However, things like oats, potatoes, popcorn and peanut butter are healthy choices that won’t bottom-out your budget. Shopping locally and in-season can help cut down on costs, and buying in bulk will also save you money and trips to the store. It’s all about choosing the right foods. Small budget—no problem. Stock up on these dietitian-approved bites the next time you hit the market.
Bananas are nature’s perfectly portioned, portable snack. They're rich in potassium, which is important for healthy heart function. They are also a great source of fiber—three grams on average per serving, which is why they’re known to help with weight loss. Don’t be afraid to purchase a large bunch, either. If they start getting spots before you’re close to finishing them, peel and store in the freezer. Frozen bananas give smoothies that creamy, indulgent texture that can sometimes be watered down by too many ice cubes.
Sweet potatoes, purple potatoes, white potatoes—Angela Lemond, R.D.N., a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, says you shouldn’t discriminate because each kind offers great health benefits, including high levels of potassium and vitamin C. “[In my opinion], potatoes give you the most nutrient-rich bang for your buck in the supermarket,” says Lemond. Keep your peeler in the drawer, too. “Only 20% of the nutrition is in the skin, BUT most of the fiber is there. They also contain "resistant starch," which has been shown to help stabilize blood sugar levels,” adds Lemond.
Price: $1.29 each
High in fiber, low in calories and full of vitamin A—pumpkin has got a lot to offer your body. Sure, you may consume enough pumpkin at Thanksgiving for an entire year, but pumpkin goes well in more than just pie. At less than $1.50 per can, it’s worth keeping a few stashed away in your pantry. Pumpkin puree can be used in both sweet and savory dishes—bread, cookies, oatmeal, yogurt, pancakes, smoothies, stews, you name it. Just a few tablespoons are enough to help improve digestion and boost immunity.
Price: $2.79 each
A study published in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine found a link between the consumption of peanuts and a decreased risk for heart disease. Resist buying reduced-fat versions! The healthy polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats found in peanuts are what provide those heart-healthy benefits. Due to its caloric density, peanuts and peanut butter should be consumed in small portions, but that modest two-tablespoon serving offers eight grams of protein on average.
Price: $24.99/3 Liters
Stacks of research have literally piled up on the health benefits of olive oil—one of the staples in the ever-popular and uber-healthy Mediterranean diet. A Mediterranean-inspired diet including olive oil can help reverse metabolic syndrome, according to research published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal. Olive oil has also been found to support bone health, prevent heart disease and boost brain power. Spring for the large containers of olive oil and you’ll have a serious bargain on your hands. One tablespoon checks in at a measly twelve cents.
Regular Rolled Oats
One dollar for one pound? Yes, you read that correctly! Oatmeal is high in soluble fiber, which helps slow the digestion of food and keeps you feeling fuller longer. One half-cup serving contains about five grams of fiber and 150 calories, making it a perfect breakfast option if you’re watching your diet. Stick to buying plain oats. They’re not only cheaper, but also healthier than flavored versions. Flavored oatmeal packets often contain high amounts of sugar and other unhealthy add-ins. Mash up a banana and sprinkle on some cinnamon to add a little sweetness to your morning oats the natural way.
Snack time needs some attention, too. Those of you who didn’t know popcorn was considered a “health food” have been missing out! Microwave popcorn does not qualify, unfortunately. Plain popcorn kernels are a whole grain food high in fiber and antioxidants. When air-popped, the classic snack only contains about 30 calories per cup. You can also pop kernels on the stove in coconut or olive oil for a more indulgent flavor. Sea salt, cinnamon, Parmesan cheese or herbs and spices are a healthy way to kick the flavor up a notch.
Raw Pumpkin Seeds
Six dollars per pound may not seem super cheap, but to even breach one pound of raw pumpkin seeds (also known as pepitas), you’re going to be taking home what looks like whole year’s supply. The great thing about these crunchy seeds is that you only need to consume them in small quantities to reap the health benefits. One ounce contains more than eight grams of protein and is also high in iron, potassium, phosphorus, magnesium and zinc (important for a healthy immune system). Add into salads, oats and yogurt, or pop them in your mouth as is for a quick snack.
Fresh veggies may sound like the healthiest and overall best option, but in many cases you’re better off hitting up the frozen section. Frozen fruits and veggies are frozen at their peak, so they retain high levels of vitamins and antioxidants. Get this: For less than forty cents and 30 calories per serving, broccoli can help reduce inflammation, cut your risk for cancer, aid digestion and enhance your body’s natural detoxification process. Lemond notes that many grocery stores often run “10 for 10” specials on frozen veggies, making them an even more affordable option–so, stock up!