24 Cheap Foods to Eat if You Are on a Budget

By Alexandra Caspero on December 7, 2023

Eating healthy on a tight budget can seem next to impossible. However, you don’t have to break the bank to enjoy nutritious meals. There are plenty of affordable options that provide important nutrients without draining your wallet.

To help make healthy eating achievable for any budget, we asked nutritionists to share their top penny-pinching food picks. From versatile veggies to lean proteins and more, these expert-recommended ingredients make it easy to eat well for less. With a mix of nutrient-dense staples and savvy shopping tips, this list takes the guesswork out of affording quality nutrition.

Legumes

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Legumes such as lentils, beans, and split peas are great sources of protein and fiber. They are also very affordable, making them a fantastic addition to any budget-friendly meal plan.

Ashley Kitchens, MPH, RDN, a plant-based dietitian and owner of Plant Centered Nutrition.

Frozen Fruits & Vegetables

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Fresh produce can get expensive, especially if you’re buying organic or out-of-season. Frozen fruits and vegetables can offer the same nutritional value at a fraction of the cost. You can keep your freezer stocked with frozen fruits and vegetables for an affordable way to get the vitamins and minerals you need every day

Ashley Kitchens, MPH, RDN, a plant-based dietitian and owner of Plant Centered Nutrition.

Bananas

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Bananas are often very cheap, and come with their packaging (the peel)! This nutritious option provides a quick source of energy that’s easy to take on the go! 

Christine Milmine, RDN, Plant-Powered You

Sweet Potatoes

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Sweet potatoes! This classic fall food is easy to microwave or bake in the oven, and it’s packed with nutrition. Sweet potatoes (they’re technically one word!) contain the daily recommendation of vitamin A and 4 g of fiber per medium potato if you eat the skin! Most grocers carry this starchy root veggie at just a dollar per pound or less. 

Caroline Thomason, RD CDCES, is a dietitian and diabetes educator in Washington, D.C. 

Popcorn

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Popcorn, canned beans, eggs, oats, and bananas are all cheap and healthy food options. Popcorn is a low-calorie snack that is high in fiber and costs less than $2 for a bag of kernels.

Wan Na Chun, MPH, RD, CPT of One Pot Wellness, One Pot Wellness

Canned Beans

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Canned beans are a versatile source of protein and fiber that can be used in a variety of dishes, and a can typically costs less than $1.

Wan Na Chun, MPH, RD, CPT of One Pot Wellness, One Pot Wellness

Eggs

white plate with pan-fried scrambled eggs on a white light background with tomatoes. Omelette, side view
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Eggs are a cheap and nutritious source of protein, vitamins, and minerals that can be enjoyed in many ways, and a dozen eggs typically cost less than $5.

Wan Na Chun, MPH, RD, CPT of One Pot Wellness, One Pot Wellness

Oats

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Oats are a nutrient-dense food that is high in fiber and can be used as a breakfast cereal or in baking, and a container of oats typically costs less than $5.

Wan Na Chun, MPH, RD, CPT of One Pot Wellness, One Pot Wellness

Peanut Butter

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Peanut butter is my number one budget-friendly food recommendation because it’s delicious, versatile, and full of plant-based protein, heart-healthy unsaturated fats, and other essential vitamins and minerals. I love peanut butter at breakfast on toast with sliced banana, a sprinkle of chia seeds, and a pinch of cinnamon. 

Caroline Young, MS, RD, LD, RYT, owner of Whole Self Nutrition

Canned Tuna and Canned Salmon

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Canned Tuna and canned salmon are great budget-friendly protein options that also are a good source of omega-3 fatty acids, which are important for heart health and inflammation.  They’re a cost-effective way to add seafood into your diet and have a long shelf life, reducing food waste and grocery trips. These versatile pantry staples can be used in sandwiches, salads, or pasta dishes, making them a smart choice for budget-friendly meal planning.

