It’s a common misconception that eating healthy is expensive. That’s not true. Sure, you can spend a lot on healthy food, but it’s not necessary. I recently attended the annual meeting of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, a conference at which thousands of registered dietitians from throughout the country to learn about new nutrition research. It also includes an exhibit hall full of food companies anxious to hawk their wares.
My mission: Seek out foods that could be part of a delicious, nutritious and affordable eating plan. Here are some products that can be part of a well-balanced diet and not cost a fortune, plus one bonus piece of advice on how to save money on groceries.
Canned peaches. Almost any canned fruits and veggies are inexpensive and healthy. Canned produce is often looked down upon as not as “good” as fresh. But, typically these foods are canned immediately after picking and therefore are preserved at their peak of both freshness and nutrition. Compare that to say a fresh peach picked in Georgia, stored for a day, loaded into a refrigerated truck, driven across country for three days and displayed at your grocery store for a day before making its way into your house, where it still may wait a day or two before being eaten. There’s nothing wrong with fresh produce. It’s fantastic. But, it can be expensive, especially out of season. To avoid excess added sugar, choose fruit canned in water or juice vs. syrup. Check out these delicious recipes from the California Cling Peach Board.
Applesauce: Applesauce is so versatile, and it’s good for you. Phytonutrients in apples support heart health, and applesauce is a source of Vitamin C and fiber. Eat as is or create yummy recipes using applesauce in place of oils or other ingredients.
Corn oil. For years, we’ve heard about the benefits of olive oil. Its type of fat is actually good for our hearts. The more affordable canola oil has always been a close second. So, I have to admit that I was surprised to learn that new research showed using corn oil vs. olive oil resulted in a 7% greater reduction in LDL (or bad) cholesterol and about a 6% greater reduction in total cholesterol. This is not only exciting information for health-conscious consumers, but for budget-conscious ones, too. Corn oil usually costs about 13 or 14 cents per ounce, compared to 31 cents to 59 cents per ounce for olive oil. You can use corn oil in any recipe calling for canola, vegetable or olive oil, but if you’re looking to try something new, check out these recipes from Mazola.
Pasta. When it comes to meal-building, you won’t find an ingredient much cheaper than pasta. When it’s on sale for $1 or less per box, I stock up. Not only do I score a good deal, but I’m filling my pantry with quick, easy and affordable meal staples. A one-pound box of pasta can feed four to eight people. Pasta is a great source of healthy carbohydrates that can provide essential nutrients and energy. To boost the health quotient even more, choose whole grain pasta. It’s not quite as cheap as regular, but still a great deal. If your family isn’t too keen on the difference in texture, try cooking it a little longer or mixing half and half with regular pasta. The Wheat Foods Council has delicious recipes for pasta and a variety of other wheat-based foods. Or get a pasta machine and make your own pasta to save even more money.
Peanuts. Nuts are a fantastic source of protein, healthy fats, vitamins and minerals, and peanuts are the most inexpensive of all the nuts. Peanuts can be mixed into oatmeal for breakfast, snacked on during the day, sprinkled on a salad, made into a flavorful thai peanut sauce for a yummy dinner, and so much more. But because they contain fat, peanuts can turn rancid over time. If you like to stock up, consider storing some in the freezer. If you need help thinking beyond peanut butter and jelly, the Peanut Institute will soon have a brand new recipe section on its website.
Beans: Dry or canned, they are a deal. They are loaded with potassium, iron and zinc, and they are an easy source of protein if you are weaning yourself away from meat. A can of chickpeas can be added to a vegetarian pasta meal, or spun into delicious hummus and served with vegetable sticks. Lentils just might help your heart by lowered LDL cholesterol and increasing the good HDL cholesterol. Kidney or navy beans are a great addition to chili. Stock your pantry so you have a quick meal that makes health sense.
Bananas: They are inexpensive and come in their own package. Bananas have potassium, manganese, Vitamin C and other minerals to help your overall health. They can be used in baking, as a fresh snack, frozen or used to thicken smoothies. Have they turned brown? Try some of these recipes to avoid waste.
Eggs. Right up there with pasta in affordability, eggs are a very inexpensive way to get protein into your meals. Where I live, a dozen large eggs runs about $1.20 to $1.80. If you allow for two eggs per person, that’s about six meals per dozen. The American Egg Board is a fantastic resource for all kinds of delicious recipes for breakfasts, lunches, dinners, desserts and more using the Incredible Edible Egg.
Canned tomatoes. Much like canned fruits and other veggies, canned tomatoes are wonderfully affordable. I can often find a big 28-ounce can of crushed tomatoes for less than $2, using it for two batches of pizza sauce. But canned tomatoes, whether crushed, diced, pureed, stewed or sauced, make a great base for countless meals. Plus, certain nutrients found in tomatoes are much more available to your body from canned than fresh tomatoes. The Tomato Wellness Council has tons of ideas for what you can do with the various kinds of canned tomatoes.
Rice: It goes with nearly everything, and can stretch a budget to the moon. Just one cup of dry rice can feed a hungry family when it is stir-fried with a variety vegetables, a handful of leftover chicken, some broth and an egg or two. Use leftover rice to make pudding, or try it for breakfast instead of cereal (add milk and sugar). Bon Appetit gives you a head start on recipes. Buy in bulk and store in a lock-tight container.
Winter squash: Buy when squash is cheap, and it will store for several months. The taste sweetens with age after harvest, and it still packs a tremendous punch with lots of vitamins and minerals. It is filling and diverse in its use. Cut for fries, slice in half and roast, fill with nuts or stuffing, puree for a mash or make a sweet pie.Here are some great recipes to try if you are a squash newbie.
Frozen veggies. Frozen vegetables are sent into the deep freeze as soon as possible after harvest. That means they maintain their nutrient content and freshness. You can typically find a pound of frozen veggies for a dollar or less. That’s especially beneficial when certain vegetables are out of season. They’re nice to have in the freezer to throw together a healthy, balanced, and quick meal. Choose those that are frozen without sauces to avoid extra calories, salt and fat. Frozen vegetables can simply be heated up and served as a side dish but they can also be stirred into casseroles, soups, stews and more.
Aldi. Granted, this isn’t a food, but if you’re lucky enough to have an Aldi store nearby, you can really put dent in your grocery spending. Most of the products are the store brand, but they’re of good quality and they’re cheap. No clipping, no waiting for sales, just buy what you want when you want it. And Aldi’s has turned toward organic products in a big way. If you don’t have an Aldi near you, check out its locations; you may find there’s one not too far away.
A healthy diet is made up of a variety of fruits, veggies, whole grains, lean proteins and healthy fats. Fortunately, you can find all of them at an affordable price. There’s no need to spend a fortune to eat healthy.