Groceries are often the third largest spending budget category (after housing and transportation). That should make us all hungry for some deals on food prices.
If you want to eat healthily, saving on groceries may seem challenging. However, eating well and controlling your spending on food shouldn't be a trade-off. You also should check the best places to grocery shop on a budget.
In fact, many products are cheap, nutrient-rich, and won't make you double-think your purchase at the checkout. So, let me show you the best foods to buy on a budget with some meal ideas attached!
Why Should You Buy Food On A Budget?
We must spend money on food. It is a necessity. We can reduce how much food we eat; however, this is neither healthy nor the right approach. The best way is to create a budget-friendly grocery plan that you are willing to stick and commit to and, most importantly, enjoy.
With the increasing food prices, managing the amount you spend correctly is crucial, so you don't overspend but continue to eat healthily. There are plenty of good groceries to buy on a budget out there for everyone to enjoy.
Being in control of such an essential but money-consuming category allows you to stop overspending and reach your financial goals faster. This may include paying down your debt or increasing your savings.
It is important to remember that many cheap options out there are not always the most healthy or full of good nutrients. For example, a packet of crisps, usually more affordable than a pack of blueberries, doesn't help your decision-making when buying food on a budget.
What Are The Best Foods To Buy On A Budget?
Some of the best foods to buy on a budget are:
Eggs, chicken, canned tuna, canned salmon, bananas, apples, kiwis, watermelons, grapes, citrus, broccoli, onions, carrots, spinach, lettuce, cucumbers, zucchinis, butternut squash, canned tomatoes, sweet potatoes, peppers, frozen vegetables, rice, pasta, bread, quinoa, oatmeal, cereals, lentils, canned beans, canned chickpeas, tortillas, ramen noodles, yogurts, milk, cottage cheese, and butter.
Meat, fish, and eggs are rich in protein, minerals, vitamins, and omega-3 fatty acids. This category is one of the most important ones and also one of the most expensive ones. Some of the best meat to buy on a budget is chicken, some of the best fish to purchase on a budget are canned tuna and canned salmon, and of course, eggs.
Nutrition Value: One of the key sources of protein and vitamin B, eggs are a great addition to your diet. Brown, free-range eggs are the most nutrient-rich.
Cost: Costing around $2.40 to $3.00 a dozen grade A will be good for your stomach and wallet. Eggs can be found in supermarkets and small local farm shops.
Meal Ideas: Eggs can be eaten in many ways on their own, including boiled, poached, scrambled, or used as a key ingredient for omelets, egg salad sandwiches, or fried rice.
Nutrition Value: You can never go wrong with chicken, an excellent protein source with less cholesterol and saturated fats than other meat like beef.
Cost: Buying a whole chicken is cheaper than just purchasing separate parts, with costs around $1.10 to $1.50 per pound. However, prices for things like breasts or things might differ, and it is worth checking the frozen section too to save some money compared to the fresh cuts.
Meal Ideas: When purchasing chicken as a whole, we can make it in the oven and add some potatoes or rice to it and vegetables on the side. Chicken also goes great with pasta and in a wrap – any leftovers from dinner can be put in a sandwich for the next day.
Nutrition Value: Another great source of protein and also omega-3 essential fatty acids, which are needed as part of a healthy diet.
Cost: A can of tuna can costs somewhere around $1.30 to $1.70 per can. Many supermarkets usually provide a 4-pack, which is cheaper per can than buying on a single-can basis.
Meal Ideas: Tuna can be used on sandwiches, as part of a salad or made into tuna cakes.
Nutrition Value: As with canned tuna, canned salmon provides omega-3 fats, protein, vitamin D, and calcium.
Cost: Canned salmon can be a bit more pricey than canned tuna, ranging from $2.40 to $2.80 per can. However, the price can be brought down when bought in multipacks.
Meal Ideas: Thrown in with some pasta; canned salmon can be a great lunch or dinner idea. Things like salmon burgers or patties can also be a delicious meal idea.
Fruits are usually an excellent choice for breakfast, snacks between meals, or even desserts. They are rich in many essential nutrients like fiber, vitamins, potassium, and folate. Some of the best fruits to buy on a budget are bananas, apples, kiwis, watermelons, grapes, and citrus.
