In this article, I list a few foods and ingredient examples, and teach you 8 ways to make meals healthier at home.
This is about using what healthy foods you already have and building more nutrition into them. And doing it all on a budget of course!
Most people are already knowledgeable about what healthy or nutritional foods are, in general. But, there are so many foods and ingredients out there that have more nutrition than you may be aware of. And for less than you think it costs.
It’s a myth that healthy foods are expensive. Some packaged foods labeled as ‘healthy’ might have a high price tag and as do whole foods, especially the organic type. But, that’s nutritional cooking comes in.
When you know what the nutritional constituents are in certain foods, you can build more nutrition into them and make your meals healthier. And then you’ll know how to make healthy food at home, in a nutritional way.
Once you know how it can benefit your health and do a little research on what they cost to buy in raw form, you’ll be well-equipped to reduce your grocery budget.
And that will only work once you learn to cook nutritionally and meal prep smartly, too.
We may earn money or products from the companies mentioned in this post.
Add these foods to make meals healthier at home
The following sections each propose a list of foods you may have in your fridge or pantry.
Let’s say this is all you have to work with and you’re wondering how to make it healthier.
I explain to how to build more nutrition into each group.
Well, because each food recommendation has potent nutritional constituents. There are many foods you can add, the choice is always yours. But, these have so many benefits that you don’t need to add anything more.
In other words, you can lower your grocery spending.
1. Simple Carbs
If all you have are: Tomato, Cucumber, Lettuce, Bell Pepper, Carrot
Yes, it is dark and leafy in color and shape but even richer in nutrients and minerals. It contains vitamins C and K. And it has anti-inflammatory and cancer-fighting properties.
Kale contains double the amount of Vitamin C than Spinach. Kale is also lower in a plant compound called Oxalate (Oxalic acid) that can inhibit the absorption of minerals and nutrients1.
You can also use Swiss Chard if you like and just chop it up into chunks.
Spinach is rich in Vitamin C which is an antioxidant and helps prevent the oxidation of cells. Cancer is also brought on by free radical damage in cells, so it’s crucial to get as many antioxidant benefits (which prevents it) from these ingredients. It also helps reduce inflammation.
It also facilitates the production of collagen in the body, L-Carnitine, and some neurotransmitters2. Water-soluble Vitamin C helps absorb minerals such as Iron which is beneficial if you are anemic or have an iron deficiency.
Spinach contains Vitamin K, also known as Phytonadione, It’s essential for blood clotting and it’s also important for bone and heart health. The vitamin is K1 which can be found in plant foods like dark, leafy greens such as Broccoli, Kale, and Spinach.
Red Cabbage nutrition
Red cabbage is rich in antioxidants and other compounds that can help fight inflammation. It’s also high in Vitamin C, it’s an antioxidant, so it helps protect against oxidative stress. It has been reported that a deficiency in Vitamin C can aggravate atopic dermatitis3 symptoms, something to keep in mind if you have this particular type of eczema4.
10 Red cabbage recipe ideas to try now
This fragrant and versatile fresh ingredient is high in potassium and is beneficial for suppressing inflammation. Its leaves add an extra layer of flavor and work well as a herb replacement.
If you wondered what gives Celery its famous smell, it’s a chemical called Coumarins. Celery is known for its anti-inflammatory benefits. It also contains Vitamin A which is beneficial for skin health.
Beets contain nitrates, which help to improve blood flow and blood pressure. This is also known to boost physical performance, especially in endurance sports.
Culinary nutrition: Kale and spinach are excellent replacements for lettuce. But, it also compliments the lettuce when mixed in with it. So, it’s a great culinary pairing that’s also packed with nutrition.
If all you have are: Carrots, Lentils, Oatmeal, Brown Rice
You can add something that is alkaline and a source of Folate (Vitamin B9). Then, you’ll have more to vary your meal/recipe options.
Add: Mung Beans, Cannellini Beans, Broccoli, Eggplant, Beetroot
Mung Beans nutrition
These are excellent for gut sensitivity as it’s very alkaline. Mung Dahl is made from Mung Beans and is salicylate-free. It contains Vitamin K, Magnesium, Vitamin B9 (Folate), Potassium, and Vitamin C. And it’s also easy to sprout – lots of fun for kids!
It’s a nutrition powerhouse that’s easy on the gut and on skin conditions like eczema.
Cannellini beans nutrition
These beans are a good source of Folate. These beans contain a powerful antioxidant called Ferulic Acid that enhances the effect of carotenoids and prevents free radical damage in skin cells.
It also enhances the effects of Vitamin E, another powerful antioxidant. Cannellini beans are rich in Zinc, which is good news if you suffer from very dry or too oily skin because it will correct the imbalance.
