The U.S. Department of Agriculture released new dietary guidelines recently that recommend a "plate" filled with nutrient-dense whole grains, vegetables, and fruits and modest amounts of lean protein. The guidelines take aim at foods linked with obesity, heart disease, and diabetes and urge reductions in the consumption of saturated fats, refined grains, sodium, and added sugar. It may take home cooks a bit of effort to create healthful and satisfying meals in line with the recommendations, but doing so doesn't have to be expensive. Cheapism.com recently cooked up 15 dinners for a family of four that honor the spirit of the dietary guidelines and cost less than $15 each.
Follow the New Dietary Guidelines With 15 Dinners Under $15
It's hard to beat the satisfying flavor of a whole roast chicken, the whole-grain goodness of brown rice, and the nutritional value of broccoli. Rub the skin with olive oil and sprinkle with salt, pepper, and paprika. Roast about one hour at 400 degrees, basting periodically with pan juices. For the rice, saut� a chopped onion in olive oil until translucent, then add 1 cup brown rice and stir to coat. When the rice turns translucent, add 2 cups water or chicken stock and a dash of thyme. After the liquid comes to a boil, lower the heat to simmer, cover, and cook about 40 minutes. Cut broccoli into stalks and steam until tender but still bright green; add a bit of chopped red pepper for more color.
Every now and then a pork chop can be part of a healthy diet. With the recommendation to cut back on consumption of red meat (the USDA considers pork a red meat), wait for a sale on this cut before rotating it into the weekly menu. Brown chops in a skillet with a bit of oil, pour in enough chicken stock to keep them from drying out, and bake in a 400-degree oven for about 20 minutes, depending on thickness. For the applesauce, peel, core, and chop apples, then cook over low heat with a little water in a covered saucepan until tender. Mash with a fork and add a sprinkle of cinnamon for extra flavor. Steam green beans until barely tender, then saut� in oil with a minced garlic clove and an optional sprinkling of chopped walnuts.
According to the new dietary guidelines, eggs are no longer considered a killer source of cholesterol. They're also one of the cheapest sources of protein, and a few go a long way. A frittata is much like a baked omelet and can be cooked with a variety of fillings. Add cubed, boiled potatoes, saut閑d vegetables (broccoli, bell pepper, onion, zucchini), and a bit of shredded cheese for a hefty nutritional hit. Serve with The New York Times' rendition of vegan red lentil soup, which takes about 75 minutes from start to finish, for a healthy meal.
Using lean and low-sodium ingredients for this dinnertime casserole keep it on safe dietary ground, while the mushrooms and side salad fill out the nutritional value. Brown meat (with seasoning) in a nonstick skillet and set aside. Wipe out the skillet, add 1 tablespoon oil, and brown one chopped onion and 4 ounces of sliced cremini mushrooms. After seven minutes or so, add four chopped red potatoes and brown for five minutes. Add salt and pepper and a pinch of thyme and rosemary. Spray an 11-by-7-inch baking pan with cooking oil and add the saut閑d vegetables and turkey, along with one-half cup low-sodium chicken stock. Top with three-quarters cup shredded low-fat Swiss cheese. Bake in a 400-degree oven for 30 minutes, covered with foil, and 15 minutes more uncovered. Sprinkle with chopped parsley and serve with a side salad.
This main-dish salad hits a dietary sweet spot for nutrient-rich vegetables and grains and protein that's light on saturated fat. Hard boil four eggs and empty a 5-ounce container of prewashed baby spinach into a large bowl. Cut boneless chicken thighs into 1-inch pieces and brown in a small amount of oil. Remove, drain, and place atop the spinach. Add one thinly sliced red onion to the oil remaining in the skillet, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and saut� until browned and caramelized. Pour the hot oil and onions over the spinach and toss. Peel and slice the eggs and lay them over the top of the salad. Serve with crusty whole-grain bread.
Keep the kids happy and healthy with chicken fingers made from scratch and vegetables that sweeten as they roast. Start with 1.5 pounds chicken tenders and dip pieces into two beaten eggs seasoned with salt and pepper and a pinch of garlic powder and thyme. In a shallow bowl combine 1 cup Panko crumbs and one-quarter cup grated Parmesan. Coat the chicken in this mixture and set on a baking sheet. Heat the oven to 425 degrees. Dice four Yukon gold potatoes into 1-inch cubes and place on a second baking sheet along with florets from one cauliflower. Sprinkle with olive oil, salt, pepper, and sweet paprika and toss to coat. Bake vegetables for about 20 minutes, then stir and place chicken in oven. Bake everything for another 12 to 15 minutes.
The light and fluffy texture of this semolina-based grain is a welcome change from the simple carbohydrates found in pasta, and the fresh vegetables mixed in could easily fill the recommended quarter of a dinner plate. Prepare couscous by following package directions and add in 1 cup frozen corn while the grains steam. Just before serving, stir in tiny pieces of steamed broccoli, radish, olives, raisins, chopped parsley, grated carrot, and chopped walnuts. Serve as a side dish or add cut-up pieces of leftover pork loin or chicken (or cube and saut� a few chicken tenders) for a one-bowl meal.
