50 Cheap Foods to Fill Your Fridge (Without Emptying Your Wallet)
The best 50 cheap foods to buy to feed your family well when you’re on a tight budget
You are determined to make it through this month without overspending. And since a family’s food budget is one of our largest expenses, it only makes sense to trim back here. So you’re on a mission to only buy cheap food and not waste any of it. But what is the cheapest food? And what do you do with it?
Sure, people say “eat beans,” but that’s not helpful at all… What beans do you buy? What dish should you make? Today we’re going to walk through the cheapest food to buy and what to make with it.
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- The best 50 cheap foods to buy to feed your family well when you’re on a tight budget
- 1. Rice
- 2. Beans
- 3. Oatmeal
- 4. Eggs
- 5. Bananas
- 6. Apples
- 7. Ground Beef
- 8. Potatoes
- 9. Watermelon
- 10. Pasta
- 11. Whole Chicken
- 12. Canned tomatoes
- 13. Tomato sauce
- 14. Canned tuna
- 15. Chicken stock
- 16. Spices & flavorings
- 17. Frozen vegetables
- 18. Fresh spinach
- 19. Cauliflower
- 20. Cabbage
- 21. Carrots
- 22. Peanut Butter
- 23. Flour, sugar, yeast, baking soda/powder & salt
- 24. Chuck roast
- 25. Chicken thighs
- 26. Tofu
- 30. Broccoli
- 31. Corn
- 32. Iceberg lettuce
- 33. Honeydew
- 34. Navel oranges
- 35. Plain yogurt
- 36. Sliced bread
- 37. Onions & garlic
- 38. Hot dogs
- 39. Generic cereal
- 40. Cottage cheese
- 41. Bulk grains
- 42. Turkey kielbasa
- 43. Milk
- 44. Green peppers
- 45. In-season fruit
- 46. Sweet potatoes
- 47. Mushrooms
- 48. Canned or jarred applesauce
- 49. Pork shoulder
- 50. Ramen
- How to get cheap food even cheaper
- Know where to buy your cheap food
- At the end of the day
- Another great frugal meal option
In the sister post, the cheapest grocery list, I broke down the cost of each item, so you can compare with numbers how cheap something is. This is important because what I think is reasonable may not be what you think is affordable. But numbers don’t lie; numbers tell you exactly how inexpensive these cheap foods are.
But, the most important thing is that you know what to do with that cheap food item. It won’t do you any good if you just throw it in your pantry, and it sits there forever. Let’s tackle the big problem of what meals do I make with these cheaper foods?
Rice is one of those superhero foods when it comes to your wallet, as it can go in so many other dishes! You can make a rice casserole, have rice as a side dish, use it as a base in any Asian-inspired meal.
Try grabbing a white and a brown variety for lots of options. White is great for Asian flavor combinations, while brown rice is better for buddha bowls, soups, etc. Don’t forget that you can add lots of different spices to change the flavor profile of white rice. For example, coof your white rice and mix in lime zest for a delicious fresh flavor, and add in cinnamon, turmeric, or graham marsala for a robust Indian flavor profile.
I know it sounds boring, but hear me out. Beans (like rice above) is so versatile because there are so many varieties, and it serves as a great base, filler, and protein option. All beans are high in protein and fiber; for example, according to My Food Data, lentils are a fabulous protein option with (it’s #2 highest) almost 18 grams of protein per cup!
- Black beans – perfect for Mexican food dishes
- Pinto beans – perfect for soups
- Kidney beans – great for hearty soups, baken bean dishes & chili
- Lentils – great for soups and as a buddha bowl base
- Garbanzo – delicious in cold salads, mashed for hummus, and great roasted with spices
- Navy beans – good in soups, stews & chili dishes
- Red beans – traditional in spicy dishes mixed with rice
- Refined – great for Mexican food night, and as a sandwich spread to up protein
There are more varieties than this simple list. Try them out and see which you like best.
Pro Tip: When buying beans, the canned versions are easier, but you’re wasting a lot of money; buy the dried bag beans, and your dollar will go much further. You only need water and time to make them exactly like the canned varieties.
Talk about a pantry staple! Oatmeal is another nutritional star and is also be put in a lot of things. Of course, there’s oatmeal for breakfast (so many flavor combos you can choose…
- blueberry & almond
- almond butter & chia
- vanilla & dried cherries
- brown sugar & cinnamon
- pumpkin & cinnamon
Don’t forget about baked oatmeal squares too! Other options include making oatmeal cookies, baking your own granola, grinding it up for oatmeal flour to use in baking, etc.
