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  • Chris OFFA

5 Healthy Cheap Food Options from the 80s

New, cool, hipster foods are exciting, but these 5 ‘old school’ cheap, healthy foods are packed with nutrients and won’t break the bank...
healthy cheap food options

Food and drink is overly complicated these days, right? Yes I am 46 and no doubt sound like a grumpy old man saying this, but try ordering:

  • “Just a coffee”

  • “A pint of beer”

  • “Eggs on toast”

… and you’ll see what I mean. So many variations and options, new ‘hipster’ ingredients. Are these healthy foods though?

Don’t get me wrong, having more options, and some innovation with food and drink can be welcome. It broadens your horizons, tickles your palate with something new now and again…

But new and exciting doesn’t necessarily mean the best or healthiest foods.

In fact, there are simple, ‘old-school’, healthy cheap food options out there that many of us grew up on in the 1980s, that are packed with nutrients, that you shouldn’t overlook, just because all the Cool Kids are eating smashed avocadoes on sourdough toast and drinking IPAs.

I want to re-acquaint you with my favorite 5 cheap and healthy food options (well, one is a drink…) that I feel are under-appreciated these days, that can still be staples of your healthy diet.

They won’t break your grocery budget or have you spending your precious spare time prepping and cooking them either!


#1 Canned Tuna

Many of us have a couple of cans of tuna lurking at the back of our cupboard, not quite sure when we will use it, but not wanting to throw it out either. So it just kinda… sits there, while more exciting things arrive in the cupboard and leave again.

Poor Tuna.

Packed with protein, vitamins, iron and omega 3 fats, and super-cheap and just as healthy compared to fresh fish, it’s worth exploring ways of using canned tuna in your weekly diet.

Unless you’re eating tons of it there’s no need to worry about mercury content either.

How to Eat It

  • Sprinkled over a salad

  • Mixed with a little mayonnaise in a wrap/sandwich

  • Add an egg and some breadcrumbs and bake to make Tuna Burgers

#2 Apples

I feel like the Banana has stolen Apple’s crown as King of Fruits since the 80s. Growing up, bananas weren’t as omnipresent in our school lunchboxes, it was the Trusty Apple.

Now bananas are used on breakfasts, in smoothies, and as the go-to fruit for lunches, with everyone mumbling something about Potassium that they read once.

The thing is, apples are locally grown in most countries at some time of the year, whereas we need bananas shipped in year-round (the climate here in Ireland isn’t exactly conducive to a bumper banana crop!).

So from a climate-friendly perspective, we should embrace the humble apple.

But aside from that, they also contain fibre, vitamin C, and are a rich source of polyphenols (an important group of antioxidants).

How To Eat Them

  • As a healthy snack if you have a sweet tooth

  • Cut in wedges and dipped in a little Peanut Butter as a Low-carb snack

  • Finely chopped and added to a salad or slaw


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#3 Eggs

The worst thing to happen to Eggs after the 80s was the widespread belief that they were “full of cholesterol, so they’re bad for your heart”.

Thankfully that has now been debunked, cholesterol in food has no direct effect on blood cholesterol levels (unless you’re frying that food in a ton of saturated fat!).

Eggs are a great cheap healthy food option for high protein breakfasts and lunches, and contain B-vitamins and Vitamin-D, Selenium & Iodine (and some are fortified with Omega 3 fats too).

How To Eat Them

  • Boil a few and eat as a high protein snack throughout the day

  • Use up leftover vegetables & cooked meats by making an omelette or fritatta

  • Scrambled on toast as a filling breakfast

#4 Whole Milk (Full Fat)

While we now have plenty of non-dairy ‘milks’ (soya, coconut, oat, rice) for those who are vegan or lactose-intolerant, it’s worth remembering that many of us grew up drinking Whole/Full Fat Milk with no issues.

Then the saturated fat in milk was demonised, so we had Skimmed Milk (or “White Water” as my unimpressed Mum called it).

Gradually many of us convinced ourselves we had some lactose intolerance (which didn’t seem to stop us from eating tasty ice cream…), and cow’s milk’s popularity decreased further.

However, the fat content in Full Fat/Whole Milk has now been shown to be beneficial in avoiding Type 2 Diabetes, despite being Saturated Fat, while the high protein and calcium content are excellent for growing kids and teens and adults alike.

Healthy AND Cheap - drink it down!

How To Drink It

  • umm… just out of a glass like a normal human being :-)

  • Use in a breakfast smoothie with fruit and ground flaxseed

  • As a cheap, post-workout protein shake (300ml = 11g protein)

#5 Cabbage

Cabbage and me have an interesting history. No, really…

In the 1980s my Mum would boil it to death then try and hide it in my mashed potatoes at dinner time — like I wouldn’t bloody notice!

Cue me tearfully having to shovel cabbage-y potatoes into my mouth (No Nonsense 80s Parenting in action!), while hearing about Starving Children In Africa Who Would LOVE This Dinner…

Fast forward to the late 1990s, while studying in Berlin I had my first Döner Kebab (admittedly after a few too many Weissbiers…) with raw shredded cabbage on top and Mein Gott it was crunchy and wonderful.

Not only is cabbage a great kebab garnish, it's a seriously cheap healthy food option for us as it contains fibre, vitamin C & K, folate, potassium, and can reduce LDL Cholesterol in the blood.

How To Eat It

  • Raw, and finely chopped in a wrap/kebab (4 x Weissbier optional!) or coleslaw

  • Steamed (to retain nutrients) with a little added butter and herbs as a side dish


Have I Convinced You?

Just because we have plenty of New Kids On The Block food-wise doesn’t mean the foods we’ve been eating for centuries should be overlooked. There are plenty of healthy cheap food options that are:

  • Quick to prepare

  • Available everywhere; and are

  • Full of nutrients

What else do you want?!

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