Eating healthy usually comes with the stigma of overpriced foods, and “too complex to make” recipes, leaving us reaching for easy, cheap junk food to satisfy our hunger. To help, here are a few staple foods to have on hand that are inexpensive, healthy, and that can be easily added to your daily diet.
For the Pantry
- Beans (Dried or canned)
- From Adzuki to Cannellini, Garbanzo to Black, beans are one of the most nutritious and affordable foods around. Look for canned beans for convenience, but make sure to drain and rinse to cut back on excess sodium. If getting the very cost effective dried beans, soaking them overnight will cut down on cooking time and reduce the amount of complex sugars that cause stomach upset and gas.
- Lentils and Split Peas
- Some of the highest plant based protein sources (12-14 grams in ¼ cup!), lentils and split peas are very affordable and have a significantly shorter cooking time than dried beans. Add these little nutritional powerhouses to soups, into long grain rice dishes, or just spiced with beans for a cost effective, healthy addition to your diet.
- Long Grain Rice and Quinoa
- Long grain rice and quinoa are versatile healthy foods that won’t take a bite out of your paycheck. Look to use rice and quinoa in any meal of the day from traditional Asian cuisine, on top of salads, and even a healthy breakfast.
- Whole Rolled Oats
- Skip the “Instant” and look for whole rolled oats or steel cut oats for affordable, minimally processed and healthy breakfast options. A very quick and nutritious breakfast tip: Soak rolled oats in almond milk in the refrigerator overnight. In the morning, top with berries, nuts and seeds for healthy start to your day.
- Canned Tuna, Salmon
- Try to make sure you are getting low sodium, and if possible “wild caught” to add a protein and omega 3 filled food to a variety of dishes.
- Frozen Fruits and Vegetables
- These are most times just as nutritious as their fresh counterparts; since they were flash frozen at peak freshness, locking in their health benefits. Keep these on hand for quick stir-fry’s, and cheap, easy and healthy bases for smoothies.
- Fresh Fruits and Vegetables
- Look for sales, in season, and local to get the most nutritious options for your money. Romaine lettuce, tomatoes, green beans, carrots and celery are usually the least expensive options and can be incorporated into any of your favorite dishes.
- Low Fat Greek Yogurt
- These like most yogurts can be found at a great value in many supermarkets and can be a healthy addition to your morning routine. As with most “low fat” foods, make sure the sugar content isn’t sky high, making it an unhealthy option.
At the Grocery Store
- Shop the Perimeter
- Not only is the perimeter of grocery stores where the most healthy food options are found, but also the most affordable. Produce, bulk foods, frozen items, meats, dairy and breads are usually located around the center aisles (which are usually filled with the higher processed, less healthy food options).
- Buy Store Brands
- “Generic” or store brand versions of your favorite foods are for the most part considerably cheaper than “name brand” products and have the same nutritional quality.
- Look for Coupons
- All grocery stores have a variety of manager specials and daily/weekly coupons to help you save money. Take advantage of any healthy foods that have coupons available.
- Don’t Shop Hungry
- If you go grocery shopping when you are on an empty stomach, your appetite will do most of the decision making instead of your money conscious mind. Try going shopping with a shopping list in mind, and on a full stomach so you don’t make unhealthy, and costly decisions at the counter.