One of the common money myths I hear from people all of the time is, “It costs more to eat healthy.” The reality, though, is just the opposite.
Sure, you can spend a lot to eat healthy, but you can also spend a ton of money on a very unhealthy diet. I’ve always noticed that the food we should be eating the most of (according to the good old USDA) — things like grains, legumes, fruits and veggies — happen to cost less on a per-pound basis than the food that’s bad for us, at least in large quantities (red meat, fatty dairy products, processed foods, etc.).
Of course there are exceptions, but as a general rule, when you eat lower on the food chain, you have a healthier and more affordable diet.
With that in mind, I started keeping a running list of healthy foods I’ve found for under $1 per pound at supermarkets near where I live, in the Washington, D.C., area, which happens to be one of the most expensive places to live and shop in the U.S. Now, before you accuse me of being a “cheap-fake” rather than a “cheapskate,” let me be clear: Not all of the foods on this list can be found everywhere, at all times, for under $1 per pound (although some nearly always can).
Quite a few items on this list were special sale items (aka “loss leaders”), and scoring many of the fruits and vegetables on this list for under a buck a pound means buying them when they’re in season. And, no, you’re not likely to find any organically raised foods costing under $1 a pound — but most Americans would have a dramatically improved diet simply by eating more of the foods on this list, organic or not.
So forget this crazy talk about it costing more to eat healthy and adopt my motto instead: “For a healthy diet year round, shop for foods at under $1 a pound.”
51 Healthy Foods That Cost Less Than a Buck a Pound
Not such a forbidden fruit after all, when you can find them on sale — particularly in the fall.
When they start to turn brown, peel and freeze them, then thaw slightly and mash them up to make a delicious, healthy mock ice cream. And for clever ways to repurpose banana peels and the skins of other fruits and veggies, here’s an a-peeling video:
This superfood is the perfect nutty substitute for rice or risottos in any dish. Plus, it barley costs anything.
Dried beans are always the best value, but canned beans are still a great deal.
5. Bok Choy
Try it steamed, stir-fried, braised, raw or in soups.
Look for store specials, particularly in the fall, and be sure to peel and thinly slice the tougher stems so that you can eat them, too.
7. Bulgur Wheat
Although best known by vegetarians, everyone should try this high-fiber, low-fat, low-calorie rice substitute.
It’s more than just a side for corned beef — tried it steamed, fried or raw.
Did you know that “cantaloupe” is also known as “muskmelon”? With a name like that, I can’t blame the grocers for rebranding it.
Packed with fiber and vitamins A and C, they’re worth their weight in 24 carrot gold.
Try baking it covered in olive oil and seasoned with curry powder for a simple, India-inspired side.
You won’t need a high celery to afford this veggie. Try thinly slicing and sautéing it in butter for a tasty change.
Keep an eye out for legs and thighs on sale for under $1 a pound, or maybe even a whole bird for roasting.
14. Chickpeas (Garbanzo Beans)
Studies have shown that people who regularly include this nutrient-dense food in their diet eat less overall — they’re sort of an all-natural diet pill and taste great.
Use it to make bread, grits, and — my favorite — fried cornmeal mush.
Buying these will keep your expenses from getting you in a pickle. Steam peeled, seeded slices of cucumber as a tasty side vegetable seasoned with butter and dill.
17. Daikon Radish
Try these instead of cabbage for a new kind of coleslaw.
Did you know the U.S. is one of the only countries on Earth that refrigerates its eggs?
19. Green Beans
Find them canned year round, frozen when on sale and fresh in the summer months for the healthiest option of all. They’re also easy to grow in a backyard garden. Speaking of which, here’s a short video all about gardening on the cheap:
Kale, mustard, turnip greens, collard greens — they’re among the healthiest of all vegetables. The secret is to not overcook them.
You heard it through the cheapskate grapevine: Look carefully, and you can often find 99 cents-a-pound store specials on a variety of fresh grapes in late summer and fall.
Packed with fat-burning properties and immunity-boosting antioxidants.
You’ll get all the protein, fiber and low-fat benefits of other members of the legume family, plus lentils cook faster, even when cooked in a “slow-cooker” (aka “Crock-Pot”). For Crock-Pot recipes and tips, check out this video:
Find big iceberg heads for 99 cents and mix them with many other items on this list to create a delicious salad.
I can often find chicken livers for under $1 a pound, and sometimes I even find beef and pork liver close to that price, as well.
Buy this king of fruits in May and June.
It may cost more per gallon than gasoline, but it’s still way less than $1 per pound.
28. Napa Cabbage
Wok and roll! Or wrap, if you like that sort of noise.
If you think oatmeal is boring or just a breakfast food, think again. Try making an oatmeal omelet with a little uncooked oatmeal, egg, milk, onion, thyme and feta cheese.
Layers and layers of health benefits and prices not worth crying over. Try them baked (whole) in the oven.
Find them on sale in December, just in time for the flu season.
A wide variety of pastas are regularly on sale for $1 per 1 lb. box, and you can always score it for that price at most dollar stores.
33. Peanut Butter
Look for big sales and stock up. Peanut butter usually has a very long shelf life.
Make a low-calorie, high-fiber snack out of plain kernels for about $1 a pound.
I often find inexpensive cuts on sale near the buck-a-pound mark. I also look for bargains on ham during the holidays and stick a couple in the freezer.
Keep them out of the fryer, go easy on the butter and this comfort food will offer significant protections against cardiovascular disease and cancer.
Use as decorations, then eat them! Here’s how to eat your jack-o’-lantern:
Find white rice for under $1 per pound, or splurge on its healthier brown counterpart.
According to Guinness World Records, a British gardener grew an 85.5 pound rutabaga in 2011. I’d love to know how much it sold for by the pound.
40. Sour Cream
Look for this as a loss leader at 99 cents per pint and stock up; it usually has a “use by” date far in the future. For tips on storing sour cream and other foods, watch this video:
Well, blow me down! I found frozen spinach for just under $1 a pound.
42. Split Peas
Make split pea soup in a Crock-Pot with a hambone.
Both summer and winter varieties are dirt cheap when in season, and winter varieties can last for many months when stored properly in the panty.
44. Sweet Corn
An a-maize-ing deal! Canned and frozen are almost always available for about a buck, and sweet corn on the cob during the summer is usually way under my $1-a-pound limit.
45. Sweet Potatoes
Sweet potatoes are one of the healthiest foods on Earth, and are almost always available (fresh or canned) in bigger grocery stores for around $1 per pound.
Look for canned tomatoes, which are low in calories and packed with fiber, lycopene and vitamin C.
Shop holiday bargains and freeze an extra bird for later.
Smaller turnips tend to be tenderer and sweeter. I like them sliced and steamed, or mashed up half-and-half with boiled potatoes.
Look for watermelon as cheap as 20 cents a pound in July and August.
I buy 5-liter boxes of wine weighing about 11 pounds for $10.
So, have I squashed that old myth about it costing more to eat healthy? If you’re still not convinced, watch this video:
Photo credit: Sodexo USA