7 cheap and healthy foods to liven up your lunch

alex brown

Lunch is often the meal that gets the least attention. It tends to be the one that we eat because we have to — or worse, skip because we don’t have the time or energy for it. But lunch is an important part of your day. Nourishing your body with […]

Lunch is often the meal that gets the least attention. It tends to be the one that we eat because we have to — or worse, skip because we don’t have the time or energy for it. But lunch is an important part of your day. Nourishing your body with nutrients at lunchtime will supply you with the energy you need to conquer the rest of your day. To ensure you’ll never dread or skip it again, here are some clever ways to spice up your midday meal without having to empty your wallet.

Add these cost-effective foods to your shopping list:

  • Avocados

  • Bell peppers

  • Canned beans

  • Canned salmon

  • Canned soup

  • Collard greens

  • Sweet potatoes

Avocados

The avocado is the ultimate Instagram influencer, and for good reason. Sure, its color is beautiful, but its real superpower is its heart-healthy monounsaturated fatty acids — and its versatility to fit perfectly in almost any dish. Avocado toast is a trendy lunch option that often racks up to $10 at most eateries, but making your own costs next to nothing and gives you freedom to fully customize. You can add flavor and variety by using different leftover meats, veggies, eggs, cheese, seeds and herbs. This Roasted Zucchini & Corn Toast is a unique combo worth a DIY try.

Bell peppers

Bell peppers are a great source of vitamin C and other anti-inflammatory antioxidants, which have been linked to improved eye health and reduced risk of various diseases. My advice if you’re looking to save a buck? Reach for the green ones. Other colored peppers (especially red) use more resources since they’re harvested later, making them more expensive. For this week’s lunch, whip up some stuffed peppers with leftovers from the night before, like meat or quinoa. This Quinoa Stuffed Peppers recipe shows just how easy it is to throw any combination of ingredients together and end up with a balanced, tasty meal. Use the rest of the peppers as a flavorful morning omelet addition or a midday snack dipped in yogurt.

Related: From quinoa and yogurt to black beans, a nutritionist shares her favorite inexpensive foods and how to use them to liven up your morning meals.

Canned beans

A high-fiber diet may help you lose weight and live longer. It may also help you control diabetes and maintain healthy blood glucose levels — and beans are one of the best ways to get that daily fiber dose. A healthy pantry staple, beans are inexpensive and can be used in dozens of ways. With ingredients like ground beef and chickpeas, the protein in this 3-Bean Chili is a healthy take on your favorite comfort food. Prep a big batch and have a warm and filling meal ready to eat throughout the week. Tip: To avoid hidden sodium, rinse and drain beans as soon as you open the can (or buy canned beans with no salt added). If you’re looking to eat less meat or save a little money, skip the meat altogether.

Canned salmon

Fresh fish can get expensive, but canned salmon gives you the same benefits for less money. Protein-packed salmon is rich in omega-3s and B vitamins, which means it may help reduce inflammation and blood pressure. One study found slightly higher levels of two omega-3s in canned pink and red salmon than it found in fresh. For an effortlessly delicious lunch, cook up Dijon Salmon Cakes on a Sunday and simply heat one up when afternoon hunger strikes during the week.

Canned soup

Soup from scratch is a great idea, but when time isn’t on your side, opt for a canned soup that’s low in sodium. Buy yourself a high-quality, organic can of black bean soup (like Amy’s) and add your own nutrient-dense toppings. This “half-cooking” approach works well for a quick lunch prepared when you’re overwhelmed with work or on-the-go. Try this Tex-Mex Black Bean Soup recipe for your next midday meal.

Collard greens

This week, skip the bread products and opt for some collard greens when you make a wrap. An alternative to kale, this loose leafed cabbage has smoother leaves and a milder flavor. It’s also a superfood that’s extremely low in calories and rich in other nutrients like calcium for bone health, fiber for digestion and vitamins A and K. And it gets even better: One study found that collard greens are much cheaper than many of their fellow cruciferous vegetables in terms of average U.S. price per edible cup (chopped and cooked). Switch it up with these Collard Green Burritos — a colorful and flavorful alternative to your normal go-to sandwich.

Related: These nutritionist-approved ideas will save you time and money.

Sweet potatoes

Sweet potatoes are a great source ofpowerful antioxidants like beta-carotene and other important phytonutrients. They’re also lower on the glycemic index than white potatoes, which means they’re less likely to cause your blood sugar to spike. For a fun lunch, try a Sweet Potato and Sausage Bake. Then serve the leftovers as a dinner side or over your morning eggs. Eliminate any potato waste by baking some Sweet Potato Cookies for a sweet treat.

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