The media tells us that eating healthy is expensive, requiring one to eat specialty foods like smoothie bowls or avocado toast. But really, healthy foods can be super cheap! Whole foods are recommended for a healthy diet and are cheapest since they don’t need to be processed or packaged. Although packaged foods can be cheap, like chips or cookies, they aren’t nutritionally dense, so you end up buying empty calories, leading to a blood sugar spike and causing increased hunger shortly after. While these foods can be enjoyed from time to time, there are other foods that can be purchased that are more nutritionally beneficial.
Cheap staples include dry or canned beans, oatmeal, and brown rice. Vegetables like carrots, onions, potatoes and cabbage, and fruits like bananas and anything that is in season are great options for cheaper produce. Meat and fish tend to cost a little bit more but are still great options. Chicken thighs, canned tuna and eggs are excellent (& cheaper!) sources of protein. Healthy fats are also vital in a balanced diet. The protein sources listed above all include fat, but for meals that include beans or grains with veggies, it will be important to add a source of heart-healthy fat to keep you full and satisfied. Avocados are more expensive but could be a good option for splurging and can often be found at lower prices depending on the season. Cooking with olive oil or adding nuts or seeds to meals are good ways to get a good bang for your buck in healthy fats, plus, a little goes a long way! Peanut butter is an excellent fat to keep as a staple, and cottage cheese is a cheap snack that can provide fat and protein to help keep you full.
As with building any meal, a balance of the key macronutrients (carbs, fats, and protein) and experimentation are key to finding out what works best for your particular body, lifestyle, health, and goals. You want to make sure the foods that you eat help you feel full and keep you satisfied. Taking a grocery store tour with a dietitian could help guide you to more personal healthful food choices that fit within your budget and lifestyle.
Try this Mexican Quinoa recipe idea for a cheap meal, making 4 servings and coming in around $1.41 per serving, or $5.63 total. When cooking at home, there is usually an upfront cost for food bought in larger quantities. In this case, items like quinoa, olive oil and frozen corn won’t be finished in this recipe but can be saved for the future. This is a great ‘emergency’ meal because most of the ingredients are non-perishable, so they can be kept on hand and even bought in bulk. If going to the store isn’t an option, the recipe is still good without the fresh jalapeno, lime and cilantro—speaking from experience! If you don’t have avocado, top it with a tahini drizzle or have some nuts on the side as a healthy fat. That means that everything else can come from the pantry and freezer. Easy!!