10 Nutritional Powerhouses that Won't Break the Bank

Counting your pennies?   Trying to feed your family in an economic slump and every single dime counts?   In no particular order, here’s my top ten nutritional powerhouses that won’t break the bank.   Believe me: they’ve made a steady and regular appearance at our table the last few weeks.

1. Eggs from Pasture-fed Hens

Selling anywhere from $1 to $6 a dozen, truly farm fresh eggs from hens fed on pasture makes for a remarkably inexpensive, but nourishing food.   Produced by hens who are allowed to freely wander the farm, foraging for their natural diet of grubs, bugs, worms and sprouts, pastured eggs offer a much different, healthier nutrient-profile than eggs from conventional, battery-cage hens.   Sadly, 98% of the world’s eggs are produced from battery cage operations.

Eggs from pasture-fed hens offer a higher omega-3 fatty acid, vitamin A and vitamin E content than eggs produced from caged or so-called “free range” hens.   Further, farm fresh eggs are a remarkable source of high quality fat, cholesterol which is essential for cognitive function, protein and flavor.   Plus the humble egg’s high choline content offers anti-inflammatory properties.

2. Cod Liver Oil

I know, I know.   Even the sounds, when rolled off the tongue, make many of us squirm.     Cod Liver Oil.   It sounds like a punishment, doesn’t it?

Cod Liver Oil, while not a feature on anyone’s dinner table, is a profound source of fat soluble vitamins and omega-3 fatty acids – nutrients that are severely lacking in the standard American diet.   Cod liver oil packs in vitamin A in a form that is more readily absorbed than beta-carotene, vitamin D, DHA and EPA.   (Here’s just one reason why Vitamin A is so important: Vitamin A & Cleft Palate).

A bottle of cod liver oil will run you anywhere from $8 to over $40 depending on the size and quality.   Remember, look for a cod liver oil without added synthetic vitamins and buy it in the liquid form instead of capsules.       It is an excellent, natural supplement that can provide a nutritional boost to a healthy diet.   You can purchase some cod liver oil here.

3. Liver from Grass-finished Animals

First cod liver oil and now liver? Yeah, I see your grimaces even as I type this list.     And, yes, you better believe I still struggle with this one: organ meat.   It is not for the faint of palate – and virtually everyone who’s been raised on the standard American diet is faint of palate.   Still, our modern reliance on muscle meat is not in keeping with our ancestors’ views on using and eating the whole animal.

Liver is exceptionally nutrient-dense and therefore remarkably valuable for everyone – and particularly so for those who are on their road to recovery from poor eating habits or who suffer from poor health.   It is remarkably rich in vitamin B12, vitamin A, copper, folate, riboflavin, selenium and zinc – all of which play a critical role in health and wellness.   Further, vitamin A and folate are critical to a preconception diet for couples who are looking to conceive.

Liver from grass-finished animals sells for as little as $3 – $8 per pound depending on your market; however, if you get to know your rancher you might be able to pick up liver as well as other oft-discarded organ meats for free.

4. Sardines & Anchovies

Both sardines and anchovies are inexpensive whole foods.   While their strong flavor may take some getting used to, it’s important to note that many wholesome, healthy foods are strongly flavored.   Those are the nutrients you’re tasting!

Sardines and anchovies are rich in omega-3 fatty acids and good sources of nutrients like selenium which is good for hair, skin and nails as well as calcium, niacin, phosphorus, magnesium, vitamin K and vitamin E.   Sardines and anchovies, like most ocean-going fish, are strongly anti-inflammatory.

Purchase wild-caught fish packed in extra virgin olive oil rather than soybean oil.   Sardines and anchovies sell around $1.99 per tin.     If you’re a die-hard anchovy lover like me or you just want to try them out, check out this recipe for Anchovy Toasts.

5. Winter Squash

Rich in beta-carotene, vitamin C, potassium, magnesium and folate, winter squash provides a variety of critical nutrients for very little money.   Indeed, organic winter squash will sell for as little as $1 per pound.   Winter squash, with its dark orange hue is an excellent source of beta-cryptoxanthi, a carotenoid that is proven effective in the prevention of cancer.

