Leah Gernetzke
Seven cheap but healthy staples

What to buy when you’re on a budget and still care about your body

If I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard someone say they can’t eat healthy because they don’t have enough money, I’d probably be able to grocery shop for free for a week. Which would actually be great, because I’m all about trying to save money at the store while still choosing energy-enriching, healthy foods. I’ve been a frugal forager for over ten years, and can affirm with confidence that healthy and cheap don’t have to be mutually exclusive terms – And I want everyone to know about it. That’s why I’ve compiled a list of my top ten favorite healthy, cheap, and delicious kitchen staples:

Lentils

Versatile, protein-packed, and satisfying, these nutritional powerhouses are number one on my list of healthy, cheap foods. They’re known to lower cholesterol, improve digestion health, stabilize blood sugar, increase energy, and assist in weight loss. At just $1.28 for a 16 ounce bag in most stores, lentils can fit in any budget – and any schedule, as they’re also quick and easy to prepare. One of my favorite meals featuring this underrated legume is a fragrant, spicy curry lentil dish. Get the recipe here.

Kale

Kale is the prom queen of the health food world; everybody knows who she is. There’s a good reason behind this popularity, though. Kale has more iron than beef, and more calcium than milk. It’s also high in antioxidants, vitamins, and fiber, and super low in calories. As if all of that isn’t enough, it’s also anti-inflammatory and helps prevent certain types of cancer, arthritis, asthma and autoimmune disorders. I typically buy a 10 ounce bag of kale for $2.29 at Trader Joe’s. You’d probably find this this queen of greens at your local farmer’s market, or better yet, grow your own. In my opinion, one of the best ways to eat kale is in a super easy salad, or scrambled with an egg in the morning for a fun breakfast salad. Which brings me to my next favorite healthy, budget-friendly food…

Stove-popped popcorn

You don’t have to cut out snacking if you’re on a tight budget and are trying to stay healthy. Stove-popped popcorn is flavorful and crunchy, effectively satisfying almost any craving you may have for expensive, highly processed chips and crackers that line the aisles of the grocery store. And at roughly a dollar for a 16 ounce bag, it’s so much cheaper than paying for these big brand-name snacks. It’s also loaded with fiber and complex carbohydrates, both which will keep you full and energized. This snack is super easy to prepare on the stove as well – Check out a recipe here. To make sure this snack stays healthy and cheap, just sprinkle the popped kernels with some salt, pepper, a little olive oil and/or nutritional yeast, rather than butter or other additives.

Sunflower seeds

When you’re craving something salty and nutty, but don’t want to shell out $10 for a small bag of fancy nuts, shelled sunflower seeds are a great alternative snack. At under $2.00 a bag, they’re super affordable, and if you check your grocery store’s bulk section, you may be able to find an even better deal. These tiny bargains also boast a big nutritional profile. With high levels of magnesium, they support a healthy mood and help keep your nervous and immune systems in top shape. Their high levels of phytosterols promote healthy cholesterol levels, and abundant amounts of vitamin E and folate supports cardiovascular health. I like to work these seeds into my budget-friendly diet by sprinkling them over a salad for added flavor and texture. You can also make your own sunflower seed butter!

Carrots 

Everyone knows carrots are good for your eyes, but did you know they also help prevent cancer and heart disease, boost your immune system, lower your blood pressure, and assist with digestion? That’s a seriously long list for an ordinary veggie that costs less than a dollar a bag. They’re also robust and earthy tasting all by themselves or with a little hummus, and can also be used to create this delicious moroccan salad. You can also grow your own carrots! So why are you not eating these crunchy orange wonders every single day?

Chickpeas

Have you ever heard of the blue zones? They’re select areas in the world that have an unusually high number of centenarians. Researchers have found that a large part of their populations’ longevity is influenced by diet. Ikaria, Greece and Sardinia, Italy are both on the blue zone list, and guess what legume takes up a big part of their daily plates? Chickpeas! Also known as garbanzo beans, this Mediterranean and Middle Eastern staple is high in cholesterol-lowering fiber, immune-boosting zinc and copper, and fatigue-fighting iron. They also help fight cancer and aid in weight loss. Chickpeas are the star ingredient in hummus, but they’re also delicious on top of salads, or roasted with spices as a snack. Pick some up for $2.00 a bag, or possibly less if you can find them in your grocery store’s bulk section!

Oranges

Sweet, juicy, and tart, oranges are nature’s original candy without the negative health consequences and empty calories. Although oranges are well-renowned for their high concentration of vitamin C, what you may not know is that they have a host of other nutrients and health benefits as well, helping to prevent cancer, cardiovascular disease, premature aging, and kidney stones. They also help lower cholesterol levels and increase the body’s immune support. Orange juice is the most popular way to reap these multiple health benefits, but eating whole oranges is generally more cost-effective, and you also get additional nutrients and fiber from the inner part of the peel; it actually assists in weight loss, prevents digestive problems, relieves respiratory issues, and improves oral health. To reap these benefits, zest the peel over oatmeal, desserts, and in salad dressings. The fruit’s flesh can also be used creatively in salads or desserts, as a meat or fish marinade, and to flavor water. Pick up a few of these sweet treats for less than two quarters per fruit!

So there you have it! Hopefully you’ve learned that it is possible to have a nutrient-rich, delicious diet on a tight budget. Use this list to keep your body and wallet happy and healthy!