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

Spaghetti Sauce

Cooked tomatoes are an excelle

nt source of antioxidant vitamins, a versatile pantry ingredient, and will only set you back about 20 cents a serving. So stock up on pasta sauce, or canned tomatoes to make your own.

Dried Beans

No list of cheap-but-nutritious foods would be complete without dried beans. You’ll get a meal’s worth of protein, plus a whopping helping of fiber, for just 12 cents as serving. With dozens of types available, beans are also extremely versatile. Combine them with different vegetables and spices for a nearly infinite variety of dishes.

See also: Freeze Those Beans


A natural pairing with beans, rice can also be used in salads, soups, and casseroles, and costs about a dime per serving.

See also: Is Brown Rice Really Better Than White Rice?

Milk or Yogurt

At about .25 a serving, milk provides plenty of protein and absorbable calcium. Yogurt will cost you about twice as much, but offers the additional benefit of beneficial bacteria. You’ll pay less (and get more nutritionally) if you choose unsweetened yogurt.

Fruits and Vegetables

You can save money on produce by buying whatever fresh fruits and vegetables are on sale that week and then filling in the gaps with frozen fruits and vegetables. Although there’s a pretty big price range in this category, you can find a good variety of things for between 25 and 75 cents a serving.

A Final Note

Of course, you’ll also need things like oil and seasonings to cook with, and probably a condiment or 2, too. And hopefully there’s enough room in the budget for some additional variety - and the occasional treat. But as the backbone of an inexpensive, nutritious diet, these 10 foods are an awfully good place to start.

In fact, I priced out a week’s worth of just these 10 foods - enough to provide 2,000 calories a day, and meet all your nutritional needs for things like protein, fiber, vitamins, minerals, fruits and vegetables. I even threw in some olive oil to dress your salad and cook your eggs, and the whole tab came to about $4.11 a day.

Of that, I spent about $1.80 on fruits and vegetables—which brings me to an important point: if you’re only looking at how many calories you get for the dollar, fruits and vegetables look like a pretty bad deal. Even though I shopped for bargains, my fruits and vegetables accounted for about 44% of my costs and provided only 15% of the calories.

But of course, it’s not just about calories. It’s about nutrition—and the fruits and vegetables provide the lion’s share of many important nutrients. Fortunately, you don’t have to choose between getting enough calories and getting enough nutrients.

Now, how do I get this list over to Gwyneth Paltrow?

Thoughts? Comments? Questions? Connect with me on Facebook and Twitter.  And for more on maximizing nutrition while saving money, see my e-book Nutrition Diva’s Grocery Store Survival Guide.

Image of grocery basket courtesy of Shutterstock.



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. 

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