Winter squash is exceptionally versatile and suited to a myriad of culinary purposes: soups, casseroles, gratins, roast vegetable dishes and, of course, pumpkin pie.

6. Oranges

Organic oranges sell for as little as $1 per pound when purchased in season.   Packed with vitamin C and dietary fiber, they’re both nutritious and appetizing.   Oranges are also good sources of folate and thiamine – both of which are critical in the maternal diet. Vitamin C is critical to proper immune function.   Further, vitamin C is also a very powerful antioxidant and some research indicates it may prove effective in the prevention of cancer – particularly colon cancer.

Much of an orange’s nutrients reside in the skin that is too-often discarded rather than put to good use.   Dried orange peels can add excellent flavor to both savory and sweet dishes.

7. Kale

Kale is a leafy green vegetable that can be eaten raw when young, but is also good steamed, sauteed or added to soups.   An exceptionally good source of beta-carotene, vitamin K and manganese, it makes for a nourishing, inexpensive addition to meals.   By some estimates, leafy greens like kale and animal foods comprised the bulk of the diet of our hunter-gatherer ancestors.   Leafy greens are, essentially, the foods that nourished us throughout our evolution.

Most kale can be purchased in season for as little as $1-2 a bunch.   Take care in serving kale to your family as it has a high oxalic acid content which is mitigated to some degree by cooking.   Most people with healthy intestinal flora will be able to eat kale – raw or cooked – without concern; however, people suffering from mineral deficiency might do well to limit kale or at least cook it.   Check out this recipe for kale and white bean soup – it’s tasty and super cheap.

8. Real Sauerkraut

Real sauerkraut is inexpensive to make, lasts a very long time and is rich in vitamins and probiotics.   You can purchase heads of organic cabbage for as little as $0.75 per pound, and process the sauerkraut yourself using Celtic sea salt or real salt which increases the mineral content of the sauerkraut.   Further, because it is a raw, living food its vitamin C content remains better intact than in cooked cabbage.   Cabbage that undergoes fermentation as   in the case of sauerkraut and kimchi produces isothiocynates which are powerful cancer fighters, and the beneficial bacteria present in naturally fermented sauerkraut increases intestinal health and assists with proper immune function.

Want to make your own sauerkraut?   Check out this recipe for naturally fermented sauerkraut.

9. Beets

Betacyanin is the component that makes beets both vibrantly colorful and remarkably healthful.   This naturally occurring pigment is a potent cancer fighter and coupled with other nutrients like folate, potassium and manganese, makes the homely beet a nutritional powerhouse.   Beets are showing promise in the fight against cardiovascular disease, cancer and hyperlipidemia.   Plus, they’re cheap!   A bunch of organic beets will usually run between $2 and $4.99.   Check out these beet recipes (Roasted Baby Beets and Chioggia Beets with Citrus Glaze).

10. Bone Broth

Now, I’ve detailed the benefits of bone broth before, but let me outline them again.   Bone broth is one of the most valuable sources of hard-to-get nutrients and it should be consumed frequently, if not every day.   Exceptionally rich in minerals like calcium, magnesium and phosphorus, bone broth is a valuable, nutrient-dense addition to the diet.   Bone broth is also an excellent source of gelatin and glucosamin-chondroitin – nutrients essential for joint health.

Just as with liver, bones are often discarded at slaughter and can be purchased inexpensively for under $2 per pound.   However, by getting to know your rancher and regularly purchasing farm-direct, it’s likely you can pick up bones as free gift for your patronage.   Beyond that, carcasses from roast chickens and turkey make excellent broth (see the roast chicken stock recipe here).

So that’s my top ten list!   What are your favorite, frugal, nutrient-rich foods?

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What people are saying

  1. says

    Homemade Kimchi – a close cousin to sauerkraut!

    Wild Pacific Salmon – higher in nutrients than Atlantic salmon. Comes canned or fresh. King Salmon is fantastic!

  2. Linda says

    Kale is an amazing food, often overlooked, and a staple of many Mediterranean diets.

