5 Nutritious Foods Where the Price is (Still) Right

By Matthew Kadey, R.D. |

Beat inflation with these dietitian-approved foods that will stretch your dollar without sacrificing good nutrition.

Budget-friendly foods to beat inflation

With inflation hitting the supermarkets, you may notice your grocery bills are higher than they used to be. Staples like bread, eggs, and milk are far more expensive than they were in the past. It may feel more challenging than ever to eat well on a budget.  

But the great news is that you can still find good-for-you foods at the supermarket when money is tight. These budget-friendly foods will keep you nourished with key nutrients that older adults need, without breaking the bank.   

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1. Save Big With: Canned Sardines  

In any given supermarket you can probably cast your line for a tin of sardines that costs no more than 2 bucks, well below the price of most other seafood options. And, luckily, this inexpensive catch of the day houses troves of nutrients that can contribute to healthy aging.   

Sardines are high in protein to help you hold onto your lean body mass. They are also a great source of omega-3 fatty acids, which are good for your brain and your heart. In fact, a 2022 study in the Journal of the American Heart Association showed eating more omega-3s can help keep blood pressure numbers in a healthier range. 

You’ll also get a healthy dose of vitamin D, a nutrient most older adults don’t get enough of. Plus, canned, whole sardines typically still have the soft, edible bones in them, making them a good source of calcium, too. And the combo of calcium plus vitamin D can help keep your bones strong, preventing bone breaks and osteoporosis.   

Eat more: For a lighter option, choose sardines that are canned in water instead of oil. Here are a few ways to enjoy them: 

  • Straight of the can with a squeeze of fresh lemon or lime juice 
  • Chopped or whole as a topper for toast or crackers — combine them with some pickled onions and mustard 
  • Chopped or whole and added to a sandwich or salad — they pair nicely with avocado and cilantro 
  • Chopped and tossed with your favorite pasta or braised greens 
  • As an alternative to tuna salad   

Recommended reading: 6 Foods That Strengthen Your Bones 

2. Save Big With: Red Cabbage 

We all know the pain of opening the fridge only to see a container of expensive tender salad greens that have turned to mush. Thankfully, a hearty head of cost-effective cabbage can go a long, long way.  

Not only will it last for weeks in the fridge before going bad, but red cabbage has an impressive nutritional resume including: 

  • Dietary fiber 
  • Vitamin K 
  • Vitamin C 

Red cabbage is also a reliable source of anthocyanins, a class of antioxidants found in red and purple plant foods. And a recent study found that higher intakes of anthocyanins may help older people maintain better brain functioning as they age. 

Eat more: Thinly sliced raw red cabbage is a healthy addition to salads, slaws, and lunch sandwiches. Braised red cabbage is a great low-cost side dish. Try using whole cabbage leaves as a low-calorie alternative to tortillas when making tacos.  

3. Save Big With: Steel-Cut Oats  

Oats remain a super affordable source of good nutrition. Oats are a whole grain, supplying energizing carbohydrates in the morning to help supercharge your day. They also deliver a range of important micronutrients including magnesium, phosphorus, and thiamine.  

Oats are also an excellent source of fiber. But more specifically, they contain a unique type of soluble fiber called beta-glucan. This type of fiber can help reduce both LDL cholesterol and total cholesterol numbers, potentially improving you heart health.  

A study in BMJ discovered that eating oats may also protect against developing type 2 diabetes. Steel-cut oats may be particularly good for blood sugar.4 Research shows post-meal blood sugar responses are better after eating these more intact oat kernels than after eating more processed rolled or instant oat flakes.5 

Eat more: Steel-cut oats take longer to cook than rolled oats. But soaking them overnight can save you time in the morning. Try this time-saving hack:  

  1. Add 1 cup steel-cut oats and 3 cups of water to a saucepan. Bring to a slight simmer, then remove pan from heat and let sit covered overnight.  
  1. In the morning, stir in a little more water or milk and your favorite oatmeal mix-ins. Warm over medium-low heat for 10 minutes and enjoy! 

Recommended reading: 8 Easy Ways to Make Oatmeal Taste Amazing (Seriously)  

4. Save Big With: Dry Lentils  

Trying to eat more plant-based meals? Lentils can be a very low-cost but hearty meat alternative. At just a couple bucks a pound, dry lentils deliver a huge nutritional bang for your buck.  

Most notable are their lofty amounts of dietary fiber. Just one cup of cooked lentils has nearly 16 grams of fiber, which is roughly half of the amount you need in a day.   

Most older Americans don’t get enough fiber, which is good for your gut and heart health. Plus, the fiber in inexpensive lentils keeps you feeling fuller longer, which can help you lose or maintain a healthy weight.  

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Lentils also offer up plant-based protein and a range of must-have nutrients including B vitamins, magnesium and phosphorus. And unlike dried beans, dry lentils cook up quickly and don’t require soaking ahead of time. Simply simmer dried green or brown lentils in a pot of water until tender, about 20 minutes. 

Eat more: Use lentils instead of ground beef in dishes like chili or sloppy joes. Cook up a batch of lentils and keep them on hand to add to salads or as a meat-free stuffing in burritos.  

5. Save Big With: Sunflower Seeds  

You might get sticker shock looking at the price per pound for nuts like almonds and pistachios. Less pricey sunflower seeds are a great alternative with a lot of the same health benefits.  

Like nuts, sunflower seeds are also a good source of heart-healthy unsaturated fats. They’re also rich in vitamins and minerals like: 

  • Magnesium 
  • Phosphorus 
  • Selenium 
  • B vitamins 
  • Vitamin E 

For convenience, you can buy shelled sunflower seeds, but choose unsalted varieties to help keep your sodium intake lower.   

Eat more: Use sunflower seeds anywhere you would nuts to help stretch your dollar. Toss them onto your oatmeal, yogurt and salads for a nutritional boost. Mix them with dried fruit and dark chocolate chips for a satisfying snack. Try mixing them in to baked goods like muffins.  

See our sources:
Omega-3s and blood pressure study: Journal of the American Heart Association
Anthocyanins and brain function study: Nutrition Reviews
Heart health benefits of beta-glucan: American Journal of Clinical Nutrition
Steel-cut oats and blood sugar control: BMJ 

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