30 Budget-Friendly and Health-Friendly Food Items to Add to your Grocery List
Are you trying to lose weight or just live a more generally healthy lifestyle? Are you also pinching pennies together? Maybe you’re like me, a young adult out there in the world trying to make it. Maybe you’re in a different situation entirely. It doesn’t matter, because if you’re simply trying to eat healthier without blowing a boatload of money, then I’ve got the list for you.
When it comes to losing weight or eating healthier, we need to employ certain terms and enforce certain habits, to help us get into and stay in the right state of mind. We also need to buy certain foods, because we are more likely to reach for those foods we have in stock, right? This is the most crucial aspect of a healthy lifestyle: a more healthy, fresh, and balanced kitchen. Unfortunately, this is also the part where a lot of us suffer. What to buy? What to eat? Where to even start?
A balanced and nutritious breakfast is the cornerstone of a healthy diet and lifestyle, I truly believe it!
I started my “independent adult life” pretty young, at 18. Being broke right off the bat, I quickly realized that I’d have to learn how to stretch my grocery money as far as it would go. This also led me to eating healthier. It feels like crap to subsist off of chips, granola bars, and microwave meals, but that’s what I did for the longest time. Actually, it was on this craptastic diet that I got to my thinnest (only 115 lbs at 5’4″). I was also working out ridiculously often for ridiculous amounts of time, but I was unemployed, broke, and bored so there wasn’t much else to do! There are worse ways to lose weight and get in shape, but I didn’t know any better back then! I felt okay after cutting out the crap food (most food, actually), so I didn’t think much of it. I definitely know better now.
So where is that balance between healthy food and cheap food? I’m not a trainer or nutritionist, but I am a real life young woman on a constant journey for life-long health and healthy choices in all areas of life, and I’ve gone through the “broke grocery shopping” routine many times.
One thing I will say about myself is that I grocery shop well and, therefore, I eat well. Ask anyone who actually knows me in real life, they’ll tell you! People always ask me, “How do you eat so well?” “How do you afford that?” Sometimes I wonder myself, but I do know that it takes a few years of slow but forward change to make any permanent, positive impact on your diet and lifestyle. Cooking at home has helped monumentally, but I’m still addicted to fast food. This year I’ve been trying to cut that down and it has been going pretty well actually!
Despite my fast food cravings, I still make it to the grocery store with my boyfriend about 2-5 times per month. We usually buy the same things, with a few differences to try things here or there. I will say that some of the stuff is more expensive, but honestly, with a little practice, absolutely anyone can grocery shop and eat healthy on a budget!
For the purpose of this list, I’m going to assume that we are shopping and planning for one (although I have found that a lot of this food and the quantities can work for two, but for the best results, consider this a list for one). It’s also going to assume that you have salt, pepper, onion powder, garlic powder, Italian seasoning, and/or whatever other seasonings that you like and want. The only add-ons for seasonings and oils to cook with listed below are olive oil and coconut oil, as those are two of the healthiest (and my personal favorite) oils to cook with and top foods with! So I highly recommend investing in a bulk package of these two things whenever you can! They last awhile and can transform dishes, and make healthy cooking and eating easier.
Old Fashioned Oats ($1.99)
One of the healthiest grains out there, oats are composed of filling carbs, fiber, protein, and fat, meaning you’ll stay full off of eating this stuff for a long time. You can usually get a pretty decent sized container (30-50 oz) of plain old-fashioned oats for a small price, and since you only need a cup of it tops for most meals, it’ll last awhile. You can also go for instant oatmeal for convenience purposes, but a pack of 12 is around the same price, so you definitely get better value with a tub of old fashioned oats. You can try steel-cut, but it’s more expensive and not necessarily healthier. I recommend sticking to old fashioned oats, but it’s your call 🙂
You can cook your oats in skim milk, plant milk, or even just water. You can add maple syrup (or the more expensive, but also less sweet and more healthy option – agave nectar) or another sweetener to your taste. The topping possibilities are endless, from berries and fruit to nuts and chocolate chips, to even bacon and cheese (if you want a savory option for your plain oats). Bottom line is, you can eat oats, oatmeal, or porridge for any meal, any day, and never get bored. You can also use the raw oats themselves as a topping for smoothies and smoothie bowls, or as a base for healthy baking (see my cheap, healthy, delicious 3-ingredient Chocolate Chip Banana Oat Cookies here). My favorite toppings for oatmeal include:
- apples and cinnamon
- strawberries and chocolate chips (chocolate covered strawberry oatmeal is just as good as it sounds)
- peaches (try diced fresh or canned peaches and walnuts!)
