When you're on a budget and shopping for one, it can feel nearly impossible to stock up on healthy foods. Fear not: We did the work for you. Check out our list of 44 tasty and healthy foods that'll cost you less than a buck per serving.
Note: Prices under $1 are based on units per serving and are followed by national average retail price. Pricing is approximate and will vary by brand and location.
1. Pinto Beans
Price: $0.30 per 1/2 cup, $3 per can
If you're a big fan of ordering refried beans at restaurants, you'll be glad to hear that they're a snap to make at home: Just mash up pinto beans with garlic and spices on the stove. Packed with protein and fiber, pinto beans are a delicious and health-minded addition to any homemade burrito, soup, or salad.
Price: $0.60 per ounce (20-25 nuts), $5 per 8-ounce bag
Grab a small handful of almonds during the day or add to a bowl of cereal or oatmeal for an extra-filling kick of protein. Rich in monounsaturated fat and fiber too, these super nuts could reduce the risk of diabetes and aid in weight loss. Health benefits of almonds beyond cholesterol reduction. Kamil A, Chen CY. Journal of agricultural and food chemistry, 2012, Feb.;60(27):1520-5118.
Price: $0.50 per ounce (25-30 nuts), $4 per 8-ounce bag
Though some peanut butters are packed with sugar, in their natural form, these legumes can be healthy treat. When eaten in moderation, peanuts supply a dose of healthy fats and can reduce the risk of heart disease. Impact of peanuts and tree nuts on body weight and healthy weight loss in adults. Mattes RD, Kris-Etherton PM, Foster GD. The Journal of nutrition, 2008, Sep.;138(9):1541-6100.
5. Chicken Breasts
6. Black Beans
Price: $0.30 per 1/2 cup, $1.50 per can
These unassuming beans pack a ton of fiber, as well as calcium, potassium, and folic acid. Pro tip: Buy dry beans for an even better health deal. Boiling them at home may preserve more of their cancer-fighting antioxidants. Total phenolic content and antioxidant properties of eclipse black beans (Phaseolus vulgaris L.) as affected by processing methods. Xu BJ, Chang SK. Journal of food science, 2008, Mar.;73(2):1750-3841. Cook up some black bean soup or make a healthy black-bean taco.
Price: $0.12 per 1/2 cup, $1.50 per pound (dry, in bulk)
These mild legumes add richness to curries and soups, plus act as a great meat replacement for Bolognese sauce or burgers. Bonus points: Lentils have more protein per pound than beef and are rich with antioxidants, so it might be worth it to trade in that cheeseburger once in a while. Phenolic substance characterization and chemical and cell-based antioxidant activities of 11 lentils grown in the northern United States. Xu B, Chang SK. Journal of agricultural and food chemistry, 2010, Apr.;58(3):1520-5118.
8. Garbanzo Beans
Price: $0.20 per ounce, $3 per pound
High in protein and low in fat, tofu is a delicious staple for vegetarians and meat-eaters alike. Plus soy in moderation may help reduce cholesterol and the risk of breast cancer. Vegan proteins may reduce risk of cancer, obesity, and cardiovascular disease by promoting increased glucagon activity. McCarty MF. Medical hypotheses, 2000, Mar.;53(6):0306-9877. Pan-fry tofu with veggies in your next stir-fry, scramble extra-firm tofu like eggs, and try the silken variety in a fruit smoothie.
10. Pumpkin Seeds
Price: $0.50 per ounce, $6 per pound
Pumpkin seeds (also known as pepitas) go well in a salad or can be roasted with spices for a crunchy snack. Seeing as they're filled with essential vitamins and minerals, along with protein and iron, you really can't go wrong. Amino acid, mineral and fatty acid content of pumpkin seeds (Cucurbita spp) and Cyperus esculentus nuts in the Republic of Niger. Glew RH, Glew RS, Chuang LT. Plant foods for human nutrition (Dordrecht, Netherlands), 2006, Sep.;61(2):0921-9668.
