The 10 Most Nutritious Foods for the Money

You can get all the nutrients - and calories - you need for less than $5 a day. Nutrition Diva shows you how with this list of 10 healthy and wallet-friendly foods. 

Monica Reinagel, MS, LD/N, CNS
4-minute read
Episode #331

If you’re trying to eat a healthy diet on a limited budget, you’ll quickly run into a dilemma: The cheapest sources of calories - dollar menu, anyone? - are not terribly good for you. At the same time, some of the most nutrient-dense foods—such as vegetables—are very low in calories.

See also: Nutrient Density vs. Energy Density

For those with a limited food budget, it often feels like you have to choose between getting enough nutrients and getting enough calories. You don’t.  As I will demonstrate, it is possible to put together a nutritionally complete and balanced diet for less than $5 a day. 

The 10 Most Nutritious Foods for the Money

Here are 10 nutritious but inexpensive foods that can be mixed and matched to put together a healthy diet, along with an infographic to help you remember. The prices are from my local grocery store, and while you can save money by buying large volumes, these prices are for regular sizes...although I did take advantage of the savings on generic brands.

Peanut Butter

Peanut butter is a good source of protein and vitamin E, and at about 12 cents a serving, it's also a real bargain. You can spread it on toast for breakfast, dip carrots or apples into it for a snack or, if you’re a bit more savvy in the kitchen, use it to create an Asian-style sauce for veggies and noodles.


See alsoAllergic to Peanuts?

Whole Wheat Bread

Although you may think of bread as a carb, 2 slices of whole wheat bread have as much protein as a serving of peanut butter, making that PB&J a real protein powerhouse. At about .11 a slice, it’s also wallet-friendly.

See alsoMulti-grain vs. Whole-grain


For an  inexpensive source of complete protein, you can’t do much better than the incredible, edible egg—about 16 cents a piece. You can scramble them for dinner, hard-boil them for a snack, or use them as the basis for a quick and nutritious supper.

If you have a copy of my book, Secrets for a Healthy Diet, try the Vegetable Frittata recipe on page 200.  Not only  is it one of my favorite suppers, but it also uses up leftover vegetables - and avoiding food waste is another great way to save money.

See also9 Tips for Reducing Food Waste


Canned tuna is another great source of protein, but with an added bonus: omega-3 fats. You can make tuna salad for your lunch or a tuna noodle casserole for dinner. A serving costs just 45 cents.

See alsoWhat's the Healthiest Kind of Tuna?


With about 7 grams per serving, pasta is another under-rated source of protein. It’s also the basis for an infinite variety of inexpensive and satisfying meals, from traditional pasta with red sauce and the aforementioned tuna noodle casserole to a vegetable-packed minestrone soup. Best of all, you’ll pay just 12 cents a serving.

See also: How to Reheat Leftover Pasta


About the Author

Monica Reinagel, MS, LD/N, CNS

Monica Reinagel is a board-certified licensed nutritionist, author, and the creator of one of iTunes' most highly ranked health and fitness podcasts. Her advice is regularly featured on the TODAY show, Dr. Oz, NPR, and in the nation's leading newspapers, magazines, and websites. Do you have a nutrition question? Call the Nutrition Diva listener line at 443-961-6206. Your question could be featured on the show.