9 Cheap and Healthy Filler Foods

by Julie Rains on 7 November 2013 5 comments

If you are like my family, you keep crackers or chips in your pantry to use as casserole toppings, serve with salsa, or add to soups. Though these foods are filling, their nutritional value is limited.

However, there are other commonly available foods that can serve as fillers, helping to keep you satisfied while increasing the nutritional value of your breakfast, lunch, dinner, or snack. These items are elegant additions to dishes that can stretch their number of servings without overdoing the calorie count. (See also: Canned Foods That Go the Distance)

Here are some cheap and healthy filler foods I keep in my kitchen.

1. Chickpeas

Canned chickpeas are often available for a dollar if you purchase the house brand. They are easily stored in your pantry and ready at a moment's notice: open the can, rinse the beans, and drain.

For a healthy addition to a snack or side dish:

Chickpeas (aka garbanzo beans) are a great source of protein, fiber, and iron.

2. Pasta

A 16-ounce package of pasta costs less than $2 and can keep for months in your pantry. Add dry pastas to dishes that will cook a while or use cooked pasta for quicker meals.

To make a satisfying meal:

Pasta is a good source of B vitamins and iron. (See also: Stuff We Love: Imperia Pasta Machine)

3. Orange Vegetables

Orange vegetables, such as butternut squash and sweet potatoes, are inexpensive (they cost between 50 cents to $2 per pound, depending on the season) and last a while in your cupboard.

You can roast squash whole in the oven; cut in half when done, remove seeds and strings, scoop and reserve the flesh for additions to various recipes. Sweet potatoes can be microwaved, baked, or boiled until done; cut sweet potatoes in half and remove flesh. (See also: Sensational Sweet Potato Recipes)

To boost the flavor of your favorite foods:

  • Add butternut squash to soups
     
  • Substitute butternut squash for zucchini in a sweet bread recipe
     
  • Mix a small amount of an orange veggie (about one cup) into mixtures for bread, rolls, or pizza dough
     
  • Stir sweet potatoes into tomato-based sauces
     
  • Add squash or sweet potatoes to a dip

Orange vegetables contain beta-carotene and other nutrients.

4. Peppers

Peppers of all kinds add flavor. Green peppers are generally the least expensive, at less than a dollar each, while red peppers may cost you a couple of bucks. Wash, remove seeds, and chop before adding to dishes.

To increase the pizzazz of your meals:

  • Saute peppers in butter or olive oil, and add to omelets and frittatas
     
  • Toss raw on pizzas or inside tacos or tortillas, and prepare as usual.
     
  • Saute peppers and add to casserole dishes such as baked spaghetti or your favorite chicken casserole.

Peppers are loaded with nutrients, including vitamins A and C.

5. Black beans

Like chickpeas, house-brand canned black beans may cost about a dollar. You can also buy dried black beans in a bag for a couple of bucks or about 25 cents per serving. Open a can, rinse, and drain; or soak dried beans, rinse, and cook until done. (See also: Cheap, Delicious, and Healthy Black Bean Recipes)

To add richness to your meal while boosting its nutrition:

  • Add black beans to tacos, tortillas, and nachos
     
  • Toss black beans in a pot of chili or nearly any other type of soup
     
  • Add black beans to a chicken salad

Black beans contain protein, carbohydrates, and fiber along with vitamins and minerals.

6. Kale

A bunch of kale in the fresh produce section often sells for less than $2 and large quantities of washed-and-bagged kale may go for just a few bucks.

Kale can be bitter, so I typically add this ingredient to sweet stuff or saute in olive oil until it's delightfully crisp. You can also steam and chop in a food processor.

To pack nutrition in your snacks and meals:

  • Blend raw kale with fruit smoothies
     
  • Toss sauted kale into pasta dishes made with pesto or tomato-based sauces
     
  • Add kale to egg dishes such as quiches, omelets, and frittatas
     
  • Use kale as a pizza topping

Kale is a great source of vitamins A, C, and K.

7. Vegetable Leftovers

Leftover vegetables can be considered free fillers if you would otherwise toss them out uneaten.

Increase the flavor of your favorite dishes while emptying your refrigerator:

  • Spread mushrooms, onions, spinach, tomatoes, etc. on pizza and bake
     
  • Throw green beans and cauliflower into your favorite soup
     
  • Make a frittata with those extra veggies
     
  • Use broccoli as a baked potato topping
     
  • Add vegetables to pasta, toss, and heat in olive oil
     
  • Mix kale, spinach, and red peppers with cheese and make a special grilled cheese sandwich

Vegetables contain various types of nutrients.

8. Bananas

Bananas typically cost less than $1 per pound. Keep a bunch on your kitchen counter.

If your bananas start to become overripe, peel and freeze them.

To add flavor and texture to breakfast and snacks:

  • Cut up and add bananas to cereal and yogurt parfaits
     
  • Mix mashed bananas into pancakes
     
  • Add sliced bananas to fruit salads such as ambrosia and desserts like ice cream
     
  • Add frozen pieces to fruit smoothies

Bananas are a good source of vitamin B6, potassium, and fiber.

9. Peanut Butter

Healthy, natural versions of peanut butter cost about $4 for 16 ounces or about 20 cents each time you add a spoonful to these recipes. Most peanut butter keeps a long time in your kitchen cabinet.

To increase the yumminess and creaminess of your snack or meal:

  • Spread peanut butter on apple slices, celery sticks, or crackers
     
  • Add a spoonful of peanut butter to smoothies
     
  • Use peanut butter as an ingredient in stir-fry dishes
     
  • Stir in peanut butter in muffin and sweet bread recipes

Peanut butter is a good source of potassium and contains protein and healthy fats.

What are your favorite cheap and healthy filler foods?

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Guest's picture

Peanut butter and nuts are a great healthy snack that is filled with a lot of protein. I eat these things to keep myself away from eating candy and sweets

Julie Rains's picture

I do the same -- they are high in calories but better for you than many other types of snacks.

Guest's picture

This list pretty much comprises my ENTIRE diet. According to my last physical I'm SUPER healthy so let me assure you, it works!

Julie Rains's picture

Glad to hear that these foods are keeping you healthy!

Guest's picture

Never tried these foods for being a "filler". I guess there's no harm with eating these because it's said that these are healthy. I might go try these out. Thanks for the heads up, Julie!