Ten Cheap Foods that are Actually Good for You

bag of fresh produce

A tight budget is no excuse to eat poorly. Eating healthful foods is a core component of living a healthier lifestyle – and living healthy saves you money in other areas, particularly future health care costs.

A complete dietary overhaul is no simple feat. Rather than completely dismantling your current food routines, start trying to work the following ten extremely cheap and extremely healthy foods into your diet.

Whole wheat/multigrain breads and pastas

A nice, easy first step in cheaply improving your diet is switching out your bread and pasta options with new whole wheat or multigrain replacements. Depending on where you shop, the cost differences should be negligible, but the health benefits are pronounced. In particular, you’ll be getting more protein and fiber.

Old fashioned oats

A nice bowl of hot oatmeal is a classic way to start the day. Keep it nice and cheap and buy your oatmeal in bulk for maximum savings. Also, try to avoid sugary instant oatmeal varieties. Cooking old fashioned oatmeal on the stovetop only takes a couple extra minutes and gives you lots of healthy fiber without any of the junk pre-packaged oatmeal often includes.

Frozen vegetables

Fresh vegetables are better for you (health-wise), but frozen vegetables are a great, cheap alternative and help you keep a balanced, varied diet throughout the year. Try not to let your frozen veggies sit in the freezer too long, though – frozen vegetables degrade over time, losing valuable nutrients. Avoid boiling when possible to help preserve those same nutrients.

White potatoes/sweet potatoes

Here’s the thing about potatoes (and most foods, it turns out): it’s all about how you prepare them. The tide has recently shifted rather sternly in support of sweet potatoes, and that’s ok, because sweet potatoes are pretty good – lots of fiber, tons of vitamin A.

But regular white potatoes aren’t so bad either – when you eat the skin (where the nutrients live) you get plenty of niacin, potassium, and vitamin C. But neither variety of potato is quite as great for you when it’s covered in sour cream or butter or a handful of crumbled bacon bits. So don’t be shy with potatoes, just make sure you’re making the most of their healthful potential.

Peanut butter

You’ve probably already got a jar of peanut butter in the cupboard right now. When it comes to health concerns, all natural peanut butter is your best option – it’s chock full of folate, magnesium, B vitamins, and fiber. Slap it on a piece of whole wheat toast for a quick and hardy start to the day.

Eggs

Remember when eggs were bad for you? Then they were really good for you? Then they were bad for you again? I have no idea which side of the egg debate is running ads this week, but the fact is that eggs are inexpensive and contain B12, iron, vitamin E, and protein. Eat them in moderation and you’ve got a healthy, budget-friendly addition to your diet.

Kale

I’ll be real with you: kale is...not my favorite food. They have something called dinosaur kale that tastes like a stegosaurus foot (at least, I assume that's where the name comes from). But this list isn’t about what I like – it’s about cheap foods that are good for you and kale fits that description in spades.

Kale is insanely good for you; it’s got calcium, potassium, iron, manganese, and vitamins A, C, and K. It’s full of with antioxidants and promotes eye health, heart health, good cholesterol, and may help prevent cancer. So, in other words, I’m learning to like kale.

Bananas

Bananas are cheap and bananas are great for you. They’re a top source for potassium and help prevent heart disease. Yeah, they like to turn brown when you turn your back on them for 30 seconds, but the health and budget benefits are off the charts. (Pro tip: stick them in the refrigerator to slow the ripening process. They may get brown on the outside, but the inside will stay the way you like it.)

Carrots

Carrots are great mid-day snacks. They’ve got vitamin A and beta carotene, which means they’re good for your eyes, your bones, and your immune system. You probably like your eyes, bones, and immune system, so start eating more carrots. (Pro tip: buy the regular ones and peel them yourself. Whole carrots last longer and cost significantly less per pound than their "baby" sized counterparts.)

Beans

Beans are great. They’re protein champions, bring fiber, potassium, calcium, and iron to the party, come in many flavorful varieties and are super, super cheap.

It may be a challenges at first, but consider cutting 25 to 50% of the meat from your diet and replacing it with beans for better health and more money in your wallet.

Looking for ways to eat healthy on a tight budget? Be sure to check out our Ultimate Guide to Saving on Groceries.

Articled updated September 2020

Tagged in Food and grocery spending, Reducing expenses, Smart shopping

Jesse Campbell is the Content Manager at MMI, focused on creating and delivering valuable educational materials that help families through everyday and extraordinary financial challenges.

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