Skip to content

Cheap, Healthy Food for under a Buck


As newlyweds, my husband and I often spent the last few days of the month eating PBJ or made up meals like “Canned kidney beans topped on a baked potato with a side of whatever steamed frozen vegetables are in the freezer” just so we wouldn’t go over our grocery budget. I was a mentor/RA all four years of college so I could live and eat for free. It paid off (literally) since I only came out with $30,000 of student loans instead of $55,000+ but with that financial win came a loss for not knowing what good deals were at the grocery store. We’d eat like kings at the beginning of the month and like broke college kids by that fourth week. The best tip I learned from a fellow dietitian was to buy plain and add my own flavorings. With that said, here are a few of the cheapest healthy foods per serving that help keep our budget slim and delicious.


Two packets of instant oatmeal (makes 1 cup cooked) costs $0.80 total. One ½ cup scoop of plain oats (makes 1 cup cooked) from the 42-ounce canister costs $0.09 total. Two instant packets cost about 9 times more than the equivalent amount of plain oats! For a few cents more, you can top your plain oats with fresh, frozen, or dried fruit, nuts, spices, or stir in a couple dark chocolate chips (as a dietitian, I approve this topping).


There are endless options when it comes to beans so you don’t have to worry about getting sick of them. Half a cup provides the same amount of protein as an ounce of meat or an egg. Purchasing dried is the cheapest way to go- a bag of dried black beans can be found as cheap as $1.50 per pound. Cooking dried beans is a time commitment but I make a big batch and freeze portions so I can just nuke them in the microwave for a future meal. Canned beans are about $1 per 16 ounce can. You can even find deals on the cans that say “no salt added” if you keep your eye out. Remember that beans swell when cooked, so you’re really getting more than you think from a pound of dried beans. For most beans: 1 pound dried beans = 2 cups dried = 4 – 5 cups cooked beans ($0.04 per gram of protein)


One egg has as much protein as an ounce of meat and costs less than $0.20 per egg ($0.02 per gram of protein). While Bubba from Forest Gump can rattle off a million shrimp dishes, you can do the same with eggs. Scrambled, sunny side up, birds nest (cut a hole in bread and cook the egg in it), French toast, quiche, omelet, hardboiled, egg salad, your own version of the McMuffin…


Once a week the hubs and I do breakfast for dinner. A couple eggs ($0.40), homemade hash browns using a cheese grater ($0.50), some homemade salsa for the eggs (pennies), and ketchup for the hashies (a few more pennies) allows us to scrape by only spending $2 to feed two mouths. It does add a few more cents when we cook veggies in with the eggs, but not much. Potatoes get a bad reputation these days, but they are a good source of potassium and fiber as long as they aren’t in the form of fries or chips.


One 3-ounce can of Starkist Light chunk tuna costs $0.82 at my local grocery store. Even though the price per pound comes out to $4.37, you get 18 grams of tuna packed into $0.82, which means only $0.05 per gram of protein. That’s comparable to eggs and beans.

If you want to learn about more foods that give you the healthiest bang for your buck, check out the extensive list the Environmental Working Group put together.

What other foods have you found that offer the best nutrition for the cost?

Budget Money Save Money


My name is Derek, and I have my Bachelors Degree in Finance from Grand Valley State University. After graduation, I was not able to find a job that fully utilized my degree, but I still had a passion for Finance! So, I decided to focus my passion in the stock market. I studied Cash Flows, Balance Sheets, and Income Statements, put some money into the market and saw a good return on my investment. As satisfying as this was, I still felt that something was missing. I have a passion for Finance, but I also have a passion for people. If you have a willingness to learn, I will continue to teach.


  1. Brown Rice, Fresh Carrots, whole wheat flour and Bananss on Sale would be a good nutritional bargain , always flour so you can make muffins, pancakes or even bread or biscuits with! Bananas are only a bargain when you can get them cheap though, we dont buy them when they are 50 some cents a pound!

    Nice article, many think eating healty is expensive but it really does not have to be, AND it does not mean beans and rice every night!

    • Great bargain ideas. I buy brown rice and cook big batches so I can freeze my own “1-minute” rice portions. You’re right about bananas- the store down the street has them for $0.33/pound on Mondays!

  2. We buy a big bag of brown rice from Costco and this is great for working as a cheap and somewhat healthy starter for many meals.