This veggie is very low in carbs, so it’s great for weight loss. It contains a substantial amount of fiber and is very high in Vitamin C, which is important for immune health. The antioxidants in Vitamin C are also beneficial for heart health and have cancer-fighting properties – protecting from free radical damage.
Also known as aubergine, this ‘nightshade’ variety of vegetables is a fruit because they grow from flowering plants. Eggplant is also low in calories and can provide you with a good amount of fiber. It also contains Vitamins C and K (bone health) and minerals such as Magnesium and Copper.
Eating beets can improve digestive health. Beets are also rich in Magnesium. The nitrates in beets can enhance physical and exercise performance. Beets also stimulate an increase in blood flow to the brain, therefore, improving cognitive function.
Beetroot helps lower blood pressure and also improves blood circulation. It’s a rich source of antioxidants that can protect against cell damage (free radical damage) and disease.
Beetroot juice can increase levels of deep sleep because it’s rich in Magnesium5.
If all you have are: Chickpeas, Cottage Cheese (dairy), Black Beans, Lentils, Sunflower Seeds, Red Meat, Chicken, Can of Tuna, Yoghurt
You should add more plant-based options that make your grocery list more budget-friendly; and options that lower cholesterol and blood pressure, and maintain good gut health
Add: Red lentils, Mushrooms, Nutritional Yeast, Quinoa, Chia Seeds, Almonds, Cashews, Walnuts, Sauerkraut, Kimchi
Red Lentils nutrition
Lentils, in general, are known to help lower blood pressure and reduce blood cholesterol and blood glucose. It has antioxidant benefits because of the polyphenols present in them, such as flavonoids, among others.
They are a rich source of dietary fiber, protein, and iron. Some of their benefits are listed above. In a nutshell, red lentils are a highly nutritious food as a standalone dish and a nutrient-dense ingredient in vegan recipes.
The ones with the most potent nutritional constituents are Shiitake, Reishi, and Chaga mushrooms. And you’ll notice that these are also listed as Adaptogens. The common white mushroom – which most of us buy at the supermarket – has a good amount of Vitamin D and B12.
They’re also low in sugar and carbs.
Mushrooms in general are a good protein alternative. So, if you’re on a vegan diet, you can include these in lots of dishes. For mushroom inspiration, read more here.
Have you tried mushroom coffee yet? Great replacement if you want to kick your caffeine habit.
Nutritional Yeast nutrition
It’s a popular vegan dairy cheese alternative for making faux ‘parmesan’. It’s an activated version of the common yeast used for baking.
Fortified nutritional yeast is well known for its Vitamin B content, in particular B12. It has immune-supportive qualities as well as improving glucose sensitivity.
I’m recommending this because it’s a good alternative if you need to replace dairy cheese in pestos, pasta sauce, or sprinkled over a salad. It’s much better for your gut. And it’s also high in protein. One cup of nutritional yeast contains 8% of protein6.
This grain is low in carbs and very high in protein. It’s excellent as a pasta, rice, and bread alternative in heart-healthy recipes. It makes a fantastic salad base as well as a rice replacement in sushi rolls.
Chia Seeds nutrition
These seeds are loaded with nutrients like fiber, protein, and omega-3 fatty acids, making them a great addition to smoothies, yogurt, or oatmeal.
Raw almonds are high in fiber and Vitamin E. Again, the high fiber will be good for lowering cholesterol. There are lots of sweet and savory heart-healthy recipes where you can include almonds as either a base or a flavor profile (usually desserts).
Cashews are a great source of Calcium. Use raw cashews, don’t buy them roasted. Raw cashews contain Magnesium and Zinc. It’s the lowest in fat and contains a high level of healthy monounsaturated fatty acids.
Excellent for brain health, so if you’re a college student, load up on these.
Sauerkraut, Kefir, Kimchi
Swap out regular dairy yogurt for these alternatives. All three have a high amount of probiotics (good bacteria) and it’s great for building good gut health.
Kimchi and sauerkraut are excellent condiments with savory dishes. You can even have them on toast for breakfast. Kefir can be used as a milk and yogurt replacement in a smoothie or smoothie bowl or overnight oats.
Tip Kefir is long been used to treat eczema, so if you have chronic inflammation on your skin, this can bring relief.
If all you have are: Flaxseeds, Sunflower seeds
You should add more Omega 3 content. Omega 3 is beneficial for heart and mental health and has many other nutritional healing qualities. Read more here.
