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8 Healthy, Seriously Inexpensive Summer Dinners

By Jess Novak
June 5, 2023
Image credit: Pinch of Yum

Gas prices are going up, grocery bills are going up — everything is going up but the paychecks. This impacts every one of us who has a grocery budget, which is to say, pretty much every American but the tip-top of the 1%. Belts are getting tightened everywhere, but if you’re trying to build your meals on expensive but healthful items like organically-raised meat and plenty of fresh produce, they’re going to be even tighter.

However, there are ways to eat really well without giving up wholesome ingredients. By basing more meals around inexpensive proteins, including cheaper cuts of meat, and lower-cost fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, we can put together meals that taste fantastic but are seriously inexpensive — several of these recipes cost less than $2 a serving, and none are over $4.50.

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1. White Bean Ragout

white bean ragout

Image credit: Shutterstock

When it comes to protein, the best bang for your buck is, has been, and always will always be dried beans. While a diet based largely on dried beans may sound a little bleak, please rest assured that there are about ten million ways to make them tender, creamy, and delicious, and this white bean ragout is high among them (especially when served with toasted bread and some garlicky broccoli rabe).

This recipe reminds me of Alison Roman’s brothy beans, which is a fantastic general guideline for making dried beans taste amazing. As Roman notes, they’re endlessly versatile since you can always add some wilted greens, top with a poached egg, and some fresh herbs; there are so many ways to add variety, texture, and flavor. Depending on how many extras you choose, these meals should still work out to about $1.34-$2.20 a serving, which makes them an excellent budget saver.

Try the recipe from Once Upon a Chef.

2. Sweet Chili Chicken Leg Quarters

sweet chili chicken

Image credit: Or Whatever You Do

Chicken leg quarters are the cheapest cut of chicken, but they’re also the juiciest and most flavorful because they contain both the drumstick and thigh. We love this super-simple sweet chili chicken leg quarters recipe, which uses just four ingredients and tastes amazing. We think it’s worth taking the extra time to make this sweet chili sauce rather than buying a store-bought version since it uses honey instead of refined sugar or corn syrup.

Try the recipe from Or Whatever You Do.

3. Spicy Steamed Mussels

easy spicy steamed mussels

Image credit: Carmy

In many parts of the US, mussels are available for anywhere between $2 tp $4 a pound, which means this dinner costs somewhere between $2.42 to $4.42 per person. They’re also a healthy, delicious treat, packed with iron — and way easier to cook than you might think. Just make sure you let them soak in cold water for about 20 minutes before cooking so they can release sand and salt or you’ll end up with crunchy mussels, which no one ever wants. We definitely recommend serving with toasty whole-grain bread to sop up all the delicious broth.

Try the recipe from Carmy.

4. Easy Frittata

easy frittata

Image credit: A Couple Cooks

Eggs are an amazing protein source, and we love how versatile they are. Have some leftover vegetables from last night’s dinner? Mix them into a frittata. Want to use up the rest of some cheese before it goes off? Into the frittata, it goes. This is a healthful dinner that’s just as delicious served either warm or cold, and tastes amazing served with a simple arugula salad.

Try the recipe from A Couple Cooks.

5. Sweet Potato Noodles with Roasted Red Pepper Sauce

Sweet Potato Noodles with Roasted Red Pepper Sauce

Image credit: Detoxinista

Sweet potato noodles or “swoodles,” if you will, are just spiralized pieces of sweet potato, which makes them a really healthful, inexpensive pasta substitute. Sweet potatoes can help offset the currently outrageous price of red bell peppers (fortunately, you only need to use one for this recipe). This sweet potato noodle recipe is delicious all on its own, but if you want to boost the protein content, feel free to add a can of rinsed black beans or some leftover rotisserie chicken.

Try the recipe from Detoxinista.

6. Salmon Burgers

Salmon Burgers

Image credit: Pinch of Yum

So let’s be real: canned salmon can be gross, but it can also be seriously delicious. As is the case so often in life, there are places to cut corners, and there are places to get spendy, and yes, you have to buy good-quality canned fish for it to taste good. There’s no affiliate link here, we just seriously want to recommend Wild Planet’s Wild Sockeye Salmon, which is $7 for a 6-oz can, a price that certainly seems expensive, but even with all the other ingredients, that still works out to less than $4.00 a person for a salmon burger with cabbage slaw, which is a pretty great deal for all those omega-3’s and bright flavors.

Try the recipe from Pinch of Yum.

7. Ground Turkey Fried Rice

Ground Turkey Fried Rice

Image credit: Show Me The Yummy

Lean ground turkey is about $5 a pound, so each serving of this recipe uses only $1.25 worth of turkey. All told, this ground turkey fried rice recipe costs less than $1.75 a serving, and it’s rich in protein, minerals, and lots of vitamins, especially B-complex vitamins. This is a great way to use up leftover brown rice, which the recipe calls for, or if you don’t have any on hand, you can swap it out for leftover quinoa or cauliflower rice.

Try the recipe from Show Me The Yummy.

8. Buffalo Tofu Quinoa Bowls

Buffalo Tofu Quinoa Bowls

Image credit: That Was Vegan

Ingredients like tofu and quinoa are naturally bland, but that means they’re the perfect blank canvases for big, bold flavors, like tangy buffalo hot sauce. These buffalo tofu quinoa bowls are seriously healthy, but the flavors are all totally reminiscent of our favorite bar food: chicken wings. As the recipe author notes, the tofu here is baked, not fried, so there’s no added oil except for the small amount in the sauce.

For a healthier buffalo sauce, use grass-fed butter or ghee in a traditional recipe, or try this coconut oil-based Whole 30 version. This recipe relies on two inexpensive, healthful complete proteins: tofu and quinoa. Even organic tofu costs less than $3 a pound, and quinoa costs about $1 a cup, which means this four-serving recipe can easily be made for under $2 a person, even if you choose mostly organic ingredients.

Try the recipe from That Was Vegan.

Read next: Grocery Prices Skyrocketing? Make These Meals Under $10

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