Healthy Foods on the Cheap

whole foods

I ran into one of my friends while I was outside of Whole Foods with my groceries.  She knew about No Spend Month, so she was surprised to see me.

My friend asked, “How are you shopping at Whole Foods? I can’t get out of Whole Foods without spending a lot.”

She’s right, it can be expensive.

I like the store, and I think it’s fun to walk around and look at all the food. But if I had bought any of the prepared foods, I wouldn’t have been able to meet my budget.  I simply bought basic ingredients.

Here are healthy, nourishing foods you can always find at a good, low price.

  • No matter what store
  • No matter what season
  • No matter if you don’t clip coupons.
sweet potatoes
canned vegetables
canned tuna
peanut butter
whole grain bread
corn meal
brown rice
spaghetti sauce
sunflower seeds
popcorn (not microwaved)
string cheese

To feed my family nourishing food on a tight budget, the basic foods above are the ones I go to first. I also take advantage of the season’s fresh fruits and vegetables. Once the basic needs are met, I start adding in other foods that I like to use, such as milk, olive oil, and butter, and sweeteners like honey and agave nectar. We eat meat occasionally, but I buy it on sale and freeze it. I like to add one or two favorite foods to the list as a splurge, to help keep us motivated to eat at home instead of going out.  Coupons or programs such as Angel Food Ministries give even more food savings.

What other foods should be on the list?

About Rachel

I write about practical tips that will help you simplify at home. Connect with me on Pinterest and Twitter.


  1. We stick primarily to the basic foods to keep our grocery budget in line. I do get my fruits/veggies and a few other items from an organic delivery service. I can see my total online as I shop which I really like. I have been known to use the calculator function on my cell phone to add up my purchases as I shop especially at Costco. Nothing worse than being shocked at the check out line!

  2. Those are good tips, Denise, especially for shopping at Costco. I like buying in bulk to save money, but it’s hard to spend $100 and only have a few different items. I use the calculator sometimes too to figure out the unit costs for things like diapers.

  3. I’ve always looked at unit costs, but I’m doing so even more these days which helps with the grocery budget. I have also been trying to only buy fruits and vegetables that are less than $1 a pound. Once in a great while you can find meat (well, ground beef and chicken) on sale around $1 pound, but it’s getting harder and harder to find that (at least around here). I’ve kind of been wondering what it would be like if everything we ate was less than $1 a pound. Sounds like kind of a fun experiment. :o)

  4. That does sound interesting, Jessica! You know I have enough experiments, but I want to hear if you decide to try it!

  5. I started making my own bread a couple of months ago, using this recipe:
    It’s super easy once you get the hang of it and not a big deal time wise either.
    I don’t think it’s saving me any money compared to the store brand bread I had been purchasing, but compared to the healthier (whole wheat…no corn syrup) bread that I wanted to buy, it’s definitely cheaper.
    This has definitely made me start considering what other things I can make at home. Having staple items onhand ends up a lot cheaper than buying everything already made.

  6. That’s a great bread recipe, Ashley. The money savings really are secondary to health and quality when it comes to food.

  7. Mama Kelly says:

    This was a great post for me to read. With rising grocery costs we are going back to basics ourselves.

  8. I think you might be the only person to exclusively buy whole foods at Whole Foods! It’s *way* to easy to walk out of the store with bags full of things like organic TV dinners and whole wheat pop-tarts.

  9. I also shop at discount supermarkets like Aldi’s. Less selection, but you can find some really great deals. I’ve been comparison shopping for a few months now and when I shop there vs a big store I typically spend 1/2 of what I would in a normal store.

  10. Super site! You didn’t put bread or bagels on your list. Do you make your own? My family can’t live without bread. I hate to admit I own a breadmaking machine collecting dust. For about a year I tried to be a SuperMom. However, with our high elevation, the crust always tended to burn while the middle was still soggy (true, this was probably due to the fact that I have absolutely no culinary gifts) Therefore, I buy all my bread and bagels in bulk from Costco and freeze them. I also have found that buying flash-frozen produce is very economical. It’s easy to prepare, it tastes great, it still has all the nutrients, and it lasts for weeks. I will keep an eye on your July Journey and see how things work out. The best thing is that you are thinking about each of your purchases, and tracking where the money goes! That’s a victory in and of itself.

  11. I didn’t see milk on your list! I live in Wisconsin – it’s the law – you must have milk :) We go through about 1-2 gallons a week. I used to drink skim – but everyone complained so we now have 1%.

  12. Glad to help, Kelly.

    Rachel, your comment made me laugh. It’s a different story when I’m shopping with my husband. He’s a sucker for $5 fish sticks just because “they’re gluten-free!’

    Teag, I’ve heard there are really good deals at Aldi. I wish we had one so I could check it out.

    Hey mormonsoprano, I do have a breadmaker that I like to use, but bread’s up there on the list. I love frozen fruit too and use it everyday in smoothies.

    Dana, I do like milk, I guess I was thinking of it more as a drink instead of a food. (Don’t faint, but it’s always whole milk here at my house.)

  13. These are all great ideas for savings. We do shop at Aldi for a lot of our foods and then supplement at another more upscale market for the things that I can’t find there.

