7 Low-Cost, Super Healthy Veggies to Add to Your Kids' Meals
Sometimes that quick, boxed mac and cheese dinner is inevitable—and let's face it, delicious. But it's important to get those fruits and vegetables in your family's diet. Families have been spending more money on groceries since the start of the pandemic last year, and healthy food isn't always the most accessible or affordable for many folks. But it doesn't have to be that way—in fact, there are ways to eat healthy on a budget, and eating fresh fruits and vegetables can keep you full for longer and give you more energy.
A 2016 report by the USDA called The Cost of Satisfying Fruit and Vegetable Recommendations in the Dietary Guidelines found that a person on a 2,000 calorie diet could get the federally recommended amount of fruits and vegetables in their diet for $2.10 to $2.60 per day. The same report also found that a family of four can meet the same nutrition guidelines on a budget by buying more fruits and vegetables as opposed to foods high in solid fats, sugar, and sodium. So not only is eating fresh, whole foods healthier, it can actually help you save more money, too. The question is more about access to healthy food options. There are many areas across the nation that are food deserts, where there are more fast food chains and less supermarkets—and even in the grocery stores, there is a lack of healthy, affordable, appealing options.
If you're on a budget and trying to eat healthy it's helpful to know which vegetables will give you the most nutrition without draining your wallet. These vegetables full of flavor, vitamins, fiber, and other goodies—and they're versatile too, so you can prepare them in different ways and make less trips to the grocery store. Here is a list of the healthiest vegetables that are low in cost, and high in nutrition.
1 Broccoli: $1.92/lb
The green giant is as nutritious as it is versatile. "Broccoli is a cheap vegetable and it provides many nutrients including antioxidants, vitamins A and C, fiber, folate, vitamin K, and potassium," Dr. Lisa Young, PhD, RDN, tells Parents. Eat it steamed, cooked, in your salads, or to add a serving of veggies to your favorite comfort foods.
You can also opt for frozen broccoli, which is as nutritious and will last you longer. "A bag of 10oz generic brand frozen cut broccoli costs around $1.00 and contains the same amount of vitamins and minerals as fresh broccoli crowns," Melissa Mitri, MS, RD of wellness product review site Wellness Verge, tells Parents.
2 Frozen chopped spinach: $1.46/lb
While you can get fresh spinach, frozen spinach is a more budget-friendly option—plus it can last up to six months in your freezer. "It is easy to use as a side dish, add to omelets, soups, or toss into pasta and sauce for an added nutrient boost," says Laura M. Ali, a registered dietician nutritionist based in Pennsylvania. Spinach is a great source of fiber, iron, calcium, and folate. Frozen spinach is an easy and delicious addition to smoothies, too.
3 Sweet potato: $1.05/lb
Filled with fiber, vitamins A, C, and B, potassium, and antioxidants, sweet potatoes are an affordable and healthy veggie to have in your pantry. "They're one of the cheapest veggies out there," says Mitri.
4 Cabbage: $0.62/lb
One cup of cabbage can give you 60 percent of your daily vitamin C, 162Mcg of Vitamin K, and 22g of magnesium, says Kaitlin Magno, a professionally trained plant-based chef and owner of vegetarian and vegan food blog, Phok Meat. Less than a dollar per pound, it can be eaten raw, cooked, or fermented as probiotic-rich sauerkraut or kimchi.
5 Carrots: $0.77/lb
Carrots are filled with healthy vitamins and minerals such as beta-carotene, which is said to support eye health. "Carrots are a cheap, versatile, nutrient-dense vegetable," says Dr. Young. Carrots are loaded with fiber, vitamin C, K, and potassium.
6 Dried black beans: $1.40/lb
One pound of dried black beans can last you a while—and provide you and your family with lots of nutrition. "If I had just one cheap and healthy vegetable, it would be dried beans," Sam Zelinka, a father of three, and owner of personal finance website for federal employees GovernmentWorkerFI, tells Parents. He says you can get 13 servings from one pound of dried black beans—the cost comes down to $0.24 per cup.
"They are an excellent plant-based protein source," says Mitri. One serving of beans has 12 grams of fiber (half of the daily recommended amount), and eight grams of protein.
7 Canned tomatoes: $0.91/lb
Fresh tomatoes can get expensive—large, round tomatoes cost about $2.00 per pound, with grape and cherry tomatoes costing $3.48 per pound. Canned tomatoes are healthy, and much more affordable. "Canned tomatoes are a vegetable I always have on hand," says Ali.
Easy to add to countless recipes like soups, stews, and pasta, canned tomatoes are full of vitamin C and the antioxidant lycopene. In fact, there's more lycopene in canned tomatoes compared to their fresh counterparts, says Ali. She recommends buying them on sale and stocking up, since canned tomatoes have a shelf life of two to three years.
*Vegetable prices from USDA Fruit and Vegetable Prices, 2018 (latest data available)