If you want to know exactly how much grocery gurus think you should spend then check out Erin Chase’s Grocery Spending Formula in her free Grocery Savings Workshop!
Now, these can be cheap, or they can be very expensive. Be sure you know what you’re buying. The most common examples are…
- Regular eggs – caged birds
- Cage-free – loose in a big barn (may not have outside access)
- Free-range – have access to the outdoors for some of the day
- Non-GMO – feed non-GMO feed
- Organic – fed organic feed
There are all sorts of nonregulated terms, like “natural” or “pasture-raised.” The companies are very tricky and can be misleading to regular consumers. Be sure to check out Certified Humane for a detailed walk-through of each category. Of course, the more up the chain of better feed and better care, then the more expensive you get. One dozen regular eggs can go as cheap as $1.99 while certified organic can go for $5.00+
Eggs are a household staple for my family; they get scrambled for breakfast, put in breakfast burritos (to freeze for a quick on the go option). We make an easy frittata for dinner, or if we’re fancy, we do quiche (yum, crust!). We also add them to pancakes for a protein bump or hard boil them and chop them up for salads.
Bananas contain lots of great vitamins and minerals, and they’re the perfect on-the-go snack. They are usually the cheapest food when it comes to fresh fruit. They are great on their own; when they get too ripe, the make them into banana bread or muffins or freeze them for smoothies.
These are another great option, and the best part is that there are so many varieties everyone can find an apple they like. For my house, we like Honeycrisp for eating, but according to Select Health, when asked which is the best apple, they said, “It may depend how you’re using the apple, whether for snacking, baking apple pies, making applesauce, or adding to salads. Golden Delicious and Granny Smith apples are known for being versatile enough for all these uses. But if you’re looking for an apple to snack on, Galas, Pink Ladies, and Honeycrisps seem to be favorites.”
- Apple pie or apple cobbler
- Sauteed apples (for pancake, oatmeal, or cheesecake topping)
- Apples & peanut butter snack
- Dried apples or apple chips
- Apple butter
- Apple cider
- Bacon, apple & grilled cheese sandwiches
- Chopped apples on salads
7. Ground Beef
This is another cheap food that’s similar to eggs as there are many classifications, ratings, and certifications the beef can have. Usually…
- Ground chuck: 80 to 85 percent lean/15 to 20 percent fat – $2.85 lb
- Ground round: 85 to 90 percent lean/10 to 15 percent fat – $3.78 lb
- Ground sirloin: 90 to 92 percent lean/8 to 10 percent fat – $3.40 lb
So the fattier cuts are less expensive, of course. Ground beef has many uses, so I would be sure to buy it in bulk when you see it on sale as it freezes well.
- Meatloaf or Salisbury steak
- Hamburger patties
- Shepards pie
- Added to boxed meals (i.e., Hamburger Helper)
- Spaghetti sauce add-in
- Cheap beef bulgogi
- Taco Tuesday is always tasty, even on a Friday!
Yup, these are absolutely on the frugal food list as they are the quintessential cheap food item! According to WebMD, “Potatoes aren’t usually thought of as nutritious. However, this all-purpose vegetable has some surprising health and nutrition benefits. The potato itself is fat and cholesterol-free as well as low in sodium.
Prepared the right way, potatoes can make a delicious, satisfying, and healthy dish.” They are also a good source of Vitamin C (meeting 30% of your daily requirement) and vitamin B6; they have more potassium than a banana and are also a good source of calcium, magnesium, and folate.
- Baked potatoes
- Steak fries (make them in your instapot for a healthier “fry”)
- Mashed potatoes (on their own or as a topping for shepherd’s pie)
- Scalloped potatoes
- Hash browns or home fries
- Potato salad
- Cubed to use in soups
Don’t forget about using sweet potatoes too! Those are great on their own or cubed and roasted to use in grain bowls!
I know this isn’t the most versatile fruit and is usually best only in season (the summer), but it’s so cheap – currently, $.48 an lb, which makes it the cheapest fruit according to the USDA historically. It has a lot of vitamins and is very filling (as it has a high water content). Be sure to serve your slices (or fruit salad) chilled at your next family BBQ!
