Write It Sideways

7 Cheap and Healthy Meal Ideas for Starving Writers

For many people, today’s economy looks bleak. Then again, haven’t writers always been ‘starving,’ anyway?

Maybe pursuing your dream of writing means you’re living on one income, as is the case with my family. After carefully weighing the pros and cons, I decided to take an indefinite break from teaching when our second child came along. We’re able to afford everything we need on one income, but there’s not a whole lot of room left for extras.

Food is one of our greatest ongoing expenses, but I don’t want to jeopardize my family’s health by filling up on cheapo, pre-packaged rubbish. Instead, I’m doing everything in my power to keep the cost at a point where we can enjoy healthy-but-inexpensive meals every day.

If writing for a living means you’re struggling to make ends meet, here’s a week’s worth of simple meal ideas you and your family can afford. (I make these meals regularly, and they get the thumbs up from my crew):

1. Chilli Con Carne

Makes enough for two meals if served with bread, or over mashed potatoes or rice:

Brown the ground beef with the onion and chilli powder (I use only 1/2 tsp because we like ours mild) in a large skillet. Add the pasta sauce, beans, and however much you want of the green peppers, carrots and mushrooms. Season to taste with salt, pepper, or whatever other spices you like. Let simmer for at least half an hour to let the flavours blend.

The key here is to use less meat and more beans and vegetables to bulk up the chilli. We find it tastes even better the second day.

2. Tuna and Broccoli Pasta Bake

This one is too easy, and very economical. Make as much or as little as you like.

Mix the cooked pasta with the sauce, tuna and broccoli. Spread in a casserole dish, and top with bread crumbs and grated cheese. Bake or grill in the oven until the cheese is melted.

Pasta noodles are dirt cheap. Don’t be afraid to buy the store brand variety, especially if you’re using them in a casserole. Also, canned tuna is less expensive than chicken or beef, and it works really well in many dishes.

3. Homemade Pizza

Don’t be afraid to make your own pizza dough. It’s so much better than store-bought crusts, and you’ll save a ton of money.

Click here for my current favourite recipe for pizza crust. You’ll need:

Follow the directions for this or any other recipe (there are many different techniques you can use, depending on what type of crust you like). I like to pre-bake my crusts a bit before topping them, just to make sure they don’t go soggy.

The cost of making your own pizza is very little, especially if you skip the pepperoni and make it a vegetarian meal.  Some cheap toppings are sliced tomato, frozen spinach (thawed and patted dry), canned pineapple, mushrooms, and sliced bell pepper.

4. Honey Chicken and Vegetable Stir Fry

One large chicken breast is enough to feed a small family, if you make veggies the main event in your meal.

Cook the chicken in a skillet, adding the honey and soy sauce near the end. Add the vegetables to the pan and continue to cook on low until tender. Serve the chicken and vegetables over a bed of rice.

You can substitute any of the vegetables listed here for ones you prefer.

5.  Toasted Tomato Sandwiches

For the perfect lunch or light supper, try this tasty and inexpensive sandwich served with a side salad, fresh corn cob, or carrot sticks.

Toast the bread, then assemble the sandwich and season with salt and pepper. Cream cheese is a nice alternative, too.

6. Vegetable, Egg & Cheese Strata

Eggs aren’t cheap, but a dozen of them generally costs less than a chicken breast or small steak.

A word of warning: this recipe is one in which I eyeball the ingredients instead of measuring. You might need to use more or less to get the right consistency.

Crack the eggs in a bowl and mix with the milk. Put the flour and baking powder in another bowl, and slowly add the egg/milk to the flour while whisking. Add a half cup of shredded cheese to the mixture, if you like. Toss in enough chopped vegetables and cubed bread to soak up the majority of the liquid, but the mixture should still be wet. Pour into a casserole dish and bake until set and lightly browned. Top with a little more shredded cheese and bake again until melted.

7.  Quick Chicken Soup

When we get home late from swimming lessons or kids’ club, this is always the fallback. Serve it with bread rolls or homemade baking powder biscuits.

Boil the pasta, then whisk in one stock cube per cup of water. Add frozen vegetables and cook just until tender. Throw in the beans near the end.

Sure, this soup doesn’t taste as good as one made with homemade chicken stock, but it’s a whole lot fresher than canned soup, and the beans add protein. As long as you have stock cubes on hand, you can substitute pretty much anything you have left over in your fridge.

Stretching Your Dollars

You don’t need any special ingredients to make these healthful meals–just everyday basics available at your grocery store. Best of all, they’re versatile and healthy, all while helping you make the most of your food budget.

Has writing part or full-time affected the way you look at your finances?

What tips do you have for making your dollar go further?

PS If cooking bulk meals on a budget is something that interests you, check out Frugal Mom’s Guide to Once a Month Cooking (aff. link) by Candace Anderson, the Frugal Mom.