The Broke Girl's Guide To Healthy Eating

Illustrated by Anna Sudit.
This article was originally published on April 26, 2016.
Yes, it's true that health food can be staggeringly expensive — especially if it's something trendy, like raw almonds or cold-pressed green juice. But, eating well and staying on a budget don't have to be mutually exclusive. The secret is to plan ahead and choose staples you can cook with all week long. These foods — like canned beans, for example — aren't necessarily flashy, but are still packed with nutrients. Click through for a list of affordable and healthy items you should always have on your grocery list. You can use these to whip up countless good-for-you meals and snacks.
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Cantaloupe

What they cost: $1-$5 depending on the size.

Why they're healthy: One serving of these brightly-colored melons offers your entire daily recommended amount of vitamins A and C. It'll also get you some potassium and fiber.

How to cook with them: A fruit salad staple, cantaloupe are great when combined with other fruits or alongside cottage cheese or Greek yogurt.

Build a quick meal from this shopping list: You can go classic and use half a melon as the bowl for a scoop of cottage cheese. But we'd suggest slipping chopped pieces of cantaloupe into your smoothies — especially with berries, spinach, banana, and carrots.
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Garlic

What it costs: $2-$5 per pound.

Why it's healthy: On its own, garlic provides a tiny bit of vitamins C and B6. But perhaps its greatest asset is its taste, which can be used to spice up otherwise boring (if healthy) dishes.

How to cook with it: The possibilities are seemingly endless with garlic: You can chop it and brown it in a skillet with some oil to top a seafood dish, oven-roast whole cloves with vegetables, or mince it up with butter and use as a spread.

Build a quick meal from this shopping list: For one of the easiest side dishes known to humankind, simply sauté chopped garlic, salt, pepper, and spinach in a pan with a drizzle of oil. You'll know it's done when the spinach has wilted (which takes just a minute or two).
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Pears

What they cost: $2-$3 per pound.

Why they're healthy: Each pear contains about 12% of your recommended vitamin C and six grams of fiber.

How to cook with them: A pear is a great, slightly sweet snack on its own. But you can also slice or chop them up as salad ingredients, roast them with veggies and turkey, or use them as pie filling.

Build a quick meal from this shopping list: Peel, quarter, and lightly grill a pear along with a chicken breast. Slice both, serve over a bed of spinach and/or kale, and top with a zesty lemon dressing.
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Cottage Cheese

What it costs: $1.50-$4 for a 16 oz container.

Why it's healthy: The best thing about cottage cheese is that it's full of protein, but doesn't feel super heavy. So it'll help you stay full and energized without leaving you feeling like you need to sit and digest it for the rest of the day.

How to cook with it: Cottage cheese is the perfect base for a morning helping of fruit, granola, or sliced almonds. But it's also a great substitute in pretty much any situation that calls for a creamy, cheesy substance (e.g. baked into scones, in mac-and-cheese, or casseroles).

Build a quick meal from this shopping list: Swap your morning yogurt for cottage cheese topped with a handful of frozen berries and rolled oats.
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Black Beans

What they cost: About $1-$2 per can.

Why they're healthy: Packed with fiber and protein, these beans will fill you up and give you long-lasting energy. Plus, when eaten with rice, they form a complete protein.

How to cook with them: Black beans make a great base for all your favorite protein and veggie bowls. You can also use them in soups, chili, burritos, or salad.

Build a quick meal from this shopping list: Fill up a bowl with brown rice and beans, then top it off with avocado, salsa, and some grilled chicken for a weeknight dinner staple.
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Popcorn

What it costs: $3-$5 for about 5-7 ounces.

Why it's healthy: There are a bunch of varieties of popcorn out there and the exact nutritional profile of each one is different. But in general, you can expect your popcorn to have a fair amount of fiber and small amounts of magnesium, phosphorous, and potassium. To avoid too much sodium and unnecessary additives, try to opt for a type of popcorn that keeps it simple with just olive oil and sea salt. Or buy the un-popped variety in bulk and make your own.

How to cook with it: Just pop it up! Add some nutritional yeast on top for some extra protein and cheesy goodness.

Build a quick meal from this shopping list: Mix it up with almonds and your favorite spices for a filling snack you can take with you.
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Red Cabbage

What it costs: About $1 per head.

