How to Eat Healthy on a Budget, Plus a Sample Grocery List to Get Your Macros Cheap and Tasty

These days, the cost of groceries is a lot rising faster than your one-rep max numbers. All you want to do is fuel your gains, stay healthy, and enjoy what you’re eating (same), but those grocery bills can make it feel impossible (double same). The good news? Once you figure out how to eat healthy on a budget, good food doesn’t have to mean emptying your wallet. 

With strategic planning and smart shopping, nourishing your body without reaching too far into your pockets is possible. Here’s how to eat healthy on a budget, hit all your macros, and keep things tasting expensive.

What Is Eating Healthy?

What does it truly mean to eat healthy? For me, it’s not about filling my plate with the latest superfoods or strictly adhering to a trendy diet plan — I’m looking at you, keto. It’s about nourishing my body in a way that aligns with my personal health goals, respects my upbringing and cultural background, and fits within my budget.

[Read More: New Study Shows the Sooner You Swap to a Healthy Diet, the More Years You Can Add to Your Life]

And science backs me up here. Research suggests a positive link between mental health and eating culturally significant foods. (1) That’s not something to shrug off. Mental and emotional well-being plays a crucial role in our overall health equation. For people worldwide, access to culturally important foods isn’t just a matter of taste — it’s a connection to heritage, family, and a sense of belonging. Plus, foods across the world are pretty darn nutritious, too.

It Varies — And Often Depends on Budget

Still, it’s important to recognize that the definition of “healthy” can vary greatly from person to person. 

For some, healthy eating might mean prioritizing organic produce and sustainably sourced proteins, regardless of price. For others, like people relying on food stamps or other government assistance, healthy eating often involves stretching a limited budget while making nutritious choices. 

There’s often a difficult line between what’s best for your body and what’s feasible for your wallet.

[Read More: The Best High-Protein Breakfast Ideas for Muscle-Building and Fat Loss]

It’s Not One-Size Fits All — Everyone Has Different Needs and Wants

We all have different bodies, nutritional needs, and cultural preferences. What works for one person may not work for another — and that’s OK. 

Whether managing a chronic condition, fueling those high-intensity weightlifting sessions, or simply feeling our best, our health journeys are as unique as we are.

It’s not only about physical health, though. 

It brings me joy to cook and enjoy dishes that remind me of home. Cooking helps me remember who I am and where I come from, which really boosts my happiness. Even if cooking isn’t your thing, if you get a mood boost from going to the gym and pumping weights, you know what I’m talking about.

So when you think about eating healthy, remember that it’s not just about calories and nutrients — it’s about nourishing your body and mind in a meaningful and sustainable way.

[Read More: The Best Meal Replacements, Everything You Need to Know]

You don’t need to buy bags of quinoa or jars of sea moss to prioritize your well-being. There are plenty of ways to eat healthy on a budget. Whether it’s a hearty bowl of homemade stew or a vibrant plate of veggies, the true essence of healthy eating lies in finding balance and joy in every bite. 

Have no idea where to start? Glad you’re here. Read on, reader.

Top Tips for Eating Healthy on a Budget

Navigating healthy eating on a budget can be daunting, for sure. But there are some ways to get creative and plan for your goals, even in the face of structural barriers. Here are some tips that have helped me stay on track without breaking the bank:

1. Plan Ahead (And Prevent Food Waste)

The average American family of four wastes over $1,500 worth of food each year. (2) Before heading to the grocery store, take some time to plan your meals for the week to ensure you’ll use every ingredient. 

Keep a list on your fridge of what’s in there alongside a list of the staples you know you’ll eat.

Lists like this can go a long way toward keeping you focused on your planned healthy recipes you’re planning and can help remind you which fresh produce you know you’ll actually eat. Plus, you’re probably less likely to grab those impulse buys if it’s not on your shopping list. And no food (or money) will go to waste.

With a little planning and paying attention to your own and your family’s actual eating habits, you can get the fresh whole foods you’re confident you’ll eat before spoiling. Other foods can be tinned or frozen — which tend to be a lot cheaper, anyway. 

2. Buy in Bulk

Even if you haven’t been introduced to them yet, trust me: bulk bins are your friend. Not only are they great for the environment because they reduce single-use plastic, but they’ll help you get balanced meals for a lot cheaper overall. 

