Kitchen MacGyver: Whole Foods Staples, Econo-style

Top Five Cheap and Nutritious Whole Foods

It’s a vexing situation: After spending $60-$100 at the grocery store and putting things away, you open the pantry or look in the refrigerator and wonder where all the food is. As fuel and food prices continue to rise, I find myself in this situation more frequently. Eating healthy on a budget requires finesse and a bit of extra effort, but the rewards are numerous. Here are some tips for what to buy, why and what to do with it.

1. Beans

Offering a bounty of nutrition, such as protein, fiber, carbs, iron, zinc, potassium, thiamin, magnesium, etc., beans’ neutral flavor and malleable texture make their incorporation into recipes limited only by your imagination. While canned beans provide convenience, you’ll pay for it: Plan ahead and buy dried beans in bulk; soak seven days worth of beans in a pot overnight and cook them (adding flavor enhancers like onions, garlic cloves, celery and herbs) in that one pot. When they’re done and cooled, divide them into plastic containers and store in the refrigerator. They’ll be ready to toss into any dish you want to make during the week.

2. Root Vegetables

Carrots, celery root, garlic, parsnips, onions, beets, turnips, and white, red, purple and sweet potatoes deliver nutrients, antioxidants, fiber, carbs and more. Most importantly: They add low-cost flavor to foods. Combine them with olive or canola oil, sea salt and pepper, roast in a hot oven for 40 minutes, and the result is a tray of harmonious caramelization that yields tenderly to a fork.

3. Lentils

Another great source of protein and fiber, lentils provide B vitamins, folate, and the very-important-for-runners mineral, iron. An aside: Green lentils provide more fiber than red. Buy these in the bulk foods bin at health foods stores and cook them in the method described above for beans. I like to add cumin, garlic powder and a few pinches of cayenne pepper to my lentils.

4. Bananas

Available year-round, bananas remain the stereotypical fuel for the endurance athlete for a reason: High in potassium, fiber, carbs, folic acid, riboflavin and other B vitamins, their thick peel means you don’t have to buy organic.

5. Oats

These cheap, reportedly cholesterol-lowering whole grains deliver carbs, fiber, selenium, phosphorus and other nutrients, and with a little ingenuity and a food processor or blender, can be processed at home into oat flour and oat crumbs (a substitute for bread crumbs). Of course, the breakfast standby—boiled oats topped with a sliced banana—remains a classic.

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