Healthy Cooking on the Cheap

Are you a victim of poor eating habits? Don’t let the state of the economy effect your nutrition. I know it’s difficult to eat well and cheaply but cooking is a great way to save on both cash and calories this holiday season. The next three Hartley Confection posts will be dedicated to getting you on track with nutritious meals that are easy to shop for, quick to prepare, and serve both you and a friend!

I have prepared a menu of four nutritious and hearty two-serving dishes that are easy to prepare during a hectic work week. And the best part is, you can buy all of the ingredients in one place…TRADER JOES.

One stop shopping is the best kind of shopping and especially at a jam packed store like Trader Joes. But if you have the time to stop in before work or during your lunch hour, you’re more likely to get in and out with everything you need in a relatively short period of time. Trader Joes is pretty much my home away from home and especially living in Manhattan. As most of you have already found, the produce in ordinary grocery stores are not up to par. Trader Joes not only has fresh produce, but an assortment of inexpensive store brand staple items like simmer sauces and olive oils which make shopping there a pleasure, well except for the lines!

Below I’ve included a full weeks menu of dinners, or leftover lunches and a list of 13 items you will need to prepare these meals. Each dish costs around $12, which breaks down to about $6 per person or portion. If you’re only cooking for one, save the leftovers for lunch or keep each portion frozen separately for up to one month. Though I wouldn’t recommend freezing pasta dishes as the pasta usually becomes soft after it is reheated.

The list of ingredients provided assumes that you will already have a variety of spices on hand such as salt, pepper, curry paste or sriacha, and curry powder. It’s always good to store small amounts of spices in your kitchen, as they bring tremendous flavor to a dish without the added calories. The only item you won’t find at Trader Joe’s are the Ziploc Steam Bags. I definitely recommend purchasing these as they are inexpensive and reusable (though I wouldn’t use one bag more than two times). I prefer to steam vegetables because unlike sauteeing or baking, steaming preserves the vegetables’ nutrients and allows them to keep their bright color.


Thai Coconut Curry Shrimp with Steamed Vegetables

Hoisin Chicken with Steamed Vegetables

Whole Wheat Penne A La Vodka with Asparagus

Curried Chicken Penne (without peach chutney)


  • 1 package large frozen shrimp ($9)
  • 3/4 – 1 lb boneless chicken breasts or tenders ($6)
  • 2 pre-cooked packages of brown rice ($3)
  • 1 can chopped garlic ($3)
  • 1 package green onions ($1.15)
  • 1 package sliced white button mushrooms ($1.99)
  • 1 package pre-sliced broccoli ($3.50)
  • 1 bunch asparagus ($2.50)
  • 1 box Flax Seed Penne ($1)
  • 1 14.5 oz can diced tomatoes ($1.50)
  • 1 can Light Coconut Milk ($1)
  • 1 container Half & Half ($2)
  • 1 container Hoisin or Teriyaki (or marinade of choice) ($3.50)
  • 1 package Ziploc Steam Bags ($3.50)

4 Dinners, each serving two people, for a grand total of about $48 (including tax). Stay tuned for the upcoming recipes.


Thai Coconut Curry Shrimp with Steamed Vegetables

Cooking Light's Thai Coconut Curry Shrimp

Cooking Light

Cooking Light’s Thai Coconut Curry Shrimp, is probably the first Cooking Light recipe that I prepared without any alterations or substitutions. I happened to have really enjoyed the flavors in this dish, though I felt it could have been a little spicier.

This had been my first time ever using red curry paste and I was very underwhelmed by its flavor. Because I tend to like spicier foods, I added some sririacha to the sauce. I would also recommend adding small amounts of Tumeric to spice it up even more.

If you don’t have brown rice on hand or prefer pasta, I suggest using some whole wheat papparadelle and increasing the amount of coconut milk to about 1 1/2 cups, creating more of a sauce. Combining the cooked papparadelle with the shrimp mixture right before serving.


  • 1 teaspoon red curry paste (such as Thai Kitchen or Sririacha)
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 12 ounces pre-cooked (frozen) shrimp
  • 3/4 cup light coconut milk
  • 2 tablespoons fish sauce
  • 1/4 cup chopped green onions
  • 2 cups broccoli
  • 1 cup sliced white button mushrooms
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil (optional)
  • 1 Ziploc Steam Bag


Defrosted Shrimp1. Defrost the shrimp, by placing them in a large bowl covered with warm water. Then take off their tails and slice each shrimp into two pieces.

Coconut Sauce2. Heat the curry paste, fish sauce, and coconut milk in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat for about 30 seconds until thoroughly heated. Stir in sugar and sauté 15 seconds.

3. While coconut milk is heating up, place two cups of broccoli and 1 cup of mushrooms in a Ziploc bag. Place pre-cooked brown rice packet and the Ziploc steam bag simultaneously in the microwave and heat based on instructions.

Shrimp with Green Onions

3. Add shrimp and green onions; sauté on a low flame for 2 minutes or until coconut milk appears to be sticking to the shrimp.

Shrimp with Steamed Vegetables

4. Remove steamed vegetables from the microwave and sautee with the shrimp until combined.

5. Plate a 3/4 cup of brown rice in each of two bowls and top with 1 1/2 cups of the shrimp and steamed vegetables.

Coconut Curry Shrimp with Vegetables

Coconut Curry Shrimp with Vegetables

Nutritional Information*

Calories: 255 (26% from fat)
Fat: 7.4g (sat 2.6g,mono 1.8g,poly 1.9g)

Steamed Vegetables are not included, but can be estimated at about 90 calories per cup.