the grocery store? There are a TON of them. How did we get to this point of too many choices? For me when there are too many choices, my friend, Mr. Overwhelm, comes to visits. He tornados through the shelves blurring my vision and confusing the heck out of me. I’ve had times I even walked away because there were simply too many choices.
So when someone asks me “What’s for dinner?” and I can’t answer that, it usually results in me thinking about it ALL DAY LONG. This can be a major distraction and a nuisance. If only I put more thought into meal planning!
How to answer the question
My fix to this madness is to have a piece of paper tell me what’s for dinner. Yep, a simple piece of paper. If you really wanted to get creative, you could origami a paper puppet and have it talk to you. Okay, that’s a little crazy, but your kids might like it!
When I have a plan in place, my stress level drops tremendously and I can move forward with my day. There are a couple of ways we can go about this. We can either look up meal plans online or we can create our own. Either way works. But to make life simple, just use my monthly guide and fill in the blanks. You can find my guide in Freebies. Some meal planners online can be overly complicated and have ingredients or items that are unrealistic.
Keep it simple, we’re not going to die
For my family, simply writing out the source of protein and one side dish does the trick. With that said, every Sunday I grab my piece of paper and write out the week’s meal plan, and if it’s like last week, so be it. No one is going to die.
When I plan I only plan dinner; breakfast and lunch are ‘whatever meals’ in my head. As long as I have healthy choices for the kiddos, I’m good. In fact, I gave my son a guide for making his own lunch. His lunch needs to include a source of protein, a veggie, and some fruit…then he picks what he eats! Our kids have to learn how to meal plan and prep too!
As I said earlier, for dinner, I only pick a protein and maybe a side dish, then I fill in the gaps with what I have laying around. For instance, tonight, we’re having brats and green beans. I’ll probably fill in the gaps with either noodles or plain potato chips. Tomorrow we’re having salmon and baked potatoes, and I’ll probably throw in blueberries. The next day it’s grilled chicken and roasted butternut squash, and I’ll probably add some strawberries. Simple, easy, and good for our bodies.
But I have food sensitivities
My family is a bit unique. Remember the jelly and jams in the grocery store? Well, our specific diets went from being able to have many choices, to just a handful. Actually preparing meals, where we could eat anything, was a heck of a lot more stressful than being able to eat just a few things… the bright side to food allergies and sensitivities.
My son and I have limited menus due to inflammation in our bodies. Sure, we could continue to eat everything we wanted, but we would pay a huge price for it. It’s been my choice to reduce the inflammation in our bodies as much as I can by making a few changes in my diet. And it has been very effective and I don’t feel deprived!
My son and I can’t eat dairy or gluten (wheat, rye, barley). He also can’t have nuts. But I can. I can’t do eggs or soy, but he can. It gets really confusing. We both have gone through tests and we also went through food elimination to help us determine what we could eat and what would backfire. We want our bodies to heal, in order to do that we must eliminate the bully. So when it comes to meal planning, it actually becomes a little easier after you figure out what is causing issues! Yes, I said easier. How? There are fewer choices.
But what if you don’t have a special diet to follow?
If you want to be healthy and stop weight gain and cravings, eat like you meant it. Food is meant to fuel our body. Having food taste good is a bonus. When we cut back on processed and sugary foods, our bodies will be given a chance to heal and be happy.
As our body adjusts to a cleaner menu, our cravings will change from wanting junk to wanting pure food. You might be like, “Shut-up Christy! I’m not doing that!” Friend, that’s the junk food talking, not you. Bad mood foods? Yes, they exist. Trans fats disrupt the balance of our omega-3 fatty acids, and when our omegas are low, it can lead to a bad mood. Not only that, but blood sugar can play a role in mood swings as well. When our nutrition is off, so is our frame of mind. I didn’t even talk about hormones and foods.
You might save a few bucks too by eating a simpler menu. Less doctor visits, simpler food. Cha-ching!
Meal planning in a nutshell
Circling back to taking the stress out of meal planning; simply use a pencil and my meal planner to extinguish the “What’s for dinner?” question. It’s okay if you have the same menu plan for a couple of weeks. We just need to feed our family wholesome foods.
Post your planner on the refrigerator or a kitchen cupboard so everyone can see what the main meal will be for the night. Heck, you can even use a paper talking puppet to tell your little ones what’s for dinner. Download the Meal Planner in Freebies. Bon appétit!
