Healthy and Cheap Grocery List

the best (and healthiest) cheap grocery list

Harry Balzer may know Americans better than they know themselves.

Balzer, a now-retired food industry analyst at the NPD Group, studied what Americans have eaten since the 1970s. And as everyone knows, the way to the heart is through the stomach.

Despite the heavy interest in cooking shows and gadgets, Americans cook less every year, at an alarming rate today of just 58% of home-cooked dinners.

And it’s not just Americans who are falling behind. A recent survey conducted by HelloFresh found that one in four Brits knew less than three recipes. And the top two countries that eat out are Spain (4.3 times a week) and Canada (3.8 times a week), but the UAE spends the most money (USD 15.50 per meal.)

So, when Americans finally get around to cooking at home, what do these home-cooked meals look like? The most common dinner is a tie between chicken and a sandwich. The most common lunch is a sandwich. Can you guess what the most common breakfast? Eggs, but sandwiches are growing in popularity there too.

While there’s nothing wrong with a sandwich, to Balzer, it means two things: we’re cheap and lazy.

The good news is, we can celebrate being cheap.

Why Healthy and Cheap Groceries Go Hand In Hand

“Eat as though you were a poor person,” is the famous advice of legendary long-distance track coach, Joe Vigil.

Coach Vigil’s advice wasn’t made for the penny-pinchers of the world — although they’ve all just perked up — it was made from a health and performance standpoint.

As track coach for the US Olympic Team, Coach Vigil knew the truth: nutrition isn’t necessarily tied to cost.

With some planning and cooking, you can save your wallet and your waistline. We share the healthiest and cheapest groceries to get you started… plus the things we never, ever buy.

This is the best cheap groceries list because we share specific products that cost the least based on their nutritional value per calorie.

The Healthiest and Cheapest Groceries List

Cheap Grocery List Ryan and Alex Duo Life Beans

1. Dried Beans (Kidney, Black, Pinto, etc.)

$2.99 per pound

The number one bang-for-your-buck staple on this list is beans. High in fiber and protein, according to The Blue Zones, eating 1 cup a day of beans will extend your life significantly.

Beans are the cheapest but most nutritionally dense source of protein (at $1-3/lb vs. $4.60/lb for beef and $3.50/lb for chicken). However, the biggest pushback we receive from people is that they’re worried about gas.

Well, as two vegetarians, we’re here to tell you that if you add the beans slowly into your diet, the gas problems subside after about a week. Goodbye, colon cancer (the #1 most common cancer in the US)!

So, what type of beans to buy? Like veggies, the darker the better as it correlates with higher antioxidant levels.

We prefer buying dried beans in bulk and then rehydrating them and cooking them in our Instant Pot for our bean burrito breakfasts.

However, if you’re short on time, canned beans are an excellent option.

Order from Whole Foods Market

Cheap Grocery List Ryan and Alex Duo Life Lentils

2. Lentils

$2.99 per pound

A favorite in our chilis, curries, and homemade veggie burgers, lentils are easy to cook.

They can be quickly prepared on the stove or even in a rice cooker. Toss in some tomatoes, onion, and garlic for a delicious side dish.

Lentils are another food on the top of our ‘Best Plant-based Protein Sources,’ with a whopping 26 grams per 0.5 cup. (If you’re wondering, America’s favorite protein, chicken, only has 19 grams of protein per 0.5 cup.)

We like to buy lentils dry, but they also come in microwaveable packs in mixes with barley and quinoa. It doesn’t get much easier than that.

Order from Whole Foods Market

Cheap Grocery List Ryan and Alex Duo Life Eggs

3. Eggs

$2.99 for a dozen (cage-free, non-GMO)

Vilinized in the 1980s, the myth that egg yolks raise cholesterol has been debunked. Eat the whole egg!

The yolk contains all of the good stuff: nearly all of the iron, folate, vitamins, and nutrients in the egg. This is what keeps your brain and body healthy.

