Here are the affordable healthy foods in each food group.
Trendy “superfoods” like quinoa, spirulina powder, and yogurt imported from Iceland may make headlines, but you don’t need to splurge on these items to eat a healthy diet. In fact, the most affordable healthy foods are just as good for you—and often better.
For a healthy and well-balanced diet that doesn’t cost half your paycheck, here are the most affordable healthy foods. (Oh, and you won’t need to go to a fancy grocery store to find them, either.)
1. Dried beans
Okay, so canned beans are pretty cheap, too, but dried beans are one of the most budget-savvy items in the store. Beans are a cheap protein that are low in fat and high in nutrients. Not only are beans cheaper than meat, but they can also help lower your intake of saturated fat. Your heart will thank you for it.
If you’re not excited at the prospect of soaking beans and then simmering them for a few hours, try lentils. Lentils require *no* soaking, and they cook in 10 to 20 minutes, depending on the type.
2. Green peas (and other canned or frozen veggies)
Surprisingly, canned and frozen vegetables often have more nutrients than fresh ones. That’s because they’re picked at their peak and then immediately frozen (or canned), locking in those nutrients. In other words, even if you lose a bit of the quality of a fresh veggie, you’re still getting the nutritional perks. Of course, the lower price is the biggest perk of all.
3. Brown rice
Quinoa gets lots of love these days, but brown rice is a much more affordable whole grain. Compared to white rice, brown rice offers more protein, fiber, and iron.
To get the best price, avoid frozen rice or quick-cooking rice. (Remember, convenience comes at a cost.) Additionally, bigger bags of rice tend to be cheaper per pound, so buy in bulk when you can.
4. Whole-wheat pasta
You can often find generic or store-brand boxes of whole-wheat pasta for the same or similar price as white pasta. This can be a budget-friendly way to add a little protein and fiber to pasta night. Then, add frozen peas for another thrifty hack.
5. Canisters of rolled oats
If you love to start your morning with oatmeal, put down the box of pre-flavored instant oatmeal pouches! You’ll save major dollars by switching to canisters of rolled oats and flavoring them yourself. For budget-friendly oatmeal, try oats mixed with applesauce, vanilla extract, cinnamon, and raisins.
6. Canned tuna
Fish and seafood can be pricey. If you want to include fish in your diet, canned tuna can help you get your omega-3s for cheap. Add it to pasta, salad, sandwiches, and more.
7. Sweet potatoes
One of the most affordable healthy foods in the produce aisle is the versatile sweet potato. This cheap, orange-hued spud is higher in many vitamins and lower in starch than white potatoes. (That said, feel free to add regular white potatoes to your cart as well. Here are the health benefits of potatoes here.)
8. Popcorn kernels
In need of a thrifty snack? Make air-popped popcorn for a low-cal, whole-grain snack. Bags of kernels cost much less than boxes of microwave popcorn, and you can flavor them however you want. (Check out these healthy ways to flavor popcorn.)
Don’t have an air popper? No problem—you can make homemade popcorn on the stove. All you need is a pot with a lid, popcorn kernels, and a little bit of oil.
One of the cheapest fruits at the store is the banana. This economical fruit is a great source of nutrients—most famously potassium. In addition, it’s also a good source of fiber, vitamin C, and manganese.
Bananas are a great snack on their own, or you can use them to make a cheap breakfast. Add to yogurt or oatmeal, blend into a smoothie, or eat with peanut butter for a healthy start to the day.
Eggs are a versatile ingredient that can add protein to almost any meal. Along with omelets and scrambled eggs, you can throw an egg on stews, toasts, sandwiches, and more.
For the most health benefits, look for unsweetened Greek yogurt. This type is rich in protein and calcium, without all the sugar in flavored and sweetened yogurt. Check out these ways to jazz up plain yogurt.
For the best price, choose large containers with four or more servings. Single-serving yogurt cups may be convenient, but they cost much more (unless there’s a great sale).
Wanna bring your grocery budget down even more? Here are money-saving hacks for grocery shopping.
- 5 tips to stretch your SNAP dollars. Washington, DC. (Accessed on August 17, 2020)
- 10 ways to save time and money at the grocery store. Chicago, IL: Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, 2018. (Accessed on August 17, 2020)
- Budget-friendly tipos to feed your family. Chicago, IL: Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, 2020. (Accessed on August 17, 2020)
- Feed you family healthfully on a low-income-budget. Chicago, IL: Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, 2018. (Accessed on August 17, 2020)
- Shop healthy on a budget. Chicago, IL: Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, 2019. (Accessed on August 17, 2020)