Cheap Healthy Food To Include In Your Diet & Save Money 2022

Alexandra Gregg

Updated on - Written by
Medically reviewed by Kathy Shattler, MS, RDN

cheap healthy food

Making cheap healthy food on a budget may seem impossible, especially in today’s world of shortages and increasing prices. But, if you are struggling to find affordable healthy food, hopefully, some of these tips can help you save some cash and may even help you become a little healthier.

Top 6 Cheap & Healthy Foods For Your Diet

Here are six categories of foods with budget-friendly choices and some additional tips to keep your budget in check.  

  1. Fish, meat, and eggs
  2. Vegetable
  3. Whole grains
  4. Fruits
  5. Dairy
  6. Drinks

Top 6 Cheap & Healthy Foods For Your Diet

As mentioned above, trying to feed your family healthy food while not spending a fortune can be tricky. So we’ve put together six categories of foods with budget-friendly choices and some additional tips to keep your budget in check.  

Fish, Meat, and Eggs

cheap healthy food

Eggs

Eggs[1] are one of the world’s healthiest cheap foods. Not only are they jam-packed with all types of essential nutrients, but they are also low in calories and inexpensive. Just one egg provides B vitamins, zinc, calcium, other vital nutrients, disease-fighting antioxidants like choline, lutein, and zeaxanthin, and 6 grams of protein.

Canned Tuna

Tuna[2] is high in protein but not calories and is cheaper than fresh seafood. It also has several essential nutrients, including vitamin D, selenium, and iodine. It’s a quick snack right out of the can on a whole wheat cracker or can be used to make cheap healthy meals by mixing fresh veggies, quinoa, whole grain pasta, and your favorite salad dressing.  

Chicken

You may think, “there is no way I can afford chicken,” but you can! It all depends on the preparation of the chicken. You can purchase boneless and skinless chicken, which will be costly. However, buy a whole chicken if you want to prepare cheap, healthy meals for a family. It requires more preparation, but it’s worth it for all the meat you get. 

After the chicken is cleaned, it’s easy to cook it in a crockpot. Once cooked, remove the chicken from the bone, leave the carcass in the crockpot with water added overnight (put the crockpot on low heat), and the next day you’ll have some great homemade bone broth which is another excellent source of protein and collagen!

Ground Turkey

Ground turkey[3] is a great inexpensive protein because you can use it just like ground beef. It absorbs spices and flavors surrounding it and has a lot of protein. Just a three-ounce serving will give you around 20 grams. Use ground turkey instead of ground beef in soups, tacos, or even make a spaghetti meat sauce. 

Aside from the protein types mentioned above, meat will typically be the most pricey item for grocery shopping. Thankfully, there are some tricks to saving money with meat. 

  • Buy in bulk
    • Typically, when you buy meat in more significant quantities, prices are lower than if you were to buy them in smaller increments. 
    • At home, you can divide bulk meats into smaller portions and store them in the freezer for next time. Using the freezer for storing bulk meat is especially handy if you need cheap healthy meals for one, as you can divide out individual portions. 
  • Use less meat in your dishes
    • Use ¾ or even half of a pound instead of a pound in your dish. Then, you can spread that one pound of meat over several meals.
  • Pick a day to go meatless
    • Instead of choosing an animal-based protein for that meal, consider using a plant-based protein (veggie burgers, anyone?).
    • Make cheap healthy meals vegetarian by swapping out meat for beans, legumes, lentils, or tofu. 

Something to keep in mind when going meatless is that dried beans, peas, and lentils are easy to cook in large batches and then frozen for later use so that you can use them easily for cheap healthy meal preparation. 

Vegetable

cheap healthy food

Peas

This is surprising, but a cup of peas[4] will give you 8 grams of protein. They also help strengthen your immune system because they contain vitamin E, C, and zinc. Try adding peas to soups, stir-fries, and salads to boost protein and nutrition.  

Broccoli

One of the cheapest superfoods you can purchase. However, it is not cheap on vitamins and disease-fighting antioxidants[5], which help increase your immune system function. It’s also bursting with vitamin C, which is necessary for the growth, development, and repair of all body tissues.

Sweet Potato

Sweet potatoes are nutrient-dense vegetables [6] loaded with vitamins, minerals, and dietary fiber. They’re also high in antioxidants that reduce inflammation in your body and help fight chronic diseases. White potatoes are also cheap but do not contain nearly the same amount of nutrients.  

Beans

Including canned beans and dry beans[7]. These little gems are fantastic sources of potassium, phosphorus, and iron. They also are bursting with fiber and tons of protein. Lastly, they contain phytonutrients that have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant capabilities. These specific nutrients can enhance your immune system and help detoxify the body. 

