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Whether you’re stocking your emergency pantry or just trying to manage your grocery budget during these days of high inflation, you want to get the most for your money. And the cost is not the only factor to consider when it comes to feeding your family. You want foods that are high in nutrition and can work in many recipes.
The good news is that with a bit of planning, you can still find ways to eat healthily on a budget. This article offers a list of the top foods that give you the most bang for your buck. We’ll also include some tips for choosing nutritious foods that fit your budget.
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Beans are a low-cost pantry staple that is packed with protein and minerals. Although fried beans are less expensive and usually contain less salt than canned beans, both options work well for nutritious, inexpensive meals.
Choose from black beans, garbanzo beans (chickpeas), kidney beans, lentils, or cannellini beans for a healthy dose of fiber in soups, stews, salads, casseroles, and burritos that you can serve throughout the week.
2. Whole Grains
You can build easy-to-prepare, inexpensive, healthy meals around brown rice, farro, quinoa, and wheat berries.
For example, brown rice offers fiber, protein, B vitamins, magnesium, iron, manganese, potassium, phosphorus, and zinc. It goes well in burritos or as a side or foundation for just about any protein.
Here are some recipe ideas to freshen up your menus.
Heart-healthy, filling, and versatile oats offer a healthy mix of protein, minerals, and fiber. When you pair your oats with a Vitamin C-rich fruit, studies show you can increase your iron absorption three to six times.
Oats are not just for breakfast meals like oatmeal, granola, breads, and muffins; you can use them in dinner recipes like these.
Eggs are high in protein and have essential amino acids and choline for brain health. The yolk contains vitamins A and D, omega-3 fatty acids, and the antioxidant lutein. If you want to cut back on fat, consider just eating egg whites.
As a cheap, nutritious option, eggs are amazingly versatile. You can eat them poached, hard-boiled, scrambled, sunny-side up, or over-easy, or add them to all kinds of breakfast, lunch, or dinner recipes. Here are some fresh ideas.
Did you know that a medium skin-on potato provides about 30 percent of the daily recommended amount of vitamin C, as well as fiber, carbohydrates, vitamin B6, and potassium? Plus, you can cook potatoes in a dizzying variety of ways.
6. Canned Tomatoes
Easy to store and prepare, canned tomatoes are an inexpensive way to add taste and nutrition to many soups, stews, and pasta dishes. You can find them whole, stewed, crushed, or diced; no matter what you like them, canned tomatoes contain vitamin C, fiber, and the powerful antioxidant lycopene.
8. Peanut Butter
Sure, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches are a great lunch staple, but peanut butter is an easy protein you can add to many other meals. A jar of peanut butter also is inexpensive and has a long shelf life.
Check out these ideas for new ways to sneak this inexpensive protein into your meals.
Bananas are inexpensive, nutritious, and portable. You can eat them as is, mash them in breads, muffins, and pancakes, or you can peel and freeze them for later use in smoothies.
Bananas contain vitamin C, vitamin B6, manganese, potassium, and heart-healthy fiber. If you need some new ideas for bananas, here are some recipes to consider.
Noodles are versatile, inexpensive, and filling, and you can find some varieties that offer nutrition too.
Pasta is low in fat and high in carbohydrates. When you choose whole-wheat or whole-grain pastas, you add heart-healthy fiber to your meal. We digest whole-grain pasta more slowly than white pasta, which helps keep the level of glucose in our blood steady and keeps us feeling fuller longer.
11. Frozen Fruits and Vegetables
When your inventory of fresh produce is low, frozen fruits and veggies are an affordable and nutritious alternative. Many fruits and vegetables you can buy at the supermarket are frozen within hours of being picked, a timetable that helps lock in their nutritional value.
Another option is to freeze your surplus of home-grown vegetables or fruits for later use in soups, salads, smoothies, baked goods, and other meals.
Here are some recipes that include frozen produce that you may not have considered.
12. Whole Chicken
Supermarket chicken prices have been skyrocketing lately, but you still can get some bang from your food buck when you purchase a whole chicken.
When you roast a whole chicken, you get a protein-rich entrée as well as the fixings for chicken stock or homemade bouillon cubes. This article describes the healthiest way to cook (and eat) a whole chicken.
13. Canned Tuna
This low-cost, shelf-stable protein contains healthy omega-3s. And you can use a can of tuna to make so much more than a tuna salad sandwich.
Take Steps to Eat More Nutrient-Dense Foods
Incorporating the above list of foods into your meals will help you stretch your food dollar. Here are some other ideas for inexpensive, healthy meals.
- The color indicates nutrition. Focus on dark green, leafy vegetables and bright red, blue, and yellow fruits and vegetables for the best nutritional punch.
- Look for whole-grain breads, crackers, pastas, rice, and cereals.
- Avoid juices that do not have a 100 percent juice content.
- Limit beverages other than water.
- Use your leftovers for meals the next day or freeze them for later use.
- Avoid processed foods and prepackaged meals.
- Replace meat with other protein sources a few times a week.
- Grow your own produce
- Plan your meals. This one is the hardest for some people. But making a weekly (or monthly) meal plan can help you eat less expensive and more nutritious meals. That’s because many so-called “convenience” foods contain high amounts of salt and sugar and are more costly than the options offered here.
If you’d like to read more on this topic, here are a few good resources.
- Meal Prep on a Budget by Matt Kearns
- Thrifty Cook Main Meals by Tessa Patterson
- Good and Cheap by Leanne Brown
- 100 Days of Real Food On a Budget by Lisa Leake
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