Is it possible to make a meal for under $3 per serving? Let’s break it down with nutrition Expert Cara Harbstreet and how she does it with her favorite skillet meal: jambalaya.

“Eating healthy is so expensive.”
“It’s just cheaper to go out and grab something.”
“I don’t really spend that much on food.”

Sound familiar? Comments like these play like a broken record sometimes, you’ve probably heard them all far too often. I consider it a personal mission of mine to prove that a healthy, balanced diet doesn’t come with a hefty price tag. In fact, employing smart shopping tactics can actually lower your grocery bill and help motivate us to cook more meals at home.

Cajun food is a must in my kitchen, so it’s important to find some convenient ways to work it into our weeknight routines. One of our favorite skillet meals?

Weeknight Jambalaya.

This also happens to be one of the cheapest meals that my husband and I cook – between the two of us, we usually have enough for dinner, lunch leftovers the next day, and occasionally another small container of leftovers for a third round.

What makes it so cheap? A combination of looking for in-season ingredients, hitting the canned food aisle, and sourcing from the bulk section.

Yup, the perimeter of the grocery store is NOT the only place to find healthy food.

Sure, that’s where you find produce and milk and meat. But that’s also where you find cakes and pastries (bakery), ice cream popsicles (frozen section), and all sorts of impulse-purchase temptations (checkout aisles).

And for anyone who follows a plant-focused diet, shopping the perimeter is generally less-than-helpful for finding protein alternatives.

So it’s not about avoiding “unhealthy” foods – go ahead and eat it (in moderation!). It’s more about knowing where to get the best bang for your buck, from both a budgetary and nutritional standpoint, and canned foods are among the cheapest items in the grocery store.

For example, stick to options that are lower sodium or have no salt added, since they can become a pretty hefty sodium bomb. The bulk section is a great place to shop because you don’t pay for fancy packaging or pretty labels. Simply measure the amount you need, which in turn helps you waste less food.

Wasted food = wasted money.

So how can you develop a jambalaya recipe that costs less than $3 per serving? Let’s break it down here*:

*Note: Ingredient prices vary based on location and stores

Yellow onion $0.26 $0.99/pound
Red bell pepper $1.25 4 for $5.00
Green bell pepper $0.34 3 for $1.00
Mushrooms, 8 oz. $2.49 $2.49
1 can tomato paste $0.79 $0.79
1 can diced tomatoes $0.99 $0.99
Rice, bulk $0.50 $0.99/pound
Andouille sausage $2.99 $2.99/pound
Seasonings and Spices $1.00 Varies
Green onions $0.12 $0.50 per punch

Total Cost

$10.73 for 6 servings

Not too bad, right? I don’t know of too many places you can go and purchase a meal for a measly $1.78 – even dollar menus are deceiving because nothing on there actually costs $1.00.

And if you’re feeling extra fancy and want a splurge, throw in some shrimp!

Skillet meals and leftovers are a great way to save money on food, so try it out this weeknight.

Head on over for the full recipe and instructions

Cara Harbstreet, MS, RD, LD is a Kansas City-based Registered Dietitian helping individuals jumpstart their journey to wellness. By breaking the cycle of dieting, Cara focuses on creating sustainable lifestyle changes for people who are motivated to reclaim their health. Connect with Cara over at Street Smart Nutrition.

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