7 Inexpensive Powerhouse Foods to Add to Your Diet for National Nutrition Month

I'm Blogging National Nutrition MonthMarch is National Nutrition Month. It may seem as though such a month would be redundant here in America, where the national conversation on food is never-ending, but it is important for all of us to take a minute (or a month) to reassess our nutritional health.

As a personal finance blogger with an interest in nutrition, however, I get extremely irritated at the number of articles that simply tell readers to go forth and buy leafy greens. Not only do these articles often ignore the financial constraints that many grocery shoppers are facing—convenience foods are cheaper and last longer and are more likely to offer coupons—they also don’t take into account the intimidation factor of eating outside your comfort zone.

This is why nutrition experts recommend that you add healthy foods one or two at a time to your current diet. Rather than an all-or-nothing approach that will not only be expensive and doomed to failure, you can simply start picking up a couple of inexpensive nutritional powerhouse foods each month to try out. Here are seven of the best cheap and nutritious items to add to your repertoire—as well as some cooking suggestions to get you started:

1. Bananas

Bananas - Cheap Healthy Foods That Fill You Up

credit: *clairity*

We all know that these lunch-time staples are cheap and good for you. You can generally buy them for around 50 cents a pound, so they’re an easy addition to your grocery budget. Even though they make for excellent natural energy bars (and even come in their own wrapper), not everyone has the taste for these potassium-rich fruits. That’s why they’re great as dessert.

You might have seen ads for Yonanas soft-serve, but you don’t need a special gadget to make this delicious ice-cream alternative. Just cut up your bananas into slices and freeze them. Throw the slices into a blender or food processor with a little milk and some blueberries or strawberries, and you have a satisfying and good-for-you dessert.

2. Kale

Kale Salad - Cheap Healthy Foods

credit: Connoisseur 4 The Cure

I had never heard of this particular leafy green vegetable until I was well out of college, and it took me another couple of years to get up the courage to try it. A single bunch costs about a dollar, and has any number of uses. I started by substituting kale for lettuce on sandwiches and adding it in to my more familiar romaine and spinach for salads. Now, I will often throw kale into a breakfast smoothie (along with bananas, strawberries, and milk) or add it to a stir-fry. Another favorite treat is kale chips, which goes great with a sandwich, crumbled over a baked potato, or by itself.

3. Garbanzo (and Other) Beans

Garbanzo Bean Salad - Health Foods That Fill You Up

credit: Betsssssy

Even though I have never gotten the hang of soaking dried beans, the canned variety is still extremely nutritious and inexpensive. (The only nutrition concern with canned beans is the higher sodium content). At less than a dollar per can (and usually closer to 50 cents or less if you purchase the store brand), a can of garbanzo, black, kidney, navy, or your favorite beans is a great source of protein and fiber.

Garbanzos and black beans are my favorite, and I make a habit of throwing some into any number of recipes—salads, soups (especially chilis and stews), and casseroles. Or, whip up a can in a food processor with a little garlic and some olive oil, and you have a delicious dip.

4. Beets

Beets - Foods That Fill You Up

credit: Makuahine Pa’i Ki’i

These are still outside of my own personal comfort zone, but I’m definitely going to be trying them soon. These naturally sweet veggies generally cost about $2 per pound and can easily be sliced and added to salads. In addition, roasting beets (just like you would bake a potato) is a great way to bring out their natural sweetness. Just peel the beets when they’ve finished roasting and serve them sliced and drizzled with olive oil.

5. Oatmeal

Oatmeal - Cheap Healthy Foods That Fill You Up

credit: thebittenword.com

If you think of oatmeal as something that comes in little pre-portioned packets, then you’re really missing out. Steel cut oats are both delicious and much better for you than the instant kind that you just add hot water to. However, if mornings are hectic, it can seem like a major pain to take the ten minutes to cook old-fashioned oats. That’s why we will often make muesli for breakfast the night before. We put the oats, raisins, nuts, and sliced apples, along with enough milk to cover it all, in a Tupperware container overnight, and by morning it’s a delicious and ready-to-go breakfast.

