The Broke Girl’s Guide To Healthy Eating
Yes, it’s true that health food can be staggeringly expensive — especially if it’s something trendy, like raw almonds or cold-pressed green juice. But, eating well and staying on a budget don’t have to be mutually exclusive. The secret is to plan ahead and choose staples you can cook with all week long. These foods — like canned beans, for example — aren’t necessarily flashy, but are still packed with nutrients. Click through for 14 affordable and healthy items you should always have on your grocery list. They’ll run you about $60 total, and you’ll use them to whip up countless good-for-you meals and snacks.
What they cost: About $3-$7 per dozen, depending on whether you choose organic, cage-free, etc.
Why they’re healthy: Ounce for ounce, an egg is one of the most nutritious foods you can eat. It contains all nine essential amino acids and is rich in iron, phosphorous, selenium, and vitamins A, B12, B2, and B5. One egg contains 113 mg of choline, a nutrient that’s critical for healthy brain function. Eggs also contain lutein and zeaxanthin, antioxidants that can help protect your vision. Almost all of these nutrients are found in the yolk, so eat the whole egg!
How to cook with them: ”Eggs are incredibly versatile,” says Amelia Winslow, nutritionist, chef, and founder of Eating Made Easy. They’re not just for breakfast, either. “You can put an egg on just about anything, from sautéed veggies to rice and beans, and turn your dish into a complete, balanced meal.”
Build a quick meal from this shopping list: Make a Southwestern omelet with salsa and diced avocado.
Canned Fish, Such As Tuna & Salmon
What it costs:About $2-$5 for a can of tuna and about $4-$5 for a can of salmon. All the experts we spoke to suggest you look for BPA-free cans and choose wild-caught salmon if you can afford it.
Why it’s healthy: Canned tuna and salmon are excellent sources of vitamins B6 and B12, magnesium, potassium, selenium, and anti-inflammatory omega 3 fatty acids. (So are other varieties of canned fish, like sardines and anchovies — but they can be more of an acquired taste.) And, salmon is one of the best food sources of vitamin D, a nutrient that’s crucial for our immune function, bone health,and mental health. “Buying canned fish is a great way to get quality fish without having to spend a fortune,” say Hayley Mason and Bill Staley, founders of Primal Palate and authors ofMake It Paleo 2. Additionally, Winslow says, “canned salmon is among the ‘freshest’ fish you can buy, because it’s canned immediately after being caught, as opposed to being frozen and thawed before reaching your table.”
How to cook with it:Don’t worry about removing the bones if there are any — unlike the bones in fresh fish, which can pose a choking hazard, these bones are softer as a result of the canning process. And, canned fish bones are a terrific source of dietary calcium. Make tuna or salmon burgers in a food processor: Combine the fish with a little olive oil or mayonnaise, breadcrumbs, and the seasonings of your choice, then pan-sear the patties until golden brown on both sides. For a quick, easy lunch, simply add the fish (right out of the can) to a salad with a little olive oil and lemon juice, suggests Mason.
Build a quick meal from this shopping list:Make a kale and apple salad, top with canned fish, and dress with olive oil and lemon juice.
What they cost: About $.88-$2 each. Unless you live in Southern California, avocados can be a bit of a splurge. But, this is one food you don’t have to buy organic — which can save you some money, say Mason and Staley. “Avocados top the ‘Clean Fifteen’ list of foods with the least amount of pesticide residues,” explains Mason.
Why they’re healthy: Avos contain healthy fat and protein, and they’re packed with lots of vitamins and minerals. In fact, they have more potassium than a banana, and high doses of vitamins C, E, K, B6, and folate.
How to cook with them: You can add avocado to just about anything, like sandwiches, eggs, dips, and even frosting or brownies. For an on-the-go snack, just grab an avocado and a pinch of sea salt, suggest Mason and Staley — it’s essentially a mini meal all on its own.
Build a quick meal from this shopping list: Stir together canned tuna or salmon with garbanzo beans, a little olive oil, lemon juice, salt, and pepper and top with avocado for a different take on white bean salad.
