Creating a grocery budget when funds are tight might have your head spinning but lucky for you, I have collected a list of 50 of the cheapest foods you can buy so that you can pull from it when times are tough.
Here you will find a collection of the best inexpensive foods to buy to keep your grocery budget down and under each item, I have included a few meal ideas using the food item to make things just that much easier for ya!
Keep reading for a list of the cheapest food you can buy when on a tight budget!
After living less than paycheck to paycheck for years, I discovered a thing or two when it comes to limiting a grocery budget and I have to say, one of the easiest ways to save money on food is by simply buying the cheapest food.
For many of us, the grocery budget is where a lot of money flies out the window. Oftentimes, a great sum of that money is even wasted because either the grocery list wasn’t thought out well enough or you purchased and food went bad.
I mean, who else has had some zucchini in their drawer go bad over and over? Oh, and don’t get me started on the never-ending cycle of buying salad just to throw it away later.
Below I not only share a list of the cheapest food you can buy when you are strapped, but I also include how to actually use it so that you don’t waste it!
Let’s get to it.
Build Your Emergency Fund
Financial anxiety is one of the worst kinds, right? It used to keep me up at night for years. I was desperate to find a fix but nothing was working until it did. Luckily for you, I kept a note of everything I did along the way and now I am here and ready to teach you how to build your emergency fund (amongst many other things). For everything from the basics of understanding your finances, to creating your monthly budget, I have covered it all. Click the button below to learn more!
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Cheap Food to Buy When You’re Broke
Take control of your grocery budget once and for all by purchasing foods that do not break the bank. Below you will find 50 awesome food items that can be used a variety of ways, including some with a long shelf life so that you can stock up when they are on sale for use later.
Cheap Foods to Stock Up On
These are the cheapest foods that last the longest. Make use of your grocery budget and stock up when a good sale is going on and work them into dozens of meals!
- Rice: Versatile and affordable, rice is a staple that can be the foundation for various meals like Chicken and Vegetable Stir-Fry over Rice, Beans and Rice Burritos, and Vegetable Fried Rice.
- Pasta: A budget-friendly carbohydrate, pasta serves as a blank canvas for a variety of dishes, such as Spaghetti with Tomato Sauce and Meatballs, Pesto Pasta with Roasted Vegetables, and Pasta Primavera with Lemon Garlic Sauce.
- Canned Tomatoes: A versatile pantry essential, canned tomatoes add flavor to numerous recipes like Classic Spaghetti Bolognese, Tomato Basil Soup, and Shakshuka with Poached Eggs.
- Eggs: An affordable protein source, eggs can be prepared in various ways, from a Veggie Omelette with Cheese to Egg Fried Rice, Spinach and Feta Quiche, and more.
- Potatoes: Inexpensive and filling, potatoes are a versatile vegetable suitable for many dishes, including Baked Potato with Sour Cream and Chives, Mashed Potatoes with Gravy, and Potato and Onion Frittata.
- Oats: A nutritious and budget-friendly breakfast option, oats can be used in porridge or baked goods like Classic Oatmeal with Berries and Nuts, Banana Oat Pancakes, and Oat and Raisin Cookies.
- Flour: A basic ingredient for homemade bread and more, flour can be used in dishes like Homemade Bread with Avocado Toast, Pancakes with Maple Syrup, and Basic Pizza Dough for Homemade Pizza.
- Onions: A kitchen staple that adds flavor to dishes, onions can be used in recipes like Caramelized Onion and Goat Cheese Tart, French Onion Soup, and Onion and Mushroom Quinoa Pilaf.
- Carrots: Affordable and nutritious, carrots are great for snacking or adding to stews and soups, like Roasted Carrot and Chickpea Salad, Carrot and Ginger Soup, and Honey Glazed Carrots.
- Cabbage: A low-cost vegetable with many uses, cabbage can be incorporated into dishes like Coleslaw with a Tangy Dressing, Stir-Fried Cabbage with Tofu, and Cabbage Roll Casserole.