We love an egg or two in our morning’s bean burrito or scrambled with shredded zucchini. Delicious. Don’t miss out on this healthy food source and opt for anti-biotic, non-GMO eggs when you can for your health.

If you want to make this cheap, healthy grocery list even cheaper, get a pet chicken. During college, Ryan got a free egg daily from his pet chicken named Martha.

Order from Whole Foods Market

Cheap Grocery List Ryan and Alex Duo Life Milk Kefir

4. Milk Kefir

$11.99 for a lifetime supply

Want to replace your expensive Greek yogurt habit while still getting in your probiotics?

Milk kefir is our biggest budget grocery list secret. We eat it daily with homemade granola, and it’s a wonder.

Kefir is a fermented milk drink that you can “brew” at home. Like a sourdough starter, it’s alive and needs to be fed whole milk. But don’t worry, it’s not high maintenance and is the gift that keeps on giving.

We most recently bought new milk kefir grains on Amazon, which drove cross-country with us and then went on a plane as we moved from the United States to Colombia. They’re sturdier than they look.

We make our milk kefir thick like Greek yogurt by straining out the whey protein that goes into our shakes. It’s a tiny bit sour, so we add some natural honey and lemon rind.

The benefit to making kefir at home is that it’s packed with nearly 10X the probiotic found in store-bought kefir. Plus, it’s at the cost of whole milk, with the taste of Greek Yogurt, and is many times the nutrition!

You’ve never heard of kefir grains? We know it sounds crazy, but we promise it’s incredible.

Order on Amazon

Cheap Grocery List Ryan and Alex Duo Life Oatmeal

5. Oatmeal

$2.14 per pound

A pantry without oatmeal is like an outfit without pants. It’s an essential item.

Frankly, I find oatmeal for breakfast boring, but there are a million other uses for this handy oat. Half-blended into oat flour, you can make Alice Water’s incredible pancakes (something we learned from her excellent MasterClass).

Plus, we put oats into our homemade granola (another Instant Pot creation), healthy oatmeal cookies, muffins, crisps, and as a way to beef up our smoothies.

When choosing your oatmeal, rolled oats are the most nutritious, but also the most expensive. We generally opt for old-fashioned oats, reading the nutrition facts label to make sure there is one gram of fiber per ten grams of carbohydrates.

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Cheap Grocery List Ryan and Alex Duo Life Quinoa

6. Quinoa

$5.99 per pound, dry

In 2013, the United Nations announced it was the “International Year of Quinoa.” It’s well deserved.

While compared to other grains like rice, quinoa seems expensive. Yet, this superfood outshines even brown rice in every category: fiber, protein, antioxidants, and minerals.

Quinoa is also one of the few plants that offer all nine essential amino acids, meaning that it’s a complete protein. What can’t this superfood do?

Add quinoa to your buddha bowls, salads, or as a side dish to your favorite protein. Plus, you can use quinoa as a base for homemade, vegetarian meatballs, sausages, and burgers.

Our favorite recipe is the Southwest Quinoa and Black Bean Bowl. It’s easy to prep and keeps in the fridge so make in bulk!

Order from Whole Foods Market

Cheap Grocery List Ryan and Alex Duo Life Brown Rice

 7. Brown Rice

$1.10 per pound

Rice has been a staple in our diets as humans for thousands of years. Avoiding it now due to low-carb fad diets would be a mistake, but we do recommend always choosing brown rice over white rice.

Unlike white rice, which increases the risk of diabetes, brown rice has a low glycemic index so your blood sugar doesn’t spike after eating it. Plus, brown rice has a higher fiber content.

We like eating rice as a side dish to our veggie stir-fries and in our buddha bowls.

Are you reading our cheap and healthy grocery list and thinking, “Won’t all these carbs make me fat?” If you are, it’s not your fault. We’ve all been brainwashed by the media and marketing companies.

