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Eating healthy food doesn’t have to be difficult, or expensive! There seems to be a myth that eating healthy plant-based foods costs a lot. Although this can be the case, there are many healthy options that are very inexpensive and taste great!
This list of 10 healthiest foods for a tight budget are just some of my favorite healthy, plant-based foods, but there are so many more. If you’re completely new to following a whole-foods, plant-based diet, you might want to check out my 7 tips for starting a plant-based diet first.
10 healthiest foods for a tight budget
Potatoes are very inexpensive and loaded with vitamins like potassium, B vitamins, vitamin C, manganese, fiber and more. These superfoods can get a bad rap as being a “white” food. I believe this is due to the whole “carbs are bad” thing. Potatoes are actually filled with natural vitamins and fiber, unlike refined white bread or pasta. They’re actually very healthy, inexpensive and filling!
Don’t limit yourself to white potatoes, there are also many kinds of sweet potatoes, purple potatoes and more.
Dried beans are one of the healthiest and most inexpensive foods that you can find. You can always supplement with canned beans for convenience since they are still an affordable option. I love cooking beans in my Instant Pot, and I rarely buy canned beans anymore.
If you do buy canned beans, try to stick to low-sodium varieties and/or rinse your beans well before use.
Another member of the legume family and a rockstar in the world of cheap, healthy foods. Lentils are full of fiber, vitamins, and protein. They are very low fat and relatively low in calories. As with beans, I cook big batches of lentils in my Instant Pot.
4. Whole grains
You can buy most grains in bulk at large grocery stores or health food stores. If you don’t have access to either, buy big bags of store brand grains and pasta. You might even catch whole grain items like bread or bagels on sale in the frozen section.
Don’t limit yourself to wheat products, there are so many whole grains out there! I can’t even have wheat and I eat whole grains daily. Try grains like brown rice, wild rice, quinoa, amaranth, buckwheat and more!
I feel like oatmeal almost deserves its own category. I have Celiac disease and have reactions to most oats, even those that are certified gluten-free. Fortunately, my kids love oats and eat them regularly. Oatmeal is cheap, healthy, and very filling. Oatmeal is an easy breakfast option, and there are so many things you can do with it.
One of our favorite things to make is oatmeal waffles with healthy and simple whole food ingredients like oats, banana, ground flax seeds and non-dairy milk. We use this waffle maker because I am terrible at making pancakes, and waffles are more fun.
6. In-season fruits and vegetables
Fruits and vegetables are always cheaper when purchased in season. Shopping at Farmers Markets is another great way to buy local, in-season produce. Even if you don’t have access to a good Farmers Market, in-season produce is always cheaper. Here is a great guide to finding in-season produce.
If you are craving something that is out of season, see if you can find it frozen. Frozen foods are typically picked when they are perfectly ripe and do not lose much nutritional value during the freezing process. Remember that if food has to travel a long way to get to you, it was probably picked very early and may not have ripened properly. Sometimes, frozen is a great option!
Bananas are always cheap and so delicious! They’re also a favorite for even the pickiest kids. I love freezing bananas and using in smoothies or just eating them as a snack. You can also use frozen bananas to make “nice cream.” Nice cream for breakfast? Yes, please.
8. Nutritional Yeast
If you’ve ever taken a look at non-dairy cheese, you know it’s pricey. Also, while it might be slightly better for you than traditional cheese, it’s definitely not a health food. Fortunately, there’s nooch. Nutritional yeast has a cheesy flavor that makes pretty much anything taste better. It’s also loaded with protein, magnesium, copper, manganese and more. I buy mine at my health food store, but they’re often out and I’ve found great prices on Amazon too.
9. Nuts and Seeds
The best way to buy nuts and seeds is either in bulk or in large packages. Both nuts and seeds freeze well, so I recommend freezing whatever you won’t quickly use and thaw when needed. Another place where I’ve had good luck finding affordable nuts and seeds is on Thrive Market. If you use this link you can save 25% off your first order + receive free shipping!
Tofu is a very affordable protein option. Check the freezer section too, you may find it on sale. I have noticed that while tofu does cost more in my health food store than local grocery store, it often goes on sale and I’ve never seen it on sale at the grocery store.
Now that we’ve talked about the 10 healthiest foods for a tight budget, there are even more ways to save:
More ways to save money on healthy foods
Fresh vs frozen
Fresh food is often cheaper when it’s in season. For out of season fruits and vegetables, it can be much less expensive to buy frozen varieties. Frozen foods are typically packaged when they are very fresh and are nutritionally comparable with fresh varieties. It’s completely fine to buy frozen fruits and vegetables!
Packages vs bulk
It can save a lot of money to buy things like beans, grains, nuts, seeds, dried fruit, nutritional yeast and more, in bulk. It also saves on packaging if you take your own bags/containers. If you’re looking for more ways to reduce plastic, check out my tips on 5 ways to reduce plastic today.
Organic vs conventional
Organic foods cost more, but you should always check to see if they’re on sale. When organic produce goes on sale, it is often even cheaper than conventional produce on sale. If you can’t afford to buy organic, that’s okay! It’s better to be eating fruits and veggies, even the most contaminated varieties than not eating them at all.
If you have the budget for it, try to buy organic for the foods that are on the Dirty Dozen list and don’t worry about everything else! If you absolutely don’t have the budget to buy organic, don’t worry about it. You’re better off eating conventional produce rather than skipping it just because you’re worried that it isn’t organic. Don’t take my word for it, listen to this NutritionFacts podcast.
Limit Vegan Substitutes
If you’re following a plant-based diet, especially if you’re new, those substitutes are handy! It’s nice to have a Daiya pizza or So Delicious chocolate ice cream, but they’re pretty hard on your budget! These products may be hard to find, and if you find them, they are expensive. However, there can be exceptions!
I live in a very rural area where there are very few vegans or vegetarians. I actually don’t know any in the town where I live. Even though living in an area with few vegans might mean that products are more expensive, it also means that they will have a slower turnover. You may be more likely to find items on sale and more deeply discounted if there isn’t as much competition to buy them.
At the time of writing this article, I lived in a small rural town of about 5,000 people. Many local people are either beef or dairy farmers, so saying this area isn’t vegan-friendly is an understatement. Despite all of this, there is a small health food store with a good amount of bulk items. It even has many vegan substitutes which are often discounted.
You might also enjoy: How to save money on a vegan diet.
Even at most Wal-Mart and rural grocery stores, you can find things like tofu or even veggie dogs. You can also access the healthiest foods for a tight budget like beans, potatoes, and whole grains almost anywhere.
I hope that this post helped you figure out the healthiest foods for a tight budget. Did any of your favorites make the list? I currently love potatoes and we’ve been making potato soup frequently! Let me know in the comments if you’d like to see my potato soup recipe! Want to get my free 7 days of vegan lunches ebook? Get it here!