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Could we live without pasta? I would argue no, but that’s just me. Pasta gets a bad rap as it’s carb-heavy, but it’s also very cheap. Since this post is all about the cheapest foods, we’re going for the pasta heavy dishes…
- Macaroni n cheese
- Spaghetti with meat sauce or marinara
- Chilled pasta salad
- Shell pasta in soups
- Baked pasta – i.e., lasagne, spaghetti pie, etc
Pasta is popular because it’s easy to make (just boil it for 9-11 minutes in salted water, and you’re done), and it’s cheap! Be sure to look at purchasing it in the bulk bins to get it even cheaper. Don’t ever buy the pre-cooked pouches as you get so much less for your dollar.
11. Whole Chicken
Now, this could be a whole raw chicken ($.98 a lb) or a rotisserie chicken already prepared. It’s a Costco cheap food staple at $4.99! (source) It all depends on how comfortable of a cook you are, but that being said, everyone should try and roast their own chicken at least once. Depending on how big the chicken is and how big your family is, you could get a few nights of meals out of one roasted chicken…
- Night 1: Roast chicken with seasonal veggies & mashed potatoes
- Night 2: Chicken enchiladas with black beans & rice
- Night 3: Chicken, bacon & cheese sliders, and potato salad
- Night 4: Chicken noodle soup, salad, and french bread
12. Canned tomatoes
This has to be a pantry staple for every home. You can use canned tomato in soups, stews, chili. Or mixed with pasta (not the traditional spaghetti & marinara type). My newfound favorite is Shakshuka; so much flavor and such basic ingredients = perfection!
13. Tomato sauce
This is usually canned by you can find plain jarred sometimes. Now, you can always take your diced/crushed canned tomatoes from above and cook it and blend it to make a sauce; sometimes, we don’t have the time. Canned tomato sauce can be used…
- As a marinara for spaghetti (or meat sauce)
- As a red enchilada sauce base
- Combined with water or milk for tomato soup & grilled cheese
- Cook it down to a thick tomato paste and use as a pizza base
Another great frugal meal option
Don’t forget that meal kit boxes are always a great option for busy moms. Dinnerly is one of the cheapest kits on the market, while still being easy, prepared quickly, and tasty! My husband and I get the two-person box, of four meals a week for so much less money than a restaurant meal! Check out Dinnerly right here and grab your signup discounts!
14. Canned tuna
Canned tuna is very inexpensive for the protein bang that you get with it! One can is about 27 grams of protein! Now you can do tuna sandwiches or the oh-so-American tuna noodle casserole. Either way, at about $.75 for a 5 oz can, that’s a good deal! Other canned fish options, like canned salmon, it can be just as nice. Try making salmon patties instead of hamburgers.
15. Chicken stock
Chicken stock is a cheap flavor enhancer. Use it in place of water for cooking pasta when making chicken casserole dishes, or add a splash when sauteing vegetables. I usually open a can, use a bit and then freeze the rest in an ice cube tray to add to dishes later.
16. Spices & flavorings
It’s amazing how many people forget about spices as a cheap food. Yes, I know they’re not considered a meal in and of itself, but they make the food you eat taste good. Which in turn means you keep eating it instead of trashing it and going out to dinner.
My favorites are…
- Chopped garlic (it counts)
- Italian seasoning
- Soy sauce or aminos
- Chili spice (i.e., ancho chili or chili flakes)
- Salt – a must
- red wine vinegar or balsamic vinegar (so flavorful)
Don’t forget that jarred spices can be expensive. Be sure to go to the bulk section to get it for a fraction of the price! Also, when you’re trying a new spice (and you’re not sure if you’ll like it), just grab 1-2 tsp from the bulk bin for like $.12 instead of a whole jar. For keeping your spices fresh, organized, and mess-free, be sure to grab some reusable glass jars.
17. Frozen vegetables
Almost all frozen veggies are inexpensive, but there are some clear winners in the cheap foods category. Yet the best part about frozen veggies is that they are a lot easier to prepare as they are already cut up, ready to go into the cooking pan! Plus, frozen items are picked at the peak of ripeness, then flash-frozen, which means you can buy them year-round and not worry about them being “out of season.”
Many people incorrectly assume that fresh is always better than frozen, but according to Greatist, “One recent study compared fresh and frozen produce and the experts found no real differences in nutrient content. In fact, the study showed that fresh produce scored worse than frozen after five days in the fridge. It turns out that fresh produce loses nutrients when refrigerated for too long.”
