I hear it all the time,
“My budget is too tight to eat healthy.”
“Eating healthy is so expensive.”
“I can’t afford to eat healthy.”
Let me make one thing very clear right from the beginning. Eating healthy is all about making choices. Is it more expensive? Sometimes. Can you “eat healthy” on a budget. Definitely.
If you don’t believe me, here is how I can prove it to you. I am a dietetic intern, meaning I do not get paid a dime for what I do 4 days out of the week. I am not complaining; I absolutely love what I do. It has benefited me in more ways than I can count, and I am extremely thankful for the opportunity.
That being said, my budget is very slim. Yet, I still feel I eat very “healthy.” Just because you are on a budget, doesn’t mean your body has to take a hit. Yes, there are occasional exceptions, and situations that I cannot control, especially when it comes to someone other than myself. This post is my way of trying to help. I cannot go grocery shopping for you, cut coupons, or look for the best sales, but I can tell you a few things that help me eat healthy on a budget and hope you take from it something that benefits you.
Here are my 5 Food Staples. These are 5 foods that are inexpensive, nutritious, and that I have in my cabinet, freezer, or refrigerator all the time. They are versatile and can be used in more ways than one to help you achieve healthy meals throughout the week.
5 Budget-Friendly Food Staples:
1. Canned Black Beans: A great source of protein that works for vegetarians as well. 1/2 cup of black beans contain 7 grams of protein and 7 grams of fiber. They are hearty, will keep you feeling full, are very inexpensive. I usually have at least 2 cans on hand at all time. 1 can usually gives me enough beans to incorporate into 3 different meals.
How they can be used: Add to a tortilla with some veggies, salsa, and a sprinkle of cheese for an easy quesadilla; Mash up with s sprinkle of bread crumbs, 1 egg or 2 egg whites, and seasonings of your choice and place on the grill for easy black bean burgers; combine 1 can black beans with vegetable or chicken stock, a can of diced tomatoes, and some frozen corn for easy vegetarian chili that will last you throughout the week.
2. Whole-wheat Tortillas: I always have these in my freezer. They can be used for just about any meal, breakfast, lunch, or dinner, often provide less calories then using 2 slices or bread, and last for a very long time, especially when frozen. They also provide a good source of whole grains and fiber which helps keep you regular and fills you up.
How they can be used: Sauté eggs or egg-white with a little fresh or frozen spinach or a diced tomato, sprinkle with cheese, and wrap up for an easy breakfast wrap to-go; Spread with a thin layer of peanut-butter, add a sliced banana, some raisins, and a sprinkle of cinnamon for an afternoon snack or another quick breakfast; fill with hummus of your choice, feta cheese, and grilled veggies drizzled with balsamic vinegar for an easy Mediterranean dinner.
3. Frozen Broccoli: Packed with vitamins and minerals such as vitamin K, vitamin E, calcium, phosphorus, and iron. Broccoli is also a good source of fiber and contains around 30 calories/cup. Talk about a power food! Frozen broccoli can be added to just about anything from eggs in the morning, to pasta at night, or a quesadilla or salad at lunch. I put it in soups, add it to macaroni and cheese, and if it’s raw, I dip it in some hummus for an afternoon snack. This is an absolute must for me. Bags of frozen broccoli usually comes in sets of 2 (2/$3) or something along those lines which is great for stocking up!
How it can be used: Sauté in the morning with 1 egg or 2 egg white, pepper, and a little cheese for a quick omelet (if you aren’t vegetarian, add some lean deli turkey in there too!); Add 1-2 cups frozen broccoli to a box of mac and cheese to bulk it up, that way when you serve yourself a serving, you feel like you are eating more when really the broccoli takes the place of a second scoop of pasta (who said mac and cheese can’t be healthy?).
4. Spinach: Once again, talk about versatile. This vegetable is packed with nutrients, fiber, and is another source of iron for those who don’t eat meat (although it won’t give you your full daily dose). I always have a bag of spinach on hand to use for salads at lunch, stuff in a quick wrap, add to homemade soups, or mix into some whole-wheat pasta at night. Spinach can look expensive, but look a search a little harder and you can find a bag of fresh spinach for as cheap as $1.99 at places such as Target or Giant Eagle. I promise, the cheap versions are out there. They may not be “organic”, but honestly when your on a budget, who cares? Your still getting vitamins, minerals, and fiber even if it is not organic.
How it can be used: If you aren’t a leafy green person, disguise it! Add a cup of spinach to 1 cup of vanilla soymilk (or regular skim milk with some added vanilla extract), 1 cup of frozen berries, 1 banana, 1 tsp. ground flaxseed (if you really want to be fancy!), and some cinnamon. I promise, you won’t even know the spinach is there.
5. Oats: Low in fat and sugar, a good source of iron, and contains fiber. I always have a large container of oats packed away in my cabinet. I love to bake with them when I am craving something sweet; I add them to smoothies for a little extra fiber, and I love them for breakfast. The container will last you for weeks (if you eat it every day) and there are often off-brands out there that are cheaper, yet pack the same punch. Just read food labels to be sure!
How it can be used: Simmer oats, water, a small sliced apple, a little brown sugar (or sugar-free maple syrup), and some cinnamon on the stove in the morning for a guilt-free sweet breakfast treat; Take a look at recipes in my recipe box for other fun snack, dessert, or breakfast ideas that contain oats!
6. (I’m sorry I know I said 5, but I felt like this was an important one to add) Sweet Potatoes: A great alternative to regular russet or baking potatoes. Sweet potatoes are a wonderful source of vitamin A and vitamin C. They are basically the “amped up” version of a regular potato, and they are usually $0.99/lb.!!! Sometimes, they are even cheaper when on sale. They can be sweet or savory, baked, mashed, you name it. They are great when combined with black beans (another staple!) and a little salsa for dinner. If you really try, you can actually make sweet potatoes your main course. I do.
How they can be used: Cook in microwave until tender. In a sauté pan, combine 1/4-1/2 cup black beans, 1 small diced tomato, and a tiny bit of onion in olive oil. Season with paprika and black pepper, or if you like things a little spicy add some siracha. Once sweet potato is done (depending on size will take anywhere from 6-8min), cut in half and mash up the insides a bit. Spoon your black bean mixture over top of the potato and sprinkle a little feta or reduced-fat cheddar cheese on top. Stick under the broiler for just a few seconds to melt the cheese. This is one of my favorite ways to eat sweet potatoes as an entrée!