It can be difficult to make healthy food choices on a very limited budget, but it can be done with a little planning. The main thing to remember is to try to include as many nutritious items as possible from the four food groups of protein, produce, dairy and grains. Of course, you also have to take food allergies and preferences into consideration. Food prices will vary geographically as well, but in general some low cost nutritious foods to consider adding to your diet are:
- Eggs: Eggs are a very good source of protein as well as B vitamins. They are also one of the most versatile low cost nutritious foods as they can be served with toast for a filling breakfast or made into an omelette with vegetables for an inexpensive dinner.
- Beans: Even canned beans are relatively inexpensive and may taste better than you think when served as a dinner heated and placed over fresh mashed potatoes with a side vegetable. Beans are high in protein, fiber and iron.
- Tofu: Tofu takes on the flavor of whatever you're cooking and most people like it in soups or stir fries. Some people like tofu sliced on top of garlic bread as an open-faced type of sandwich. Tofu is not only high in protein, but is also a good source of calcium and many minerals.
- Canned salmon: If buying a large piece of fresh salmon isn't an option, look for the canned variety on sale. In addition to the protein and omega-3 fatty acids, you'll also be getting calcium due to the bones in canned salmon. It can taste delicious as a dinner when made into a casserole with whole wheat pasta or brown rice or when made into patties with mashed potatoes.
- Cabbage: Cabbage is high in fiber and vitamin C. It is also very versatile as it can be eaten raw or cooked. Try slicing it very thin and adding it to a casserole or soup for last-minute crunch appeal.
- Potatoes: Potatoes are high in B vitamins and are also filling as they're also considered a starch. Sweet potatoes may be more expensive than regular potatoes, but are high in beta carotene and vitamin C.
- Carrots: Carrots are the highest source of beta carotene around and also contain vitamin C and fiber. They make a good side vegetable, but are also great in casseroles and stir fries. When cut raw into sticks, they make a nutritious and much-loved snack.
- Oranges: Oranges prevent diseases such as scurvy and are very high in vitamin C and fiber. Orange segments served alongside eggs and toast help make a nutritious meal.
- Apples: Apples taste great as a snack and can also be the basis of inexpensive desserts such as apple crisp or baked apples. A good budget-friendly idea is to buy large boxes or bags of apples and use the ripest ones for apple desserts or apple butters. Be sure to store the apples well so they don't spoil before you can use them.
- Milk: Milk as being nutritious is controversial, but it is an important source of vitamin D. It also contains calcium and the skim or 1% versions are the healthiest choices fat-wise.
- Whole wheat bread: Whole wheat offers a great source of nutrition and fiber than white bread just can't match. If you have even a small freezer, it's worth it to buy whole wheat bread on sale and stock up rather than buying white bread even though it usually costs less.
- Oatmeal: Oatmeal is a whole grain and is one of the most versatile of the low cost nutritious foods. Of course it's great as a hot breakfast cereal, but you can also bake inexpensive oatmeal cookies and use it in dessert toppings for apple crisps.
- Brown rice: Brown rice is much healthier that the refined white rice. Many people find brown rice to have more flavor than white rice. You can serve seasoned rice as a side dish or top it with stir-fried tofu and vegetables.
- Whole wheat pasta: Whole wheat pasta can be one of the low cost nutritious foods if you look for it on sale. It's still always a better buy than the less expensive regular pasta because with the regular pasta you're getting much less nutrition as well as a lack of fiber. Even kids usually like whole wheat pasta when it's served with their favorite spaghetti sauce.