Cheap Foods That Last a Long Time
If you are on a tight budget and want to stock up when you are able to, this list includes the best foods to stock up on at a reasonable price:
- Lentils (Dried): Dried lentils are not only affordable but also have a long shelf life, making them a versatile and enduring source of protein for various dishes such as Lentil Soup, Lentil Curry, and Lentil Salad.
- Quinoa: With a longer shelf life than many grains, quinoa is a nutrient-rich and enduring option for salads, side dishes, and main courses like Quinoa Salad with Roasted Vegetables, Quinoa-Stuffed Peppers, and Quinoa and Black Bean Bowls.
- Canned Corn: Canned corn is a durable pantry item that adds sweetness and texture to dishes, making it a long-lasting addition to your stockpile for Corn and Black Bean Salsa, Creamed Corn Casserole, and Corn Chowder.
- Peanut Butter (Jarred): Jarred peanut butter is a cost-effective and enduring source of protein, perfect for sandwiches, smoothies, or as a dip for snacks like Peanut Butter and Banana Sandwich, Peanut Butter Energy Bites, and Thai Peanut Noodles.
- Dried Pasta Sauce Mix: Dried pasta sauce mix provides a convenient and long-lasting solution for enhancing the flavor of pasta dishes without the need for fresh ingredients, adding a great side to things like Airfryer Chicken.
- Shelf-Stable Broth (Boxed or Canned): Boxed or canned shelf-stable broth is a versatile and enduring base for soups, stews, and various recipes, ensuring you have a lasting culinary foundation for Chicken Noodle Soup, Vegetable Minestrone, and Beef and Barley Stew.
- Instant Rice: Instant rice is a quick-cooking and long-lasting option, perfect for creating easy and enduring meals in a pinch as they make a wonderful and flavorful side dish for nearly any of the affordable proteins mentioned later on in this post.
- Canned Chickpeas: Canned chickpeas are a durable and budget-friendly source of protein, suitable for salads, curries, and snacks that last, such as Chickpea Salad, Chickpea Curry, and Roasted Chickpeas.
- Shelf-Stable Tofu (Vacuum-Packed): Vacuum-packed, shelf-stable tofu is a long-lasting plant-based protein option, ideal for various savory and sweet dishes like Tofu Stir-Fry and Tofu Scramble.
- Instant Oatmeal Packets: Instant oatmeal packets are individually sealed for prolonged freshness, providing a quick and enduring breakfast solution. I love keeping these around the house for quick and easy kid breakfasts.
When I create my grocery budget, I do plan to spend a portion of it on produce. I feel it is very important to keep fruits and vegetables ready in your home for snacking and bulking up dishes.
Here are some of the cheapest produce options:
- Bell Peppers: Colorful and economical, bell peppers add flair to meals like Stuffed Bell Peppers, Grilled Vegetable Fajitas, and Bell Pepper and Tomato Salad.
- Sweet Potatoes: With a sweet and hearty profile, sweet potatoes are perfect for Sweet Potato and Black Bean Burritos, Roasted Sweet Potato Wedges, and Sweet Potato Pancakes. They are also SO good cooked in the airfryer with some chili.
- Zucchini: A versatile and inexpensive option, zucchini can be utilized in Zucchini Noodles with Pesto, Grilled Zucchini Skewers, and Zucchini Bread.
- Spinach: Packed with nutrients, spinach is great for any of your favorite salads.
- Bananas: A budget-friendly fruit, bananas are perfect for Banana Oat Pancakes, Banana Smoothie Bowl, and Peanut Butter Banana Sandwich.
- Oranges: Citrusy and economical, oranges shine in Orange Chicken Stir-Fry and Orange Glazed Salmon.
- Cucumbers: Refreshing and affordable, cucumbers are ideal for Greek Salad, Cucumber and Tomato Gazpacho, and Cucumber Sandwiches.
- In Season Produce (Varies by Season): Take advantage of in-season produce for dishes like Fresh Berry Salad (summer), Butternut Squash Soup (fall), Citrus Avocado Salad (winter), and Asparagus Stir-Fry (spring).
Whether you are vegetarian, vegan, or a meat eater, this list has some of the best affordable protein options that you can snag at the grocery store.