- Peanut butter (melt it and pour it over or mix it in!)
- Nuts (walnuts, almonds, cashews, peanuts, really any kind works)
- Chocolate chips, peanut butter chips, butterscotch chips (sweet and crunchy)
- Protein powder (vanilla, cacao, whatever kind you want!)
- bacon and cheese (for when you want a savory breakfast, lunch, or dinner)
Vanilla Almond Milk ($2.39 for half-gallon)
Almond milk is my favorite plant milk, and unsweetened vanilla is my favorite flavor. I’m glad I’ve finally been able to switch over to mostly plant milk (I use skim dairy milk for mostly cooking, and I use coconut milk in vegan recipes and such). The difference in taste may take some getting used to for some people (like it did for me) but in the end it’s worth it to get a little more plant-based in your life.
You can usually find a smaller size of organic vanilla almond milk for about $1.99, but splurging those extra few cents and up-sizing to the half-gallon is totally worth it. It’ll last longer, in fact, you’ll probably always have more than you need (for one person, although my boyfriend and I usually both drink off of a half gallon and it lasts a week or so).
You can use almond milk for so many things! Mix in to your smoothies, make a protein shake, cook your oats with it, have some cereal or granola, use it in your coffee or tea, cook mac n cheese or instant pasta dishes with it! I’d recommend using plain versus vanilla but as long as its unsweetened you really won’t taste the vanilla, trust me.
Orange Juice ($2.39 for half-gallon)
The best part of waking up in the morning for some is indulging in that tall, fresh, cool glass of sparkling o.j. Don’t give it up just because you’re on a budget! I usually find orange juice for much cheaper than this price, but that’s the most expensive I’ve seen the half-gallons get (and this is the local brand). A half-gallon should be more than enough for one person. This is great to add to your grocery list because you can have a glass with breakfast, use it in smoothies and smoothie bowls, or make nice cream or homemade sorbet with it… So dessert is covered, just add frozen berries in a blender and voila..
Coffee ($7 for huge tub of coffee)
Trust me on this, you’re going to want to invest in the biggest tub of grounds that you can, especially if you drink coffee at least once a day. If you’re on a particularly tight budget, your daily trip to the local cafe (or Starbucks) will probably have to be whittled down, if not completely ceased. Don’t get me wrong, I totally think it’s okay to throw caution to the wind and indulge every once in a while, but your wallet (and your health, honestly) will be better off if you start making at least 90% of your coffee at home, trust me.
Whatever you choose to put in it (maybe some of that vanilla almond milk from earlier, or just your basic cream and sugar, anything is fine) is totally up to you, but trust me, if you’re a coffee drinker, you do not want to experience your first few days without having any, be it because of a diet, a budget, or what have you.
When I got my own apartment, I didn’t have a coffee machine for the longest. I finally decided that I could indeed afford a $9.99 basic coffee maker and the $1 tub of coffee… it was putrid, vile, wretched stuff, but better than nothing. Now, I’ll never skimp on my coffee, just like I don’t skimp out on any of my other grocery basics.
Remember, the kitchen is where all good diets start and end, that is well-known, but what you may not realize is that the kitchen is also the center of most good budgets and happy mindsets…Okay, that may not be entirely true for everyone, but I think that a huge part of taking care of yourself is nourishing your body, giving it the foods it needs and wants, and allowing yourself simple pleasures, like daily homemade coffee, exactly how you like it.
Green tea ($4 for box of 100 tea bags)
You can usually get just basic green tea bags pretty cheap. The benefits of green tea are nothing to scoff at, and it has actually been shown that having a cup of green tea with meals can aid in weight loss. Whether you’re using it to be healthier, help with detox, or just because you like drinking green tea, this is a great addition to any budget foodie’s grocery list. I don’t drink it often (I don’t actually like it all that much), but when I do, I need it with lemon and the tiniest bit of sugar.
