I totally get it: It’s not always easy to buy the healthiest foods. Sometimes it feels like it’s way easier to head for the cheap frozen pizza section instead of grabbing healthy ingredients to make a recipe from scratch. Plus, let’s face it, knowing what to buy in the organic aisles can sometimes be confusing! There are a lot of foods you may not be familiar with and have no idea on how to use. Plus, do they even taste good?
Sometimes it’s just easier to stay within our comfort zones and do the same thing we’ve always done.
Well, I’m here to tell you that you don’t have to make a complete overhaul of your current meals in order to make a big difference in your health. By just swapping out a few key ingredients to your weekly meals, you can make a huge difference.
I’ve put together a list of healthy staple ingredients that I use for our own meals each week. These foods are great because they’re easy to use and incorporate into a variety of dishes. Plus, they’re affordable!
When it comes to saving money on healthy foods, the first step is to separate your wants from your needs. Sure, you might want to buy organic snacks or a couple bottles of kombucha, but you don’t actually need them.
The truth is, there are a lot of companies that have taken advantage of the health trend and created really expensive packaged products! They’ve also done a really good job of marketing them as things you need in order to get healthy. But you really don’t.
But the great news is that the basic staple foods are really affordable and delicious! The 10 foods listed below work great for almost every meal, even breakfast.
Let’s get on to the list…
7 HEALTHY FOODS TO HAVE IN YOUR PANTRY THAT ARE BUDGET FRIENDLY
Quinoa is often referred to as a “superfood” and is a great ingredient to add to almost every meal! Contrary to popular belief, quinoa isn’t actually a grain. It’s a seed that is often consumed like a grain. Quinoa is a good source of protein, fiber, and antioxidants.
When you’re preparing quinoa, it’s important to soak it in water for at least 30 mins prior. This will help to release the phytic acid – an enzyme in quinoa that our bodies have a hard time digesting.
- how to use: use as a base to make a quick buddha bowl for lunch, inside a wrap, sprinkle it in your salads, or eat it for breakfast instead of oatmeal.
- money saving tip: skip the packaged quinoa and buy in bulk whenever you can to save money. My favorite tip is to soak the grains in water overnight, then cook a large batch and store in the fridge for the week. I like to add a bit of quinoa to my meals each day.
2. Brown Rice
While many of us grew up eating white rice (myself included), brown rice is healthier for you. This is due to the way that it is processed. Did you know that white rice was originally brown rice? The hull and the bran in white rice have been removed. Brown rice only has the hull removed, leaving most of the nutritional value intact. Brown rice is a nutritious, whole grain food that is low in calories and easy to add to many dishes. We love brown rice in our family and eat it once or twice a week.
- how to use: brown rice is great in a variety of dishes! It works great as a base for almost any meal, including stir-frys, casseroles, and salads.
- money saving tip: brown rice is usually pretty affordable, even when packaged. But it’s even cheaper when you can buy in the bulk section.
3. Buckwheat Groats
Have you ever tried buckwheat groats before? They’re a wonderful grain to use as an alternative to rice and quinoa. Buckwheat is actually a fruit seed that is related to rhubarb and isn’t a grain at all! This makes it a great food to try if you’re sensitive to wheat or gluten. My husband loves them!
- how to use: These are great when prepared as a morning porridge, or served as a side dish for lunch or dinner.
- money saving tip: Buckwheat groats might be hard to find in your regular grocery store. I buy mine from the bulk section of my local organic store.
4. Steel Cut Oats
Skip the sugary cereal and eat a whole grain like steel cut oats for breakfast! They’re a source of fiber, protein and iron and relatively easy to prepare. This will give you and your family more energy throughout the day!
- how to use: I eat oatmeal regularly with my daughter. I like to mix a bit of sea salt, coconut oil, cinnamon, ground flax seeds, hemp seeds and sliced banana into the oatmeal. It’s definitely a favorite breakfast dish of ours!
- money saving tip: Oats are really affordable, even in organic! You can usually find them packaged or in the bulk section at reasonable prices.
Lentils are a wonderful legume that is high in fiber and help to stabilize blood sugar levels while giving you the energy to burn. Additionally, they are a good resource for iron, zinc, and potassium. Lentils also tend to be easier to digest than some of the larger beans. I love lentils because they’re a great healthy toddler food! If I put a bowl of lentils in from of my daughter, she’ll happily eat them.
- how to use: If you have trouble digesting beans, soaking and sprouting them before use can really help to make them easier to digest. If you’re cooking dried lentils, it’s great to have a big batch prepared in advance. I tend to add a spoonful to my lunch bowls, salads, wraps or sprinkle in my evening side dishes. They also work great in soups.
- money saving tip: Dried lentils are probably one of the cheapest healthy foods you can buy at the grocery store! But if you’re in a pinch and don’t have time to cook them, canned lentils will also do the trick at a pretty affordable price.
6. Chia Seeds
Chia seeds are high in fiber and a great superfood to sprinkle on top of other things. I like to add them to my smoothies, yogurt, and granola bars. My husband loves them in his salads. If you’ve never used them before, you might be surprised when you add them to water… Chia seeds soak up 10 times their weight in water and will produce a gel coating when soaked. This is great for digestion as it helps you feel fuller longer, because they immediately expand in your stomach when eaten (1)
- how to use: Chia seeds are very versatile. They can be eaten raw, soaked in water to form a gel, or sprouted. They’re great to add to morning porridge, smoothies, salads, and yogurt.
- money saving tip: Chia seeds can be a little more expensive than some of the other things on this list, but a little goes a long way so you don’t need to buy as much. I always purchase mine from the bulk section at the organic grocery store as that’s where I’ve found them to be cheapest. Also, from my experience, black chia seeds tend to be cheaper than white chia seeds so I stick with them.
7. Pink Himalayan Sea Salt
If you haven’t made your way from traditional table salt over to pink himalayan sea salt, you’re definitely missing out! Although not everyone might agree, I think sea salt just tastes better! Table salt is more heavily processed which removes a lot of the vital minerals and it usually contains an additive to prevent clumping. Sea salt is created by a more natural process of the evaporation of salt water. This leaves behind trace minerals and elements that our bodies need.
- how to use: Sea salt can be used in the same way you use normal salt! I use it when I’m baking, in dinners, and sprinkled on top of my dishes for seasoning.
- money saving tip: I’ve noticed a big difference in price when it comes to bulk versus pre-packaged sea salt. Like a BIG difference! So I always recommend buying from the bulk section to save money. We buy finely ground pink himalayan sea salt and store it in a mason jar. Then just grab a pinch whenever we need it (we don’t use a salt shaker).
Chickpeas (aka. garbanzo beans) are another great legume to have on hand in your pantry. Chickpeas are known to boost digestion and keep blood sugar levels stable. They’re a great source of plant-based protein and fiber. These legumes are an easy low-maintenance food to have on hand to throw into a variety of dishes.
- how to use: We like to make a big batch of hummus and store it in the fridge for snacks for the week. I also add chickpeas to my salads and wraps. And my daughter likes to eat them plain as a snack!
- money saving tip: I tend to buy my chickpeas canned to save time in the kitchen but you can also buy them dried.
So you might have noticed a trend here, a lot of these ingredients are much cheaper when purchased in the bulk section. This is great because you can make a trip to your local bulk specialty store and stock up.
I store all of these staple foods in large glass jars in my pantry (Ikea has some great affordable options, or you can find some at a secondhand store like I do).
Usually, I take two of these staple foods (like quinoa and lentils) and cook up a big batch to store in the fridge for the week. These make great bases for a lot of our dishes throughout the week which helps cut down on cooking time.