In this article, we share the truth about carbs and how their fiber is essential to a healthy diet. 

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Cheap Grocery List Ryan and Alex Duo Life Whole Wheat Flour

8. Whole Wheat Flour

$1.00 per pound

Organic, whole wheat flour costs $1 per pound, whereas all-purpose white flour is closer to $0.65 per pound.

Despite the cost difference, we recommend whole wheat flour because none of its fibers or nutrients have been stripped, unlike with white flour.

You may be surprised at how fast and easy it is to make your bread, dumpling wrappers, pie crusts, popovers, muffins, naan, pitas, and cakes. And at just a fraction of the cost. Plus, nothing beats the smell or taste of homemade bread.

Instead of buying the processed versions at the store, take time to learn how to make them yourself. The payoff — in more ways than one — will be great.

Order from Whole Foods Market

Cheap Grocery List Ryan and Alex Duo Life Olive Oil

9. Olive Oil

$3.50 per pound

We cook nearly exclusively with olive oil for our health.

While canola oil is touted as having low saturated fat levels, don’t be fooled. It’s highly processed and incredibly unhealthy.

Plus, do you know what canola means in canola oil? No, it’s not a type of plant. Canola stands for “Canada oil.”

Select a high-quality olive oil to cook with and throw out your canola oils and vegetable oils. They may be cheaper, but they’re poisoning your body.

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Cheap Grocery List Ryan and Alex Duo Life Sweet Potatoes

10. Sweet Potato (Non-organic)

$0.80 per pound

In the great potato debate, sweet potatoes are generally thought of as healthier than white potatoes. This is mainly attributed to the sweet potato’s astoundingly high Vitamin A content.

Additionally, farmers are less likely to use pesticides on sweet potatoes than white potatoes. This is why, when pinching pennies, we recommend that you can go with the non-organic option.

Whichever you ultimately choose, make sure you always eat the skins! Potato skins are where most of the fiber and many of the nutrients are.

Order from Whole Foods Market

Cheap Grocery List Ryan and Alex Duo Life Onions

11. Onions (Non-organic)

$0.65 per pound

We tend to buy organic whenever we can, but when considering a tight budget, a cheap grocery list is needed.

With onions, they’re less likely than many other forms of produce to be contaminated with pesticides, so we recommend non-organic onions for our list.

Onions are more than just a vegetable. In cooking, they’re more like a tool – sharp or sweet when needed. Whether for the base of a soup or in refried beans, make sure your pantry always has onions to elevate the savoriness of your dish.

Order from Whole Foods Market

Cheap Grocery List Ryan and Alex Duo Life Cabbage

12. Cabbage (Non-organic)

$0.79 per pound

There are few things cheaper by the pound than cabbage. While we prefer red cabbage, which is slightly higher in antioxidants, green cabbage is cheaper while still providing the base for a healthy meal.

Cabbage and vegetable soup, raw cabbage and apple slaws, and homemade dumplings are a few of our favorite cabbage recipes to make at home.

Once again, we give the green light to purchase non-organic cabbage when you’re light on cash because it’s one of the lowest pesticide crops for sale in supermarkets today.

Order from Whole Foods Market

Cheap Grocery List Ryan and Alex Duo Life Canned Tomatoes

13. Canned Tomatoes (Organic)

$1.50 per pound

Tomatoes are on the Environmental Work Group’s (EWG) “dirty dozen” food list, meaning that tomatoes are highly contaminated with pesticides.

However, buying organic can get expensive, so canned tomatoes are a good, and cheaper, option.

Plus, canned tomatoes are a big time saver when rushing to prepare dinners such as chili, curry, and homemade pasta sauce.

Order from Whole Foods Market

Cheap Grocery List Ryan and Alex Duo Life Frozen Spinach

14. Frozen Spinach (Organic)

$2.29 per pound

Spinach is the #2 most pesticide-ridden vegetable according to the EWG, so spending a little extra on organic spinach is a must.