Add: Extra Virgin Olive Oil, Ghee, Coconut Oil, Avocado, Pumpkin Seeds, Salmon, Walnuts, Sesame Seeds, Flaxseed Oil or ground Flaxseeds (Linseeds)
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Olive oil is rich in Oleic Acid. It helps alleviate the effects of very dry skin because it hydrates and locks in moisture – good for cracked skin.
Classified as a Good fat, Ghee is also known as clarified butter. It is rich in Omega-3 fatty acids that reduce inflammation.
It also contains Vitamin E giving Ghee its potent antioxidant qualities. Vitamin E is an essential fat-soluble nutrient that everyone should include in their daily skincare regimen because the antioxidant constituents protect skin cells from free radical damage.
Coconut Oil nutrition
Coconut is antimicrobial and is great for killing bacteria – perfect for those who suffer from exposed bleeding patches of Eczema as it is so easy to contract an infection.
It is very moisturizing and perfect for dry skin and is known to reduce inflammation.
Avocado is delicious any time of the day, at any meal time. Try this spinach and avocado toast, it’s a quick and nutritious breakfast option for college students.
It is rich in Omega 3 Essential Fatty Acids Essential to heart health as they reduce inflammation and protect blood vessel walls. They help with the normal contractions of blood vessel walls.
Avos contain Vitamin E which is essential for skin health as it maintains and improves the condition of elastin in the skin (keeps skin supple) and helps protect the skin barrier.
It also contains Potassium, another micronutrient that is essential for heart health and can help low blood pressure.
Avocados are high in antioxidants. These compounds are most famous for their cancer-fighting benefits. It’s important to include as many into every meal you consume.
Who can resist a freshly made bowl of guacamole?
Pumpkin Seeds nutrition
These dark green little seeds are protein and zinc-rich, low in calories, and rich in Omega 6 fatty acids. Pumpkin seeds contain Cucurbitin which has antifungal activity and pumpkin seed oil is used as a treatment to reduce inflammation in acne.
Zinc helps with oily skin or acne as it regulates the activity in the sebaceous gland. It also helps to rebuild collagen, heal scars and wounds, and is great as a general immune-boosting supplement.
Omega 6 are essential fatty acids that our bodies cannot produce, so we need to source them from the foods we eat. This is a ‘good’ fat and its healing properties help with reducing inflammation, boosting metabolism, preventing heart disease, and regulating insulin levels. In general, it is beneficial for optimal immune function.
Maintain the correct ratio of 1:3 (Omega 3: Omega 6). Too much Omega 6 can trigger inflammatory effects.
They taste amazing as roasted or toasted seeds sprinkled on your favorite breakfast of rolled oats or over yogurt (dairy or vegan) or a smoothie bowl.
You can any cold water fatty fish. The idea is to get as much Omega 3 and Omega 6 benefits from it. So try mackerel, herring, cod, sardines, and pilchards also. These fish contain Polyunsaturated fats.
Salmon is a great source of omega-3 fatty acids, which have been linked to numerous health benefits, including a reduced risk of heart disease.
It also contains magnesium which can provide a mood boost and many other brain and mental health benefits.
This is a Polyunsaturated fat. It’s rich in antioxidants and contains Omega 3 and 6 EFAs. Walnuts are well known for their brain health benefits and can help improve alertness and memory.
It contains Alpha-linoleic acid (ALA) which can help reduce chronic inflammation (heart disease), promote skin health, and facilitate wound healing.
Sesame seeds nutrition
This is a Polyunsaturated fat. It’s rich in antioxidants as well as Vitamin E and Lignans7 which fight off the effects of free radical damage. With that protective qualities comes a reduced risk of diseases such as cancer and heart disease.
Flaxseeds or Flaxseed Oil
This is a powerful ingredient that you should include in all your meals. From breakfasts to snacks and dinners.
It’s a Polyunsaturated fat that contains Omega 3 and 6 EFAs. Both flaxseeds’ (Linseeds) and flaxseed oil’s Omega 3 content help to reduce the risk of heart disease and prevent blood clotting8.
Find out how to use healthy fats and oils here
2023 Guide: Budget Meal Plan for Healthy Eating
If you’re looking for a budget meal plan for healthy eating, the best place to start is by learning how to cook with healthy ingredients. Those that build health and heal or alleviate symptoms of allergies or disease.
5. Herbs and Spices
If all you have are: Salt and Black Pepper
You should add some Fresh Herbs and Spices. These have nutritional content that is sometimes overlooked or unknown.
Herbs and spices have ‘zero calories’. Perfect for elevating dishes when the ‘healthy ingredients’ get mundane. Include it in all salads and hot dishes. Even tacos and smoothies.
