There’s a common misperception that it cost more money to eat healthy. And that is often given as an excuse by those on a limited budget who turn to fast food and other relatively inexpensive snack foods as to why their diets lack key nutrients.
In reality, eating healthy doesn't mean you have to spend more money at the supermarket. In fact, a new guide in the March 2011 issue of ShopSmart magazine has found a variety of food and drinks that are nutritious even for those on strict food budget.
Lisa Lee Freeman, editor-in-chief of ShopSmart, says “all it takes is a few tweaks to your shopping list. For example, just grabbing black beans over white ones or canned tomatoes instead of fresh can make a difference."
ShopSmart's "Get the Most Nutrition for Your Money" includes healthful food bargains grouped by nutrient -- antioxidants, fiber, protein, and more -- to make meal planning easier, prep tips for making tasty dishes with 25 healthful food bargains, six super seasonings to fire up the flavor of your dishes, and storage advice so you can stretch your dollars even more. Here’s a sample:
Cheap ways to get a super nutrient fix
- Cabbage (16 cents per serving; $2.50 for one medium head): Cabbage is loaded with Vitamins A and C. Try an Asian-inspired slaw of shredded cabbage, cashews, and a lime juice and sesame oil vinaigrette. Wrap in a perforated plastic bag in the refrigerator to store for about two weeks.
- Canned unsweetened pumpkin (38 cents per serving; $1.32 per 15-ounce can): The bright orange hue is a tip-off to high levels of beta carotene, which might help protect vision. Substitute it for sugar in muffins and blend it with Greek yogurt for a pudding-like treat. Stock up when it's on sale; cans will keep for about two years.
Feed your bones for less than $1 per serving
- Nonfat dry milk powder (17 cents per reconstituted cup; $5.99 per 26-ounce container): This is just milk that has had the water removed, so it equals the calcium and protein of regular milk for about 10 cents less a serving. Stir spoonfuls of milk powder into casseroles and mashed potatoes. Like regular milk, reconstituted milk must be refrigerated.
- Plain yogurt (70 cents per serving; $8.39 per case of 12): It's a quick and handy way to get calcium, and is also brimming with protein and good bacteria that aid digestion. For flavored yogurt at a fraction of the calories, stir in vanilla extract or an all-fruit spread. Yogurt also makes an excellent swap for cream in soups and desserts or sour cream on potatoes. Keep refrigerated for two to three weeks.
Stay regular for less than 50 cents a serving
- Quinoa (50 cents per serving; $3.99 per 12-ounce package): Quick-cooking quinoa has almost 50 percent more fiber than brown rice, plus a dose of protein. Simmer with milk and honey for a comforting hot breakfast, or use quinoa in place of rice. Keep in a cool, dark place in an airtight container for about one year.
- Popcorn (12 cents per serving; $1.89 per 28-ounce bag): Popcorn eaters get about 22 percent more fiber than non-popcorn eaters. Don't pile on calories with butter: spritz air- popped corn with cooking spray and toss with chili powder or oregano. To keep kernels from drying, store in an airtight container.
Fuel up for as little as 18 cents
- Dried black beans (24 cents per serving; $1.45 for 16-ounce bag): All beans are stellar sources of protein, fiber, and blood-pressure-friendly potassium, but dark beans pack more nutrients. For a more healthful taco filling, use less lean ground beef and mix in mashed-up beans. Keep dried beans airtight to have them last for years.
- Peanuts in the shell (12 cents per serving; $1.99 for 16 ounces): They're a cheap protein fix, and they shell out more than 30 essential nutrients, including a phytochemical linked to a reduction in heart disease and cancer risk. Coat fish fillets with finely-chopped nuts before baking, or keep some in your office or car for a terrific pick-me-up. Refrigerate nuts in the shell for up to nine months.
- Frozen shrimp ($1.36; $14.99 per 2-pound bag): Frozen shrimp is a low-calorie and relatively cheap source of omega-3s. For a quick meal, sauté shrimp with garlic and finely diced sun-dried tomatoes and serve on salad greens. Stash in the freezer as soon as you get home, and use within a year.
- Flaxseed (11 cents per serving; $1.79 per 16-ounce bag): This mighty seed has omega-3s and other fatty acids linked to immune-system strength, cardiovascular health, and cancer prevention. Whole flaxseeds pass through the body undigested, so grind them in the coffee grinder first, and mix the seeds with spices to sprinkle on beans, grains, and salads. Store flaxseed in a dark, dry, and cool place for two to three months.
Launched in 2006 by Consumers Union, publisher of Consumer Reports, ShopSmart features product reviews, shopping tips on how to get the most out of products and "best of the best" lists.