Dry beans are the cheapest way to enjoy beans. To cook them, add the dry beans to a slow cooker and cover with enough water to where there are about 3 inches above the beans. Then cook them on low for around 10 hours until the beans are tender. Once cooked, you can use the beans in any recipe just as you would canned beans.  

Spinach

Spinach is high in folate, as well as vitamins C and A. It also contains a lot of the mineral magnesium, which can boost your immune system. They also contain carotenoids, a fancy word for a type of antioxidant that helps protect your body against heart disease and cancer.  

Herbs and Spices

It can be easy to forget the spices you use in cooking, but herbs and spices are loaded with health benefits. There is ample evidence that spices and herbs possess high levels of antioxidants and are huge in helping with inflammation.

They also prevent cancer, help to lower glucose levels in the body, and even have been shown to affect mood and cognition! Apply fresh or even dried herbs and spices to your foods to reap these benefits. 

Whole Grains

cheap healthy food

Barley

If you want to mix up your hot cereal in the morning, barley is a fantastic choice. You can also use barley in soups or even on top of salads to make them a bit heartier. It’s not only loaded with protein but also fiber which comes with great health benefits like keeping you fuller longer (aiding in weight loss) and helping with digestion. 

Oats

There aren’t many foods that are more versatile or inexpensive than plain oats. You can use them to:

  • Add creaminess to smoothies
  • Help soups become more hearty,
  • Give greek yogurt a crunch

Research shows[8] that oats help to lower cholesterol and blood sugar levels, reduce constipation, and aid in weight loss.

Brown Rice

Brown rice is by nature high in fiber. Fiber helps you feel full and satiated, which in turn can make it easier to lose weight. Whole grains[9] are also associated with a lower risk of developing chronic diseases such as diabetes, cancer, and heart disease. Swap brown rice out for white rice in any dish for an easy and cheap way to eat healthily.  

Fruits

cheap healthy food

Apples

You can typically find apples for a great price all year round. Plus, they are full of soluble fiber, which lower blood cholesterol and blood sugar levels. Apples are also a fantastic source of vitamin C, an immune-boosting vitamin.

Vitamin C protects your cells from becoming damaged and helps your body absorb iron, so if you eat apples with dark leafy greens, you’ll get double the healthy benefits.  

Watermelon

Per the United States Department of Agriculture[10], in-season watermelon is the most inexpensive fruit. And what’s better is that watermelon is overflowing with an antioxidant called lycopene. Lycopene[11] has been shown to decrease the risk of heart disease and cancer.  

Bananas

Bananas are packed full of potassium[12] which is excellent for lowering blood pressure and improving heart health. Cut a banana into slices and then top with two tablespoons of peanut butter or nut butter for a great snack loaded with heart-healthy fats. Also, frozen bananas make a great addition to smoothies.  

Canned tomatoes

Tomatoes, which are actually fruits, can round out a healthy diet for anyone on a low-income budget. Tomatoes have lycopene in them, an antioxidant shown in over 700 studies to have positive effects on prostate cancer, breast cancer, heart cancer, and inflammation.

Canned tomatoes can be used in goulash, stews, and spaghetti and are a rather versatile source of vitamin C, folate, and potassium.

Dairy

Yogurt

When buying in bulk, meat isn’t the only cheaper option in large quantities. Yogurt is significantly cheaper if you are willing to buy a large container and portion out servings for a portable snack. Keep in mind the sugar content and stick with a product with less than 6 grams of added sugar. 

Cottage Cheese

With just a few calories, cottage cheese is full of:

  • Protein
  • B vitamins
  • Phosphorus
  • Calcium 

For a low-calorie snack, try cottage cheese mixed with fresh or canned fruits such as pineapple. 

Drinks

Water is significantly more affordable than any other beverage. And if you are only slightly dehydrated[13], it can influence every part of how you function, from your mood, metabolism, and even endurance levels. So it’s vital to our overall health, but drinking water can get boring.  

Try these tips for spicing up your next drink of water

  • Add frozen berries
  • Add fresh fruit (blueberries, orange slices, strawberries, etc.)
  • Enrich water with fresh cilantro, mint, basil, or rosemary

Tips to Help You Save Money on Food

Another thing to contemplate is the amount of money you spend eating out. This one might be common sense, but the cost of eating out is much higher than the price of a home-cooked meal, no matter which way you slice it.

Many people don’t always have the time to eat at home, which is understandable. If that’s you, try bulk cooking cheap healthy meals for a week on Sunday. Or start small, such as eating outside the home for one less meal weekly. Either way will save you some money.

