10 Cheap & Healthy Foods to Buy

10 Cheap & Healthy Foods to Buy

Our series, Good Food for All, examines the barriers to putting healthy food on the table and what is being done to help.

When trying to cut back on your grocery bills and purchase inexpensive food, the first thing that may come to mind is food that is less-than-healthy, ultra-processed and high in sodium and sugar. But there are lots of healthy foods that are more affordable than acai bowls and organic kale salads.

That said, trying to find nutritious foods that your family will eat without breaking the bank can be a little bit of a struggle, so we wanted to make it as easy as possible. Here’s our list of 10 super-budget-friendly healthy foods—plus tips to help you keep those grocery bills down.

1. Canned Tomatoes

Pictured Recipe: One-Pot Beans & Rice with Corn Salsa

Canned tomatoes are frequently used in many households. They’re extremely versatile and very inexpensive. An average can of tomatoes costs less than $2 and has a long shelf life, which can help to reduce food waste.

In addition to being a staple ingredient in many delicious recipes, canned tomatoes pack a significant nutritional punch. They’re a great source of vitamin C, as well as lycopene, which is an antioxidant that may reduce inflammation. Consuming tomatoes has also been linked to reducing “bad” LDL cholesterol and blood pressure levels, according to a 2022 study published in Biology (Basel).

Add canned tomatoes to soups, casseroles, stews and pasta dishes.

2. Oats

Greg DuPree

Pictured Recipe: Overnight Matcha Oats with Berries

Oats are a great nutrient-dense food and make a great pantry staple. They are super affordable and offer an easy way to provide your family with an impressive amount of nutrients.

A large container of plain rolled or steel-cut oats is not only cheaper but also more nutritious than packets of prepared flavored oatmeal, which are more processed and often have added sugar. Whole-grain rolled oats are rich in fiber, which helps lower cholesterol levels and helps keep you full and satisfied. A serving of oats also contains B vitamins, iron, manganese, phosphorus, zinc and magnesium.

Oats are typically eaten for breakfast, but they can be enjoyed in a variety of ways. Add them to casseroles for an extra source of fiber, mix it up with a bowl of savory oatmeal or use them to make energy balls for a quick, satisfying snack.

3. Peanut Butter

Alexandra Shytsman

Pictured Recipe: Breakfast Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Cakes

Peanut butter is a staple in most homes because of its integral role in the classic PB&J sandwich. Peanut butter is cost-effective and delivers a host of nutrients. A serving is 2 tablespoons, which means that one jar can last for quite a while. Plus, it’s a great source of plant-based protein as well as heart-healthy fats, vitamin E and B vitamins. You’ll even get a shot of fiber.

When choosing your peanut butter, look for options with low or no added sugars—ideally keeping it under 2 grams of added sugar per serving.

Besides the popular PB&J, peanut butter can be used in a variety of recipes. Stir it into a bowl of oatmeal or swap out your pasta and red sauce for some tasty peanut noodles.

4. Canned Beans

Pictured Recipe: Sheet-Pan Chicken Fajita Bowls

Canned beans are budget-friendly, versatile and very nutritious. There are several types of beans to choose from and many of them cost less than $1 per can. (You can save even more money by choosing dried beans, but they do require more time to cook.)

Beans contain a significant amount of fiber and a variety of vitamins and minerals, including folate, iron, magnesium and potassium. They’re also a great source of plant-based protein. One cup of canned (or cooked) beans contains about 15 grams of protein, which is essential for lots of bodily functions, including building and maintaining muscle strength.

Beans can be incorporated into many types of dishes. Try them in soups, salads, tacos and burritos.

5. Potatoes

Pictured Recipe: Melting Potatoes

Every household should keep potatoes on hand. They can be served in a variety of ways, and they typically cost less than $5 for a 5-pound bag. While they sometimes have a negative reputation, potatoes are packed with nutrition. Potatoes contain a significant amount of potassium, a mineral that’s very important in our bodies, helping to regulate fluid balance and muscle contractions, among other functions.

If you want an added boost of nutrients, try using sweet potatoes instead of white potatoes. Sweet potatoes are also high in potassium, but they contain a little more fiber as well as beta-carotene.

Both types of potatoes are versatile. Try making homemade french fries or mashed potatoes—or serve up a baked potato bar with your favorite toppings for an easy, family-friendly dinner.

6. Lentils

Pictured Recipe: One-Pot Lentil & Vegetable Soup with Parmesan

Lentils are popular in many plant-based diets. They’re super affordable and provide a great source of protein, fiber, iron and manganese. They also contain antioxidants that may help to fight inflammation and reduce the onset of chronic diseases.

Lentils can be used in a variety of ways and are easy to prepare. Simply rinse dry lentils to remove any debris, place them in a large pot, and fill it halfway with water. Let the lentils simmer until they’re tender, then enjoy!