    A traditional soup of shredded kale, potato and olive oil is a comfort food good for the soul and the tummy. Millions of Portuguese can’t be wrong ;)

    Ingredients:

    4 tablespoons olive oil
    1 onion, minced
    1 clove garlic, minced
    6 potatoes, peeled and thinly sliced
    2 quarts cold water
    1/2 lb. of linguica sausage, thinly sliced
    2 teaspoons salt
    ground black pepper to taste
    1 pound kale, rinsed and thin cut or julienne

    Directions
    In a large saucepan over medium heat, cook onion and garlic in 3 tablespoons olive oil for 3 or 4 minutes. Stir in potatoes and cook, stirring constantly, 3 or 4 minutes more. Pour in water, bring to a boil, and let boil gently for 20 minutes, until potatoes are real mushy.

    Meanwhile, in a large skillet over medium-low heat, cook sausage until it has release most of its fat, 10 minutes. Drain.

    Mash potatoes or puree. Add the sausage, salt and pepper into the soup and return to medium heat. Cover and simmer 5 minutes. Just before serving, stir kale into soup and simmer, until kale is tender and jade green. Stir in the remaining tablespoon of olive oil and serve at once.

    Omit the sausage and you still have an amazing meal. It’s easy, inexpensive and very nutritious.

  3. Vandy says

    Do you have liver recipes or specific tricks for hiding it? I hate the texture, smell, and taste of it, and I like a lot of things that most people don’t. How do you get your child to eat liver? Is chicken liver really any better tasting?

    • Jenny says

      In all honesty – I hate liver. REALLY hate it. Seriously. I’ve tried and tried to get accustomed to it, and, try as I might, I just can’t seem to like it. However, with an understanding of its value, I try to serve it by using it minced in combination with ground beef which we eat fairly regularly.

      • Shelley says

        I hate liver too no matter how we cook it. I just make myself eat it with lots of onions. I sometimes literally swallow a piece like a vitamin pill. But my chidren, who don’t have my Americanized wimpy palate, LOVE liver and call it “yummy meat”.

    • peeju777 says

      With the liver, I can get my kids to eat it by soaking it in lemon juice for several hours. I don’t like liver normally and I can actually eat it that way. Slice it, soak in lemon juice toss it in flour and fry in butter until its done. I also make a sauce with it from stock.. Boil stock down until reduced by half and thicken with cornstarch. Its the only way I can eat liver myself. It take all the gross taste out of it. :)

    • nikki says

      Earlier this year, after an unexpected health shock, I went from 5 years of near-veganism to an avid organ-meat eater whose go-to budget lunch involves a little kraut, a hot drink, some veggie crudite and the following liver pate recipe. It’s cheap, easy, and intensely decadent; I make it a few times a month, and freeze what I dont finish in few days. It’s the liver recipe for liver haters, without a doubt:

      Beef Liver Pate
      Ingredients:
      2 pastured and compassionately raised beef livers, cut into pieces
      1 small white onion, chopped
      1/2 cup certified organic red wine (or marsala, or other acidic liquid of choice)
      2 cloves garlic, crushed
      1 tablespoon lemon juice
      3/4 cup butter
      2 tsp unrefined salt
      1 tsp black or white pepper

      Instructions:
      1) Saute the liver and onions in ample butter until the livers are browned and the onions are tender.
      2) Once cooled off a bit, put in a food processor.
      3)Then add the wine, garlic, lemon juice, salt, pepper and butter.
      4)Blend to a silky, smooth paste and then refrigerate in a shallow dish to firm.
      5) Serve with crackers once firmed up!

      Variations:
      fresh herbs of your choice
      1/2 tsp mustard
      serve with peppercorns pressed ontop

    • Cherri says

      Brown it, smother it with sliced sauted onions, turn down the heat cover and cook until done. You can’t have too many onions.

