Shopper pushing a cart in grocery store

15 Cheap and Healthy Foods and All the Ways to Eat Them

Published May 5, 2022. Updated Jan 21, 2023.

This list of 15 cheap and healthy foods was created to help you get the most nutritional bang for your buck. Additionally, you’ll learn all the ways you can incorporate these foods into your diet.

With rising grocery prices, reducing spending is top of mind for many shoppers. However, it can be challenging to stay on budget, know which nutritious foods to include, and come up with creative ways to stretch your dollar.

All these foods that made the list can be found at grocery stores and wholesale retail chains. You don’t need to shop at a specialty health food store to buy these foods. What’s more, inexpensive smaller stores like Aldi and ethnic grocery stores carry them, too.

In addition, you can 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.

1. FROZEN VEGETABLES

Frozen vegetables and fruits have the same nutritional content as their fresh counterparts because they’re frozen at peak ripeness. Save fresh produce you won’t be able to consume on time by storing them in the freezer. Remember, wasted food is wasted money! Not to mention, it’s not good for the environment.

You can boost the nutritional profile of the following meals by adding frozen vegetables.

  • 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 milk and 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 together with chickpeas. She also shares tips on how to take frozen vegetables from bland to bam!

A bowl Vegetable Hash with Chickpeas Skillet Dinner by Being Nutritious
Vegetable Hash with Chickpeas Skillet Dinner — Being Nutritious

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. Not to mention, if you’ve got a picky eater, smoothies are a must-try. 

Of course, if you’re new to smoothies, don’t feel like you need to drop hundreds of dollars for one. I use my good old Ninja blender; nothing fancy but it’s been doing the job for over 10 years.

Below are some 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:

Four glasses of different flavored smoothies by Nourished Nutrition
Ginger Berry Smoothie — Nourished Nutrition

3. BEANS

Canned and dried beans are cheap and healthy foods on every dietitian’s list. While you may favor animal proteins, consider that a can of beans can make for a quick protein addition to a meal when you’re in a pinch.

In addition to protein, beans are chock full of fiber, antioxidants, and micronutrients — like iron, magnesium, zinc, and folate. Pretty impressive for cheap food! 

Canned beans are convenient though salty — just rinse them before cooking or eating. However, to cut down on costs even more, get dried beans.

Beans come in a wide variety and can be enjoyed in many flavorful ways, such as in the following dishes.

  • Soups and stews
  • Casseroles
  • Eggs
  • Salads or veggie bowls
  • Grains
  • 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 satiating recipe to power through the day? Check out my spicy breakfast bean burrito recipe made with only 8 ingredients.

A plate of breakfast burritos without eggs next to an avocado and small bowl of salsa.
Breakfast Bean Burritos no Eggs – Dietitian Johna

A creative and fun way to use canned chickpeas! Check out these sweet chickpea cookie dough bites from Healthyish Appetite. Similar in taste and texture to regular cookie dough, but without the bean taste.

A plate of Chickpea Cookie Dough Bites by Healthyish Appetite
Chickpea Cookie Dough Bites — Healthyish Appetite

4. CANNED TOMATOES

Canned tomatoes are also nutritious like their fresh counterparts. But because they’re cooked during the canning process, canned tomatoes have a higher amount of lycopene (an antioxidant) than the fresh version.

Canned tomatoes come in whole peeled, diced, crushed, pureed, and in paste form. Use canned tomatoes to make the following recipes.

  • Pizza and pasta sauces
  • Salsa
  • 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:
A bowl of Three Bean Lentil Chili topped with sour cream, grated cheese, and parsley by Sizzling Nutrition
Three Bean Lentil Chili — Sizzling Nutrition

5. CANNED FISH

Canned fish is a cheap and convenient alternative to fresh fish. Similarly, it’s just as beneficial with heart-healthy omega-3 fat, protein, and vitamin D. Health experts recommend eating fish twice per week.

The following types of fish are high in omega-3 fat.

