Cheap and healthy foods are on the mind of many grocery shoppers with rising costs. It can be challenging to stay on budget, know which foods will give you more nutritional bang for your buck, and come up with creative ways to stretch your dollar.
This list of 15 cheap and healthy foods and all the ways to eat them has you covered. Many of the foods on this list are not only staples, but ingredients for easy-to-make meals, even if you hate to cook.
All these foods that made the list can be found at many grocery stores, from wholesale retail chains that sell items in bulk to inexpensive stores like Aldi. No having to empty your wallet at an expensive health food store and wonder why you’re only walking out with 2 bags of groceries.
Reduce your grocery bill and check out a dollar store near you for some of these items. My local Dollar General store carries items 1 through 10 on this list.
This article includes easy and creative tips for incorporating all these cheap and healthy foods into your diet as well as delicious recipes from dietitians. Check out their sites for more recipes and cooking inspiration. Several of these recipes are plant-forward. However, you can always add animal protein to them.
1. FROZEN VEGETABLES
Frozen vegetables and fruits have the same nutritional content as their fresh counterparts because they’re frozen at peak ripeness. If your fresh vegetables are about to turn, don’t toss them. Save your money and the planet and freeze fresh produce in bags or freezer-safe containers.
You can use frozen vegetables for all kinds of meals:
- As an easy side dish
- Roasted veggie tray
- In soups or stews
- In casseroles and lasagna
- Mix with eggs to make a frittata, omelet, or quiche
- Add to stir fry, fried rice, or pasta
- Add frozen corn and bell pepper to protein for taco fillings
- Use thawed broccoli instead of basil to make pesto
- Blend with fresh banana and frozen fruit for a smoothie
Get dinner ready quickly with this vegetable hash and chickpea skillet recipe from Being Nutritious. This calls for two cheap and healthy foods on the list — frozen vegetables and chickpeas. She also shares tips on how to take frozen vegetables from bland to bam!
2. FROZEN FRUITS
Frozen fruits are great to have on hand for smoothies. No time to eat fruit before you head out the door? Make a smoothie for the road. Freeze any fresh fruits that are about to turn. If you’ve got a picky eater who won’t touch fruits, give smoothies a try.
I use my good old Ninja blender for smoothies. Nothing fancy but it’s been doing the job for 10 years. I use banana or avocado for my smoothie base and add frozen fruit, milk, and flax or chia seed for healthy omega-3 fat and fiber.
Other ways to eat frozen fruits:
- Thaw and add to oatmeal
- Cook and make into a fruit compote topping for pancakes and yogurt
- Add frozen berries to pancake batter
- Blend with yogurt and a little sweetener to make a frozen yogurt
Here’s a refreshing and zingy Ginger Berry Smoothie recipe from Nourished Nutrition:
Canned and dried beans are cheap and healthy foods on every dietitian’s list. Beans along with lentils and peas are known as legumes. They’re filling and chock full of fiber, antioxidants, and many nutrients — like iron, magnesium, zinc, and folate (1). Legumes possess anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer effects and are low in glycemic index (1). Pretty impressive for cheap food!
Canned beans are convenient though salty — just rinse them before cooking or eating. Dried beans are even cheaper. This low-cost plant protein comes in a wide variety and can be consumed in many flavorful ways:
- Soups and stews
- Salads or veggie bowls
- Tortillas, wraps, lettuce wraps
- Mash into a hummus or bean dip
- Roast chickpeas for a snack
- Mix with corn and salsa
For an easy cooking night, I add canned beans on top of baked potatoes with a little grated cheese, plain yogurt, and seasoning. It’s filling, nutritious, easy, and cheap!
Need a bean recipe for a side dish, party dip, or to add to leafy greens? Check out this easy, sweet, and tangy black-eyed pea salad recipe from Sizzling Nutrition:
A creative and fun way to use canned chickpeas! A boost in fiber and protein in a treat is a win-win. Check out these sweet chickpea cookie dough bites from Healthyish Appetite. The taste and texture are similar to regular cookie dough, without the bean taste.
4. CANNED TOMATOES
Canned tomatoes are just as nutritious as fresh tomatoes. But because they’re cooked during the canning process, canned tomatoes have a higher amount of lycopene (an antioxidant) than the fresh version (4).
Canned tomatoes come in whole peeled, diced, crushed, pureed, and in a paste form. Use canned tomatoes to make:
- Pizza and pasta sauces
- Dipping sauce for a grilled cheese sandwich and crudites
- Make your own ketchup
- Tomato-based soups and stews
- Add to grains for more flavor
- Mix with beans and cheese
- Mix with mac and cheese
- Make Sloppy Joe’s
- Combine with legumes to make a hearty and healthy chili, like Sizzling Nutrition does with their three-bean lentil chili:
5. CANNED FISH
Fatty fish high in omega-3:
Keep fish on hand year-round and stock up on the canned versions. Here are some easy ways to add canned fish to your diet:
- With salads and grains
- Mix with avocado to add on top of toast
- With eggs to make an omelet, frittata or quiche
- Mix with plain yogurt and spices for a healthier take on tuna or salmon salad
- Stuff in peppers or potatoes
- As an alternative to meat for meatballs or burgers
- With wraps, lettuce wraps, and bread
- Bake in a casserole
Take canned tuna to a whole new level with Joby’s Test Kitchen’s yummy baked tuna cutlet recipe which also uses canned white beans:
Oatmeal is a whole grain staple packed with protein, fiber, nutrients, and antioxidants (8). A multitude of studies shows that oatmeal consumption promotes heart and gut health and reduces the risk for diabetes (9).
