By Beth Lipton
It’s a common complaint: Healthy food is so expensive. While there's no question you can spend a ton on good-for-you fare, the fact is, there are plenty of ways to save a bundle and still eat like a champ. Here are seven delicious and nutritious foods you can enjoy for less than a buck per serving.
Gold ol’ PB has taken a backseat in recent years to more glamorous spreads made from almonds, cashews, sunflower seeds, and more. And while variety is great, classic peanut butter is hard to beat when it comes to inexpensive-yet-nutritious foods. Sixteen-ounce jars run from around $2.50 to $6 and beyond, with organic and flavored varieties at the pricier end of the spectrum. But even at $6 per jar, one serving (2 Tbsp.) is only about 43¢—and you get around 8g protein, healthy fats, fiber, and great flavor. Slather it on a sandwich or sliced apples or bananas; whirl it into a smoothie; bake with it; or whisk it with tamari, garlic, and ginger for a tangy dipping sauce.
Frozen chopped organic spinach
Frozen vegetables are a great option for money-saving: They’re less expensive than fresh, and since you only use what you need, there’s no waste. I like spinach in particular because of its versatility. Toss a handful into a skillet for an egg scramble, or add it to soup, mix into meatballs, whirl it into a dip, or blitz it into a smoothie. It can be a prominent ingredient (as in a spanakopita) or it can disappear into brownies. A 16-oz. bag of the Whole Foods 365 brand contains six 1-cup servings and costs $1.99, which works out to 31¢ per serving.
Eggs are another versatile food packed with nutrients. They’re readily available, easy to make into zillions of dishes, and a great source of protein, vitamin D (which is hard to find in food), choline, B vitamins, and selenium. You can find them for as little as $1.50 a dozen. And you can get organic eggs for $6 per dozen, which is only 50¢ per egg.
Talk about a great deal. Dried beans are cheapest—for a buck you can get a pound, which will yield you around 5 cups of cooked beans. But they require some planning, as they need to be soaked for a few hours and then cooked (unless you use a pressure cooker, in which case you can do it in less than an hour, even without soaking). But if you prefer the convenience of canned beans, you’re still looking at a pocket-change investment. A 15- to 15.5-oz. runs between $1.10 and around $2.50 (for organic), which works out to between 31¢ and 71¢ per ½-cup serving. Whirl them into dips, toss into salads, or mash with vegetables and grain and turn them into veggie burgers.
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One of the healthiest, most readily available, and most versatile vegetables in the produce section also happens to be one of the cheapest. A humble head of green cabbage, which costs around $2, yields about 5 cups, or 10 servings (5 servings if you cook it). So for 20¢, you get not only nearly half of your day’s vitamin C, but also nearly your full day’s vitamin K, plus folate and fiber. Cabbage is also a good source of prebiotics, carbohydrates that are non-digestible in the body but that feed good gut bacteria. Shred it and turn it into a simple slaw, or use the leaves as sandwich wraps in place of bread. You can also transform cabbage into a fast, healthy side dish by chopping and sautéing in a bit of butter until tender and turning golden in parts; then season lightly with salt and pepper. Red cabbage, at about $3 per head, is also a steal, and has all of the same benefits of its green cousin, plus it’s also loaded with vitamin A and phytonutrients.
These small-but-mighty legumes are a superfood, loaded with protein, fiber, iron, B vitamins, and folate. A pound of dried lentils, which costs about a dollar, contains about 2 ½ cups, which works out to about eight or nine ½-cup servings cooked (at 8 servings, that’s about 13¢ a serving). Lentils make excellent dips, salads, spreads, soups, sauces, and more.
It’s hard to find a more comforting, familiar staple than oats—though in recent years, they’ve been overshadowed by fancier grains (that’s you, farro, quinoa and spelt). Time to give them a fresh look: Not only are they able to magically transform into many different dishes suitable for any time of day, they’re also amazingly inexpensive. An 18-oz. can of old-fashioned rolled oats, which has thirteen ½-cup servings, costs around $3, which calculates to 23¢ per serving. Of course you can have it for breakfast, made the traditional way, prepped in advance for grab-and-go overnight oats, baked into squares or whirled into a smoothie. But oats also work well as a binder for meatballs or meatloaf, and as a savory side dish or the base for a grain bowl.