Hear us out when we say: we get it. Feeding a family healthy foods on a budget is no easy task. Kids complain about health foods not tasting as good as their processed counterparts, Ingredients can be expensive, and prep times can go on for hours depending on the dishes you serve.
But fear not – there’s no reason to panic or navigate away from the page just yet. We’ll start with some cheap (but nutritionally powerful) ingredients, and some simple meals you can make with them. However, we’ll also throw in some incredible tools that can help you make a healthy, inexpensive meal for your family out of the ingredients you have lying around your house. And when we say “any,” ingredient, we mean “any.”
Benefits: You have probably heard it shouted from the mountain tops that bananas are an excellent source of potassium. Well, the mountain-shouters are right, but did you know bananas are also a great source of fiber, vitamin B6, vitamin C, and vitamin A? Among many other nutrients! Plus they’re usually one of the cheapest fruits out there, usually falling in a price range south of $1 a bunch.
Quick meal idea: You can eat them on their own or add them to other healthy breakfast foods. Try slicing up a banana and adding it to another inexpensive nutritional power-player: oatmeal. Both are packed with fiber, which will keep you feeling full for hours after your meal.
Benefits: Full of nutrients like choline, sulfur, and lots of protein, eggs are the gold standard for a healthy food that won’t bust your budget. The beauty of eggs is they can be incorporated into a variety of different meals and dishes, from their simple fried or scrambled forms to quiches and casseroles.
Quick meal idea: Whether you prefer to cook with the entire egg or just the egg whites, there are so many ways to use this food of many faces. One great meal that also allows you to incorporate some greenery in the form of broccoli is a simple scrambled eggs with ricotta dish. Throw some broccoli, salt, and oil into a pan for about 6 minutes. Then add 8 large eggs, scramble until almost set, then remove them from the heat and sprinkle on some ricotta.
Benefits: Beans have long been a favorite of herbivores and omnivores alike because they can take on many different forms and flavors. With flavor, fiber, protein, iron, and antioxidants, ingredients like black beans are tasty, nutritious and cheap, often costing just 99 cents for a can.
Quick meal idea:From black bean soup to black beans and rice, there’s almost nothing you can’t do with these legumes. Try simmering a can of black beans with some minced garlic and onion. Then pour them over some brown rice and sprinkle with cheddar cheese, cilantro, tomato, avocado, and whatever other vegetables you enjoy. If you’re feeling really crazy, add some hot sauce.
Benefits: It’s a cheap, healthy ingredient that’s also incredibly underrated. Though it may get a bad wrap for being an incredibly uninteresting food most often incorporated into your grandmother’s questionable casseroles, there’s actually a lot you can do with a head of cabbage and a little imagination.
Quick meal idea: It’s as simple as chopping up a head of cabbage into thinly-sliced pieces (think: coleslaw), throwing it into a heavy-bottomed pan with some butter for 10 – 15 minutes, then seasoning it with salt and pepper.
Spice Things Up with a Cutting-Edge Cooking App
You may see this list and roll your eyes at the overly simplistic portrayal of foods, but did you know there’s a way to make a tasty meal out of just about any combination of ingredients, including those on this list?
If you’re like NPR correspondent Eliza Strickland and you’re into food experimentation (or you’re sick of the frustration that comes with making a trip to the grocery store and forgetting a key required in your dish), there’s an app for that, and its name is Watson.
After being programmed with the information for over 9,000 recipes from Bon Appetit magazine as well as the flavor compounds found in foods, Watson can create recipes from just about any combination of foods. So if you’ve got food lying around the house that you’d like to incorporate into heart-healthy dishes, let Watson do the thinking while you do the cooking.
Remember, food is the fuel your body uses to function, fight off disease, and heal from injury. Feeding yourself (or your family) meals full of preservatives and overly-processed foods is kind of like pouring sugar in your own gas tanks (no pun intended). It doesn’t just give your body fewer nutrients to work with – it oftentimes contributes to and exacerbates certain ailments.