healthy living

Top 7 Healthy & Budget-Friendly Foods That I Swear By

If you follow me on twitter, you might have noticed that I’m a bit of a health nut.  Working out keeps me sane.  I eat as healthy as possible, but definitely don’t deprive myself (balance is key, my dear readers).

There are those that claim eating healthy is expensive and that’s why our country is so overweight.  Unfortunately those people are just misguided, because healthy foods on the cheap are ‘a plenty in my grocery store.  In fact, I’ve noticed that when I don’t stock up on snack-y, processed foods and instead fill my cart with minimally (or zero) processed foods, my total bill is much cheaper.

Without further ado, here are the top 7 healthy foods that are staples in my pantry:

  1. FRESH GARLIC.  Garlic spices us every dish.  I like to saute onions and garlic in extra virgin olive oil as a delicious topping for my chicken and fish.  It’s also great in stews, soups, salads, and omelets!  Garlic is chock-full of antibacterial, antifungal, antiviral, and anti-inflammatory compounds.  So, eat up during the cold and flu season!  Cost for one garlic bulb: ~30-40 cents.
  2. ROLLED OATS. As odd as it sounds, oats are practically a cheat meal for me.  They are so delicious and so versatile.  I eat traditional oats (i.e. not out of a bag) with cinnamon and almonds for breakfast and this keeps me full all morning long.  I also love adding oats to yogurt (a la Swiss Oatmeal), pudding, and cookies!  Be good to your heart with oats – whole grain, all natural, rolled oats help lower cholesterol and reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.  Oats also stabilize blood sugar which means NO sugar crashes!  Cost for 42 ounces of oats: ~$3.00
  3. POPCORN KERNELS. Next time you’re in the popcorn aisle of your store, look way up or way down.  You’ll most likely see one or two bags of all natural popcorn kernels hidden behind an array of boxed popcorn.  The only catch is that in order to make these little kernels uber-healthy, you need to invest in an air-popper.  I bought one about 3 years ago for $15 and it still works great.  Popcorn is a great source of fiber (5 grams per serving), protein (4 grams, who knew?!), and healthy fats.  This is a frequent nighttime snack at my house!  Popcorn is great plain, dashed with sea salt, or topped with melted olive oil based butter.  Cost for 32 ounces: $1.35 (32 ounces lasts forever!)
  4. DRY BEANS. I challenge you to stop buying canned beans that have been processed and contains artificial ingredients that you can’t even pronounce.  Not only do you get more bang for your buck, but there’s only one ingredient listed on a bag of dry beans: beans.  We all know beans are full of fiber (maybe a little too much?), but they also contain tons of protein (a plus if you don’t eat meat), and provide that jolt from carbs without the crash afterwards.  Plus, the dark, rich colored beans contain lots of antioxidants!  There are so many uses for beans – soups, salads, dips, taco-topper, burrito-filler, salad-topper, and even brownies!  Cost for 16 ounces: ~$1.25
  5. FROZEN BERRIES. Two disadvantages to fresh berries: they’re only in season a short amount of time and they’re (usually) high-priced even when in season.  The solution: frozen berries.  I like frozen berries much better because they never go bad (well, not for a long time) and their generally cheaper.  The deep, dark color of berries means their loaded with antioxidants – especially blueberries.  Berries are a great fruit for those avoiding sugar since they only have about 5-10 grams of sugar per serving, while most fruits have 25-50 grams per serving!  Surprise, surprise, berries also boast a good amount of fiber per serving – sometimes as much as 8 grams.  I love to throw berries in my cereals, oatmeal, and yogurt as well as just have a big bowl on berries by themselves!  Prices vary: anywhere from $1.50-$3.00
  6. EGGS. Eggs are an egg-celent (couldn’t resist) source of protein at a budget-friendly price.  Many people rely on chicken, fish, and beef for protein, but – unlike eggs – these foods are usually expensive.  I eat eggs as snacks and as meals, so they have many uses, including: hard-boiled eggs as snacks, omelets, scrambled eggs, “fried eggs”, egg sandwiches, and of course, they can be used for baking.  Cost for 12 eggs: ~$1.50
  7. YOGURT. When buying yogurt, look for fat-free, low sugar, generic varieties.  Manufacturers can be sneaky and hide tons of sugar and fat in yogurt without you even knowing it!  As with all dairy products, yogurt is a good source of calcium.  However, the superstar nutrient in yogurt is really the Probiotics.  Probiotics are live, friendly bacteria that keep your body healthy and help it to fight off bad bacteria.  Probiotics also help regulate your digestive system.  As someone who’s experienced problems with imbalances of good and bad bacteria, I rely on yogurt quite a lot to load up on the good guys.  Plus, it’s more fun than taking a supplement!  Yogurt can be used as a topping to oatmeal, mixed with nuts/fruits/oats, topping to pancakes/waffles, or just right out of the carton!  Cost for one off-brand fat-free 6 ounce yogurt: 33 cents

These are foods I LOVE and swear by!  I think this is key when finding balance in a healthy lifestyle – experiment and find foods that you love that seem like a cheat to you, but they really aren’t!