Price: $1 per pound (in bulk)
Oats are high in fiber, low in fat, and may even help lower cholesterol. Cholesterol-lowering effects of oat β-glucan. Othman RA, Moghadasian MH, Jones PJ. Nutrition reviews, 2011, Sep.;69(6):1753-4887. Oat: unique among the cereals. Sadiq Butt M, Tahir-Nadeem M, Khan MK. European journal of nutrition, 2008, Feb.;47(2):1436-6207. You probably already know about oatmeal, but don't be afraid to mix things up with one of these overnight oats recipes instead.
12. Canned Salmon
Price: $0.20 per ounce, $2.50 per 14.75 -ounce can
No need to splurge on a salmon fillet to enjoy this omega-3-packed seafood. Fatty fish, marine omega-3 fatty acids and incidence of heart failure. Levitan EB, Wolk A, Mittleman MA. European journal of clinical nutrition, 2010, Mar.;64(6):1476-5640. Grab the canned version for some protein power—without having to dish out big bucks. Then try whipping up a batch of homemade salmon burgers.
13. Canned Tuna
14. Whey Protein
Price: $0.75 per scoop, $40 per 3-pound container
Need an extra dose of protein? Add whey protein to a smoothie or bowl of oatmeal, or sneak it into your next batch of brownies.
16. Cottage Cheese
Price: $1 per 1/2 cup, $5.50 per 16-ounce container
This clumpy, mild cheese is surprisingly high in protein, and tastes great in both sweet and savory dishes. Like yogurt, cottage cheese typically comes in full-fat, low-fat, and fat-free varieties, so choose whichever fits best into your diet. Try it topped with sliced pineapple and berries or make it savory in a creamy pasta sauce.
Price: $0.25 per cup, $4 per gallon
Add a splash of milk to a fruit smoothie or enjoy it as a classic: over a bowl of cereal. One calcium-filled glass can help keep teeth strong and even stave off excess pounds. High-calcium milk prevents overweight and obesity among postmenopausal women. Angeles-Agdeppa I, Capanzana MV, Li-Yu J. Food and nutrition bulletin, 2010, Nov.;31(3):0379-5721.
18. Brown Rice
Price: $0.18 per 1/4 cup, $2 per pound
Use instead of white rice in any recipe (just note that cooking times differ) for a more exciting flavor and texture. Plus this whole-grain version of rice is full of fiber and may cut the risk of diabetes. Pitfall in MR imaging of lymphadenopathy after lymphangiography. Buckwalter KA, Ellis JH, Baker DE. Radiology, 1986, Dec.;161(3):0033-8419.
19. Whole-Wheat Pasta
Price: $0.37 per 1/2 cup, $3 per box
Enjoy whole-wheat pasta's nutty flavor paired with sautéed veggies and a fresh tomato sauce. Not only is the whole-wheat version of pasta more complex in taste, it's packed with fiber, antioxidants, and protein, and it may even help lower the risk of heart disease. Whole grain intake and cardiovascular disease: a meta-analysis. Mellen PB, Walsh TF, Herrington DM. Nutrition, metabolism, and cardiovascular diseases : NMCD, 2007, Apr.;18(4):1590-3729.
Price: $0.30 per 1/2 cup, $1 per pound for kernels
Popcorn is a low-calorie snack that's also a good source of fiber. Pop kernels on the stove or in a paper bag in the microwave, and then top with your fave spices, like taco seasoning or cinnamon and sugar.
Price: $0.60 per 1/4 cup, $5 per 12-ounce box
Add cooked quinoa to sweet granola bowls and veg-filled salads or serve as a side instead of pasta. Bursting with protein and fiber, quinoa also contains all nine essential amino acids (that the body can't produce on its own). Nutritional quality of the protein in quinoa (Chenopodium quinoa, Willd) seeds. Ruales J, Nair BM. Plant foods for human nutrition (Dordrecht, Netherlands), 1992, Apr.;42(1):0921-9668.
