I try to encourage my friends and family to eat healthy but I very often hear them say, “I’d like to eat healthier, but I just can’t afford it.” So, with that in mind, I created a list of my 5 favorite cheap and healthy go-to’s that can be used for breakfast, lunch, or dinner to prove it IS possible to eat healthfully on a budget.
1. Quinoa: Quinoa has recently become very popular but there’s nothing new about this ancient food. Contrary to popular belief, quinoa is not a grain but a seed! When I tell people I eat mostly vegan they ask me, “but where do you get your protein!?” Plant foods can be a great source of protein but it is true that most plant foods are not complete proteins the way animal products are. The good news about quinoa is that it’s one of those plant based complete proteins. In addition, it’s also a great source of antioxidants, folate, and zinc. I love quinoa for breakfast as a replacement for oatmeal, mixed into my salad, and as a stir fry with veggies instead of rice. The possibilities are endless.
2. Eggs: If you’re not a vegan, eggs are great for their nutrients, versatility, and cost. They are an excellent source of calcium, magnesium, protein, and vitamins A, D, E, B6, and B12 to name a few. We all know how to make eggs for breakfast: scrambled, sunny side up, over easy, poached, hard boiled or soft boiled. But what about adding a sunny side up egg on top of your burger (or even better your veggie burger) or on top of a ‘dragon bowl’ made with sweet potato, quinoa, sautéed spinach, avocado, egg, and some hot sauce!
3. Sweet potatoes: I often hear people say that potatoes are starchy and should be avoided. No way! There’s tons of nutritional value in both sweet and regular potatoes. Sweet potatoes are rich in beta-carotene, heart-healthy vitamin A, and contain 150% more antioxidants then blueberries! I use them to make mashed sweet potatoes, breakfast home fries, and cubed in my quinoa & sweet potatoes veggie bowls. Cheap and easy to make, they are definitely worth a second look.
4. Frozen fruits & veggies: I’ll agree with you here- fresh fruits and veggies can be pricey so let me introduce you to the frozen aisle! This is a great way to buy your pricier produce cheaper, in bulk, and with a longer shelf life! My favorites are berries, broccoli, and peas. Easy to throw into smoothies, pancakes, pastas, stir fries, or even make “nice cream” (my vegan version of ice cream)! Choose your favorites and get cookin’!
5. Lentils: Lentils a great because they can add heartiness to any meal. I love them in soups and salads and use them to make veggie burgers and vegan taco “meat”. They are a great source of folate, fiber, iron and B-vitamins, making them a heart healthy addition to your diet.
When it comes to the ‘cost’ of eating healthy I say, “Think preventative!” Eating healthfully might cost you a little more time and money initially but could save you the cost of expensive drugs, hospital/doctor visits, and even surgery in the future, which I promise will far outweigh the cost at the grocery store. Eating healthy can be affordable, fun, and delicious! Get creative and enjoy!
by Sabine Gempel, DPT, PT, PMA-CPT