10 Healthy Foods You Need In Your Pantry If You're On A Budget

Written by Ani Nercissian

During college, I tried my best to live frugally. I made it a point to use precisely what I had in my kitchen and I tried my best to never let food go to waste. You don’t have to sacrifice health and nutrients simply because you are eating on a budget.

Here are 10 healthy and inexpensive foods that became a staple of my low-budget college lifestyle, and may become a part of yours:

1. Lentils

Lentils are one of my favorite foods. You can choose from a wide variety, but my favorite are the black ones. Lentils are an excellent source of fiber, magnesium, and protein. They can be used in various soups, and they can also be added to salads and rice. I like cooking lentils with a whole onion, letting them cool, and adding olive oil and lemon juice to make a delicious and nutritious meal.

Recommended serving size: ½ cup cooked

2. Sardines

OK—before you turn your nose in protest, give ‘em a chance! Sardines are packed with nutrients that boost cardiovascular health, such as omega-3 fatty acids. My favorite way to eat sardines is to cut some (from a can) and add salt, pepper, lemon juice, and diced green olives.

Recommended serving size: 1 tin

3. Eggs

They’re versatile and full of nutrition, especially protein. Nothing better than a simple plate of scrambled eggs with a little hot sauce.

Recommended serving size: 1 egg

4. Almonds

Almonds are loaded with protein, folic acid, calcium, and magnesium. Just a handful of raw almonds can get you through the afternoon slump.

Recommended serving size: Just a handful

5. Quinoa

Quinoa is a protein-powerhouse, and not many people are familiar with this grain. Quinoa is a full-protein and is especially high in calcium. In addition, quinoa is full of heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids and anti-inflammatory nutrients. Quinoa can be added to soups, rice, and salads for an additional boost of protein.

Recommended serving size: ½ cup cooked

6. Garbanzo beans

Ah, garbonzo beans, the delicious beans with a funny name. Garbonzo beans, also known as chickpeas, are an excellent source of protein, iron, fiber, and antioxidants. The high-protein and low natural sugar levels of these beans make them an excellent choice for diabetics, as they can help prevent spikes in blood sugar levels. Pair these beans with lemon juice, dill, green onion, and cilantro for a delicious, no-fuss salad.

Recommended serving size: ½ cup cooked

7. Beets

Too often beets may be overlooked in the grocery store, which is unfortunate because beets are loaded with nutrients, including iron and folic acid, which is necessary for the repair and maintenance of new cells. Additionally, beets contain tryptophan, which can help elevate one’s mood and improve sleep quality—so eat up! Apart from borscht, beets can be added to a salad with spinach, garbonzo beans, and sunflower seeds.

Recommended serving size: 1 cup raw

8. Radishes

Perhaps you overlook these ruby-hued veggies at the grocery store, but radishes contain nutrients that are necessary for optimum health. Despite their humble size, radishes are very high in vitamin C. Radishes also contain a isothiocyanates, which have been shown to be effective in the fight against cancer. Radishes can be added to salads or simply eaten as snacks. I like munching on them with dinner.

Recommended serving size: 1 handful (about 6-8 radishes)

9. Steel-cut Oats

A cousin to the rolled-oats we may be more familiar with, steel-cut oats are full of nutrients, like protein, fiber, and B-vitamins. Steel-cut oats are the least processed oats of all—the oats are simply toasted and chopped into chunks. Also, steel-cut oats take longer to digest than rolled oats, and because of this, it leaves you feeling full longer, so you get more bang for your buck. Steel-cut oats can be eaten like regular oatmeal, with a sprinkle of dried cranberries for added flavor.

Recommended serving size: ¼ cup cooked

10. Kale/ Spinach

I cheated here and couldn’t choose between the two: kale and spinach are two superfoods that I use interchangeably. They are both loaded with iron, calcium, and potassium. They can be added to salads (that’s the obvious option), soups, or chopped teeny-tiny and added to pasta/rice dishes.

Recommended serving size: 1 cup raw

It’s important to be creative when eating on a budget. Nothing spells boring quicker than eating a can of beans night after night, so it’s important to think outside the box when preparing these meals.

Does a particular food combination sound good to you? Go ahead and give it a try! Do garbanzo beans sound boring and bland? Go ahead and add some herbs/spices to boost the appeal. Eating on a budget doesn’t have to be boring, nor does it have to be void of nutrients!

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