If you’re a seasoned bargain shopper, chances are you avoid certain healthy foods like designer juices or anything that boasts "organic" on the label. To be honest, some of these so-called "healthy" foods should never make it into your shopping cart in the first place. But with the right strategy, you can find others at incredibly reasonable prices. Consider this your guide to choosing the best budget-friendly health foods, so you can start saving money on some of your favorite items and ditch the ones that aren’t worth the extra cash.
1. Coconut Oil
The hottest item among Paleo and keto followers tends to carry a hefty price tag. Coconut oil is becoming more mainstream these days, so you've likely seen it at your local supermarket—along with coconut oil cooking spray. Though it's easier to find, it's no easier to afford—it still will probably run you $10 to $20 per bottle. But don't worry. If you’ve been dying to try the tropical oil but don’t want to drop the dough, there are a few options. Look for generic brands at Whole Foods for $5.99 per bottle or check out the food section at HomeGoods to find bottles for as little as $3 each.
2. Organic Quinoa
Although it's a staple among healthy foodies, there’s no need to buy the organic version of this protein-packed seed. Quinoa contains a chemical compound called saponin, which deters pests and tastes pretty bitter. Because of this coating, quinoa farmers don’t need to spray the plant with any pesticides to keep the bugs at bay. In other words, the “organic” versions of quinoa are completely unnecessary. Go for the traditional variety instead.
3. Vegan Desserts
Here’s a little secret about vegan desserts—the mere fact that they don't have butter or cream doesn’t automatically make them healthy. Many vegan desserts have just as much sugar and oil as their dairy-filled counterparts.
Unless you're vegan, don’t waste your money on a plant-based dessert just because you think it’s going to spare your waistline. Chances are, it isn’t any better for you—so save yourself the extra few bucks and buy that butter-filled chocolate chip cookie. Or if you really want to avoid the dairy, make this banana "nice" cream sundae instead.
4. Pureéd Fruit Pouches
There's definitely something to be said for convenience, but really, you should start making these at home. The ones that are actually good for you—or at least have no added sugar—are no more than pureéd fruit in a squeezable packet. So basically, baby food.
If you've been splurging on packets for pre-workout fuel or snacks for the kiddos when you need something in a pinch, that's totally fine, but if it's an everyday snack, you can stop wasting $2 on something that can easily be made at home. You got this: You can easily put two pieces of fruit in a blender and press the “on” button.
5. Cold-Pressed Juices
Cold-pressed juices aren't always worth their designer prices. If drinking a green juice makes you feel good, then by all means, enjoy it, but look for juices made fresh at the local juice bar instead of bottled ones that can carry an unnecessarily high price tag. Another option is to make a smoothie at home so you're spending less and still consuming the beneficial fiber that gets extracted during the juicing process.
6. Nuts and Seeds
Ever tried to make pesto from scratch before realizing that pine nuts cost upwards of $10? Point me in the direction of the pre-made pesto, please! With tons of healthy fats, protein, and fiber, nuts and seeds are way too good for you to cut from your daily diet. So what’s a nut-lovin' budget shopper to do? If you’ve got a hankering for homemade chia seed pudding, buy the ingredients from the bulk section of the supermarket.
We tend to associate "bulk" with 24-packs of toilet paper and family-size snacks fit to feed an army, but with DIY sections, you can choose the amount you want to buy. If you know you only need half a cup of a certain type of seed for a recipe, buy a small amount so you don’t waste your money on a giant bag you'll never finish.
And if you know you can empty out a bag of nuts like a squirrel in the springtime, consider buying from Trader Joe’s, BJ’s, and Costco. Whatever you do, be sure to keep your precious cargo in the fridge or freezer for optimal freshness. Because of their oil content, nuts and seeds can go rancid if stored at room temperature for too long.
This fish might as well be a filet mignon. Coming in at anywhere from $20-$40 per pound (yes, you’re reading that right), halibut should be called the “rich man’s fish.” It’s a light and lean white fish that has a pleasantly mild flavor, but it’s difficult to find at a reasonable price. That being said, everyone should be eating more fish—the Dietary Guidelines recommend opting for fish at least twice per week. For recipes that call for halibut, opt for similar-tasting fishes with a much more reasonable price tag, like cod or pollock.
8. Artisanal Jams and Preserves
Sometimes you want to impress your guests with artisanal blackberry jam, but you don’t want to drop $10 on a fancy bottle of jelly. Buying artisanal jams and preserves from your local farmer’s market or gourmet food shop may make you feel fancy, but it’s definitely not cost effective. And spoiler alert—you can easily find elegant jams at HomeGoods, TJ Maxx, and World Market for much cheaper than the gourmet market varieties. No one has to know.
9. Organic Chicken
Chances are, the pound of organic chicken in your cart eats up most of your food budget. The first step to solving this problem is having a basic understanding of the lingo on the food label. Terms like ‘natural’, ‘hormone-free,’ and ‘free-range’ don’t always mean what you think. Here's what you need to know about each one:
Natural: The chicken contains no artificial ingredients or preservatives—which is true for most varieties of chicken.
Hormone-free: Hormones aren't legally allowed in poultry, so this term adds no value.
Antibiotic-free: This one's pretty straightforward—a chicken raised without antibiotics.
Free-range: The chicken had some access to the outdoors.
With that being said, you may still not want antibiotics in your meat. To save a buck on the organic version, buy the bone-in varieties or whole chickens and do some butchering at home.
10. Nondairy Milk
Nut milk, oat milk, pea milk, coconut milk, soy milk—oh my! For the lactose intolerant, vegan, or those who just don’t do dairy, there are plenty of nondairy milks available, most of which will cost you a pretty penny. If you’ve got extra time, you can make your own nut and oat milk at home. Otherwise, opt for the shelf-stable varieties like Pacific and buy in bulk to save a few bucks.
11. Organic Avocados
Most people can barely afford traditional avocados, let alone the organic variety. We’ve all had the dilemma of spending $2 on a not-yet-ripe avocado, waiting too long for it to ripen, and throwing it in the trash. Cue sad music. Imagine how much more upsetting it would be if you spent the extra dough on the organic variety? Luckily, the thick skin of the avocado makes it impenetrable to most pests. So if you opt for the non-organic variety—most are free of pesticides anyway.