Cheap, Healthy Food for under a Buck

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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.

Oats

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).

Beans

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)

Eggs

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…

Potatoes

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.

Tuna

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?

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Derek

AUTHOR Derek

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.

25 Comments

  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!
    Poor to Rich a Day at a Time recently posted..Canning Without A Canner

    • 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!
      Jessica @ Budget for Health recently posted..Saving for our first home

    • 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!
      Jessica @ Budget for Health recently posted..Saving for our first home

    • 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!
      Jessica @ Budget for Health recently posted..Saving for our first home

  2. 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!
      Jessica @ Budget for Health recently posted..Saving for our first home

      • 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!
        Poor To Rich A Day at a Time recently posted..September Groceries #1 = $100

    • 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!

  3. 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!
    Poor To Rich A Day at a Time recently posted..Suck it up Baby! Time to Man Up!

    • 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!
      Jessica @ Budget for Health recently posted..Saving for our first home

      • 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.
        Poor To Rich A Day at a Time recently posted..September Groceries #1 = $100

  4. 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).
    Shannon-ReadyForZero recently posted..Better Know A Blogger Roundup

    • 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!

    • 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
      Jessica @ Budget for Health recently posted..Nutrition Claims: Learning the Language of the Label

  5. 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.
    concussion symptoms recently posted..Tackling Concussions


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