Budget-friendly meals inspired by childhood recipes

Nutritious nibbles

PHOTO: Katie Smith / Unsplash

By: Saije Rusimovici, Staff Writer

Exam and paper-writing season means less time to do everything including preparing and eating healthy meals. While it may be tempting to rely on food delivery apps and takeout for your meals while studying, it can be difficult to find options that are nutritious and cost-efficient. These easy, budget-friendly recipes will give you the fuel you need to focus. Now, let’s crush these midterms! 

Rainbow Salads 

During quarantine, my family and I went through a huge salad phase. To this day, I still prepare big salads with lots of colourful veggies so they are less boring — both in visual components and taste. To save money and avoid wasting fresh produce, one of my favourite tips is to buy jarred or canned items where you can. This recipe is just my personal go-to vegetables, but feel free to adjust and substitute according to your preferences! 

Prep time: 15 min 

Cook time: 0 min 

Ingredients: (makes 2–3 servings) 

    • 4 handfuls of pre-washed lettuce of your choice (can last up to a week in the fridge!)
    • 2 handfuls of fresh veggies of your choice, chopped (my favourites are purple cabbage, radishes, and matchstick carrots!)
    • ½ cup sweet corn, beets, or peas (or a combination of all three) 
    • ½ cup budget-friendly protein (firm tofu, canned chickpeas, or canned tuna) 
    • Optional: add some zesty green olives or jarred red peppers for a bit of kick


  1. Add lettuce, chopped veggies, canned veggies, and protein to a large bowl.
  2. Toss with the dressing and enjoy! 

Honey-Lemon Dressing 

At home, we usually use olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and a sprinkle of salt to dress our salads. This recipe adapted from Food & Wine is just as simple but even tastier and complements almost any combination of ingredients. 

Ingredients: (makes ½ cup of dressing) 

  • 1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • ½ teaspoon chopped thyme
  • ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper


  1. Whisk lemon juice, lemon zest, honey, and thyme in a small bowl. 
  2. Whisk in the olive oil and season with salt and pepper.
  3. Drizzle over prepared salad, toss, and enjoy! 

Pasta e Fagioli (aka bean soup)

This warm and hearty dish has been prepared by my family for generations. During the colder months, this soup was a cost-efficient way to keep large families full. It’s packed with nutrients and flavour, and can be prepared with simple and affordable ingredients. My favourite thing about this dish growing up was that my nonna used to use orecchiette or as we called them: “hats.” In this recipe, any type of small pasta will do, but these are much more fun. This soup can be kept refrigerated for up to three days.

Prep Time: 20 mins 

Cook Time: 1 hour 

Ingredients (2 servings): 

  • ½ small yellow onion 
  • 2 carrots, diced
  • 2 stalks celery, diced
  • 1 can Romano beans
  • 3–4 canned tomatoes, peeled 
  • 1 cup orecchiette pasta
  • Optional: Parmesan cheese (a little, or a lot!) 


  1. Heat 3 tablespoons of olive oil in a pot over medium heat. Cook vegetables on medium heat for between 3–5 minutes. 
  2. Gradually add water a little bit at a time until the vegetables are covered and the pot is about ¾ full of water. 
  3. Simmer for 1 hour, then add pasta and continue to cook for as long as it indicates on the package. Ladle into bowls, sprinkle with Parmesan, and enjoy! 

Tex-Mex Taco Stuffed Peppers 

This recipe combines two recipes that remind me of home: stuffed peppers and tacos. My mom used to have a taco night at least once a week when my brother and I were growing up. We loved picking our toppings and putting our tacos together. Additionally, stuffed peppers connect me to my Eastern European heritage, and is one of the first dishes I ever prepared for my family on my own. This five-star recipe adapted from Spend with Pennies is a perfect, nostalgic combination of the two!  

Prep time: 20 min

Cook time: 30 min 


  • 4 red or green bell peppers 
  • 1 pound lean ground beef (you can substitute for turkey, chicken, or a vegan alternative) 
  • 1 small onion, diced 
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced 
  • 2 teaspoons chilli powder
  • ½ teaspoon cumin 
  • 1 can diced tomatoes with peppers (or just diced tomatoes will work fine)
  • 1 can enchilada sauce
  • 2 cups cooked rice 
  • 2 cups cheddar cheese 


  1. Preheat the oven to 375°F. Wash and seed bell peppers and cut in half from top to bottom. Place in a greased 9×13 baking dish and set aside.
  2. Brown ground beef, onion, and garlic. Drain any fat. Stir in chilli powder, cumin, diced tomatoes, ⅔ cup of the enchilada sauce. Let simmer for 2–3 minutes, remove from heat and stir in cooked rice.
  3. Divide beef mixture into the pepper halves. Top with remaining enchilada sauce and cheese.
  4. Bake uncovered for 30–35 minutes or until peppers are cooked and cheese is melted.
  5. Top with your favourite taco toppings and serve.