The Best Cheap Healthy Grocery List for Small Budgets

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Shorter Version


Est. Reading Time: 4 Minutes

If I had a dollar for every time one of my clients said “Eating healthy is too expensive,” I would be able to do everyone’s grocery shopping. Including nutritious foods in your meal plan does not have to break the bank. Honestly, it shouldn’t break the bank if you’re doing it right. Consider these grocery shopping tips to help you get started on stocking a nutritious kitchen and bookmark this page so you can take our cheap healthy grocery list with you the next time you go to the store.

Consider this

Everyone wants to save money, and cutting corners at the grocery store is one of the best ways to save considering food is a daily necessity and purchased often.

GET SALE SAVVY. And “clip” coupons!

Okay, I know tangible coupons aren’t really a thing anymore, but there are plenty of grocery apps out there that help you find sales and offer coupons. Although I always recommend making a grocery list prior to going to the store, it is good to be somewhat flexible based on which items are on sale. Items that often go on sale include fresh produce, deli meat and cheeses, bread and baked goods from the fresh bakery, refrigerated dairy products, bulk items (nuts, seeds, grains, dry beans), and fresh meat, poultry, and fish.

So basically, you can find sale items in most departments and use these sales to plan your meals. If you are unable to use them before their use-by-date, learn to freeze or store them safely for another time.

When making your cheap healthy grocery list, remember these tips:

Buy Seasonally

Seasonal produce tends to be less expensive because those fruits and vegetables are in a surplus and need to be used. Plan your meals around what is in season in your region. You can also purchase extra of these goodies, then freeze or can them for later in the year when they are no longer at a bargain price.

Stock up on Canned and Frozen Foods

There is #noshame in using canned or frozen foods in your meals as they are just as “healthy” as their fresh counterparts. I actually make a point to always keep a variety of frozen fruits and veggies on hand because they have a long shelf life and are easy to toss into a variety of meals when you are in a pinch. Sometimes canned goods can be less expensive than their fresh counterparts as well but always compare pricing.

DIETITIAN TIP: Always rinse canned goods in a food strainer prior to use to rinse away any syrups or additives such as salt. Purchase frozen goods with no added sauces or syrups. The only ingredient on the list should be the whole food(s) itself.

Buy in Bulk

Find a grocery store that has a bulk section. Bulk sections allow you to choose how much you need at a time, and they often have great sales due to needing a quick turnover. Purchase your whole grain, nuts, seeds, and dried legumes here. I like to use the bulk section to keep a variety of different lentils and rice in my pantry without having to purchase a surplus of each.

Opt for Whole Food

GO FOR THE WHOLE… whole food, that is. While convenience items such as baby carrots, spiralized noodles, and pre-chopped stir-fry veggies can come in handy, these items are usually more expensive due to the additional prep work and packaging. Aim to purchase the whole food version most of the time and do the prep work at home. Yes, that means you have to save a little extra time to food prep, but it will save you money in the long run.

Limit Supplements as Food

On another note, try to limit purchasing supplemental foods such as premade protein shakes and smoothies, nutrition bars, and frozen meals unless the convenience or nutrition support is absolutely necessary. These also tend to be more expensive and can easily be replicated at home.

Take this cheap healthy grocery list with you to the store

Taking all things above into consideration, here is a general cheap healthy grocery list to get you and your wallet started:

Produce

  • Seasonal, whole fruit, and vegetables (Consider which items you prioritize as organic. For example, I purchase organic when on sale or if I am going to eat the peel or outer layer, i.e. apples and berries.)
  • Garlic cloves
  • Onions
  • Potatoes
  • Bananas
  • Apples
  • Leafy greens on the stem (Do the prep work at home to de-stem and chop. You may want to invest in a salad spinner.)

