Ramen noodles and store brand bologna are dirt cheap but not only are they unhealthy, the flavor is torture to most people’s taste buds. On the other hand, a diet of artisan cheeses, organic arugula and wild caught salmon is delicious, healthy and far too expensive for me to feed my family every night.
To eat well on a budget I look for foods that are packed with nutrients, naturally delicious and cost pennies a serving. Often, they are so cheap and abundant that I can afford to go for the organic version and feel great about what I put on the table for my family each night.
Here are twelve of the most delicious, inexpensive and nutritious foods your dollar can buy.
Sweet Potatoes: These are full of fiber and vitamins and taste terrific. I like them best simply roasted in just a tiny bit of olive oil; prepared this way they are gorgeously rich and sweet without adding butter or sugar. Sweet potatoes are also terrific in curries and stews.
Winter squash: Butternut, acorn and other hard squashes are terrific sources of vitamins and fiber. An added benefit is that they keep well, so you can buy them while doing your weekly shopping and not have to worry about them spoiling after just a day or two. One of my favorite dishes is a simple soup made of pureed squash served with homemade bread.
Lentils: Unlike beans, lentils do not require any presoaking and cook in just 20 minutes. They contain a good amount of protein and are very filling. While they have a pleasing flavor on their own, they also stand up well to strong spices and can be a good substitute for meat in dishes like curry and chili.
Collard greens: I happen to love traditional, long cooked mushy collards greens but if you’re not a fan try cutting them into thin strips and briefly sauté. Collards and other greens such as mustard, turnip and beet greens can all be prepared this way for an inexpensive and nutritious side dish. All dark green leafy vegetables contain vast amounts of phytonutrients and nearly all of them are extremely affordable.
Kale: I separated kale from the other dark green leafy vegetables because it can also be used in green smoothies as it’s not as tough and strong tasting as the others. In most areas, kale is a lot cheaper than chard or spinach or other salad greens, which makes it a budget friendly as well as healthy choice.
Cabbage: There is a reason that so many cultures have relied on cabbage as a dietary staple. It’s inexpensive, easy to find and prepare and tastes pretty good, too. Try shredded cabbage instead of iceberg lettuce on your tacos or slice it thinly and sauté lightly in olive oil with a bit of cumin.
Carrots: Don’t overlook the humble carrot, they are delicious eaten raw and are a great way to stretch more expensive vegetables in stir fries, stews and other dishes. They are also fairly hardy and can live in your crisper for quite a while so that you can always have them on hand.
Oatmeal: It’s not only for breakfast! You can use super healthy oatmeal in your baking to beef up the nutritional content of your goodies without spending a lot of cash. It can also be used in meatloaf and meatballs instead of bread crumbs. Steel cut oats are particularly delicious; they are more expensive than rolled oats but if you buy them from bulk bins at your health food store they are cheaper than processed cold cereals.
Bananas: These are one of the least expensive fruits that you can regularly find in your supermarket and are packed full of fiber and nutrients. They are so easy to set out on the counter for quick snacks and if they are starting to brown, you can pop them in the freezer, skin and all, to use later for smoothies and baking.
Strawberries: Don’t bother with strawberries off season, when they are expensive and not very flavorful, but in the spring and early summer when they are abundant and cheap, take full advantage. Strawberries are known for being loaded with antioxidants and fiber. They freeze beautifully so if you find a good price, save some to enjoy later in the year in smoothies, sauces and baked goods.
Dried beans: Beans are extremely versatile along with being cheap and nutritious. If you include meat in your diet, you can still stretch many soups and stews with beans to make a delicious, protein rich, filling one dish meal. Bean burritos, bean burgers and bean chili are all easy to make, very tasty and budget friendly.
Quinoa: This can be expensive if you buy it in boxes at the supermarket; however health food store bulk bins often have it for a very affordable price. You can use quinoa in the place of rice or potatoes as the starch component of a meal or cook it like oatmeal for a hearty breakfast cereal. Quinoa is a complete protein on its own and also contains a fair amount of iron and magnesium. One super easy way to prepare quinoa is by using a rice cooker.
If you are not familiar with any of these foods, try Googling the name of the ingredient plus recipe. Ethnic cuisines are a fantastic source of recipes and can give your diet a lot of variety while using inexpensive ingredients. Cheap food doesn’t have to equal low in nutrition; a lot of humble foods are incredibly good for you.
What are some of your favorite ways to prepare nutritious, inexpensive ingredients?