It’s hard to be the family chef when you’re struggling through the first trimester, have zero desire to eat, and zero energy to cook. We are trying to keep a healthy and frugal lifestyle, but it’s been tough. With the hope that I might help anyone else struggling, I compiled my go-to list of frugal, healthy, and easy to prepare foods.
It’s easy to go for convenience foods when you’re exhausted, but those foods — from pizza delivery, Chinese take-out, or frozen chicken nuggets — come at a cost. Not just a premium price tag, but a loss in nutritional value. Don’t get me wrong: I’m not one of those women whose meals are 100% “clean” or organic or even decaffeinated while pregnant. But after gaining over 70 pounds with the last pregnancy, and starting this pregnancy at a whopping 30 pounds heavier than I was with the first, I’m determined to try my hardest at gaining less weight than before.
Easy, Frugal, and Healthy Breakfast Foods:
- Instant oatmeal with frozen blueberries: $1 per serving. Pour boiling water over it, and by the time the oatmeal puffs up, the blueberries will be thawed. We use Wyman’s frozen wild blueberries, because their size means they thaw easily.
- Hard-boiled eggs: $0.62 per serving. Hard-boiled eggs are so convenient for grabbing and taking to work when you’re running late. I try to eat a few small meals throughout the day, so this is a perfect 10 am snack for me. The whites alone pack a huge protein punch with only a few calories. At $2.50/dozen, and 4 servings, that’s $0.62 for each mid-morning snack. I hard boil a dozen at a time and put them back in the fridge so they’re ready when I need them.
- Greek Yogurt: $0.60 per serving. Greek yogurt has improved so much in the past year. It seems like every yogurt brand has their own version. Each week, a different Greek yogurt brand will go on sale for $1 per serving. We prefer Yoplait, and they always have printed coupons for $1 off of 5, which you can order in bulk from The Coupon Clippers, and SavingStar usually has an e-coupon for $1 off of 5, which you can combine with your printed coupons. (These are affiliate links to sites I personally use). In the end, our Greek yogurt tastebuds are usually satisfied for $0.60 per serving.
Easy, Frugal, and Healthy Lunch Foods:
- I honestly haven’t figured this one out yet. My lunch is my worst decision of the day. It’s either a cheese sandwich and Greek yogurt or getting a salad or sandwich at a local lunch spot. Do you have any suggestions?
Easy, Frugal, and Healthy Dinner Foods:
- Freezer Vegetables: $0.33 per serving. We use these almost every day, even when I’m not exhausted. Frozen vegetables can be fresher than those in the produce section, and they are already prepared. Just 4-6 minutes in the microwave, and you have corn, broccoli, green beans, peas, carrots, butternut squash, spinach, or cauliflower. The supermarket brand goes on sale for $1 per bag once a month, and I frequently get them for less than $1 by combining a sale on the Green Giant or Birds’ Eye brands with coupons.
- Little Stapler is less likely to eat the random broccoli stems, so we aim to get intact broccoli. Something we learned about broccoli is that the broccoli that’s most intact come in the square packages — not the bags. Ideally, we use the packages marked “broccoli spears.”
- Frozen Rice: $0.33 per serving. This really is the best invention since sliced bread. Instead of cooking it on the stovetop for 40 minutes, pop a bag of brown rice in the microwave for 3 minutes. With a coupon and/or sale, you can get the Birds’ Eye brand for $1 per bag, and the Trader Joe’s 3-pack box is $2.99. At $1 per meal, it’s not too much of a mark-up from buying dry rice, and it’s a huge timesaver without sacrificing health. As a bonus, you don’t have to clean another pot! (In my case, that usually means scraping off the burned rice at the bottom).
- Slowcooker pulled pork with pork tenderloin: $2 per serving. Pork tenderloin is the leanest cut of pork available. This means it’s easily overcooked, but in the slowcooker it stays moist and soft enough to shred with a fork. You can trim off the fat if you like, or keep it on. In the morning before work, I rub the meat with a barbecue rub, pop it in the slow cooker, pour half a bottle of barbecue sauce on it, and set it for 10 hours on low heat (4-6 hours on high). When it’s cooked, transfer to a serving dish, shred with forks, and pour the remaining liquid over the pork. Serve on hamburger buns with cheddar cheese, and corn or coleslaw on the side. I can usually get the barbecue sauce and barbecue rub for $0.50 each if I combine a sale and a coupon, which would make the cost more like $1.33 per serving.
- Best of all, when pork tenderloin is on sale, I put it in a heavy duty ziploc bag, toss a BBQ rub on it, and freeze it for later. Later, I put it in the crockpot and 10 hours on low or 6 hours on high (with the BBQ sauce) will get the same result as if I cooked it fresh.
- Leftovers Idea: Pulled pork pizza! Add a touch of barbecue sauce to the tomato sauce and use cheddar cheese instead of mozzarella, and you’ve got a tasty leftover. I like to use store-bought pizza dough, but you can make your own if you’re not exhausted.
- Slowcooker Salsa Chicken with Chicken Breasts: $2 per serving. This slowcooker meal is as easy as the pulled pork. Put fresh or frozen chicken breasts in the crockpot, rub taco or fajita seasoning on them (or don’t — it’s fine without it), add a jar of salsa, and cook on low for 10 hours or 4-6 hours on high. When I get home from work, I add a package of frozen corn and let it continue to slowcook until dinnertime. Serve with rice and beans or in tacos, fajitas, or burritos. Add some cheddar cheese to make it even tastier.
- Frozen Meatballs: $1 per serving. Every few months, I make up a few batches of meatballs. I usually time it to coincide with a sale on ground turkey, so this also saves me money. The trick with freezing meatballs is to fully cook them, cover a cookie sheet with aluminum foil, spread the meatballs out onto the cookie sheet, and freeze just like that. When they’re frozen, put the meatballs in a ziploc bag. That way, you can select the number of meatballs that you want when you’re ready to eat them. If you just tossed them in a bag while they were hot, they would freeze stuck to each other and you would have a hard time separating them into the portions you want. When they’re individually frozen, I pour out as much or as little as I want, defrost in the microwave, then heat up sauce and cook up pasta.
I hope this arsenal of convenient healthy food will help get you through your pregnancy, your baby’s first year, and beyond. I still cook these easy recipes because it’s wonderful to come home to a meal that’s already cooked, or to avoid the panic of “what do I make for dinner while my kid is having a hunger meltdown?” It’s better than cereal!
What do you think of these tricks for healthy, easy meals? Do you have any recipes or tricks I can add to my toolbox? I might post another list of easy and healthy food ideas, so please share!