A Week of Dinners for $50

By Wendy Ruopp, managing editor of EatingWell

A Week of Dinners for $50
A Week of Dinners for $50

Don't send me to the store if you want to eat tonight. I can wander the aisles for ages, clutching a few ragged coupons, and wind up with a jar of capers, a bag of organic buckwheat flour, 2 kiwis, some Vermont Cheddar and a bag of frozen peas. That's an Iron Chef challenge, not dinner. (Good thing I'm somewhat more coordinated as managing editor of EatingWell than I am in the grocery store.)

Related: 5 Bad Habits That Make You Spend More at the Grocery Store
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But for the experts in the EatingWell Test Kitchen, grocery shopping is an art. These women love to spend time at the supermarket-and the secret to their success is that they go in with a plan. The plan is "What's for dinner this week," and its instrument is, of course, a well-crafted shopping list. And because they want me-and you-to succeed in the supermarket, they have planned a week of meals for us and written the shopping list. (Download your printable shopping list here.) They assume that we have, at some point, managed to acquire olive oil, some spices and other useful pantry items that don't need to be replenished this week. (See a list of essentials for stocking a healthy pantry here.) The things we do need to buy for this 5-meal plan all fit, amazingly, in one of-course-I-remembered-it canvas bag and won't cost much more than $50. (Told you they were good.)

Don't Miss: 15 Shopping Tricks to Save Money on Food But Still Eat Well

The week is planned so you eat the freshest ingredients first-asparagus on Monday's Spring Pizza, scallops on Tuesday (you'll use the rest of that cilantro Wednesday for Cincinnati Chili). Does that mean Friday is destined to be lonely leftovers or cuisine of questionable creativity? Not at all: on Tuesday you cooked extra rice, which set up Friday's dinner (Rice, Cheddar & Spinach Pie) nicely. Just the way you planned it.

More Recipes to Try: Cheap Dinner Recipes for $1 or Less Per Serving

Meatless Monday
Money-saving tip: Buying in-season vegetables is almost always better for your wallet, and with spring right around the corner, the selection of green produce skyrockets while the prices drop.

Spring Pizza
Makes: 5 servings
Active time: 25 minutes | Total: 40 minutes
Equipment: Pizza stone or pizza pan
Cost per serving: under $2

Here, asparagus and chives combine with fontina cheese to top this easy pizza recipe. Serve with baby greens tossed with vinaigrette and pecans.

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 bunch asparagus (about 1 pound)
1/2 cup snipped fresh chives (from 1 bunch), divided
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1 pound whole-wheat pizza dough
1 cup shredded fontina or mozzarella cheese

1. Position rack in lower third of oven, place a pizza stone or large pizza pan on the rack and preheat oven to 450°F for at least 15 minutes.
2. Meanwhile, combine 2 tablespoons oil and garlic in a small bowl; set aside. Trim asparagus spears to about 6 inches long; slice any thicker stalks in half lengthwise. Toss in a bowl with the remaining 1 tablespoon oil, 1/4 cup chives, salt and pepper.
3. Roll out dough on a lightly floured surface to about a 14-inch circle.
4. Carefully remove the pizza stone or pan from the oven and set on a heatproof surface, such as your stovetop. Place the dough on the stone or pan and brush with the reserved garlic-oil mixture. Arrange the asparagus in a circular pattern on the dough with the tips facing out. Top with cheese and the remaining chives.
5. Carefully return the stone or pan to the oven and bake the pizza on the lower rack until crispy and golden and the cheese is melted, about 15 minutes.

Per serving: 368 calories; 20 g fat (5 g sat, 8 g mono); 25 mg cholesterol; 39 g carbohydrate; 1 g added sugars; 14 g protein; 3 g fiber; 536 mg sodium; 167 mg potassium. Nutrition bonus: Folate (23% daily value), Vitamin A (20% dv).

