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20 Cheap and Healthy Foods

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With prices rising, it’s nice to know that there are still some decent values at the grocery store. Even better, these foods are good for you. We selected items on the list based on average national prices at the Bureau of Labor Statistics and Department of Agriculture and nutritional quality as reported on various websites. And, we’ve also included some healthy recipes for each.

Saving money and healthy eating!  Things don’t get much better than that.

Bananas

cheapesthealthiest1
Plain, mashed, in recipes, they’re always good. And because the skins are so thick, you don’t have to buy organic. They’re a great source of potassium, too.  Average price in the US – 60 cents per pound –  but you can find them cheaper in larger grocery chains. Best to eat lightly green since the starches in bananas convert to sugar as they ripen.

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QUICK RECIPE:  Make this 3 ingredient smoothie with frozen bananas (ripe and peeled).  Put one of the frozen bananas, 2 tablespoons peanut 2 tablespoons cacao powder and 1/3 cup water into a blender. Blend and serve!

Beans

cheapesthealthiest2It’s best to buy dried beans and soak them yourself so you don’t get all the salt that’s in canned versions.  Plus dry beans are cheaper with a pound (makes 8 cups) running around $1.50.  Canned beans are still a good value with store brands costing under $1 (2 cups). Just rinse them to get rid of some of the salt.  Great in soups, mixed with rice or pasta or on salads.

QUICK RECIPE:  Make chili in less than a half hour! Drain two 15 ounce cans of beans (or 15 ounces dried beans, soaked/cooked will yield the same amount) and add to pot with three15 ounce cans of diced tomatoes (with green chilies optional), 1 small chopped onion and 2 T of chili powder.  Bring to a boil, then reduce heat, cover and cook for about 15 minutes. If you want to add ground beef or turkey, cook then drain first in the pot before adding other ingredients.

Canned Tomatoes

Canned tomatoes can be used in just about everything – stews, soups, pasta dishes – you name it. Depending on the brand, a 28 ounce can costs between just over a dollar to around $2. Just avoid cans lined in white (a type of plastic that can leech into the liquid) – something you’ll only find out when you open the can.  So avoid those brands once you find them.  No need to buy organic either thanks to better farming methods.

QUICK RECIPE: Here’s my family’s spaghetti sauce recipe:  In a large pot over medium heat, saute one large, chopped onion in a few tablespoons of olive oil until translucent.  Add 4 cloves crushed garlic and a dash or two of crushed red pepper and saute another minute or two. Pour three 28 ounce cans of crushed tomatoes into pot. Sprinkle with dried parsley. When sauce begins to bubble, turn down heat and simmer for a few hours.

Carrots

cheapesthealthiest4Great raw or cooked, carrots cost a few dollars per pound. They’re even put into tomato sauce as a sweetener, though that’s what makes tomato sauce stain.  Since they’re root vegetables, best to choose organic if you’re buying fresh carrots. And skip bagged carrot “stubs” which are expensive or canned carrots which can contain a lot of salt.  Choose frozen carrots instead.

QUICK RECIPE: Yes, you can roast frozen carrots!  Rinse a bag of frozen carrots, drain/dry then toss with olive oil, salt and pepper.  Add 2 T of parsley or dill if you’d like.  Transfer to baking dish or sheet and roast in 400 degree oven for 15-20 minutes until carrots are tender.

Frozen Spinach

cheapesthealthiest5This is one of my favorite veggies. I throw it in soups, stuff chicken or pork chops with it and mix it up with rice.  You’ll find chopped or whole frozen spinach with store brands being the best value at around $1.50 per bag. Plus frozen spinach has less pesticide residue than fresh, traditionally grown spinach.

QUICK RECIPE: Here’s a quick tortilla recipe. Combine a can of black beans (rinsed), 4 cups of frozen spinach, and about half a cup of shredded cheddar cheese (more or less to taste). Heat, then wrap the mixture in a tortilla (makes about 4).

Lentils

healthy6These legumes don’t take long to cook and add some fiber to soups and stews.  Buy these dried since they don’t require soaking. A one pound bag of these tiny beans goes a long way and costs under $2.  Mix with a little brown rice and/or vegetables for a hearty side dish.

QUICK RECIPE:  Try a lentil salad  for lunch or as a side dish for dinner. Cook 1 cup of lentils, drain then toss with chopped red onion, 1 cup of cooked frozen spinach and Italian salad dressing. Serve warm or cold.

Oatmeal

cheapesthealthiest7Besides a breakfast food it’s a great topping for yogurt, fruit desserts and of course, the base of oatmeal cookies! There’s little difference nutritionally between old fashioned and one minute varieties, so pick whichever is cheaper. Prices range from $2 to $4 per canister.

