50 Healthy Foods for Under $1 a Pound

By Jeff Yeager on 13 July 2010 (Updated 5 September 2011) 26 comments

If you are what you eat, then I should weigh-in at under $1 a pound.

That's because, as a general rule of thumb, I try to only buy foodstuff that costs under a buck per pound. Under $1 a pound, year-round — that's my grocery shopping mantra.

It's not just because I'm a world-class penny-pincher and smart shopper; believe it or not, it's also about eating healthier. When you look at the USDA "food pyramid," many of the things we should be eating the most of — grains, legumes, fruits and vegetables — happen to cost the least. It's often the stuff that's bad for us (at least in large quantities) — red meat, fatty dairy products, and processed foods high in trans fats — that cost the most, on a per pound basis. (See also: Tips and Tricks to Eat Healthy on a Budget)

To prove my point, I've put together this list of 50 healthy foods that I've purchased at least once in the last six months for under $1 a pound. First, a few disclaimers about my list-o-fifty:

  • NO, I don't live on another planet or in a part of the country where the cost of living is deflated. In fact, I live and shop in the Washington, DC metro area, which has one of the highest costs of living (and groceries) in the country.
     
  • NO, I'm not saying that all of these items are available in every store, at all times. But if you shop carefully, you can always find at least some variety of these foods around which to plan your meals. Many of the items on the list (e.g. most root vegetables, bananas, beans, etc.) can usually be purchased for under $1 pound even when not on sale or in-season. Other items on the list were "store specials," and typically would cost more than $1 a pound, and/or they were in-season so cost less.
     
  • NO, none of the items on my under $1 a pound list are organically grown. The pros/cons of that debate aside, for most people with a limited budget, the choice isn't whether or not to buy expensive organic, it's whether or not to eat highly processed crap like fast food or eat inexpensive healthy foods like those on my list.
     
  • NO, I'm not saying that by eating only these foods you'll have a complete, healthy diet. But they certainly can be the backbone around which to plan healthy, inexpensive menus for your family.
     
  • NO, I don't burn up a lot of time and gas by running around to a lot of different grocery stores, and I rarely use coupons. I shop only once every week or two, and I usually shop at only one or two stores. I plan my meals around the-best-of-the-best weekly store specials (aka the "loss-leaders"), the sale items that are usually on the front page of the weekly circular most stores publish. If you're not a creative cook like me, try a website like Delish or Epicurious, where you can enter the ingredients you have to work with and get all kinds of recipes.

So rev-up your shopping cart, but be careful: There's a Green Cheapskate loose on aisle five!

Apples - One a day keeps the cheapskate away.

Asparagus - HUGE store special at 99 cents a pound during Easter week. I bought 10 pounds, blanched it and then froze it.

Bananas - Potassium for pennies.

Barley - A tasty alternative to rice and potatoes.

Beans - (canned or dried) Kidney, pinto, navy, black, red, and many more.

Bok Choy - Steam and serve with a little soy sauce.

Broccoli - Yes, a store special. Usually closer to $2 per pound.

Bulgar Wheat - Try it in pilaf or a tabouleh salad.

Cabbage - Green and red —I like mine fried.

Cantaloupe - No, sorry, I can't; I'm already married.

Carrots - Raw or steamed; rich in carotenes, a healthy antioxidant.

Celery - Stir fry it for a change.

Chicken - Whole or various parts, on sale.

Chickpeas - AKA garbanzo beans — mash 'em up as a healthy sandwich spread.

Cornmeal - "Polenta" is all the rage these days, but I loved it 40 years ago when Mom called it "cornmeal mush."

Cucumbers - Try peeling, seeding, and steaming with a little butter and salt.

Daikon Radish - My new favorite raw veggie.

Eggs - Don't overdo them, but eggs provide high quality protein and still cost about $1 per pound. (Plus, there are many eggscellent things you can do with the shells.)

Green Beans - Frozen, but fresh are sometimes on sale for under $1 a pound in-season.

Greens - Kale, mustard, turnip, and collard greens are rich in vitamins and a good source of fiber. Here's how I cook 'em.

Grapes - Store special at .99 a pound.

Grapefruit - Bake with a little brown sugar on top for a healthy dessert.

Lentils - Perhaps the perfect food — healthy, cheap, and versatile (think soups, salads, sandwich spreads — and those are only some of the "s" possibilities).