Pasta ($1.19 per box)
Carbs? Yes. Filling? Also yes. Every person on a healthy eating kick and budget should pick up at least a few boxes of pasta. Or just one… by yourself, that pasta will last forever! Be it penne, spaghetti, lasagna, rotini, angel hair, bow tie, macaroni, or what have you, pasta can be the base for an excellent meal.
Cold pasta salad is refreshing for lunch or in the summer, and who doesn’t love sitting down with a hot, heavy bowl of pasta for dinner? I mean, it’s comfort food! We all need comfort food, dieting or no.
You can work wonders with pasta on the cheap if you have tomato sauce, avocado, tomatoes, olive oil, cheese, seasonings… Even chicken, beef, or bacon. Honestly there’s so much you can do with pasta that’s all creative as well as delicious, you will never get bored or go hungry.
Whole Grain Bread ($1.59-$3 for one loaf)
Bread is actually pretty expensive where I live, and just the basic loaf of whole wheat will run you a buck and a half. If you wanna splurge closer to $3 on that fancy stuff with seeds and only like 6 pieces, be my guest.
I buy those on occasion, but truth be told, I don’t eat a lot of bread. My bread usage is usually kept to the bare minimum, think buttered toast with breakfast or a plain buttered slice with dinner. It’s not for any reason other than trying to slightly reduce my carbs and the fact that I just don’t really eat a lot of bread.
You can use it in similar ways, or to make any sandwich your heart desires. Try open-faced sandwiches for lunch for a low carb option, or you can deck out a piece of toast with peanut butter and banana, or avocado and a sliced hard-boiled egg, for a filling breakfast or snack.
Bananas ($1.50 for 2 bunches of about 6 large bananas)
I could go on and on about bananas. Delicious as well as one of the cheapest fruits, they last a really long time, they are filling, and they have tons of carbs and calories, meaning that you don’t have to starve just because you’re on a budget/healthy diet. Bananas by themselves (or dipped in nut butter or melted chocolate) make a great snack (pre- or post-workout, too!). You can mix bananas into oats, top toast with them, add them to fruit salad, or use them as a base for smoothies, smoothie bowls, protein shakes or nice cream. If I could only afford one fresh produce, it’d be bananas.
Apples ($2.50 for 3lb bag of Pink Lady apples)
Apples are another filling, cheap, delicious fruit. I can usually eat two apples at a time, they are just so good! You usually get 7-10 medium-sized apples in any given 3lb bag, which, for $2.50, isn’t a bad deal at all! That’s enough apples for one person for at least a week! Obviously apples make good snacks or sides for meals. Don’t forget the option to use them with your oats and toast! If you slice the apples and spread them with nut butter, then top with your own favorite toppings (try raisins, perhaps?), you can make cute little apple sandwiches for breakfast or lunch 🙂
Oranges ($3 for 3lb bag)
Again with the cheap fruit. Oranges are the third cheap fruit on my list, rounding out that perfect trifecta. No grocery trip is complete without bananas, apples, and oranges! Oranges are great for snacks or sides, or added to smoothies or nice cream. If you want a healthy absent-minded snack for your next Netflix binge, try dipping orange slices into Greek yogurt, it’s really good.
I like cucumbers because they are one of the best vegetables to have for a snack. All you have to do is quickly slice up a cucumber, and you usually have enough slices for a few days worth of snacks! Dip them in ranch for next-level snacking, add them to sandwiches or salads, or just have them plain. Plus you can use the slices on your eyes and face. Health + Beauty = Win.
Bags of vegetables ($3.58 for 2)
I like these preservative-free bags of vegetables for their convenience. All you have to do is use a fork to poke a few holes in the bag, microwave for a few minutes, let cool, and bam! Before you know it, you have a heaping bowl of fresh, steamed, crunchy vegetables that taste really good plain or with a bit of salt and pepper. Honestly, there’s enough for one person to have 3 servings out of these bags. I usually get the varieties that include broccoli, cauliflower, and carrots, so I’m getting a variety of vitamins and nutrients.
Baby carrots ($1.99)
Just like cucumbers above, these are a perfect, satisfying snack, especially if you’re craving something crunchy. Eat these alone, or dipped in ranch or hummus. The value can’t be denied here, either, as you can usually get a pretty enormous bag for just a couple bucks.