I absolutely love cookies. My favorite cookie hands-down is the chocolate chip cookie. The gentle crisp on the outside and soft center is the perfect texture to satisfy anyone…in my opinion of course. Oh, and then you get a chunk of chocolate that is slightly hard but surrounded by dough…oh, so good from a texture point of view. However, when I was told I couldn’t eat gluten anymore due to an Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) my heart sank, to say the least. My pleasure of baking and having a fresh cookie out of the oven was a thing of the past. How am I going to live? I thought.
After I let that devastating news sink in, I was more determined than ever to recreate my guilty pleasure of chocolate chip cookies but gluten-free style. It’s not 100% the same, but it’s good enough. To the store I went to find gluten-free flour. I must say I was not only confused about all the flours but I was a bit sticker shocked, which will do my body good because I won’t make them as often, but when I need a fix I’m making the da*n cookies.
This can be overwhelming. And I did get overwhelmed. There is so much information on the internet I honestly am not going to reproduce it, but I will give you some sources to check out. If you want to learn more about different flours Healthline has a good article. If you want to make your own blend, I recommend Sarah Bakes Gluten-free. She’s got some great recipes I’ve had before too.
As I said, gluten-free flour is not a spitting image of ‘normal’ flour, but it does the trick to satisfy your fix.
It’s important to note, that there are many gluten-free pre-made chocolate chip cookie mixes at the grocery store. I’ve tried a lot of these, and they’re okay. If you look at the ingredients on these mixes you’ll find that sugar is the first ingredient! And as with any ingredient list, the first ingredient is the most abundant ingredient and so forth. For my taste, those mixes are too sweet and there are some unwanted ingredients in them too, like soy. With that said, in the refrigerator section, there is a premade chocolate chip cookie that is quite good when you don’t have time to bake your own. It’s Sweet Loren’s Gluten-Free Chocolate Chunk. Here is her website to check things out.
Products I use
To keep this recipe low on inflammation and allergens at bay I use Enjoy Life Mini Chips. These are super good. We like them more than the normal kind. They’re great in brownies, pancakes, melted over rice crispy treats, or on a spoon full of peanut butter! Great. Now I need to go eat some.
This walleye recipe is a family favorite! If you missed my post about Omega, Oils, Why I’m Picky, you’ll want to check’r out. Walleye has got to be one of the best fish to fry, well Crappies are good too. But walleye is definitely a special treat.
More about Walleye
Walleye got its name from its eye. The eyes are very big on a walleye and it’s pearlescent, which helps them see and feed at night. With that said they are a nocturnal fish. It lives in freshwater and is related to the perch family. Walleye like cold deep waters. You can find them in the Great Lakes region, Canadian lakes, Northwest Territories, and the Mississippi River basin.
To eat, walleye is one of the healthiest fish. It’s a great source of protein and omega-3 fatty acids, which are good for our hearts and brains. Walleye is also a good source of vitamin D. The fish has white flesh and has a clean, succulent taste, it’s mild and sweet perfect for frying or baking. Yum! My mouth is seriously watering now. I should mention to not eat ‘walleye sushi’ so-to-speak. Always cook walleye before eating.
Ingredients needed for this dish
I use a cast-iron pan, not a deep pan, just you’re regular pan. We’re pan-frying for this walleye recipe, not deep frying, we’ll leave the deep frying for Blue Gills. A cast-iron pan really does make a difference, plus it’s SUPER easy to clean, no soap required. Seriously, no soap, you’ll wreck the ‘seasoning’ of the pan. I highly recommend getting one, even if it’s the small one. You can find them on Amazon.
As for other ingredients in this fried walleye recipe, we use coconut oil. It has a high flash point, which is great for frying. It heats up quickly. The coconut oil is a clean oil. It doesn’t taste like coconut at all. And it’s good for you! Much better than Canola or Vegetable oil. We get ours through Costco because we go through quite a bit. If you don’t have a Costco Membership, no problem! You can get it on Amazon. I highly recommend this product. When buying coconut oil get the Virgin, Unrefined.
For the breading, since my family and I need to be gluten-free we use a gluten-free pancake mix. I personally like Trader Joe’s Gluten-Free Buttermilk Pancake Mix. We’ve tried Bisquick Gluten-Free too (that’s dairy-free). And I should mention we also tried Potato Starch. All work well! If you’re not gluten-free, I recommend any pancake mix. With this recipe we only want a dusting on the fish, we aren’t getting the pancake mix wet. Simply put the mix in a bowl and dust the fish with it, done!