Nutrition Value: An excellent source of potassium, fiber, and antioxidants, it is a definite yes for a daily diet routine.
Cost: An all-year-round fruit can be found on shelves for as little as $0.50 per pound.
Meal Ideas: Eaten on its own, in a fruit salad, or transformed into bread, muffins, pancakes, and smoothies, bananas are an accessible item to add to your meal plan.
Nutrition Value: Red, pink, or green apples are full of fiber and antioxidants and are linked to helping in lowering the risk for many chronic conditions.
Cost: Depending on the kind of apple you buy, you will be looking at around $1.10 to $1.50 per pound of apples.
Meal Ideas: Apples make for a great afternoon snack and can also form part of your dessert included in your fruit salad. Of course, many people like to use them for baking purposes too.
Nutrition Value: Part of the berry family, kiwi is widely known as a superfood due to its vitamin C dose that is contained with it.
Cost: For a tasty immunity shot, you are looking to pay around $1.10 to $1.30 per pound in most supermarkets.
Meal Ideas: It makes a great and colorful addition to the fruit salad but can also be used in smoothies or baking. I also like to put them in a salad.
Nutrition Value: Watermelon lands on most grocery lists, especially when it gets warm due to its high-water content, but it also provides you with vitamins A and C, lycopene, and citrulline.
Cost: An average cost across supermarkets for this green ball of happiness can be anywhere between $0.25 to $0.40 per pound.
Meal Ideas: I enjoy eating watermelon on its own; however, adding it to a smoothie, fruit salad, or even making watermelon lollies from it can be excellent for the hot summer days.
Nutrition Value: Grapes come in many colors; the most popular ones in supermarkets are green, black, and purple. However, you can also get them in red, pink, and yellow.
Cost: The price might vary between grapes with seeds and the seedless kind; however, at the checkout, you can expect around $1.05 to $1.15 per pound on average.
Meal Ideas: Grapes make a good ingredient in many dishes, such as salad or even pasta. They are also great in a morning porridge to add that fresh and sweet flavor in the morning.
Nutrition Value: As per grandma's recipe, vitamin C will give your immunity system that it needs to fight infections. It also provides flavonoids and fiber, which play a role in preventing conditions like diabetes, cancer, or neurological disease.
Cost: On average, we would look at around $0.65 to $0.75 per pound when picking up citrus from a shelf.
Meal Ideas: When life gives you lemons, make lemonade! Apart from lemonade, you can use citrus in many dishes to add flavor, make an extract or use them up to make lemon curd.
Vegetables are one of the most important sources of nutrients, including potassium, vitamins, and fibers, and most are low in calories. Some of the best vegetables to buy on a budget are broccoli, onions, carrots, spinach, lettuce, cucumbers, zucchini, butternut squash, canned tomatoes, sweet potatoes, peppers, and frozen vegetables.
Nutrition Value: One of my favorite greens, broccoli, is a nutrient bomb of goodness and provides fiber, vitamins K and C, potassium, and iron.
Cost: Depending on the variety of broccoli and where it was grown, consumers should expect to pay $2.00 to $3.00 per pound in supermarkets.
Meal Ideas: Broccoli soup, as part of a pasta dish or thrown in with chicken in a stir fry – I always find a reason to throw broccoli in as part of my dinner! Just recently, I found a recipe for the most fantastic chicken with pasta and broccoli in a creamy sauce – a tasty and cheap dinner!
Nutrition Value: Other than making everyone in the kitchen emotional, onion brings in the benefits of reducing cholesterol levels and high blood pressure.
Cost: Onion prices are usually low, with yellow kind being the cheapest and costing around $0.35 to $0.45 per pound.
Meal Ideas: Onions go in pairs with potatoes but can also be used to make dishes as the main ingredient, such as French onion soup or casseroles.
Nutrition Value: This orange root vegetable, when consumed, will bring you a good amount of vitamin K1, potassium, fiber, beta-carotene, and antioxidants.
Cost: A saving money hack would be to purchase the big carrots rather than the small snack version – they are the same but have just been cut down for you, making them dearer. Price can range between $0.60 to $0.75.