Why it's healthy: Red cabbage is a fantastic source of vitamin A and has nearly an entire day's worth of vitamin C. It also contains calcium, iron, and potassium.

How to cook with it: Red cabbage does very well in a slow cooker with a meat of your choice or pan-fried with potatoes for a morning hash. But it's also great raw and chopped up in a salad with your favorite fruits and veggies.

Build a quick meal from this shopping list: Slice up your cabbage and mix it with veggies, olive oil, and balsamic or apple cider vinegar for a hearty slaw. Or swap those veggies for apple, cranberries, and beets for a sweeter salad.
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Baby Carrots

What they cost: About $1-$2 for a 16-ounce bag.

Why they're healthy: These may be small, but they're totally packed with fiber, iron, potassium and a whole host of vitamins.

How to cook with them: Honestly, these babies might be best on their own or with a little hummus. But feel free to chop them into salads, steam them for a light side dish, or roast them in some olive oil, salt, and pepper as you would with bigger carrots.

Build a quick meal from this shopping list: Place your baby carrots in an oven-safe dish and drizzle some olive or vegetable oil on top. Add some chopped garlic, salt, pepper, and dried thyme. Roast for about a half hour until the carrots are tender and serve alongside a grilled chicken breast.
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Oranges

What they cost: About $1 per pound.

Why they're healthy: Hello, vitamin C! This immune system-boosting essential vitamin may be the most well-known benefit of oranges, but they've got a lot more perks to offer: vitamin A, potassium, and a healthy dose of fiber to name a few.

How to cook with them: Thanks to decades of orange juice commercials, we tend to associate these with breakfast, and they are great on their own as a morning snack. But also try them in salads or on top of a grilled chicken breast or salmon filet. And don't forget the zest! It'll come in handy for marinades and desserts.

Build a quick meal from this shopping list: Peel and slice an orange. Then mix in chopped avocado, chickpeas, and onion. Lay this over a bed of spinach and top with a drizzle of olive oil, salt, pepper, and lemon juice for a bright, zesty lunch salad.
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Illustrated by Anna Sudit.
Quinoa

What it costs: $4-5 for one bag.

Why it's healthy: It's a healthy carb that'll give you long-lasting energy and fiber.

How to cook with it: Bring it to a boil and serve alongside your favorite vegetables and eggs.

Build a meal from this shopping list: Add some avocado and egg with spinach for a quick quinoa bowl.
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Illustrated by Anna Sudit.
Tofu

What it costs: Around $2.50 per lb.

Why it’s healthy: Tofu earns its status as a staple food for its healthy dose of protein and iron to keep you energized and full.

How to cook with it: Bake it or fry it, the choice is yours.

Build a quick meal from this shopping list: Fry up crispy tofu with some vegetables of your choice and add curry sauce (or any sauce of your choice) for a tasty stir-fry dish.
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Illustrated by Anna Sudit.
Pinto Beans

What they cost: Around $2 per can.

Why they’re healthy: Pinto beans are an excellent source of protein and fiber. This means they keep your muscles healthy and your stomach full, respectively.

How to cook with them: Pinto beans are perfect for a burrito or on the side of nachos, though they’re versatile enough to work as a side for most meals.

Build a quick meal from this shopping list: Add a cup of pinto beans to a chicken salad to help you feel full and energized long after your lunch break.
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Illustrated by Anna Sudit.
Whole Wheat Bread

What it costs: About $3-5 per loaf.

Why it’s healthy: Whole wheat bread is a great source of fiber, which keeps you feeling full and satisfied as well as keeping your digestive system regulated.

How to cook with it: Toast is fit for all occasions, whether on the side of your morning eggs, or even with your dessert. Also: sandwiches!

Build a quick meal from this shopping list: add a mashed avocado on two slices of toasted whole wheat bread for that ubiquitous but tasty avocado toast. Optional: Top it off with an egg and salt to taste.
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Illustrated by Anna Sudit.
Whole Grain Pasta

What it costs: About $2 per box.

Why it’s healthy: You might think of pasta as a bit of an indulgence, but whole grain pasta can be a tasty way to sneak more healthy whole grains into your diet. Whole grains have actually been linked to a longer life. They are fiber-rich and have been connected to lower cholesterol and blood pressure.