  • Anchovies
  • Herring
  • Mackerel
  • Salmon
  • Sardines
  • Tuna

Keep fish on hand year-round and stock up on the canned versions so you’ve got an easy protein to add to recipes. Note the following simple ways to include canned fish in 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

Get out of a cold cuts rut and try my 6-ingredient quick canned salmon salad for a healthy protein to add to your wrap, sandwich, or salad.

Canned salmon salad, no mayo, on flat bread with assorted toppings.
Quick Canned Salmon – Dietitian Johna

6. OATS

Oats are a whole grain staple packed with protein, fiber, nutrients, and antioxidants. A multitude of studies shows that oats consumption promotes heart and gut health and reduces the risk of chronic diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, and gut disorders.

Oats or referred to by many as oatmeal, don’t have to be boring. Not only is it a perfect backdrop for experimenting with different toppings, but also a great addition to baked goods.

Give your oatmeal a makeover with the following ingredients.

  • Fruit
  • Nuts
  • Peanut or nut butter
  • Seeds like heart-healthy chia, hemp, or flaxseeds
  • Spices like cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and pumpkin pie spice
  • Dark chocolate
  • Cacao nibs

For a delicious treat using oats, check out my 7-ingredient no-bake bars using oats and topped with chocolate.

Quinoa protein bars stacked up on a plate.
No Bake Quinoa & Oats Bars – Dietitian Johna

7. NUTS AND PEANUTS

Tree nuts and peanuts are not only nutrient-dense, but 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. Peanuts are typically the cheapest. Choose raw nuts that you can eat as is or season and roast at home or roasted nuts without added sugar.

Aside from eating nuts and peanuts as a snack, add them to the following foods for another layer of texture and to boost the nutrient profile.

  • Salad and veggie bowls
  • Cooked vegetable dishes
  • Fruit
  • Cold and hot cereals
  • Yogurt
  • Smoothies
  • 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:

Spinach and Beet Salad with Kidney Beans and Walnuts — Joby's Test Kitchen
Spinach and Beet Salad with Kidney Beans and Walnuts — Joby’s Test Kitchen

8. EGGS

Packed with protein, fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E, and K), B vitamins, folate, and choline, eggs are said to be a “perfect protein” because they contain all 9 essential amino acids.

Additionally, eggs contain selenium and carotenoids in the yolk (lutein and zeaxanthin), antioxidants that promote eye health.

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.

Eggs have gotten a bad rap in the past because of their cholesterol content. However, cholesterol is vital for the body as it helps build cells and make hormones and vitamins.

It is now well established that egg consumption in moderation is fine and not associated with an increased risk of heart disease in healthy individuals.

There aren’t many cheap and healthy foods that you can eat any time of the day, but eggs are an exception. Enjoy eggs cooked in these ways noted below.

  • Boiled
  • Baked or shirred
  • Sunnyside up
  • Over easy, medium, or hard
  • Scrambled
  • Poached
  • With toast, grains, and potatoes
  • Mixed with other foods like vegetables to make an omelet, frittata, or quiche

Check out my easy 6 ingredient spinach egg wrap. The wrap gets a boost of protein from cottage cheese, which may help you ration your egg intake in light of the prices. Additionally, don’t forget to swing by stores like Aldi, Walmart, and General Dollar for eggs.

Spinach egg wrap slice in half on a plate next to a couple tomatoes.
A Dozen Healthy Egg Recipes — The Healthy Epicurean

9. SEASONINGS

Reduce your salt intake and switch up the flavor profile of your meals with different seasonings. Moreover, you can’t beat the prices for dried herbs and spices at stores like Aldi and General Dollar.

Interestingly, some spices confer health benefits with a boost of antioxidants as well as anti-inflammatory, and blood sugar and cholesterol-lowering activities.

For recipes that call for fresh herbs, you can substitute them with dried herbs.

1 tablespoon of fresh herbs = 1 teaspoon of dried herbs

10. MILK

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 as well as omega-3 fat.

Milk consumption has long been linked to bone health due to its combination of protein, calcium, vitamin D, potassium, and phosphorus.

Not everyone can tolerate cow’s milk, however. Thankfully, we have a wide selection of non-dairy alternatives to choose from. General Dollar carries non-dairy milk, too.