Meal Ideas: Just like a rabbit, you can enjoy a carrot on its own for a snack or throw it in for a stir-fry, in a soup, or as part of a stew.
Nutrition Value: You always wonder where the massive bag of spinach disappeared after putting it on the pan for a minute. What's great, though, is that the nutrients do not disappear with their size – it remains full of vitamin E, magnesium, potassium, and iron.
Cost: To save more at the checkout, you can opt for an unwashed version of the packaging rather than ready to eat one. Pound of spinach will cost between $1.25 to $1.45.
Meal Ideas: Acting as one of the key ingredients of salad or pasta dishes, spinach can also be used in salad or stir-fry.
Nutrition Value: Usually an overlooked vegetable, lettuce boasts lots of minerals such as potassium, phosphorous, magnesium, and calcium.
Cost: Many supermarkets sell lettuce per head rather than weight, so it is always better to go for the heavier one. The price per pound is around $0.70.
Meal Ideas: Great as an addition to a sandwich or a salad. Some people use it to make lettuce wraps.
Nutrition Value: Many claim cucumber is full of water; however, it contains vitamins K, B, and C with copper, potassium, and magnesium minerals in its serving.
Cost: Like lettuce, many places sell cucumbers per item rather than weight, so always choose the right one. The price per pound is around $0.50.
Meal Ideas: Not only used to cover your eyes in the spa but is also able to add crunch and fresh flavor to your salad. It is not rare to add cucumbers to smoothies too.
Nutrition Value: A perfect source of vitamin A, folate, and potassium, zucchini is also great for those trying to lose weight due to its low-calorie count.
Cost: Best bought in the second half of the summer due to high supply, the price of the zucchini can be around $1 per pound – this price will rise when the vegetable is off-season.
Meal Ideas: I still remember the day when I made a zucchini pie – it was not only edible but also very tasty. Other ideas would include zucchini bread in a soup or stir-fry.
Nutrition Value: There are a few squash varieties, including butternut, yellow, or spaghetti – my favorite is definitely the butternut one. It brings about vitamin A amounts that meet your daily needs.
Cost: Prices will depend on which kind you go for and whether they are in season, but per pound, you can expect to pay anywhere between $0.90 and $1.30.
Meal Ideas: Butternut squash can be roasted or made into a soup. It's also a great side dish for any meat you have.
Nutrition Value: With its long shelf life, you will also be pleased to hear that canned tomatoes are equally nutritious as the fresh kind. In addition, they help reduce the risk of heart disease and cancer.
Cost: Cost can vary with the variety you will go for with options of diced, as a sauce, or a paste, but you can expect to see $0.70 to $0.80 for diced and sauce and $0.40 to $0.50 for paste.
Meal Ideas: Of course, canned tomatoes are the main ingredient for Italian dishes. Aside from that, you can look to use them in soups, salsa, or chili.
Nutrition Value: Compared to regular potatoes, sweet potatoes are often quoted as the healthier option. This is because it brings about a high level of vitamin A and provides potassium and vitamin B.
Cost: The sweet potato will usually be slightly higher in price when compared to regular potatoes, with costs around $0.60 to $0.70 per pound.
Meal Ideas: Sweet potatoes can act as a side dish in the way of mash or fries, but also be a key ingredient in potato soup or baked potato kind.
Nutrition Value: Besides adding so much color to your food, green, yellow, and red peppers are a source of vitamins C and A, fiber, potassium, and folic acid.
Cost: Regular peppers will cost around $2.10 to $2.40 depending on the store you are visiting; however, different kinds of variety can be more expensive.
Meal Ideas: Chopping peppers to your salad can be one way of consuming the peppers. Another method can be to use them in soup or stuff them with something inside – like a Turkey Stuffed Bell Peppers recipe I recently saw online!
Nutrition Value: Depending on the mix that you choose, frozen vegetables will last much longer and are an affordable alternative.
Cost: Frozen items are cheaper than their fresh counterparts and do not usually lose their nutrient value as part of the freezing process. A bag of frozen vegetables will cost around $1.