As a side dish, anything works well. Although I’d stay away from pasta. Green beans and a store-bought potato salad are easy and good. Or the infamous broccoli/bacon salad is a favorite. If you’re going to have fruit, eat it while cooking your meal. You can check out my food-combining chart here to learn more about it.
If you missed my post about food combining you’ll want to check’r out. This amazing steak recipe I’m about to give you goes in line with food combining. You might think to yourself, “Food combining matters? It’s all going to the same place anyway. What gives?”
was a kid, eating with my grandparents was torture for me. Not only did I have
to eat everything off my plate, including the extra ketchup…yes, with a spoon,
down the hatch it went; I had to watch my grandparents pretty much swirl
everything on their plate and eat it. As a kid, I didn’t want my peas to touch
my mash potatoes, or for Pete’s sake my jello to touch my chicken pot pie! This
kind of food combining is not what I’m talking about, but it gives you a
What happens in the belly
Let’s take steak n potatoes, a classic meal. It’s a meal that has withstood the decades. Many would call it a ‘healthy’ meal. To the eye, it is, but to the stomach not-so. Combining a protein with a heavy-duty starch like buttery mashed potatoes spoils in your stomach. Starchy sugars don’t mix well with hard-core proteins. Ew! With spoiling in the stomach comes indigestion, bloating, gas, burping…sluggishness.
If you want to feel better after a steak dinner, change your side to a low starch veggie, like salad, broccoli, green beans, or grilled summer squash. I know garlic mashed potatoes with steak is OH SO YUMMY, but if you’re feeling icky after a meal like that it could be the food combo. Hold up, I’m not telling you to stop eating that combo, not at all. All I’m saying is that you might want to mix it up every once in a while. Just letting you know what I’ve learned. If you want a download of my food combination aid, you can get one here at freebies. It gives you examples of what to eat with what, along with a list of foods, and when to eat fruit. I personally tape mine to my kitchen cupboard.
Ingredients needed for this dish
With this Better Belly Steak recipe, I use a cast-iron pan. It really does make a difference, especially if you can’t cook on the grill. I highly recommend getting one, even if it’s the small one. You can find them on Amazon.
I also use Kirkland’s Frozen Organic Green Beans. Love these things. They come pre-washed. And for my other side I simply visit the frozen veggie section at the grocery and pick up Green Giant Simply Steam, Riced Cauliflower Italian Style. This is actually my new go-to when I’m running low on time.
1tbspMcCormickGrill Mates 25% Less Sodium Montreal Steak Seasoning
1cupfresh or frozen organic green beansWashed and trimmed
1boxGreen Giant SimplySteam, Riced Cauliflower Italian StyleIn frozen section at grocery
Take yourcast iron pan, put it on the stove, and preheat on high for 4-5 minutes, oruntil very hot (wink).
Pat your steak dry with paper towels. In this recipe I used Strip steak, highest grade.
Sprinkle McCormick Steak Seasoning, this is gluten-free!
Put alittle salt in the bottom of your hot cast iron pan.
Place the steak in your hot pan. It might get a little smokey, so make sure you’re cooking in a well – ventilated space…I do not recommend a tent. I personally turn my kitchen vent on and crack a window.
In the next one to two minutes, carefully flip the steak placing it in a different spot on the pan. Cook for another 30 seconds to 1 minute. Continue turning and flipping the steak until it’s cooked to your desired doneness.
To be on the safe side, use a meat thermometer and insert it in the thickest part of the steak. Here’s a quick guide on temperatures. · Medium-rare:135º· Medium: 140º· Medium-well: 145º
Place the steak on your plate and let it rest for 10 minutes before cutting into it. Keep in mind the steak may continue to cook after it has been removed from the pan.
While steak is resting, take your green beans and put them in a sauce pan with an inch of wate on medium heat. Cover the pan. with lid. Cook 5 minutes and check. Keep checkingevery couple minutes. Cook to desire. Do not burn!
While green beans are cooking. Grab your box of Green Giant SimplySteam, Riced Cauliflower Italian Style and follow the microwave instructions. Stir after it has been cooked.
Dish up the steak, green beans, and cauliflower rice on your plate. Salt lightly if desired. Enjoy!