The grocery store has a seemingly endless number of options, which can make brainstorming healthy meals for your family a daunting task. But grocery shopping doesn’t have to be so stressful. In fact, the solution to your meal planning worries may already be in your freezer.
Ground beef, or hamburger meat, is a staple product in American kitchens, and for good reason too. Not only is it rich in vitamin B12 and iron, but it freezes well, is cost effective and is versatile. (Yes, you can make more than only burgers with a package!)
Here are 5 healthy and budget-friendly meals you can whip up with a package of hamburger meat.
Restaurant meatballs are delicious, but they are often loaded with saturated fat and calories — in part because they’re rarely made with lean cuts of beef. Whipping them up at home, on the other hand, can make for a light and healthy dinner the whole family will love.
To make, use at least 90 percent lean ground beef, and add bulk with diced carrots and onions. Skip out on ingredients like full-fat milk and cheeses and avoid frying them — roast or simmer in sauce instead. Make it a meal by serving with your favorite pasta sauce over a bed of spaghetti squash, whole-wheat pasta, or zucchini noodles.
Pro tip: Swap plain breadcrumbs for whole-wheat breadcrumbs or pulverized high-fiber crackers (like GG crackers. Wasa, or fiber rich crackers) to give your meatballs a boost of fiber.
The chili often offered in restaurants is laden with fat and calories, but you can prep your bowl at home to contain slimming fiber and energy-boosting complex carbs. Similar to restaurant meatballs, part of the reason chili in restaurants is often more caloric is the high fat content in ground beef. Avoid this calorie bomb by using at least 90 percent lean ground beef sirloin when making yours at home. Also, keep your chili slim by limiting high-fat toppings like cheddar cheese, avocado and sour cream. Instead, load your bowl up with toppings like low-fat shredded cheese, green onions, cilantro, roasted garlic cloves, pickled jalapenos, diced red onion, and/or a dollop of plain Greek yogurt.
Pro Tip: If using canned beans, drain and rinse under cold water to reduce the sodium content.
Modern meatloaf is making a name for itself, and with the right guidance, you can whip up a low-cal, healthy dish sure to please even the biggest traditionalist. Again, opt for at least 90 percent lean ground beef for this dish, and add in non-starchy vegetables like zucchini, bell peppers, mushrooms and onions to add bulk and flavor. Egg whites can be used instead of whole eggs to bind the meatloaf, and trim calories and cholesterol from the final product. Last, upgrade traditional breadcrumbs to whole-wheat breadcrumbs, to craft a dish that provides fiber too, which will help keep you feeling full.
Pro tip: Serve meatloaf with vitamin C-rich spinach, and broccoli or cauliflower to boost iron absorption.
A few simple tweaks can help you put a healthy spin on family taco night. Reach for 9- percent lean ground beef to start. Next, pass on the premade taco spice blends — which are often loaded with added salt and MSG, and flavor your taco meat with spices like cumin and chili powder. You can also experiment with ginger, garlic or soy sauce to add an Asian flair to the meal.
Pump up the flavor even more and add bulk to your meat by dicing onions and peppers, and cooking them right in. Skip the hard shells, which are traditionally deep-fried, and go with either soft shells or large lettuce leaves for your vessel. Plan an array of light toppings for everyone to choose from. Grilled veggies, salsa, non-fat Greek yogurt, shredded lettuce, pico de gallo, hot sauce and lime all pair well with traditional tacos. Ingredients like cabbage, carrot slaw and radishes can give your taco a fresh crunch.
Pro tip: Go with soft corn tortillas instead of flour tortillas to save 30 calories per tortilla.
5. Stuffed peppers
Fun fact: bell peppers contain more vitamin C than oranges, making stuffed peppers a standout low-carb dish. To make the filling for this hearty dish, combine 90 percent lean ground beef with ground meat with a higher-fiber grain like brown rice, quinoa or farro. To make your stuffed peppers even more “low carb,” swap the grains out completely for rice/grated cauliflower, which gives the illusion of white rice for a fraction of the carbs and calories. Adding different seasonings, spice blends and chopped vegetables like celery, carrots, and beans to the ground beef, can give your peppers different flavor profiles to create a really unique dish.
Pro tip: Using Italian blend spices and grated parmesan cheese will offer an Italian flavor, while cooking your meat with soy sauce, ginger and garlic will give your stuffed peppers an Asian spin.
Tanya Zuckerbrot MS, RD, is a Registered Dietitian in New York City and the author of two bestselling diet books: The F-Factor Diet and The Miracle Carb Diet: Make Calories and Fat Disappear – with Fiber.