EAT HEALTHY, EAT CHEAP
Saving money and slimming down are top priorities for countless people. Luckily, many foods that naturally encourage weight loss and a healthy lifestyle are among the least expensive products at the grocery store and farmers market. With these staple items on your shopping list, you can lower your grocery bill and eat a healthy diet at the same time. (Prices come from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, and a national retail chain.)
This self-contained, portable snack is so closely associated with weight loss that there is a "grapefruit diet." Grapefruits are rich in vitamin C and contain the antioxidants lycopene and beta carotene. The average price for one pink grapefruit is less than $1.
Low in fat and calories and high in protein, lentils make a filling base for a healthy meal. Preparation is quick and easy -- around 20 minutes -- providing a convenient answer to the question of what's for dinner. At about $1.50 for a 1-pound bag of dried lentils, the cost per serving comes to less than 12 cents.
Beans are tried and true when it comes to staying trim and saving money. They're even cheaper when purchased dry instead of canned. On average, dried beans cost less than $1.50 a pound. Legumes also have an exceptionally long shelf life, so you can comfortably buy them in bulk.
Instead of chips, crackers, or pretzels, reach for carrots. They deliver a satisfying crunch without all the salt and fat and pair well with many dips. The average price is 86 cents for a 1-pound bag, compared with more than $4 for a 16-ounce bag of potato chips. Aside from cutting your calorie intake, carrots provide antioxidants and vitamin A.
These long-lasting and versatile root vegetables add flavor and substance to any number of dishes. Use them in risotto or a casserole, on a roasted vegetable plate, or as a canvas for endless toppings. Sweet potatoes pack a ton of vitamin A, potassium, and fiber. This low-calorie yet filling food costs an average of 87 cents a pound.
Recommended by nutritionists and personal trainers, fat-free, low-calorie oatmeal is an ideal dish for long-lasting energy. Mayo Clinic identifies it as a top source of soluble fiber, which can help lower cholesterol levels. Just steer clear of sugar-filled packets of flavored instant oatmeal. One serving of old-fashioned oats can cost as little as 8 cents.
Cabbage suits someone with a big appetite: It's filling yet contains virtually no calories. From stuffed cabbage to salads and soups, a medium-size cabbage supplies eight or more large servings, depending on the application, and costs an average of 48 cents a pound. This cruciferous vegetable lasts longer than many other greens in the refrigerator.
One head of cauliflower, an average of $2.38, provides six servings of nutrient-dense deliciousness. This fiber-rich, low-calorie, fat-free vegetable can keep you feeling full after a meal. Enjoy it roasted, tossed with pasta, mashed in place of potatoes, or crumbled into rice-like pieces as a grain substitute.
At an average price of 79 cents to $1.99 a pound, depending on the variety, apples make the perfect grab-and-go snack. An apple serves as a low-calorie, nonfat, and satisfyingly sweet treat when you might otherwise have a muffin, bagel, or cookie. Given that the fresh fruit can last in the fridge for a month, a bag of apples should always be on your shopping list.
Popcorn hits the spot when you crave chips or other fried, fattening snacks. Air-popped corn with just a touch of oil or butter and salt takes only a few minutes to prepare and is significantly lower in calories and fat. Try adding spices for a fuller flavor. You can find 32 ounces of dry kernels -- 25 servings of popcorn -- for less than $2, or 7.5 cents a serving.
The capsicum family adds a hot, spicy element to many meals and may serve as an appetite suppressant. Although researchers question the long-held belief that it boosts metabolism, there is evidence to suggest that spicy food is more satisfying, and those who partake eat less later on. Serrano peppers, common in salsa, have a very mild effect on a grocery bill: an average of 99 cents a pound.
Squash may not seem like a convenience food, but it's hardy enough to last for months on the counter or in the pantry and super easy to roast for a delicious meal. Acorn and butternut squash cost an average of 91 cents a pound. These versatile, filling, and fat-free vegetables are tasty on their own, blended into a soup, or mixed with a grain pilaf.
FROZEN MIXED VEGETABLES
Bags of frozen vegetables often go on sale for $1 and easily contain four servings of nutrition. The convenience and ease make for low-stress dishes: Simply combine with broth and pasta for quick weeknight soup, or sauté with oil and garlic for a vegetable stir-fry.
WHAT TO SKIP
Many foods that expand your waistline also shrink your wallet. Crossing alcohol off your regular shopping list will cut empty calories and leave you with extra cash. Similarly, avoid baked goods and prepackaged foods. They're priced at a premium over the ingredients they contain and tend to be more unhealthy than the homemade versions.