QUICK RECIPE:  Skip sugary toppings and top cooked oatmeal with a dollop of plain Greek yogurt and a tablespoon or two of your favorite jam.

Peanut Butter

cheapesthealthiest8Who doesn’t love peanut butter? On bread, veggies or fruit, mixed in recipes or out of the jar, it’s a perennial favorite. Just keep the portions in control if you’re watching y our weight since peanut butter has a high calorie count. Use natural versions if you need to avoid partially hydrogenated solids but even traditional versions are cutting down on those artery clogging ingredients (I can still eat my favorite, Jif!)

QUICK RECIPE:  There’s nothing better than a peanut butter sandwich, but you can get your peanut butter fix without so many calories in this classic smoothie.  Blend two frozen bananas and a tablespoon of peanut butter until smooth. Freeze in ice cube trays for a tasty (and healthy) frozen snack.

Peas

cheapesthealthiest9One cup of peas supplies a quarter of daily fiber requirements and they’re a great source of vitamin C and A. If you don’t like plain peas, throw them in soups, rice, stews or salads. Fresh peas can be pricey unless they’re in season in your area so stick with frozen peas which can easily be baked, roasted or eaten raw (after thawing, of course).

QUICK RECIPE:  Try this Italian version!  Heat 2 T of olive oil in pan and saute 1 small chopped onion and 2 cloves of crushed garlic – about 5 minutes. Add a 16 ounce bag of frozen peas and a tablespoon or two of chicken broth (or water). Cover and cook 10 more minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Sweet Potatoes

healthy10Mashed or roasted, sweet potatoes are full of good for you nutrients – like all the vitamin A you need for a day and a good dose of potassium and fiber. My favorite way to make (and eat) them is as potato chips – made in the microwave!  Prices are creeping up but you should be able to find them for about $1 per pound ($1.50 for organic).

QUICK RECIPE:  Here’s how to  make those microwave sweet potato chips. Scrub a large sweet potato then cut into thin slices. Toss with 1 tablespoon of olive oil and salt/pepper to taste. Place slices on microwave safe plate (line with parchment paper for extra crispiness). Microwave on high for 3 1/2 to 4 minutes. They should be crisp but not brown/burned.

Eggs

cheaphealthy1At about $2 per dozen (not much more for organic), they’re a great source of protein, vitamin D and other nutrients.  And they’re not the “baddies” they’ve been made out to be. Even if you have heart disease or diabetes, eating 4 eggs per week (including eggs in baked and cooked foods) is considered safe. Eggs with extra Omega Fatty Acids, though more expensive, are a good choice if you can’t get these nutrients from other foods.

QUICK RECIPE: Baking eggs is a fuss free way to cook them – and you can make this ahead and reheat for the next day. Lightly spray small baking dish with oil. Chop leftover veggies, cheese or potatoes and place in dish. Whisk 2 eggs with a bit of milk then pour over ingredients in dish. Bake at 350 for about 20 minutes.

Kiwi

cheaphealthy2With only 42 calories and costing around 50 cents per fruit (including organic – but non-organic is on the safe list:  http://yofreesamples.com/money-saving-blog/buy-organic-skip/), you’ll get 100% of your daily vitamin A requirements. Great for snacks, added to salads, sliced in frozen juice pops or mixed into smoothies.

QUICK RECIPE:  Kiwis are great in smoothies.  Blend a 1 1/2 cups of ice, 1-2 peeled and sliced kiwi, 1-2 ripe bananas and a dash of sugar (optional) to the consistency you like. Drink immediately or freeze in Popsicle trays.

Oranges

cheaphealthy3Everyone knows oranges are full of vitamin C but they also have a mix of antioxidant nutrients.  Plus just one will provide 12% of your daily fiber requirements. Besides a good snack choice, you can add to salads or try grilling or broiling for a change of pace dessert. They’ll cost about $1 per pound.  Stick with grown in USA or organic (a bit pricier) rather than those grown in other countries.

QUICK RECIPE:  Do those grilled/broiled oranges sound good?  Here’s how to make them:  Quarter oranges then place pulp side up on broiler pan and broil on high until lightly browned.  (Pulp side down if grilling…)  Serve on top of plain yogurt sprinkled with ginger, a bit of brown sugar or chocolate sauce.

Milk

milkA great source of calcium and vitamin D, 2% and whole cost about $3.50 per gallon – and often less if you buy store brands.  Skimmed milk is usually cheaper, but it’s best to have a little fat in your dairy as it helps with the absorption of vitamin D. My trick is to buy the cheaper skimmed and add some half and half or cream (look for long lasting one quart containers). And for drinking at least, you can make whole milk last long by watering it down!

