Grocery shopping on a budget isn’t a walk in the park. It’s hard to tell what should make the cut and what should get left on the store shelves. Plus, many brands can be deceiving about how healthy their products actually are. I decided to talk to a registered dietitian to find the answer to a question I’ve been curious about for a while: If you only had $50 to spend at the grocery store, what would you purchase? Here’s what Nicole Groman, MS, RD, CDN, founder of bodyovermindnutrition.com, would put in her shopping cart:
- Whole wheat bread: Groman says its filled with fiber and can be used for any meal—morning toast, a lunchtime sandwich, or an afternoon snack.
- Eggs: They’re inexpensive and last for a long time, Groman says. “The protein they provide is easily absorbed by the body, so it’s a great source of protein, plus the yolk is filling and provides a ton of nutrients.” Eggs are a complete protein, meaning they contain all nine essential amino acids. Essential amino acids are amino acids the body can’t make on its own, so we need to get them through the foods we eat.
- Nut butter: Nut butter has a long shelf life, so you can eat it as frequently or infrequently as you want. Plus, it’s filled with healthy fats and protein, so it makes a filling snack. “I always have this on hand,” Groman says.
- Frozen berries: Frozen fruits are more economical than fresh — they have a much longer shelf life, since they don’t go bad the way fresh fruits would if unused. “They make it so that you always have fruit available,” Groman says. “They’re great for a snack paired with nuts or cheese, in cereal or oatmeal, or for peanut butter and “jelly” (defrosted fruit) sandwiches.”
- Frozen vegetables: Frozen veggies are also a more economic option than fresh — you can use them at your convenience. “They make it so that you always have a non-starchy vegetable ready for a meal.”
- Brown rice or whole grain pasta: These are two other staples with a long shelf life. “These are an easy, whole grain, nutritious starch for your meals—just mix with your frozen, non-starchy veggies and protein of choice.”
- String cheese: Cheese might feel like an indulgence, but in moderation, it’s actually very healthy. It’s full of protein and a good source of calcium. “[String cheese is] the perfect part of a snack to pair with a carbohydrate, such as fruit or whole grain crackers.”
- Olive oil: Olive oil is an ingredient that is often mistaken as unhealthy—but similarly to cheese, it’s healthy in moderation. Groman says she loves it because it’s heart-healthy, has a long shelf life, and is the perfect way to add some flavor to roasted veggies or a stir fry.
- Milk: Groman always has milk in her refrigerator for cereal, overnight oats, or smoothies. “Dairy, soy, and pea protein milks all have eight grams of protein per cup to keep you full and satisfied.”
Of course, it’s not imperative that you buy everything on this list. You may have a serious beef with nut butter, or maybe you can’t stand the thought of string cheese. But Groman’s grocery list suggests that each of these options offers plenty of nutritional value, yet the list is varied enough that it doesn’t seem like you’re eating all the same foods.
It’s important to finalize your grocery list before you head to the store. This way, you won’t be tempted to stray from the list and put things in your cart as you come across them. That’s an easy way to stray from a strict budget, too. Make sure you grab a snack before you head out. Shopping on an empty stomach only worsens the cravings when you pass the junk food aisle.