One of the keys to staying under my $80-per-week grocery budget (for my husband, Jeremy, and me) is a core group of foods that are always in my fridge (or pantry). All of these items A) have excellent nutritional qualities, B) can be used in a variety of ways, and C) are very inexpensive. They have the perfect food trifecta. ;)
I'll explain the why's and how's of the first five foods this week and the last five in my next post. Without further ado, here are the star foods in my kitchen!
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1. Canned Salmon
This is one of my top recommendations for those trying to eat well on a budget! Salmon is one of the very best food sources of omega 3 fatty acids, and it's a phenomenal source of DHA and EPA in particular, which are extremely bio-available types of omega 3 fats. The Mediterranean diet includes fish at least three times per week. This makes it a very omega-3-rich eating pattern. The vast majority of Americans are not meeting their needs for these important fats.
The two best (common) sources of bio-available omega 3 fats - DHA and EPA - are salmon and tuna, but salmon has a substantially higher amount of omega 3's per serving than tuna. This cool chart helps put various types of fish in perspective according to their omega 3 content. Unfortunately, some of American's favorite fish, including tilapia, shrimp, and catfish, have the lowest omega 3 content. :(
It's really hard to stay on a tight food budget and eat salmon two to three times per week, though.
Canned salmon to the rescue!
Jeremy and I eat about a can of salmon every week, on average. I will warn you though, that it's not the most appealing food straight out of the can. It needs a little TLC. :)
Our top two ways to use canned salmon are salmon burgers - salmon patties, as some call them - and salmon salad (canned salmon + light mayo + relish if you like it). We serve salmon salad on a bed of lettuce or as a sandwich for a super fast meal. I'm always on the lookout for new and creative ways to use canned salmon, so this probably won't be the last you'll hear of it.
We also have salmon fillets occasionally, but we use these to add variety maybe once a month or so. The cost difference between canned salmon and fillets is huge! You'll pay around $4 per pound for frozen salmon fillets versus about $3 (or less!) per pound for canned salmon (both from Aldi). As you can see from this chart, the omega 3 content is very similar in both forms!
2. Fruit - “Deal of the Week”
Shopping based on what's on sale is helpful for multiple reasons.
First, sales can help get you out of "food ruts" and try different things. If something is on sale that I'm not used to buying, I'm much more likely to give it a shot. I hate passing up a great deal and I like trying new things, so unique fruit "deals of the week" are the perfect opportunity for me!
Second, sales are often based on what's in season. This means you are more likely to get fresher produce that is actually in season (meaning, less likely to taste like a sour patch).
Fruit in season may also be more likely to be grown using natural methods. Getting fruits and vegetables to grow when they're not in season is hard and often requires a little finagling with modern technology to get it to work! Personally, I prefer the old-fashioned way of growing the foods I eat whenever possible. :)
Click below to get my FREE full list of the top 10 star foods in my kitchen!
Finally, shopping based on what's on sale saves you money. I look at my weekly Aldi ad every single week and plan our fruit and vegetable sides accordingly because I know that it always saves us money. One word of caution though, is to stick to the front page where the fresh produce and meat are listed. The rest of most grocery store ads promote processed "treats", which seem cheap but are actually very expensive and over-priced for the nutrients they provide.
This week, the "Deals of the Week" I bought at Aldi included blackberries, asparagus, mini sweet peppers, and Brussels sprouts.
3. Vegetables - “Deal of the Week”
This is similar to the tip above, I've found that vegetable "Deals of the Week" seem to be even more seasonal than fruit!
Eating a variety of fruits and vegetables every single day is the cornerstone of a whole-foods-based, Mediterranean diet. This means that fruits and vegetables will not only make up a large proportion of your diet, they will also make up a large proportion of your grocery bill. That's why it's so important to shop strategically for fruits and vegetables.
I buy at least one fruit and one vegetable "deal of the week" at Aldi almost every single week. Half to three-fourths of the items in my grocery cart every week are fruits and vegetables, so they make up a large portion of our food budget. If this is starting to sound expensive to you, believe me, it's not! We still manage to spend around $80 on groceries per week! Many weeks we spend closer to $50!
My goal is to have at least 3 servings of fruit (different kinds) and 3 servings of vegetables (also different kinds) every single day, so I pretty much have to have at least 4 kinds of each on hand at any given time. This is absolutely crucial for helping us meet our fruit and vegetable goals! If they're not on hand consistently, we can't eat them consistently.
My free Mediterranean Meal Planner has a space for 4 different vegetables and fruits each week so you will remember to plan for and buy them!
Click here to download the free planner!
4. Dried or Canned Beans
Beans have a special place in my heart. I'm not kidding!
They're an absolute powerhouse of nutrients.
Beans contain more fiber per serving than any other category of food I'm aware of, including lettuce, whole grains, and berries!
Fiber is crucial for a healthy gut, a healthy immune system, and even healthy cholesterol levels. On average, Americans get about half of the recommended daily amount of fiber on a daily basis. This is not good, folks, but beans are a great remedy for this!
Beans are also an excellent source of folate, which is a nutrient most people don't get enough of (Sound familiar?). Folate is important for health across the lifespan - from pregnancy to old age. Beans also contain a sizable chunk of plant-based protein - which by the way, most of us get plenty of protein from food and don't need to worry about it at all, contrary to what the popular "diet culture" would like us to believe. Beans are also a rich source of magnesium, which is essential for bone health, blood glucose control, and heart function, to name a few highlights.
Here are a few of my favorite ways to include beans in our diets:
- Put black beans in tacos along with meat or serve them as a side dish
- Add an extra can of kidney beans to chili
- Use beans in place of half of the meat in Mexican dishes to cut costs and make the meal healthier
- Serve baked beans as a side dish in warmer weather (yes, there is added sugar in baked beans, but remember the 80/20 rule - 80% healthy food, 20% "fun food", including sugar)
I've also been known to bring a can of black beans to work for lunch (I'm planning to do this tomorrow). I drain and rinse them, which reduces the sodium and gas-producing substances. Then I add a little salsa and cheese and heat them up in the microwave at work.
5. Natural Peanut Butter
One of my favorite standby foods is peanut butter. We top baked oatmeal* with it, use it as a dip for apples or bananas, or put it on whole grain toast. These are just a few ways we use it.
Peanut butter is a good source of protein, healthy fats, magnesium, niacin, and vitamin E. Basically, it's a nutrition powerhouse - similar in some ways to beans. In fact, beans and peanut butter are both in the legume family, which explains some of the similarities.
The key with peanut butter is to look for one with only two ingredients: peanuts and salt. I don't really care about any other factors (organic, reduced-sodium, reduced-fat, etc. etc.). I buy our peanut butter at Trader Joe's instead of Aldi because it's somehow significantly cheaper. If anyone knows why, please share. :)
I'll be telling you about the other 5 foods on my top 10 list and breaking down their nutritional value as well as ways to prepare them. Can you guess what any of them are? Post below in the comments and I'll tell you if you're right! :)
Talk to you again soon!