Most of us know that eating healthy on a budget isn’t always easy.
As I discussed in my previous article, healthy food is generally considered to be more expensive than junk food.
And this is one of the reasons that many people end up making poor eating choices: it can just seem too expensive to be able to sustain a healthy diet that is also filling and satisfying.
Luckily, this doesn’t have to be the case…
This is because it is possible to primarily eat healthy, nutritious, satisfying foods without burning a hole in your wallet.
Which means that you’ll be able to build muscle and lose fat much faster and more effectively than if your diet consists of a lot of processed crap!
In this article, I’m going to be walking you through exactly which foods you should be focusing on if you want to eat healthy while spending as little money as possible.
To make things easier, I’ll be going through each of the 3 major macronutrients separately – protein, fats, and carbs – so you can get a clear sense of how it all comes together.
Cheap & Healthy Sources Of Protein
Protein is an important macronutrient, especially for those of us that work out.
When broken down, it provides the amino acids that are responsible for building and repairing your body after exercise.
Unfortunately, protein is also comparatively more costly than fats or carbs, so it can often seem prohibitively expensive for many people to meet their protein requirements.
Still, if you focus on the right sources of protein, you should be able to meet your targets in a cost-effective way.
Let’s go through some of the recommended options.
Chicken breast is a staple for many of us fitness folk, and for good reason…
It contains mostly protein, with very few fats or carbs, making it a great lean protein source.
And while organic chicken breast definitely isn’t cheap, the regular variety is much more affordable.
Price: Around $3.5 per lb, which gives you about 100 grams of protein.
Canned Tuna Fish
In terms of meat-based protein sources, it is hard to beat canned tuna on a price per gram of protein basis.
Like chicken breast, it is pretty much entirely protein, with only about 1 gram of fat in each can.
It’s also a great source of protein on-the-go, since it can easily be packed and doesn’t require any preparation.
Price: Around $1.5 per 6 oz can, which gives you about 40 grams of protein.
Eggs are another great, affordable way to get your protein for the day.
Large eggs have about 6 grams of protein per egg – but also contain quite a bit of fat, so you should take that into consideration as well.
Still, if you want to cut down on some of the fat, it is easy enough to just eat the whites, which contain almost 100% protein.
Price: Around $2.5 for a dozen eggs, which gives you about 72 grams of protein.
Many people wouldn’t think of cottage cheese as a cheap source of protein.
However, it may surprise you to hear that fat free cottage cheese is made up almost entirely of protein and is very affordable too.
I personally don’t like the taste of cottage cheese – but I wish that I did, since it makes for a great, easy-to-prepare snack.
Price: Around $1 for 1/2 cup of cottage cheese, which gives you about 12-14 grams of protein.
Another affordable, healthy source of protein to consider is black beans.
This is particularly true if you’re a vegetarian, since black beans contain a lot of protein in each cup.
They also have a good deal of carbs, and fiber, making them a fairly well-balanced food from a nutritional standpoint.
What’s more, they generally come pre-cooked, so you can just warm them up in the microwave and they’re ready to eat in minutes.
Price: Around $1 for a can of black beans, which gives you about 21 grams of protein.
Last on our list of cheap and healthy protein foods we have regular whey protein powder.
There are many decent brands of whey protein these days, but I personally recommend and use Optimum Nutrition Gold Standard Whey.
It is affordable, doesn’t have unnecessary fillers, mixes well, and tastes good.
In fact, protein powder is probably the most affordable source of protein that you’ll find, provided that you shop around for a good deal.
Price: Around $57 for a large 74 serving tub of protein powder, which comes to just 77 cents for each serving containing 24 grams of protein.
Cheap & Healthy Sources Of Fat
Next up, let’s discuss some of the most affordable sources of healthy fats.
By healthy I mean primarily unsaturated fats, some saturated fats, while trying to avoid unhealthy trans fats as much as possible.
Thankfully, there are a lot of good options here that won’t break the bank, and which make getting a reasonable quantity of healthy fat in your diet a breeze.
These are one of my favorite sources of dietary fat.
They taste great, mix well into salads, are a full of healthy, unsaturated fats.
I often like to pair them with black beans. They go well together, and the carb/protein balance of the black beans complements the higher fat content of the avocado.
Price: Typically around $1-2 per fruit, but each fruit will provide at least 2 servings, with roughly 11 grams of healthy fat in each serving.
As long as you’re not lactose intolerant, milk can be an inexpensive source of fat, as well as protein, calcium, and vitamin d.