Liver - Chicken livers usually cost under $1 a pound, and sometimes beef and pork liver can be found in the DMZ ("Dollar Maximum Zone").

Mangoes - High in fiber and vitamins A, B6, and C.

Milk - Yep, on a per-pound basis, milk still costs well under $1 a pound.

Napa Cabbage - Delicious steamed or raw in a salad.

Oatmeal - The good old-fashioned "slow cooking" kind...that takes all of five minutes.

Onions - Try baking them whole in a cream sauce.

Oranges - Frequent sale price when in-season.

Pasta - Store special at .89 a pound — I nearly bought them out!

Peanut Butter - Special sale price, but stock up because it usually has a long shelf life.

Pork - Inexpensive cuts of pork frequently go on sale for 99 cents per pound or less; sometimes even ham during the holidays.

Potatoes - White and red — baked, mashed, boiled, broiled, steamed.

Pumpkin - Yes, you can eat the same ones you buy as holiday decorations, and they usually cost under 50 cents a pound.

Rice - White for under $1 a pound; brown, a little more expensive but better for you.

Rutabagas - Hated them as a kid; can't get enough of them now.

Sour Cream - 99 cents on sale, but long shelf life, so stock up. My cucumber awaits.

Spinach - Frozen (but Popeye doesn't care).

Split peas - Add a hambone and make the ultimate comfort soup. Try it in the crock-pot!

Squash - Try baking acorn squash with a little brown sugar.

Sweet corn - Canned, or fresh on the cob, in-season. (Try this recipe for summer corn fritters.)

Tomatoes (canned) - Canned are often better than fresh to use in cooking, and occasionally you can find fresh on sale for under a buck, in-season.

Turkey - A popular bargain priced loss-leader around the holidays — buy an extra bird and freeze it for later.

Turnips - Make me think of my grandparents, who always grew them.

Watermelon - Whole, in-season melons can sometime cost less than 20 cents a pound if they're on sale and you find a big one.

Wine - Well, at least the stuff I drink — 5 liter box (approximately 11 pounds) for about ten bucks, on sale. (BTW, the beer I drink is even less expensive per pound.)

Yams/Sweet Potatoes - One of the healthiest foods you can eat, and usually available year round for under $1 a pound.

Yogurt - 8-ounce containers on sale two for $1.

Zucchini - OK, they're a type of squash (above). But I love them so much they deserve their own place on the list. Plus they look great in pantyhose.

Now look at all the money you've saved!

This post from the Green Cheapskate by Jeff Yeager is republished with the permission of The Daily Green. Check out more great content from The Daily Green:

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Guest's picture
Darren

Cool list. Though not available in all stores, soy beans that you can purchase by the bag (scooping them from a large bin) are usually less than a buck per pound. Whole Foods is the market that comes to my mind, in the section where all the nuts, beans, and dried Most stores only sell them in pre-made packages, and I think they cost more than a buck.

Guest's picture

Great list here. Some seasonal things are decent too. Pitted fruit like nectarines, peaches, apricots and plums are usually under $1.00 as are some grapes. Nice too add some variety.

Guest's picture
Lesley

I love this list, thanks for taking the time to put it together. :o) I used to stay away from the produce section, I just thought things were too expensive. Over the past few years, I have really made an effort to change the way we eat and I realize that eating healthy is eating cheap!! :o)

Guest's picture

Sounds delicious! A lot of these foods are necessities in the kitchen. Great way to save. Thank you for this!

Guest's picture
anechoic

'NO, none of the items on my under $1 a pound list are organically grown. The pros/cons of that debate aside, for most people with a limited budget, the choice isn't whether or not to buy expensive organic, it's whether or not to eat highly processed crap like fast food or eat inexpensive healthy foods like those on my list.'

all well and good but can you explain how eating vegetables sprayed with pesticides healthy exactly? is there really a debate as to whether or not eating food containing pesticides is bad for you?

I once overheard a produce handler in a local Safeway telling a coworker how he was treated for 'burns' (how he described them) on his hands from handling produce 4 hours a day for weeks at a time.

Guest's picture
jswa

He answered your question. If you can't afford to spend more on organic, then the choice is between inorganic whole foods or processed crap. The choice is a no-brainer. I'm as big into organic as the next guy, but the label "organic" is often meaningless anyway.