How to cook with it: Everyone loves pasta for a multitude of reasons, one of which is that we can agree that you can eat it with anything. Boil up some whole grain pasta for a classic carbonara recipe.

Build a quick meal from this shopping list: mix together some rotini pasta with olive oil, vinegar, and a mix of your favorite veggies for an easy pasta salad.
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Illustrated by Anna Sudit.
Chicken Breast

What it costs: Around $3-$4 per lb.

Why it’s healthy: As you probably know, chicken is full of protein, an important building block for strong bones and muscles. It’s also rich in vitamin B6, which helps to protect your immune system and regulate your metabolism.

How to cook with it: The best part about chicken? “You can go so many different ways,” says Molly Rieger, RD, of Tovita Nutrition. “If you want to keep it simple, go with a plain baked chicken with a side of vegetables.”

Build a quick meal from this shopping list: You can also dice up chicken to add to a salad or a pasta or a quinoa dish, Rieger says. If you have a little time, stir-fry your chicken with vegetables and mix it with some brown rice. If you’re feeling especially inspired, we’ve got you covered.
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Illustrated by Anna Sudit.
Brown Rice

What it costs: About $1 for a 1 lb. bag.

Why it’s healthy: Brown rice is made up of whole grains, which, according to recent study, have been linked to a longer life. It’s also full of fiber, meaning it’s great for your digestion and heart health. Most of us don’t eat as much fiber and whole grains as we need to, but since brown rice is such a staple, it’ll make it easier to get your daily intake.

How to cook with them: Not only is brown rice super nutritious, it’s also pretty easy to cook. Boil up a cup of brown rice to eat with chicken and spinach or broccoli to get your protein and vegetable serving for the day, too.

Build a quick meal from this shopping list: You can also toss together a mixed veggie rice salad with a medley of chopped vegetables like cucumbers, bell peppers, and zucchini. The brown rice will add a little depth to your salad and keep your stomach full and happy until your next meal.
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Illustrated by Anna Sudit.
Spinach

What it costs: About $2 for a pre-packaged bag.

Why it's healthy: Spinach is loaded with nutrients such as calcium and potassium, and it's high in vitamin A (responsible for healthy skin and hair) and vitamin K (which strengthens your bones). It’s also high in fiber and water content, both of which keep you from getting constipated.

How to cook with it: Toss spinach into a skillet with a bit of olive oil and a sprinkle of garlic. Add the cooked spinach to a pair of poached eggs (protein!) and English muffins, and you’ve got yourself an eggs Florentine dish worthy of weekend brunch.

Build a quick meal from this shopping list: Molly Rieger, RD, of Tovita Nutrition, also recommends adding spinach to a smoothie with almond milk, a frozen banana, and a tablespoon of peanut butter for a quick and easy breakfast. If that sounds weird, don’t worry — Rieger promises that any vegetable taste will be neutralized by the banana and peanut butter. But, you’ll still get all the nutrients of spinach.
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Illustrated by Anna Sudit.
Eggs

What they cost: About $3-$7 per dozen, depending on whether you choose organic, cage-free, etc.

Why they're healthy: Ounce for ounce, an egg is one of the most nutritious foods you can eat. It contains all nine essential amino acids and is rich in iron, phosphorous, selenium, and vitamins A, B12, B2, and B5. One egg contains 113 mg of choline, a nutrient that’s critical for healthy brain function. Eggs also contain lutein and zeaxanthin, antioxidants that can help protect your vision. Almost all of these nutrients are found in the yolk, so eat the whole egg!

How to cook with them: "I take eggs and oatmeal and make it into a porridge" to get more protein in at breakfast, says Jessica Crandall, RD and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. It sounds unconventional, but all you have to do is crack one egg into your oatmeal and prepare as usual. Your oatmeal may seem a little fluffier because of the egg, but otherwise you won't taste it.

Build a quick meal from this shopping list: Make a Southwestern omelet with salsa and diced avocado.
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Illustrated by Anna Sudit.
Canned Fish, Such As Tuna & Salmon

What it costs: About $2-$5 for a can of tuna and about $4-$5 for a can of salmon.