Add: Mint, Basil, Coriander, Parsley, Thyme, Rosemary, Sage, Ginger, Garlic, Cayenne
Famous for its Menthol compound, this herb helps clear congestion and soothes cold symptoms. This advice relates ONLY to dietary mint (herb) as there are risks relating to menthol and peppermint oil.
Fresh mint leaves steeped in hot water is great for soothing cramps. Mint leaves can be added to salads, baked goods, and in mint sauce with lamb.
This herb is high in antioxidants and cancer-fighting properties. Pairs brilliantly with tomatoes, so add it to pasta and pizza dishes as well as salads, and green smoothies too!
This herb also contains a high amount of antioxidants and Vitamins A, C, and K. And just like Celery it reduces the toxicity of heavy metals in the body. It also has sedative qualities which can help with sleep and reduce anxiety.
Cilantro is a versatile herb and delicious in curries and even as a pesto flavoring accent. Use it in as many savory dishes as you like. It’s even great on a pizza paired with avocado. Or a slice of seeded toast topped with avocado with a squeeze of fresh lemon.
It’s a kitchen staple that is a natural diuretic and works as a breath freshener too. It’s also rich in Vitamin K.
Use parsley as garnishing and flavoring in any dish from soups, stews, salads, and sandwiches.
Thyme has antibacterial benefits. It has many other impressive benefits too such as boosting immunity with its high amount of Vitamin A and C. And it’s also iron-rich.
Thyme is s great pairing with lamb, lentils, chicken potatoes, and soups.
It’s a fantastic pairing with any roast, be it roasted lamb, chicken, or garlicky potatoes.
Rosemary is rich in phytochemicals. These are beneficial for fighting disease and building optimal health. Rosemary is also a good source of Folate and Niacin. And it’s high in Manganese which is essential for blood clotting – beneficial in the event of injury and necessary for healing.
It’s also known to improve mental alertness and brain function.
It is rich in Vitamin K and very low in calories. Sage is also known for its antioxidant profile and its cancer-fighting benefits. It is also known to improve cognitive function and can help ease symptoms of menopause.
Amazing in a roasted butternut salad or sage butter and butternut ravioli.
This food is important for cardiovascular health as it contains an anti-inflammatory compound called Diallyl Disulphide10. Garlic also has great anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties, which can help boost the immune system. It’s packed with Vitamin C, B6, and Manganese – all important nutrients for your overall health.
Cayenne peppers are good for digestion and have anti-inflammatory effects. Adding this particular flavor allows you to reduce the salt content in this recipe because there is less need for it.
If all you have are: Dairy chocolate and refined White Sugar
You should use natural flavors and sweetener for their nutritional benefits.
Add: Vanilla bean/extract, Cinnamon, Maple Syrup, Carob, Dark chocolate
Vanilla bean nutrition
Plant phenolics are vital in human dietary requirements11 It is abundant in Vanillin, its main phenolic compound, which contains potent antioxidants and anti-inflammatories, and cancer-fighting properties and plays a role in neurological health.
This spice, whether the stick form or powdered, helps with balancing blood sugar. It is known to improve insulin sensitivity. It also has antibacterial and anti-fungal properties.
This is a great sugar alternative and can be used as a natural flavoring.
Maple Syrup nutrition
Choose this as it’s way better than golden syrup or conventional ‘squeeze tube’ honey. This honey is not all bad, it’s just more processed than raw honey. So, choose raw honey instead if that’s your preference.
This is a great sugar replacement and is stable when exposed to heat. It’s high in antioxidants as well as Zinc which is beneficial for wound, and tissue healing.
It also contains Magnesium which is good for reducing toxicity and can help to reduce stress. Plus it helps to reduce inflammation.
Make this delicious Kale Avocado Smoothie – it’s brilliant for skin health as it contains lots of Vitamin E.
Carob contains antioxidants, Zinc and Magnesium. Zinc is beneficial for tissue and wound healing, and Magnesium for reducing anxiety – good for preventing an itch. It has double the amount of Calcium than cocoa. Carob is also caffeine and fat-free.
Dark Chocolate nutrition
If all you have are: Blueberries
You should add more fruit that contains potent nutrients. It’s great for breakfasts, snacks, or dessert options. Carrot juice is amazing too and perfect for weight loss.
Eat no more than two portions per day to balance out your sugar intake.
Add: Berries, Apple, Banana, Pear, Mango, Carrot
Blueberries in particular are well known for their antioxidant compounds. It is regarded as a superfood because there is so much nutrition in a relative amount. In other words, you don’t need to eat or portion out (recipes) a lot of it to get the maximum nutritional benefit.