Meal Ideas: They are usually used as a side to your main dish, thrown into the soup or used in a stir-fry.
Grains are an important source of many nutrients like fiber, several vitamins, complex carbohydrates, and minerals. Some of the best grains to buy on a budget are rice, pasta, bread, quinoa, oatmeal, cereals, lentils, canned beans, canned chickpeas, tortillas, and ramen noodles.
Nutrition Value: With the option of white and brown, both bring about great values of vitamins and nutrients but also are the primary sources of carbohydrates for people's diets.
Cost: The price will differ slightly between brown and white, with brown being slightly more expensive. The range per pound that consumers can expect will be between $0.25 to $0.40.
Meal Ideas: Perfect for rice and chicken recipes, rice finds its way into many dishes around the world. You can use rice as your carbohydrate with pretty much any meal.
Nutrition Value: There are so many kinds of pasta that anyone can find their favorite. Wholegrain is usually recommended due to its higher fiber and lower calorie content; however, both types bring lots of manganese, selenium, copper, and phosphorus.
Nutrition Value: An average pasta pack will be around $0.9 to $1.20 per pound at the checkout – wholegrain will usually be slightly more expensive but usually worth the extra nutrient and health benefits.
Meal Ideas: The base of Italian kitchen pasta dishes can be found in many combinations, with my favorite being the carbonara. Just remember, never break the spaghetti; otherwise, you might find heartbroken Italian in front of you!
Nutrition Value: Bread in many cultures like Portugal or France is served with every single dish, regardless of what you have on your plate. For health benefits, it is always better to go for the wholegrain one bringing benefits of higher fiber and antioxidants than those baked with regular flour.
Cost: The average loaf will cost around $2.50; however, this will vary depending on the size of the loaf, the type of flour used and any toppings like grain on top. Also, the price difference lies in whether the bread is pre-sliced or not, with the pre-sliced one having a higher price tag.
Meal Ideas: As mentioned above, bread can be served as a side to any meal, as well as used for sandwiches, used as a base for bread pudding or used for toast.
Nutrition Value: Often compared to rice, quinoa not only brings a good amount of fiber, iron and antioxidants but is also a source of protein where it gains an edge over rice – and with more nutrients, it fills you up much faster.
Cost: Due to its higher nutrient content, in comparison with rice, quinoa is priced higher at around $1.50 to $1.70 per pound.
Meal Ideas: As crowned as one of the superfoods, quinoa is part of many healthy dish ideas, with the addition of tuna or avocado creating what is known as power bowls. It also acts excellent in salads, soups or as a side dish.
Nutrition Value: If I don't have my granola bowl in the morning, oatmeal is definitely my substitute. It promotes a healthy gut and lowers your blood sugar levels and help certain skin conditions.
Cost: An average price, found in pretty every supermarket out there, can vary between $0.30 to $0.40 per pound.
Cost: Oatmeal is a great breakfast or a between-meal snack. Oatmeal is one of the healthiest breakfast choices out there. I also have made homemade oatmeal cookies before, and they were terrific. Next on my list are the oat bars.
Nutrition Value: With a wide choice of cereals in the supermarkets, everyone will find something they like for a morning (or an evening!) bowl of goodness. It brings about proteins, vitamin B, and many minerals such as copper, magnesium, iron, zinc, and phosphorus.
Cost: The choice provided to us in supermarkets makes it hard to pinpoint the price, but a box of cereals would be expected to cost anywhere between $3.00-$4.00 per box and will usually last for ten bowls.
Meal Ideas: As a morning routine, cereals provide a good breakfast with nutrients and minerals. However, it is always good to consider which kind we are going for, as some boxes can be packed with sugars.
Nutrition Value: As an alternative to beans, lentils are a good choice regarding heart, blood pressure, and cholesterol levels. This is because they bring potassium, fiber, and folate into every serving.
Cost: On average, lentils will be around $0.25 to $0.35 per pound. They also have a very long shelf life; thus, they are great for stocking up the pantry.
Meal Ideas: India is one of the biggest lentils consumers, with many dishes incorporating lentils into the recipe. You can use lentils for salads, in soups or even replace them as the main protein of your meal, which is helpful for those who don't eat meat.