Why it's healthy: Canned tuna and salmon are excellent sources of vitamins B6 and B12, magnesium, potassium, selenium, and anti-inflammatory omega 3 fatty acids. (So are other varieties of canned fish, like sardines and anchovies — but they can be more of an acquired taste.) And, salmon is one of the best food sources of vitamin D, a nutrient that’s crucial for our immune function, bone health, and mental health. Canned fish is "a very portable option, and it also has good sources of omega-3 fatty acids," says Crandall.

How to cook with it: Don't worry about removing the bones if there are any — unlike the bones in fresh fish, which can pose a choking hazard, these bones are softer as a result of the canning process. And, canned fish bones are a terrific source of dietary calcium. Make tuna or salmon burgers in a food processor: Combine the fish with a little olive oil or mayonnaise, breadcrumbs, and the seasonings of your choice, then pan-sear the patties until golden brown on both sides. For a quick, easy lunch, simply add the fish (right out of the can) to a salad with a little olive oil and lemon juice.

Build a quick meal from this shopping list: Make a kale and apple salad, top with canned fish, and dress with olive oil and lemon juice.
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Illustrated by Anna Sudit.
Avocados

What they cost: About $.88-$2 each. Unless you live in Southern California, avocados can be a bit of a splurge.

Why they're healthy: Avocados contain healthy fat and protein, and they're packed with lots of vitamins and minerals. In fact, they have more potassium than a banana, and high doses of vitamins C, E, K, B6, and folate.

How to cook with them: You can add avocado to just about anything, like sandwiches, eggs, dips, and even frosting or brownies. For an on-the-go snack, just grab an avocado and a pinch of sea salt — it's essentially a mini meal all on its own.

Build a quick meal from this shopping list: Stir together canned tuna or salmon with garbanzo beans, a little olive oil, lemon juice, salt, and pepper and top with avocado for a different take on white bean salad.
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Illustrated by Anna Sudit.
Oats

What they cost: $2.69-$4.29 for a canister or bag (usually between 18-22 oz)

Why they're healthy: One of oats’ standout qualities is that they contain beta glucans, compounds that slow the rate at which carbohydrates are absorbed by the body. This helps keep your blood sugar levels steady and could be the reason why oats seem to keep people fuller longer than most other cereals. Just one half cup of oats contains a generous dose of folate, iron, magnesium, potassium, and zinc as well more than 100% of the recommended daily dose of manganese — a mineral necessary for strong bones and healthy skin.

How to cook with them: You don’t have to eat oats Oliver Twist-style. You can blend them into smoothies, soak them overnight with berries, or combine them with your Greek yogurt. As far as rolled versus steel-cut verses quick, nutritionally they’re all about equal; the only difference is texture and cook time, so pick your preference.

Build a quick meal from this shopping list: Combine oats, Greek yogurt, and frozen berries in a blender for a high-protein, high-fiber, low-sugar smoothie that will keep you going all morning.
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Illustrated by Anna Sudit.
Greek Yogurt

What it costs: About $1.25-$2 per small tub

Why it's healthy: Greek yogurt packs up to three times the protein of regular yogurt, and many brands also contain beneficial bacteria that aid digestion. Go ahead and buy the full-fat kind instead of fat-free — full-fat dairy has been linked to a reduced risk of type 2 diabetes and a lower incidence of weight gain, and it also helps your body absorb nutrients better.

How to cook with it: Plain yogurt is perfect for savory dishes — it's great in marinades, dressings, and dips, and you can also use it instead of heavy cream, mayonnaise, or sour cream. And, of course, it's delicious for breakfast — including smoothies.

Build a quick meal from this shopping list: Make a protein-packed hummus by blending garbanzo beans with Greek yogurt, lemon juice, olive oil, garlic, salt, and pepper. Use as a sandwich spread or dip (try it paired with homemade kale chips).
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Illustrated by Anna Sudit.
Frozen Mixed Berries

What they cost: About $3-$4 per bag (typically 8-12 oz).

Why they're healthy: Berries are low in sugar, high in fiber, and one of the best food sources of antioxidants. But, if you can’t get to a farmer’s market, frozen fruits might be your next best bet, as research has shown that frozen produce often contains more nutrients than what's found in the refrigerator case. This is because frozen produce is processed shortly after it's picked, while fresh sometimes travels hundreds of miles before it ends up on a supermarket shelf — and during that time, its vitamins and antioxidants start to degrade.

How to cook with them: Crandall suggests putting berries on top of your yogurt to add fiber and antioxidants to your meal.

