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10 Dinners From Around the World For Less Than $15

Sarah Schlichter, RD
by Sarah Schlichter, RD
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Do you ever find yourself in a cooking rut, feeling like you’re making the same few meals on repeat? With non-stop obligations and piling responsibilities, it’s easy to forget food should be flavorful and enjoyable.

If you are experiencing taste bud fatigue, consider venturing out of your comfort zone and into another culture’s cuisine. Whether you would label yourself an adventurous eater or not, a new flavor combination could be just the refreshment (and new nutrition profile) you need.

1. TEMPEH PAD THAI WITH BROCCOLI AND CORN

Tempeh Pad Thai With Broccoli and Corn

Pad Thai is Thailand’s national dish and one of the most familiar Thai dishes in Western culture. Traditionally prepared by stir-frying rice noodles with eggs, a protein, vegetables and a variety of seasonings, this dish became popular in Thailand during World War II when the government began promoting the consumption of noodles to conserve the country’s rice supply.

Other than costing less than $14 to make, what sets our Pad Thai recipe apart? Tempeh, the not-so-secret secret ingredient. Tempeh is a vegan product made of packed, fermented soybeans loaded with 15 grams of protein per 3 ounces. Since it is fermented, tempeh is a fantastic source of prebiotics, meaning it promotes the growth of beneficial gut bacteria. Tempeh is also rich in phosphorus, manganese and soy isoflavones, which are associated with reduced cholesterol.

2. PAN-ROASTED ITALIAN CHICKEN WITH PESTO

Pan-Roasted Italian Chicken with Pesto

Chicken is a staple in many cultures, so pesto is the real star of this show. Pesto originated in the Liguria region of northern Italy and is made of crushed garlic, basil, European pine nuts and Parmesan, all immersed in olive oil. The basil packs a flavorful punch, which makes this $12.50 meal a fan favorite.

Chicken thighs typically cost less than breasts, and are higher in monounsaturated fats, which may help lower cholesterol and reduce the risk of heart disease and cancer. Together, basil and spinach offer a high vitamin K content for healthy blood clotting, and this recipe also offers vitamin C to boost immunity and repair body tissues.

3. JAMAICAN JERK CHICKEN WITH SWEET POTATO ZOODLES

Jamaican Jerk Chicken With Sweet Potato Zoodles

Jerk cooking originated with the indigenous Taino people of the Caribbean, which includes Jamaica. To imitate, simply coat the food in spices and slow cook over an open fire or grill. Jerk chicken is most common, but other meats or vegetables can also be cooked “jerk style.”

One cup of sweet potato contains 769% of the daily requirement of vitamin A, which gives the sweet potato its orange color, as well as significant amounts of vitamin C, manganese and fiber. At less than $1 each, this cost-effective, nutrient-dense vegetable keeps your meal under $10 total.

4. VEGGIE KOREAN BIBIMBAP

Veggie-Korean-Bibimbap

Bibimbap means “mixed rice” in Korean and essentially describes a rice bowl with a variety of vegetables that can be changed based on the season, availability and preference. In some cases, meat is added, and to complete the preparation, an egg is cracked on top of the bowl immediately before serving.

At less than $2 per dozen, eggs have about 7 grams of protein each, and they also are a great source of choline, which promotes brain and liver function, muscle movement and metabolism, among other things. Other add-ins include baby bok choy, shiitake mushrooms and even avocado. Since bibimbap is meat-free, the price of the whole meal is around $10.

5. SLOW COOKER IRISH BEEF STEW

Slow Cooker Irish Beef Stew

Potatoes are a well-known staple in Irish cuisine, but surprisingly, they weren’t brought to western European countries until the 16th century. The Irish people incorporated potatoes into many hearty recipes, like Irish beef stew, to lighten poor families’ financial burden of feeding so many mouths. The price of beef stew meat is about $7 per pound, and you can whip up this meal for about $14.

