"For many American families, it seems like the food we can afford isn’t always the healthiest. "

Healthy Eating on a Budget — Navigating the Food Desert

How do families make sure their kids not only get enough to eat, but eat healthy food as well? It can be a challenge, to say the least, and parents often can feel pulled in opposite directions.

For many American families, it seems like the food we can afford isn’t always the healthiest. More nutritious options often appear to be out of reach. Processed foods are often more affordable than fresh produce and meat. In addition, many urban areas lack local, accessible supermarkets, which creates “food deserts” in the middle of struggling communities. These roadblocks to healthy choices tend to reinforce eating habits that are less than ideal. It’s a complicated problem.

A lot of us have been there. Many parents work multiple jobs to make ends meet. At the end of the day, we might have to travel miles through heavy traffic to get to the grocery store. But there’s usually a fast-food restaurant nearby and—god bless them—that’s usually what the kids want for dinner anyway. When budgets for both money and time are already stretched tight, it’s easy for a more nutritious diet to fall off the priority list.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. The truth is that healthy, affordable food is available in more places than you think, even if it’s just at the dollar store down the road. With a little bit of planning and a recipe or two from the internet, you can build a delicious family meal around inexpensive staples like eggs, rice, pasta, yogurt, and canned vegetables or beans. For snacking, even a few bananas from the convenience store can go a long way.

Hopefully, a trip to the market for fresh produce can happen sooner rather than later. But the point is that it’s not impossible to enjoy nutritious food while shopping on a budget.

Families who cook at home and share mealtimes together, when they can, enjoy all kinds of benefits. These include building stronger family ties, higher grades and better behavior at school for the kids, and setting a consistent example of nutritious eating that will help them grow up healthy—without breaking the bank. It can be a challenging road to navigate, but it’s worth it.

Looking for inspiration? Here’s a great recipe you can make tonight for less than $2 per serving.

Chicken Parmigiana


  • 1 (16-ounce) package spaghetti, prepared according to package directions ($0.80)
  • 1/2 cup bread crumbs ($0.15)
  • 1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese ($0.33)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons Italian seasoning ($0.03)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons garlic powder ($0.04)
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper ($0.05)
  • 1 pound boneless skinless chicken breasts ($4.64)
  • 1 egg, beaten ($0.08)
  • 1 (8-ounce) can tomato sauce ($0.50)
  • 1 cup shredded low-fat mozzarella cheese ($0.81)

(Ingredient costs calculated from prices checked at our local supermarket in October 2019.)


Preheat the oven to 375° Fahrenheit.

In a shallow bowl, combine the bread crumbs, Parmesan, Italian seasoning, garlic powder, and pepper.

Divide the chicken breasts into four portions, and pound flat.

Dip each chicken breast in the beaten egg, then dip into the bread crumb mixture to evenly coat.

Place the chicken on a greased baking sheet.

Bake for 10 minutes, turn, and bake for another 10-12 minutes or until the chicken is fully cooked (internal temperature of at least 165° Fahrenheit).

Spoon tomato sauce over the chicken, and sprinkle mozzarella cheese on top.

Bake for another 3 minutes, until the cheese melts.

Serve on a bed of spaghetti.

Serves 4.