Fit for a busy night, this dish uses leftover roast chicken and low-fat cheese and requires minimal preparation time. Saut� a sliced onion until it takes on some color and then add two chopped garlic cloves and a shredded zucchini. Heat for a few minutes, then add shredded chicken and shredded low-fat jack cheese. Place a couple of large spoonfuls on one-half of a tortilla, fold over, and brown on both sides in a heavy skillet (repeat until filling and tortillas are used up). Serve with tomato salsa and a big leafy-green salad livened up with fresh orange slices to complete the nutritional circle.
Store-bought tomato sauce does in a pinch, but pasta mixed with fresh vegetables hews much closer to the new dietary guidelines. A recipe from Barilla calls for whole-grain spaghetti and saut閑d diced zucchini, diced yellow squash, thinly sliced yellow pepper, chopped asparagus, and halved cherry tomatoes. (Tip: Winter tomatoes can be hard and tasteless. Halve them, toss in olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and roast at 400 degrees for 15 minutes to bring out the flavor.) Substitute any vegetables that are in season or languishing in the refrigerator.
This is an ideal meal for summer, when the grill is open for business and fresh tomatoes and cucumbers are cheap, plentiful, and delicious. A fistful of parsley in the salad boosts the family's intake of vitamins C and K. For the meatballs, use 1.5 pounds ground turkey or chicken, shallot, ginger, and a spot of sesame oil (a good ingredient to keep on hand to add nutty flavor to steamed vegetables). The glaze in an Epicurious recipe calls for dry sake, but dry white wine or even orange juice is an acceptable substitute. To make an Israeli salad, finely dice cucumbers (the long English variety work well), parsley, and tomatoes and toss with a vinaigrette made of equal parts olive oil and lemon juice. Sprinkle the salad with salt and add a bit of chopped fresh mint to brighten the flavor.
Shrimp is a splurge at about $10 a pound, but a little goes a long way, especially when combined with pasta. Better yet, it's no longer a cholesterol taboo. A recipe from Woman's Day uses both olive oil and butter, but substituting a bit more oil for the butter is heart-healthy cooking. Other ingredients in this simple dish include garlic, lemon zest and juice, parsley, and a hit of crushed red pepper. A side of wilted greens, such as spinach or Swiss chard, ups the meal's nutritional value.
Soups and stews, the epitome of comfort foods on cold winter days, use cheaper cuts of meat with lots of connective tissue and collagen that break down when cooked for a long time. And because the meats are cooked with other ingredients, serving sizes are smaller and thriftier than, say, steak. A Betty Crocker recipe for goulash, a Hungarian beef stew flavored with paprika and caraway seed, calls for chuck roast cut in chunks, beef broth, onion, canned diced tomatoes, and seasonings. (Double the recipe and freeze half for another meal.) Serve the goulash over very wide egg noodles and accompany with a peppery arugula salad with toasted walnuts and a mustard vinaigrette to cut the richness of the stew.
This nutritious meal features lean meat, low-fat dairy, and whole grains. It takes some forethought -- in the form of overnight marinating -- but is fairly quick to make. Cut two boneless chicken breast halves into thin strips and thread each onto a bamboo skewer. Marinate in a mixture of one-third cup olive oil, the juice of one lemon, 1 tablespoon chopped rosemary, and one chopped garlic clove. When ready to cook, take the skewers from the marinade and bake on a rimmed baking sheet at 425 degrees for about 10 minutes, or until browned and cooked through. Serve over rice with tzatziki, a mixture of yogurt, cucumber, lemon juice, garlic, and dill or mint that makes a creamy sauce for the chicken and rice.
Pizza can be quite healthy by keeping the cheese to a minimum, using a whole-grain crust, and adding fresh vegetables. Buy premade crust pizza dough at the supermarket or from the neighborhood pizzeria. Roll out to about 14 inches square, or a size that fits your largest baking sheet. (Sprinkle the baking sheet with 1 tablespoon cornmeal so the crust won't stick.) Top the crust with a drizzle of olive oil and a selection of sliced vegetables, such as zucchini, mushrooms, onions (either raw or caramelized), peppers, baby spinach, olives, and tomatoes, along with shredded basil. Shave some Parmesan over the top with a vegetable peeler or crumble ricotta, feta, or goat cheese (low-fat mozzarella is okay but doesn't melt as well as full-fat cheese). Bake in a 500-degree oven for 12 to 15 minutes, until crust is golden.
While most canned foods top the charts in sodium and sugar, tuna is an exception. This lean protein also contains omega-3 fatty acids and B vitamins. Linguine with Italian tuna and white beans, from Epicurious, uses pricey Italian tuna in oil, but regular chunk white tuna in oil is a good substitute and frequently on sale. If you use canned cannellini beans, rinse and drain the beans to lower the sodium. (A healthier choice: Soak dried beans in water for at least four hours and cook until tender.) While cooking the pasta (choose a whole-grain variety), drain the tuna and use the oil to make a dressing with lemon juice and garlic. Toss the pasta with the tuna, beans, and dressing. Accompany with roasted asparagus: Trim 1 pound of the green spears and line them up on a baking sheet; drizzle with olive oil, salt, and pepper; and roast at 400 degrees for about 10 minutes. Sprinkle with grated Parmesan and bake another minute or so until cheese melts.