Eating healthy and cheap might seem like an insurmountable goal, but it can be done. The trick is to eat what's in season, and also look beyond what sits at eye level on your grocery store shelves. Include a variety of foods from each food group, too, and you'll be able to eat a nutritious and well-balanced diet that doesn't empty your wallet.
Fruits and Vegetables
There's no denying that fruits and vegetables are an essential part of your diet. They supply vitamin C, potassium and fiber, as well as antioxidants that can help ward off certain illnesses and diseases. Fresh varieties aren't always cheap, however, but there are certain fruits and vegetables that cost less than $1 per serving. Apples, oranges and bananas are among the cheapest options and are also some of your most nutrient-dense choices. For example, one apple costs about 27 cents, according to a 2011 article published in "Eating Well." Sweet potatoes, carrots and spinach cost far less than $1 per serving as well. One sweet potato usually costs about 25 cents and an entire bunch of fresh spinach is about $1. Many supermarkets sell a 1-pound bag of whole carrots for about $1.
Your weekly grocery list probably already includes common grains such as rice and pasta, but even the more exotic-sounding grains cost $1 or less per pound, especially if you purchase them from the bulk bins at your supermarket. Purchase steel-cut oats, which are high in fiber and low in fat and calories. In 2012, an entire pound ran about $1, but that amount will provide several servings of cooked oatmeal. Lentils are another high-fiber option that also supplies a good dose of iron, and a cup costs 25 cents or less. Wheat germ should make it into your shopping cart as well. It's high in fiber and folate and costs less than $1 a pound. Use whole-grain pasta, which is more nutritious than white versions. In 2012, you could buy an entire 1-pound box of whole-wheat pasta for $1 or less. Split peas are high in fiber and iron and buying them dry is a cheap way to add them to your diet.
Beans are among the cheapest protein options on supermarket shelves. A can of most types of beans is less than $1, but you can also buy a bag of dried beans for about $1, which will yield many more servings. Eggs are rich in protein, too, and each egg costs just a few cents. In fact, you can often purchase a dozen eggs for around a dollar. Even pricier organic eggs, which can cost $3 to $4 a dozen, are still less than $1 per egg. Canned tuna makes the list because it's about $1 or less per can, but it's rich in protein, iron, potassium and zinc. A handful of nuts costs less than a dollar, but it supplies a good dose of protein, fiber and vitamin E. For example, an ounce of pecans costs around 75 cents. Nuts are also a good source of heart-healthy unsaturated fat. Tofu is a vegetarian source of protein that's quite inexpensive and rich in nutrients such as calcium.
In 2012, an entire gallon of milk cost about 3 or 4 dollars, but that means that a 1-cup serving costs only about 25 cents. Skim milk is your healthiest choice because it's fat-free, but it supplies just as much calcium, vitamin D and protein as whole and reduced-fat versions. Yogurt is another cheap dairy food, and a carton usually costs between 50 and 75 cents. An entire block of cheese might cost a few dollars, but a 1-ounce serving of most varieties costs far less than $1. Choose reduced-fat cheese, which contains less saturated fat and delivers a healthy dose of calcium and phosphorus, two minerals crucial to the health of your bones and teeth.
A cup of tea, especially green and black tea, costs far less than $1, and it supplies a wealth of antioxidants that can ward off chronic health conditions such as cancer and heart disease. If you drink 12 ounces of tea per day, you have as much as a 50 percent reduced risk of having a heart attack, according to the Eating Well website.
- MayoClinic.com: Slide Show: 10 Great Health Foods for Eating Well
- MayoClinic.com: Couponing and Other Frugal Food Shopping Tips
- Eating Well: 12 Superfoods to Help You Eat Healthy for $1 or Less
- AARP: 50 Healthy Foods That Cost Less Than $1 Per Pound
- U.S. Department of Agriculture: Consumer Price Index