Are you one of the many people in America who would love to provide themselves, or a family with healthy meals, but feel restricted by a dirt poor type of budget? Often times the most difficult tasks in preparing healthier meals are to know what kind of foods to buy, and how to cook with basic ingredients. As someone who has been there, and would like to lend a helping hand, I have used the internet and my own experiences to put together a list of healthy, inexpensive foods to put on your next shopping list. I have also provided links to recipes that use these ingredients, and even some how-to video tutorials that I think might help if you are someone who is new to cooking with basic ingredients.
Cheap and Healthy Protein Sources
1. Canned Tuna
– A serving has about 8 grams of protein at about $0.40 a serving. Canned tuna offers all of the heart healthy benefits of fresh fish at a fraction of the price. Just be sure to get the type that is stored in water rather than oil to save on the extra fat.
2. Dried or canned beans
– If you want to create healthy meals on a budget few foods are more perfect to use than beans. Beans are a powerhouse food. They are loaded with fiber and protein, and have a low glycemic index meaning they release energy slowly and steadily keeping you feeling full and satisfied without a fat or sugar crash. Beans are also very economical. The average cost dried pinto beans is 10 cents per serving!
– Eggs have been on a comeback lately after receiving a bad rap about the level cholesterol they contain. The most recent studies agree that consuming 6-7 eggs a week will not impact cholesterol levels. On a positive note, eggs are inexpensive costing around 20 cents an egg, and are loaded with protein (11 percent of your daily value) and iron, and contain only 68 calories per egg. Not to mention they are easy to make in a hurry, and quite versatile.
– Lentils are a type of legume that come in a variety of types including red lentils, green lentils, and brown lentils. Like other kinds of beans, they are a great source protein and fiber. In fact, Lentils have the highest amount of protein by weight of any other plant based food. Like larger beans, lentils can help lower cholesterol, keep you feeling full longer, and are very versatile to cook with. Costing only about 1 dollar per pound, they are certainly worth adding to your next grocery list.
5. Cottage Cheese
– If you are worried about getting enough protein in your diet, think about picking up a container of cottage cheese on your next grocery run. This dairy product contains approximately 14 grams of protein per every 1/2 cup at a cost of only 48 cents a serving! Not only is it high in protein and low cost, cottage cheese is also available in low fat and fat free options, and is rather versatile to cook with.
6. Chicken and slow roasting red meat cuts
– As we all know meat tends to be the priciest item in the grocery store, but something we may not know is that most kinds of meats (especially beef and pork) tend to be very high in unhealthy, cholesterol raising fats. But, because meat will always be something I love to cook, I’ve looked into some healthier cheaper options that I will now share with you. First of all, the healthiest meats tend to be poultry based as they contain the least amount of fat. To reduce the cost of poultry, or really any type of meat, is to buy it in large quantities, and freeze it. At Wal-Mart this I noticed if bought in the largest quantity possible, the price was only 1.99 per pound. For cheaper meats that are free of chemicals and added hormones, however, consider buying them all natural, or organic at a bulk shopping center like Costco. Another way to reduce the cost of meat is to purchase tough cuts of meat like a shoulder of rump roast as these are typically cheaper per pound. After sitting in a slow cooking all day, these cuts will be just as juicy and tender as any other.
Cheap and Healthy grains/starches
7. Brown rice
– A ¼ cup serving of brown rice only costs about 10 cents. Although white rice is usually cheaper (by about 5 cents), the health benefits of brown rice definitely outweigh the cost differential. Brown rice is less processed, and therefore retains more of its nutrients after milling than white rice does.
8. Whole wheat pasta
– Pasta is a staple in any kitchen as it is versatile and cheap costing around only 14 cents per serving. The healthier option, however, is to use the whole wheat variety instead. Here’s why:
Whole wheat pasta contains almost three times the amount of fiber than regular pasta. Fiber has been shown to lower cholesterol levels lowering your risk of heart disease, as well as help control blood sugar levels allowing you to feel full for longer and therefore aid in healthy body weight management. As you can see, it is a worthwhile switch.
9. Whole wheat bread
– Bread like pasta is also a very versatile and inexpensive kitchen staple costing about 15 cents a slice. Also like pasta, the switch from white bread to whole wheat can offer great benefits linked the increase of the amount of fiber contained in the whole wheat variety. The important thing to remember when shopping is to look for “whole wheat”. Don’t settle for breads that advertise multi-grain, or whole grain as these often don’t offer the same benefits as whole wheat. To be sure, just check the ingredients on the package. What you are looking for is a loaf made with whole wheat flour as opposed to simply enriched flour.
– Potatoes are an excellent source of several nutrients, including vitamins C and B6, potassium, pantothenic acid, niacin and dietary fiber. Additionally, the protein in potatoes contain lysine, an essential amino acid generally absent in grains. Being extremely versatile for cooking, and costing only about 50 cents a pound, potatoes are an excellent food to put on your next grocery list
11. Old fashioned oats
– Old fashioned oats, the kind made into oatmeal and delicious oatmeal raisin cookies, are a nutritious low cost food (costing only 11 cents per serving) that many health professionals suggest should be incorporated into your daily diet. Oats provide nutrients, fiber and beneficial phytochemicals to your diet. These nutritional components provide a wide range of health benefits, including lower cholesterol and a reduced risk of certain diseases. Buying these oats in the large cylindrical bin rather than the individual packets is not only more cost effective, but also allows you to dictate what you add for flavor, potentially lowering the amount of sugar and calories per serving.
12. Frozen vegetables
– Because frozen produce is often packaged at the peak of freshness, it contains a lot of the same nutrients, and sometimes even more nutrients than fresh produce, as they aren’t always in their freshest or ripest form when they get to store shelves. That being said, Frozen produce is also often cheaper than fresh produce, and you wont have to worry about it going bad.
13. Frozen whole fruits
– Frozen fruits have the same perks as frozen veggies. One thing to look out for with frozen fruits however is they are not frozen in sugary syrup, as this adds a tremendous amount of extra calories, and therefore diminishes the healthiness of the product.
14. Spinach- bagged or whole
– Although all leafy greens offer an abundance of nutrition including vitamins A and K, and a healthy dose of fiber, I specifically included spinach in this list as the price throughout the year doesn’t fluctuate much, staying at a minimal price of around 70 cents per 1 cup serving. I also specifically chose to add spinach as it is extremely versatile, and so easy to use up, and less likely to go to waste.
– Bananas are great produce to buy year round. Not only are they healthy, they never go out of season, and therefore change little in price through the year. The average cost of a single banana is about 40 cents. Bananas offer numerous health benefits. Because they are an excellent source of potassium and fiber, they can lower your risk for heart disease, sooth ulcers, relieve constipation, help your body to absorb calcium and support kidney function. Bananas are popular among athletes as they replenish potassium lost during workouts, and are a quick source of energy. Their nutritional benefits, and the fact that they come in their own natural little package (prep free) also makes them a perfect option for anyone with a busy schedule.
To expand the types of foods that can be afforded on a low income budget, and to reduce costs further some of the same foods I have mentioned heren(and you have a freezer and or a little extra storage space in your living space), consider buying foods in bulk. For a list of healthy foods that are wise to buy in bulk, and some tips on freezing and storing them, visit my Broke? Buy in Bulk page.