What they cost: $2.69-$4.29 for a canister or bag (usually between 18-22 oz)
Why they’re healthy: One of oats’ standout qualities is that they contain beta glucans, compounds that slow the rate at which carbohydrates are absorbed by the body. This helps keep your blood sugar levels steady and could be the reason why oats seem to keep people fuller longer than most other cereals. Just one half cup of oats contains a generous dose of folate, iron, magnesium, potassium, and zinc as well more than 100% of the recommended daily dose of manganese — a mineral necessary for strong bones and healthy skin.
How to cook with them:You don’t have to eat oats Oliver Twist-style. You can blend them into smoothies, soak them overnight with berries, or combine them with your Greek yogurt. As far as rolled versus steel-cut verses quick, nutritionally they’re all about equal; the only difference is texture and cook time, so pick your preference.
Build a quick meal from this shopping list: Combine oats, Greek yogurt, and frozen berries in a blender for a high-protein, high-fiber, low-sugar smoothie that will keep you going all morning.
What it costs:About $1.25-$2 per small tub
Why it’s healthy: Greek yogurt packs up to three times the protein of regular yogurt, and many brands also contain beneficial bacteria that aid digestion. Go ahead and buy the full-fat kind instead of fat-free — full-fat dairy has been linked to a reduced risk of type 2 diabetes and a lower incidence of weight gain, and it also helps your body absorb nutrients better.
How to cook with it: Winslow recommends buying plain, so you can control the amount of sugar that’s added to it. This also means you can use the yogurt in savory dishes — it’s great in marinades, dressings, and dips, and you can also use it instead of heavy cream, mayonnaise, or sour cream. And, of course, it’s delicious for breakfast — including smoothies.
Build a quick meal from this shopping list: Make a protein-packed hummus by blending garbanzo beans with Greek yogurt, lemon juice, olive oil, garlic, salt, and pepper. Use as a sandwich spread or dip (try it paired with homemade kale chips).
Frozen Mixed Berries
What they cost:About $3-$4 per bag (typically 8-12 oz). Winslow recommends splurging for organic if you can, since berries are often on the “Dirty Dozen" list of produce with high amounts of pesticide residues.
Why they’re healthy: Berries are low in sugar, high in fiber, and one of the best food sources of antioxidants. But, if you can’t get to a farmer’s market, frozen fruits might be your next best bet, as research has shown that frozen produce often contains more nutrients than what’s found in the refrigerator case. This is because frozen produce is processed shortly after it’s picked, while fresh sometimes travels hundreds of miles before it ends up on a supermarket shelf — and during that time, its vitamins and antioxidants start to degrade.
How to cook with them: Mason and Staley use frozen berries in smoothies, while Winslow says you can blend them with olive oil and vinegar to make your own fruity salad dressing.
Build a quick meal from this shopping list:Thaw the berries and mix with Greek yogurt; use as a topping on oatmeal, pancakes, or granola.
What they cost:About $1.29 per lb
Why they’re healthy: Sweet potatoes are packed with vitamin C, B6, and potassium, plus nearly 400% our RDV of vitamin A. Carotenoids, the compounds that give the potatoes their orange color, are powerful antioxidants that can help strengthen our eyesight and boost our immunity in addition to protecting against aging.
How to cook with them: Mason and Staley like to dice up sweet potatoes for breakfast home fries. They’re also delicious roasted (try them topped with toasted nuts or pomegranate seeds). Or, you can simply bake them (a shortcut: Pierce the skin a few times and microwave on high for 5-8 minutes) and eat with your favorite toppings.
Build a quick meal from this shopping list: Cut sweet potatoes into small cubes and sauté with ground beef and kale. If you have them on hand, add spices like cinnamon, turmeric, coriander, and cumin to turn it into a curry. (Curry powder works great, too.)
What it costs: About $6-$7 per 1lb package
Why it’s healthy: Beef — and red meat in general — has significantly more B12, iron, and zinc than white meat. And, it can often be the best choice for those on a budget, say Mason and Staley. This is because meat from ruminant animals (cows, sheep, goats, buffalo, etc.) is made up of about equal parts saturated and monounsaturated fat, and only a small amount of polyunsaturated fat (which can be inflammatory). Unlike pork and poultry, the ratio of these fats stays relatively constant no matter what the animal eats. So, red meat can be a better choice for people who can’t afford pasture-raised or grass-fed meats.
