The cheapest way to stay fed and save money is arguably a big box of ramen from your local Walmart. However, this college staple won’t keep your gut happy and will likely bore your taste buds after a while.
Here are 30 ingredients that will help you thrive physically and financially.
For being so cheap, carrots have a wealth of nutrients. They’re filled with potassium, fiber, and antioxidants. They have even been linked to lower cholesterol and improved eye health! Best of all, you can buy a whole pound of these goodies for under $1 at just about any grocery store.
Pro tip: use carrots in pasta sauces and soups to increase your vitamin intake!
As a low-calorie, nutrient-rich food, spinach provides the best of both worlds. In fact, three cups have just 20 calories, but offer above and beyond your recommended daily dose of vitamins A and K. Spinach is also extremely versatile, making a great addition to smoothies, salads, pasta, and more — all for around $2!
You may think of kale as glorified hippie food, but it’s totally worth the hype! Kale has a powerhouse of health benefits, with fiber, antioxidants, calcium, vitamin C, and more just waiting to be absorbed into your body! These nutrients support heart health, prevent disease, and even promote skin and hair growth. To top it off, one bunch of kale can cost as little as $0.98.
Pro tip: If you’re looking for healthy ingredients, but don’t have time to shop at healthy food markets, try a meal delivery kit like Purple Carrot, which offers an entirely plant-based menu.
There’s a reason your mom always kept you at the dinner table until you ate your broccoli. Broccoli has multiple immune-boosting vitamins like iron, calcium, zinc, and more. Did you know that one cup of broccoli has as much vitamin C as an orange? For around $1 per pound, pick up a broccoli crown and pack in the nutrients.
Onions are another low-calorie vegetable with a lot of nutritional value. In fact, centuries ago onions were used to treat ailments like headaches and mouth sores. They’re high in vitamin C and B, loaded with antioxidants, and a cheap staple to keep in your kitchen.
Pro tip: keep avocados fresh longer by storing them with onions!
6. Canned tomatoes
Vegetables lose nutritional value when they’re canned — but not always. In fact, canned tomatoes provide a better source of antioxidants than fresh tomatoes! One can of tomatoes costs as little as $0.50, so don’t be afraid to use them often!
To ensure that you are getting the best nutritional value for your buck, consider only purchasing those with “no salt added.”
7. Sweet potatoes
If you only buy sweet potatoes during the holidays, it’s time to change your ways! Sweet potatoes promote bone health, reduce inflammation in brain tissue, regulate blood pressure, and more! They also have a long shelf life when stored properly. You can find sweet potatoes for as little as $0.47 in most grocery stores.
Pro tip: make pizza a little healthier with sweet potatoes — in the crust or as a tasty topping!
8. Russet potatoes
Russet potatoes are a fantastic base for a healthy meal. They’re low in calories, but high in protein and fiber, so you’ll feel full without consuming too much. But, the best part about russet potatoes is arguably the price: a five-pound bag costs $1 – $3 and will last you quite a while!
I grew up hearing bananas are rich in potassium, which is true, but this fruit has a lot more going for it. Bananas have vitamins B6 and C, as well as manganese, which protects your skin.
Additionally, bananas are a great energy-booster, especially for kids and athletes! That’s a lot of value in a food that costs under $0.50 a pound.
These furry dudes are more than sweet, they’re “super”! Among other nutrients, kiwis are packed with vitamin C and dietary fiber, which make them valuable to folks with asthma and individuals who want to lose weight. You can pick up kiwis for anywhere between $1 to $2 a pound in most stores.
If your parents packed sliced oranges in your lunch box, props to them. You probably know oranges are high in vitamin C, but they’re also a great source of fiber, which promotes healthy digestion. Buy a three-pound bag for a few bucks, and you’ll have afternoon snacks for the week!
Pro tip: juice oranges to use in a healthy vinaigrette or a tasty mocktail.
Why does “an apple a day keep the doctor away”? In addition to nutrients like fiber, apples contain a range of antioxidants, which can reduce the risk of serious conditions like cancer and diabetes. A three-pound bag costs around $3, so get this fruit on your grocery list!
Pro tip: dip sliced apples in natural peanut butter for a deliciously healthy snack.
Pears are another excellent asset for your heart and gut health. Thanks to their low-glycemic index, the natural sugar in pears won’t spike your blood sugar and will keep you feeling satisfied for a while. Furthermore, pears won’t hurt your budget, since they cost just a couple of quarters each.
Pro tip: try eating pears with a protein like nuts for a well-balanced snack.
Cantaloupes house a lot of benefits under those thick rinds. In fact, one cup of cantaloupe has 100% of your daily recommended dose of vitamin A and half of your daily vitamin C. Cantaloupes cost about $2.50 to $3.50 each, but they’re big, beautiful, and bursting with nutrients!
Black, pinto, garbanzo — beans of every type offer great health benefits at an affordable price. Nutrients like calcium and iron promote bone strength, while fiber and protein make beans a healthy substitute on Meatless Mondays. Beans are already inexpensive, but if you buy cook them yourself, you can cut costs in half!