Build a quick meal from this shopping list: Thaw the berries and mix with Greek yogurt; use as a topping on oatmeal, pancakes, or granola.
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Illustrated by Anna Sudit.
Sweet Potatoes

What they cost: About $1.29 per lb

Why they're healthy: Sweet potatoes are packed with vitamin C, B6, and potassium, plus nearly 400% our RDV of vitamin A. Carotenoids, the compounds that give the potatoes their orange color, are powerful antioxidants that can help strengthen our eyesight and boost our immunity in addition to protecting against aging.

How to cook with them: Dice up some sweet potatoes for breakfast home fries. They're also delicious roasted (try them topped with toasted nuts or pomegranate seeds). Or, you can simply bake them (a shortcut: Pierce the skin a few times and microwave on high for 5-8 minutes) and eat with your favorite toppings.

Build a quick meal from this shopping list: Cut sweet potatoes into small cubes and sauté with ground beef and kale. If you have them on hand, add spices like cinnamon, turmeric, coriander, and cumin to turn it into a curry. (Curry powder works great, too.)
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Illustrated by Anna Sudit.
Ground Beef

What it costs: About $6-$7 per 1lb package

Why it's healthy: Beef — and red meat in general — has significantly more B12, iron, and zinc than white meat. And, it can often be the best choice for those on a budget. This is because meat from ruminant animals (cows, sheep, goats, buffalo, etc.) is made up of about equal parts saturated and monounsaturated fat, and only a small amount of polyunsaturated fat (which can be inflammatory). Unlike pork and poultry, the ratio of these fats stays relatively constant no matter what the animal eats. So, red meat can be a better choice for people who can't afford pasture-raised or grass-fed meats.

How to cook with it: Ground beef can be more susceptible to bacterial contamination (the germs get mixed into the meat as it's chopped up), so use a meat thermometer when cooking and make sure the temperature hits 160 degrees. One pound can make up to four meals, says Mason, who uses ground beef to make meatloaf, chili, stuffed peppers, and stir-frys.

Build a quick meal from this shopping list: Brown the beef in a frying pan, then add lentils and frozen veggies and season with a sprinkling of dried sage, turmeric, sea salt, black pepper, and fresh thyme.
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Illustrated by Anna Sudit.
Kale

What it costs: About $3.49 per bunch of organic kale.

Why it's healthy: Ah, the vegetable everyone loves. Or loves to hate. Whichever side of the fence you’re on, the fact is, kale didn’t get all that hype for no reason. One cup, chopped, has 206% our RDV of vitamin A, 134% vitamin C, and a whopping 684% of our vitamin K. Kale also contains glucosinolates, sulfur-containing compounds that may protect against cancer and help our bodies detoxify.

How to cook with it: Kale stands up to dressings without getting soggy — in fact, many culinary pros actually recommend dressing your kale ahead of time for better flavor. So, you can make kale salad on a Sunday and still be eating good on Tuesday. Homemade kale chips are also super-easy to make (roast pieces in a single layer in the oven) and will satisfy a potato chip craving — just check your teeth when you're done.

Build a quick meal from this shopping list: Sauté kale and garbanzo beans with olive oil, salt, and pepper. Then top with Greek yogurt. Drizzle with olive oil and lemon juice and season with a little more salt and pepper.
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Illustrated by Anna Sudit.
Frozen Vegetable Medley

What it costs: About $3 -$3.50 per package (typically 10-12 oz)

Why it's healthy: Like frozen berries, frozen veggies often contain more nutrients than produce that has been shipped long distances or left to refrigerate for an extended period of time. And, you don't have to worry about them going bad, which is a waste of money. Like all veggies, the frozen kind will bump up the amount of fiber and vitamins in a meal.

How to cook with it: You can add frozen veggies to just about any dish that could use more produce. Because they have a soft texture, frozen veggies are best in cooked dishes like stir frys, pastas, casseroles, and soups.

Build a quick meal from this shopping list: Make a stir fry with the veggies and ground beef and top with a fried egg.
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Illustrated by Anna Sudit.
Green Apples

What they cost: About $5 for a 4-pack of organic, even less if you buy the conventional kind.

Why they're healthy: Low in sugar and high in soluble fiber, green apples help fill you up and stabilize blood sugar levels. As an added bonus, they can also save you from bad breath. That's because the tartness in the apple stimulates saliva, which helps to break down bacteria in your mouth.