Some of the cheaper frozen foods are…
- Frozen corn
- Frozen peas
- Frozen spinach
- tater tots – yup, they count as a vegetable so enjoy!
18. Fresh spinach
If you love your vegetables, but like fresh options, then fresh spinach is the way to go. Spinach is an extremely nutrient-rich vegetable; it packs high amounts of carotenoids, vitamin C, vitamin K, folic acid, iron, and calcium. When shopping, be sure to check if they sell spinach bunches or loose spinach in a bin so you can take the amount that you’ll need. While bagged spinach isn’t “expensive,” it costs a lot more than the first two options.
Fresh spinach is perfect in salads, tossing into morning scrambled eggs, but if you’re using it in soups or something like quiche, get the frozen bricks, it’s much less expensive than fresh.
Pro Tip: Always wash your fresh spinach at home as it can be a bit gritty. Also, remember, fresh spinach cooks down quite a bit, so be sure to get a bit more than you think you’ll need.
According to the USDA, cauliflower is the 2nd cheapest vegetable, which should make me like it, but honestly, I don’t. However, it is rising in popularity with its versatility among vegetarian dishes. It’s a great “filler” as it takes up a lot of room in dishes.
People are slicing the heads and then cooking the slice as a main dish (with lots of yummy spices, of course). It’s great for making mashed “potatoes” and is very popular as a pizza crust alternative. Yet my favorite way to eat any veggies is just roasting it in the oven to bring out the natural sweetness and give it a crispy crunch.
Cabbage is the #3 least expensive veggie on the USDA’s list. And it’s no surprise as cabbage has long been considered a cheaper food option. It’s very filling and has lots of nutrients (especially red cabbage). It can be used raw or cooked…
- A crunchy salad base, especially with Asian flavors
- A side dish to stewed means – hello corned beef & cabbage!
- A filler is soups
- A family BBQ staple when used in coleslaw
- A great low carb option to use the whole leaf as a wrap
Want to see more tasty options? Check out Delish’s 34 Creative Cabbage Recipes That Are Way Better Than Coleslaw.
Growing up, my mom steamed all vegetables; it got a pat of butter and salt & pepper, that’s it. No wonder I didn’t like veggies growing up. #sorrymom.
I love carrots because they are a great inexpensive food option, delicious, and go in so many different dishes!
- Eaten raw with hummus or ranch
- Sliced into rounds to top a green salad
- Cut into sticks and roasted in the oven (delicious)
- Put into the air fryer to make carrot fries
- Cooked and pureed to put into spaghetti sauces
- Sliced into matchsticks to use in pho or a quick flash cook and put into veggie wraps.
I know, hiding veggies in spaghetti sauce sounds sneaky, and I have no shame. Yes, I want my child to voluntarily eat carrots and like them. But that isn’t happening any time soon. I love the site Kids Eat in Color; she has so many excellent tips for talking to your kiddos about veggies and getting them to actually want to eat them!
22. Peanut Butter
PB is the quintessential American food dream, held with high esteem by all unless you’re allergic to it (sorry).
Peanut butter can be used in so many ways…
- PBJ sandwiches (try it lightly grilled in a pan, so tasty on a cold day)
- Used as a dip for apples & pretzels
- Add into smoothies for a protein punch
- Used to make peanut sauce for Asian dishes
- Used in baking treats for desserts or as an ice cream topping
I don’t need to go on; you know all about the joy of peanut butter.
23. Flour, sugar, yeast, baking soda/powder & salt
I know; I’m cheating by putting these together. YET, when you have these four items, you can make so many amazing things!
- Pizza crust
- Dinner rolls
- Pie crust
I love a good crusty french bread, but a loaf is so expensive (think $4.00+). Yet, I can make it myself for pennies! The fun part is that I try and bake/cook with my 6-year-old at least once a week. It’s an important life skill and a lot of fun! We made the recipe in the video below, and it turned out perfectly! Very easy to do with your kiddo.
24. Chuck roast
Beef – it’s what’s for dinner!
This saying has been stomped into Americans’ brains since 1992 when the Beef Industry Council upped their marketing game. Lucky for them, it worked. According to Statista, Americans consumed 27.3 billion pounds in 2019! That’s 58.1 lbs per person.
Since we eat so much of it, it needs to be cheap! (There are many arguments about national subsidies supporting the farmer economy and its impact on our environment. Some of it’s fair, some of it’s a broken system, and some of it is exaggerated for the press. I respect your beliefs & values so let’s not argue about whether it’s right or wrong. The fact remains that right now, it’s cheap – for beef that isn’t USDA organic certified.
