Nutrition / Food

Cooking on a Budget? You Need These 10 Kitchen Staples

Get the most out of your grocery trips.

Grocery shopping is an integral part of your health and fitness lifestyle. Whether you’re looking to start meal-prepping or to lose a couple pounds, it all comes down to what you eat and cook. Placing so much emphasis on your nutrition needs can sound a bit overwhelming if you’re also trying to maintain a budget. Don’t let the rumors that you need to be rich to eat well hold you back. There are plenty of fridge and pantry staples that can help you slash your grocery bill while also promoting your health. Read on for doctor- and dietitian-approved groceries that make cooking less costly.

Beans and Legumes ($1.59/pound)

Let’s start with some basic, main ingredients. A simple rule when it comes to buying inexpensive foods is to seek out dry, whole items when possible. Chief among these are beans and legumes. “Legumes (beans and lentils) are a super cheap addition to a budget conscious pantry that adds protein, as well as gut-boosting and cholesterol-fighting fiber. If you buy dry beans and lentils over canned they are even cheaper and healthier,” says Dina Garcia, registered dietitian-nutritionist and founder of Vida Nutrition. Buying these dry, and in bulk, not only saves you money straight away but over time as well, considering that they don’t spoil.

That fact alone makes them incredibly cost-effective because you can buy them in bulk—unlike some other healthy foods—and eat them at your own pace. “You don’t waste your money if you buy too many,” explains Joel Fuhrman, MD, former world-class figure skater, and New York Times best-selling author. “The major loss in cost or budget for food is the amount of food you throw away. You never throw away beans because you can use everything you have.”

Frozen Berries ($3.00/pound)

One of the most surprising budget-friendly foods is frozen berries. In fact, frozen berries come down to a third of the cost of fresh berries, according to Dr. Fuhrman (who also says that frozen vegetables don’t have as big a price difference as fresh vegetables). Similar to beans, you can buy them in bulk and only take as much as you need from the package over time. You don’t have to worry about nutrition content either, because as it turns out, frozen berries are just as healthy (if not healthier) than those that are fresh.

“There’s no advantage to buying berries fresh unless you enjoy them fresh. Fruits don’t generally lose their nutrient content when they’re frozen, because they aren’t cooked beforehand,” notes Dr. Fuhrman. Garcia seconds this saying, “They are just as nutritious and, often times, more nutritious than buying fresh, because they are frozen at peak ripeness, which is also peak nutrition.” If you’d still rather buy your berries and similar fruits fresh, consider cutting and freezing any leftovers you have before they go bad.

Whole Grains ($2.00/pound)

Whole grains make up another food group that is both inexpensive and healthy. “These grains like quinoa and steel cut oats are a great staple for your pantry,” says Dr. Fuhrman. “You don’t have to refrigerate them, they keep forever, and the grains are intact. They aren’t ground into a flower, shredded, or flaked. With the shell intact they have a longer shelf life and retain more nutrients, fiber, and vitamin E,” he explains.

If you’re a fan of oats (hello, overnight oats!), Garcia recommends purchasing those that come in tall, cylinder containers. They’re cheaper, healthier, and contribute less waste than individual packets. “Plus, they don’t have added sugar, salt, and other additives that the packets often have. [Raw] oats are great for lowering cholesterol and feeding the good bacteria in our digestive tracts,” she adds.

Collard Greens and Cabbage ($2.49/pound)

We couldn’t leave out healthy greens. While the thought of pre-packaged kale and baby greens may have you worried for your wallet, there are more affordable options and they may actually be better options anyway. “I find that, most often, the greens that are the least expensive are actually healthier, too,” says Fuhrman. “These would be collard greens and cabbages. They’re much less expensive than boxed greens and more nutritious.” Like many greens, they’re multipurpose, as well. Both cabbage and collard greens are great in soups, salads on sandwiches, or even rolled over lean meats and cheeses for wraps.