Price: $0.75 per cup, $1.50 per pound
Add sliced grapes to salads instead of sugar-filled dried fruit or freeze them for a refreshing summer snack. It'll be well worth it: These tiny fruits are high in antioxidants that may help reduce cholesterol.
Price: $0.50 per 1/2 cup, $3 per small melon
Cantaloupe makes a perfect spring or summer treat. The antioxidant-packed fruit pairs well with yogurt or can be frozen as a DIY popsicle.
Price: $0.85 each, $1.75 per pound
White fruits, like white pears, may help prevent strokes, at least according to one study. Colors of fruit and vegetables and 10-year incidence of stroke. Oude Griep LM, Verschuren WM, Kromhout D. Stroke; a journal of cerebral circulation, 2011, Sep.;42(11):1524-4628. But that doesn't mean you should only stick to one type. Keep your diet diverse and try the Bartlett, Bosc, and Anjou varieties.
Price: $0.30 per bulb
Add minced garlic to any pan of sautéed vegetables or roast whole in the oven for a sweeter flavor, and then blend into salad dressings and dips. In addition to its vitamins and minerals, garlic may help enhance memory (at least in rats) and reduce the chance of heart attack. Repeated administration of fresh garlic increases memory retention in rats. Haider S, Naz N, Khaliq S. Journal of medicinal food, 2009, Feb.;11(4):1557-7600. Allium vegetable intake and risk of acute myocardial infarction in Italy. Galeone C, Tavani A, Pelucchi C. European journal of nutrition, 2009, Jan.;48(2):1436-6215.
31. Canned Pumpkin
Price: $0.75 per 1/2 cup, about $2.50 per 15-ounce can
Pumpkin’s orange color comes from carotenoids, a plant pigment with powerful antioxidant properties. Carotenoid composition and vitamin A value of a squash and a pumpkin from northeastern Brazil. Arima HK, Rodríguez-Amaya DB. Archivos latinoamericanos de nutrición, 1992, Mar.;40(2):0004-0622. Add canned pumpkin to sweet or savory recipes—smoothies, muffins, veggie burgers, curries, and more!
32. Canned Tomatoes
Price: $0.50 per 1/2 cup, $1.80 per 14.8-ounce can
Tomatoes retain exceptional amounts of the antioxidant lycopene even after cooking and canning. Lycopene, tomatoes, and the prevention of coronary heart disease. Rao AV. Experimental biology and medicine (Maywood, N.J.), 2002, Dec.;227(10):1535-3702. Canned tomatoes are perfect for homemade sauces and stews, but be on the lookout for cans with no added sodium or sugar (and that are preferably BPA-free).
Price: $0.18 each, $0.59 per pound
Use along with garlic as an aromatic base for stir-fries, stews, and sauces; or sauté until golden and sweet, then add to salads, pastas, or sandwiches. Not only will your food be more flavorful, but you'll also be doing your body a favor—onions pack a surprisingly nutritious punch, including a hefty dose of antioxidants. Onions--a global benefit to health. Griffiths G, Trueman L, Crowther T. Phytotherapy research : PTR, 2003, Mar.;16(7):0951-418X.
Price: $0.50 each, $2 per pound
Raw carrot sticks are perfect for dipping into hummus or nut butters (don't knock it 'til you try it!) and taste great roasted with other root veggies and a drizzle of olive oil. That nutritious crunch comes with tons of vitamin A. Spinach or carrots can supply significant amounts of vitamin A as assessed by feeding with intrinsically deuterated vegetables. Tang G, Qin J, Dolnikowski GG. The American journal of clinical nutrition, 2005, Nov.;82(4):0002-9165.