    • jackie b says

      Ingredients: 1 bunch of flat leaf (Italian) parsley 2 Tbs EV Olive Oil
      1/2 head of garlic 1 lb calves liver
      Sea or Himalayan salt 1 lemon
      Mince Italian parsley leaves to get about 2 Tbs. Set aside. Rinse liver. Use a kitchen shears to slice liver into strips. Set side. Peel & thinly slice a half head of garlic sections & generously sprinkle with salt. Heat about 2 tbs. of EVOO in a skillet (I like cast iron) to the sizzling point and add sliced garlic to infuse the olive oil with the garlic flavor. Stir garlic ’til golden – don’t let it burn. Remove garlic from pan. Pan should be hot enough to sear liver strips – it not, let it heat to that point. Add a little more oil if necessary. Now add half of liver slices to sear for a minute or so before turning. (Don’t flip repeatedly as this toughens the meat). Flip to let other side cook. Remove to a dish. Add second batch of liver slices and let cook. When liver is done, lower heat, season with salt & pepper, sprinkle parsley on top, and pour lemon over all. Give a quick stir and remove to ceramic serving dish to keep warm. Some will add lemon zest for a more pronounced citrus flavor without the extra liquid. Serve with fresh pita bread.
      Note: another way is to omit the garlic and lemon and serve with sauteed onions instead.

  4. says

    This is a great list!

    I made a good sardine salad once… I’ll have to post the recipe. I think I found it on the Vital Choice website. It was full of flavor and the sardines were not overpowering — they just blended in. I’m learning to love anchovies now, too. The more I eat them, the more I like them. (I used to HATE them.)

    I hate liver, too, but there are some recipes I like.

    I love foie gras and liver pate. Have you eaten much of that? It’s really worth tasting and trying — I think most people can easily develop a taste for liver pate. The French have a way of making liver taste fabulous. When I went to Paris, every restaurant I went to had liver pate on the menu. I ate it every single day and I then bought a jar of it and smuggled it out in my suitcase.

    I posted a decent recipe for chicken liver pate on my site — from The Balthazaar Cookbook.

    I also made a very tasty Mexican version of liver & onions called Higado Encebollado. You marinate the liver in pickled jalapeno juice, then serve with bacon and grilled onions. Yum. It’s really good!

    Recipes are here: http://www.cheeseslave.com/recipes/

    Check out CHEESESLAVE’s last post: This Easter, Celebrate the Rebirth of Sustainable Farming.

  5. Gina says

    I recently witnessed someone making beef liver pate using: chopped onion, sauteed liver, homemade mayo, and a chopped sweet apple! Just thrown in the food processor and voila! It was delightful – you could NOT taste the liver at all, which is huge considering beef liver is quite strong. Sorry, I don’t have the exact recipe, but I’d try it to my own taste/liking.

  6. says

    I have offal burnout. When I lived on the Navajo reservation, I ate every part there was to eat of a sheep…seriously. I loved organ meats back then when I ate it, but now, when I try to eat any kind of organ meat these days, after 3 bites, I just can’t stomach it anymore.

    I so agree with you on the eggs, kale (and other dark greens like chard and beet greens), cod liver oil, sardines and anchovies and everything else on your list!

    Check out Jenn AKA The Leftover Queen’s last post: Growing a Container Garden.

  7. a. says

    re: liver: i made a chicken liver pate based on the recipe in nourishing traditions, but SERIOUSLY upped the amount of sauteed onions – by lots, i think i doubled or maybe almost tripled it. i also included sauteed celery. and i also used a good amount of white wine – i think her recipe calls for it, but i increased it. i have always wanted to like liver pates but have found them too “livery”. well, this version – i couldn’t resist eating it! it definitely had the umami quality which i love about pate, but the mineral-y funk of liver that normally turns me off was muted by the onions/aromatics. YUM! i would spread a thick layer of it on a piece of rye bread, eat it, and feel completely full and sated. (though, i craved it and had to portion it out day by day to make it last :-).

  8. Brandice says

    I was wondering if you can get the nutrients in Orange peels from candying them. If so I’d try it right away, but if it’s just going to be a bunch of sugar with no redemptive nutritional value I wouldn’t! The recipe I found had you blanch them, and I was thinking the blanching might get rid of all the vitamins.

  9. says

    I love green cabbage sauteed in a little butter or roasted with a little bacon and olive oil. Sauerkraut isn’t the only way to enjoy green cabbage! I actually prefer it to the more expensive red and Savoy cabbages – it has a mild, nutty flavor if not overcooked and has nearly as many nutrients as homemade sauerkraut. Plus, in season (which is the time of year I most want to eat it) it is really cheap. And it is fantastic with red potatoes, onions, and/or apples with a little sausage or ham. Yum.

