Eating healthy on a tight budget can be challenging.
Many nutrient-dense foods are quite expensive, which is why some people opt for cheap junk foods instead.
However, there are plenty of affordable foods you can purchase that are healthy and easy to add to your diet.
This article takes a look at 29 cheap, nutritious foods and their health benefits.
Broccoli is a cheap vegetable with an average price of $1.64 per head, and it provides some of almost every nutrient that you need.
It's particularly rich in vitamin C, which acts as an antioxidant and may boost your immune system. Just one cup provides 135% of your daily needs (1).
You can enjoy broccoli raw or cooked. It's often added to salads, casseroles and soups.
Onions are a popular vegetable with many health benefits, and they tend to be fairly low in price. At most stores, they can be purchased for about $1 a pound (.45 kg).
Additionally, onions provide small amounts of several nutrients, including vitamin C, manganese, vitamin B6 and potassium (11).
A small portion of onions can go a long way, and their versatility and flavor make them a great addition to any dish.
3. Bagged Spinach
Bagged spinach is quite healthy and almost always reasonably priced. Most stores carry it for about $2 per 9-ounce (255-gram) bag.Spinach is rich in vitamin K, which plays an important role in bone health and reducing the risk of heart disease and cancer (3).
Like other leafy, green vegetables, spinach also contains beneficial plant compounds. They have the ability to reduce inflammation and prevent cell damage, which helps prevent chronic diseases (16).
Incorporating spinach into your diet is simple. You can add it to salads, casseroles and soups. It can also be blended into smoothies for a nutrient boost.
4. Russet Potatoes
Russet potatoes are an excellent source of nutrients and typically available for a reasonable price. On average, they cost about $0.56 per pound.
Regularly eating potatoes with the skin may benefit brain and immune system health. This is due to the significant amount of vitamins C and B that they provide. They also contain fiber, which supports digestion and appetite control (1, 17, 18, 19).
There are several ways to add potatoes to your diet. They taste great baked or boiled and make a fantastic side dish.
5. Sweet Potatoes
Sweet potatoes are extremely healthy and one of the cheapest vegetables you can buy.
For only $0.92 a pound, they provide an impressive amount of vitamins and minerals that have many health benefits.
They are particularly high in beta-carotene, which is converted into vitamin A in the body. Just one sweet potato provides 369% of your daily need for vitamin A, which plays an important role in eye health (21, 22).
Sweet potatoes also contain a decent amount of B vitamins, vitamin C, potassium and fiber. Studies show they may have anti-inflammatory effects, which help lower the risk of chronic diseases such as cancer and diabetes (21, 23, 24).
You can pair sweet potatoes with just about any dish, and they are quite easy to prepare by steaming, baking or roasting.
6. Canned Tomatoes
What really makes tomatoes shine is their vitamin C content. A one-cup serving contains an impressive 37% of your daily needs. They also provide some B vitamins, vitamins A, E and K and many trace minerals (26).
Studies have shown that eating tomatoes may help reduce "bad" LDL cholesterol and blood pressure levels, two primary risk factors for heart disease. What's more, they may protect against certain types of cancer (27, 28, 29, 30).
Many of their health benefits are attributed to their lycopene content. Lycopene is an antioxidant that may reduce inflammation, protect cells from damage and lower the risk of disease (28).
Canned tomatoes are a handy staple to have in your kitchen. They can easily be added to soups, casseroles and stews.
If your budget is tight, carrots are a cheap and nutrient-dense vegetable to include in your diet.
They can be purchased for an average of only $0.74 per pound.
Carrots are one of the richest sources of beta-carotene, which is responsible for their impressive vitamin A content. Just one cup of carrots provides 428% of your daily needs for vitamin A, which promotes good eyesight and immune health (31, 32, 33).
Furthermore, carrots contain a significant amount of fiber, vitamin C, vitamin K, potassium and manganese (31).
You can reap the health benefits of carrots by enjoying them raw or cooked. They make an excellent addition to salads and cooked dishes.
8. Green Cabbage
At an average of $0.58 per pound, green cabbage is a perfect budget-friendly vegetable.
High amounts of vitamin C and K are found in green cabbage, in addition to some B vitamins and trace minerals (36).
Cabbage and other cruciferous vegetables are unique because of their glucosinolate content. Glucosinolates are antioxidants that have been studied for their ability to protect against certain types of cancer (37, 38, 39).
Some studies have also found that cabbage consumption may lead to a significant reduction in the risk of heart disease (40).
A versatile vegetable, cabbage is easy to add to your diet. It's commonly enjoyed in salads and coleslaw, or can be fermented and made into sauerkraut.
9. Butternut Squash
Butternut squash is a nutrient-dense option to include in your diet, and it's quite affordable.