Take your axe somewhere else.

Guest's picture
Guest

The term "organic" is so loose that foods labeled as such, especially those produced on a large scale (such as those you might buy at Whole Foods) could have been sprayed with chemicals anyway.

Guest's picture
Kristina

@JSWA is right -- the organic label is meaningless unless it's USDA certified. If you're buying an "organic" product, especially from another country, you're just trusting that it is what it says it it. And don't kid yourself that there's any amount of testing that will tell an organic piece of fruit from its conventionally grown counterpart -- it won't. People like to to imagine a fine sheen of poison on conventionally grown produce, but it ain't so, not that I could convince most people who want to believe otherwise.

@ANECHOIC, if you overheard a Safeway employee telling his friend how healthful non-organic produce was, would you believe him, too? Likely, you would say, "he's not a scientist, how could he know?" and dismiss the comment... We are all guilty of believing hearsay that we already agree with.

Guest's picture
Jen

Good list. I've moved my family more towards unprocessed foods this year. We have all lost weight and gained more energy. If you watch the sales you can find great deals. Sometimes places like Safeway have specials and coupons on their produce as well.

Guest's picture
Alison

Yogurt, don't buy it ... make it! Using UHT milk, powdered milk and a cube of starter yogurt. One container of starter yogurt will do, then you can freeze the rest (and make more cubes from new batches you make).

In all it costs me about 50p to make a litre of yogurt (I live in the UK).

Guest's picture

I still have readers at my blog try to tell me that it's impossible to find healthy food at reasonable prices. Thanks for giving out 50 great examples.

Dan
Casual Kitchen

Guest's picture
KarenJ

And don't forget about shopping at farm markets which offer locally grown produce at reduced prices. Unfortunately, here in NJ, the season for fresh, locally grown is shorter than we would like. Still there are discount grocery and produce stores here as well as warehouse stores. Thanks for rebutting the belief that it costs more to eat healthy!

Guest's picture
annalisa

Wow. I live in Phoenix and have NEVER seen asparagus for under $2 per pound. Bummer.

Guest's picture
BS

Asparagus loves water and hates heat. Not surprised it costs more in AZ.

Guest's picture
Guest

Why doesn't your website have an easy way to print articles? Printing with the standard File-->Print option produces partial pages with only article information on page one. Having clickable print button that takes you to just the essential text is a must if the site is encoding in a way that doesn't allow normal printing to work properly. Great article though!

Guest's picture
Guest

yeah i will tons of turkeys so I save 20 cents, everything I have to do is keep them frozen for a few months. who pays your electricity bill? who saves your earth?

Guest's picture
Guest

We live in NYC. There are many things on your list that, even on sale, bought in bulk, STILL do not come in at $1 a pound.

These kinds of lists are so misleading and the headlines inaccurate...just to get people to read, it seems.

Helpful? Yes, no. Most of us who care about both eating healthy foods and watching our budget know what is/isn't a "best buy."

In fact, most of us only buy what is on sale and adapt recipes accordingly.

And the cavalier attitude about organic food? It's the reason so many people act as if it doesn't make a difference. No, you don't need every fruit/vegetable to be organic, but it makes a huge difference in some items.

you do a disservice by dismissing organics. And a lot of the very people who complain they can't afford it? The same folks who spend $$$ each week on sodas, junk food, and processed foods. No, they aren't cheap and they aren't an option for some families. But when you have the ability to choose organic fruits/veggies, why not go for it? We know people who cut back on other things to afford them (select items).

We save because we don't eat meat. That frees up a lot of $ for organic veggies and fruits and other healthy food choices. It is all about choices. YOu pay one end or the other. Eating healthy s a huge investment in your physical health. I'd rather pay farmers than insurance companies.

Guest's picture
Guest

Good list, except where I live it is impossible to find much of the fresh produce for under $1 a pound, even in season. I used to live in the Washington, D.C. area and groceries are considerably less expensive than where I am now California. I don't think we'd eat much if your rule held for our area, but it's a good idea to have a limit so you recognize a good deal.

Guest's picture
Skirnir

Apples are not less than $1 a pound and if one looks at serving sizes, which makes more sense than per pound, it isn't as frugal. IE 3 apples for a $1 seems a bit expensive compared to a pound of pasta for $1 which is a good size meal for 3. IE $1 for 3 apples, verses say a box of six granola bars for $2, about equal in frugalness and definately not frugal.