Bakery

  • Whole grain bread and/or buns (freeze if about to expire)
  • Fresh whole grain tortillas or wraps

Deli & Dairy

  • Whole, fresh meat, poultry, and fish – on sale when possible
  • Choice of plain milk (for non-dairy lovers, almond, soy, rice, and oat tend to be the least expensive options)
  • Whole cheese from deli counter (cut or crumble yourself at home)
  • Plain yogurts (add your own honey, maple syrup, or fresh fruit for a sweeter flavor)
  • Eggs
  • Tofu or tempeh (consider eating more plant-based proteins as they are MUCH cheaper than animal proteins)

Dry goods & bulk section

  • Nuts and seeds
  • Whole-grains – brown and wild rice, quinoa, rolled and steel-cut oats
  • Whole-grain noodles
  • Whole-grain crackers
  • Baking flours – whole-wheat, almond flour, coconut flour, rice flour, etc. (DIETITIAN TIP: Make your own flours at home by processing whole grains, nuts, or seeds in a high speed blender.)
  • Nut butter – peanut butter and sunflower seed butter tend to be the least expensive
  • Lentils
  • Beans – canned or dry
  • Low-sodium canned vegetables
  • Canned no-salt-added diced tomatoes & tomato sauce (great for soups and pasta sauces)
  • Canned fruits
  • Low-sodium vegetable or chicken broth
  • Cooking oils – olive oil, canola oil, avocado oil
  • Jarred salsa
  • Favorite condiments
  • Vinegar – apple cider, balsamic, red wine, white (these come in handy when making homemade dressings and marinades)
  • Shelf-stable milk (great for non-dairy folks)
  • Variety of dried herbs & spices – individual containers or in bulk (great for making your own seasoning mixes)

Frozen Items

  • Plain fruits (without syrups or added sugar)
  • Single vegetables and veggie mixes (without sauce)
  • Proteins – chicken, turkey, meats, fatty fish, shellfish
  • Shelled edamame
  • Green peas
  • Mixed meals on sale (There are some “healthier” brands at each store that will go on sale every now and then. Check the sodium, fat, and added sugar content before purchasing.)

Actionable Steps



Keep reading the actionable steps below for tips on saving money on grocery shopping

1

Plan ahead.

Take time to plan out your meals and snacks for the week ahead. Also, consider how much time you have to meal prep as this may determine fresh versus frozen or canned goods and whether you need to purchase some convenience items such as microwave rice.

2

Make a grocery list.

A list will keep you on track in the grocery store and deter you from impulse purchases (hopefully). Bookmark this page so when you’re at the store you can use your phone to pull up our cheap healthy grocery list!

3

Check what you have.

Use your meal plan when checking your pantry, refrigerator, and freezer to see which foods you already have in stock. Check them off your list as you go.

4

Shop till your wallet don’t drop.

Stick to the items on your list with the exception of sale items. Remember to be flexible with comparing items here. If you originally planned on roasted chicken but the turkey breast is on sale, that’s a budget-friendly swap. Likewise, if you didn’t plan on snacking on trail mix this week, but the bulk section has it on sale, make the snack switch.

Online grocery shopping is a great way to keep you on track with your budget! Check out Thrive Market and get 25% off your first order.

5

Choose convenience items and “superfoods” wisely.

If the ready-to-go or the partially prepared item is on sale or happens to be less expensive than the whole food or unprepared item, then consider the switch this time around. “Superfoods” such as protein powders, nutritional bars, supplemental powders, cold-pressed juices, and so on can get very pricey. Keep in mind that all whole foods are super with their natural vitamins, minerals, fiber, and flavor.

6

Store foods properly.

No one wants to see food go to waste when it was purchased with your hard-earned dollar. Read this article on How to Store Foods So They Last Longer or check out our article in the Nutrition section. Also, check this FDA’s Food Safety Tips while you’re at it.

7

Read more about this topic.

For more information about building the best cheap healthy grocery list, check out these articles: Nutrition Stripped’s 20 Tips for Healthy Eating on a Budget.
The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics’ Shop Healthy on a Budget or Eat Right on a Budget. Alissa Rumsey Nutrition & Wellness’ Healthy Grocery Shopping on a Budget. A Guide for your 20s Eating Healthy on a Budget.



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About the Author


shannon costello

Shannon Costello

Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN)

Shannon is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN), Health Coach, Certified Personal Trainer, and Group Fitness Instructor with over 5 years of experience working in Corporate Wellness specializing in overall health, nutrition, and fitness. Throughout her journey to becoming an RDN, she grew her passion for culinary nutrition by teaching and developing hands-on cooking classes for all ages in the community.
Full Bio | LinkedIn


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