Eating healthy is no easy feat and doing it on a budget can seem even harder. A healthy diet has gotten a bad reputation as being the most expensive way to eat. And sadly, many people are right when they say that eating healthy is more expensive than eating fast food and processed, unhealthier store bought foods – to some degree, anyway. However, that isn’t always the case when you consider the value of the food in terms of nutrients, the servings it provides, and for how long it actually keeps you full. Then there’s the consideration of what type of costs you’ll pay later on by downing those dollar menu burgers for lunch when you could be spending a couple dollars more a day on healthy foods instead.
Still, no matter how much we know this to be true, making it work is still sometimes a challenge. So we’re here to show you 10 cheap (and very healthy) plant-based foods that everyone can afford and that you’ll probably actually eat! Don’t believe that eating plant-based or that eating a whole foods diet is dreadfully expensive, or that it has to be bland in variety or flavor. Eating healthy and plant-based is not only easy, but the best part is, you will probably actually save some money over the course of a month when you try these options and tips below.
10 of Mother Nature’s Cheapest, Most Delicious Nutrient-Dense Foods
1. Sweet Potatoes
For the nutrition you gain from these inexpensive tubers and for their low cost even in organic form, no other vegetable is as filling or affordable as the sweet potato. If you’re on a budget and want to eat healthy, these healthy gems should be in your grocery carts! They are absolutely amazing for you. We’re talking more than your whole day’s worth of beta-carotene (Vitamin A), loads of Vitamin C and potassium, magnesium and Vitamin B6, plus fiber that keeps you full and actually lowers your blood sugar. No French fry, burger, sandwich, bowl of cereal, or protein bar comes close to that! Here are some creative ways to use them if you’re tired of the regular baked option, or try them pan-roasted for a sweet, caramelized flavor.
2. Green Apples
Green apples are the king of all apples because they’re low in sugar, high in fiber, and contain a special property known as malic acid that other apples don’t have as much of. Malic acid has been linked to fighting cancer and cleanses the liver, specifically when consumed from Granny Smith apples. These apples are also better if you have blood sugar swings or watching your carbohydrate content. But aside from that, they’re also packed with Vitamin C, pectin (a fiber linked to weight loss and lower cholesterol), and also full of phytonutrients that fight heart disease. A bag of a dozen organic Granny Smith apples runs around $6.99, which sounds high, but provides over a whole week’s worth of snacks! No box of granola bars, bag of salty chips, candies, or sugary yogurt compares. Do try to buy organic when you can since these are very high in pesticides in conventional form.
3. Romaine Lettuce
If you’re trying to eat more greens, then good for you! But one walk down the produce aisle and you might fear paying $5 for two bushels of organic kale or $6 for a whole container of spinach. While these are certainly some of the best options that you can use all week for your meals, romaine lettuce can make a better budget-friendly choice and here’s why: it lasts longer in the fridge, and one bag of three organic romaine hearts will lend you three meals, all for about $3-$4 a package. Romaine lettuce is also one of the most nutritionally dense greens, which surprises many people. This green contains omega 3 fatty acids, Vitamins A, C, and K, along with magnesium and potassium. It’s also less bitter than some other greens and can be used in everything from salads to wraps, used as an alternative to bread for wraps, and even be tossed in a smoothie for a sweet flavor.
Lentils provide just as much nutrition as beans do, but are less costly and also a bit easier to digest. They’re also so tasty! Slightly sweet and nutty and chock-full of protein and fiber, lentils are one of the best sources of iron you can eat in such a small serving. You can buy a whole pound of organic lentils for right around $3 and use them in a variety of ways. Cook them for a savory breakfast, use them as a lunch ingredient or base for a soup, or eat them at dinner over rice, in soup, as a side, or use them to make a clean, lean veggie burger.
Sure, they’re high in natural sugar, but these aren’t the same type of sugar you’ll find in processed foods and even natural sweeteners. Bananas are an inexpensive way to satisfy your sweet tooth in a healthy way, especially for your heart. Remember that all fruit should be seen as nature’s way to satisfy our sugar cravings when they hit us hard. A little bit of these fruits go a long way too for just cents per serving. One banana provides a good dose of potassium, magnesium, Vitamin B6 and Vitamin C. Not to mention 3 grams of fiber that will help keep you full. All of these nutrients help not just combat frayed nerves but can also protect your body from disease, high cholesterol and high blood pressure. Eat them slightly spotted since green and bright yellow bananas can sometimes cause indigestion and bloating.
