How to get nutritious foods on a budget, from a RD nutritionist

However gas prices are lower now than they have been in months, inflation continues to send the price of groceries higher than it has been in 43 yearsmaking it a little harder for many Americans to buy the food they need.

The home food index is up 13.5% from last year, according to The most recent Consumer Price Index data.

Here is an overview of the price increases of some essential food items over the past 12 months:

  • cereals and cereal products (17.4%)
  • dairy products and derivatives (16.2%)
  • fruits and vegetables (9.4%).

Shopping for groceries, especially nutrient-dense ones, is harder than it has been since 1979, but there are still ways to get the healthy foods you need if your budget is tighter.

As a rule of thumb, when shopping on a budget, common advice is to use coupons, says Felicia Porrazza, a registered dietitian nutritionist based in Pennsylvania.

While coupons can be useful, sometimes using them can encourage people to buy things they don’t need or won’t use, she says.

“I generally suggest using coupons for things you usually buy, not things you’re like, ‘Oh, I’ve got a coupon for that,’ which can also drive up the grocery bill” , says Porrazza.

And while methods like shopping in season and buying groceries locally are effective, they’re not the only ways to save money.

3 Ways to Get Nutrient-Dense Foods on a Budget

1. Meal preparation

Shop with intention with the meals you plan to cook throughout the week in mind before you even step into the grocery store, Porrazza says.

β€œIt can get quite sticky when people buy fresh produce and they don’t have a plan for it, so they just sit in the fridge and unfortunately end up dying without being used,” Porrazza notes. “It’s money that’s basically wasted.”

When planning meals, you should also look in your pantry to see what shelf-stable foods you already have and take inventory of everything in the fridge and freezer, she says.

2. Buy frozen and canned foods

Consider buying frozen or canned foods instead of some of the fresh foods you typically buy, Porrazza says. These foods tend to cost less and will last longer than fresh foods, she says.

“There’s a lot of variety out there in terms of everything from green beans to chickpeas, and they’re nutrient-dense foods,” says Porrazza. “The only thing you really have to be careful about with canned food is the sodium aspect.”

For vegetables, search options that say “no added salt” or low sodium while you shop, she says. You can also drain and rinse canned vegetables to reduce the sodium content.

For canned fruits, the concern is the sugar content. You should aim for choices with no added sugar or canned in 100% juice or water, notes Porrazza.

3. Try protein alternatives

Meat and fish are more expensive than most foods these days, and even if you’re not following a plant-based diet, using different sources of protein as the main base for one or two meals throughout throughout the week could lower the price of your groceries, Porrazza said.

Some alternatives she suggests are:

  • Tofu
  • Recipes with beans like chilli
  • Textured vegetable protein
  • Tempeh

“You just have to vary that protein source. You still get a protein source, but that doesn’t necessarily increase the cost,” says Porrazza.

Tips for creating your shopping list

You may need to reduce your shopping list to save money. In those cases, these top 10 foods should always be on your grocery list, according to Porrazza:

  • Protein (two items)
  • Cereals/Carbohydrates (two items)
  • Fruit (two items)
  • Vegetables (one starchy, one non-starchy)
  • Complements (two elements)

You can create your own personalized grocery list with nutrition facts using the chart below:

Nutrient-dense foods to choose, even when your budget is limited

Try to get two different items from each category. For vegetables, take one starchy and one non-starchy.

πŸ₯© Proteins

β€’ Textured vegetable protein (soya meat)

β€’ Tofu

β€’ Lean meats

Fish (rich in omega-3 like salmon or rainbow trout)

Chicken (no skin)

Lamb (roast or lamb)

Pork net*

Low-fat beef* (98% lean or sirloin)

🍚 Cereals + carbohydrates

β€’ Quinoa

β€’ Pasta

β€’ Rice

🍎 Fruits

β€’ Apples

β€’ Bananas

β€’ Blueberries

β€’ Oranges

β€’ Strawberries

β€’ Tomatoes

πŸ₯¬ Vegetables


β€’ Corn

β€’ Legumes (beans)

β€’ Potatoes

β€’ Sweet potatoes


β€’ Broccoli

β€’ Carrots

β€’ Cauliflower

β€’ Celery

β€’ Cucumbers

β€’ Kale

β€’ Salad

β€’ Spinach

β€’ Zucchini

πŸ₯œ Complements

β€’ Peanut Butter

β€’ Linseed

β€’ Oats

β€’ Other fun additions

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