Cheap healthy foods that fit into everyone's budget. Find out what makes them healthy and also tasty ways to use them.
Updated February 2021
One obstacle that people often face when beginning to eat a healthier diet, is the ever growing grocery budget. I know I did! Many years ago when we first started eating an unprocessed diet, I shopped mainly at Whole Foods because many of the ingredients that I was needing to purchase, I could not find in my regular grocery store. PRICEY! My eager beaver self would be so proud as I would fill my shopping cart with such healthy food. When I would reach the check out lane though, I would feel like a deflated balloon as the total on the register would climb higher and higher and higher.
I CAN'T AFFORD TO EAT LIKE THIS! Talk about defeating.
Strategy for healthy eating on a budget
Since my early days of eating well, I have made it my mission to make this lifestyle change a sustainable one and one that I think most families can afford. One piece of advice I give to others trying to eat healthy is on a budget is to heavily relying on inexpensive healthy foods and minimizing or stretching the more pricey items.
The more uncomplicated you can use the simple inexpensive ingredients, the better for the budget. Some of my favorite meals that my grandma makes are big pots of beans and greens with cornbread on the side. She can feed our entire family for super cheap with a meal like that!
Using this technique doesn't have to be implemented all of the time, but when you find yourself needing to squeeze the grocery budget a little tighter, I highly recommend going simple with these cheap healthy foods. Simple and humble meals are where it's at when it comes to winning the food budget game.
These are some of my favorite inexpensive real food ingredients. I've included nutritional benefits, what I believe to be the most frugal and simple way to prepare them, as well as other delicious recipes using these ingredients as the star of the show.
BEST CHEAP HEALTHY FOODS
Nutritional benefits: While cabbage has many nutritional benefits, some of the stand outs include high vitamin C, vitamin K, and high levels of antioxidants and may help fight inflammation.
Most frugal and simple option: Cut up and boil with some salt and meat.
Recipes using cabbage:
- Southern boiled cabbage
- Italian ground beef and cabbage skillet
- Asian inspired cabbage salad
- Unrolled cabbage casserole
- Vegetable beef soup
Nutritional benefits: Beans are high in protein, fiber, and folate. Read more about the healthy benefits of beans.
Most frugal and simple option: Soak beans overnight in warm water. Rinse and cover with water or broth the next day and slowly simmer until beans are tender. Season with salt, pepper.
Recipes using beans:
- 30 recipes using beans
- Crockpot pinto beans
- Crispy black bean tacos
- Black bean and corn salad
- Slow cooker red beans and rice
- Kale and white bean soup
- Chickpea curry
- Hoppin' John
- Burrito bowls (can be made with or without rice)
- Homemade refried beans
Nutritional benefits: Lentils are a good source of B vitamins, magnesium, iron, potassium, fiber, and zinc. They are also a good plant source of protein. See more nutritional benefits of lentils.
Most frugal and simple option: Add 1 cup of lentils to a pot and simmer in 4 cups water or broth until tender (about 20 minutes).
Recipes using lentils:
Nutritional benefits: Oats are higher in protein than most grains. They are also a good source of fiber, manganese, phosphorus, magnesium, copper, iron, and zinc. There is also evidence that oats help lower LDL cholesterol and help populate good bacteria in the gut. Read about more nutritional benefits of oats.
Most frugal and simple option: Basic stovetop oatmeal.This makes a big pot and will fill a lot of bellies. For added nutrition you could add fruit, nuts, seeds, nut or seed butter, egg whites or another protein.
Recipes using oats:
- Simple oat pancakes
- Oatmeal muffins
- Baked apple oatmeal
- Easy homemade granola
- Easy oat flour crackers
- 30 Ways to use oats
Nutritional benefits: Peas are high in fiber and protein and contain a good source of vitamins A, K, and C. Read more benefits of peas.
Most frugal and simple option: buttered peas (frozen peas, steamed or boiled with butter)
Recipes using peas:
Nutritional benefits of carrots: Carrots are a good source of beta carotene, fiber, vitamin K1, potassium, and antioxidants. See more benefits of carrots.