Chuck is used for a pot roast or, when cubed for stew, because the connective tissue melts as the chuck braises and self-bastes the beef, making it very tender. It’s also commonly used for burger meat. There are tons of slow cooker recipes for this, so your choices are endless.
So knowing that it needs to cook to be tender, it’s a great cheap food for comfort dishes…
- Pot roast dinner with potatoes & veggies
- Beef stroganoff
- Slow-cooked shredded beef for tacos, enchiladas, beef sub sandwiches, Barria, etc
- Beef vindaloo
- Hungarian goulash
- Beef pho
- Beef chili
25. Chicken thighs
If you’re not about roasting a whole chicken (#11 above), the chicken thighs and legs are a cheaper food option than the breast. Chicken thighs are great roasted in the oven with a sauce of your choice or slapped on the BBQ. They are fun but messy to eat, so not a good first date food.
“Nielsen data shows tofu sales 40% higher in the first half of 2020 as compared to 2019. Pulmuone Brands – owner of Nasoya, the nation’s No. 1 tofu brand – was forced to ship an additional 1 million packs from South Korea, the world’s biggest consumer of tofu, to the United States in the summer of 2020, while their American plants caught up with demand.” (source)
Often clocking in at about $2 a pound, water-packed tofu can be significantly cheaper than meat and only slightly more expensive than dried beans while also being a rich source of protein.
If you haven’t tried cooking with tofu before, that’s okay; it’s very easy to do; just slice or cube it up, or even crumble it and cook in your pan similarly as you would sautee chicken in a pan. Or broil it in the oven for yummy crispy edges. Tofu itself doesn’t have a strong flavor, so it takes on whatever spices and sauces you use. Give it a try; you’ll be surprised at how easy it is to cook with!
Brocolli is so versatile, healthy, and a reasonably cheap food, it makes it a no-brainer for your frugal food list! When buying, make sure you don’t buy the crowns as they are more expensive than the full stock option.
Broccoli is great…
- Steamed and put in Asian dishes
- Roasted and used as a veggie side dish
- Steamed and pureed into sauces – think spaghetti sauce
- Steamed and chopped small to put into a frittata or quiche
- Eaten raw with ranch
- Sauteed and used in a veggie pasta dish
I know we mentioned corn in the frozen vegetable section, but anyway you have corn – fresh on the cob, canned, frozen it’s going to be a great price. Besides, most kiddos like corn, so it’s a safe bet. When you’re focusing on buying only cheaper food, you don’t want to experiment and buy stuff no one will eat (sorry Brussels sprouts).
- As a side dish with butter & salt & pepper
- As a filling with cheese in a quesadilla
- Corn on the cob
- A mixin for soups, chili, burrito bowls, etc
32. Iceberg lettuce
At first glance, I am not impressed with iceberg lettuce. It’s the cheapest of the lettuce family, so it gets used a lot in low-cost green salads, which don’t last long – resulting in a bad reputation for being low quality/
According to Healthline, “Despite its reputation for being a complete zero on the nutritional scale, iceberg lettuce provides significant amounts of vitamins A and K. It also has small amounts of many other healthy nutrients. Although it’s low in fiber, it has a high water content, making it a refreshing choice during hot weather. It also provides calcium, potassium, vitamin C, and folate.” If you’re wondering, the most nutrient-dense lettuce is Romaine.
So salad up, but just be sure to eat it when it’s fresh for maximum nutrient value.
Honeydew is #3 on the cheapest fruit list from the USDA, which makes it the perfect food for fruit salad. It’s bulky, has high water content, is a good source of nutrients, and tastes sweet. Kiddos are sure to approve! So slice it or cube it. Even take a melon baller and scoop some balls and freeze them for a hot summer afternoon treat!
34. Navel oranges
The #4 cheapest fruit is navel oranges. Of course, their price fluctuates with the seasonality, but it’s usually a safe bet on being a cheap food to buy when broke. They’re great as a snack on their own, the sections used in salads, and of course juiced. Don’t forget about their vitamin C punch, a great option in the winter months.
