How to eat cheap and healthy

Diet Myths

One of the popular myths within health & fitness industry is that eating healthy is expensive.

It is specifically true if you buy exotic or out of season food, prepacked meals, or when you buy mainly ‘superfoods’, in which case you pay premium for marketing.

Labels such as organic, bio, and nice packaging also comes at premium price.

When I was working in coffee industry as a sales person, I learned not to look at the packaging. Or do. Some of the cheapest looking coffee packaging contained premium coffee, while popular, premium packaging usually means the company has to cut costs somewhere else. In this case cutting the quality of the product itself. This is especially the case if pricing of such product is competitive.

On the other hand if you buy food at farmer’s market, you can easily get premium organic produce for fraction of the price. There are plenty of affordable foods you can purchase that are healthy and easy to add to your diet.

As long as you stick with traditional produce, you get healthy and affordable food.

Here are some foods that are healthy & cheap:

  • Grains: whole wheat, barley, oats, buckwheat, millet, spelt, rye, pasta
  • Legumes: lentils, beans, chickpeas, even canned legumes
  • Vegetables: kale, broccoli, spinach, chinese cabbage, red/yellow cabbage, sweet peas, carrot
  • Tubers: different varieties of potatoes
  • Dairy: cottage cheese, milk
  • Frozen goods: sweet peas, corn, green beans, vegetable mixes, frozen kale, frozen spinach cubes, fish
  • portobello mushrooms
  • eggs

Organic vs. Conventional

What about conventionally grown produce? Aren’t you risking your health consuming it?

It depends where the produce comes from and how it was treated.
For example foods on the dirty dozen* list are sprayed heavily and you should avoid buying those, unless organically produced.

The list from 2019 includes spinach, strawberies, kale, nectarines, apples, grapes, peaches, cherries, pears, potatoes, celery, tomatoes.

Buying organic oranges or conventionally grown does not make much difference. Even if they are sprayed with pesticides and herbicides, most of it is on the peel, which you don’t consume.

But organic food contains much more minerals and vitamins and tastes much better, doesn’t it?

There have been studies done comparing organic and conventional produce. They compared their nutritional value, price and even tested for taste differences. They found no significant differences in their nutritional value and no difference in taste.

While I propose eating organic produce I also pay attention to price like many of you. The easy way out is to buy local, in season produce from your farmers.

What conventionally produced food is safe to eat?

Similarly to the dirty dozen, there is also a list of clean fifteen* foods. It includes avocados, sweet corn, pineapple,  frozen sweet peas , onion, papayas, kiwi, asparagus, eggplants,  cabbages,  cauliflower, broccoli, mushrooms, cantaloupe and honeydew melon.

I’d also include legumes and grains* (there are regions where those are sprayed heavily like some states of the USA), potatoes, fruit with thick skin, dairy*, small fish and algae.

* “The guide is based on results of more than 40,900 samples of produce tested by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration.”, therefore it does not reflect European or Australian produce and farming practices.

Tips & Tricks

TIP #1: Cook at home

I mentioned before that it can be really expensive to buy prepacked meals, canned food, fruit and seed mixes, products like granola etc. Fortunately, these food items always have a much cheaper versions in their raw and frozen forms.
Nut butters are super simple to make at home and much cheaper as well.
With a little planning and preparation you will find out how easy it is to have healthy, delicious and cheap meals.

TIP #2: Smart buying

We’re cooking like our great-grandparents did. They lived through the Depression, wars, famines, and other challenges… what were their secrets for feeding a family in uncertain and difficult times? (Hint: Potatoes, dried beans, grains, root vegetables…) – Coalition of Health and Fitness Leaders
For example canned beans, fruit and fish are more expensive than raw beans and frozen fish and fruit.
Granola can be easily made at home in bulk and so can be nuts, seeds, and fruit mixes.
Vegetables can be bought at a fraction of the price of salad mixes.
Canned, prepacked and premade meals are more convenient and you can use them when you are short on time.
Get to know your farmer, they will often throw some extras when you are a regular.
When shopping in a supermarket, bread and vegetables is usually heavily discounted later in the evenings. Just the day before writing this article I got a package of arugula for 0.05€ instead of normal price 0.99€!
Bigger packages typically also come at lower price points. It might be good to buy canned, dry and frozen goods in bulk.

Best nutrition bang for your buck

*Keep in mind the price of food is regional and seasonal to some extend so depending on your region, different foods would provide different nutrition/cost ratios.
  • lentils,
  • kidney/black beans,
  • peas frozen,
  • protein powder,
  • liver,
  • vegemite,
  • sardines,
  • frozen spinach
  • cauliflower,
  • white mushrooms,
  • egg,
  • broccoli.

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