Just because you're on a budget doesn't mean you can't eat a healthy diet. True, some of the more nutritious foods can be more expensive than the less-healthy options made with refined flour and lots of added sugar and fat. Within each food group, some nutritious foods tend to be less expensive. The trick to eating healthy on a budget is to choose these foods more often.
You can get your protein from meat, poultry, fish, dairy or vegetarian sources like beans and soy products. To meet your needs for the lowest price, try using dried or canned beans more often. You can mix them with a smaller amount of meat to stretch the meat as well, or use the beans in vegetarian dishes. Eggs provide high-quality protein and aren't very expensive. Turkey, canned light tuna, peanuts, walnuts and sunflower seeds are also relatively inexpensive considering the amount of nutrients they provide. Stock up on protein foods when they are on sale and freeze them in meal-sized portions for later use. For dairy products, larger containers tend to be cheaper. Nonfat milk, plain yogurt and cottage cheese are nutritious options.
Barley tends to be the most nutritious grain for the price, and toasted oat cereal is one of the best values for cereal. Brown rice, store-brand oatmeal, unpopped popcorn and whole-wheat bread are also good options for people on a budget. In general, the less processed the grain is, the cheaper and more nutritious it will be. Bulk foods tend to be cheaper than bags in individual serving sizes.
When buying fruits and vegetables, pick from what is in season because it will be cheaper. Options that provide a lot of nutrients for the cost include raisins, prunes, bananas and orange juice. When in season, nectarines, pears and watermelons are good buys. Other relatively inexpensive fruits include apples, grapes and kiwis.
If you're on a tight budget, try serving potatoes, onions, tomato juice, collard greens, kale, carrots, cabbage, broccoli and romaine lettuce more often. Buying frozen vegetables can save you money, especially if you are buying something that isn't in season, and these vegetables are usually just as nutritious as fresh. Avoid buying vegetables that are already washed and chopped, such as baby carrots and bagged salads, since these tend to cost a lot more and don't usually stay fresh as long.
Based in Massachusetts, Jessica Bruso has been writing since 2008. She holds a master of science degree in food policy and applied nutrition and a bachelor of arts degree in international relations, both from Tufts University.