35. Plain yogurt
I know that plain yogurt sounds pretty boring, and on its own, I’d have to agree. But, when you use it creatively, it’s a great option! Remember, the fruit-flavored yogurts have a ton of sugar in them, so pass them by on the shelf. Stick with plain and add in your own fruit, maybe some honey and granola for a delicious breakfast! Oh, don’t forget that yogurt makes a great mix in to help keep muffins moist when baking, or combine it will dill and garlic for a tasty tzatziki style sauce.
36. Sliced bread
While you can make your own bread for a lot cheaper, sometimes we don’t have the time or energy to do it. So buying regular basic sliced bread is an excellent frugal food option. While toast and sandwiches are great, sometimes you wonder what to do with it when it goes a bit stale. You don’t want to waste it; that defeats the purpose of what we’re doing here. So for bread that’s a bit dry…
- French Toast
- Breadcrumbs for making meatballs or meatloaf
- Bread pudding
- Bruchetta base
37. Onions & garlic
While not an entire meal, they do make almost any meal that much tastier! Use your white/yellow onions for sauteeing, and use red onions in fresh green salads or pickle them as a delicious topping for almost anything. Plus, they have a lot of vitamins and nutrients to help ward of infection and sickness.
38. Hot dogs
While not the most nutritious of choices, they still make a great option, especially for those with kids. You can eat them as a regular hot dog in a bun or…
- Chopped and mixed into boxed mac n cheese
- Chopped and added to a chili bean mix and a can of diced tomatoes
- Chopped and used to make mini corn dog muffins
If your family loves hot dogs, be sure to check the nutrition label on the back and find a variety with less salt than the others.
39. Generic cereal
While regular boxed cereal can be expensive, generic cereal is a great choice. I get simple flakes, and generic granola and the add-in some fresh blueberries and milk, and I have the perfect late-night snack!
Besides, you’d be surprised at how many generic items are made in the same factory as their brand-name counterpart. A lot!
If you do end up buying the gigantic bag of generic cereal, consider getting a cereal container to help keep it fresher longer.
40. Cottage cheese
Cottage cheese has gotten a bad rap in the past for the 70’s dishes – sliced peaches and cottage cheese salads? Uh, no thanks. But that doesn’t make it gross. There are so many great things you can do with it! Consider blending it up and use it in…
- Lasagne filling
- Mixed into scrambled eggs is very creamy and tasty!
- Used as a base for tomato slices or avocado on toast
- Used as a base for baked fruit bar treats
- Mixed into pancakes for added protein
- Mix with honey and use it with jam or jelly on toast
- Use it in savory scones or muffins
If you prefer to focus on making cheap meals (vs. buying cheap ingredients), then be sure to check out these 50 frugal and healthy meals, or maybe these 50 dirt cheap family meals, which may not be so healthy but are sure to please!
41. Bulk grains
In addition to rice (#1 on the list), there are many healthy grains that are inexpensive when bought from the bulk bins. Think quinoa (which is a nutritional powerhouse) can be a great base to any buddha bowl or used in soups. Lots of grains like millet, barley, farro are great ones to try.
People who are new to healthy eating may make the mistake of trying to eat these grains on their own or plain. Please don’t do that; you’ll hate it! These are grains to be mixed in with other items, or layered in a bowl, to be used with spices!
42. Turkey kielbasa
You could essentially use any kielbasa, but I like turkey sausage as it usually has less salt and a lot less fat than beef or pork options. Now, one package (think a long rope-like sausage in a U shape) isn’t super cheap, but there are easily two meal portions (not individual portions but main dish portions in there). So a $4 item cut in two to be $2 is a great bargain.
My favorite dish is a Three Bean Chili with Turkey Sausage, served alongside some cornbread (a cheap food in and of itself!). It also makes an excellent hoagie filler alongside some sauteed onions & peppers.
Now, I know this is a beverage and not a whole meal. Yet, when kids are drinking milk, that means they’re not drinking more expensive and very unhealthy soda pop. Milk has 8 grams of protein per cup, along with other vitamins and nutrients.
If you’re buying it for generic cereal (#39 on the list), then you might as well drink it too. Besides, you can mix milk into creamy soups, use it to make quiche or frittata, or better yet, use it chocolate pudding mix. Yum!
44. Green peppers
Green peppers are a great vegetable option; they can be sauteed and used in sandwiches or wraps. Mixed into meat dishes, or cut in half and stuffed with rice and cheese (maybe with some sausage) for a great dinner.
Just because green peppers are inexpensive, that doesn’t mean red, yellow, or orange peppers are. You can easily tack on $1 -$2 more per pepper for those more colorful options.