    This list of food is a lot of what we buy. I would say that one thing that I would not buy is canned vegetables. You actually get a lot more for your money (and more vitamins & nutrients) by buying the frozen veggies. I grew up on canned, but now I try and avoid them as much as possible. The frozen just tastes so much better now.

    These are some really great ideas!

  14. good point, Amy – I prefer frozen vegetables too. I keep a stock of both frozen and canned, since my freezer gets pretty full.

  15. Cheese would definitely be on our list of basics. I purchase blocks or bricks as I can slice them or shred them depending upon what use I need them for. You get more for you money v. buying pre-shredded.

  16. Great list. Sadly, I have to say skip the tuna, especially the chunk lite kind, ie, the good stuff. Tuna is so laden with PCBs that little ones and pregnant women shouldn’t go near it.

    Believe me, this breaks my heart. I love tuna salad.

    Another alternative is canned chicken, which costs about the same and chicken is a safe meat.

    • I have been buying wild-caught tuna (other wild-caught fish works very well, too) and broiling it with our meat for dinner, then making tuna salad from it the next day. I don’t know if it has less contaminants, but I know it isn’t farm-raised, and it isn’t cooked to death to make it shelf-stable. I buy my fish on sale at Fresh and Easy, and the price is comparable to canned tuna, which is really quite expensive when you figure how many little cans it takes to feed a large family. LOVED this post (but I love most all of them). It really got me thinking about refocusing my purchases on what we really need.

  17. PS – Like you, I freeze meat. I freeze almost everything I find on sale, including bread & milk & cheese. Organic milk does not freeze very well but the regular kind does.

  18. I love all the advice y’all are sharing!

  19. Chiming in late to suggest canned sardines as a cheap, safer alternative to tuna. Because they’re so far down the food chain, PCBs/heavy metals aren’t as much of a concern, and they are high in omega-3 fats. I get the kind canned in water and find the taste similar to tuna, maybe a little less fishy. That would make sense, since tuna eat sardines ;) I mash them up and eat them with a little mustard & pickle relish on WW bread.

    Sometimes I find cans for a dime apiece at the dollar store.

  20. I’m late as well. One of the things I do to help with costs is make a list from sale ads each week. I write down the costs, compare, and then since I work for a major retail store with a grocery section, I have them ad match to save gas running from store to store. I also keep a section in my notebook of regular priced things I’ve bought with their prices so I can compare. I recently bought gallons of milk for almost $1 less and, like everything else that’s cheaper, I froze it. I bought enough that it was on sale again when we ran out. By doing this, buying reduced meats and AngelFoodMinistries, we have enough food that we’re not buying any for the month of August. Beans twice a week help as well. We spend less than $250/month for a family of 3 and anyone who happens by at supper.

  21. Wow, I JUST made a post on my own blog about trying to shop for healthy things on a small budget. I’m a college student trying to slim down, with a $20-$30/week budget, living in a dorm with limited supplies and refrigerator space (aka no food processor, no blender, very basic stuff).

    This is a great place to start(thanks!), but what do you do next? How do you turn those things into great meals–do you have some throwback recipes, or is there somewhere online you go for meal ideas?

  22. I like this list!

    Some things I would change: Try skipping buying the bread, and making it instead. Maybe some would think it’s not work the effort, but at $5.00 a loaf for the decent quality stuff up here, it really is.

    Same goes for tomato sauce: Did you know canned tomatoes retain nearly all of their un-preserved nutrients, and some research suggests cooking may even make them BETTER? I love making my own tomato sauce–it’s fast, easy, extra tasty and cheap–and enjoy the diversity of having the canned tomatoes for other things, too.

    I would also probably skip string cheese in favor of a bulk block of cheddar or colby jack. It fulfills the same function as a niche dairy, but is a lot more versatile, and cheaper, and has a lot less packaging.

    I think I’d also have to add some kind of wheat cracker (triscuits?) or something crunchy as my quick snack go-to. (Often in conjunction with cheese or fish.)

  23. A good option for fresh fruits and veggies are pick-your-own farms. you can go to to find info about the farms in your area. You can get pretty good deals, stock up, and then freeze them!

  24. You know, sardines are something that I didn’t grow up eating, but I keep hearing about them, so I think it’s time for me to try them.

    Wow, Angie, you’re really on the ball!

    Okgonow, those are really great points. I am all about making homemade bread, because I have to make it gluten-free, and it’s crazy expensive to buy it. I didn’t know that about tomatoes, but I’m glad to hear it!

    Thanks for the link, Gina.

  25. Ashley, I know since you’re living in the dorm that you don’t have room to store a lot of food or buy in bulk. One idea is smoothies. I have a Cuisinart stick blender that I use to make them, and it doesn’t take up as much room as a regular blender and it is much easier to clean. You could blend up a banana and milk or yogurt, and add whatever seasonal fruit you could find that week with some protein powder for a quick lunch.

    Making popcorn on the stove instead of the microwave is cheap and good for you. Eggs can be used a variety of ways.

    It’s hard to look in magazines, because they rely on the flair of using recipes with a lot of ingredients. Here is a website where you type in the food you have on hand, and it pulls up recipes:

  26. Just found your website this morning..I too, really like your list. Good to remember that eating whole and basic foods is affordable.