Pro tip: use black beans to make anything from burger patties to brownies!
A close cousin to beans, lentils are making their way into the spotlight!
In addition to perks, like protein and iron, lentils are high in magnesium. Magnesium has been shown to improve your ability to exercise, your mood, and even your sleep. And there is evidence that half of Americans aren’t consuming enough magnesium, so don’t forget to grab a bag of lentils for around $1 next time you go to the grocery store.
Pro tip: if you are gluten intolerant, look out for gluten-free pasta options that are made with lentils.
Nuts are a “fatty” food, but don’t let that deter you! Nuts are full of healthy unsaturated fats as well as omega-3 fatty acids. Not only can these improve your heart health, but they may also lead to a longer life!
18. Natural peanut butter
Like whole nuts, peanut butter is an excellent source of “good fats” that promote healthy heart function — but not all peanut butter is created equal! To ensure you get the good kind, check labels for additives like sugar and oil and steer clear of Jif! Instead, opt for alternatives made with peanuts and little else.
Eggs are among the most nutrient-dense foods on earth! They have vitamin A, B2, B6, B12, D, E, K… you get the idea. Eggs can also increase your HDL (“good”) cholesterol, which correlates with a lower risk of heart disease.
The average price for a dozen eggs is $1.77, but a cage-free alternative can cost just $1 more.
20. Canned fish
Along with protein, canned fish, especially tuna and salmon, are full of EPA and DHA omega-3s, which are vital for a healthy heart, brain, and even eyes! Just make sure it’s packed in water instead of oil and has minimal added salt. Cans of tuna can often be found for under $1.
Chicken is a popular protein and for good reason! This bird has important vitamins and minerals like selenium and niacin, which are crucial for a robust immune system and a healthy brain. You can pick up a whole chicken today for under $2 per pound.
22. Ground turkey
If you’re a fan of beef, try ground turkey instead! A single four-ounce, grilled, fat-free turkey burger has almost half the recommended daily value of protein. But it makes up for it with a low calorie count and boasts plenty of vitamins to boot! Purchase a pound of fat-free ground turkey at your local grocery store for under $5.
As a red meat, pork has inherited a bad reputation, but this high-quality protein can be a great addition to your diet. It’s rich in various “B vitamins,” like thiamine, B6, and B12, which help your body make blood cells and keep your brain in tip-top shape. And pork is on the less expensive side, costing as little as $0.99 per pound.
24. Cottage cheese
Not everyone likes cottage cheese…but maybe they should. Cottage cheese is a low-calorie, high-protein food, so it’s especially ideal for athletes who want to lose weight and bulk up at the same time. When selecting a cottage cheese, stick to low-sodium options, and enjoy the low cost.
25. Plain yogurt
Some yogurts are filled with sugars and artificial flavors, but a good, natural yogurt can be your body’s best friend. One cup has enough calcium to cover almost half of your daily needs, and some varieties have live, active cultures — probiotics — which can boost your digestive health.
Pro tip: use yogurt as a substitute for oil and butter in your baked goods.
26. 100% whole wheat bread
If you grew up on white bread, there are better ways to do PB&J. Whole grains can reduce your risk of heart disease, some cancers, and even obesity, but the trick is finding foods that are truly whole-grain.
Next time you shop for bread, look for “100% whole-wheat” or “whole-grain flour” in the ingredients.
27. Whole-grain pasta
Pasta is a high-carb dish, but the right pasta has ample nutrients to provide some balance. For instance, if you choose a whole-wheat spaghetti versus a refined noodle, you’ll get the same delicious dish with fewer carbs and calories. You can typically find a 16-ounce box for just over $1.
It’s good for your gut, boosts your brain health, reduces your risk of cancer…why have we limited oats to breakfast!? Oats are another highly versatile food with an array of benefits, so pick up a large container of oats for around $4 on your next shopping trip.
Pro tip: use oats as a thickening agent for veggie patties or a tasty breading on chicken and fish!
Quinoa is popular among the gluten-free crowd, but this grain is great for the masses! In fact, it’s one of the only plant foods that offer complete proteins, housing essential amino acids that our bodies need to function properly (but can’t produce on their own). While pre-packaged quinoa can be on the pricier side, you can often find it in bulk bins for around $1 to $2 per pound.
30. Brown rice
Brown rice is one of the cheapest ways to add whole grains to your diet. As with whole-grain pasta, brown rice has essential nutrients, like fiber, that are stripped from refined alternatives. Furthermore, brown rice will make you full without the calories! For five pounds, you’ll pay a little over $3.
Pro tip: brown rice takes longer to cook, so make sure to adjust your timing when replacing it in recipes.
Myth: healthy food is more expensive than unhealthy food.
Next time your wallet feels slim, don’t let your health fall by the wayside! There are a variety of foods, from pears to pork, that benefits your body and your budget.