Having said that, make note that only some of these alternatives, like soy milk, have a protein and nutrient content similar amount of protein to cow’s milk.

Aside from drinking milk, try adding milk to your diet in the following ways.

  • 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. Like milk, Greek yogurt supports bone health because of its calcium, phosphorus, and protein content.

Stretch your dollar with plain Greek yogurt for its versatility. Unlike flavored yogurt, it has no added sugars and makes for a blank canvas.

Make plain Greek yogurt sweet or savory where you control the flavors. Try incorporating it into the following foods.

  • Cereal or oatmeal
  • Smoothies
  • Topping for baked potatos
  • A dip or sauce seasoned with herbs and spices
  • A no-cook breakfast or snack with fruit, nuts, seeds, and other toppings
  • A replacement for mayo in salad recipes like my 5-ingredient coleslaw
Bowl of no mayo avocado coleslaw made with Greek yogurt next to a fork, parsley sprig, and lemon.
5-Ingredient Avocado Coleslaw Using Greek Yogurt – Dietitian Johna

12. LENTILS

Similarly to beans, lentils are nutritious, filling, and may be added to various meals. 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.

Combination of cheap and healthy foods using lentils and canned tomatoes: Vegan Sloppy Joes (with Lentil "meat") — Lettuce Veg Out
Vegan Sloppy Joes (with Lentil “meat”) — Lettuce Veg Out

13. WHOLE GRAINS

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.

If refined grains are a mainstay for you, try brown rice or quinoa to broaden your palate and reap their health benefits. You can find these staples at many grocery stores.

Like with other grains, brown rice and quinoa can be mixed into an array of meals like the ones listed here.

  • 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, customizable, and meal-prep-friendly salad? Try my high protein quinoa salad made with 7 ingredients and a 2-ingredient dressing.

Plate of protein quinoa salad next to a serving bowl of quinoa salad and a wooden serving utensil.
High Protein Quinoa Salad – Dietitian Johna

14. POTATOES

Potatoes are incredibly filling and rich in nutrients and antioxidants. While they’re known for their fiber and potassium content, one medium-size potato has almost 20% of the daily value for vitamin C — the same as a tomato.

However, to get the most health benefits from potatoes, put away the peeler and eat the skin. Not only is it wasteful and time consuming, but most of the nutrients are in the skin. 

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 and turn it into a bowl of creamy comfort like my easy 4-ingredient potato soup with topping variations.

Three serving bowls of 4 ingredient potato soup with assorted toppings.
​​​4 Ingredient Potato Soup – Dietitian Johna

15. SEEDS: chia & flax

Healthy seeds pack a powerful punch with their healthy fat, protein, fiber, micronutrients, and antioxidants. My local Aldi carries some of these healthy seeds, including flax and chia seeds.

Chia and flaxseeds have been shown to improve digestion, stabilize blood sugars, and reduce risk of heart disease. Add them to your diet in the following ways.

  • 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.

Balance out your smoothie with a dose of healthy fat from chia or flaxseeds. Check out my banana chia smoothie that checks off all the boxes with protein, fiber, and healthy fat.

Three servings of chia banana smoothie in glasses on a wooden board with slices of bananas and a small bowl of chia seeds.
Banana Chia Smoothie – Dietitian Johna

FINAL WORDS

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?

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5 thoughts on “15 Cheap and Healthy Foods and All the Ways to Eat Them”

  1. Very informative. I’ve been buying frozen veggies instead of frozen. This way, I have them handy whenever I need some. I have also been buying canned tomatoes, freezing grapes (they actually are better than fresh), and been cooking potatoes with skins.

    One of my favorite store is 99 Cents store. I’ve been buying fruits, vegetables, and sometimes canned goods from there.

  2. Mario Jimenez

    Fresh fruits tend to turn or overripe fast in hot and humid conditions. Thanks for reminding me to use the freezer!

    1. Hi. I’m sorry I don’t do cooking demos. However if you e-mail me your contact info, I could inquired within the dietitian community to see if someone can do this for you.

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