One of the pricier items on this list, I just couldn’t leave it out. Why? Well, the benefits of hummus cannot be denied. It is delicious, savory, and most kinds are pretty darn healthy. Eat this with cukes, carrots, or pita chips, and watch your craving for something salty disappear before you can even say “vending machine”.
Kale (or other greens) ($.79)
You get a pretty huge bunch of kale for less than a buck. What does this mean? Besides that you can jump on the bandwagon for one of the trendiest green plants of our time?Not the trendiest, mind you, but it’s pretty high up there in our culture, cemented among the ranks of other popular green plants such as ganja, matcha, and avocado. But anyways…
It means that you can totally get this amazingly nutritious bunch of green goodness, and it fits into any budget. Trust me, even between the two of us, my boyfriend and I hardly ever finish an entire bunch of kale before it goes bad. So if you’re shopping for just you, this should last you awhile.
Use it in green smoothies or salads, as a topping for sandwiches, or as a bed for chicken or pork chops. You can even blend it up in tomato-based pasta sauce for a deliciously healthier pasta dish that doesn’t compromise taste.
One of the golden rules of living a healthier lifestyle is to incorporate better foods more often and whenever you possibly can. Kale is a great way to do that!
Take what I said about kale and copy-paste it right down here under spinach, because anything more than that would be redundant on my part. I will go a little bit into it, though, because I love spinach so much that I want to do it justice.
Spinach is chock-full of nutrients that will help your body, that much is true, but the cheap price and mild taste of this humble green cannot be ignored. You can do so much with fresh spinach, including smoothies, salads, and blending it into pasta sauce. You can cook it into an egg omelet, or a skillet dish. You can even get it canned and add some salt, pepper, and cayenne for a slightly spicy, filling, nutritious dinner side.
Chicken Thighs ($5 for 1lb)
Usually a bit cheaper than chicken breasts, chicken thighs usually have more flavor. Sure, you can get chicken breasts if you want to, but boneless, skinless chicken thighs can do whatever chicken breasts can do! Make it into soup, fried rice, stir fry, or just bake it or pan fry it and have it with a side of vegetables. This is going to be one filling protein staple in your budget-friendly and body-healthy diet, trust me.
Ground turkey ($4 for 3lb)
Cheaper and more healthy than ground beef, ground turkey can be used as a substitute in any dish you’d usually find the mushed up red meat. So that means spaghetti, tacos, and burgers are all fair game. And remember: Seasoning is the name of said game.
Bacon ($3.50 for 1lb natural pork bacon, thick cut)
I could not leave out bacon. I have such an unhealthy addiction to bacon. Well, that’s debatable, but anyways.
I honestly usually have bacon 3 times a week, at least. I just love it. I used to eat turkey bacon, but when you factor in taste and sodium, I switched back to good ol’ thick cut pork bacon before too long. You just can’t beat that taste and texture. Ever since my boyfriend introduced me to the wonders of cutting the pack in half, just… whoa. That’s all I can say. Game changer.
Eggs ($.99 per dozen Grade A large)
I usually go with medium eggs ($.69 per dozen) but I think a lot of people prefer large eggs. Regardless of size, eggs are a great purchase. Honestly, if you buy no other meat or animal products, at least buy some eggs (unless you’re vegan, in which case, ignore this 🙂 ). Scrambled, fried, hard-boiled, omelet… These are just a few of the ways that I enjoy eating eggs morning, noon, and night. Seriously, we go through a lot of eggs in this house. All you need for good eggs is real butter or coconut oil (for cooking them in), salt and pepper, and then, if you want, cheese and veggies! Scrambled eggs or omelets with cheese and veggies… Yum… Not to mention adding scrambled or hard-boiled eggs to salads and sandwiches!
Peanut Butter ($3)
Depending on whether you want the basic kind, natural, organic, or peanut butter that is literally just, like, peanuts and water, either way you slice—er, spread it, you will probably be spending a bit more on this item than you will most of the other items. But that is fine! Peanut butter is an important staple. Besides providing protein and fat (to keep you full), and sugars (to keep you sane), you can do a lot with it! Mix it into oats, smoothies, or protein shakes for a yummy addition, or spread it on toast or a bagel for a breakfast or snack. Peanut butter is just one of those unskippable add-ons, so, y’know… Don’t skip it.
