As mentioned in this blog post, there has been some debate about the affordability of Canada’s new food guide. These comments usually result in people giving advice for keeping your grocery bill low and serving your family cheap, healthy dinners. Advice is great, but sometimes examples are necessary to really illustrate an idea.

I used the prices from two local chain stores to price out a week of suppers for who I normally feed: two adults and two young children. Prices vary locally, of course, and if you are able to go to discount or wholesale stores, you may be better off in the long run.

My closest grocery store tends to have a good selection of marked-down products (including meat, produce and bakery items) first thing in the morning. I take advantage of this when I can eat things before they spoil, or if I plan on freezing them.

When I went to the store a couple of days ago, I was able to get 50% off a package of high-quality (in this case I think that means grass-fed) chicken breasts, which worked out to be a cheaper price per pound than the “regular” chicken breasts that are on sale for $3.99/lb. I also got a package of stewing beef for 50% off. For the sake of this blog post I will use this chicken (4 breasts) and beef (about 1lb) in the meal plan.

If you are really aiming to save money, you can of course replace all meat for plant-based protein, but I recognize that not everyone is willing to do that.

Let’s get cookin’!

Grocery list

First, let’s get started with a grocery list. These prices are from Walmart (W) and Atlantic Superstore (S). I live in Nova Scotia, so your local prices may vary.

  • Meat
    • Stewing beef (~1lb) $3.09 (S)
    • Chicken breasts (~2lb) $8.02 (S)
  • Dairy & Eggs
    • Cheddar cheese (700g) $7.97 (W)
    • Eggs (18) $3.87 (W)
  • Bakery
    • Whole grain tortillas (12) x2 $5.58 (S)
    • Hamburger buns (8) $2.22 (W) (I did not see a whole wheat option on the website, but that would be ideal)
  • Frozen
    • California style vegetables (750g) $2.27 (W)
    • Asian style vegetables (750g) $2.27 (W)
    • Mixed vegetables (2kg) $4.44 (W)
  • Produce
    • Sweet potato x2 $2.14 (W)
    • Romaine hearts x2 $5.00 (S)
    • Potatoes (7lb) $3.97 (W)
    • Carrots (3lb) $2.49 (S)
    • Garlic (3) $0.57 (W)
    • Celery $4.97 (W)
    • Onions (3lb) $2.47 (W)
    • Green pepper $1.03 (W)
    • English cucumber $0.99 (S)
  • Pantry
    • BBQ sauce $1.97 (W)
    • Fajita seasoning $0.99 (W) (Make it yourself if you can!)
    • Salad dressing $1.87 (W)
    • Beef bouillon cubes $1.27 (W)
    • Tuna x2 $2.34 (W)
    • Whole grain rotini (375g) $1.47 (W)
    • Whole grain brown rice (1.6kg) $4.97 (W)
    • Diced tomatoes (796mL) $0.97 (W)
    • Black beans x2 (540mL) $1.76
    • Bread crumbs (425g) $1.47

Let’s assume you already have the following in your cupboards and fridge:

  • Oil
  • Spices
  • Cornstarch
  • Burger condiments
  • Butter or margarine (for the sweet potatoes and vegetables)

Grand total: $82.44

Yes, that sounds like a lot for a week of dinners. But some of these ingredients will last beyond a week (seven pounds of potatoes and a giant bag of rice, for example) and if you break it down, that’s about $11.78 per meal, and $2.94 per serving! That’s less than a fast food meal! These dinners are cheap, healthy and easy.

Obviously, some of these ingredients can also be used for other meals.

But what will I eat?

Here are the meals that you can make with those groceries. When I suggest “salad”, I assume lettuce, carrots, celery, and cucumber will be used.

  • BBQ chicken, sweet potato, vegetables
    • Pretty self-explanatory. Marinade the chicken in the BBQ sauce, cook potatoes, heat frozen vegetables.
  • Chicken fajitas, vegetables
    • Again, pretty self-explanatory. I included a bag of Asian-style frozen vegetables in lieu of fresh peppers. Frozen is often more affordable than fresh and lasts longer.
  • Cheesy tuna pasta, salad
    • I don’t have a recipe for this, but I figure tossing a couple cans of tuna and some shredded cheese into a box of cooked pasta would be a good substitute for boxed mac & cheese.
  • Beans & rice, vegetables
    • I used this recipe for inspiration. Use brown instead of white rice. I left out the jalapeno (I am the only one in my family who would like it) and fresh herbs (to save a bit of money). Use the frozen vegetables.
  • Black bean burgers, fries, salad
    • I like this bean burger recipe. I did not include the ingredients for the mayo. Use potatoes to make your own fries instead of buying a bag of frozen ones.
  • Beef stew, salad
    • I used this recipe. If there are extra hamburger buns, you can use those instead of rolls.
  • Egg & veggie wraps
    • This is an easy one, and my kids like it! Scramble some eggs, cut up some vegetables, and wrap it up in tortillas.

There may even be some leftovers for lunches the following day.

What are your favorite cheap, healthy dinners?

Cheap, healthy dinners for under $3 per serving