Eating on a tight budget isn’t easy; eating healthy on a tight budget can seem almost impossible. But experts agree it can be done with a little planning and extra effort.
“You can manage your weight and your budget if you plan ahead and are willing to do some work,” said Bethany Thayer, a registered dietitian with the American Dietetic Association based in Detroit.
“You’re not just going to walk into the grocery store and see cheap, healthy food,” agreed Christine Amato, registered dietician and licensed nutritionist with Central DuPage Hospital in Winfield, Ill. “Go through the ads. Cut coupons. Buy what’s on sale in bulk, and freeze proteins. Buy fruit in season.”
Both experts offered a list of healthy foods that are less than $1 per serving size and good for you:
A 6-ounce cup of yogurt packing 6 grams of protein can be bought on sale for two for about $1. Extremely versatile, yogurt can be eaten plain as a snack, or in dips, dressings, recipes and parfaits.
One extra-large apple, about a half pound for 99 cents, comes with 5 grams of fiber in the skin. Plus, kids love them; they’re portable, crunchy, filling and come in a variety of flavors. Bananas are another cheap, healthy fruit.
At 25 cents a serving, carrots are superstars on any menu, with 200 percent of your daily allowance of vitamin A, plus 2 grams of fiber. Use them as a snack, side dish or in soups. Bonus: Many fast-food restaurants offer carrots in kids’ meals.
Canned tomatoes are great to have on hand for recipes. A serving size of half an ounce contains about a quarter of the recommended daily allowance of vitamin A, the antioxidant beta-carotene and lycopene, which prevents heart disease and cancer. Unlike other canned foods, canned tomatoes retain most of their nutrients. Look for low-sodium varieties.
Surprise! At about $1 a pound, popcorn is a fantastic snack that’s filling and packed with fiber. You’ll have to pop it yourself and watch the salt and butter, but it’s still a treat. Another option is brown rice.
Lentils, which cost about 14 cents a pound for a 2-ounce serving and boast 14 grams of protein and 6 grams of fiber, can be prepared in soups, casseroles and cold bean salads. Packaged dry, you’ll have to take the time to reconstitute.
Eggs need to shake off that heart-unhealthy reputation. Up to three egg yolks a week are permitted in a healthy diet, Amato said. One large egg costs about 12 cents, and that egg white is 6 grams of pure protein.
Your money will stretch further when you remember that a serving size for protein is only 3 ounces — about the size of a deck of playing cards.
Ground beef that’s 85 percent to 90 percent lean can go a long way to feed a budget-conscious family. It is high in cholesterol and contains trans fat, but ground beef is also a good source of protein, niacin, vitamin B12 and zinc and can be prepared as tacos, meatloaf, in pasta dishes and any number of filling meals.
Why pay more than $4 a pound for boneless, skinless chicken breasts when you can bargain shop a whole fryer for as little as 69 cents a pound? Cutting up a chicken is not difficult with a little practice and a pair of sharp kitchen shears. Family members can choose white or dark meat, and the leftover parts are ideal for soup stock.
Tofu added to stir-fries or in place of meat is one option, as are the many varieties of soy milk (try the chocolate!). But for health, budget and taste, opt for edamame — a fancy name for boiled soybeans. This soy snack is yummy by the handful. A half-cup serving is about 120 calories with 11 grams of protein and 9 grams of fiber, plus 10 percent of the recommended daily allowance of iron and vitamin C.
Imitation crab is a seafood product made of surimi and sold in chunks and sticks to be used in salads, stir-fries, casseroles, dips and appetizers. It’s already cooked, so it’s super convenient. And while it tastes like a yummy imitation of crab, it’s cheaper, has about the same nutritional value (about 6.5 grams of protein for a 3-ounce serving) and less cholesterol. Another option: canned tuna (about 40 cents for a 2-ounce serving) with 10 grams of protein.
author: Melissa Erickson