We're not just talking about canned veggies, either.

By Isadora Baum
Updated January 10, 2019
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Now that it’s January, you’re probably thinking about healthy eating, home cooking, and budgeting. After all the dining out and heavy spending from the holidays, it’s time to get back on track with healthy foods, wholesome meals at home, and those money-saving hacks to make up for how much you spent.

The good news is there are tons of pantry staples that are super good for you and also really cheap—so much so, where they’re under five dollars and will give you a few servings, if desired.

Stock your cabinets with these delicious and versatile steals and get cooking, as recommended by Karman Meyer, RDN and author of upcoming Eat to Sleep (coming out May 2019).  

Canned Tomatoes

Keep tomatoes, which are high in potassium and antioxidants, on hand to make soups, casseroles, pasta dishes, and so much more. “The processing of canned tomatoes actually helps make the lycopene more readily available for our bodies compared to fresh tomatoes,” Meyer adds, so you’ll also get that nutritional bonus by choosing this inexpensive pantry item.  

You should also consider tomato paste. “This pantry staple is high in potassium and also provides the body with vitamin C and antioxidants. It's great to keep on hand for making homemade soups, stews, and sauces,” she says.

Canned Tuna

It’s recommended that people consume two servings of seafood each week, and there's nothing simpler than making a tuna salad with canned tuna when you need lunch in a hurry and even on the go. “Protein-packed tuna is an excellent source of the antioxidant selenium, essential for thyroid function and a healthy immune system,” she explains, and it has a great dose of fat and protein to fill you up.

Quinoa

“As the only grain that provides all of the essential amino acids, quinoa cooks similarly to rice and can be used in a variety of ways. Try batch-cooking quinoa at the beginning of the week so you can save on prep time during the work week,” she says. And this is definitely an item that you can get multiple servings out of, so those few bucks go a long way.

Beans

Save yourself time in the kitchen by using canned beans in recipes, where you will benefit from their high fiber and protein content and stay full for hours. “Be sure to rinse the beans well before using to help reduce the amount of sodium by up to 40%,” she adds. This will help reduce bloating and water retention, so you’ll be able to see the rewards of your healthy pantry staple. Use beans in almost anything. Don't believe us? We've come up with 21 meals that start with a can of beans

Sardines

“These tiny fish don’t always get the respect they deserve but they are nutrient-dense and packed with omega-3 fatty acids,” she says. What’s more, they’re great for your bones. “One of the best non-dairy sources of calcium, sardines provide a whopping 32% of the daily value for calcium in seven sardine filets,” she says. Swap out sardines when you’re getting tired of salmon or tuna.

Canned Sweet Potatoes

“If your diet is lacking in potassium like most American diets, add a couple servings of this potassium-rich tuber into your weekly meal plan. My favorite way to use canned sweet potatoes is to heat them and then mash together with canned black beans to create a taco filling,” she says. Add some avocado and taco toppings for more satiety and flavor. Beyond tacos, you can also use these babies in casseroles, as healthier “fries,” or simply roasted, baked, or mashed with some toppings or herbs.

Canned Fruits

“When buying canned fruit, look for those canned in their own fruit juice, like mandarin oranges and pineapple,” she says, or else there might be some unwanted sugar. “Add to smoothies, yogurt parfaits, fruit salads, or simply enjoy straight from the can,” she says. These are super versatile and can save you money on perfectly delicious fruit, especially those that are out of season at the time.

Low-Sodium Stock/Broth

Skip the extra sodium in most packaged soups by purchasing low-sodium broth and stock, which you can then use for soups, stews, and for cooking grains, such as quinoa and rice, in the comfort of your kitchen, she says. “You can always boost flavor by using dried or fresh herbs, spices and seasonings, and produce, so you won't even miss the salt,” she says.

Oatmeal

Save money on pre-packaged oatmeal packets, which are often loaded with added sugars anyway, and opt for rolled or quick-cooking oats, instead, which you can also make in bulk, she says. “Add your own toppings to cooked oatmeal, like nuts and seeds, fresh fruit, or a spoonful of nut butter,” she says, to play around with flavor and boost the nutritional profile.

Canned Salmon

Much like tuna and sardines, canned salmon is convenient to keep on hand and can provide more calcium than fresh or frozen if the bones are included, she says. “The canning process softens the bones making them edible and easy to break apart, so you can safely eat them and benefit from the extra calcium,” she explains. Try making salmon cakes with canned salmon and serve alongside a salad.

Pumpkin

“To clarify, we're talking about 100% pumpkin puree here, not pumpkin pie filling. This canned squash is a good source of vitamin K, potassium, and vitamin C, and can easily be added to smoothies, stirred into oatmeal, or used in savory dishes like sauces and soups,” she says. There’s no reason to ditch pumpkin after fall!