12 Foods with the Healthiest Bang for Your Buck


When you consider budget-friendly food, the word “healthy" may not immediately pop into mind. You might even think that eating healthy means purchasing pricey foods and supplements...and plenty of them.  

The truth is, many of the most nutrient-dense foods are readily available right in your grocery store – and many of them are more affordable than the packaged foods that line the shelves. Below are favorite picks from registered dietitians from across our healthcare system.

1. Potatoes

Potatoes make a nourishing and wallet-friendly food. The average potato provides over 4 grams of protein, a generous dose of healthy carbs (about 36 grams), and nearly 4 grams of fiber. Even the white varieties are packed with essential vitamins and nutrients, including Vitamin C, Vitamin B6, and potassium. Unless you’ve been advised by a physician to avoid potatoes, these wallet-friendly root vegetables are far from unhealthy.

Do: Opt for roasted, baked, air-fried, or mashed potatoes. In many recipes, a baked potato or layer of roasted wedges can make a great alternative to nacho chips, burger buns, and more.

Avoid: Fried potatoes and French Fries.

2. Eggs

These nutrient-dense delights are filled with the perfect combination of ingredients, making them an ideal meal even on their own. Packed with a rainbow of B vitamins as well as vitamins A, D, E, K, selenium, choline, and phosphorus, eggs make an “eggsceptional” food you can enjoy every day. 

But what about cholesterol? Though eggs are rich in cholesterol, they don’t negatively affect dietary cholesterol for most people. In fact, they raise your HDL or “good” cholesterol.

Do: Look for pasture-raised or Omega-3 eggs if you can work them into your budget.

Avoid: Tossing the yolk, where many of the valuable nutrients are stored.

3. Canned Fish

Canned protein might not immediately inspire thoughts of health. But if those cans happen to be filled with tuna, salmon, and sardines, then they’re not so fishy after all!

Canned salmon, sardines, and tuna provide a great source of protein – roughly 20-25 grams a serving – and they’re rich in healthy Omega-3 fats, selenium, B-complex vitamins, iron, potassium, and magnesium. Even better, these grab-and-go proteins stack easily in your pantry and they’re conveniently ready to be spread on bread or lettuce. 

Do: Look for the “light” or skipjack variety.

Avoid: Albacore tuna. Albacore or “white” tuna contains approximately three times as much Mercury, a naturally occurring chemical that can cause health issues in high amounts. 

4. Cottage Cheese

Weighing in at about 12 grams of protein per half cup (for 2% milk fat), cottage cheese is a satiating source of calcium, riboflavin, and Vitamin B12. Cottage cheese is also an easy grab-and-go food so if you tolerate dairy, stocking up on this easy-going food is a no-brainer. 

Do: Pair with savory foods, like tomatoes, if you're watching your sugar intake or you're sensitive to the fructose in fruit. Cottage cheese also makes a great base for homemade dips, and you can even add it to your pancake batter to spruce up your stack and increase your healthy protein intake at breakfast. 

5. Oats

Considered to be one of the most nutrient-packed foods, oats can easily fill you up with protein, soluble fiber, and even healthy fat. These gluten-free* morsels are also chock full of antioxidants and essential vitamins and minerals. Perhaps best of all, you can make a big batch ahead of time and top them with your favorite in-season fruit, nuts, and more.

Do: Look for oat groats, rolled oats, or steel-cut oats, which contain more nutrients than quick-cooking oats. If cooking a large batch feels overwhelming, consider overnight oats, which can be quickly prepared in a container before bedtime for a grab-and-go breakfast in the morning.

Avoid: *Eating oats before talking to your physician if you have been diagnosed with Celiac disease or suspect that you're sensitive to gluten. Oats can contain cross-contamination from wheat, rye, or barley.

6. Beans

Beans (aka “pulses”) are loaded with nutritional benefits beyond healthy proteins and carbohydrates. In addition to antioxidants, this magical food is rich in iron, antioxidants, and folate. Not only do beans help control blood sugar and keep you full, but they’re also heart healthy and may help improve your gut health too. Beans like lentils, black beans, and navy beans make a great addition to soups, skillets, salads, and even blended in smoothies!

Do: Try dried beans, which are often more affordable than canned. Soak according to the packaging. If you struggle digesting beans, soak them until they begin to sprout. 

Avoid: Consuming the water that comes with canned beans if you're watching sodium intake.

7. Peanut Butter

Speaking of beans, peanut butter is another great way to reach your daily dose of protein, healthy fats, fiber, and vitamins. Technically part of the legume (aka bean) family, peanuts can hold their own in the healthy foods category, and they’re also kind to your wallet. Peanut butter especially makes an affordable, convenient, and pantry-friendly food. Peanut butter is rich in vitamins and minerals, satiating, heart-healthy, and a low-carb option for regulating blood sugar.

Do: Enjoy on top of apple or banana slices, oatmeal, celery, and even carrot sticks.

8. Plain Yogurt

If you tolerate dairy, you can’t beat the benefits of plain (non-sweetened, non-flavored) yogurt. One cup of plain yogurt meets a whopping 49% of your calcium needs for the day! A form of fermented milk, plain yogurt contains way more nutritional benefits than calcium, including B vitamins and essential minerals. It’s often fortified with vitamin D too. 

High in protein, plain yogurt also contains probiotics, which promote great gut health. Whether you buy the full-fat variety or add your own healthy fats, plain yogurt makes a great breakfast or snack food that’s both affordable and lunch-bag friendly.

Do: Add to smoothies, top with in-season fruit and healthy seeds like chia. Sweeten with honey or maple syrup if it's too tart for your taste.

Avoid: Flavored varieties (with the exception of vanilla) and yogurt with fruit on the bottom, which contain fewer nutrients and a surprising amount of added sugar.

9. Carrots

Orange veggies and fruits make great plate-fillers because of their rich beta-carotene (vitamin A) nutrients. Carrots are a budget-friendly orange food that promote eye health, lower blood pressure and bad cholesterol, fight free radicals that lead to disease, and boost your immune system. Happy crunching!

Do: Consider buying your carrots whole. Peeling and cutting them yourself is often more budget-friendly.

10. Apples

Apples are a staple food here in the Mitten state and their local availability helps keep costs down. But that’s not the only reason they made our list: whether you prefer them tart or sweet, apples satisfy our urge to crunch while delivering a great dose of fiber, vitamin C, potassium, antioxidants, and more. 

Do: Slice them, dice them, or just dive right in for a great big bite. Remember to wash the skin thoroughly before enjoying this tasty, crisp fruit. 

11. Kale and Spinach

They’re not as sweet as apples or crunchy as carrots, but these affordable greens are abundant in nutrients. High in vitamin C and Vitamin K (along with riboflavin, calcium, iron, and a wide variety of other vitamins and minerals) you can’t go wrong with either of these greens as a part of your daily diet. 

Do: Gently massage your with clean hands if you plan to eat it raw.

12. Bananas

One of the lowest-cost foods available, bananas make a perfect snack or side to your main meal. Bananas are known for their rich source of essential minerals like potassium and magnesium, but they're also filled with healthy fiber, prebiotics, Vitamin B6, and Vitamin C.

Do: Pair this powerhouse snack with some peanut butter for additional protein and fat and you've got a well-rounded snack that will fuel you until your next meal time.

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