"It costs more to eat healthy."
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How many times have you heard someone say that? Maybe you've even said it yourself.
Frankly, I think that statement is flummadiddle. I'm not denying that some healthy foods—many varieties of fish, for example—are expensive. But my contention is that many of the foods that are the healthiest for us also happen to cost the least, particularly on a per-pound basis.
In fact, when I go grocery shopping, I try to mostly fill my cart with nutritious, delicious foods costing—so my mantra goes—"Under a Dollar a Pound, Year-Round."
Take a look at the U.S. Department of Agriculture's food pyramid. At the base are the things we should be eating more: whole grains, legumes (beans), fresh fruits, and vegetables. Higher up on the pyramid is what we should eat in moderation: poultry, eggs, milk, pasta, and rice. At the very top of the pyramid are things we should eat sparingly—red meat, fatty dairy products, sweets, and processed foods.
With some exceptions, the per-pound cost of the items at the base of the pyramid tend to be less than the foods higher on the pyramid. Many of the things we should be eating the most—whole grains, fruits, vegetables, legumes, and poultry—cost the least amount per pound.The things that are bad for our health, at least in large quantities, cost the most per-pound (red meat, fatty dairy products, and fine cheeses).
If you're a smart shopper and plan your menus around the best-of-the-best weekly store specials, you can enjoy a healthy, tasty diet relying primarily on foods that cost about a dollar a pound or less.
Don't believe me? Here are 50 healthy foods I've seen at grocery stores in my area (suburban Washington, D.C.) that have been priced at $1 a pound or less. Yes, some of these have been special sales, but most can almost always be had for less than a buck a pound. The majority of these foods are ideal for slow-cooker recipes.
- Apples – One a day keeps the cheapskate away.
- Bananas – Potassium for pennies.
- Barley – A tasty alternative to rice and potatoes.
- Beans – Canned or dried, there are kidney, pinto, navy, black, red, and many more.
- Bok choy – Steam and serve with a little soy sauce.
- Broccoli – Yes, a store special. Usually closer to $2 per pound.
- Bulgur wheat – Try it in pilaf or in a tabouleh salad.
- Cabbage – Green, red, and napa.
- Carrots – Raw or steamed; rich in carotenes, healthy antioxidants.
- Celery – Stir-fry it for a change.
- Chicken – Whole or various parts, on sale.
- Chickpeas – AKA "garbanzo beans."
- Cornmeal – Polenta is all the rage these days, but I loved it 40 years ago when Mom called it "cornmeal mush."
- Cucumbers – Try peeling, seeding, and steaming with a little butter and salt.
- Daikon radish – My new favorite raw veggie.
- Eggs – Don't overdo them, but eggs provide high-quality protein and still cost about $1 per pound.
- Green beans – Frozen, but fresh are sometimes on sale for under $1 a pound.
- Greens – Kale, mustard, and collard greens are rich in vitamins and a good source of fiber.
- Grapes – Store special at 99 cents a pound.
- Grapefruit – Bake with a little brown sugar on top for a healthy dessert.
- Lentils – Perhaps the perfect food, healthy, cheap, and versatile for soups, salads, sandwich spreads.
- Mangoes – High in fiber and vitamins A, B6, and C.
- Milk – Yep, on a per-pound basis, milk still costs well under $1 a pound.
- Oatmeal – The good old-fashioned slow-cooking kind, which takes five minutes.
- Onions – Try baking them whole in a cream sauce.
- Pasta – Store special @ .89 a pound – I nearly bought them out!
- Pork – Inexpensive cuts frequently go on sale for 99 cents per pound or less.
- Potatoes – White, red, and sweet.
- Pumpkin – Yes, you can eat the same ones you buy as holiday decorations.
- Rice – White for under $1 a pound. Brown, a little more expensive, but better for you.
- Rutabagas – Hated them as a kid; can't get enough of them now.
- Spinach – Frozen - but Popeye doesn't care.
- Split peas – Add a ham bone and make the ultimate comfort soup.
- Squash – Acorn, spaghetti, and zucchini—among other kinds.
- Sweet corn – Canned or fresh on the cob.
- Tomatoes (canned) – Canned are often better than fresh for cooking.
- Turkey – A popular bargain-priced loss-leader around the holidays. In fact, buy an extra bird and freeze it for later.
- Turnips – Make me think of my grandparents, who always grew them.
- Yogurt – 8-ounce containers were on sale, two for $1.
Bon appétit! Or should I say, "Bon appe-cheap"?
Jeff Yeager is the author of The Ultimate Cheapskate's Road Map to True Riches and The Cheapskate Next Door. His website is www.UltimateCheapskate.com and you can friend him on Facebook at JeffYeagerUltimateCheapskate or follow him on Twitter.
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