Strawberries, Blackberries, Raspberries, and Goji berries (listed under Adaptogens) are equally healthy to consume. Strawberries are high in Vitamin C, and Blackberries and Raspberries are rich in fiber. All are rich in antioxidants. Bear in mind that strawberries are one of the most heavily sprayed crops.
Add it to desserts, salads, smoothies, and overnight oats.
Most fruits have a good amount of antioxidants, but apples in particular have a more diverse range of them. For example, red apples contain the powerful antioxidant compound, Anthocyanin, which is beneficial for cardiovascular health. And that also contains catechins which have anti-inflammatory properties.
Known to be anti-inflammatory and rich in Magnesium, bananas are excellent for skin health (banana peel) and deep sleep. Magnesium is regarded as an effective treatment for anxiety.
Banana Peel is known to prevent inflammation because of the antioxidants in its Vitamin C content. Antioxidants prevent the damage of cells from free radicals.
The peel and pulp contain some amines, so if you’re allergic, you may want to exclude them. Allergic reactions vary from person to person, so rather test to look for a reaction or omit it and then reintroduce it back into your diet (after 2 weeks).
This is the most alkaline fruit you can eat. It is good for skin health, particularly if you have eczema or psoriasis because it’s the lowest in amines and salicylates. Pears contain a high level of Vitamin C, a powerful antioxidant whose benefits cannot be overestimated, see this article for more on this essential micronutrient.
Do you have Eczema or psoriasis? Here’s a list of 10 foods for eczema that can heal your skin and reduce chronic inflammation
These gorgeous fruits are high in antioxidants. It contributes to the production of Collagen which gives skin its structure. Hydrolyzed collagen is known to contain antibacterial properties which is great for Eczema skin as it can be susceptible to infection.
It also contains Vitamin E, an antioxidant that has appeared to reduce inflammation12. They contain Vitamin A and C which are both antioxidants that have an anti-inflammatory effect.
A high fiber content slows down digestion, making it a low-GI food. This is perfect for diabetics also because consuming any low-GI food will stabilize blood sugar levels and of course, helps maintain a healthy weight.
Eating carrots can help boost your energy and make it easier to stick to an exercise routine. In addition to their weight loss benefits, carrots are also a great source of antioxidants that helps reduce inflammation.
This can help reduce the risk of chronic diseases, and skin conditions such as Eczema.
Try the speediest Red Cabbage & Carrot slaw recipe here
Adaptogens are excellent for bringing your body back into alignment. So, it’s good for treating stress and fatigue, naturally.
If all you have are: Lemon and an aspirin
You should add some natural medicinal foods. These are excellent for managing stress and fatigue. It brings your body back into its natural alignment when you are dealing with stress during the day.
Include small quantities of drinks, smoothies, and bowls.
Add: Ashwaganda, Turmeric, Goji berries, Maca
This herb is known for its calming effects and ability to help reduce stress and anxiety.
This potent anti-inflammatory – Curcumin being its powerful active ingredient – has been getting a lot of coverage on social media lately, particularly in those lovely golden yellow healing teas and milk recipes. I add it to many liquids and stews myself. If you are not allergic to eggs, try adding it to an egg-white scramble to add back that beautiful golden yolk color.
Goji berries nutrition
These tiny fruits are packed with potent nutrition. It has four times the amount of antioxidants than blueberries. And it also has more iron and beta-carotene than oranges. It is well known for its cancer-fighting properties.
Maca Powder nutrition
This superfood contains antioxidants that fight free radical damage to cells in the body. Extracts from Maca leaves could help prevent the formation of sunburn cells13, as well as protection from UV rays.
Add it to your decaf coffee!
*See disclaimer below
Your goal is to get an overall balance of macro and micronutrients. Find ways of including foods with healing benefits – it’s beneficial for healing gut health and alleviating the effects of allergies.
We usually associate herbs and spices with flavor and garnishing. But, as you can see there are so many nutritional benefits when cooking with it.
Now you can see, that what you already have is a good starting point for building optimal health. There’s no need to start over or give your fridge or pantry a complete overhaul.
This long list should give you enough insight into how to make your meals more nutritional. All you need is to top up or tweak your list of ingredients to make it a little healthier.
If you liked this blog post, you’ll love this article on Meal Prep for busy people.
Feel free to leave a comment, I value all feedback.
*cravenutritionalcooking.com does not give medical advice. Where there is a reference to it, the phrasing is used to illustrate a point or give context to food and cooking for nutrition. It is not related to a specific condition or any specific individual. Always consult your healthcare professional for medical and dietetic advice before embarking on any type of eating plan or ingesting nutritional supplements.
See our Policies page for more details