Eggs ($2.00-$3.00/dozen)

Eggs are at the center of many meals—not just breakfast. With a carton in your fridge, you can whip up a variety of meals and snacks any time of day. Scramble a couple for breakfast, hard-boil and chop one up for a salad, or include one in your ramen or on top of your toast. Aside from being so versatile and easy to cook, they’re also a healthy addition to your diet.

“Eggs are a relatively cheap protein source that also contains lutein and choline. Choline [an essential nutrient for brain function] is lacking in many people’s diets,” Garcia explains. Moreover, eggs are a high-quality protein source, a source of vitamin D, and are loaded with other vitamins and minerals. With proper storage in the fridge, they can last four to five weeks beyond their pack date (or around three weeks after purchase), meaning one or two cartons can easily last you a month.

Meat or Vegetable Broth ($2.00/32 ounces)

Broth is a flavoring staple that can easily (and inexpensively) add tons of taste to almost any dish. Aside from being an ideal base for soups, broths can up the flavor profile of dishes like quinoa, rice, pasta, vegetables, stuffing, mashed potatoes, and more. It also works as something nice and warm to sip on if you feel a cold coming on. It’s one of the handiest grocery items that you can have in your kitchen. In most savory recipes, you can swap water for broth for an added punch of flavor.

While it doesn’t stay good as long as the other items we mentioned (six months unopened and about a week after being opened), you’re likely to use at least half of a container at once—and when you run out, your next purchase won’t boost your shopping bill. Pick up a couple chicken or vegetable broths on your next trip to the store and marvel at their usability. Choose low-sodium varieties to avoid a salt spike.

Olive Oil ($5.00/16 ounces)

There are plenty of cooking oils on the market to choose from these days (canola, sesame, sunflower, coconut, etc.), but purchasing even a few of them can get pricey. Fortunately, there’s one cooking oil, in particular, that’s practically all-purpose and inexpensive. Olive oil is a tried and true staple in most kitchens and for good reason. It’s the most versatile of the oils, meaning that you can get the furthest use out of it (and you won’t have to shell out for other oils). It can be used for practically anything—marinades, dressings, sauteing, you name it.

A single bottle won’t set you back too far on grocery funds and you have to repurchase for a while. After opening, a bottle of olive oil will stay good for up to nine months, so feel free to use a little here and there as you please—there’s no rush. Just make sure that you’re storing it in a cool, dark space, like your pantry. The healthy fats alone are a good reason to keep it stocked all year round.

Spices ($0.11-$0.35/ounce)

Spices are a simple way to make ordinary meals more flavorful. Whether you’re adding them to potatoes, omelets, meat, or oatmeal, they can completely transform a dish. But, as anyone who’s stocked a spice rack would know, acquiring bottled spices can be pretty pricey. If you’re starting from scratch, you can easily spend upwards of $30 to $40 on just the basics.

Luckily, there’s a cheaper way to buy spices, making them a budget-friendly necessity. If possible, we recommend seeking out bulk bins. With bulk bins, you simply measure what you need, label it, and take it to check-out. Buying from these can easily save you anywhere from 75 to 93 percent per ounce when it comes to spices. This is because you’re cutting out the cost of expensive plastic and glass packaging (which may look nice on your counter, but isn’t worth the extra money). You can usually find bulk bins in natural food stores like Whole Foods and other supermarkets. Purchase a small amount that you’ll use throughout the year and cut major costs. If you’re wondering where to begin, check out the most common and cost-effective spices below.

Now that you’ve got the basics down, you’re ready to hit the grocery store. Just remember to check your labels and know those ingredients.

If, after the fact, you’re still looking for cost-friendly options, take Garcia’s advice and start a garden. “Try growing some of your own produce. If your thumb isn’t very green, start with a small herb garden. Often times a small herb plant is cheaper than the cut herbs in the produce section. So, even if it eventually dies, you likely still [have] saved money on your herbs,” she explains. More food for less money? We’re in.

Food Nutrition

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