15 Healthy Kitchen Staples for Fast, Cheap Meals
Keep these basics in your kitchen at all times.
Shopping for groceries can be overwhelming—you've got crowds to dodge and a budget to keep in mind, not to mention the candy aisle calling your name. But that trip to the supermarket "is one of the most important things you'll do all week," says Cynthia Sass, RD, Health's contributing nutrition editor, because the foods you put in your shopping cart can make or break your healthy-eating goals. Having nutritious ingredients on hand makes it easy to whip up good-for-you meals, even on nights when you're tempted to order in.
And while there are plenty of trendy new health products on grocery store shelves—from pea protein chips to donkey milk—when you're trying to eat healthy and save, members of Reddit's r/EatCheapAndHealthy forum know how important it is to stock up on basics. Whether you're in need of a quick pantry dinner recipe or creative new ways to use up your zucchini stockpile, this community of budget-conscious cooks has answers. Here, 15 ingredients that r/EatCheapAndHealthy users always keep in their kitchens, plus suggestions for incorporating these foods into easy meals.
"Throw your favorite frozen veggies in a pan, cube some extra firm tofu and throw it into the pan, add stir fry sauce to your liking (my favorite is House of Tsang's), and heat until everything is warm. Optional is to serve it with a bag of that $1 frozen brown rice, and garnish it all with fresh green onion, sesame seeds, and Sriracha. If you want to get super fancy, throw in some matchstick carrots and shredded cabbage." —boldandbrasche
"Eggs. Lots of eggs. Make an omelet. Make a frittata. Throw in veggies. Throw in frozen ham steak. Mix an egg in instant ramen. Hard boil them and make egg salad." —ivylgedropout
"Pesto has saved me from a life of just getting pizza whenever I'm home from work tired. It's so easy. I keep pesto sauce, penne, bell peppers, and tinned sweetcorn always stocked. Add a load of black pepper, chili flakes, and some garlic granules perhaps. Takes as long as it takes to cook penne and is super easy." —mrandocairissian
"Wraps are my godsend because you can throw whatever in them and it's great, they are calorific but you can stuff them with healthy things." —firk
"They can become pasta sauce, Shakshuka, a sandwich, a salad. Very versatile depending on how much effort you want to put into the meal." —policymonk
"I like the pre-flavored and portioned tuna packets. They go on sale for $1 and I stock up. Eat straight from the pouch or mix in a salad or pasta." —QueenOfTheMud
"I snack on frozen mango chunks and frozen blueberries all the time in the morning or when it's hot. No preparation needed. But you can make smoothies too! They thaw out relatively fast so you could put some in your yogurt or oatmeal." —CupcakeKittenxo
"Take some rice, I use minute brown rice, and [microwave] it. Add a can of kidney beans, add a can of collard greens, add some Creole seasoning, mix it together and [microwave] it for a minute or two. Literally takes five minutes. I have a couple variations on seasonings I like (vegetables here are either canned or frozen): Rice + Black Beans + Sweet potato + Chili seasoning, Rice + Black beans + Corn + Lime juice + Taco seasoning, Rice + Green peas + cauliflower + Carrots + Curry powder. You could throw any of these in a tortillas as well." —humankinda
"Don't buy instant: it's incredibly not worth the cost. If you can afford the expense I would buy the cheapest per ounce container you can find of just plain rolled oats, or steel cut if you prefer. It'll probably be big, but it doesn't go bad. I strongly recommend overnight oats. Not because they're tasty (I'm ambivalent on the subject) but because having a breakfast that you can reach for and instantly eat in the morning is beyond luxurious." —Inanna26
"Potatoes, potatoes, and potatoes. Doesn't get cheaper or more nutrient dense." —FourOhTwo
"Cabbage is always a great choice—purple is especially full of antioxidants, and I've never seen either variety at more than 80 cents a pound. ... Cook [them] with potatoes and you've got a delicious, healthy, cheap and super filling meal." —spartanfrenzy
"[It's] a cheap way to add a lot of flavor, especially if you're going to be doing rice dishes; a 50 cent piece of ginger will last several meals, in my experience." —FedishSwish
"Put them on toast, use them in smoothies. Make guacamole. Eat it plain." —HanLeonSolo
"Put some chicken breasts, taco seasoning, and some salsa into a slow cooker for a few hours... makes juicy taco meat for the week. Buy some shredded cheese, avocado and other toppings. Good in tortillas, nachos, Quesadillas mixed in Spanish rice, all kinds of stuff." —Brrblues
"Scrambled eggs, beans, and greens are my go-to cheap and easy, healthy dinner. If you cook the beans from scratch at the beginning of the week, it's cheaper than canned (and less sodium if you're watching that), but even canned beans are pretty cheap. Kidney beans, chickpeas, navy beans, pinto beans, refried beans, choose whatever you like. Greens can be raw salad greens, cooked greens (collards, Swiss chard, kale, spinach), or other sautéed or steamed veggies. Add some hot sauce or salsa for a little zip. The variety from week to week keeps things from getting too boring." —EdditPDX