The Dollar Menu: $5 meal ideas for the family
By: Michelle Gilliam
Healthy eating doesn’t have to break the bank. For just $5 per person, you can feed your family a nutritious meal at home or in a variety of local restaurants. If you’ve been hesitant to start eating healthier, then here are a few ways to open your eyes to a nutritious lifestyle while keeping your wallet tightly closed.
Amy Galena, a clinical dietician at Wolfson Children’s Hospital / Baptist Health, says the easiest way to eat healthy meals on a budget is to shop for seasonal produce at local farmers’ markets. Try picking up some late-summer fruits and vegetables like apples, avocados, corn, cantaloupe, cucumbers, eggplant, green beans or melons while visiting the Jacksonville Farmers Market on Beaver Street, the Riverside Arts Market or the Beaches Green Market.
Budget-friendly foods such as pasta, rice, potatoes, canned chicken, tuna or beans are available year-round and are sold at a variety of grocery, drug and convenience stores. Galena also suggests buying in bulk to reduce costs or purchasing meats on sale and freezing them so they do not spoil before you are ready to eat them.
Restaurants are also offering a variety of healthy options for the entire family. Subway now sells a six-inch sub with a 21-ounce drink for only $4. The world’s largest restaurant chain also markets healthy meals for kids such as a mini sub, apple slices and milk for less than $5. At Boston Market, a restaurant offering home-style meals, families can buy a quarter rotisserie chicken with healthy sides including cooked spinach, fresh corn, steamed vegetables or green beans. Fast-food favorite Wendy’s also has some healthy options for less than $5 such as the grilled chicken flatbread or such children’s options as grilled chicken tenders, fruit and milk.
Galena reminds us that eating a balanced, healthy diet provides a wide variety of benefits. “Consuming a balanced diet helps people increase their immune systems which fights colds and viruses, raises energy levels and assists in maintaining a healthy weight,” says Galena. “Healthy eating can prevent the development of chronic diseases such as type II diabetes, kidney disease and heart disease. Additionally, studies show that healthy eating helps maintain a positive mood and is vital to a child’s proper growth and development.”
Not only can poor eating cause a decrease in energy, vitamin and mineral deficiencies and poor growth and development in children, it can also lead to malnourishment or weight problems. “If you don’t provide your body with the nutrients it needs, your body cannot function to its full potential. Unhealthy eating habits can also lead to chronic illnesses and diseases such as diabetes and heart disease.”
Galena says it is important to carve out time for the entire family to share a meal. Parents set an example for their children, so creating good nutritional habits at home sets children up for a future of healthy eating. “Research shows that families who take the time to eat together are often healthier and more successful socially,” said Galena. “We all have busy schedules, but taking an hour or so out of our hectic schedules can teach children a lifetime of proper eating.”
$5 Chicken Tacos Recipe*
- 2 chicken breasts boneless
- 2 zucchinis
- 1 onion
- Fresh cilantro
- Chili powder
- Salt to taste
- Whole wheat tortillas
- Slice the chicken breasts to make 4 long half chicken breasts.
- Cover the chicken breasts with chili powder and salt according to taste preference and cook in a stovetop sauté pan for about 10 minutes, or until chicken is cooked through.
- As the chicken is cooling, chop and lightly cook the vegetables to preference.
- Add cilantro for taste to vegetables at this time.
- Slice the cooked chicken into bite size pieces, add the vegetables, sour cream and salsa to the tortillas, and serve!