7 foods to buy when you’re broke

Beans. Taylor Wolfram, a registered dietitian and nutritionist in Chicago, suggests beans as a healthy and budget-friendly meal choice. They’re especially cheap if you buy them dry and then cook them, costing around 15 cents per serving, Wolfram says, citing information from the Bean Institute.

Daniela Novotny, a registered dietitian and biomedical instructor at Missouri State University in Springfield, Missouri, echoes similar sentiments. Beans are cheap and healthy, she says, pointing out that they’re high in protein and fiber and contain antioxidants. Plus, they contain minerals such as iron, potassium, magnesium, copper and zinc, along with vitamins such as folic acid, thiamin, niacin and B6. “Also, there are several ways to cook dried beans to make them tasty, as well as decrease the negative flatulence issue that can occur for some people after eating beans,” Novotny adds.

Don’t ignore canned beans, says Jenn LaVardera, a registered dietitian and wellness specialist in Southampton, New York. “Most cans are BPA-free at this point, and if you rinse the beans off, even sodium isn’t a big concern. Beans are loaded with fiber and protein and make a nutritious addition to a variety of dishes to bump up the nutrition and help fill you up,” she says. “A can of beans can be under a dollar and that gets you over three servings of beans.”

Meal ideas: Beans are incredibly versatile, Wolfram says. “Use them in tacos, curries, sandwiches, soups, chilis, dips such as hummus and snacks such as roasted chickpeas,” she advises.

(Photo: AP/Mia)

Oats. “Oats are hearty, and with added spices can be delicious,” Novotny says. “They’re a great source of vitamins, minerals and fiber. Whole oats have been shown to lower blood cholesterol levels, which helps to reduce cardiovascular disease risk. Plus the fiber helps to slow glucose absorption, which is helpful for diabetics,” she adds.

How cheap are oats? Prices vary depending on where you shop, and the kind of oats you buy: steel-cut, rolled or instant oats. Currently, you can buy a Quaker Oats oatmeal mega value box (two 5-pound bags) for about five dollars on Amazon that includes more than 100 servings.

Meal ideas: Oatmeal, oatmeal cookies and oatmeal bars are just a few budget-friendly ideas. You could also make oat bread or use oats in a homemade granola recipe, or even search the internet for some oat-based dinner recipes, like a broccoli cheddar oatmeal bake .

(Photo: Getty Images/iStockphoto/Karisssa)

Frozen vegetables. “It’s a myth that frozen foods are never as nutritious as fresh foods. Frozen vegetables can have just as much, if not more, nutrient content as fresh vegetables, often at a fraction of the cost. And since they’re frozen, you don’t have to worry about them spoiling in a few days before you can use them,” Wolfram says.

If you’re concerned about consuming the most nutritious vegetables, you may want to go to your local farmers market, where you can rest assured you’re getting something fresh and grown locally. But if you’re looking for an inexpensive way to get your vegetables, frozen vegetables are an ideal choice.

Meal ideas: Aside from having frozen vegetables as a side for your lunch or dinner, you could use your frozen veggies to make a vegetable omelet.

(Photo: Getty Images/iStockphoto/lyulka)

Bananas. “[Bananas] get a bad rap for being high in sugar, but natural sugar in fruit is not a major concern for health,” LaVardera says. “Bananas contain vitamin C, manganese, vitamin B6 and potassium as well as antioxidants that support health. They also pack heart-healthy fiber. At sometimes under 50 cents per pound, they are the best deal in the produce department,” LaVardera says.

Meal ideas: You’ll probably want to have bananas as a snack, but you can slice them into your oatmeal or make banana pancakes.

[Read: How to Choose the Most Cost-Effective Grocery Store.]

(Photo: AP/Danny Johnston)

Spinach. “An easy way to bump up the nutrient value of nearly any meal is to add a couple handfuls of spinach. With spinach in the fridge, you can pull an affordable meal together in a flash,” LaVardera says. “Spinach gives you a very high nutrient value for its price. It’s an excellent source of vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin K, folate and manganese and a good source of iron, riboflavin and magnesium.”

Meal ideas: Spinach works for just about any meal. LaVardera suggests spinach omelets, spinach with whole grain pasta and spinach in a quesadilla. And if you’re not a fan of the taste of cooked spinach but you like salad, get rid of the iceberg lettuce, which is low in nutritional value, and make yourself a cost-effective spinach salad.

(Photo: AP/J. Scott Applewhite)

Brown rice. “This item is quick to make and can be added to many meals,” Novotny says. “It’s also high in fiber and has important minerals, such as magnesium and manganese. If someone has celiac disease, rice is a great non-gluten option. It can help with appetite control due to the fiber content and may help with lowering cholesterol levels.”

How much you’ll spend on brown rice will depend on where you shop and what sort of deals you can find, but you can generally purchase several pounds of brown rice for a few dollars.

Meal ideas: It’s easy to fix a hamburger and brown rice in a skillet (and you could throw in some frozen vegetables). Brown rice also goes well in burritos or alongside just about any meat. Some may even use brown rice for dessert, such as brown rice pudding.

(Photo: Getty Images/iStockphoto/annata78)

Eggs. Exactly how much you’ll pay for a dozen eggs will depend on where you shop and where you’re based. But according to the United States Department of Agriculture’s “Egg Markets Overview,” released on Aug. 31, the wholesale price on the “bellwether New York market” for large shell eggs decreased 6 percent from $1.24 to $1.16 per dozen. In any case, Novotny is a fan of eggs as a cheap and nutritious option.

[See: 12 Shopping Tricks to Keep You Under Budget.]

Meal ideas: “Eggs are a great source of protein and can be made in a multitude of ways — hard-boiled, scrambled, sunny side up, over easy, poached and so on,” Novotny says. “Eggs can be combined with vegetables for a solid breakfast — omelets or scrambled — or they can be included in casseroles for meals. Be careful what you add to the eggs (for example, butter). But by themselves, eggs are healthy and filling.”

(Photo: Thinkstock)

When money is tight, you may be tempted to cut back on what you’re spending at the supermarket. But while spending less at the grocery store is a seemingly simple way to stretch your dollars further, buying cheap food and planning budget meals can wind up costing you. For instance, if you live on cheap snack foods that pack on the pounds or produce high cholesterol, eventually you could spend plenty on health care costs.

So if you’re trying to maximize savings and nutrition with cheap meal ideas, consider these seven dietitian-recommended items.

[See: 20 Tips for Saving Money at the Grocery Store.]

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7 Foods to Buy When You’re Broke originally appeared on usnews.com

Update 09/05/18: This story was originally published on Jan. 16, 2014, and has been updated to include new information.