    • My parents just got a membership to Costo; I might have to tag along with them for the big bag 🙂 They know I like using quinoa sometimes so they got me a 4lb bag for $7! It’s usually $6 for ONE pound at any other store!

  3. I really need to start eating healthier. Sounds like I can do it pretty cheap too! Not that I would just buy cheap food but if some of it helps the budget I can’t complain.

    • Eating healthy can be made much easier with just a little planning ahead. I have control over portions and what foods I pack in my lunch. Even making a grocery list before going to the store can make a huge difference!

  4. Salmon canned with the bones is pretty reasonable. You can usually mash up the bones with your fork, they are pretty soft. You get the minerals for your bones from eating them. You can make salmon croquettes with it if you have some crackers and an egg.

    • Ah i cringed when I read canned salmon! I love fresh grilled/broiled salmon but I think I just used canned salmon in a bad recipe. It was supposed to be like a cold tuna fish sandwich but with the salmon. Maybe if I made salmon burgers it would be better. The bones offer a GREAT source of calcium but I don’t like thinking about eating bones!

      • I get the canned Mackerel for about half the price of Salmon…….for patties

        I add bread crumbs, miracle whip or mayonnise, red pepper flakes, minced garlic and onions, mix well and fry in a little butter…….really tasty!

  5. Ditto on the salmon — it’s really tasty when made into salmon patties. Plus you can’t beat the Omega 3s!

    • I’ll have to find a good recipe for the parties so I can get rid of my aversion to canned haha if you have one then send it my way!

  6. Oh I almost forgot my favorite! We buy a 25 pound bag of organic Whole Wheat for around $14 at Walmarts. We place a cup or two at a time in a blender and crack it. Cover with water and bring to boil. Take of burner and leave covered overnight to soak. In morning just add more water to the hot cereal consistancy that you like and cook gently bubbling while stirring about 10 more minutes. This is delicous, healthy and cheap! You can add raw honey, or cinnamon, banana slices or other fruit or even some yogurt if if you like or maple syrup. It really is good similar to Hot Ralston wheat cereal but more wholesome and very cheap!

    • Sounds good, I haven’t tried cracked wheat but I do love the texture of steel cut oats. I let them soak overnight so all I have to do is zap them in the microwavef for 2 minutes and add my fruit/nuts/cinnamon. Does 25 pounds take awhile to go through!? I feel like my husband and I would take months to go through it!

      • Actually it does Jessica, it takes 3 people here plus our dog ( so 4 people LOL) about 6 months the younger 2 don’t like hot cereal too much. But you can keep it in the freezer for freshness too. And there are other ways you can use it, just the hot cereal is the only one I have taken the time to do LOL.

        • I’d love to try it, I’ll just have to start with a small bag…or have a couple kids and a dog haha either one

  7. I make brown rice with frozen peas and broccoli when I’m low on groceries. It doesn’t go bad quickly so it’s a nice back up to have (although most people hate it – luckily I have very plain taste).

    • I like food with flavor but I don’t mind bland. I’ve probably made the very same dish before. My husband lived on plain chicken, rice, and beans so when I added pepper to the chicken he thought I was a chef!

  8. That’s so funny! I felt the same way I actually put a marinade on chicken :).

  9. Great ideas! I’m loving the comments too.

    I’m a giant fan of eggs. Lately I’ve been blending up eggs and veggies instead of chopping them as I find it saves me a lot of time in the kitchen if I do a big batch!

    • We have eggs at LEAST once a week. It’s safe to have 1 a day without increasing the risk of heart disease, so when we make eggs we just do a 1:2 or 1:3 (whole egg:egg white) ratio. We put some scrambled eggs on a grilled cheese this week- delish!

  10. Oh my! you made me hungry too soon. I crave for rice, eggs and dried squid.

  11. Oates are No No for me. I don’t know i’m sick of it. but i always have eggs and bacon on my table every morning and beans too.

    • I love oatmeal but my mom hates it because of the texture. Eggs are ok of you have one a day and watch other sources of cholesterol but I’d be careful having eggs AND bacon every day. The saturated fat can cause cholesterol to build up

  12. Eating healthy foods doesn’t have to break the bank. You just need to enter the grocery store armed with a savvy shopping list. And while planning your meals and making lists can help save you some money, a smart way to shop is to purchase inexpensive foods that are packed with nutrition. I get all my food in a big grocery store near my place. It hasn’t the cheapest price for all foods, but it saves me time & fuel.

Comments are closed for this article!

Related posts