Samantha Podob MS RD CDN, owner of  Podob Nutrition

Potatoes

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As a registered dietitian, when someone asks for an inexpensive, versatile, and healthy food, Idaho potatoes come to mind.

The price of one baked russet Idaho potato is approximately $1.00! In that one medium potato (5.2 oz) you get 110 calories, 3g protein, 26g total carbohydrates, and 2g dietary fiber. It’s also free of fat, saturated fat, added sugars, and sodium.

Potatoes are an excellent source of vitamin C and a good source of fiber, potassium, and vitamin B6. In addition, Idaho potatoes are certified by the American Heart Association as a heart-healthy food, and you can find the well-recognized heart-check mark on the bags.

Toby Amidor, MS, RD, CDN, FAND award-winning nutrition expert and partner with Idaho Potatoes

Rice and Beans

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Being Latin, I greatly advocate the budget-friendly power duo: rice and beans! With just one pound of each, you’ll have enough to fuel yourself for seven or more meals. Not only is it delicious, but this hearty combo is also incredibly affordable, costing less than $3 for the 7-plus meals. 

Dr. Su-Nui Escobar, DCN, RDN, FAND, Menopause Expert, Doctor in Clinical Nutrition, Registered Dietitian of the Menopause Better Blog

Frozen Fish

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There’s no denying that fish can be a healthy addition to any diet, but fresh fish can get quite expensive. Canned and frozen fish are more affordable, plus they last longer. Which means you’re far less likely to waste food (and your hard-earned money).

Lindsey Janeiro, Registered Dietitian of Nutrition to Fit and Healthy*ish Recipes.

Chicken Thighs

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Chicken thighs are typically less expensive than chicken breasts and come with added health benefits. Just like chicken breasts, chicken thighs are rich in bioavailable protein but also contain a higher amount of nutrients such as iron, zinc, and b vitamins to support a healthy immune system & high energy levels. 

Stefani Stewart RDN, CLT, Functional Registered Dietitian Nutritionist Food Sensitivity Specialist

Large Carrots

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Rich in vitamins and minerals as well as fiber to support gut health. Carrots are an affordable root vegetable you can use for everyday meals either roasted, shredded in salads or wraps, or stir fry’s. I’m always thinking of how I can add more color to my meals and carrots are a weekly staple at our house!

Stefani Stewart RDN, CLT, Functional Registered Dietitian Nutritionist Food Sensitivity Specialist

Canned Green Peas

Canned Green Peas
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Canned green peas are an excellent way to boost your daily dose of fiber, potassium, and vitamin A. They are easy to rinse and add to a pasta dish, a salad, a casserole, or served as a side vegetable.

Katie Schimmelpfenning, RD, Eat Swim Win

Whole Grain Pasta

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Whole grain pasta is packed with nutrition and doesn’t have a high price tag. While the price varies, many whole grain pasta brands sell a 16 oz box of whole grain pasta for under $2. A 2 oz serving of whole grain pasta has 8g of protein and 7g of fiber and contains nutrients like folate, zinc, iron, and b vitamins.

Jamie Nadeau, Registered Dietitian Nutritionist, The Balanced Nutritionist

Cottage Cheese

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Cottage cheese is having a moment, and honestly, it’s for good reason! It’s a budget-friendly source of quality protein to keep you feeling full and it’s typically packed with probiotics for improving gut health. It can be added on top of toast, eaten with fruit, or even added to recipes for a boost of protein. 

Alyssa Pacheco, RD, Registered Dietitian Pcos Nutritionist Alyssa

Canned Tomatoes

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One of the budget-friendly staples that always makes my grocery list is canned tomatoes. Whether they are crushed, diced, or seasoned with Italian herbs or chili spices, there are countless ways to incorporate them into everyday recipes like quick pasta or pizza sauce, chili, minestrone, quesadillas, or even salsa! Compared to fresh tomatoes, the antioxidant lycopene is also more concentrated in canned tomato products, so you get a bigger nutrition bang for your buck. A win-win for your wallet and health!

