How to Eat Healthy for $4 a Day

Feeling the pinch at the grocery store lately?  Are you reevaluating what you place in your cart?  Food costs are on the rise and all of us could benefit from shopping a little smarter.  Revising your list doesn’t mean ditching those good-for-you foods.  There are plenty of ways to ensure that you are eating healthy on a budget.  Follow our few simple tips to keep you and your bank account well nourished. 

Get the Best Nutrient Bang for Your Buck

First things first, when shopping you need to consider the nutrient value of foods.  These are the foods that provide you with the best nutrition per dollar spent. While it may be easy to fill your cart with bargains, it’s important to make sure you are making healthy choices. My Plate is an easy tool that helps you get the foods you need every day.  Getting a great price on these staples is easy.  Here are our top tips in each food group:

  • Low-Fat and Fat-Free Dairy Products: Milk, cheese and yogurt taste good, are convenient, affordable and—most importantly—provide three of the four nutrients that are often deficient in Americans’ diets: calcium, vitamin D and potassium, plus 6 other key nutrients. For that reason, the USDA recommends that adults consume three servings per day. To get the most bang for your buck, buy dairy foods by the gallon, pint or block.You can freeze milk, cheese and yogurt for longer storage as well. Larger containers cost less per serving than smaller sizes.
  • Breads and Whole Grains: Breads and grains provide many nutrients that are vital for the health and maintenance of our bodies. Focus on choosing whole grains most often like brown rice, old-fashioned oats and whole grain bread.Buy day-old varieties of bread for a better bargain.
  • Fruits and Vegetables: In season, fresh fruits and vegetables usually cost a lot less. Can’t find what you’re looking for, frozen and canned fruits are available all year round and can have you money. They have similar nutrition values to fresh. Frozen vegetables are a great deal and easy to prepare. When choosing canned vegetables, select those with “low sodium” or “no added salt” on the label.
  • Meat and Beans: Dried beans and peas are a good source of both protein and fiber. They can last a year or more without spoiling. Canned tuna packed in water is an inexpensive healthy protein choice.

Get Cooking

To see how those tips translated into savings, I made a day’s worth of meals for $4.08. Here’s the breakdown:


Peanut Butter Raisin Oatmeal

  • 1 cup cooked oatmeal made with milk 35¢
  • 1 tablespoon peanut butter 6¢
  • ¼ cup raisins 24¢
  • 1 cup orange juice 24¢


Black Bean Salsa Sliders

  • 4 ounces black beans 34¢ 
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons onion, diced 6¢
  • 1/2 clove garlic, minced 5¢
  • 1/4 teaspoon cumin 8¢
  • 2 tablespoons breadcrumbs 7¢
  • 1 ounce shredded pepper jack cheese 19¢
  • 2 tablespoons salsa 8¢
  • 2 slider buns 24¢ 


Honey Lemon Chicken with Brown Rice

  • 1/8 tablespoon vegetable oil 3¢
  • 1 chicken breast 50¢
  • 1 tablespoon flour (all purpose) 1¢
  • Pinch of salt 1¢
  • ½ tablespoon of honey 17¢
  • ½ tablespoon lemon juice 5¢
  • ½ cup cooked brown rice 19¢
  • ½ cup peas, frozen 19¢
  • ½ cup corn, frozen 19¢
  • 1 teaspoon butter 7¢
  • 1 cup low-fat milk 14¢


Carrot Sticks and Cheese

  • ½ cup carrots 17¢
  • 1 ounce pepper jack cheese 19¢
  • 6 whole-grain crackers     17¢

Total Cost         $4.08

Plan a Week’s Worth of Meals

Moving beyond just one day is easy when you have the right planning tools.  Our favorite guides include Eat Good and Cheap, Healthy Eating on a Budget and Meeting Your My Plate Goals on a Budget.  A little planning goes a long way. Know what you need before you go. For our favorite recipes and more ideas for how to eat healthy, visit our recipe section.

By Katie McKee, MCN, RDN, LD

Katie has always loved teaching others about the power of nutrition. She has a background in journalism as a reporter, writer and editor and has been part of the Dairy MAX team since 2015. When she's not working, Katie enjoys cooking and spending time with her young son and family. Learn more about Katie

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