35. Winter Squash
Price: $0.35 each, $1 per pound
These magenta gems are filled with betalains, an antioxidant that may help prevent cancer and other degenerative diseases. Chemoprevention of DMBA-induced UV-B promoted, NOR-1-induced TPA promoted skin carcinogenesis, and DEN-induced phenobarbital promoted liver tumors in mice by extract of beetroot. Kapadia GJ, Azuine MA, Sridhar R. Pharmacological research, 2003, Sep.;47(2):1043-6618. Betalains--a new class of dietary cationized antioxidants. Kanner J, Harel S, Granit R. Journal of agricultural and food chemistry, 2002, Jan.;49(11):0021-8561. They are also packed with folate, fiber, and vitamins galore—making them one of the best health bargains around. Nutritional and functional potential of Beta vulgaris cicla and rubra. Ninfali P, Angelino D. Fitoterapia, 2013, Jun.;89():1873-6971. Roast with olive oil for salads or as a side dish, or add to a smoothie.
Price: $0.50 per 1/2 cup, $2 per bunch
Broccoli has remarkably high levels of folate and vitamin C, which may help reduce the risk of certain cancers and heart disease. Effects of different cooking methods on health-promoting compounds of broccoli. Yuan GF, Sun B, Yuan J. Journal of Zhejiang University. Science. B, 2009, Oct.;10(8):1862-1783. Epidemiological studies on brassica vegetables and cancer risk. Verhoeven DT, Goldbohm RA, van Poppel G. Cancer epidemiology, biomarkers & prevention : a publication of the American Association for Cancer Research, cosponsored by the American Society of Preventive Oncology, 1997, Jan.;5(9):1055-9965. This veggie tastes amazing blended in soup, stuffed in potatoes, tossed in frittatas, or simply cooked with a bit of garlic and olive oil.
Price: $0.50 per cup, $2 per bunch
Replace lettuce with spinach in salads for added benefits or add a few handfuls into your morning smoothie. These unassuming greens are nutrient-dense with vitamins A, K, and calcium.
40. Sweet Potatoes
Price: $0.50 each, $1 per pound
Try this healthy alternative in place of a bread slice the next time you're whipping up an avocado-on-toast recipe. Sweet potatoes have high levels of vitamin A and calcium, plus they're lower in carbohydrates than their white counterparts (just in case you're counting). Studies also show the root veggie has anti-cancer, anti-inflammatory, and anti-diabetic activities. Sweet potato (Ipomoea batatas [L.] Lam)--a valuable medicinal food: a review. Mohanraj R, Sivasankar S. Journal of medicinal food, 2014, Jun.;17(7):1557-7600.
Price: $0.50 per 1/2 cup, $3 per 10-ounce frozen package
Skip the chips and enjoy edamame steamed with a touch of salt. These bite-size legumes are filled with fiber and protein, which make for a great afternoon snack.
Price: $0.40 per 16-ounce cup brewed at home, $10 per pound
Not only is it amazing for you, but brewing coffee at home can save some serious cash. This morning pick-me-up also contains antioxidants that help protect your heart. A small cup can be a great pre-workout choice to help increase endurance (just make sure you limit yourself to about a half cup).
Price: $0.10 per tea bag, $5 per box
There are plenty of health benefits linked to tea, ranging from lowering risks of depression and strokes to reducing chances of getting certain liver diseases. It may even help you maintain a healthy weight. Using Herbal Remedies to Maintain Optimal Weight The journal for nurse practitioners : JNP. 2010;6(2):153-154. doi:10.1016/j.nurpra.2009.12.005. Skip the sugary stuff and brew iced tea at home, and opt for the green variety if looking to maximize antioxidant intake.
Price: Free (... kind of).
Head to the nearest faucet: Our bodies depend on it! Water keeps us hydrated, flushes out toxins, and helps keep you full between meals. Water consumption increases weight loss during a hypocaloric diet intervention in middle-aged and older adults. Dennis EA, Dengo AL, Comber DL. Obesity (Silver Spring, Md.), 2009, Aug.;18(2):1930-739X. Still need more proof? Just check out one of these science-backed reasons water is awesome.
Originally published April 2013. Updated July 2016.