Sustainable-Seafood Tuesday
Money-saving tip: Brown rice is an inexpensive pantry staple, and if you buy it in bulk you'll save even more (just make sure to store in an airtight container).

Curry Scallops & Cilantro Rice
Healthy Weight, Healthy Heart
Makes: 4 servings, about 3 scallops & ¾ cup rice each
Active time: 25 minutes | Total: 25 minutes
Cost per serving: under $4.50

This recipe pairs curry-coated scallops and brown rice seasoned with cilantro, scallions and lemon. For this recipe you'll need 3 cups cooked (double it and you'll save cooking time for Friday's meal). Serve with roasted carrots-affordable vehicles for delivering your daily dose of Vitamin A-tossed with cumin and coriander.

1 pound dry sea scallops
½ teaspoon curry powder
½ teaspoon salt, divided
¼ teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1 tablespoon butter
3 cups cooked instant or quick-cooking brown rice
½ cup chopped fresh cilantro
3-4 scallions, thinly sliced
Juice of 1 lemon

1. Pat scallops dry and sprinkle both sides with curry powder, ¼ teaspoon salt and pepper. Heat butter in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat until beginning to sizzle. Add the scallops and cook until golden brown, 2 to 3 minutes per side. Remove to a plate.
2. Add cooked rice, cilantro, scallions, lemon juice and the remaining ¼ teaspoon salt to the pan. Cook, stirring, until heated through, about 1 minute. Serve the scallops with the rice.

Per serving: 305 calories; 5 g fat (2 g sat, 1 g mono); 35 mg cholesterol; 44 g carbohydrate; 0 g added sugars; 19 g protein; 3 g fiber; 750 mg sodium; 342 mg potassium. Nutrition bonus: Vitamin C (15% daily value).

Chili Wednesday
Money-saving tip: Both lean ground beef and beans are affordable sources of protein. You'll save time, too, by cooking a pound of spaghetti tonight and using half for Cincinnati Chili and the other half tomorrow for Pork & Snap Pea Lo Mein.

Cincinnati Chili
High Fiber, Healthy Heart
Makes: 4 servings, about 1 1/4 cups pasta & 1 1/4 cups chili each
Active time: 20 minutes | Total: 35 minutes
Cost per serving: under $3

Cincinnati has a unique spin on chili-they serve it over spaghetti. Typically the chili is just made with meat, no beans, but we couldn't resist adding beans to add fiber and nutrients. Serve with sliced cucumber and red onion with lemon juice and olive oil.

8 ounces whole-wheat spaghetti
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 pound lean (90% or leaner) ground beef
1 medium onion, diced
2 tablespoons chili powder
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 15-ounce can crushed tomatoes, preferably fire-roasted
1 14-ounce can reduced-sodium beef broth
1 15-ounce can kidney beans, rinsed
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro, divided

1. Cook pasta in a large pot of boiling water until just tender, 8 to 10 minutes or according to package directions. Drain and set aside.
2. Meanwhile, heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add beef, onion, chili powder and cinnamon. Cook, stirring and breaking up lumps with a spoon, until the onion is beginning to soften, about 5 minutes. Stir in tomatoes and broth; bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a lively simmer and cook, stirring frequently, until the sauce is thickened, about 15 minutes.
3. Stir beans and all but 2 tablespoons cilantro into the sauce. Cook, stirring, until heated through, about 1 minute more. Serve the chili over the pasta. Garnish with the remaining cilantro.

Per serving: 548 calories; 14 g fat (4 g sat, 7 g mono); 72 mg cholesterol; 71 g carbohydrate; 0 g added sugars; 38 g protein; 17 g fiber; 696 mg sodium; 1,117 mg potassium. Nutrition bonus: Zinc (52% daily value), Iron (43% dv), Vitamin A (42% dv), Magnesium (39% dv), Potassium (32% dv), Folate (27% dv), Vitamin C (22% dv).