Nutrition Value: Packed with proteins, fiber, and vitamin B, beans are a must-have in your diet. There are many types of beans out there, including black, pinto, kidney, lima, red, or fayot, to name a few.
Cost: Depending on the variety of beans you buy, canned beans will cost around $0.45 to $0.55 per pound. Dried beans are usually a cheaper alternative if you are looking to save some extra.
Meal Ideas: They can be boiled, fried or baked, depending on the dish you make. As an excellent protein source, beans can be used instead of meat in many dishes. They also go well in salads, soups, or tacos.
Nutrition Value: Part of the bean family, chickpeas are high in protein food, which is a good source of protein, carbohydrates, fiber, vitamin B and minerals. Canned chickpeas are also cooked and ready for consumption.
Cost: Chickpeas being produced in the US have the advantage of low prices per pound of around $0.30 to $0.40, meaning significant savings for your wallet.
Meal Ideas: Chickpeas are used in many dishes, with a few ideas I have used for being chickpeas fajitas, chickpea mash or tomato & chickpea curry.
Nutrition Value: The one thing I like about tortillas is that you can put anything in them, and it will work! They are also a good source of fiber and magnesium, and with wholegrain options, you can boost the health benefits even more.
Cost: A bag of 10 tortillas will cost around $1.60 to $1.80, with a slight premium for the whole grain type and price variation around the size of the tortilla.
Meal Ideas: For me, everything can go in a tortilla; you can make burritos or a pizza using tortillas as a base or even have them sweat with banana and Nutella inside.
Nutrition Value: Providing iron, vitamin B, and manganese, noodles are a quick and easy dish coming originally from Japan.
Cost: Pre-packed noodles, which can be bought in any food store, will cost anywhere between $0.50 and $1.
Meal Ideas: Ramen noodles make for a quick and easy dish idea. Usually pre-packed with flavoring, all you need is hot water for a meal ready in minutes.
Dairy products are excellent for providing health benefits like building and maintaining strong bones. Still, they also deliver nutrients vital to the body, like calcium, vitamins, protein, and potassium. Some of the best dairy products to buy on a budget are yogurt, milk, cottage cheese, and butter.
Nutrition Value: The Source of protein that brings about lots of health benefits such as calcium, probiotics, vitamins, and live culture is all the words that your gut wants to hear.
Cost: A money-saving tip would be to buy a larger tub of yogurt rather than individual small-size ones, as it will be much cheaper. You can expect a larger tub to cost somewhere around $2.
Meal Ideas: Yoghurt is part of my morning routine, and it goes very well with my granola. You can also eat it on its own, use it as part of a smoothie, or any other recipe, including pancakes, muffins, or even bread.
Nutrition Value: Packed with nutrients, a glass of milk can deliver calcium, vitamins A and B12, potassium, magnesium, zinc and iodine, to name a few.
Cost: Did you know you can freeze milk? I didn't for quite a long time – thus, buying a big one, even if you use it in small batches, now makes sense.
Meal Ideas: It goes great with your morning cereals, oatmeal, any sauces and for the winter times, hot chocolate powder!
Nutrition Value: Coming from a milk family, cottage cheese is a good calcium source supporting bone health. Cottage cheese also brings about more protein than regular yogurt does.
Cost: Like yogurt, it is always better to buy a bigger tub if available. A 24oz tub can cost around $2.30, with prices increasing if any flavoring is added.
Meal Ideas: It is a great breakfast item or a mid-day snack. I also like to add cottage cheese to the inside of crepes and roll it with a jam – delicious!
Nutrition Value: Even though butter is made of the fatty portion of milk, it brings about the benefits of vitamin D and calcium, which help prevent diseases like osteoporosis.
Cost: The current average price of butter per pound of it is around $3.10 to $3.30.
Meal Ideas: One of the key ingredients for sandwiches, butter is used in frying, banking, or as part of the mashed potato process.
What Should You Consider When Buying Food On A Budget?
When checking the best foods to buy on a budget, you need to consider the price, promotions/rewards, expiration date, and seasonability.