How to cook with it: Ground beef can be more susceptible to bacterial contamination (the germs get mixed into the meat as it’s chopped up), so use a meat thermometer when cooking and make sure the temperature hits 160 degrees. One pound can make up to four meals, says Mason, who uses ground beef to make meatloaf, chili, stuffed peppers, and stir-frys.
Build a quick meal from this shopping list: Brown the beef in a frying pan, then add lentils and frozen veggies and season with a sprinkling of dried sage, turmeric, sea salt, black pepper, and fresh thyme.
Related: Pinch Those Pennies: 8 Superfoods Under $1 Per Serving
What it costs: About $3.49 per bunch of organic kale. Winslow recommends you always buy organic, since conventional kale tends to be heavily sprayed with harsh pesticides.
Why it’s healthy: Ah, the vegetable everyone loves. Or loves to hate. Whichever side of the fence you’re on, the fact is, kale didn’t get all that hype for no reason. One cup, chopped, has 206% our RDV of vitamin A, 134% vitamin C, and a whopping 684% of our vitamin K. Kale also contains glucosinolates, sulfur-containing compounds that may protect against cancer and help our bodies detoxify. And, this stuff will last! Kale is much tougher than other leafy greens, so it won’t go bad as quickly, say Staley and Mason.
How to cook with it:Kale stands up to dressings without getting soggy — in fact, many culinary pros actually recommend dressing your kale ahead of time for better flavor. So, you can make kale salad on a Sunday and still be eating good on Tuesday. Homemade kale chips are also super-easy to make (roast pieces in a single layer in the oven) and will satisfy a potato chip craving — just check your teeth when you’re done.
Build a quick meal from this shopping list: Sauté kale and garbanzo beans with olive oil, salt, and pepper. Then top with Greek yogurt. Drizzle with olive oil and lemon juice and season with a little more salt and pepper.
Frozen Vegetable Medley
What it costs: About $3 -$3.50 per package (typically 10-12 oz)
Why it’s healthy: Like frozen berries, frozen veggies often contain more nutrients than produce that has been shipped long distances or left to refrigerate for an extended period of time. And, you don’t have to worry about them going bad, which is a waste of money, say Mason and Staley. Like all veggies, the frozen kind will bump up the amount of fiber and vitamins in a meal.
How to cook with it: You can add frozen veggies to just about any dish that could use more produce. Because they have a soft texture, frozen veggies are best in cooked dishes like stir frys, pastas, casseroles, and soups.
Build a quick meal from this shopping list: Make a stir fry with the veggies and ground beef and top with a fried egg.
What they cost:About $5 for a 4-pack of organic, which is recommended, since conventional apples are heavily sprayed with pesticides. Those chemicals tend to collect on the apples’ skin — which is also where most of the nutrients are concentrated.
Why they’re healthy: Low in sugar and high in soluble fiber, green apples help fill you up and stabilize blood sugar levels. As an added bonus, they can also save you from bad breath. That’s because the tartness in the apple stimulates saliva, which helps to break down bacteria in your mouth.
How to cook with them:The flavor of a green apple can be used from breakfast to dinner. Green apples are great in juices and smoothies, and they’re also delicious sliced into salads. Or, try sautéing or roasting them and serving with chicken.
Build a quick meal from this shopping list:Chop up an apple and mix it with kale and lentils. Toss with a dressing made from vinegar (preferably apple cider), olive oil, Dijon mustard, and honey.
What they cost:About $2-$2.50 per 15oz can. Look for a brand that’s BPA-free, like Eden Organic.
Why they’re healthy: One cup contains 15g of protein and a whopping 12g of fiber, not to mention iron, magnesium, potassium, and more than 70% of our RDV of folate.
How to cook with them:“Toss them into salads, blend them with olive oil and lemon juice to make a hummus-like dip, or add them to soups,” suggests Winslow. “You can even turn them into a crunchy, salty snack: Just coat them with a little olive oil and salt and roast at 450 degrees for 15-20 minutes.”
Build a quick meal from this shopping list:Make chickpea fritters by blitzing together one can of garbanzo beans (drained), one egg, ½ cup flour, an onion, and garlic in a food processor. Shape into patties and fry in a skillet. Top with Greek yogurt, olive oil, lemon juice, salt, and pepper.
By Grace McCalmon