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27 Healthy Foods That Don’t Cost a Fortune

By , March 20th, 2012 | 3 Comments »

fresh vegetables

Whenever talk turns to eating healthy, one of the common arguments against it is that it’s too expensive. Well, it can be. If you buy nothing but organic foods or “convenience” produce like pre-cut apples or carrots, and bagged salads, you’re going to pay a lot of money. You’ll also pay more for “fat free,” “sugar free” or “gluten free” foods. (Many of which aren’t any better for you than the regular varieties. In some cases, they’re worse.) But you don’t have to pay a fortune to eat healthy. You can change your eating habits and there many very healthy foods are inexpensive, some as cheap as under a dollar.

The main key to eating healthy without overspending is to limit waste. When you start eating fresh foods, it’s tempting to buy too much. If you don’t eat it all before it goes bad, it’s wasted. You need to figure out how much you can and will realistically eat and buy accordingly. It may mean making more trips to the store to replenish your supplies, but that’s better than wasting money.

Another key to eating healthy on a budget is to eat what’s in season. On the East coast, for example, strawberries are in season in the early spring. They’re least expensive then because the transportation costs are so much lower. Apples are in season in the fall. If you want these items out of season you can get them, but you’ll pay a lot more because they’re trucked in from California or South America. If you want to eat healthy and spend less money, you need to learn what’s in season and when, and eat accordingly. If you have to have those items out of season, you’ll do best to opt for canned or frozen alternatives. With those two keys in mind, here’s a list of many healthy foods that won’t break the bank.


They get a bad rap, but they are the cheapest source of protein, as well as being the source of many hard to find vitamins and minerals. Skip the egg substitutes and buy the real things.


Whole wheat costs a bit more than white, but is better for you.

Beans and Lentils

Dried beans are the best value, but canned aren’t budget busters, either.

Brown Rice

It’s a great, healthy compliment to almost every meal.


Opt for the lower sodium varieties, or buy soup mixes and add your own veggies and meat.

Fresh Vegetables

As noted above, anything that’s in season will be your least expensive option.

Fresh Fruits

Again, buy what is in season.

Canned Vegetables

Opt for unseasoned, low sodium varieties when possible.

Canned Fruit

Buy the kind canned in its own juice, not canned in syrup.

Frozen Vegetables

Again, opt for the sauce-free varieties.

Frozen Fruit

Stick with plain fruit and skip anything that is sugared or frozen in syrup.

Produce (generally)

Don’t get anything that is pre-cut or pre-bagged. Slice and wash your own fruits and veggies. You pay extra for all that packaging and preparation.

Canned Fish

Canned tuna, salmon and the like are cheaper than the fresh varieties and can be used in dishes such as salads and casseroles where flavor and freshness aren’t as important.

Canned Meat

I’m not talking about Spam, but rather canned chopped ham, chicken, or turkey. Get the lower sodium varieties and use in soups and casseroles were fresh meat is not as important.

Peanut Butter

Another food that gets a bad rap, but which is a great source of protein. Opt for natural or lower sugar varieties for more nutrition.


Buy the unpopped kernels and air pop it.


They seem expensive, but the nutritional bang for the buck can’t be beat. You don’t need many to fill you up, either, as they are a filling food.


You can do so many things with potatoes and they are inexpensive. Opt for sweet potatoes over white potatoes for even more nutrition.

Oats / Oatmeal

Skip the prepackaged oatmeal and opt for the old-fashioned oats.


The little cups with the cool flavors aren’t as cost effective as the larger tubs of plain yogurt. Add your own fruit for flavor.


Skim milk is better for you than whole. Most stores offer a store brand or value brand.

Wheat Bread

You can almost always find at least one brand on sale or BOGO.

Canned Tomatoes

Great for sauces and soups, as well as toppings on tacos and salads.

Chicken Breasts

Chicken tends to be cheaper than red meat, and breasts tend to be cheaper than other parts. If you need meat, opt for chicken breasts.


Don’t buy the little boxes, buy the big tub and package them yourself for lunches and snacks.


Almost free from your tap and the best thing you can drink, plus it can save you a small fortune if you are addicted to soft drinks and make the switch.


Not the sugared, flavored kind. Opt for green or black teas sold in bulk.

For further savings, shop at farmers’ markets where produce is often cheaper than at supermarkets. You don’t have to eat only organics to eat healthy. It’s great if you can, but for many people their budgets don’t stretch that far. If your choice is eating non-organic produce or some processed food item, the produce is still better for you. The trick to eating healthy on a budget is to eat “real” foods, not stuff that claims to be healthy but is really more processed and chemical laden than the regular version.

(Photo courtesy of merfam)

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  • Monkey Mama says:

    I’ve never understood the “healthy food cost more” arguments, but this is a good list of our diet – I mean this is what we mostly eat. Cheap, cheap and more cheap.

    I’ve decided over the years the #1 frugal thing we do is mostly drink water. I am shocked by how much people spend on other drinks (coffee, milk, juice, soda, tea, on and on and on). Sure, I’ve got some soda, milk and juice in my fridge, but we just drink so little of it – it doesn’t amount to much. *Most meals* we drink with water.

  • Minny says:

    For most of us the old fashioned home cooked meals are healthy and reasonably priced. It is usually the ‘take out’, ready meal for the microwave or meal eaten out that is high in fat and other nasties as well as expensive. No matter what the food looks like the eater has NO idea what’s in there!

    I think the biggest time saver is frozen vegetables. They have no waste and come in a massive variety.

  • amanda says:

    I pay more for the gluten free foods but thats because Im gluten sensitive. Eating whole wheat foods is not an option. I agree with the rest tho. Its the best way to eat. Nothing out of a package.


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