The 11 Best Foods to Buy When You’re Broke

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Want the biggest nutritional bang for your grocery buck? Here's your shopping list.

This post comes from Aaron Crowe at partner site Tech Bargains

There’s a reason why beans and rice are “staple” foods in many cultures around the globe: They’re nutritious and inexpensive.

“They are cheap because they are easy to grow, completely unprocessed, and easily sold in bulk,” says Mary Hartley, a registered dietician. “There is no need to recapture the cost of food scientists, fancy packages, advertising, etc.”

For people around the world, including the United States, buying such foods and others is a way to get the most nutrition for the money.

Millions of Americans are living below the federal poverty level –  $23,550 a year for a family of four. And despite the myth that junk food is cheaper than home-cooking, buying groceries makes more financial and nutritional sense than other alternatives.

Here are 11 of the best foods for nutritional value, low cost, and ability to fill you up:

Beans: For about $1.50 a can, or much less when bought dry in bulk, beans and lentils are inexpensive and an excellent source of protein. They have more protein than any other plant foods, and are full of B vitamins including folic acid, thiamin, niacin, and B6, Hartley says. They’re a good source of minerals, including iron, potassium, magnesium, copper, and zinc, are high in fiber, and are low in fat and sodium.

Brown rice: At about $1.75 for a 1-pound bag, brown rice has more than 15 nutrients, Hartley says, including fiber, magnesium, zinc, and vitamins B, E, and K. “Compared to other plants, the protein in rice contains lots of amino acids, and when paired with beans, the protein quality is as good as protein from meat,” she says. It’s also digested slowly, meaning it fills you up.

Rolled oats: This versatile grain is about $4 for a 42-ounce container, enough for about 30 servings. It can be used to make hot cereal, granola, muffins, cookies, and much more, says Karen McLaughlin, who has a master’s in nutrition and wrote a book about feeding a family for less than $400 per month. Oats are a good source of manganese, selenium, phosphorus, magnesium, zinc, thiamin, and fiber.

Eggs: For about $3 for a dozen, eggs contain one of the highest quality proteins and are a good source of riboflavin, selenium, and unsaturated fat.

Frozen green peas: Spend about $2 for a 16-ounce bag and you’re buying a handy vegetable that’s easy to cook and doesn’t require chopping or slicing. They can be added to soups, stews, and skillet dishes. Green peas are a good source of vitamins C, A, K, and B6, thiamin, manganese, folate, and fiber.

Cabbage: For less than $1, a head of cabbage can feed a crowd, McLaughlin says, and is high in vitamin K and a good source of vitamin C and fiber. It’s also a member of the cruciferous family, which is known to have cancer-fighting properties, she says.

Carrots: For sale year-round in most areas for $2 or so for a bunch, or less than 20 cents a pound in the fall, carrots are an excellent source of vitamin A and a good source of vitamin K and fiber.

Sweet potatoes: About $1 each, these can be added to almost any meal when diced, and sliced sweet potatoes make excellent oven fries. They’re high in vitamin A and a good source of vitamin C, B6, manganese, potassium, and fiber.

Whole grain bread: At about 22 cents for two slices, whole grain bread is a great source of complex carbohydrates, B vitamins, phytonutrients, and minerals, says Amy Jamieson-Petonic, a registered dietician. It promotes cardiovascular health, reduces the incidence of diabetes, and may help inflammation, she says.

Frozen whole turkey: When purchased on sale (a good reason to be thankful at Thanksgiving), a $10 turkey is one of the best deals for animal protein. Turkey is also a good source of selenium, niacin, vitamin B6, phosphorus, and zinc. It also makes great leftovers.

Nonfat Greek yogurt: If bought in containers that have four servings, and not the individual containers, this can cost about $1 per serving and often has as much protein as a 3-ounce serving of meat, says Sarah Waybright, a registered dietician.

When shopping for produce, consider the month, says Adrienne Hancik, a nutrition specialist who teaches kids to cook. “The most seasonal foods are going to be the cheapest,” she says.

Along with buying inexpensive groceries, another way to save is to buy only what you need for the coming week. Have a meal plan for what you’re going to cook, then write out a grocery list, says Summer Robinson, who has blogged about her family’s efforts to save money on food.

“We throw away too much food every month, and that’s no different than throwing away money that could be contributing to our savings,” Robinson says.

Stacy Johnson

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