Lentils are versatile and can be used to make veggie burgers, soups and stews.

7. Popcorn

Pictured Recipe: Lime & Parmesan Popcorn

Popcorn is often associated with binge-watching your favorite TV show or movie, but it can be enjoyed as a healthy snack at any time. This snack food typically costs less than $2 for a pound of kernels, and it contains some really great health benefits.

Popcorn provides fiber, magnesium and several disease-fighting antioxidants. Plain popcorn is also relatively low in calories but fills you up, making it a helpful snack for those wanting to lose weight.

The great thing about popcorn is that you can tailor it to your mood. You can add toppings such as sea salt and cheese for a savory treat, or cinnamon and sugar for a delicious sweet treat.

It can be pricier to buy microwave popcorn or pre-popped popcorn in bags, so purchasing kernels helps make this nutritious snack more affordable—and it’s easy to make at home. You can pop the kernels yourself in the microwave with just a brown bag or make it on the stovetop.

8. Frozen Berries

Pictured Recipe: Quick Mixed Berry Pancake Sauce

Frozen berries are easy to keep on hand and can be very cost-effective when compared to fresh fruit. Frozen berries can last in the freezer for several months, so stock up when they’re on sale. Choose berries without added sugar.

As their deep hues might suggest, berries are loaded with antioxidants and have been linked with a host of health benefits, including reducing inflammation, heart disease and cancer. They’re also associated with a healthier brain, reduced cognitive decline and improved memory.

Add frozen berries to your favorite smoothie recipe or make a yogurt parfait with them. Frozen berries can also be used to make jams (including this quick chia berry jam), pies and other desserts.

9. Canned Tuna

Photographer: Fred Hardy, Food Stylist: Karen Rankin, Prop Stylist: Josh Hoggle

Pictured Recipe: Copycat Joe & the Juice’s Tunacado Sandwich

Canned tuna is a smart choice for those wanting to increase their fish intake while still keeping their groceries affordable. Most 4– to 5-ounce cans of tuna cost less than $2, which is significantly cheaper when compared to fresh seafood that can run as much as $20 a pound.

Tuna is a great source of protein, and it also contains omega-3 fatty acids, which are important for brain health and reducing inflammation. Tuna also provides a fair amount of the minerals selenium, phosphorus and potassium.

Choose canned tuna for salads, sandwiches and pasta dishes.

10. Eggs

Pictured Recipe: Spinach & Feta Scrambled Egg Pitas

Eggs are a staple item in most homes. They’re chock-full of nutrition and typically cost less than 20 cents per egg. A whole large egg contains 6 grams of protein and delivers some vitamin D as well. Eggs also contain the antioxidants lutein and zeaxanthin, which support eye health and decrease the risk of age-related macular degeneration.

We often think of eggs as a breakfast option, but they can be enjoyed in a variety of ways. Look to eggs to make a savory dinner quiche, vegetable-packed fried rice or egg salad sandwiches.

Tyrel Stendahl

5 Tips to Help You Save Money on Your Grocery Bill

Now that we’ve got a list of healthy, budget-friendly foods to keep on hand, let’s explore a few more ways to help you save even more money on your grocery bill.

Stick with Store Brands Whenever Possible

Most people don’t realize this, but the ingredients in store-brand products are usually similar—and often identical—to brand-name products. So, instead of paying extra money for well-known brands, look for generic or store-brand products instead.

Take Inventory of What You Have on Hand

Before you head to the grocery store, take inventory of everything you have on hand. You may be surprised to find a can of chickpeas hiding in the back of the cupboard or some leftover broccoli in the fridge that may be on the verge of going bad. To help avoid food waste and save a little money, try to make recipes with these items first. Get creative with what you have.

Buy in Bulk

Nonperishable items, such as grains, rice, nuts and beans, are typically cheaper when purchased in bulk or larger containers. Even though a larger container of rice will initially require more money upfront, it may be cheaper in the long run, depending on the unit price, so always look at that. The unit price will tell you how much you’re paying per pound (or ounce) so you can compare packages and get the best deal. When you bring bulk items home, distribute them into smaller portions to help with storage, then use them as needed.

Buy In-Season Produce

Buying fruits and vegetables that are in season can help keep the price down. Sometimes, but not always, shopping for local produce at your farmers’ market can be more affordable. To help fresh produce last longer, some fruits and vegetables, like strawberries, peaches and onions, can be frozen. Just wash and store them in a freezer bag, and place them in the freezer until you’re ready to use them. When fruits and veggies aren’t in season, stock up on nutritious frozen produce.

Meal-Prep Food for the Week

Meal prepping is a great way to save money. Planning your meals can help prevent those unnecessary grocery trips during the week. Meal prepping doesn’t have to be hard. It can be as simple as preparing a big batch of soup on the weekend, and portioning it out to last throughout the week or finding creative ways to repurpose leftovers.