It's finally 2012, and many of us have set resolutions to eat healthier. But often times with the high costs of organic and natural foods, we get discouraged to stick to our healthy food regimen. Staying on top of seasonal fruits and vegetables is one way to keep money in your pockets, but there are also some foods that are both healthy and affordable for the everyday diet. Here's a short list of the best picks of healthy foods for the best prices that won't burn a hole in your pocket.
Best Breakfast Food: Oatmeal
Oatmeal is a cheap and healthy breakfast. Start your day with a steaming bowl of oats, which are full of omega-3 fatty acids, folate, and potassium. This fiber-rich super-food can lower levels of LDL (or bad) cholesterol and help keep arteries clear.
Best Grain: Dried Lentils
Dried lentils retail for about the same price of a bottle of water. For very little money, you can boil up a massive pot of soup- and salad-ready lentils. A pound-size bag has 11 grams of fiber and 10 grams of protein in each of its 13 servings. You'll save an average of 41 cents per pound if you choose lentils over brown rice.
Best Fresh Fruit: Banana
If you get hungry mid-day, a banana is the best snack at your desk, after a workout, or in between classes. Fruit is a very good snack in general. An apple will give you 14 percent of your day's Vitamin C and 4 grams of fiber, but a banana, at half the price per pound, offers more Vitamin C and just 1 less gram of fiber.
Best Frozen Fruit: Frozen Blueberries
The price of fresh fruits out of season is significantly higher than when they're in season, due to transportation costs. And if you want to get your money's worth, you'll need to eat them within three days of buying, so they don't spoil. One cup of frozen blueberries gives you just as much fiber as the raw variety, and a handful fewer calories. While fresh blueberries offer 18 percent more Vitamin C, that difference isn't worth the extra cost.
Best Vegetable: Broccoli
Nutritionally, a half-cup of cooked broccoli delivers 24 percent of your Vitamin A, 84% of your Vitamin C, and 3 grams of fiber. This versatile vegetable is a great bang for the buck and packs a great nutritional punch.
Best Vegetable Snack: Carrots
If you're looking for a low-calorie snack, you'll get more of a nutritional boost from carrots than celery, at practically the same cost per pound. One serving of carrots has two times as much fiber as celery and 43 times more Vitamin A.
Best Salad Base: Napa Cabbage
The leafy greens in your salad can really vary in their nutritional content. Iceberg lettuce, for example, is significantly less nutritious than romaine, which is less nutritious than cabbage. In fact, 1 cup of cabbage gives you more than half of your daily vitamin K requirement--and it's $1.29 less per pound than Romaine.
All of these are essential healthy foods that you can afford on most budgets. Check out how you can use some of these foods in more intricate recipes in our Food Republic gallery below.
While this recipe calls for broccolini, feel free to substitute it with the more affordable broccoli. Either ingredient is a great combination with the spring onion in this creamy soup. Recipe: Broccolini-Spring Onion Soup
This smoothie adds a crunch to the normal banana smoothie. This healthy recipe comprises non-fat organic yogurt, raw almonds, orange juice, and of course the star of the drink, banana. Recipe: Banana Almond Crush Smoothie Photo: E.Baron on Flickr
This beautifully textured lentil soup is spiced but not spicy. The coconut milk adds creaminess to the chili and best of all, it’s vegan! Recipe: Spiced Coconut Lentil Soup
Everyone loves oatmeal cookies, but realistically we shouldn’t eat cookies for breakfast. So for a change in your regular oatmeal breakfast routine, why not make the beloved oatmeal raisin cookie into a pancake? Recipe: Oatmeal Raisin Pancakes Photo: little blue hen on Flickr
This is a good one to stash away until spring or summer. The added blueberries give this lemonade a sweet twist that might make this your new alternative to an Arnold Palmer. Recipe: Blueberry Lemonade Photo: La'J on Flickr
Here again, broccoli can be replaced with the broccoli for a more budget-friendly option. The Asian seasonings make this side dish irresistible and an even healthier option to that usual broccoli take-out, which may be spiked with sodium. Recipe: Asian-Style Broccolini Photo: kellyhogaboom on Flickr
Castelluccio lentils come from the town of the same name in central Italy. These specialty lentils are very small, pale brownish green in color, with a nutty taste, and they hold their shape when cooked properly. In this recipe, the sausage is rendered in order to lend its flavors to the lentils before all the ingredients are slow-simmered into a soup. Recipe: Castelluccio Lentil And Sausage
Here we pair the carrot with another nutritious winter root vegetable, the parsnip. The maple syrup adds a hint of sweetness that makes any vegetable palatable, even if it’s not your favorite. Recipe: Maple Roasted Carrots And Parsnips Photo: Jon Mountjoy on Flickr
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