Popcorn kernels ($3)
While there is something to be said for the convenience of popping a bag of microwave popcorn in under 3 minutes, if you just put in 5% more effort and 2 more minutes, then, I promise you, you will have way healthier, way tastier popcorn fresh from your stove, as much or as little as you want. Bonus, you won’t have to worry about any of those pesky chemicals that all too often saturate our packaged and pre-prepared foods.
With popcorn kernels, you don’t have to worry about all that! Simply pop it in a covered pan, in just a bit of coconut oil (you won’t be able to taste the coconut oil, I swear), and then salt and pepper to taste. Favorite snack, hands down.
Coconut oil ($11)
This is going to be your priciest purchase, but it is so worth it. For this dollar amount, you can usually get a pretty decent sized tub of coconut oil. Why, I’ve been working on mine for I don’t even want to know how many months. It’s fine, though, because it lasts for a long time and doesn’t really go bad, at least not to my knowledge and experience. And since you usually only need, like, a half a tablespoon or so for most recipes and/or uses, you don’t have to worry about burning through all your coconut oil too fast or, consequently, burning a hole in your pocket to run out and replenish your supply super often. Nope, don’t have to worry about that.
Now there are so many ways you can use coconut oil, from diet to beauty. That’s why I love it. It totally deserves all the hype it has been getting over the past few years, I can personally attest to that
Eat a spoonful by itself as a dietary supplement, mix it into your coffee, smoothies, or other drinks, use it to cook with, spread it on toast…The sky’s the limit~
When it comes to beauty, you can use it as a makeup remover, oil cleanser, moisturizer, body lotion, shave cream, lip balm, teeth whitener, breath freshener, or hair treatment! I’ve personally used it as a teeth whitener, lip balm, hair treatment, oil cleanser, and face moisturizer, and I can personally vouch for its use and amazing results. Go ahead. Put some on your face before bed. Do you want to wake up glowing? Because that’s how you wake up glowing.
Olive Oil ($3)
Not much to say about extra virgin olive oil, except that it’s fairly cheap, relatively healthy, and is my favorite oil to cook with next to coconut oil. You can use it to make dressings for salads or to dip your bread in. It’s pretty simple, but its power in the kitchen should not be underestimated. You’ll definitely notice when you don’t have any.
Red potatoes ($.99 per 3lb bag)
Red potatoes are just as yummy as white or whatever other kinds there are, but they are generally smaller. Which is perfectly fine if you’re shopping for 1 (or even for 2)! You can dice ’em, slice ’em, peel ’em, bake ’em, fry ’em, whatever you want.
Potatoes are a great, carb-y, starchy filler, but you shouldn’t be afraid of these bad boys. Their health benefits are totally dependent on your preparation and toppings, but nobody is gonna sue you if you decide to fry up some french fries or drown your baked spud in sour cream, cheese, and butter… That is, as long as you’re doing it in moderation. We all need food like that sometimes~ But potatoes can be healthy 90% of the time, too.
Blueberries ($2 per pint)
Berries in general are constant staples in my kitchen… Less so when they aren’t in season but honestly I nosh on berries year-round, I just love ’em! They can get pricey, though, but I’ve usually found that blueberries are a pretty good deal. A pint for $2 isn’t bad, and if it’s just you eating them, then they should be worth it, value-wise.
I love to use them in my oatmeal, that’s probably my favorite way to eat blueberries. Of course, you can freeze them for a refreshing treat in the warmer months, or add them (fresh or frozen) to smoothies and nice cream. If you just wanna top some with a bit of whipped cream, you’ve got a sweet breakfast, snack, or dessert, easy as can be.
Chocolate chips ($3 for 12oz bag semi sweet)
Again, not the cheapest or the healthiest, but we cannot deny the power of chocolate. You can get whatever kind you want: vegan chocolate, cacao nibs, 97% dark chocolate bar, or just the semi-sweet mini chocolate chips, like I get. Bottom line, you should have a few sweet treats (or dare I say “cheat treats”) in your pantry.
