Back to Blog

12 Foods with the Healthiest Bang for Your Buck

Published on Mar. 03, 2020

Healthy Groceries - Munson HealthcareWhen you consider affordable food, the word “healthy" may not immediately pop into mind. Unfortunately, our society receives many conflicting messages about what foods are best – and we’re often pushed to purchase pricey foods and supplements with very specific ingredients on the promise that these choices are the only way to provide our bodies with the nutrients we need to thrive.

The truth is, many of the most nutrient-dense foods are readily available right in your grocery store at budget-friendly prices (local food pantries also stock some of these foods). And they don’t require fancy kitchen gadgets or hours of your time to prepare. 

We recently asked the registered dietitians across our health system to share their favorite affordable and healthy go-to’s.

1. Potatoes

Potatoes have been unfairly vilified in the past few decades. Unless you’ve been advised by a physician to avoid them due to a specific medical reason such as diabetes, these wallet-friendly root vegetables are far from unhealthy. Even the white varieties are packed with essential vitamins and nutrients, including nearly 1/3 of your daily vitamins C and B6 requirements, over 1/4 of your body’s daily potassium needs, and plenty of other important minerals like manganese, magnesium, phosphorus, niacin, and folate.

In addition, the average potato provides over 4 grams of protein, a generous dose of healthy carbs (about 36 grams), and nearly 4 grams of fiber. 

Keep in mind that French fries might not be the healthiest way to enjoy potatoes regularly. But that doesn’t mean you can’t slice them, drizzle them with olive or avocado oil, and bake them to tasty perfection at home. Dining out? Order roasted or baked potatoes instead of fried. 

2. Eggs

Eggs are another food that have faced criticism throughout the years, especially for their rich yellowy centers. But these nutrient-dense delights, conveniently sold by the affordable dozen, are filled with the perfect combination of ingredients, making them an ideal meal even on their own. Packed with a rainbow of B vitamins as well as vitamins A, D, E, K, selenium, choline, and phosphorus, eggs make an “eggsceptional” food you can enjoy every day. 

But what about cholesterol? Though eggs are rich in cholesterol, they don’t negatively affect dietary cholesterol for most people. In fact, they raise your HDL or “good” cholesterol. If you can, look for pasture-raised or Omega-3 eggs. But all eggs will give you a wide variety of vitamins and minerals as well as fill you up with protein, healthy fat, and more. 

3. Canned Fish

Canned protein might not immediately inspire healthy thoughts. But if the cans happen to be filled with tuna, salmon, and sardines, then they’re not so fishy after all. Canned salmon, sardines, and tuna provide a great source of protein – roughly 20-25 grams a serving – and they’re rich in healthy Omega-3 fats, selenium, B-complex vitamins, iron, potassium, and magnesium. Even better, these grab-and-go proteins stack easily in your pantry and they’re conveniently ready to be spread in a sandwich or lettuce wrap or scooped on top of a healthy green salad.

Take note: If you decide to make canned tuna a meal staple, look for the “light” or skipjack variety rather than Albacore. Albacore or “white” tuna contains approximately three times as much Mercury – a naturally occurring chemical that can cause health issues in high amounts. 

4. Garlic

You may be surprised to see this pungent seasoning listed as a healthy food. While garlic clearly can’t serve as a standalone food, it’s a low-cost, healthy way to flavor your foods while giving your body an extra punch of needed vitamins and minerals. Part of the onion family, garlic contains important nutrients like vitamins C and B6, selenium, and manganese. Some studies have shown that garlic can aid in boosting our immune systems and even help reduce viral diseases and/or the length of time you’re impacted.

Tip: Chop up your garlic ahead of time and you’ll be more likely to incorporate it in your meals. Garlic is most beneficial raw. Lightly sauté it on low heat if you’re cooking with it to retain the nutrients. 

5. Oats

Eat your oatmeal. Sound familiar? It seems that Aunt Agatha really was on to something when she coaxed you to finish your porridge. Considered to be one of the most nutrient-packed foods, oats can easily meet your carb goals at any meal, but they’re also a great source of protein, soluble fiber, and even fat. These gluten-free* morsels are also chock full of minerals, including manganese, phosphorus, magnesium, copper, iron, zinc, and folate as well as B-complex vitamins.