On average, it's priced at a little over $1 a pound.
Compared to other winter squash varieties, butternut squash provides a higher amount of nutrients.
In fact, one cup contains 298% of the RDI for vitamin A, 49% for vitamin C, 14% for potassium and 12% for magnesium (41).
There are several different ways to enjoy butternut squash. It tastes great on its own, but it's often consumed as a side dish.
10–16: Grains and Legumes
10. Brown Rice
Brown rice is a fantastic, cheap food that provides fiber, vitamins and minerals. In general, stores carry it for about $2 a pound.
Including brown rice in your diet is simple. It is quite easy to prepare and can be enjoyed with just about any meal.
Oatmeal is another nutrient-dense whole grain that is typically affordable at about $2 a pound.
It contains an impressive amount of nutrients, including B vitamins, iron, manganese, phosphorus, zinc and magnesium (51).
In general, oats are enjoyed as a breakfast food. You can combine them with fruit, milk, yogurt and several other ingredients for a healthy and delicious meal.
12. Canned Beans
Canned beans are budget friendly, in addition to being very nutritious. Different types of beans vary in price, but you can generally find them for less than $1 a pound.Beans contain a significant amount of fiber and a variety of vitamins and minerals, including folate, iron, magnesium and potassium (60).
Furthermore, they are an excellent source of plant-based protein. There are 15 grams of protein in a cup (172 grams) of black beans, which is beneficial for weight maintenance and muscle strength (60, 61, 62, 63, 64).
Consuming beans and other legumes is also associated with a reduced risk of heart disease and diabetes. This is likely due to their ability to lower cholesterol and promote blood sugar control (65, 66, 67, 68).
Beans can be incorporated into just about any dish. They are commonly added to soups, salads and burritos.
13. Dried Lentils
On average, dried lentils cost $1.39 a pound, so they are fairly affordable and quite healthy.
A cup (198 grams) of lentils provides a significant amount of nutrients, including 90% of your daily need for folate, 37% for iron, 25% for copper and 49% for manganese (69).
They also contain an impressive amount of protein and fiber, which is why they are so filling and helpful for weight control (70).
What's more, lentils contain antioxidants that protect cells from inflammation. This may reduce the risk of chronic diseases such as diabetes and cancer (71).
Research also suggests that eating lentils is associated with improved blood pressure and cholesterol levels, which is important for preventing heart disease (72).
The use of lentils is similar to that of beans, and there are several ways that they can be incorporated into the diet, such as in salads and soups.
Edamame is a healthy food with a fairly low price. A 16-ounce bag of frozen edamame generally costs less than $2.
It's an excellent high-fiber food and provides several nutrients, including vitamin K, folate and almost every trace mineral that your body needs (73).
Moreover, it's another rich, plant-based source of protein, providing 17 grams in a one-cup (155-gram) serving (73).
Studies show that edamame and other soy-based foods may help lower the risk of heart disease, osteoporosis and certain types of cancer. This is often attributed to their content of isoflavones, which function as antioxidants in the body (74, 75, 76).
Most often, edamame is prepared as a steamed side dish. You can increase its flavor by adding seasonings of your choice.
In general, quinoa costs around $3–4 a pound, which is cheap for such a nutritious food.
Quinoa is a complete source of protein, which means it provides all the essential amino acids your body needs.
This sets it apart from other grains, which need to be paired with other foods to be considered complete protein sources.
Also, quinoa contains antioxidants, fiber, B vitamins, vitamin E, iron, manganese, zinc and several other trace minerals, all of which protect your cells from damage that often leads to disease (77).
The use of quinoa in cooking is similar to that of rice. It's easy and quick to prepare and can be eaten alone or incorporated into salads and cooked dishes.
16. Air-Popped Popcorn
Popcorn makes a terrific snack food, especially because it is healthy and cheap, typically costing less than $2 a pound.
Furthermore, popcorn provides some filling fiber and disease-fighting antioxidants, as well as a fair amount of B vitamins and magnesium (80).
To make air-popped popcorn, place one-fourth cup of popcorn kernels into a brown paper bag and heat it in the microwave until it stops popping. Add toppings of your choice, such as olive oil, sea salt or Parmesan cheese.
As one of the cheapest fruits around, bananas are generally sold for about $0.60 a pound, and they have a variety of health benefits.
They are full of some important vitamins and minerals, such as vitamin C, vitamin B6, potassium and manganese (20).
You can enjoy bananas as a quick snack food. They also taste great combined with peanut butter or yogurt.
Oranges are very healthy and cheap, typically sold for about $1 a pound.
They are prized for their vitamin C content. Just one orange provides 116% of your daily need for this immune-boosting vitamin (82). They also provide fiber, antioxidants and lots of other nutrients, including B vitamins, calcium and potassium (82).