There are worse treats to eat than chocolate, and there’s a lot you can do with it. Mix it with nuts and dried fruit for homemade healthy trail mix, add it to smoothies, smoothie bowls, and oatmeal, or use it with baked goods. I think every healthy household should have chocolate, if they can.
Whole grain Bagels ($1.29 for 5 large bagels)
Bagels are pretty cheap. I actually love eating bagels, they are the perfect breakfast, snack, or lunch for when I can’t possibly muster up more energy than it takes to operate the toaster and add a schmear. Hey, no shame in my game, and if you add some bagels to your cart, no shame in yours, either.
For those days that you do feel like putting some more effort in, an open-faced bagel sandwich is a revolutionary way to have bagels, night and day. Try egg, bacon/sausage, and cheese for breakfast (prepared in the toaster oven is great, but it is okay if you don’t have one). You can make bagel pizza easy with tomato sauce and mozzarella cheese slices (pepperoni, spinach, other toppings are optional but delicious). Or you can just throw whatever deli meats, cheese, and veggies you want for a delicious, nutritious, and oh-so-satisfying open-faced bagel sandwich.
Shredded cheese ($1.69 for 2 oz)
I’m a cheese lover and I use cheese in so many of my dishes. For a budget, shredded cheese is probably the best. You can use it in everything from scrambles to sandwiches. I think shredded is the most versatile type of cheese, more so than blocked or sliced (although, admittedly, blocked could be best if you have the means/tools to slice and shred it by hand, but ain’t nobody got time fo’ dat!)
Be it in eggs, sandwiches, oats, tacos, pasta, etc., cheese can be a wonderful addition to countless meals. It’s dairy, it’s fatty, it’s delicious, it can be melted (!!!) and you’ll probably seriously miss it the one time you don’t buy it. So let’s just avoid those feelings of regret, shall we? Buy the dang cheese.
Rice cakes ($2 for 6)
Now I know that rice cakes (like bottled pre-made smoothies and fast food salads) are one of those “healthy” foods that aren’t actually healthy at all. Well that isn’t necessarily true. Yes, rice cakes have been trumped-up to be healthy more than they actually deserve, and yes they have next to no nutritional value, but that’s fine because I just intend for them to be used as a base.
With rice cakes, the importance lies in what you top it with. I included rice cakes because I’ve found that, when dealing with trying to eat healthier and shop more on a budget, desserts and sweet things fall to the wayside more often than any other meal or type of food. This isn’t good. What are you supposed to do around 8-10p when you’re starving because dinner was soooo long ago and you can’t sleep with your tummy grumbling like that?! Or, another bad situation, what if you’ve been doing soooo well with your healthy eating, but didn’t buy any sweet stuff because you didn’t want to tempt yourself, and now your body is screaming for sugar so loud that you’re about to have 3 cupcakes that your coworker brought in for their birthday, what do you do then?!
I know! Spread a rice cake with peanut butter, top with blueberries and/or chocolate chips, and bam! A pretty healthy, very filling, sweet dessert. Not that this just has to be dessert, oh no… Breakfast, lunch, and snacks are fair game for this concoction, as well. And while we’re on the subject of customization and personalization, top a single rice cake with whatever you want! As long as the toppings are moderately healthy, you’re on the right track.
So there you have it! A pretty extensive list of 30 of the prime budget-friendly foods any healthy person should add to their grocery list. Note, I’m going off of the most common/average prices that I usually see at my usual grocer in WI, USA. Where you are, the prices may be different, however, these are mostly universally cheap items, and will probably be on the cheap end of the scale compared to other grocery items no matter where you are. In some cases, you do have to think about what’s in season, but most of these are year-round buys.
Also! I did the math, and I believe that if you bought everything on this list, it’ll run you about $83. Of course, it could be more or less depending on numerous factors, such as region, season, and sales. But this is a really good grocery list for an individual, and can honestly last 3, even 4 weeks. That’s not too bad! I’ve lived off of this type of diet, budget, and grocery style for years (not exactly of course, but these are the basics, for sure). I can say that $83 of this stuff every few weeks is not too shabby, at all! 🙂
So what do you think about this list? Anything you’d add that would be great for a healthy, cheap diet? Anything on my list that you don’t like or think shouldn’t be on there? Let me know your thoughts about healthy eating on a budget, I’d love to hear from you!