If you’re looking for cheap, but healthy meal options to toss into your Instant Pot and cook in under 30 minutes, we’re here for you.
While there are a lot of great recipes for the Instant Pot, not all of them are inexpensive, and even fewer of them are healthy. And by healthy we mean recipes with plenty of fiber, vitamins, nutrients, actual green things, whole grains, protein and very little sodium — plus, enough fat to leave you satisfied so you don’t open a bag of Doritos a few hours after dinner.
If you’re a vegetarian or vegan, you’ll love that this recipe is meat and dairy-free. If you’re a serious carnivore, don’t despair. It’s super simple to add some animal protein to this dish. (Psst: We've got some ways to save on meat here.)
So what is this miracle-of-miracles recipe?
Simply put, it’s vegetable soup. Warm and comforting in winter, cooling and refreshing served chilled for summer (and even blended, but more on that in a minute), this recipe is highly versatile and easily personalized.
Best of all, this recipe is cheap. How cheap? Would you believe less than 45 cents per serving? We won’t bore you with the math, but we bought all our ingredients at regular price, divided the cost of each ingredient by the amount used, added it all together and divided by four. Throw some crusty bread and some good-quality butter on the table beside it, and you’re not even reaching 60 cents per serving.
Here’s how to make it:
Healthy Instant Pot Vegetable Soup
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 medium Yukon Gold potatoes, cut into ½-inch cubes
2 large carrots, sliced in ½-inch rounds
1 celery stalk, sliced
1 medium onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 cup fresh or frozen peas (add frozen after cooking other ingredients)
1 cup fresh or frozen corn kernels (add frozen after cooking other ingredients)
1/2 small head broccoli, cut in bite-size pieces
3 cups fresh or 1 cup frozen spinach (add frozen after cooking other ingredients)
1 cup uncooked barley
1 6 oz. can tomato paste
5 cups vegetable broth. For richer flavor, use chicken or beef stock (not broth)
1 tsp dried thyme
½ tsp dried oregano
Salt and pepper to taste
½ cup chopped fresh parsley
With the Instant Pot, you can easily just throw everything in there, turn it on for 8 to 10 minutes, let the pressure reduce naturally and voila! Soup! However, if you want to eke out as much flavor as possible for this soup (and you do, I promise) do this instead:
Using your saute setting, heat the olive oil on medium until it is glistening but not smoking. Add the onions and cook for one minute until they begin to soften. Reduce heat to low and add garlic. Cook until onions are translucent then return heat to medium, adding the tomato paste, thyme and oregano. Cook for one minute longer, being careful not to scorch the mixture.
Turn the saute setting off and whisk in 1 cup of the vegetable broth until the tomato paste mixture is smoothly incorporated. Add the remaining ingredients, give them a good stir, place the lid securely on the pot and set it to cook on high for 8 minutes. Once the cooking is finished, use the pot’s natural release for the best results, but if you’re in a hurry, use the manual release after at least 10 minutes of natural release.
Season to taste, stir, ladle into serving bowls, top with chopped parsley and serve.
Note for adding meat: If you’re using meat, you’ll want to brown it in the oil and remove before sauteing your onions, being sure to scrape up any little bits of meat that may stick to the bottom of the pot. You’ll also want to allow the soup to naturally release steam once the cooking has completed to ensure your chosen protein is fully cooked and tender.
Making your soup personal
Don’t like an ingredient? Sub in something else. Want more greens? Add them. Lentils? Go for it. Just keep in mind as you add and subtract items you’ll want to adjust your liquid. Pro tip: When in doubt, opt for more liquid rather than less. You can always reduce the liquid with further cooking or thicken it by blending some of the vegetables and returning that mixture to the pot.
For a thicker soup: Place some of the cooked vegetables and barley along with a bit of liquid into a blender and blend until smooth. Return to the pot and stir until it is well-incorporated.
Money-saving tip: Make your own broths and stocks! It’s easy to do and can add up to a lot of savings if you cook regularly. There are plenty of recipes online, so experiment with a few until you find the ones you like best. You can even use your Instant Pot!
Trying to eat healthy on a dime? We've got some insights on how to shop for groceries at the dollar store here.