Guest's picture
Alexis

i live in dc area and buy dried beans and lentils regularly (we eat beans 5 nights a week, I live with a brazilian)
and sorry to burst the bubble, but most beans are over $1 a lb since commodity prices have been rising over the past couple of years
I'd love to see a link to any of the stores/circulars where you find them cheaper, since I do regularly buy them

Guest's picture
no bull

"When you look at the USDA "food pyramid," many of the things we should be eating the most of — grains, legumes... happen to cost the least. It's often the stuff that's bad for us (at least in large quantities) — red meat..."

This is the most disgusting thing I've ever read.

The USDA food pyramid is the most incorrect, foul, utterly vile misrepresentation of good nutrition to have ever been thought up.

Now, minus all the things you should never, ever eat, the list looks like this.

Apples - One a day keeps the cheapskate away.
Asparagus - HUGE store special at 99 cents a pound during Easter week. I bought 10 pounds, blanched it and then froze it.
Bok Choy - Steam and serve with a little soy sauce.
Broccoli - Yes, a store special. Usually closer to $2 per pound.
Cabbage - Green and red -- I like mine fried.
Carrots - Raw or steamed; rich in carotenes, a healthy antioxidant.
Celery - Stir fry it for a change.
Chicken - Whole or various parts, on sale.
Cucumbers - Try peeling, seeding, and steaming with a little butter and salt.
Daikon Radish - My new favorite raw veggie.
Eggs - Overdo them, eggs provide high quality protein and still cost about $1 per pound. (Plus, there are many eggscellent things you can do with the shells.)
Greens - Kale, mustard, turnip, and collard greens are rich in vitamins and a good source of fiber. Here's how I cook 'em.
Lentils - Perhaps the perfect food -- healthy, cheap, and versatile (think soups, salads, sandwich spreads -- and those are only some of the "s" possibilities).
Napa Cabbage - Delicious steamed or raw in a salad.
Onions - Try baking them whole in a cream sauce.
Oranges - Frequent sale price when in-season.
Pork - Tenderloin only
Pumpkin - Yes, you can eat the same ones you buy as holiday decorations, and they usually cost under 50 cents a pound.
Spinach - Frozen (but Popeye doesn't care).
Squash - Try baking acorn squash with a little brown sugar.
Tomatoes (canned) - Canned are often better than fresh to use in cooking, and occasionally you can find fresh on sale for under a buck, in-season.
Turkey - A popular bargain priced loss-leader around the holidays -- buy an extra bird and freeze it for later.
Turnips - Make me think of my grandparents, who always grew them.
Wine - Red wine will keep you alive until you stop drinking it.
Zucchini - OK, they're a type of squash (above). But I love them so much they deserve their own place on the list. Plus they look great in pantyhose

Don't compromise your health for a few dollars, folks.

Starches and simple carbohydrates (ie. any bread, rice, or starchy vegetable) are linked to heart and liver disease, separately linked to obesity, which has it's own link to heart and liver disease, and which is linked to decreased brain function.

Cancer is on the rise in America. So is Obesity. Both are caused by foods that we're not supposed to digest.

http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/38528161/from/toolbar

Watch what goes into your bodies. It's not all fine and dandy.

Guest's picture
Nyxxie

I buy Apples all the time and they are never under a dollar a pound. Unless I get them from the 99 cent store. In my regular grocery stores it's like 1.50-1.80 dollars a pound. At a fruit stand they are still over a dollar.

But the rest of your points seem to be accurate. Nice post.

Guest's picture
Lenora

Thank you. I'm always surprised when people say it's expensive to eat healthy. Not so, as you have demonstrated with this article. I want food stamp recipients to get vouchers for whole, healthy foods instead of allowing them to buy deadly processed items that lead to bad health adding additional cost to taxpayers.

Guest's picture
amy saves

pasta at trader joe's is 99 cents a package. love it!

Guest's picture
Vinnie Schedel

Trans fat is the common name for unsaturated fat with trans-isomer (E-isomer) fatty acid(s). Because the term refers to the configuration of a double carbon-carbon bond, trans fats may be monounsaturated or polyunsaturated but never saturated.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trans_fat

Meg Favreau's picture

Thanks for the heads-up, Vinnie! I've updated the article.