Turning Cheap Foods into Healthy Meals

Photo by Kevin Mccutcheon via unsplash.com
Photo by Kevin Mccutcheon via unsplash.com

We all want to eat healthy food but we DON’T want to overspend for it. Many families find it hard to buy healthy food on a tight budget.

As it turns out, some of MOST healthy foods are also the LEAST expensive.

Healthy Food Bargains


Dried beans and lentils

Canned beans (all kinds)

Canned fish (salmon, tuna, sardines)

Peanut butter (store brand)

Sunflower seed kernels


Vegetables, fresh

Broccoli (whole stalks instead of just the florets)

Bags of whole carrots


Celery (whole stalks instead of celery hearts)

Kale (often bags of cut, washed kale are quite low cost)



Vegetables, frozen



Collard greens


Turnip greens

Vegetables, canned

(with LESS than 300 mg sodium per serving)


Green Beans




Bulk bags of seasonal fruit (apples, pears, oranges)

Fruit, frozen

Store brand berries (with NO added sugar)

Whole Grains

Oats (rolled or steel cut, NOT instant)



Brown rice (NOT instant)

Tips for Low Cost Meals

1. Don’t shop without a list.

Take a few moments to plan out some simple meals for the week and make a list of needed items. Then stick with the list!

2. Create a meal from whatever is on hand.

There are probably some items in the fridge and pantry that need to be used. Get creative and turn them into a terrific cassserole, chili or soup. This is a great way to cut down on food waste.

3. Get as much mileage from vegetables as possible.

Tough broccoli stems may be grated and added to salad or made into a slaw (also perfect for making cream of broccoli soup!). Fresh spinach or kale that is starting to show its age may be frozen then added to a minestrone soup at a later time. The large center stalk of kale leaves is delicious when chopped and sauteed in olive oil.

4. Re-vist or re-purpose bits of leftovers.

The lone chicken thigh from last night’s meal may be chopped and made into a hearty soup with LOTS of veggies and a bit of pasta. That leftover cup of spaghetti noodles would make a delicious side dish with the addition of sauteed spinach. ALWAYS find a way to serve it again until it is gone.

5. Eat more bean – based meals and sides.

Beans are NOT boring! A spicy black bean soup or vegetarian chili is perfect for cooler months. Home made black bean burgers can rival the real thing. Flavorful Indian chickpea stew is a satisfying meal in itself. White bean hummus is great for dipping or for spreading onto pita triangles. For more bean based meal ideas check out the Bean Institute website: https://beaninstitute.com/home-cooks/

Written by Jenny Favret, MS, RD, LDN

Nutritionist, Duke Pediatrics Healthy Lifestyles Program

13 views0 comments