10 Foods That Actually Help Me Eat Healthier on a Budget

updated May 1, 2019
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Let’s break the myth once and for all that eating healthfully (in whatever way that looks like for you!) is automatically super pricey and will blow through your weekly food budget in a matter of days. Sure, it can, but it absolutely doesn’t have to.

In my own kitchen, I’ve made it a priority to fill my meal plan with foods that help my family eat in a way that feels healthy to us and makes us feel good — all while keeping our spending totally in check. These are some of the foods that I rely on to get the job done.

1. Eggs

Eggs are a huge part of my weekly meal plan. From hard-boiled eggs that serve as a breakfast on the go or a mid-afternoon protein boost, to a quick fried egg to bulk up a simple pile of beans and greens into a meal, to frittatas loaded with vegetables, eggs make my meals more satisfying and work as a vehicle for cleaning out the crisper to reduce food waste and getting more veggies on the table.

2. Beans and Lentils

I always have a few cans of beans and dried lentils in my pantry, both because they’re super cheap and because I know I can turn them into a filling meal at the drop of a hat — even when I don’t have a lot of other ingredients handy. I cook lentils into hearty dal and use them as a filling for tacos and wraps or as the base for simple salads. Beans can be simply marinated as a toast topping, sautéed with greens, or turned into a quick, protein-packed salad.

(Image credit: Christine Han)

3. Sweet Potatoes

This cheap and humble root vegetable is so incredibly versatile and can play so much more than side dish. I bake or roast a few during weekend meal prep, then use them as the makings of a super-satisfying breakfast, a filling for tacos and fajitas, and a topping for salads and grain bowls. I even blend them into a hearty chowder.

Read more: Why You Should Make a Batch of Sweet Potatoes at the Beginning of the Week

4. Whole Chicken

When I’m really trying to stick to my budget and get this lean meat into my meal plan, I always stick with buying the whole bird. For starters, it’s cheaper than most individual cuts (all except the legs). Plus it leaves my family of two with upwards of three dinners, and stock made from the leftover bones.

5. Hummus

Hummus is my secret to healthier afternoon snacking and eating more vegetables. Any time I have a container in the fridge (whether it’s store-bought or homemade), I will reach for that and whatever veggies I have on hand, rather than crackers, pretzels, chips, or chocolate.

6. Pasta

Pasta had never been something I associated with eating more healthfully — that is, until I made veggies a big part of the meal and was clued into the idea of flipping my plate. Instead of pasta taking up the bulk of my bowl with a few veggies mixed in, I flip the equation so that any time I have my favorite carb for dinner I make sure that vegetables make up most of the bowl with a smaller amount of pasta mixed in.

7. Frozen Vegetables

At any given time, you’re likely to find super-size bags of broccoli, cauliflower, peas, and spinach in my freezer. Maybe butternut squash and edamame, too. While I do love fresh veggies, their frozen counterparts are just as healthy and easier on my budget, plus I don’t have to worry about them spoiling. And having them on hand at all times means it’s super easy to work them into meals without planning ahead — and that ultimately helps me eat even more veggies.

(Image credit: Joe Lingeman)

8. Cottage Cheese

Cottage cheese is a newish addition to my diet, and I can’t believe it took me so long to get on board. I use it as a high-protein spread for toast in place of butter and jam, a filling for omelets, and the star ingredient of my favorite healthyish three-ingredient pancakes.

9. Canned Salmon

It wasn’t until my first round of Whole30 that I really fell for canned salmon. It’s packed with all the same healthy fats as its fresh counterpart, but comes at a fraction of the price. Most often you’ll find me using it as a protein-packed topping for salads and grain bowls and mixing it into fried rice and cauliflower “fried rice.”

(Image credit: Joe Lingeman)

10. Oats

Oats are my answer to always being sure my morning starts with a satisfying and filling breakfast — especially crucial on the mornings when time is tight (which, let’s face it, is every morning). During weekend meal prep I cook up a big batch of oatmeal or make overnight oats or baked oatmeal cups for the week ahead.

Your turn! We want to know your favorite budget-friendly foods that help you eat healthfully — tell us in the comments below.