45. In-season fruit
So I’m cheating a bit on this one, as many fruits can be bought for a steal when they’re in season from local farmers or at farm stands. (Farmers’ markets can be expensive, so don’t assume it’s a good deal even if it’s not from a store.)
Fruits that can be great bargains…
During the summer months, just Google “town name + farm stand/u-pick” and you should get a few options. Maybe even a county registry that lists them all, as there are local groups to help promote the farms.
If you’re feeling ambitious, buy extra to slice and freeze, or can them. Canned fruit is great to bring freshness to the winter months. You can also make freezer jam, we do this every year with strawberries.
46. Sweet potatoes
If you’re tired of regular potatoes (#7 on the list), then try a sweet potato instead! You can use them in almost the same way, which means easy prep and cooking! They are great diced and roasted to be eaten on their own or used in rice bowls with tofu. You can mash them or make fries.
One cup (200 grams) of baked sweet potato with skin provides more than 7x the beta-carotene that the average adult needs per day. Why is that important? Well…
People whose diet included the highest level of beta carotene had a 17% lower risk of premature death from all causes compared to a group who ate the least amount, according to a May 2016 study published in the journal Scientific Reports.
Mushrooms may not be at the top of your brain, but they will be after this! They are loaded with many health-boosting vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. One of the best parts is that white or cremini mushrooms are relatively cheap, and they add a lot of bulk to dishes.
For example, if your recipe calls for 1 lb of ground beef, you only have 1/2 a lb, then chop up a bunch of mushrooms and mix it in. Your dish will be just as tasty.
They also make a great mix in for a stir fry, or in spaghetti sauces, in stuffed peppers, and don’t forget stroganoff!
48. Canned or jarred applesauce
Applesauce makes a great snack for parents and kiddos alike. Be sure to grab the unsweetened, as the sweetened varieties can be a bit too sweet. Applesauce also makes for a great side dish to pork chops and can be used to replace butter or oil in baking.
Unsweetened applesauce can be used to replace part or all of the butter in a recipe. It can be swapped in equal quantities, so if a recipe calls for 2 cups of butter, you could replace as much of it as you’d like with applesauce.
There are other inexpensive canned fruit options, but they can be packed in syrup which means lots of added sugar.
49. Pork shoulder
Pork is traditionally a cheaper meat option, and the pork shoulder is one of the most affordable parts of the pig. Pork shoulder makes an excellent option for summer BBQs or the crockpot! You can make it with so many different flavor profiles, on bowls the ever-popular pulled pork on a bun!
Is there anything cheaper than packaged ramen? I mean, there probably is, but I can’t think of one. Ramen is an excellent option for kids learning to cook, and you can mix in lots of things to jazz it up for adult consumption. Like any combo of…
- Bean sprouts
- Matchstick carrots
- Sliced mushrooms
- Fresh spinach
- A soft boiled egg
- Sauteed red peppers
- Ginger & green onions
- Thai basil & lemongrass
- Top it with sesame seeds, sriracha, a drizzle of sesame oil
How to get cheap food even cheaper
We’re going to talk about my top 5 tools that help me save money on food.
1. ibotta is one of my favorite quick cash back apps; I’ve earned $319.16 with this app! Basically, you go grocery shopping, then get on the app and add offers to items you bought, scan your receipt, and get easy money! You can even shop through their app (at your favorite stores & sites), and you’ll earn cashback.
What makes this app different is they are constantly offering bonuses. So if you buy a selection of certain offers, you’ll get even more money. For example, around thanksgiving, they’ll have coupons for stuffing, pumpkin pie mix, marshmallows, cranberry sauce, etc. And if you buy 5 of their ten seasonal offers, you’ll get an extra $5 on top of the individual cashback offers!
So grab your free $10 with ibotta and start saving on all your grocery shopping!
2. Earning points with fetch is super easy, and the great thing is that you earn points on the whole receipt, not just on a few items. I’ve only been using it a short while, but I’ve already cashed out my rewards for a Target gift card. There are so many different things you can redeem your points for; enter sweepstakes, restaurant gift cards, entertainment experiences, and you can even donate them to a nonprofit!
3. Why not also use Coupons.com to either print manufacturers’ coupons or use their digital ones with their app. You also get paid after each time you use a coupon, so the savings are immediate! But, be sure to add the coupons before you check out, as it won’t work if you try to use the coupons afterward.