Buying in bulk may be an especially solid option for people who live in food deserts — areas without supermarkets — since you’ll have to travel less often for quality essentials. 

Purchasing items like rice, oats, beans, and nuts in bulk can often be much cheaper per unit than buying smaller quantities.

[Read More: The Best Protein Powders, We Tested them All So You Don’t Have To]

I look for bulk bins at my local grocery store or go to the wholesale club. Buying in bulk ensures you’ll save money in the long run and always have essential pantry staples on hand.

3. Switch to Plant-Based Proteins

No, you don’t have to completely switch up your dietary life just to get cheaper healthy meals. But yes, swapping out some meat for veg options can be a huge help to your wallet (and the planet). 

Sure, you can always opt for cheaper cuts of meat for your main sources of protein, but sometimes those just aren’t going to give you the quality you’re looking for. 

Plant-based protein sources like beans, lentils, tofu, and chickpeas are usually more affordable, they’re nutritious, and absurdly tasty when you take a minute to learn how to cook them.

[Read More: The Best Vegan Protein Powders, Tested by Our Experts]

Again, no need to go full vegan or vegetarian if that’s not your thing. You can do what I do and incorporate these ingredients into your meals regularly to help lower your grocery bill while meeting your protein needs.

A bonus: you can often buy these in bulk, and most of them are shelf-stable (unlike meat). And yes, tofu is a complete protein, so it’s got everything you need right in there already. 

4. Shop Seasonally and Locally

Buying fruits and vegetables in season can often be cheaper and fresher than out-of-season produce.

I check local farmers’ markets to find affordable, locally-grown produce

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You can save money (and reduce your carbon footprint) by supporting local farmers and buying seasonal produce. Your area might also have an affordable CSA option where you can pick up your fruits and veggies each week or have them shipped right to you.

Don’t be afraid to farmer’s market hop, either. If there are multiple options in your area, check out a few over a couple of weeks to learn which produce are cheapest at which stands.

5. Cook at Home

Eating out or ordering takeout is certainly convenient — and expensive. Preparing meals at home gives you more control over the ingredients and portion sizes, which helps you save money and eat healthier. 

You can prioritize simple, budget-friendly recipes using affordable ingredients and leftovers whenever possible. Instead of letting extras go to waste, reroute them into new meals to stretch your food budget even further. For example, I add leftover veggies to salads, sandwiches, grain bowls, or omelets. 

Know you’ll be exhausted or stressed out and just want the convenience? Meal prep ahead, or even grab some frozens that are easy to heat up. 

Save ordering in for special occasions — your wallet will thank you.

6. Compare Prices and Look for Deals

This one might take a little more time and mental math, but your wallet will appreciate your efforts. I shop at different grocery stores to compare prices and find the best deals. I watch for discounts, sales, and coupons to maximize my savings. 

Pro tip: check if your local grocery store has an app. Download it and shop the deals section. A couple dollars off here and there will add up quickly.

I also purchase generic or store-brand products, which are often much cheaper than brand-name alternatives (with the same ingredients!).

7. Drink Water

Ah, hydration: the key to success. Opting for water instead of sugary drinks or sodas is much healthier and more cost-savvy

Try carrying a reusable water bottle to stay hydrated throughout the day without spending money on expensive beverages. 

Drinking water is a simple but effective way to save money on groceries while promoting better hydration. 

Healthy Food Ideas on a Budget

Fortunately, eating healthy doesn’t mean sacrificing flavor or spending your entire paycheck. Getting creative lets you enjoy nutritious meals that nourish your body without straining your wallet too much. Consider these foods when meal planning for healthy eating on a budget.

Healthy Protein on a Budget

Beans and legumes: Beans and legumes like black beans, lentils, and chickpeas are affordable and versatile plant-based protein sources. They’re also fiber-rich, which aids in digestion and keeps athletes feeling full and satisfied. (3

Eggs: Eggs are a budget-friendly source of high-quality protein, vitamins, and minerals. Whether you scramble, boil, poach, or add them to recipes, eggs provide essential nutrients like vitamin B12, vital for energy metabolism. (4)

Cottage cheese: Cottage cheese is a low-cost, high-protein dairy option that’s great for a snack. I add it to pancakes and smoothies or use it as a dip for chopped veggies. 

