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We all want to feed our families better, put healthy meals on the table, and pack healthy school lunches and healthy snacks. Yet without a lot of time and an unlimited food budget, we also need it to be easy and affordable. That’s where healthy, cheap food staples come in.
Relying on a handful of easy, healthy, go-to foods is a great way to round out your meals, stretch your food budget, and ensure you’ll always have healthy meals on hand. Read on for 12 healthy, cheap food staples to stock up on today.
There’s no doubt that filling your cart with fruits and vegetables can run up your food bill. Yet there are some amazing choices that are both healthy and cheap, like cauliflower, which costs about $.44 cents per cup.
Cauliflower is a good source of fiber, protein, potassium, folate and vitamins C, K and B6.
It also has a mild but slightly sweet, nutty taste that your kids may grow to love.
Also, try buying different varieties of cauliflower including orange and purple which may be a big hit.
Steam or roast cauliflower, make a cauliflower “rice,” faux mashed potatoes, cauliflower macaroni and cheese, or cauliflower rice balls—yum!
When it comes to healthy foods that make my life easier, oats tops the list.
I always have a large bag of rolled oats on hand because I use them in so many different ways. I use them to make:
- Overnight oats
- Protein bars
- No-bake energy bites
- Homemade granola
- …and plenty of desserts and treats!
Oats are a good source of iron, selenium and manganese, are low in sugar, and can help you get more whole grains and fiber into your kid’s diet.
Oats are naturally gluten-free but because of cross-contamination, look for brands that are labeled accordingly. I like to buy Bob’s Red Mill.
My husband is more of a meat and potatoes kind of guy, but when he’s not home for dinner, I often make plant-based meals and rely on dishes that have beans in them.
The reason beans are some of the best healthy, cheap food staples is because they’re high in both protein and fiber and many are excellent sources of iron.
Some, like black turtle beans, are also high in calcium: 1/2 cup provides 35 milligrams.
Pinto beans, black beans and navy beans are some of the cheapest types. Although canned beans cost a bit more than dried, either are still very affordable.
Beans also lend themselves to a variety of meals. Add beans to rice and pasta dishes, tacos, incorporate them into soups, stews and chilis, or serve them as an appetizer that your kids can munch on while you’re cooking dinner.
You can even use beans as a replacement for eggs and oil in your favorite baking recipes. Try them with brownie mix—they’re delish!
Just like beans, lentils are super-healthy and oh so cheap.
I buy a 27 ounce package and it makes about 16 meals!
Lentils contain folate, calcium, zinc and amino acids and are also an excellent source of protein and fiber which satisfy hunger and can prevent constipation.
Use lentils to make vegetarian chili, soups, stews, and veggie burgers, or incorporate them into a green salad.
Cabbage is ideal to eat when it’s in-season during the spring and fall and really delicious alongside some corned beef , but you can get it any time of year and pair it with any type of meal.
It’s a good source of fiber, calcium, iron, magnesium, potassium, vitamins C, K, B6 and folate.
Since it’s not as offensive as some other types of green leafy vegetables, getting your picky eater to try it might not be so tough.
At $.26 cents per cup, it’s one of the best healthy cheap food staples because a little goes a long way: one head of cabbage lasts for days in my house—and yes, my kids eat it.
Simply chop cabbage and sauté it with a bit of olive oil or coconut oil for a delicious and filling side. Or make stuffed cabbage, use raw cabbage leafs for a low-carb, gluten-free “taco” or “wrap.”
6. BROWN RICE
For an average cost of about $.10 cents a serving, brown rice is one of best healthy cheap food staples.
A good source of protein, fiber, selenium, and manganese, serving up brown rice is a great way to get whole grains in your family’s diet.
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend 50 percent of the grains we eat be made up of whole grains, which have more nutrients and fiber than white, refined grains.
Since all types of rice (organic included), have been found to have high levels of arsenic, rinse rice before cooking, then drain the water and rinse again and at least one more time while cooking. Another good tip is to use as much water as you would when you cook pasta.
The great thing about brown rice is that it doesn’t have to be bland or boring.
Try different herbs and spices, or add fresh lemon, garlic, onion or ginger.
Serve brown rice alone or add it to soups, stews, and bean burgers. Or even serve it for breakfast. Need a recipe? I love this one for a Sweet Brown Rice Breakfast Bowl.
7. TUNA FISH
Fish is one of the healthiest foods you can feed your kids.
It’s packed with protein, low in saturated fat, rich in micronutrients, and an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids, which support brain health and memory.
Although many types of fresh or frozen fish can be expensive, canned tuna fish is by far one of the most affordable.
It’s important however, to pick the right type of tuna since mercury is a concern.
Although albacore/white tuna is OK for kids to eat, the FDA and EPA recommend you limit it to one serving a week.
Related: What Types of Fish Are Safe for Kids?
Tuna, canned light (including skipjack) on the other hand, have the lowest levels of mercury and are considered the safest.
Tuna fish sandwiches are an easy option for school lunches, but you can also add it to green salads, or make a white bean salad or a crostini.
8. PEANUT BUTTER
As long as they don’t have food allergies, most kids love peanut butter.
Peanut butter makes the list of healthy cheap food staples because it’s packed with protein: two tablespoons has 8 grams—plus filling fiber and healthy fats.
For approximately $.21 cents per serving, it couldn’t be more affordable.
When choosing peanut butter however, it’s important to read labels carefully.
Avoid those made with hydrogenated oils, added sugars including high-fructose corn syrup, and fillers.
Make peanut butter sandwiches, pair an apple or pear with peanut butter for a healthy snack, or add a tablespoon of peanut butter to a green smoothie.
When it comes to healthy cheap food staples, it doesn’t get more cost-effective than pasta.
Of course, whole wheat pasta has whole grains and more fiber than white pasta but when it comes to feeding kids and eating healthy, all food in moderation is the key.
Also, explore other types of pasta like those made with lentils, black beans, chickpeas, quinoa, and brown rice.
Carrots are a good source of vitamins A, C, K, B6, folate, potassium and fiber: 1/2 cup has nearly 3 grams.
At $.30 cents per cup, carrots are also an affordable way to add nutrition to your meals and snacks.
In addition to orange, look for white, red and purple varieties—I recently purchased a bag of all three together which brought some variety to dinnertime.
Serve carrots raw, roasted, steamed, sautéed, braised, and/or spiralized.
Add carrots to salads, incorporate them into a healthy side dish, or pair them with hummus for a healthy and delicious snack.
You can also add shredded carrots to muffins, pancakes and baked goods.
11. SWEET POTATOES
Sweet potatoes are high in potassium, vitamins A, C and B6 and a great source of fiber: 1/2 cup has more than 3 grams.
At .57 cents per cup, they’re also an affordable way to round out your meals.
Make roasted sweet potatoes or sweet potato fries or swap breakfast toast for roasted cubes of sweet potatoes or a sweet potato hash.
12. DRIED HERBS AND SPICES
I could definitely be more adventurous when it comes to using herbs and spices when I cook but I never know when and how to use them.
As a result, when I do buy fresh varieties—which can be pricey—I end up having to throw out what I don’t use.
Yet herbs and spices can add a ton of flavor to meals and may peak your child’s interest in tying new foods.
Dried herbs and spices are healthy cheap food staples that are good to have on hand and can cut down on food waste.
Try herbs and spices that can be used in a variety of meals like cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, paprika, oregano and parsley.
What are some of your favorite healthy, cheap food staples? Let me know in the comments!