Once in a while, you might find your food budget is tight. You’ve lost your job, other expenses cropped up, or you’re voluntarily trimming your food costs to save money for something else.
It can be really hard to eat well-balanced meals and avoid processed foods when your budget is trimmed to the bone.
And yet, you don’t want to feed your family meals with “meat-like” ingredients and laden with sugar and chemicals.
The good news is there are food options that are not only inexpensive but nutritious.
Here are 15 healthy foods that taste great and stretch your dollars:
Lentils are underrated.
Not only are they inexpensive, but full of vitamins, fiber, iron and protein.
The fiber is filling and lentils serve as a great meat substitute. We often use lentils in soups, chili, and more (even lentil loaf!). This and other non-animal protein sources are a great way to save money.
Beans are an excellent protein source. You can buy dried beans in bulk for about $1 per pound and they cook up to about three times the volume. So, one cup of dried beans will make approximately three cups of cooked beans.
They are high in fiber and protein and provide a good range of vitamins and minerals such as copper, phosphorus, manganese, magnesium, riboflavin, vitamin B6, thiamin and folic acid. Many types of beans are also good sources of potassium and iron.
As you can see, beans are serious nutrition power hitters. Use them in in burritos, chili, soups, salads, hummus, pasta and more.
Eggs are not only inexpensive, but they are a good source of protein and iron.
They make for quick and easy breakfasts, frittatas, and scrambles.
The humble potato deserves a spot on your budget meal plan.
They are filling, inexpensive, and nutritious as they are loaded with vitamin C and B6. Potatoes can be used with almost any meal and can be found for as little as $4 for a 10-pound bag.
It may not seem like it, but frozen vegetables are sometimes even better than vegetables found in the produce department.
They’re picked at their peak (most ripe, best nutrients) rather than early. Then they are frozen before the nutrients begin to degrade, whereas fresh vegetables are often picked early take a while to ship.
It’s easy to steam frozen vegetables to serve as a side or include them as the main part of a stir-fry, scramble, or pot pie.
I may be biased here, but I actually love oatmeal.
Not only that, but we use oats for muffins, granola, and pancakes as well. At just over $1 per pound from the bulk bins for organic (non-organic are even less!), oats are a great buy.
Rice is inexpensive and filling.
Brown rice has a good amount of fiber to help you feel full, longer and has more vitamins and minerals than white rice, making it a healthy choice. It’s great as a side or in a stir-fry or to help bulk up burritos.
Greens of any sort provide great nutrition.
If you are looking at lettuce, romaine is high in vitamins C and K as well as folate, making it a much better choice than iceberg lettuce. Other green powerhouses include spinach, chard, and kale. See what’s on sale and go from there.
Bananas and Watermelon
We all need fruit in our diet. Usually, the least expensive fruit is bananas and they are great for snacking or for breakfast. During the summer, watermelon provides an inexpensive treat for hot days.
Cabbage is packed with vitamins and minerals. Not sure how to use it? Plan your menu and use it in slaws, roast it, and include it in a stir-fry. If you have ground meat available, you can also make cabbage rolls.
Peanut butter is an easy source of protein and healthy fats and is the least expensive nut butter available. Barring allergies, kids tend to love it as well.
Onions help add flavor to many dishes and are inexpensive. Keep some on hand and your meals will taste better.
Related: How to Eat Healthy on a Budget
Need a quick snack, a dinner side or addition to soups and more? Carrots are easy to prepare and quite inexpensive.
Mac & Cheese
While macaroni and cheese isn’t the most nutritionally sound, it is inexpensive and a good source of carbs and dairy. Here I am talking about packaged mac & cheese you can find for less than $1 per box because made from scratch will cost quite a bit more.
You can dress it up a bit by adding vegetables and maybe even browning some breadcrumbs on top.
Need an inexpensive and filling snack? Popcorn cooked on the stove is an easy treat.
Tofu is a good source of protein and you can often find firm tofu for about $2 a slab. Use in a stir-fry, scramble, and more.
Of course, there are many more frugal items you can put on your shopping list depending on sales and your taste preferences.
Things like pasta, canned tomatoes, and corn grits or corn masa can go pretty far on a budget as can ingredients such as flour and sugar for baking bread and muffins.
What are your surefire healthy, inexpensive pantry staples?