Stir-Fry Thursday
Money-saving tip: The cost of this recipe is kept low by using dried pasta and condiments easily found in a well-stocked pantry.

Pork & Snap Pea Lo Mein
Healthy Weight High Fiber Healthy Heart
Makes: 4 servings, about 1 1/2 cups each
Active time: 30 minutes | Total: 30 minutes
Cost per serving: under $2

Lo mein is a Chinese restaurant takeout favorite that's easy to make at home. This lo mein recipe features lean pork loin chops and snap peas, but snow peas or asparagus work well too. Serve with shredded radish and cabbage tossed with rice vinegar.

8 ounces whole-wheat spaghetti
1/3 cup reduced-sodium soy sauce
3 tablespoons rice vinegar
2 teaspoons cornstarch
1 teaspoon sugar
2 tablespoons canola oil
2 cups snap peas, trimmed
12 ounces boneless pork loin chops or tenderloin, trimmed, cut into thin strips
3 cloves garlic, minced
3-4 scallions, sliced

1. Cook pasta in a large pot of boiling water until just tender, 8 to 10 minutes or according to package directions. Drain.
2. Combine soy sauce, rice vinegar, cornstarch and sugar in a small bowl.
3. Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add snap peas and cook, stirring frequently, until beginning to soften, about 2 minutes. Add pork and cook, stirring, until no longer pink on the outside, about 2 minutes. Add garlic and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Stir the soy sauce mixture, pour into the pan and cook, stirring, until thickened, 30 seconds to 1 minute. Remove from the heat. Add the pasta to the pan and toss to coat with the sauce. Serve topped with scallions.

Per serving: 413 calories; 12 g fat (2 g sat, 6 g mono); 50 mg cholesterol; 52 g carbohydrate; 1 g added sugars; 27 g protein; 8 g fiber; 756 mg sodium; 412 mg potassium. Nutrition bonus: Magnesium (27% daily value), Iron (21% dv), Zinc (19% dv), Vitamin C (17% dv).

Get-Your-Grains Friday
Money-saving tip: By relying on three dairy staples-eggs, milk and cheese-this recipe saves you money at the grocery store.

Rice, Cheddar & Spinach Pie
Makes: 6 servings
Active time: 15 minutes | Total: 45 minutes
Cost per serving: under $2

This rice, spinach and Cheddar pie is a cinch to prepare-especially if you have leftover cooked rice. (If you don't, follow package directions for 4 servings to get about 3 cups cooked rice). Serve with steamed artichokes with light mayo mixed with lemon for dipping.

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 small onion, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 10-ounce package frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
3 cups cooked instant or quick-cooking brown rice
1 cup diced extra-sharp Cheddar cheese
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 large eggs
1/4 cup nonfat milk

1. Preheat oven to 425°F. Generously coat a 9-inch pie pan with cooking spray.
2. Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add onion and cook, stirring frequently, until beginning to brown, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and spinach; cook, stirring, 1 minute more. Transfer to a large bowl. Add rice, cheese, pepper and salt
to the bowl and stir to combine.
3. Whisk eggs and milk in a medium bowl. Stir into the spinach-rice mixture. Transfer to the prepared pan and smooth the top with a spatula.
4. Bake the pie until lightly browned in spots, about 25 minutes. Let stand for 5 minutes before cutting into wedges.

Per serving: 340 calories; 18 g fat (6 g sat, 8 g mono); 144 mg cholesterol; 30 g carbohydrate; 0 g added sugars; 14 g protein; 3 g fiber; 309 mg sodium; 300 mg potassium. Nutrition bonus: Vitamin A (119% daily value), Calcium & Folate (23% dv).

What's on your shopping list of basics for a week of healthy meals?

By Wendy Ruopp

Wendy Ruopp has been the managing editor of EatingWell for most of her adult life. Although she writes about food for the Weeknights column of EatingWell Magazine, her husband does the cooking at home.

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