It can also be a good way to get additional calories, if you’re bulking and find it difficult to eat enough.
Price: Around $3-4 for a gallon of milk.
Raw almonds are a great snack to have on hand. They are high in healthy, unsaturated fats, have quite a bit of protein, and are rich in micronutrients.
They are very calorie-dense, however, so remember that a little goes a long way.
Almonds are also very affordable if you buy them in bulk, so I would recommend stocking up to save money, since they last for awhile.
Price: Around 50 cents for 1/2 oz of raw almonds, which gives you about 16 grams of healthy fats.
In addition to regular nuts, another cheap, healthy option for dietary fat is peanut butter.
It is easy to eat, doesn’t require any preparation, is loaded with unsaturated fats, and also has quite a bit of protein.
Just remember that it is deceptively high in calories, so don’t just attack the jar with a spoon!
Price: Around $3 for a 16 oz jar of peanut butter, which gives you 32 servings that contain around 16 grams of healthy fat in each one.
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Olive oil is a full of healthy, monounsaturated fat, which makes it ideal to use in dressing for salads or when cooking.
It is also relatively inexpensive, since each bottle will last for quite a long time.
Price: Around $6 for a 25 oz bottle, which will give you about 50 servings that contain around 14 grams of fat each.
I already mentioned eggs in the protein section earlier, but they are also a great source of dietary fat.
Just as the white of an egg contains mostly protein, the yolk is almost entirely comprised of fat.
This means that you can easily adjust the amount of fat vs protein you get, based on how many of the yolks you decide to eat.
Price: Around $2.5 for a dozen eggs, which gives you about 60 grams of fat.
Cheap & Healthy Sources Of Carbohydrates
Finally, let’s take a look at some of the best, most affordable sources of carbohydrates you can buy if you’re on a budget.
These days, many people are negative on carbs, thinking that they make you fat or unhealthy, but the truth is that carbohydrates are a very important component of your overall diet – especially if you’re someone that works out.
Now as I’m sure you already know, many of the carbs you’ll find in processed foods aren’t the best for you, but luckily they’re not the only game in town…
Let’s take a look at some of my top recommendations for cheap and healthy carbs.
This is one of my favorite affordable, healthy carb snacks.
Oatmeal is easy to make, is very filling, and doesn’t contain very many calories in each serving.
While you can buy single serving packets of oatmeal, it is often cheaper to get the larger container instead.
Price: Around $3 for 1 container of oatmeal, which gives you 30 servings that contain around 27 grams of carbs each.
Brown rice can be easily paired with many other foods, and is another healthy, cheap source of carbs that you’ll want to consider.
It contains about 4 times as much fiber as white rice, in addition to more vitamins and minerals, making it a more filling and overall healthier choice.
Price: Around $2 for an entire pound of brown rice.
We already covered black beans when we discussed protein-based foods before, but I thought I’d mention it again here since it is also a great source of carbs.
And given how easy they are to prepare, and how good they are for you, I’d strongly suggest including these in your diet.
Price: Around $1 for a can of black beans, which gives you about 57 grams of carbs.
Potatoes have come under attack in recent years, as a result of the whole low-carb craze, but the truth is that they are one of the best carb options to build your diet around.
They are one of the most filling carbs around, contain a variety of important nutrients like potassium, and can be prepared in many different ways to keep things interesting.
Both sweet potatoes and regular potatoes are good options here, so just get the type that you enjoy eating most.
Price: Around $1 for a pound of potatoes, which gives you 60 grams of carbs in each cup.
We all know that we should be getting more fruits and vegetables in our diets, but they can sometimes seem too expensive.
This is where it helps to focus mainly on fruits that are in season.
There are massive price differences between fruits that are in season and out of season, so check out this seasonal fruit guide to learn where you’ll get the best bang for your buck year round.
I should also mention that bananas are pretty much always in season, and always cheap, so they are a reliable option thoughout the year.
Price: In-season fruits typically cost around $0.6-1.5 per pound, depending on the specific fruit.
Eating Healthy On A Budget Is Possible
As you can see, it is possible to maintain a healthy diet without spending a ridiculous amount of money on it.
Sometimes it’s easy to use cost as a reason not to make healthy choices, but the reality is that if you plan ahead, and focus on buying the right foods, budget shouldn’t get in the way of your dietary goals.
So focus on the foods in this guide, buy in bulk when you can, and you should be able to save a ton of money while maintaining a healthy, nutritious diet.