Oatmeal doesn’t have to be boring. It’s a perfect backdrop for experimenting with different toppings and flavors. This simple classic doesn’t get old when you spice it up with the following:
- Peanut or nut butter
- Seeds like heart-healthy chia, hemp, or flaxseeds
- Spices like cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and pumpkin pie spice
- Dark chocolate
Give overnight oats a try if you don’t want to bother with cooking. Super convenient and easy. Check out my overnight oats with Greek yogurt recipe here.
7. NUTS AND PEANUTS
Tree nuts and peanuts are a great source of protein, healthy fat, various nutrients, and antioxidants (10). They’re filling and perfect for a crunchy snack craving.
The Dollar General store near me carries a variety of nuts: walnuts, pecans, pistachios, and peanuts. It’s best to choose nuts that are in their natural state or toasted.
Aside from eating nuts and peanuts as a snack, add them to other cheap and healthy foods for another layer of texture and to boost protein and nutrients:
- Salad and veggie bowls
- Cooked vegetable dishes
- Cold and hot cereals
- Grain dishes like pasta, rice, and quinoa
Fortify your salad with the convenience of nuts and canned beans like this scrumptious spinach and beet salad recipe from Joby’s Test Kitchen:
Eggs are an inexpensive source of protein, fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E, and K), B vitamins, folate, and choline (11). They are said to be a “perfect protein” because they contain all 9 essential amino acids. Eggs are also a source of the following antioxidants: selenium and carotenoids in the yolk (lutein and zeaxanthin), which promote eye health (12).
Most people don’t know that choline is an essential nutrient. It plays a role in metabolism and the body’s chemical messengers (neurotransmitters). Choline also plays a role in the brain and memory development of the baby in utero and appears to decrease the risk of neural tube defect (12).
Eggs have gotten a bad rap in the past because of their cholesterol content. However, cholesterol is vital for the body. It is needed to build cells and make hormones and vitamins. It is now well established that there is no association between eggs and risk for heart disease (13).
There aren’t many cheap and healthy foods that you can eat any time of the day, but eggs are an exception. You can eat eggs:
- Baked or shirred
- Sunnyside up
- Over easy, medium, or hard
- With toast, grains, and potatoes
- Mixed with other foods like vegetables to make an omelet, frittata, or quiche
Looking for new egg recipes? Check out this list of a dozen egg recipes from The Healthy Epicurean. Whether you need to wow your family and friends with brunch or jazz up your routine breakfast, they’ve got you covered.
Reduce your salt intake and switch up the flavor profile of your meals with different seasonings. You can’t beat the prices for dried herbs and spices at stores like Aldi and General Dollar. Turn cheap, staple foods into tasty dishes with seasonings.
Some spices confer health benefits with a boost of antioxidants, anti-inflammatory, and blood sugar and cholesterol-lowering activities (14). For recipes that call for fresh herbs, you can always substitute with dried herbs.
1 tablespoon of fresh herbs = 1 teaspoon of dried herbs
Cow’s milk is a quick and easy way to get protein and many essential nutrients. One cup contains 8 grams of protein and nutrients often lacking in the diet, such as potassium, calcium, vitamin D, and vitamin B12 (15). Cow’s milk also contains healthy omega-3 fat (16).
Milk consumption has long been linked to bone health due to its combination of protein, calcium, vitamin D, potassium, and phosphorus. Studies have found that dairy and milk consumption can lower the risk for bone diseases like osteoporosis, especially in older people (16, 17).
Not everyone can tolerate cow’s milk. Thankfully, there is a wide variety of non-dairy alternatives to choose from. General Dollar carries non-dairy milk, too. Keep in mind only a few of these alternatives, like soy milk, contain a similar amount of protein to cow’s milk.
Aside from drinking milk, try these other ways to add milk to your diet:
- With coffee or tea.
- Mix with fruits or greens for a smoothie.
- An alternative to water when making hot cereal.
- Add to soups for a creamy base.
- Cheese sauce
11. GREEK YOGURT
Greek yogurt is another dairy product that offers health benefits. Like milk, Greek yogurt contains protein. But the process to make it thick and creamy yields a higher protein content, at least double that of milk and other yogurts.
Greek yogurt also contains a good amount of calcium, phosphorus, potassium, selenium, vitamin A, and B vitamins (18). Like milk, Greek yogurt supports bone health because of its calcium, phosphorus, and protein content. Research shows that it may support gut health, too (19).
