Millions of Americans live below the poverty level of $23,550 a year for a family of four. With everything costing more these days, it can prove difficult to provide your family with nutritious, inexpensive meals. Although it seems that junk foods may be a better bargain than fruits and vegetables, junk foods lack the essential nutrients that your family needs to stay healthy. What to do? Following are the best foods for nutritional value, low cost and the ability to fill you up.
Beans: Beans are a bargain. Canned beans are often less than $1 a can. Dried, bulk beans are even cheaper. Beans have more protein than any other plant food, are full of vitamins, have plenty of fiber to help fill you up, and are low in fat. Dried beans have no sodium, except for what you add, and you can purchase lower sodium canned beans.
Rice: Especially brown rice. For less than $2 a pound, rice is a good source of more than 15 nutrients. Paired with beans, the protein quality is as good as any animal protein. Brown rice has more fiber and nutrients than white rice and is digested slower so you stay full longer.
Oatmeal: Oats are a good source of fiber and other nutrients. Don’t like oatmeal? Oats can be used in a variety of ways. Make your own granola, muffins or cookies. Or, use oatmeal to extend hamburger in dishes like meatballs or meatloaf. A container of oats has around 30 servings and costs less than $4.
Eggs: Probably the cheapest, highest quality protein you can buy. At about twenty-five cents each, eggs can make an inexpensive, satisfying meal.
Frozen vegetables: Often, you can buy frozen vegetables for just $1 a bag for four or more servings. Cook in the microwave or toss in with a soup, stew or skillet dish and you have an easy, filling and healthful addition to your meal. Frozen vegetables are just as nutrient-rich as fresh vegetables and are better than canned vegetables because no salt is added.
Cabbage: At less than $1 per head, this cruciferous vegetable can feed a bunch. Make a big batch of coleslaw, bake it up for a side dish or add it to a vegetable soup.
Carrots: Bags of carrots are especially cheap if you buy the whole carrots and cut them up yourself, rather than the uniform little baby carrots. Carrots make an inexpensive, healthy snack.
Sweet potatoes: Loaded with fiber, beta carotene, Vitamin A and potassium, sweet potatoes provide a lot of nutrition for the money. Try them baked, mashed, chunked and roasted or even for French fries.
Potatoes: Plain old white potatoes make a good side dish for very little money. Despite their reputation as an unhealthy food, potatoes are a good source of potassium and other necessary vitamins. It’s what we add to the potatoes that is not-so- healthy, such as butter, sour cream and cheese.
Page 2 of 2 - Popcorn: Avoid the already popped kind and the microwave bags to save money. A big bag of popcorn kernels costs just a dollar or two and will make mountains of popcorn to snack on. You don’t need any special equipment to pop it — use a pan on stove top or put a couple tablespoons of kernels in a brown paper lunch bag and pop in the microwave. Popcorn makes a filling snack because of the fiber content and is better for you than chips.
Frozen whole turkey: Watch for a sale price, and snag a whole turkey. You can roast it yourself and have lots of meat to use for sandwiches or in a multitude of dishes. After cooking, slice or chop the meat, portion it up and store in the freezer for your own cheaper and healthier lunchmeat.
Canned tuna: You know you should eat more fish, but it can be expensive. Don’t overlook inexpensive tuna as an economical way to get your Omega 3s. The cheaper chunk light tuna delivers just as much heart healthy fat as the more expensive options.
Pasta: Looking for an inexpensive way to fill up hungry kids? Pasta fills the bill. Choose whole grain to get maximum health benefits. Think meatless for even more savings.
Anita Marlay, R.D., L.D., is a dietitian in the cardiac rehab department at Lake Regional Health System in Osage Beach, Mo.