Also, don’t forget that oatmeal makes a great and nutritious substitution for any recipe that calls for breadcrumbs.

6. Edamame

Edamame - Healthy Foods

credit: viviandnguyen_

This is a favorite in our house, not only because it’s an inexpensive snack/side dish/appetizer, but also because it’s easy to make and fun to eat. Edamame are immature soybeans, and you can generally find them frozen for under $2 per bag. Some bags are microwavable, and some will require you to do your own steaming, but either way, when they’re done, just sprinkle them with a little salt and enjoy popping the beans out of the pods. (Remember, the pods are completely inedible—something I wish I had known the first time I encountered edamame at a Japanese restaurant when I was a teenager.)

You can also find shelled edamame to add to stir fries and casseroles, although expect them to be more expensive than the regular variety.

7. Dried Lentils

Dried Lentils - Cheap Healthy Foods

credit: WordRidden

Of all the dried beans, lentils are the easiest to use, since they only require about 20 minutes of cooking to become recipe ready. They’re an excellent source of protein, and at only 10 cents per serving (a 16-ounce bag generally costs about $1.30 or less and will yield 13 servings), it’s an economic no-brainer.

If the only way you’ve ever eaten lentils is in your Aunt Edna’s mushy soup, remember that these beans make for great meat substitutes in things like chili and curry. You can also mix lentils with rice and your favorite spices for an easy, inexpensive, and nourishing meal.

The Bottom Line on Cheap Healthy Foods That Fill You Up

Adding great nutrition to your family’s diet doesn’t have to be expensive or overwhelming. Even if you’re on a tight budget, you can choose one of the nutritional powerhouses on this list to try this week. You might find you have a new favorite that’s cheap and good for you.

What are your favorite cheap healthy foods that fill you up?

Last Edited: July 29, 2014 @ 12:00 am The content of ptmoney.com is for general information purposes only and does not constitute professional advice. Visitors to ptmoney.com should not act upon the content or information without first seeking appropriate professional advice. In accordance with the latest FTC guidelines, we declare that we have a financial relationship with every company mentioned on this site.
About Emily Guy Birken

Emily Guy Birken is a former English teacher, and an excellent freelance writer. She's also a stay-at-home-mom. She resides in Lafayette, IN, with her engineer husband and son. Emily's thoughts on parenting and life in general are found at The SAHMnambulist.


  1. I’m down with all the above except beets. Can’t get past the dirty feet smell.

  2. LizGross says:

    All great choices! I had two of them for breakfast :)

  3. PFinmario says:

    ptmoney EatRight CHOW SpritzerLeyba EmilyGuyBirken Was surprised to find how many of these I already eat; big challenge is freshness

  4. MarkNeum says:

    I eat all of these except beets and kale. I didn’t realize beets were so nutritious. Kale… if yuck were really a word I would say “yuck kale”.  I regularly hear that kale is very nutritious but I have tried it and I hate it. I suppose my problem is that I don’t know how to cook it. 
    I am surprised that you didn’t mention broccoli.

    • MarkNeum Broccoli is a great addition and one of my favorites. Mark, you should definitely try the kale chips recipe and let me know how it is.

    • MarkNeum maybe that’s not so bad,since :’GMO Sugar Beets Are A-OK, Says USDA
      Nearly 95 percent of the U.S. sugar beets are GMO — and feds say that’s just fine with them.’http://www.takepart.com/article/2012/07/20/usda-deregulates-gmo-sugar-beet

  5. Super article, Phil!  I eat them all but beets – I just can’t get my family hooked on them!  Last time I made them, my husband said “these seriously taste like dirt.”  Of course they weren’t that bad, but they are quite earthy!  I am growing turnips in my garden and I like to roast those along with some carrots and zucchini for a lovely side dish that everyone loves.  (just toss in some olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper, roast for about 20 mins at 425).  I am so happy you reminded me about how to make museli!  I used to eat that all the time when I lived in Australia and loved it.  I’m making some right now for tomorrow’s breakfast!  Thanks!