Most frugal and simple option: Steam or boil until tender. Top with butter.
Recipes using carrots:
Nutritional benefits: Rice is a good source of carbohydrates and is an easy to digest grain.
Most frugal and simple option: Simmer 2 cups rice with 4 cups water or broth for about 20 minutes or until tender. Season with salt and pepper and top with butter.
Recipes using rice:
- Chicken and rice casserole
- Dirty rice
- Chicken and wild rice soup
- Chicken fried rice
- Taco rice
- 20 delicious recipes using rice
CANNED SALMON OR TUNA
Nutritional benefits: Canned fish is a good source of omega 3 fatty acids, protein, and selenium. Read more about canned tuna nutrition.
Most frugal and simple option: Drained salmon, seasoned with salt and pepper on crackers or wrapped in lettuce. Mix with mayo, olive oil, or mustard if desired.
Recipes using canned fish:
Nutritional benefits of eggs: Eggs are a good source of choline, protein, amino acids, vitamin D, and many other vitamins and minerals. Read more health benefits.
Most simple and frugal options: Hard boiled, soft boiled, poached, or scrambled in butter. A super quick source of protein that can be served for breakfast lunch or dinner.
Recipes using eggs:
- Breakfast casserole
- Simple egg salad
- Parmesan frittata with fresh rosemary and greens
- Eggs poached in spiced tomato sauce- Shakshouka
- Egg drop soup
- Garden vegetable frittata
- Baked eggs Florentine
Nutritional benefits of potatoes: Potatoes contain many nutrients including potassium, vitamin C, vitamin B6, and fiber. Potatoes also contain resistant starch and contain antioxidants. Read more benefits of potatoes.
Most frugal and simple option: Baked potatoes. Try one of these fun toppings.
Recipes using potatoes:
- Oven fries
- Shepherd's pie
- Potato soup
- Zuppa Toscana
- Mashed potatoes
- Sausage, potatoes, and cabbage bake
Nutritional benefits: Sweet potatoes are rich in vitamin A, magnesium, and fiber. Read about more benefits.
Most frugal and simple option: Baked sweet potatoes
Recipes using sweet potatoes:
Nutritional benefits: Different squashes have different nutritional profiles, but most of them are good sources of vitamin C, vitamin A, potassium and more. Read more nutritional benefits.
Most frugal and simple option: Roast or sauté with butter or olive oil and salt.
Recipes using squashes:
- Roasted delicata squash
- Stuffed acorn squash
- Butternut squash soup
- Spaghetti squash casserole
- Breaded summer squash
Nutritional benefits: Meat and bone broths are high in protein, calcium, and collagen and are easy to digest. Read more about broth.
Most frugal and simple option: Everything in this category is going to be frugal. Leftover bones, vegetable scraps, and using the entire animal head to tail, is not only a frugal way to cook, but deeply nourishing. Use in any soup recipe or cook your grains and beans in the broth. Broth is a great way to stretch food to feed a lot of people.
Recipes for broth:
Nutritional benefits: Apples contain fiber, vitamin C and polyphenols. Read more about apples.
Most frugal and simple option: Apples are great just raw on their own which are perfect for snacking. I love dipping them in a nut or seed butter.
Recipes using apples:
Nutritional benefits: Bananas contain a good source of potassium, vitamin C, B6, and antioxidants. Read more about health benefits of bananas.
Most frugal and simple option: Bananas are the perfect portable frugal fruit. You can't get much cheaper than a banana by itself and they are a snack staple at my house. They are also great with nut or seed butter.
Recipes using bananas:
Nutritional benefits: This one is controversially healthy, but if you aren't sensitive/reactive to wheat, corn, and other whole grains, they can be an excellent source of frugal nourishment like carbohydrates, selenium, manganese, phosphorus, copper, and folate. Read more about wheat.
Most frugal option: All of them are extremely frugal.
Recipes using wheat and corn:
- Soaked whole wheat bread
- Homemade pancakes
- Whole wheat tortillas
- Skillet cornbread
- Homemade corn tortillas
What are your favorite cheap healthy foods? I would love to hear from you in the comments below.