QUICK RECIPE: Okay – I couldn’t come up with a quick recipe for milk.  Just drink it  – unless you’re lactose intolerant, of course. Almond milk is a nutritious (but pricier) alternative.

Pasta

cheaphealthy5The problem with pasta is that it’s easy to eat too much so watch the portion size. One 2 ounce dry/one cup cooked serving is enough to provide protein, B vitamins and lots of micro nutrients. If you pick whole wheat or blended varieties, you can also add a fiber boost. Stretch pasta by adding vegetables and tossing with a little Parmesan cheese. Expect to pay about $1.50 per pound – less for store brands.

QUICK RECIPE: Adding veggies to pasta is a good way to stretch it – and I think it makes the veggies taste better! Cook and drain pasta of your choice. At the same time, cook a bag of your favorite frozen mixed vegetables. Drain and toss with the pasta. Add olive oil and heat through. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese and serve.

Plain Yogurt

cheaphealthy6Whether you eat this for breakfast, as a snack or use for sauces and marinades, yogurt is a great way to keep your digestive track healthy since they’re full of probiotics (good bacteria for your body). Greek versions (tangier and smoother) have more protein and less carbs. Pick 2% since you need a little fat in all dairy for nutrients to absorb. But watch out for flavored or “fruit at the bottom” versions which can have a lot of sugar.  Add your own toppings instead.

QUICK RECIPE:  Who doesn’t love parfaits? Layer plain yogurt with your favorite sliced fruits in a small mason jar with the last layer being yogurt. Top with cinnamon, ginger, cooked oatmeal or your own mix of spices. Freeze or keep in the fridge for a ready to eat parfait.

Potatoes

cheaphealthy7My favorite food, potatoes are high in vitamin C and potassium. Plus eating the skin provides a shot of fiber so cook them skin and all! Russet potatoes are usually the cheapest of potato varieties and they’re best for baking, or course, and mashing (don’t add butter when mashing – you’re going to add that later anyway…). Regular and organic (better choice!) potatoes both cost about the same – $1-$2 per pound.

QUICK RECIPE: Make mashed potatoes fast in the microwave! Clean then cut 4 medium russet potatoes in to chunks and place in a microwave safe dish/bowl. Add about half a cup of water, partially cover then cook in microwave on high for 7-8 minutes. Let stand, then mash. Add a little salt and pepper and enough milk (or chicken broth) to create the consistency you like.

Chicken

cheaphealthy8With meat prices skyrocketing, luckily chicken still remains a good value. Whole or chicken legs are the least expensive with both running under $2 per pound for traditionally raised chicken. (Organic will double the price.) The good news is that all chickens are now raised without hormones. Look for antibiotic-free and/or air chilled (no water added) chicken if you can’t swing for organic.

QUICK RECIPE: Butterfly a whole chicken (cut out the backbone) then season with your favorite spices. Place bone side facing flame or heating element on broiler tray or baking dish with rack. Bake in 400 degree oven (or on the grill) for 30 minutes. Do not open oven or grill! Flip to skin side facing flame or heating element and bake another 20 minutes or until juices run clear.

Brown Rice

cheaphealthy9Usually less than $2 per pound, brown rice contains anti-oxidants plus it has more fiber than white rice. And paired with beans, you’ve got a complete protein. But keep portion size in mind since rice has a lot of carbohydrates. It’s best as a side dish (one cup) or to mix with meats or veggies. I like to keep leftover cooked rice on hand for a quick meal or to add to soups.

QUICK RECIPE: Rice makes a great stuffing for peppers. Hollow out green peppers and place in microwave dish with a bit of water to soften (1-3 minutes on high). Stuff peppers with a mixture of leftover rice, canned tomato chunks (drained – but save the juice!), chopped onions and Italian seasoning. Pour saved tomato juice in bottom of dish. Bake at 350 for 45 minutes.

Popcorn

cheaphealthy10A great snack food, popcorn is full of fiber and low in calories.  Just skip the butter or sugary toppings! If you’re concerned about the type of corn, pick organic, non-GMO kernels – about $3 – $4 for 28 ounces compared to traditionally grown corn which costs much less (especially if you buy in bulk).

QUICK RECIPE: Make popcorn in the microwave (shake 1/4 cup of kernels with 1 teaspoon oil in paper lunch bag then tightly fold the top and microwave for 1 1/2 minutes on high).

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by on December 10th, 2015