May 18, 2024


Free For All Food

10 Healthy, Budget-Friendly Foods a Dietitian Always Has in Her Kitchen

Welcome to Thrifty. A weekly column where assistant nutrition editor and registered dietitian, Jessica Ball, keeps it real on how to grocery shop on a budget, make healthy meals for one or two, and make earth-friendly choices without overhauling your entire life. 

food on a table: Getty Images/fcafotodigital

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In the wake of the holidays and another year coming to a close, it is natural to feel motivated for a fresh start. As for me, I have little interest in shelling out tons of money on the latest detox or fad diet. I’d much rather focus on getting lots of fruits, vegetables and whole foods, thank you. After the holidays, I’m usually looking to make sure both my spending habits and my healthy eating habits are on track. These are some foods I will be restocking and pretty much always have in my kitchen as a dietitian on a budget. 

food on a table: Get back on track with healthy eating without breaking the bank by stocking up on these foods.

© Getty Images/fcafotodigital
Get back on track with healthy eating without breaking the bank by stocking up on these foods.

10 Healthy, Budget-Friendly Foods a Dietitian Always Has in Her Kitchen 

These foods are great go-to’s for healthy meals and snacks. They are super affordable and nutritious, and many can even be stored at room temperature. These are the 10 foods I always have in my kitchen. 

1. Canned Fish 

I love canned fish in pretty much all shapes and forms. From tuna and salmon to sardines and anchovies. But I understand many people are not as adventurous with canned seafood as I am. However, it packs some serious nutrition, like protein and omega-3s, and deserves a spot in your pantry. Canned fish is much less expensive than fresh fish, at only $0.70 per ounce. If you are newer to the world of canned fish, start with something mild like tuna for a Mediterranean Tuna-Spinach Salad or salmon for our Easy Spicy Salmon Cakes

2. Oats 

I love oats, and I use them for way more than just oatmeal. Don’t get me wrong, I love Apple-Cinnamon Overnight Oats, but they have many other uses that make them a staple in my kitchen. Use them to give a boost of fiber to Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies or make a savory breakfast bowl by adding tomato and sausage. I even grind up oats in a food processor and use them in the place of breadcrumbs. Plus, making homemade oatmeal is a lot cheaper than buying boxed cereals. 

3. Eggs 

Eggs are one of the most affordable foods proteins in the grocery store, so they are a no-brainer to add to your cart if you eat animal products. They are packed with protein, vitamin B12 and choline and cook quickly to round out a balanced meal in minutes. Take them beyond breakfast with our Spinach, Feta & Rice Casserole and Egg Drop Soup with Instant Noodles, Spinach & Scallions. Shakshuka is also one of my go-to healthy dinners when I am short on time and groceries. If you have vegetables that are on their way out, saute them up and make it an egg scramble or omelet. 

Video: How Healthy Are Chickpeas, Really? (Shape)

How Healthy Are Chickpeas, Really?



4. Peanut Butter

For some of you, this may be off limits due to allergies in your household, but if it’s not, peanut butter is a great addition to your kitchen inventory. Spread it on toast, dip apple slices in it or stir it into oatmeal for some added protein, fiber and healthy fat. Peanut butter can be used for much more than sweet recipes like Peanut Butter Cookies. Give it a savory spin with Thai Spaghetti Squash with Peanut Sauce and Sweet Potato-Peanut Bisque. Coming in at as little as $0.19 per serving, this is one of the most nutritious and budget-friendly foods around. It is much cheaper than other nut butters like almond or cashew butter as well. 

5. Diced Tomatoes 

I wish I could say I always use fresh tomatoes that I grew in my garden for everything I make, but that’s just not possible. Instead, I keep a few cans of no-salt-added diced tomatoes on hand for when I need a cheap and easy vegetable to add to dinner. Sure, they are great for pastas like One-Pot Tomato Basil Pasta and Pasta Puttanesca with Beef. But don’t sleep on using them for other dishes like Middle Easter Chicken & Chickpea Stew or American Goulash. Pairing a can of tomatoes with eggs and any leftover veggies as Shakshuka will always be high on my list of quick meals. 

6. Beans 

Beans are near the top of my favorite foods list, and there’s good reason for this. They come in a variety of shapes, sizes and flavors, but they all are super affordable and packed with nutrition. They are full of fiber, protein, potassium, calcium and folate. Some experts even say they may be the key to longevity. Add them to Tuscan White Bean Soup or swap them in for meat in Roasted Vegetable & Black Bean Tacos. Legumes are so versatile, the possibilities range from curry to smoothies

7. Onions & Garlic 

Many types of cuisine call for onions and garlic, and this is for good reason. This fragrant duo makes pretty much every recipe better. Not to mention, these alliums are full of good-for-you sulfide compounds which can reduce your risk of certain cancers. Having these foods at-the-ready makes cooking recipes like Easy Eggplant Stir Fry and One-Pot Lemon-Broccoli Pasta with Parmesan a breeze.  

8. Potatoes 

I’m talking about sweet and white potatoes here, folks. They both have distinct, delicious flavors and tout some impressive health benefits. White potatoes are full of nutrients like fiber, vitamin B6 and potassium. Sweet potatoes are powerhouses for fiber, calcium, potassium, vitamin C and vitamin A. You can get a pound of each at the store for around $0.78 and $0.81 respectively, so they are great if you are on a budget. Plus, is there anything more comforting than Melting Potatoes or Sweet Potato Carbonara with Kale?

9. Frozen Berries 

Berries are delicious and nutritious, but they can be really expensive if you buy them fresh. Plus, they have a short shelf life so you run the risk of them going bad and being wasted. One way to beat the system is to buy frozen berries for a fraction of the price that stay good in your freezer for up to 10 months. They are perfect for smoothies, cobblers and jam

10. Rice 

Rice is one of the most versatile foods of them all. I could eat it for breakfast (don’t knock it till you try our Crispy Rice Bowls with Fried Eggs, lunch and dinner. While rice may not be the first thing you think of for a healthy food, it pairs perfectly with vegetables and proteins to make an easy, cheap and balanced meal. It is also an inexpensive grain compared to other specialty grains like quinoa or amaranth. Opt for brown rice or wild rice, to get an added boost of fiber, protein and potassium. It lasts up to six months in your cupboard and is super affordable for a side in a pinch. Recipes like Turkey & Brown Rice Chili, Easy Brown Rice PIlaf with Spring Vegetables and One-Pot Lentils & Rice with Spinach will make you a rice fiend. 

Bottom Line 

This new year, you may be trying to get back on track with healthy eating after a long holiday season. Luckily, there are ways to do that without breaking the bank. These are a few of my favorite budget-friendly foods that I always keep on hand. They help me make healthy meals and snacks with whatever I have in the fridge. This new year, focus on adding these wallet-friendly whole foods to your shopping list to help you kickstart a healthy year.

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