You may believe that eating healthy, nutritious foods is impossible on a tight budget.  Actually, that is not true. While you may be tempted to resort to spending your food dollars on cheap not-as-nutritious items, this can backfire on your health. Over time, a steady diet of chips, soda, and highly processed convenience foods can pack on the pounds, raise cholesterol and blood pressure, and could earn you a type 2 diabetes diagnosis.

It actually makes the most sense to maximize your food dollar and health by spending it on the best nutritious, affordable foods.  When this dynamic combination is used, not only is your food dollars spent wisely but it’s a win-win for your overall well-being.

To get you started, here are 8 examples of budget-friendly foods to always have on hand:

  1. Peanut butter

This is one of the most economical food purchases you can make. Rich in heart-healthy fats and several vitamins and minerals, peanut butter is always a winner.  A 2-tablespoon serving contains up to 8 grams of protein and 2 to 3 grams of fiber.

Meal ideas: Besides the obvious of peanut butter sandwiches, this spread can be used in many other ways.  Add to smoothies, pancake batter, in cookies, or as a delicious fruit dip.  You can even ladle it into a soup to add sweetness and body.

  1. Beans and lentils

Be sure to buy beans and lentils – one of the most economical and nutritious foods at your grocery store.  Buying them dry is cheaper than canned but either way, is still easy on your wallet. Beans and lentils are an excellent high fiber and plant protein source containing important minerals such as iron, potassium, magnesium, copper, and zinc. They are also a rich source of folic acid, thiamine, niacin, and B6.

Canned beans can be high in sodium. To fix that, dump canned beans in a colander rinsing them with cold running water up to a minute to wash away quite a bit of the sodium content.

Meal ideas:  The versatility of beans and lentils is endless.  Use them in soups, salads, salsas or bean dips, chilis, tacos, casseroles, brownies, or add to hamburger to add bulk really making your food dollar work.

  1. Frozen vegetables

Many complain that fresh vegetables are too expensive.  Take a walk down the frozen aisle and you’ll be pleasantly surprised at how inexpensive frozen veggies are. Even better, frozen vegetables can have just as much, if not more, nutrient content as fresh vegetables at a fraction of the cost. They’re picked at the peak of their flavor and are not nutritionally inferior to fresh. And because they are frozen, you have no worries of them spoiling in a few days before they are used.

Meal ideas: Cook them as is, or add them to soups or stews, casseroles, into a vegetable omelet, or into stir-fry recipes.

  1. Oats

A hearty, wholesome food, oats are not only economical but also boost your heart health.  Studies have shown whole oats help lower blood cholesterol levels plus their fiber content helps slow glucose absorption helping those with diabetes manage blood glucose better.

Meal ideas: Oatmeal is always a perennial favorite but also consider using oats in cookies, bars, bread, or in a homemade granola recipe.

  1. Eggs

One of nature’s most ideal foods, eggs are healthy, filling, and full of nutrients.  High in muscle-building protein, lutein for eye health, choline for brain health, and one of the few natural food sources of vitamin D, eggs do it all. The price of eggs can fluctuate due to the range of eggs available – cage-free, organic, conventional.  The best thing to know is you purchase what fits your budget without any guilt as all eggs sold are nutritious.

Meal ideas: The adaptability of eggs is incredible – hard-boiled, scrambled, poached, over easy, sunny side up, or used to make omelets, they stretch your food dollar far.

  1. Brown rice

Thanks to its fiber content, here’s an inexpensive food filling you up by slowing down digestion.  For anyone with celiac disease or needing to avoid gluten, rice is a great option. Plus it’s a good source of magnesium and manganese. Quick to make, rice spreads your food dollar since it goes with just about any meal and is often a family favorite.

Meal ideas: Goes great with ground hamburger with frozen vegetables thrown in, burritos, tacos, as a side dish, or even as brown rice pudding.

  1. Potatoes

Known for their extraordinary versatility, potatoes provide a bigger nutritional bang for your buck than you may think. High in vitamin C offering 45 percent of the recommended daily value, 18 percent of fiber, and 18 percent of potassium, potatoes are also fat free.  What makes the calorie and fat content spike is when they are fried.

Meal ideas: Potatoes can be prepared using healthier methods – roasted, mashed, baked or used in various soups and stews.

  1. Bananas and apples

Almost always inexpensive buys, bananas and apples can be one of the best deals in the produce section. While they may get blamed for being too high in sugar, the sugar they contain is natural and not a major health concern. Both are good sources of fiber, vitamin C, and potassium as well as antioxidants that support health.

Meal ideas: Both taste great as is but creativity is always fun – Sliced bananas or chopped apples go well with oatmeal, added to yogurt, or in a pancake batter.  Bananas are a perfect smoothie addition while apples can be baked or made into a healthy crisp.

Categories: Health

Cheryl Mussatto

Cheryl Mussatto MS, RD, LD is a registered dietitian with a master’s degree in Dietetics and Nutrition from the University of Kansas and a bachelor’s degree in Dietetics and Institutional Management from Kansas State University. She is a clinical dietitian for Cotton O’Neil Clinics in Topeka and Osage City; an adjunct professor for Allen Community College, Burlingame, KS where she teaches Basic Nutrition; and is a freelance writer and blog contributor for Dr. David Samadi, Urologic Oncologist Expert and World Renowned Robotic Surgeon in New York City. Cheryl is also the author of The Nourished Brain, The Latest Science on Food’s Power for Protecting the Brain from Alzheimers and Dementia, found on Amazon in both Kindle and paperback editions.

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