With high L-carnitine, glutathione and iron levels, beef can help you meet your protein needs, strengthen the immune system, and prevent anemia. On top of that, potatoes are rich in vitamin C, vitamin B6, potassium and other micronutrients, making this stew a sneaky force for your body’s health.

6. AIR FRYER PRETZEL CHICKEN SCHNITZEL

Air Fryer Pretzel Chicken Schnitzel

Schnitzel is an Austrian delicacy that traces back to as early as the 7th century Byzantine Empire. Technically, schnitzel is any cut of veal, pork, turkey or chicken coated with breadcrumbs or a crunchy exterior.

Schnitzel hits all three macronutrients, and the cabbage that’s served alongside the schnitzel has ample Vitamin K to support blood clotting, strong bones and heart health. Cabbage also packs Vitamin C to protect the body from disease and lower blood pressure.

7. SLOW COOKER CHICKEN ADOBO WITH PINEAPPLE

Slow Cooker Chicken Adobo With Pineapple

This slow cooker chicken adobo with pineapple is a Filipino dish, not to be confused with Spanish adobo. In Filipino culture, adobo refers to marinating any meat or fish in vinegar, soy sauce and spices before cooking it. The recipe calls for quite a few pantry staples, so you’ll probably only spend around $12 at the grocery store, mostly accounting for the chicken thighs and pineapple.

Pineapple is filled with Vitamin C and manganese, and boasts a unique enzyme called bromelain that eases digestion. Additionally, gingerol is the main bioactive compound in ginger root, and it has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties that further assist in digestion, reduce nausea and fight illness.

8. HIGH-PROTEIN SLOW COOKER PORK CARNITAS 

Carnitas originate in western Mexico, and the word literally translates to “little meats.” In Mexico, they are prepared differently in each region, but all versions revolve around pulled pork. These carnitas only cost about $6, plus the cost of tortillas and other toppings.

From a nutritional standpoint, pork has varying amounts of fat, depending on the cut, but a 3.5-ounce serving contains an impressive 26 grams of protein. Plus, pork is a complete protein, meaning it contains all nine essential amino acids. These amino acids cannot be synthesized by the body, so it’s important to eat a variety of foods that supply adequate amounts of all nine.

9. INSTANT POT CHICKPEA TIKKA MASALA

Instant Pot Chickpea Tikka Masala

This Indian dish is normally made with chicken that is marinated in yogurt and spices, but we are opting for the vegan version.

Chickpeas have protein and fiber, which work together to slow digestion. In addition, they have folate to promote growth and support pregnancy as well as manganese, which is used in a variety of metabolic functions. Garam masala, one of the necessary spices in tikka masala, is about $6 per bottle. If you already have the spice on hand, your grocery bill will be much cheaper. If not, this meal will likely cost around $14.

10. SPICY LENTIL SHAKSHUKA WITH GARLICKY YOGURT

Spicy Lentil Shakshuka With Garlicky Yogurt

Shakshuka, which translates to “all mixed up” in English, originated in either Tunis or Yemen but quickly diffused through northeast African cultures. Now, it is most commonly referenced as an Israeli food. This meal is built on a base of lentils, eggs and tomatoes, so even when you factor in some upscale herbs, the price is still only $13.

Green lentils have a whopping 18 grams of protein and 16 grams of fiber per cup. Not only that, but they also contain an array of micronutrients to promote optimal health and well-being. The recipe calls for canned tomatoes, which are a better source of the antioxidant lycopene than fresh tomatoes.

Regardless of the cuisine you choose for a fun spin on dinner, you can successfully merge flavor and nutrition. Hopefully, some of these cultural dishes can get you started.

Discover hundreds of healthy recipes — from high-protein to low-carb — via “Recipe Discovery” in the MyFitnessPal app. 

About the Author

Sarah Schlichter, RD
Sarah Schlichter, RD

Sarah is a registered dietitian based in the Washington, DC area. She works with athletes on fueling for their sports without strict dieting. Sarah is also a nutrition consultant and writes the blog, Bucket List Tummysharing nutrition posts, healthy family-friendly recipes and running tips.

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