Tofu: Tofu is a budget-friendly, plant-based protein that you can use in various dishes, from stir-fries to salads to smoothies to desserts. I’m a vegetarian runner, and it’s a good vegan protein source that I can flavor and season depending on the dish I’m making. Try stocking up on fresh tofu from a local Asian grocer, as it’s much more cost-effective than larger stores.

Turkey or chicken sausages: Look for lean turkey or chicken sausages, which are often more affordable than traditional pork versions. They add flavor to pasta dishes, wraps, casseroles, or burrito bowls.

Frozen edamame: Frozen edamame is a great freezer staple. It’s relatively inexpensive and a convenient snack option. 

Canned tuna or salmon: Canned tuna and salmon are convenient for athletes on a budget. They’re packed with protein and omega-3 fatty acids, supporting heart health and reducing inflammation. (5) Look for varieties packed in water for a lower-cost option. 

Greek yogurt: Greek yogurt is higher in protein than regular yogurt and makes a satisfying snack or breakfast option. Opt for plain, unsweetened Greek yogurt to avoid added sugars and flavor it with fresh fruit or honey for sweetness. Because they’re packed with protein, smaller portions will keep you full longer than other yogurt options.

Chicken thighs or drumsticks: Chicken breasts are more expensive than thighs and drumsticks. However, these are still protein-rich, and the darker meat provides additional flavor. 

Healthy Carbs on a Budget

Oatmeal: Oatmeal is one of the most budget-friendly breakfast options, rich in complex carbs and fiber. (6) It’s ideal for athletes looking to fuel their training and recovery post-exercise. I customize my bowls with fruit, seeds, nuts, and a drizzle of honey. 

Whole grain bread or pasta: Choosing whole wheat over refined varieties offers extra fiber for sustained energy and digestion.

Sweet potatoes: Sweet potatoes are a nutrient-dense carb that’s budget-friendly and versatile. They’re packed with vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, making them an excellent choice for fueling workouts and recovery. Loaded sweet potatoes can be a staple post-workout dinner, topped with turkey mince, sour cream, and salsa.

Bananas: Bananas are a convenient and inexpensive carb and potassium source, important for muscle function and hydration. (7) They make a great pre- or post-workout snack, and you can add them to cereal or oatmeal for extra energy. I love grabbing a banana first thing in the morning before a long run. They’re also great to freeze and add to smoothies later. 

Frozen fruits and vegetables: Stocking up on frozen fruits and vegetables is a cost-effective way to ensure you always have nutritious options. Frozen produce retain their nutrients and are often more affordable than fresh varieties, especially when items are out of season. (8)

Whole grain bread or tortillas: Whole grain bread or tortillas provide complex carbohydrates and fiber for sustained energy. I prefer options with minimal added sugar and ingredients to maximize nutritional benefits. Sometimes, I buy a bag of flour and make my own from scratch, cutting costs even more. 

Healthy Fats on a Budget

Nuts and seeds: Nuts and seeds like almonds, walnuts, chia seeds, and flaxseeds are nutrient-dense sources of healthy fats, protein, and fiber. (9) They’re perfect for snacking or adding crunch and flavor to meals like salads, yogurt, or oatmeal.

Avocado: While avocados may not be budget-friendly everywhere, they’re a fantastic source of monounsaturated fats, making them the perfect addition to any athlete’s diet. (10) They’re filled with vitamins, minerals, and fiber — a nutrient powerhouse for recovery. 

Peanut butter: Peanut butter is a pantry staple packed with healthy fats, protein, and energy-boosting carbs. For the healthiest option, look for natural peanut butter without added sugars or oils. I love spreading a healthy amount onto whole-grain toast before a morning workout.

Flaxseed meal: Flax meal is a budget-friendly source of omega-3s and fiber. I add a tablespoon to smoothies, oatmeal, yogurt bowls, and baked goods for a nutritional boost. Flaxseed meal has a mild, nutty flavor that complements various dishes.