Oats not only keep you full, but this antioxidant-rich, cholesterol-lowering food is also easy on your grocery budget and stores well in your pantry. Do look for oat groats, rolled, or steel-cut oats, which contain more nutrients than quick-cooking oats. If you love the idea of oats on the go, prepare a pot of them in advance and refrigerate them – or try overnight oats, which helps prep these superfood flakes for easy microwaving in the morning.

*If you have been diagnosed with Celiac disease or suspect that you are very sensitive to gluten, talk to your physician about eating eating oats, as there can be cross-contamination with wheat, rye, or barley.

6. Beans

We’re raising all kinds of joyful noise for beans (aka “pulses”) because they are loaded with nutritional benefits beyond healthy proteins and carbohydrates. In addition to antioxidants, this magical food is rich in iron, antioxidants, and folate. Not only do beans help control blood sugar and keep you full, but they’re also heart healthy and may help improve your gut health too. 

Whether you grab them ready-to-heat in frozen or canned form or you save even more buy stocking up on dried beans, here are the many varieties you can enjoy in soups, skillets, or even smoothies!

  • Black beans
  • Black-eyed peas
  • Garbanzo beans
  • Kidney beans
  • Lima beans
  • Navy beans
  • Pinto beans
  • Red beans
  • Soybeans

7. Peanut Butter

Speaking of beans, peanut butter is another great way to build up to your daily dose of protein, healthy fats, fiber, and vitamins. Technically part of the legume (aka bean) family, peanuts can hold their own in the healthy foods category, and they’re also kind to your wallet.

While there’s certainly nothing wrong with snacking on a handful of peanuts, peanuts in their creamier form are convenient, pantry-friendly, and always ready to be spread atop some apple slices (more on these later), oatmeal, celery sticks, or a yummy sandwich. Like many of the other healthy and affordable foods on our list, peanut butter is rich in vitamins and minerals, filling, heart healthy, and a low-carb option for regulating blood sugar. 

8. Plain Yogurt

If you tolerate dairy, you can’t beat the benefits of plain (non-sweetened, non-flavored) yogurt. If you associate yogurt with calcium, kuddos to you!  One cup of plain yogurt meets a whopping 49% of your calcium needs for the day! But yogurt, a form of fermented milk, comes packin’ with way more nutritional benefits than calcium, including B vitamins, phosphorus, potassium, and magnesium. It’s often fortified with vitamin D too. 

High in protein, plain yogurt also contains probiotics, which promote great gut health. Whether you buy the full-fat variety or add your own healthy fats, yogurt makes a great breakfast or snack food that’s both affordable and easy for brown bagging it. 

9. Carrots

Orange veggies and fruits always make great plate fillers because of their rich beta-carotene (aka vitamin A) contents. If you remember being told to finish your carrots, surely that loved one had a good hunch about carrots’ health benefits, which include promoting eye health, lowering blood pressure and bad cholesterol, fighting free radicals, and boosting your immune system. 

Carrots are an inexpensive way to get your fill of vitamin A as well as a variety of cancer-fighting antioxidants like lycopene and lutein. Buying them whole before peeling and cutting them yourself is the most budget-friendly solution, though you can often find good deals on snack-ready baby carrots as well. Happy crunching!

10. Apples

Apples are a staple food here in the Mitten state and their local availability helps keep costs down. But that’s not the only reason they made our list: whether you prefer them tart or sweet, apples satisfy our urge to crunch while delivering a great dose of fiber, vitamin C, potassium, antioxidants, and more. 

Slice them, dice them, or just dive right in for a great big bite – but do wash the skin thoroughly before enjoying this tasty, crisp fruit. 

11. Kale and 12. Spinach

They’re not as sweet as apples or crunchy as carrots, but these superfood, affordable greens are abundant in nutrients. High in vitamin C and K, along with riboflavin, calcium, iron, and a wide variety of other vitamins and minerals, you can’t go wrong with either of these greens as a part of your daily diet. 

Because one is not healthier than the other, we recommend choosing whichever is convenient for you. Do remember that raw kale should be consumed only after gently massaging it with clean hands to soften it. 

National Nutrition Month®

March is National Nutrition Month® and we’re celebrating with fun food ideas, jam-packed blogs with the nutritional info that matters most to our communities, local events, and more. Be sure to check back for more great tips, healthy, quick, affordable meal ideas, and more!