How to cook with them: The flavor of a green apple can be used from breakfast to dinner. Green apples are great in juices and smoothies, and they're also delicious sliced into salads. Or, try sautéing or roasting them and serving with chicken.

Build a quick meal from this shopping list: Chop up an apple and mix it with kale and lentils. Toss with a dressing made from vinegar (preferably apple cider), olive oil, Dijon mustard, and honey.
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Illustrated by Anna Sudit.
Garbanzo Beans

What they cost: About $2-$2.50 per 15oz can.

Why they're healthy: One cup contains 15g of protein and a whopping 12g of fiber, not to mention iron, magnesium, potassium, and more than 70% of our RDV of folate.

How to cook with them: You can toss them into salads, or mash them with lemon juice and olive oil to make a cracker dip.

Build a quick meal from this shopping list: Make chickpea fritters by blitzing together one can of garbanzo beans (drained), one egg, 1/2 cup flour, an onion, and garlic in a food processor. Shape into patties and fry in a skillet. Top with Greek yogurt, olive oil, lemon juice, salt, and pepper.
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Illustrated by Anna Sudit.
Lentils

What they cost: About $1.25-$2 per 16oz bag, or about $2-$2.50 per 15oz can.

Why they're healthy: Lentils are super-high in minerals like thiamin, folate, iron, magnesium, potassium, zinc, and manganese. This is important because minerals help carry out nearly all our body’s enzymatic processes, including energy production, and we can only get them through food. Lentils' high fiber content helps digestive function and keeps blood sugar levels stable. And, with 18g of protein per cup, you can use them in place of meat and still feel satisfied.

How to cook with them: Puree cooked (or canned, drained) lentils in a food processor with olive oil and spices of your choice to make a healthy dip/sandwich spread. Or, use lentils in place of meat to make vegetarian meatballs. Lentils are delicious in salads, too: Try a Mediterranean-inspired one with tomatoes, olives, mixed greens, and canned tuna.

Build a quick meal from this shopping list: Make an easy lentil soup by pureeing lentils with Greek yogurt and thawed frozen veggies. Season to taste.
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Illustrated by Anna Sudit.
Salsa

What it costs: Ranges widely from about $2.50-$6 per jar

Why it's healthy: The veggies and fruits in salsa can deliver a wide range of antioxidants, vitamins, and phytochemicals as well as potassium, a mineral that is often lacking in the modern diet.

How to cook with it: Of course you can use salsa in the traditional sense, as a dip (make it healthier by pairing it with cut veggies instead of chips). But, you can also add it to your morning eggs, or use it as a topping for most meats. It’s so versatile, you could probably pair it with just about anything else on this list. (Except maybe oats? We won't stop you.)

Build a quick meal from this shopping list: Make a Mexican-inspired fry-up by sautéing ground beef in a skillet with taco seasoning. Then, top with Greek yogurt, salsa, and avocado.
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Illustrated by Anna Sudit.
Almonds

What they cost: About $4 for a six-ounce can.

Why they’re healthy: Almonds are especially high in fiber, with just a one-ounce serving (about 23 almonds) containing 3.5 grams of fiber.
They also have protein and omega-3 fatty acids, which help protect your heart.

How to cook with them: Almonds are also extremely versatile. Crandall recommends tossing them into your morning oatmeal, or into a salad.

To incorporate them into a fuller meal, she suggests making a mock-breaded chicken by coating the chicken in whipped egg yolk and then sprinkling crushed almonds on top.

Build a quick meal from this shopping list: Toss some almonds into a salad with thawed berries and kale for a little extra kick of protein.
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Illustrated by Anna Sudit.
Bananas

What they cost: $2-$3 per pound

Why they’re healthy: Bananas are constantly being touted as a great source of potassium, which is a key nutrient for keeping your heart and kidneys running smoothly. They are also good sources for antioxidants like vitamins A, C, and E.

How to cook with them: Bananas can be a great option for dessert. Crandall recommends freezing a banana and mashing it down and adding a few cocoa chips or a cinnamon sprinkle on top. “It’s like banana ice cream,” she says.

Build a quick meal from this shopping list: Top your oatmeal (made with an egg!) with banana slices.
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