  10. Tia says

    I also love sardines. I’ll eat them out of the tin or just smashed on crackers or toast. My mom makes sardine salad instead of tuna salad by just adding some mayo and whatever seasonings and herbs she feels like.

    Do you know if the Omega-3 and nutrient profile is as full in water-packed sardines as oil-packed? Is there a reason to specifically choose those packed in olive oil? I like both, just find the water packed fishies a little more palatable to friends and families just starting to explore the sardine world!
    Thanks!

  11. says

    Forgive my ignorance, but I’ve never heard of “bone broth”. I read your “benefits of bone broth”, but (again, forgive my ignorance), how do you make it? Just boil bones? How long? How many bones per how much water? do you discard the bones after it boils for “x” amount of time? Once you have the bone broth, how do you use it? Alone or in a recipe?

    Thanks so much for the info! It sounds interesting and I’d like to try it, but know nothing about it! ;o)

  12. valerie says

    i am surprised you don’t have Fermented Cod Liver Oil by Green Pastures as your recommendation? Why is that?
    BTW, I just ordered a case of fclo from Green Pastures. They are promoting their new emulsified kid friendly FCLO and the group buy price is amazing. I just ordered a 12 pack case of the regular, liquid, unflavored to have on hand for our next WAPF meeting (which has been postponed til?) curious when you will be back in town so we can plan it for a day you guys are around.

  13. Crystalline Ruby Muse says

    Jenny ~

    I am curious about your comment regarding kale & oxalic acid. I have read in many places that the oxalic acid content of kale is low. I have made it my green vegetable of choice for this reason, plus its high calcium content. On the other hand, I keep my family’s spinach, chard, & parsley consumption to a minimum & avoid beet greens altogether. I soak & lightly roast our sesame seeds. And so forth.

    Would you be willing to share how you came by this information about kale?

    Thank you,
    Crystalline Ruby Muse

  14. Jeanmarie says

    Everyone’s making me hungry for liver. I love liverwurst, but that in the stores is full of chemicals. I’ll try making pate with beef liver using the chicken liver pate formula, and add extra apples etc as suggested in comments. Thanks!

  15. Melanie says

    I hated liver as much as anyone until I had lamb liver in Morocco with plenty of cumin, garlic, and mint. It is divine!

  16. says

    Love pretty much everything on this list! I tried cod liver oil a few months ago, and both times I took the capsules, I had a full flush allergic reaction. I forget the brand, but I got it from Whole Foods. Any ideas on why? I don’t have a seafood allergy, so I’m not sure if it was the brand or that it was an additive or the capsules causing the problem. Now I’m hesitant to get more, since the stuff isn’t exactly cheap.

  17. crystal says

    can one use cod liver oil and liver i mean is that to many of a particular vitamin ? didnt know if that was to much or not enough if my question makes sense.. lol thanks!

  18. Kareen Lecorps says

    Loved your article & now I’ve bookmarked your site for easy access. Thank you!
    A lot of items in your list of 10 powerhouses takes me back to my childhood in Haiti. We were given a tblsp of cod liver oil everyday; always made soups and stews with bones & organ meats. We only had fresh, roaming chickens & eggs at that time (now they’re imported from USA). Sardines and liver was a regular staple in our diet because other meats were very expensive. I love liver with loads of onions & shallots. It goes best with watercress, avocado & green banana (boiled like a potato, but not mushy). Keep it comin’!

  19. Dawn says

    Jenny, I’d love to see your recipe for sauerkraut, but there’s no link. Other websites I’ve seen require a starter for making sauerkraut, but I’d prefer not to buy a starter if it’s not necessary. I’m trying to rid myself of a candida overgrowth and have heard that increasing my good bacteria might help. Thanks for your website!

  20. says

    I have started incorporating some of these foods in my diet recently. Because most of them are foods I don’t particularly like, including eggs. But I’ve been making egg shakes, and I don’t mind eggs that way. Will be trying the suggested liver recipes, I too hate the stuff lol.

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