Healthy eating can be challenging under the best circumstances, but it’s even harder on a tight budget. After all, how can you resist the siren call of that ginormous bag of chicken nuggets on sale when you’re trying to make as many meals as possible for your household? For those living in food deserts or in any area with limited or expensive produce, options can be scarce. Fortunately, there are cookbooks available free to download right now containing simple recipes using inexpensive ingredients that will empower you to eat healthy food on a budget.
Good and Cheap: Eat Well on $4/Day by Leanne Brownis a must-have in your recipe collection, especially if you’re struggling with finances. Brown initially began the book as part of her Food Studies MA program at New York University with the goal of helping low-income households and those who receive food stamps, or Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, eat healthy meals. As Brown says in the book’s introduction: “Kitchen skill, not budget, is the key to great food.” Brown discusses pantry staples, including canned and frozen vegetables, and how to make the most of leftovers. She provides recipes for common food such as oatmeal along with several variations, which is so important for those times when you may only have one type of grain on hand and run the risk of getting sick of having the same food over and over. Ingredients such as fragrant orange zest, honey and almonds turn plain oatmeal into Baklava Oatmeal, or heaven in a bowl, while the addition of grated cheese and a fried egg brings oatmeal to the seldom-explored savory side.
I never would have thought to jazz up toast with peas and lemon, but thanks to Brown’s brilliant toast topping ideas, I now have a new favorite snack that is way healthier and cheaper than any store-bought option, and it takes around five minutes to make. Brown’s recipes leave room for experimentation.
For instance, the recipe for Vegetable Quiche, Hold The Crust calls for chopped vegetables but lets the reader decide what vegetables to use and offers tips on which ones may need to be cooked before adding to the quiche. Most of the meals in the book are plant-based, but recipes such as Half-Veggie Burgers, Filipino Chicken Adobo and Beef Stroganoff will please those who eat meat.
Vegan cuisine can be easy, delicious and inexpensive, thanks to Andrew Olson, also known as the One Ingredient Chef. Olson has collected an archive of the recipes from his blog One Ingredient Chef’s first year into an e-book that you can download free, along with meal plans and his manifesto, which teaches about the ills of most processed food and champions a plant-based diet. By “one ingredient,” Olson means fresh, whole foods, allowing for exceptions such as tempeh. His goal is for people to become knowledgeable about food and read labels to understand what they are putting in their bodies. Some of the recipes in One Ingredient Chef are a bit more complicated than those in Good and Cheap and contain ingredients such as nutritional yeast, which is not a typical pantry staple for many, unless you are vegan. However, there are still some super cheap and easy recipes such as the outrageous Pulled Portobello Sliders, a vegan take on pulled pork that goes perfectly with Good and Cheap’s Baked Beans.
As a tea fanatic, I love The Perfect Tea Latte recipe, which calls for plain old black tea. Olson recommends a dash of cinnamon for warmth reminiscent of chai tea, and it really does elevate the drink.
A great way to utilize One Ingredient Chef is to set aside some time for advanced prep and stock your fridge for quick meals when you need healthy food in a hurry. For example, Olson’s 2-Minute Taquitos aren’t exactly two minutes — ingredients include homemade roasted salsa and cooked brown rice — but with some advanced prep you can throw them together in no time and serve with the (actual) 8-Minute Black Bean Soup, a flavorful, fast dish made even faster when you substitute a dollop or two of that salsa for the chopped vegetables listed in the recipe.
With these books by your side, you will always be able to make healthy meals. Tell us: which recipes did you try?