Beth Stark, RDN, LDN is a registered dietitian nutritionist and owner of Beth Stark Nutrition

Frozen Edamame

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Stock up on budget-friendly frozen edamame, a versatile and high-quality source of plant-based protein. Packed with all nine essential amino acids (the ones we need from the food we eat) and nutrients like folate, potassium, and fiber, it’s a convenient way to support your health.

Chelsea LeBlanc, RDN, LD, dietitian and owner of Chelsea LeBlanc Nutrition 

Embrace leftovers

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Prepare a double portion of a dish today that can be repurposed and served as a ‘new’ meal tomorrow. Meat, meatless protein sources, and vegetables can easily be used as leftover ingredients in casseroles or soups. Freezing extra portions of foods like lasagna to consume later is also a money-saving tactic if you have the storage space.

Emma Laing, PhD, RDN is a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and director of dietetics at the University of Georgia

Reap Rewards

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Check store flyers and mailed or electronically delivered coupons for the latest deals. Sign up for benefits or rewards programs at your grocery store to receive alerts on sales and special access to coupons.

Emma Laing, PhD, RDN is a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and director of dietetics at the University of Georgia

Shop Strategically

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To save money, seek out fresh fruits and vegetables that are in season. Opt to buy whole fruits and vegetables that you can portion yourself instead of choosing pre-cut versions, which tend to be more expensive. However, do not feel pressure to purchase only fresh produce. Fresh fruits and vegetables are packed with nutrients, but canned and frozen varieties are also excellent options that are often less expensive, can be bought in bulk, and may be stored longer.

Emma Laing, PhD, RDN is a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and director of dietetics at the University of Georgia

Visit Farmer’s Markets

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Supporting farmer’s markets can offer financial and environmental advantages for the local farms and businesses, and there might also be a lower cost to the consumer.

Emma Laing, PhD, RDN is a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and director of dietetics at the University of Georgia

The 15 Healthiest Canned Foods To Stock Up On

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Having canned goods stocked in your pantry can help ensure you always have access to quick, healthy meals and snacks. Registered Dietitians love canned foods as they are nutritious, accessible and affordable, especially choices that are lower in sodium and added sugar.

To help stock your pantry, we asked nutrition experts to share their healthiest canned food picks– these are their top 15 must-have canned foods.

Read: The 15 Healthiest Canned Foods To Stock Up On

Nutritionists Can’t Live Without These 17 Healthy Trader Joe’s Buys

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Trader Joe’s has become a go-to grocery store for many health-conscious shoppers looking for great values on nutritious foods. With so many options lining the shelves, what are the best bets for healthy options according to experts?

We consulted Registered Dietitians across the country about their top food finds at Trader Joe’s. From plant-based proteins to snacking staples and everything in between, these dietitians handpicked their must-have items to fill your cart with.

These are Registered Dietitian’s favorite Trader Joe’s products.

Read: Nutritionists Can’t Live Without These 17 Healthy Trader Joe’s Buys

22 Nutritionist-Approved Packaged Snacks You Can Feel Good About Eating

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Having dietitian-approved snacks on hand can make sticking to your health goals much easier when hunger hits. With minimal prep and portion control, these snacks offer an easy way to curb cravings and give your body the fuel it needs.

These are the best store-bought, dietitian-approved snacks.

Read: 22 Nutritionist-Approved Packaged Snacks You Can Feel Good About Eating

The Best ALDI Finds According to Nutrition Experts

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With its low prices and clever finds, Aldi has become a go-to grocery store for many shoppers looking to save money.

We asked registered dietitians to share their favorite Aldi buys. From healthy snack foods to lean protein choices to vitamin-packed produce, these experts revealed their top Aldi picks that deliver great nutrition without costing too much.

Read: The Best ALDI Finds According to Nutrition Experts

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