Olive oil: Olive oil is a staple in Mediterranean cuisine and provides heart-healthy monounsaturated fats to your diet. (11) It’s ideal for cooking, dressing salads, or drizzling over roasted vegetables to add flavor and healthy fats to meals. I’ve found that buying olive oil spray is much cheaper and ensures I don’t add too much oil to my cooking.

Canned coconut milk: Canned coconut milk is a great way to add healthy fats to dishes like curries and soups. It adds creaminess and richness while providing easily digestible fats that are excellent for quick energy. 

Fatty fish: Incorporating budget-friendly fatty fish like mackerel, sardines, or canned salmon into meals offers omega-3s, which support heart health, reduce inflammation, and speed up my recovery after an intense workout session. (12)

Sample Budget Grocery List

So how do you put all this into action? Choose your fighters from these grocery lists, and get out the door with confidence.


Canned tuna or salmon


Greek yogurt (plain, unsweetened)


Beans (black beans, kidney beans, butter beans, chickpeas)



Cottage cheese

Turkey or chicken sausages


Brown rice

Whole wheat bread

Whole wheat pasta

Rice cakes


Sweet potatoes

Frozen fruits (berries, mango, pineapple)

Frozen vegetables (broccoli, spinach, mixed veggies)


Nuts (almonds, walnuts, peanuts)

Seeds (chia seeds, flaxseeds, sunflower seeds)

Peanut butter (natural, no added sugar)

Olive oil

Canned coconut milk


[Read More: The Best-Tasting Protein Powders, Tasted and Tested by Our Team]

Frequently Asked Questions

Budget grocery shopping can be tricky, but it’s not impossible. Here are some answers to your most common questions.

What is the cheapest and healthiest way to eat?

One big way to eat healthy as cheaply as you can is to incorporate plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats into your diet. Try techniques like buying in bulk, using specific grocery lists based on your meal plans, and buying frozen fruits and veggies.

Buying staple ingredients like rice, beans, oats, and frozen vegetables in bulk can help save money while ensuring you have nutritious options. Cooking meals at home allows you to control the ingredients and portion sizes, making it easier to avoid added sugars and excess sodium commonly found in processed foods. 

Is it possible to eat healthily on a budget?

Yes, healthy eating on a budget is possible. While it may require extra planning and creativity, making nutritious food choices doesn’t have to break the bank completely. You can still meet your nutritional needs without overspending by bulk-buying whole, unprocessed foods and incorporating budget-friendly options like beans, lentils, oats, and frozen or canned produce.

What is a healthy diet on a budget?

Determining the best healthy diet on a budget will vary depending on your preferences, needs, goals, and cultural considerations. However, generally try to focus on a balanced diet rich in plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats. Ultimately, the best diet meets your nutritional needs and is sustainable within your financial means. 


Elshahat, S. et al. (2023) ‘The relationship between Diet/nutrition and the mental health of immigrants in western societies through a holistic bio-psycho-socio-cultural lens: A scoping review’, Appetite, 183, p.

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Puglisi MJ, Fernandez ML. The Health Benefits of Egg Protein. Nutrients. 2022 Jul 15;14(14):2904.

Chamorro F, Cassani L, Garcia-Oliveira P, Barral-Martinez M, Jorge AOS, Pereira AG, Otero P, Fraga-Corral M, P P Oliveira MB, Prieto MA. Health benefits of bluefin tuna consumption: (Thunnus thynnus) as a case study. Front Nutr. 2024 Apr 2;11:1340121.

Holesh JE, Aslam S, Martin A. Physiology, Carbohydrates. 2023 May 12. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2024 Jan–. 

Carlos Kusano Bucalen F. Antioxidant and anti-atherosclerotic potential of Banana (Musa spp): A review of biological mechanisms for prevention and protection against atherosclerosis. Avicenna J Phytomed. 2023 May-Jun;13(3):240-254. 

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Gonçalves, B. et al. (2023) ‘Composition of nuts and their potential health benefits—an overview’, Foods, 12(5), p. 942.

Dreher ML, Davenport AJ. Hass avocado composition and potential health effects. Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr. 2013;53(7):738-50.

Bilal, R.M. et al. (2021) ‘Olive oil: Nutritional applications, beneficial health aspects and its prospective application in poultry production’, Frontiers in Pharmacology, 12.

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