50 healthy foods for under $1 a pound

By Jeff Yeager, The Daily Green(Photo: Robin Macdougall / Getty Images)(Photo: Robin Macdougall / Getty Images)

If you are what you eat, then I should weigh-in at under $1 a pound.

That's because, as a general rule of thumb, I try to only buy foodstuffs that costs under a buck per pound. Under $1 a pound, year-round -- that's my grocery shopping mantra.

It's not just because I'm a world-class penny-pincher and smart shopper; believe it or not, it's also about eating healthier. When you look at the USDA's "food pyramid," many of the things we should be eating the most of -- grains, legumes, fruits, and vegetables -- happen to cost the least.

It's often the stuff that's bad for us (at least in large quantities) like red meat, fatty dairy products, and processed foods high in trans saturated fats, that cost the most, on a per pound basis.

To prove my point, I've put together this list of 50 healthy foods that I've purchased at least once in the last six months for under $1 a pound.

So rev-up your shopping cart, but be careful: There's a Green Cheapskate loose on aisle five!

  • Apples - One a day keeps the cheapskate away.
  • Asparagus - HUGE store special at 99 cents a pound during Easter week. I bought 10 pounds, blanched it, and then froze it.
  • Bananas - Potassium for pennies.
  • Barley - A tasty alternative to rice and potatoes.
  • Beans - Canned or dried. Kidney, pinto, navy, black, red, and many more.
  • Bok choy - Steam and serve with a little soy sauce.
  • Broccoli - Yes, a store special. Usually closer to $2 per pound.
  • Bulgar wheat - Try it in pilaf or a tabouleh salad.
  • Cabbage - Green and red. I like mine fried.
  • Cantaloupe - No, sorry, I can't; I'm already married.
  • Carrots - Raw or steamed. Rich in carotenes, a healthy antioxidant.
  • Celery - Stir-fry it for a change.
  • Chicken - Whole or various parts, on sale.
  • Chickpeas - AKA garbanzo beans -- mash 'em up as a healthy sandwich spread.
  • Cornmeal - "Polenta" is all the rage these days, but I loved it 40 years ago when Mom called it "cornmeal mush."
  • Cucumbers - Try peeling, seeding, and steaming with a little butter and salt.
  • Daikon radish - My new favorite raw veggie.
  • Eggs - Don't overdo them, but eggs provide high quality protein and still cost about $1 per pound. (Plus, there are many eggscellent things you can do with the shells.)
  • Green beans - Frozen, but fresh are sometimes on sale for under $1 a pound in-season.
  • Greens - Kale, mustard, turnip, and collard greens are rich in vitamins and a good source of fiber. Here's how I cook 'em.
  • Grapes - Store special at 99 cents a pound.
  • Grapefruit - Bake with a little brown sugar on top for a healthy dessert.
  • Lentils - Perhaps the perfect food -- healthy, cheap, and versatile. Think soups, salads, sandwich spreads -- and those are only some of the "s" possibilities.
  • Liver - Chicken livers usually cost under $1 a pound, and sometimes beef and pork liver can be found in the DMZ ("Dollar Maximum Zone").
  • Mangoes - High in fiber and vitamins A, B6, and C.
  • Milk - Yep, on a per-pound basis, milk still costs well under $1 a pound.
  • Napa cabbage - Delicious steamed or raw in a salad.
  • Oatmeal - The good old-fashioned "slow cooking" kind ... that takes all of five minutes.
  • Onions - Try baking them whole in a cream sauce.
  • Oranges - Frequent sale price when in-season.
  • Pasta - Store special at 89 cents a pound -- I nearly bought them out!
  • Peanut butter - Special sale price, but stock up because it usually has a long shelf life.
  • Pork - Inexpensive cuts of pork frequently go on sale for 99 cents per pound or less; sometimes even ham during the holidays.
  • Potatoes - White and red, Baked, mashed, boiled, broiled, steamed.
  • Pumpkin - Yes, you can eat the same ones you buy as holiday decorations, and they usually cost under 50 cents a pound.
  • Rice - White for under $1 a pound; brown, a little more expensive but better for you.
  • Rutabagas - Hated them as a kid; can't get enough of them now.
  • Sour cream - 99 cents on sale, but long shelf life, so stock up. My cucumber awaits.
  • Spinach - Frozen (but Popeye doesn't care).
  • Split peas - Add a hambone and make the ultimate comfort soup. Try it in the crock-pot!
  • Squash - Try baking acorn squash with a little brown sugar.
  • Sweet corn - Canned or fresh on the cob, in-season. (Try this recipe for summer corn fritters.)
  • Tomatoes - Canned are often better than fresh to use in cooking, and occasionally you can find fresh on sale for under a buck, in-season.
  • Turkey - A popular bargain-priced, loss-leader around the holidays -- buy an extra bird and freeze it for later.
  • Turnips - Make me think of my grandparents, who always grew them.
  • Watermelon - Whole, in-season melons can sometime cost less than 20 cents a pound if they're on sale and you find a big one.
  • Wine - Well, at least the stuff I drink -- a 5-liter box (approximately 11 pounds) for about 10 bucks, on sale. (BTW, the beer I drink is even less expensive per pound.)
  • Yams/sweet potatoes - One of the healthiest foods you can eat, and usually available year-round for under $1 a pound.
  • Yogurt - 8-ounce containers on sale, two for $1.
  • Zucchini - OK, they're a type of squash (above). But I love them so much they deserve their own place on the list. Plus they look great in pantyhose.

Here are a few disclaimers about my list-o-50:

No, I don't live on another planet or in a part of the country where the cost of living is deflated. In fact, I live and shop in the Washington, D.C., metro area, which has one of the highest costs of living (and groceries) in the country.

No, I'm not saying that all of these items are available in every store, at all times. But if you shop carefully, you can always find at least some variety of these foods around which to plan your meals.

Many of the items on the list (e.g., most root vegetables, bananas, beans, etc.) can usually be purchased for under $1 pound even when not on sale or in-season. Other items on the list were "store specials" and typically would cost more than $1 a pound, and/or they were in-season so cost less.

No, none of the items on my under $1-a-pound list are organically grown. The pros/cons of that debate aside, for most people with a limited budget, the choice isn't whether or not to buy expensive organic, it's whether or not to eat highly processed crap like fast food or eat inexpensive healthy foods like those on my list. (See the dirty dozen foods with the most pesticides to maximize organic purchases.)

No, I'm not saying that by eating only these foods you'll have a complete, healthy diet. But they certainly can be the backbone around which to plan healthy, inexpensive menus for your family.

No, I don't burn up a lot of time and gas by running around to a lot of different grocery stores, and I rarely use coupons. I shop only once every week or two, and I usually shop at only one or two stores.

I plan my meals around the-best-of-the-best weekly store specials (aka the "loss-leaders"), the sale items that are usually on the front page of the weekly circular most stores publish. If you're not a creative cook like me, try a website like Delish or Epicurious, where you can enter the ingredients you have to work with and get all kinds of recipes.

Now look at all the money you've saved!

Jeff Yeager is the author of The Cheapskate Next Door and The Ultimate Cheapskate's Road Map to True Riches.

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