Another bonus of eating at home is knowing what ingredients are in the food. A lot of times, restaurants will add extra salt, sugar, or fat to food to make it taste better, so strive to make cheap healthy meals for family dinners rather than eating out.

Lastly, when it comes to money-saving tips, in-season fresh produce will typically always be cheaper than frozen vegetables and fruits. So to keep your meals budget-friendly, choose in-season produce and freeze as needed to reduce waste. 

Healthy Cheap Food – The Bottom Line 

Feeding a family with affordable foods that are healthy is not easy. But hopefully, this list shows you that eating healthy on a budget is not impossible. There are still some affordable and nutritious foods in the world.

And, if you swap out several of the foods on this list for processed foods, you might even find your grocery budget is a bit looser. Hopefully, these tips will help you save a few dollars here and there and potentially help you eat healthier. 


+ 13 sources

Health Canal avoids using tertiary references. We have strict sourcing guidelines and rely on peer-reviewed studies, academic researches from medical associations and institutions. To ensure the accuracy of articles in Health Canal, you can read more about the editorial process here

  1. Kuang, H., Yang, F., Zhang, Y., Wang, T. and Chen, G. (2018). The Impact of Egg Nutrient Composition and Its Consumption on Cholesterol Homeostasis. Cholesterol, [online] 2018, pp.1–22. doi:10.1155/2018/6303810.
  2. Maqbool, A., Strandvik, B. and Stallings, V.A. (2011). The skinny on tuna fat: health implications. Public Health Nutrition, [online] 14(11), pp.2049–2054. doi:10.1017/s1368980010003757.
  3. Usda.gov. (2022). FoodData Central. [online] Available at: https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html#/food-details/506064/nutrients
  4. Usda.gov. (2022). FoodData Central. [online] Available at: https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html#/food-details/170105/nutrients
  5. Hwang, J.-H. and Lim, S.-B. (2015). Antioxidant and Anticancer Activities of Broccoli By-Products from Different Cultivars and Maturity Stages at Harvest. Preventive Nutrition and Food Science, [online] 20(1), pp.8–14. doi:10.3746/pnf.2015.20.1.8.
  6. Neela, S. and Fanta, S.W. (2019). Review on nutritional composition of orange‐fleshed sweet potato and its role in management of vitamin A deficiency. Food Science & Nutrition, [online] 7(6), pp.1920–1945. doi:10.1002/fsn3.1063.
  7. Mayo Clinic. (2021). Slide show: 10 great health foods. [online] Available at: https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/multimedia/health-foods/sls-20076653?s=5
  8. Rasane, P., Jha, A., Sabikhi, L., Kumar, A. and Unnikrishnan, V.S. (2013). Nutritional advantages of oats and opportunities for its processing as value added foods – a review. Journal of Food Science and Technology, [online] 52(2), pp.662–675. doi:10.1007/s13197-013-1072-1.
  9. Mayo Clinic. (2020). The whole truth about whole grains. [online] Available at: https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/whole-grains/art-20047826
  10. Usda.gov. (2017). USDA ERS – Interactive Chart: Most and Least Expensive Fruits and Vegetables. [online] Available at: https://www.ers.usda.gov/data-products/fruit-and-vegetable-prices/interactive-chart-most-and-least-expensive-fruits-and-vegetables/
  11. Wempen, K. (2021). The wonders of watermelon. [online] Mayo Clinic Health System. Available at: https://www.mayoclinichealthsystem.org/hometown-health/speaking-of-health/the-wonders-of-watermelon
  12. Weaver, C.M. (2013). Potassium and Health. Advances in Nutrition, [online] 4(3), pp.368S377S. doi:10.3945/an.112.003533.
  13. Annals of Medicine. (2019). A multidisciplinary consensus on dehydration: definitions, diagnostic methods and clinical implications. [online] Available at: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/07853890.2019.1628352
Alexandra Gregg

Written by:

Alexandra Gregg, RD

Medically reviewed by:

Kathy Shattler

Alexandra Gregg is a registered and licensed dietitian with a private practice in Kansas City, Missouri. After studying Nutrition and Dietetics at Northwest Missouri State she completed her Dietetic Internship at Mayo Clinic College of Medicine in Rochester, MN. Following her dietetic internship, Allie worked at Mayo Clinic in a variety of areas including nutrition support, geriatrics, neonatology, and pediatrics. In addition, she was a regular presenter at Mayo Clinic conferences and an educator for dietetic interns.

Medically reviewed by:

Kathy Shattler

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