What are you favorite healthy foods on a budget?

**Disclaimer: Prices may vary.  These are the prices I’ve found at my local discount grocery store.   Prices may also vary across different parts of the country.  Nutritional information can be found here.


  • Yeah, the disclaimer needs to be heeded. Those prices would never be found in NYC, not with Whole Foods popping up on the radar.

    That said, your list of healthy foods are pretty similar to mine. Although I’d like to go organic with those foods, they are almost 2x as much more just to have the Organic Label slapped on it.

    I also love Baby Carrots. Best.Snack.Ever.

    • Yeah…that’s what I figured about the prices. Kansas City is very cheap compared to the rest of the US, but everything’s relative to where you live. I’m sure most of these things are cheaper than say….a serving of salmon for dinner? Right…? I’m not sure, I’ve never been to NYC. 🙂

  • Rice, Pasta, Garlic, Eggs, Ginger, Tomatoes, Potatoes, Onions and Green Onions

    Those are basically ALWAYS present in our home to make any meal

    For BF it is: Rolled Oats, Yoghurt (I steal some of his tub when he eats it), Tomatoes and Pasta

    After eating healthy, you feel a lot better too. I think my skin cleared up a bit.

  • Absolutely agree! I’m a simplify your food and eat healthy kind of girl as well. I’ve been making my own popcorn forever, bag popcorn just tastes gross now.

    However, I would caution with the yogurt to not just grab any low sugar/low fat ones. Make sure you read the ingredient lables. I’m a huge non-chemical sugar person (Splenda, sucralose, etc. in my book just can’t be good for you), and yogurt is a prime place for manufacturers to throw these in.

    Good eats everyone!

  • Thanks for this post!

    Investing Newbie, are you comparison shopping? I bought the following at Whole Foods yesterday by comparing prices and looking for the 365 brand:

    Organic rolled oats $3.00
    Organic cultured cream cheese $2.00
    Organic egg whites $2.99

    Trader Joe’s (outside Union Sq) is also a great resource for these types of food staples.

    I add to the list:

    kasha (toasted buckwheat- cooks quickly like rolled oats but more of a whole grain like steel cut oats etc)

    polenta (corn grits)

    canned crushed tomatoes (+ olive oil = tomato sauce)

    Imagine brand low sodium soups (yes a packaged food, but most are low in calories and filling: 32 oz will give you 4 1-cup servings for less than $3.00)

    baking essentials like flour, salt, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, yeast, and vanilla (so you can whip up a cheap bread, pizza dough, dessert, etc when you are in a pinch)

    spices – they add flavor w/o calories and last a long time!

  • A lot my go-to foods are on your list, especially eggs. I also eat a lot of pasta (especially when I make my mom’s sauce–yum!), soup, and homemade soft tacos. I also eat a lot of big salads for dinner.

    Speaking of yogurt, have you tried Fage? Oh.My. It’s so good. Greek-style, either plain or flavored. It’s not really cheap, but man…it has a lot of protein and is the best midafternoon snack!

    • Bonnie, I was actually going to write up another post on not-so-budget-friendly foods that are also super healthy! Greek yogurt was my #1 item! I have tried Fage, however, I prefer plain Chobani since it has zero fat and the fewest grams of sugar I could find. I also like Oikos! All in all, though, you’re right, Greek Yogurt is the best!! 🙂

  • Your list is great! Have you ever tried almond butter or peanut butter on top of your oatmeal? I always have marinara sauce (TJ’s brand, $1.99) on hand b/c I make pasta pretty often, and I keep a couple of bags of frozen veggies (store brand or Steamfresh) in the freezer.

    • Ohhh I love frozen veggies, too. Good call. Yes, almond butter/natural PB are going on my not-so-budget-friendly foods that are also super healthy post coming up. He he. Great ideas!! Thank you so much!!

  • Thanks for this great list!

    Another popcorn trick for those who don’t have a popcorn maker: Get a regular lunch-size paper bag and put a handful of kernels in there and fold close the bag a few times. Put it in the microwave for about a minute or two. (Basically until you hear the popping slow down.) Then voila! You’ve got homemade popcorn!

    • Where are you located? You can find 12 eggs for $1.90 and a quart of milk for $0.99 here in NYC but both are factory farmed.

      Berries… yeah though. I haven’t seen them for less than $3 a pound.

  • Good post! I’ll agree with some though that cheap eats totally depend on the local. I visited my home town this past weekend and found that dried garbanzo beans were going for $3.99 a pound (non-organic) when I could get them in my current city for $1.50 a pound (organic). I think frozen veggies are a good deal as well, not always as nutritious but always convenient.

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