Stretch your dollar with plain Greek yogurt for its versatility. Unlike flavored yogurt, it has no added sugars. Plain Greek yogurt can be eaten sweet or savory where you control the spices and sweetness. See my post on 5 ways to power your meals with plain Greek yogurt.
You could incorporate lentils into a variety of meals the same way you would with beans. But unlike dried beans, lentils don’t need to be soaked before cooking.
For a plant-forward take on meatballs and burger patties, try this easy Vegan Sloppy Joes recipe made with lentils from Lettuce Veg Out. This healthy twist on a comfort classic cooks quickly and conveniently in one pot:
Level up your vegan taco game with this cauliflower, lentils, and cherry vegan taco recipe from Healthy Feels bursting with a unique combination of flavors:
13. WHOLE GRAINS: brown rice & quinoa
Legumes and other proteins would be boring without grains. Despite the fuss over carbs, experts recommend including carbs in the diet and choosing whole grains over refined grains.
Unlike refined grains, whole grains contain the entire grain which includes fiber, B-vitamins, and iron. Numerous studies have linked whole grain consumption to reduced risk for cancer, diabetes, and heart disease (20).
Brown rice has long been a common whole grain staple for many years. Quinoa is a great alternative with a higher content of fiber, protein, and minerals (21). If refined grains are a mainstay for you, try brown rice or quinoa to broaden your palate and reap their health benefits.
Like with other grains, brown rice and quinoa can be incorporated into an array of meals:
- As a side dish
- Add to salads or veggie bowls
- Make a porridge
- Make burger patties
- Add to soups and stews
- Stuff into bell peppers
- Use leftovers for fried rice
Need a flavorful, light, and quick vegan meal dish? Try this Thai peanut tempeh with rice recipe from Melissa Traub made with frozen stir fry vegetables. You could use brown rice or quinoa with this.
Potatoes are incredibly filling and rich in nutrients and antioxidants (22, 23). One medium-size potato has about 4 grams each of fiber and protein, almost 20% of the daily value for vitamin C — the same as a tomato (24), and 13% of the daily value for potassium (25).
Potatoes contain resistant starch, a type of starch that is resistant to digestion and functions similarly to soluble fiber. Resistant starch has a number of positive health effects including improvements in insulin sensitivity, blood sugars, gut health, and lipid profile (26).
To get the most health benefits from potatoes, put away the peeler and eat the skin. Not only is it wasteful and harmful to the environment to throw away perfectly edible parts of food, but most of the nutrients are in the skin (27).
Cooked potatoes can be eaten as a side dish or entree, hot or cold. Here are some ways to prepare potatoes without the deep fryer and potato peeler:
- Seasoned homemade baked potato chips with olive oil
- Oven-roasted or air fried potatoes, French fries, or potato wedges
- Healthy mashed potatoes made with plain yogurt and seasoning
- No mayo potato salad made with either plain yogurt or a vinegar and mustard dressing.
- Potato soup
- Hash browns
- Baked potato dinner night with “choose your own toppings”: vegetables, beans or ground meat, plain yogurt, different seasonings, and shredded cheese
Elevate the humble potato with this Chana Aloo curry recipe from Fad Free Nutrition made with chickpeas and potatoes. These cheap and healthy staple foods are perfect for soaking up all the rich and savory Indian flavors in this dish:
15. SEEDS: chia & flax
Healthy seeds pack a powerful punch with their high level of healthy fat, protein, fiber, other nutrients, and antioxidants (27). My local Aldi carries some of these healthy seeds, including flax and chia seeds.
According to a large number of studies and the American Heart Association, flaxseeds are especially powerful for their cholesterol and blood pressure-lowering effect (28). A few studies have also shown that flaxseed consumption may reduce the risk for breast and prostate cancer (29, 30) as well as diabetes (31).
Chia seed has a similar nutrient profile to flaxseed and offers heart health benefits, too (28). A couple of studies have shown that chia seed consumption may reduce blood sugar after eating a meal (32, 33).
How to add healthy seeds to your diet:
- Add to salads
- Mix with hot or cold cereal
- Mix with yogurt
- Blend with smoothies
- Add to pancake batter
- Mix into baked products like muffins
- Add to recipe for energy bites or bars
- Make a chia pudding or parfait. When added to liquid like milk, chia thickens like pudding.
Let’s finish off this list on a sweet note with this creamy and luscious mango vanilla chia seed parfait from The Healthy Epicurean:
A few final words with questions to ask yourself when making grocery food purchases:
- Do I need to buy all my groceries at one store?
- How many meals or snacks can I get out of this?
- What nutrition benefit will I get out of this?
- Is it worth the price?
- What is something in my diet that I can swap or reduce for something healthier?
Healthy eating does not have to be expensive. Shopping around at inexpensive stores, stocking up on sales, and stretching your dollar with creative ways to eat all these cheap and healthy foods is doable. If you’re looking for more simple ways that require minimal effort to prepare some of these foods, check out this article.
What tips can you share for eating healthy on a budget?