Spinach is also one of our planet’s superfoods, loaded with nutrients that protect our skin, hair, and bones. Plus, it has been linked to anti-aging, cancer prevention, digestion promotion, and lowering the risk of diabetes.

With frozen spinach, we add a half-cup to our favorite smoothie and never even taste it!

Order from Whole Foods Market

Cheap Grocery List Ryan and Alex Duo Life Banana

15. Bananas (Non-organic)

$0.49 per pound

Our favorite and most portable fruit. If on a tight budget, we recommend buying non-organic because bananas aren’t farmed with high levels of pesticides.

Delicious as a snack, on breakfast, or as dessert, bananas feed your sweet tooth without any added sugar.

Order from Whole Foods Market

Things to save your money on

While we share the staples for a healthy but cheap grocery list, it’s of equal importance to note what we left off.

Before buying fruits and vegetables, refer to the Environmental Work Group’s (EWG) list of produce, ranked from most to least pesticide-ridden products. It will make you think twice before purchasing non-organic strawberries.

Instead, you can make informed decisions and feel more comfortable buying non-organic oranges and pineapples.

Here are other items that you should never buy.

1. Refined Grains (Cereals, Bread, Pasta, etc.)

It may look like bread, but it’s just one bite away from turning into sugar. Do your wallet and body a favor by saving your money on these cheap, but incredibly unhealthy foods.

Always opt for whole wheat products when you can, and check the nutrition labels for sugar content.

Instead, make bread at home from whole wheat flour. It doesn’t take as much time as you think and can be prepped over the weekend, kept in the fridge, and baked fresh on weeknights.

Skip on cereals and instead make homemade granola, which is easily done with old-fashioned oats in an oven or slow cooker. That way, you can control the amount of salt and sugar.

2. Cheap Meat

 You’ll notice that we didn’t put any meat items on this list. That’s because cheap meat is gross on multiple fronts. It’s bad for you, the animal, and the earth.

What about your protein?! As we share in our article, ‘Do I Need Protein Powder?‘ you most likely don’t need it.

The fact is, 97% of Americans are not protein deficient. However, protein seems all-important because of the advertising and marketing done by the meat industry.

Instead, Americans should focus on fiber-rich foods, as only 3% get sufficient amounts. Yes, these numbers are related.

So, we recommend that you save your money on cheap meat. Instead, eat more beans and vegetables which are far cheaper than meat anyways. Then, from the savings, buy nicer cuts of meats for special occasions and savor it.

I can’t tell you how many times we’ve seen friends thaw out frozen chicken fajita meat… and then instead eat our vegetable and bean tacos. They taste better and are cheaper and healthier.

3. Broth

One of our biggest DIY hacks is to make our broth. We keep a container in the freezer that gets filled up with things like broccoli stems, celery leaves, carrot ends, onion cores, and the tops of tomatoes we don’t eat.

You can also put in fish skin and chicken bones. Once the container is full, we boil everything for around 15 minutes.

Voilà! An unending supply of broth, which we use to make all of our homemade soups as well as rice and quinoa.

What Cheap, Healthy Grocery List Hacks Did We Miss?

We hope you learned a lot from our healthy and cheap grocery list. This list saves you money while also saving your health.

If you carve out time for homecooked meals, then you’re even further ahead with saving for your budget (and your diet).

Do you have a favorite cheap and healthy grocery item that belongs on our list? Thanks in advance for the ideas!

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Hey we're Ryan and Alex

The creators of Ryan and Alex Duo Life. We are a husband-wife duo and “lifestyle engineers.”

After eight years working in the corporate world as engineers, we left our high-powered jobs to tackle our true passion — helping couples engineer their best lives.

The synergy of our engineering minds and ten years of health coaching experience produced Ryan and Alex Duo Life. Our mission is to help you transform your bodies, minds, and relationship as a couple.

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