Yes, it is possible to improve your diet without increasing your spending.
Great news for anyone who wants to save money and eat healthier—in other words, pretty much all of us. A new study suggests that it really is possible to do both at once.
The secret? Cook more at home. Researchers at the University of Washington School of Public Health found that families who had this one thing in common tended to eat better without spending more on food than families who cooked less.
For the study, published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, researchers interviewed 437 adults living in and around Seattle, asking them what they ate in the last week and where. They also gathered information about participants’ income, employment, family size, and other demographics. Overall, they found that people who cooked more often met more of the federal guidelines for a healthy diet. And while home-cooked meals were associated with diets lower in calories, sugar, and fat, they weren’t associated with higher grocery bills.
Researchers are further analyzing participants’ diets to determine the best real-world strategies for eating healthy on a budget. “Not all fruits and vegetables are equally expensive,” says study co-author Anju Aggarwal, PhD, acting assistant professor of epidemiology. “So instead of buying the most expensive fruit, maybe you buy bananas and oranges. Maybe you start eating more whole grains, and you eat less fat and sugar.”
“As long as you know which food groups to pick from, how much to eat, and how to cook it, you can improve your diet without increasing your costs,” she adds.
To get you started, here are some budget-friendly kitchen staples that only taste like a million bucks.
Extra-virgin olive oil
A staple of the Mediterranean diet, olive oil is rich in healthy fats linked to a reduced risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and stroke. You can cook with it, or drizzle it over fish, pasta, and vegetables.
Cost per serving: 15 cents
A bottle of this natural sweetener can last years. Sweeten homemade marinades and salad dressings, or incorporate it into homemade baking. Or, incorporate it into your beauty routine: Beauty uses for honey include zapping zits, softening hair, ditching dark under-eye circles, and more.
Cost per serving: 31 cents
Not only inexpensive, chickpeas (also known as garbanzo beans) are a great source of protein and fiber. Toss them in salads, mix them into salsas, or blend them into hummus. Or get creative with this recipe for high-protein chickpea waffles.
Cost per serving: 40 cents
A cup of cooked quinoa sets you up with 8 grams of protein, 5 grams of fiber, and just 222 calories. Adding quinoa to your diet is easy—use it in place of white rice for a more nutrient-packed dish.
Cost per serving: 65 cents
In just one egg, you'll get 6 grams of waist-slimming protein for just 70 calories. And though nutrition experts used to warn that eating too much dietary cholesterol would spike blood cholesterol, in recent years, they've changed their tune. No time to whip up eggs every morning? Make these frittata muffins Sundays for a workweek full of healthy breakfasts.
Cost per serving: 30 cents
They're cheap, available year-round, and can serve as a natural sweetener in smoothies, plain yogurt, and homemade breads. Plus, a medium banana boasts 12% of your daily value of potassium, 3 grams of filling fiber, and and nearly 20% of your daily value for both vitamins C and B6. This avocado banana bread recipe is sure to satisfy your sweet tooth.
Cost per serving: 29 cents
Garlic lets you flavor dishes for no additional calories, fat, or sodium. For added convenience, buy chopped, jarred garlic.
Cost per serving: 13 cents
This condiment is packed with the immune-boosting nutrient selenium. It also contains turmeric, a spice with cancer-fighting properties.
Cost per serving: 4 cents
Vinegar boosts blood flow by opening up blood vessels. It also adds flavor to food for virtually no calories.
Cost per serving: 39 cents