By Suzy Buglewicz

These days it seems as if we're all trying to stretch our dollars, either by necessity or because we're becoming savvier about saving more and spending less. If you've been looking for ways to stretch your grocery budget without resorting to filling up on cheap, empty calories, read on. It's a myth that the healthiest foods are the most expensive. With a list and a plan, it is possible, and surprisingly simple, to eat healthily without blowing your budget or sacrificing those hard-earned P90X® or ChaLEAN Extreme® results. If you want to keep your wallet fat and your waistline trim, try to put more of these food items in your shopping cart the next time you're at the grocery store.

  1. Sweet potatoes. Also marketed as yams (which are actually a variety of the sweet potato), this versatile food is as nutritious as it is economical. Sweet potatoes are used in everything from baby food to main dishes to desserts.

    Why they're good for you: At about 140 calories each, sweet potatoes are filling, easy to cook, and loaded with vitamins A and C, iron, and thiamine. They, also contain beta-carotene, which may help reduce the risk of certain cancers. Sweet potatoes are also low in sodium and a good source of fiber.

    Best way to enjoy: Scrub and pierce the potatoes; you can bake them, microwave them, or cook them in boiling water. Use sweet potatoes in recipes in place of white potatoes. For a special treat (and an instant kid pleaser), you can add a small amount of butter and brown sugar to your potatoes.
  2. Beans. Long regarded as one of the ultimate frugal foods, beans are as versatile as they are nutritious, with a variety of flavors, colors, and varieties to choose from. Stock up on the dried (and the cheapest) kind as well as the canned variety (still a bargain at less than $1 a can). You'll have tons of cheap, healthy meal possibilities.

    Why they're good for you: Beans are one of the best sources of dietary fiber, which can help lower cholesterol, blood pressure, and blood sugar. Beans are also high in protein and low in calories, making them an ideal food choice for dieters.

    Best way to enjoy: Beans can be incorporated into almost any recipe or eaten alone. Try replacing beef with black beans in chili, soup, or your favorite Mexican food recipes. Eat beans hot or cold, alone, in salads, or with rice, for a high-protein, high-fiber meal.
  3. Brown rice. One bag of brown rice can provide as many as 20 servings. Brown rice can be combined with an assortment of other ingredients. Or simply enjoy it with your favorite seasonings. Brown rice has more flavor and nutrients than instant white rice.

    Why they're good for you: Brown rice is a great source of fiber, vitamin B, iron, manganese, and selenium, nutrients that are essential for boosting immune systems, lowering cholesterol, and reducing the risks of heart disease and diabetes. Studies have shown that women who consume more whole grains like brown rice tend to weigh less than women who consume fewer whole grains.

    Best way to enjoy: Cook rice in water on the stove, in the microwave, or in a rice cooker, and enjoy it as a side dish or add it to soups, salads, and your favorite main dish recipes.
  4. Eggs. At about 75 calories each and less than $2 for a dozen, eggs contain 13 essential nutrients, making them a healthy bargain. And there's no need to avoid eating eggs for fear of consuming too much cholesterol. Research has shown that egg consumption contributes less than 1 percent to the risk of heart disease when other factors are considered.

    Why they're good for you: Eggs have a high proportion of nutrients to calories, which means that they help you stay full and energized while helping you maintain a healthy weight. Eggs are also an excellent source of folate; protein; lutein, which promotes eye health; and choline, which helps brain function.

    Best way to enjoy: Eat eggs for breakfast, lunch, or dinner in bakes, in frittatas, as omelettes, or hard cooked.
  5. Pasta. Tasty, filling, and always an economical way to feed a crowd, what's not to love about pasta?

    Why it's good for you: Pasta is low in sodium and fat and high in complex carbohydrates, which helps you maintain a consistent energy level. Pasta is also fortified with folic acid, an essential nutrient, especially for women.

    Best way to enjoy: Pasta is easy to combine with other foods, including vegetables, meats, and your favorite sauces. For a healthier dish, toss cooked pasta with olive oil or a marinara sauce instead of a high-calorie Alfredo sauce.
  6. Frozen vegetables. While fresh, raw vegetables (and fruits, for that matter) that are in season should always be a first choice, having a supply of frozen vegetables in the freezer is an inexpensive, nutritious, and versatile backup plan.

    Why they're good for you: Frozen vegetables retain almost all of their nutritional value, since they're picked and frozen while at their peak flavor. When the perishables in your refrigerator have, well, perished, it's easy to reach for a bag of frozen vegetables and add them to any meal.

    Best way to enjoy: Frozen vegetables have a high nutritional value. And they can be kept in the freezer and pulled out any time to toss in soups, stews, lasagna, or stir-fries, or they can be used as a side dish.