6. Frozen (or Fresh) Broccoli
If you’re not one to spend a lot of time cooking fresh vegetables, then frozen is the way to go. Some of us are busy, while others are just not into heavy duty cooking. Whatever the case, don’t let those reasons get in the way of eating healthy. Everyone can buy bags of frozen veggies and steam them either on the stovetop or in the microwave in less than 5 minutes. Broccoli is one of the most nutrient-dense choices and you can pair it with a meal, top it with some mustard, hummus, salsa, or even nutritional yeast for a quick healthy snack, or toss it in a soup or a salad. Broccoli is a potent cancer fighter, rich in fiber, and packed with protein (4 grams per ½ cup), calcium, and even Vitamin C.
7. Flax or Chia Seeds
Everyone needs to be eating anti-inflammatory sources of omega 3 fats, not just for your heart, but also for your brain and nervous system function. These fats are also anti-aging and are best consumed through fiber-rich, nutrient dense flax and chia seeds which are both highly affordable. If you scoff at the pricetag, think about this – a $5 bag (if that much) of chia or flax seeds will last you almost two-three months in the fridge, while one package of frozen fish that costs $5-$10 will only last you around four meals. Tuna is another source to avoid since it’s filled with mercury and also only lasts one or two servings, regardless that the cans are cheaply priced. Remember, when thinking about the cost of food, think about how many servings it provides and the nutrition it contains. Chia and flax are also good sources of protein, natural egg replacers, and contain magnesium, B vitamins, and heart-healthy antioxidants. They also keep the digestive system humming – just saying!
Oh glorious oats! They are so good for so many things, but especially for healthy eaters on a budget. If you’re gluten-free, then you’ll be glad to know many gluten-free brands of oats are extremely affordable these days. A 24 ounce bag of oats will provide a month or more’s worth of breakfast, not to mention they can be used in smoothies, savory entrees, and even made into muffins and pancakes. Oats are full of good fiber, protein, B vitamins, iron and magnesium. Check out more facts about oats and how to add them to your diet if you need some new ideas.
Another great veggie to keep on hand that lasts awhile in the fridge and is easy to afford is zucchini. Whether you make pasta with it, chop it in slices and grill it, slice it into strips as a snack, or use it in your next entree, zucchini is a fantastic vegetable for you. Rich in Vitamin B6, Vitamin C, and packed with fiber, it’s also a good source of potassium for your blood pressure too.
Another inexpensive and natural way to satisfy your sweet tooth is carrots. Carrots are nature’s candy and also one of the best detoxifying nutrients we can eat. They’re rich in immune-boosting properties, their fibers help lower blood sugar and their nutrient profile helps lower blood pressure. They’re dense sources of Vitamins A, C, magnesium and potassium. Carrots can be juiced with, used in smoothies to make them sweeter and more filling, added to entrees, roasted as a side dish, or just eaten raw. They’re really great to keep in the fridge if you’re busy since they last awhile and also cost just pennies per serving.
Other healthy fruits and vegetables that can usually be found inexpensive are: frozen berries and frozen greens, onions, garlic, green peas, chickpeas, all beans, brown rice, and millet. If you’re looking for an inexpensive protein source, go with hemp protein, and if you’re looking to add some superfoods to your diet, check out our Top 3 Supefoods to Choose if You’re on a Budget. These foods make great to keep on hand and are easy to prep for on the go eats all week.
Remember that eating healthy doesn’t have to be hard or expensive. Keep these 10 foods above stocked at all times and you can turn them into a variety of meals to keep you full and healthy, while also keeping your wallet happy too.
For more budget tips for eating healthy on a budget, see:
- Money Saving Tips for Vegans on a Budget
- How I Maintain a Very Humble (Low) Budget as a Vegan Without Any Sacrafice
- Meatless Monday Meal Ideas for the Budget-Crunched
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