Conscious of the price, there are many ways you can save while grocery shopping. This can include buying in bulk or opting out for non-branded products, which are usually of similar quality but cheaper. All staple foods are generally a good way to start.
The higher price can also be placed on pre-packed and prepared items. Opting for loose fruits and vegetables, for example, can save you money while making sure you buy the quantity you need.
Supermarkets are now fighting for their customers and trying to attract them with money-off personalized offers and vouchers given as a reward for shopping with them. This may include a loyalty card or an app on the phone to choose personalized offers off your shopping.
Checking the end-of-aisle promotions or this week's deals might also be a great idea to get the best value for money. Throw in an extra coupon on top, and you might pay half the usual price for the same good.
When it comes to food items, there is best before and use-by date. For use by date, items should be used by the date printed on the packaging for food safety reasons. If you can use them by the date printed and the date is coming close, retailers will usually discount this item to sell it before they need to throw it out – and you can grab yourself a bargain.
For best-before dates, items remain in good and safe-to-consume condition for much longer; thus, buying items close to best-before means you can get the item much cheaper. If stored correctly, you will also be safe to use it past its best-before date.
Supermarkets will try to have your product on shelve no matter if it is the right season for it. This is why you see strawberries on the shelf all year round. This doesn't mean they taste good, but they are there for your choice and convivence.
This usually comes at a price, especially fruits and vegetables that are not in season. They will be more expensive when they are off-season due to lower availability and higher cost of getting those on shelves which are then passed on to you as a consumer. Therefore, choosing items that are in season will not only taste better but will cost you less.
Common Questions About Best Groceries To Buy On A Budget
These are the most common questions about best foods to buy on a budget.
What Are The Best Places To Grocery Shop On A Budget?
The cheapest groceries to buy on a budget can be found in supermarkets like Costco, Aldi, Market Basket, WinCo Foods, Lidl, TraderJoe's, Walmart, Food 4 Less, H-E-B or Sam's Club. Try to look for the best deals, reward system and availability to buy in bulk. You also don't want to travel too far as this will indirectly increase the cost of your shopping.
What Is The Cheapest Food To Eat Everyday?
You will need a good mix of proteins and carbohydrates with some fruits and vegetables. The cheapest foods for every day will include chicken, eggs, beans, pasta, rice, lentils, oats or even corn tortillas. From fruits and vegetables, you might want to look at the frozen section as it is usually much cheaper, and also tomatoes, potatoes, spinach, mushrooms, apples and bananas.
How Can Poor People Eat Healthily?
When you are on a budget, you need to look for very nutritious food that will fill you up, which is also cheap and even cheaper if bought in bulk. So you will want to look at things like cheaper cuts of meat, whole grains, eggs, and beans. To remain still healthy on a budget, fruits and vegetables which are in season are usually cheap, or alternatively, you want to look for frozen replacements.
What Is The Cheapest Thing To Make For Dinner?
A few ideas for making dinner in the cheapest way would be to mix chicken with either rice or pasta, which will not only cost you under $10 for two but also taste good. Examples include chicken alfredo or teriyaki chicken, with both being dishes that are easily cookable in bulk so they can last for a few days of the week too.
How Do You Eat On A Tight Budget?
The key thing will be to plan ahead your meals and cook them yourself. As part of your planning, you will also want to stock up on bulky items where possible, as it's usually much cheaper, and many foods can be preserved for a long if stored correctly. Lastly, make sure you cut on empty calories – unhealthy food is cheap but doesn't fill you up and won't be good for your health in the long term.
With groceries being one of the key categories of household spending, it is always good to know what are the best foods to buy on a budget. A lot of people would say that to start saving on food, you should stop eating – this is, however, simply not true.
You can buy nutrient-rich food, stay healthy and save money without having to reduce the amount of food you eat, which will also be very unhealthy, and it won't be the right approach. There are many options out there for everyone when you try to look for the best groceries to buy on a budget.
With this knowledge in mind, you can go for your weekly food shopping and save some money which can go towards your financial goals instead.
Michael launched Wealth of Geeks to make personal finance fun. He has worked in personal finance for over 20 years, helping families reduce taxes, increase their income, and save for retirement. Michael is passionate about personal finance, side hustles, and all things geeky.