4. One of the surest ways to waste money on food is to let it go to waste. No one intends to throw away food, but it happens all too easily. We buy something because it sounded good/healthy, and then it sits in our fridge and sits some more until it rots and goes in the garbage. What we need is a better meal plan.
A great resource that I have found is My Freeze Easy! It’s a freezer meal planning & prep plan, where you get access to new monthly freezer recipes! There are some great customizations too; gluten-free, dairy-free, paleo, instant pot, etc.! Now not only are these designed to save time, but they focus on being stress-free, so no complicated instructions or random ingredients. These are easy, fast, and budget-friendly!
If you’re not quite sure about diving into freezer meals, Erin (the founder) has a great free workshop to introduce you to freezer cooking, so you can feel it out and see if it’s something you might like. Again don’t worry; it’s not a 90-minute life or death training. She’s a mom; she knows you’re busy! It’s three videos for a total of approx 20 minutes. easy peasy, right! (Pssst… you get three free recipes & a shopping list, nice!)
If making freezer meals isn’t your thing (or you have a small freezer), then grab some tips for meal planning on a budget. There are lots of ways to plan your meals to make it cheaper and more manageable.
5. If you’re still trying to get your grocery bill down, then check out Crystal Paine’s eBook – Slash Your Grocery Bill. She blogged for years under the Money Saving Mom site (a super popular site!) The eBook goes over 25 ways to cut your grocery budget. From…
- how to plan a menu on a budget
- how to strategically shop
- how to use digital couponing apps
- low-budget meal ideas
- a specific system for planning and shopping
Know where to buy your cheap food
Knowing what grocery stores offer the best prices can be tricky, as stores adjust prices every day. Not just with items going on or off sale, but regular-priced items can and do fluctuate. I worked in grocery for six years, and each day the price change team would adjust hundreds of items, both up and down, maybe $.11 up on one item or $.22 up on another.
So, know the cheaper grocery chains and then know which store location has more affordable prices. Yes, stores within the same chain and only a few miles apart also have different prices. There are lots of little things you can do before you shop to save money.
For myself, I never shop at Albertsons, Safeway, or Whole Foods (obviously). I do shop at Winco and Fred Meyer (Kroger chain). I wish we had an Aldi’s in my area, but we don’t. And for the FM, I shop at only one location of the three in my town, as its prices are always a little lower.
When you’re at the grocery store, be sure to eat first, and avoid these sneaky ways stores get you to spend more. When armed with the right info, you can save more than you ever realized.
At the end of the day
Feeding your family on a tight budget can be stressful when you’re overwhelmed and unsure of what to do. But knowing what cheap foods to buy when broke can help ease your anxiety. Plus, there are so many healthy options on this list, you don’t have to feel guilty about feeding your family on these items.
Articles related to cheap food and what to make with them:
- The Cheapest Grocery List Possible
- How Much Should I be Spending on Groceries?
- 20 Smart Tips to Help You Nail Grocery Shopping on a Budget!
- 50 Deliciously Dirt Cheap Meals
I like the idea of building up a quality spice cabinet. Fun spices are an easy and nutritious way to add flavor to many different dishes and make it seem like you’re eating something totally different.
I completely agree! Spices make almost any dish taste exciting and new! You just need to find the combinations that you like best, then you can use them on chicken or beans & rice, or tofu.
This is so helpful for those of us trying to be thrifty. Thanks friend!
So glad you found it helpful! Thanks for stopping by Krysten!
These are honestly some wonderful suggestions for frugal buying. Although I cannot eat all that is included in this list due to dietary restrictions, I have definitely maintained a lot of these to remain on a decent budget. I’m glad I do have Aldi nearby as I can buy organic as much as possible. Thank you for sharing this thoughtful post.
I wish I had an Aldi’s near me, but sad to say they’re not in the Pacific NW. So glad you can find great organic foods!
Black, Pinto, and Kidney beans are some of my favorite beans to have with rice. A few years ago I learned how to make rice and beans I love these beans the most of all the beans. They also are not too expensive.
Beans are a great source of fiber, and so many nutrients and minerals. They should be on everyone’s shopping list!
Great list, you even hit my favorite budget stretcher- the famous $4.99 Costco chicken! I usually get 6-8 cups of chicken from one and portion it into ziplocks of 2 cups each for soups and pasta dishes.
Such a good idea to portion out the chicken, then it’s all ready for an upcoming meal! So easy!