My grandmother, who grew up in the depression, taught me how to save lots of money on food. We would go through the aisles and she would show me how to choose items that were on sale and how to save money with coupons (she also taught me when coupons were a waste of time). I got so good at shopping with my penny pinching grandmother that, at some point, I was the only one she would bring to the supermarket. She was my mentor for making cheap healthy meals that were also incredibly good. Homemade soups, breads, salad dressings and desserts were the common fare on the table. Her ginger snap cookies were my absolute favorite, but I also loved her homemade chicken noodle soup and her cooked cabbage dishes.
Cheap Healthy Meals from the Mediterranean Diet
The authentic Mediterranean Diet was a peasant diet. Folks didn’t have a lot of money but they would always have satisfying meals on the dinner table. Most of their food came from the land or trades were made for items they didn’t have. In the Mediterranean there was (and still is) an abundance of olive trees as well as fresh herbs growing everywhere. The majority of people tended to their own gardens. They had animals that they would eat for meat as well as for milk and eggs.
Most of us don’t live off of the land anymore and food is becoming increasingly expensive. Some of the items that are super inexpensive in the Mediterranean are not as cheap in other areas. We are hearing requests more and more for tips on how to make cheap healthy meals that still follow the tenets of the Mediterranean Diet. This is why over the past couple of months, myself and Mediterranean Living have been focusing on eating Mediterranean for less. Here are some things I think about on a daily basis to save money while eating the Mediterranean Diet.
1. Buy Food at Expensive Stores (huh??)
Yes…really. It seems counter-intuitive to go to expensive food stores to save money. But the truth is, stores like Whole Foods, or as my friend used to say “Whole Paycheck”, often have bulk food sections that have real potential for saving money. Buying Mediterranean staples like beans, nuts, grains, and seeds in bulk can be a great way to make cheap healthy meals. The trick, of course, is to go to the bulk section, check for other sale items in the store and then get out before you are sucked in by the more expensive food items.
2. Invest in the Right Tools
Unfortunately, we don’t always get the most out of the ingredients we buy at the store. Food gets wasted in the cooking process or goes bad because we don’t have the time to make the recipes we had planned to make. This is why investing in these cooking tools will save you money in the long run.
Crockpot Slow Cooker
Time is valuable and we don’t have the time anymore to sit over a pot of stew as it cooks for 4 hours. Enter the Crockpot, stage left. This awesome kitchen appliance will save you a ton of time in the kitchen and help make your food taste amazing. You can usually get one for under $50 and you will thank yourself 100 times over for the pure ease of cooking with a Crock pot (Slow Cooker). Also, save unused bits of vegetables and meat throughout the week and make a delicious soup at the end of it.
For about twice the price of a slow cooker, you can get an InstantPot pressure cooker that has the function of a slow cooker but can also be a rice cooker, sauté pan, yogurt maker, sterilizer, steamer and more! I have cooked a whole chicken in it in 20 minutes. They also make the perfect soft or hard boiled eggs in a matter of minutes.
These handy kitchen tools will save you so much time and make your food taste really good. Sheet Pan Chicken Thighs with Peppers and Onions is a cheap healthy meal that can be made all on one sheet pan. Save the leftovers and juices at the bottom of the pan to make a paella or any other dish that calls for chicken, peppers and onions. Just delicious!
If you’re a coffee drinker like myself it might be hard to give up coffee for the sake of saving money. Making your coffee at home is the cheaper alternative to buying it at a café. Simple contraptions like a french press are an easy way to make your own coffee at home. Plus, you get to brew it to your liking and make it perfect!
I have mason jars all over my house. I use these for storing leftover food and making ferments. These come with airtight lids that will keep your food good for longer. You can also get special lids that allow you to make ferments such as pickles or sauerkraut.
Properly storing your leftovers goes a long way. Avoid waste and losing money by getting good storage containers. Make cheap healthy meals even cheaper by making more leftovers.
3. Eat More Beans (the Cheapest and Healthiest of Them All)
Rice and beans is not the only way to eat beans. From falafel in Egypt to lentil soup in Spain, mouth watering bean dishes are abundant all across the Mediterranean. During a time when meat was more expensive and harder to come by, beans sustained the most humble people and still do to this day.
4. Buy In Season Ingredients
When you buy food that’s in season it’s tastier and cheaper. Local foods that are picked when ripe give you the most nutrient packed fruits and vegetables possible. We freeze a lot of food when it is in season and enjoy it all year long. My favorite recipe to freeze is Genovese Pesto. There is nothing quite like have “fresh” pesto on pasta in the middle of the winter. Depending on where you live certain foods will be in season at different times. I recommend checking out this site to see what foods are in season in your region.
5. Grow Your Own Herbs
Having a culinary herb garden will bring you so much joy if you like to cook. It will also save you money! Something that has happened to me too many times is that I buy a container of herbs at the grocery store for a specific recipe, I use some of it, and then the rest goes bad by the end of the week. When you grow your own herbs you can pick exactly what you need and voila! Having your own herb garden will also make you a more creative chef as you invent new herb combinations that will add pizzazz to any recipe. My wife also dries herbs so we save money on dried herbs as well. AND, she saves the seeds so we don’t even have to buy more seeds, saving even more money.
Cheap Healthy Meals from the Mediterranean
1. Greek Omelette with Zucchini and Mint
Price Per Serving: $2.52
2. Mediterranean Bowl with Hummus and Feta
Cost Per Serving: $3.75
3. Tuscan White Bean and Sausage Soup
Cost Per Serving: $3.26
4. Sheet Pan Chicken Thighs with Peppers and Onions
Cost Per Serving: $4.13
5. Pasta alla Puttanesca with Canned Tuna
Cost Per Serving: $4.77
Want to see a whole day of Cheap Healthy Meals?
Check out our “Mediterranean Diet | What I Eat in a Day on a Budget” Video