Consuming oranges and other fruits on a regular basis has been shown to reduce inflammation in the body, thus lowering the risk of several conditions, such as heart disease, diabetes and obesity (83, 84).
It is simple to add oranges to your diet. They are fairly convenient and can be enjoyed as a snack on their own or mixed with yogurt, salads and smoothies.
19. Frozen Berries
Berries are nutrition superstars and reasonably priced when you purchase them frozen. A pound of frozen, mixed berries costs about $3.50.
Their incredible antioxidant content makes them one of the healthiest fruits you can eat. In fact, berries are considered to be one of the best sources of natural antioxidants (85).
To reap the health benefits of berries, try to include them in your diet regularly. They make for a delicious snack or healthy dessert and can be added to smoothies and salads.
Apples are very healthy and generally cheap, averaging $1.60 a pound.
Moreover, apples provide some vitamin C, B vitamins and trace minerals, as well as several antioxidants. Eating them regularly may help lower inflammation in the body, which is a major risk factor for several chronic diseases (91, 92, 93).
They are an easy, convenient food to add to your diet and commonly consumed as a snack or chopped into a salad.
Cantaloupe is a nutrient-dense and affordable fruit, typically costing around $0.50 a pound.
It's abundant in some important nutrients, providing 106% of your daily need for vitamin A, 95% for vitamin C and 12% for potassium in a one-cup (177-gram) serving (96).
Like other orange vegetables and fruits, cantaloupe contains the antioxidant beta-carotene, which has powerful health benefits such as cancer and heart disease prevention (97).
On average, kiwis cost only $2 a pound, and they have some powerful health benefits.
They are also high in fiber, vitamin K, potassium and antioxidants, all of which work together to protect your cells from damage and reduce the risk of chronic disease (99).
Kiwis may be particularly helpful for heart health, as eating them regularly has been shown to increase "good" HDL cholesterol, lower levels of fats in the blood and decrease blood pressure (99).
23–26: Fish, Meat and Eggs
23. Canned Fish
Canned fish has many health benefits and is significantly cheaper than fresh seafood. In general, a 6-ounce (170-gram) can of tuna or salmon costs between $2–3.
Additionally, fish provides a decent amount of the trace mineral selenium, which may boost immune system health and protect against cancer (104).
What's more, if you purchase canned fish with the bones included, you will get a healthy dose of vitamin D, calcium and phosphorus (105).
You can pair canned fish with salads, sandwiches, crackers and avocado or use it in several dishes, such as seafood cakes and stir-fries.
In only three ounces of ground pork, there are 22 grams of protein, in addition to a significant amount of B vitamins, phosphorus, zinc, iron and selenium (106).
It's best to eat unprocessed pork that has been cooked properly.
Eggs are one of the most nutritious foods on the planet, and they are very affordable at an average price of $2 a dozen.
You can easily make eggs a regular part of your diet. They taste great and go with almost any food.
26. Chicken Breast
At $3–4 a pound, chicken breast is an excellent healthy and protein-rich food to eat when you're on a budget.
Chicken breast also contains high amounts of important vitamins and minerals, such as niacin, vitamin B6, phosphorus, magnesium and selenium (112).
Including chicken breast in a healthy, balanced diet has been shown to help reduce the risk of obesity, heart disease and diabetes. It may also protect against the risk of cancer (113).
27. Cottage Cheese
A 16-ounce container of cottage cheese typically costs less than $2, so it's affordable and a very healthy food to include in your diet.
In addition, it contains a variety of other nutrients, including calcium and phosphorus, which are known for playing an important role in bone health (116).
You can enjoy cottage cheese as a delicious snack. It tastes great when combined with fruit and is often added to salads.
Yogurt is nutritious, budget friendly and found in most stores for $2–3 for a 32-ounce (1 kg) container.
In only one cup (245 grams) of yogurt, there are 13 grams of protein and lots of B vitamins, in addition to 45% of your daily need for calcium, 35% for phosphorus and 15% for zinc (117).
Yogurt tastes great when combined with fruit or nuts, or it can be added to smoothies. It can also be made into a sauce and combined with cooked dishes.
Milk is very healthy and affordable, costing a little over $2 per gallon.
One cup (236 ml) of whole milk provides a significant amount of protein, calcium, B vitamins and phosphorus. It's also typically fortified with vitamin D (120).
The Bottom Line
A healthy diet doesn't have to be expensive.
There are plenty of affordable, nutrient-dense foods you can purchase without breaking the bank.
In fact, some healthy foods are cheaper than processed junk foods.
The 29 foods listed in this article are both cheap and healthy, making them a great addition to your diet.