12 Foods to Buy to Eat Healthy on a Budget
As a full-time college student for about eight years, I had to learn how to eat healthy on a tight budget – especially when living in New York City where prices seemed to be exponentially higher for everything!
Below I’ve listed the cheapest and healthiest foods that you can find in the market to help you to put together simple, healthy, and cheap meals.
1. Nut butter
Nut butter is extremely cost effective and also very delicious and versatile! You can eat it alone as a snack, or add it to fruit or toast, it goes good with basically everything and adds a good dose of healthy fats and vitamins as well.
The cheapest nut butters tends to be peanut butter and almond butter. You should be able to find a nut butter under $10 and you definitely don’t need to buy the fanciest jar of nut butter to be healthy! Just check the ingredients and ideally the only ingredient listed will be nuts and maybe some type of oil – steer clear if sugar is listed as an ingredient.
I lived on peanut butter and almond butter in college. I would make nut butter toast, nut butter pita, nut butter banana, or just eat it alone as a healthy snack.
Cost: around $0.50 per serving
2. Frozen vegetables
Frozen vegetables are an awesome budget friendly food because not only are they much cheaper than fresh produce, but they may be higher in nutrients! This is because frozen vegetables were flash frozen at their prime, while fresh produce was likely picked early and may have been sitting around for a while past their prime.
Almost every single night for dinner I would steam, roast, or stir fry a bag of frozen vegetables and it was super low cost, healthy, and tasted great! I would usually add spices and maybe some hummus and small amount of sauce (see more below on this).
Cost: about $1.25 to $2.50 per bag
3. Frozen berries
Rather than buying an expensive or unhealthy dessert, go for frozen berries. They are also great for adding natural and healthy sweetness to different meals.
I would add a few frozen berries to my oatmeal to add some sweetness and to cool it down.
Cost: about $0.50 per serving
Rolled oats are a great grain to have on hand because they’re cheap and a natural food with no sugar or other preservatives. Always go for anything other than quick oats or instant oats because these quick cooking oats have been heavily processed, meaning you will not get the same health benefits compared to longer cooking oats. Plus instant oats ten to have sugar and artificial flavorings added and are more expensive.
I made oatmeal most mornings while in college because it was super easy to make and it was cheap. I would make overnight oatmeal to have ready in the morning before “overnight oatmeal” was even a thing. The great thing about oatmeal is that it is like a blank canvas that you can add things to to make it taste great.
Cost: less than $0.25 per serving
Hummus or any other similar type of dip is a great way to add flavor to savory meals. Hummus is a good source of healthy carbs and also healthy fat, making it a much healthier choice than highly processed salad dressings.
I used a serving of hummus in my veggies for dinner and it really added great flavor to my meal. I would make sure to measure out a serving of hummus because it can be easy to use too much and then go through the entire container in two sittings!
Cost: about $0.50 to $1.00 per serving
Nuts are a great snack because they keep you full and are inexpensive. Nuts are packed with vitamins and nutrients and are a good source of healthy fat.
I always carried a bag of almonds with me in case I got hungry throughout the day. I bought them in bulk and then I would measure out servings and put them into baggies.
Cost: about $0.50 per serving
Quinoa is one of the healthiest grains you can eat because it is considered a complete protein and is naturally gluten-free. If you love grains, go for quinoa.
I had a massive bags of quinoa that my mom got me from Costco that literally had a countless amount of servings. I often added quinoa to vegetables either for lunch or dinner.
Cost: about $ 0.25 per serving
Eggs are one of the very best foods you can buy because not only are they super cheap, but they are also packed with essential nutrients, fat, and protein. There are so many great ways to prepare eggs – hard boil, scramble, poach, fry, etc – making them one of the most versatile foods if not the most versatile.
I actually didn’t utilize eggs to their full potential in college, but I would eat one or two every day by stirring them into my oatmeal! It made the oatmeal super fluffy and also added a good amount of protein. If I could go back I would have hard boiled eggs and used them as an easy snack.
Cost: about $0.30 for one organic egg
Instead of costly condiments that add up in price, go for budget friendly spices which add a ton of flavor with zero calories and zero sugar. Experiment with different spices and discover for yourself which spices you like because they add great value to meals.
I always had a big container of cinnamon on hand for oatmeal and for adding to my banana sandwiches, as well as paprika and turmeric for my savory meals.
Cost: Less than $0.25 per serving
10. Raw protein
Meat and fish will probably be the biggest expense when it comes to groceries, but getting enough protein is definitely important and animal products are the very best source of protein. The cheapest way to get high quality protein is buying it non-cooked. This means a little more prep work on your part, but it will definitely cut costs.
I actually didn’t eat much meat or fish in college because I didn’t want to prepare it myself, and so I was basically a vegan without trying to be – with the exception of eggs. But now I almost always will buy fish, turkey, and chicken unprepared and cook it on the stove and it tastes great! I also like how when you cook at home you have control over what ingredients are added to it as well.
Cost: varies greatly, but for organic meat and wild fish the average cost per serving is around $4.00
I found bananas to be one of the cheapest and healthiest fruits you could buy. This is in part because unlike most fruits, you don’t have to buy bananas organic because they have the outer peel that tends to keep the banana itself free from pesticides and other chemicals. Bananas are packed with vitamins and nutrients making them a super healthy and affordable food as a snack on its own or to add to meals.
I ate at least one or two bananas per day in college and I would mix it in with my oatmeal or make a banana nut butter sandwich. I loved how in Manhattan there were fruit vendors everywhere and I could buy four or five bananas for a dollar.
Cost: $0.20 to $0.35
A strong sauce that you don’t need to use much of, such as teriyaki sauce or soy sauce, is super cost effective and adds a tone of flavor to your meals! Plus these strong sauces don’t have many calories or sugar making them a MUCH healthier alternative compared to conventional salad dressing.
I always added a little bit of teriyaki sauce or soy sauce to my vegetables to add flavor! That plus spices and hummus made for the perfect dinner.
Cost: around $0.10 per serving
With a little planning you can definitely find cheap and healthy foods. Use the above as a guide the next time you take a trip to the market.
About the author: Sarah-Kate Rems is an Ivy League trained Board-Certified Family Nurse Practitioner licensed in California with an expertise in women’s health and preventative healthcare. She considers nutrition and exercise to be the basis of well-being and is a strong advocate for daily physical activity and maintaining a healthy diet. Sarah-Kate is also a co-founder of The Mindful Tech Lab.
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