Here are some budget-friendly protein options to choose from:
- Canned Tuna: A budget-friendly animal protein option, canned tuna is versatile for dishes like Tuna Salad Sandwich, Tuna Casserole, and Spicy Tuna Wraps.
- Greek Yogurt: Rich in protein, Greek yogurt works well in Greek Yogurt Parfait (my go-to breakfast or afternoon snack), Yogurt-Marinated Chicken Skewers, and Creamy Yogurt Pasta.
- Tofu (Extra Firm): Ideal for plant-based diets, extra firm tofu can be used in Tofu Stir-Fry, Tofu Scramble, and Grilled Tofu Skewers.
- Cottage Cheese: A dairy protein option, cottage cheese shines in Cottage Cheese Pancakes, Cottage Cheese Salad, and Cottage Cheese Stuffed Peppers. It has also been used recently across social media for a variety of protein-rich recipes.
- Chickpeas (Canned or Dried): Versatile for both plant-based and omnivorous diets, chickpeas are perfect for dishes like Chickpea Salad, Chickpea Curry, and Roasted Chickpeas.
- Ground Turkey: A lean and budget-friendly meat option, ground turkey works well in Turkey Bolognese, Turkey and Black Bean Tacos, and Turkey Stuffed Bell Peppers.
- Edamame: A protein-rich option for plant-based diets, edamame can be used in Edamame Hummus, Edamame and Quinoa Salad, and Spicy Edamame Stir-Fry.
- Canned Salmon: A cost-effective source of omega-3 fatty acids, canned salmon is great for Salmon Patties, Salmon Caesar Salad, and Baked Salmon with Lemon.
- Ground Sausage: You will usually find some kind of ground sausage on sale and it can be used in so many recipes including Breakfast Bowls, Spaghetti with Ground Sausage in the sauce, or Burritos with Ground Sausage.
Best Affordable Snacks
You didn’t think I would forget the snacks, right? Even on a budget we need our filling snacks in order to keep it going.
Here are some of the best affordable snack options:
- Popcorn (Air-Popped): Air-popped popcorn is a light and budget-friendly snack, perfect for customization with options like Classic Butter, Parmesan and Herb, and Spicy Chili Lime.
- Rice Cakes: Affordable and versatile, rice cakes are great for snacks like Peanut Butter and Banana Rice Cakes, Avocado and Tomato Rice Cakes, and Cream Cheese and Berry Rice Cakes.
- Nuts (Assorted): A mix of assorted nuts provides a satisfying and nutrient-rich snack, offering options like Trail Mix, Honey Roasted Nuts, and Spiced Almonds.
- Vegetable Sticks with Hummus: Crunchy vegetable sticks paired with hummus make a nutritious and budget-friendly snack, with options like Carrot and Cucumber Sticks, Bell Pepper Strips, and Broccoli Florets.
- Greek Yogurt with Honey and Berries: A protein-packed and delightful snack, Greek yogurt with honey and berries offers a sweet and satisfying treat. My fave!
- Cottage Cheese with Pineapple: Cottage cheese paired with pineapple chunks creates a tasty and budget-friendly snack, providing a balance of protein and sweetness.
- Hard-Boiled Eggs: Hard-boiled eggs are a portable and protein-rich snack, suitable for various tastes and preferences. Eat them on their own or grate them over some whole wheat toast.
- Oat Bars (Homemade or Store-Bought): Oat bars, whether homemade or store-bought, offer a convenient and budget-friendly snack, with options like Nut and Seed Bars, Fruit-Filled Bars, and Chocolate Chip Oat Bars.
- Veggie Chips (Homemade): Homemade veggie chips, made from affordable vegetables like sweet potatoes, beets, or zucchini, provide a crunchy and wholesome snack. All you have to do is slice, dry them off, and bake. Season as you please!
- Banana and Peanut Butter: Sliced bananas topped with peanut butter create a satisfying and energy-boosting snack, perfect for a quick and budget-friendly pick-me-up.
Broke Grocery List
Now that you have a general idea of what foods from the grocery store are cheapest, let’s get an example budget-friendly grocery list put together.
Here are some cheap foods to keep on your grocery list that can be worked into many meals:
- Canned Tomatoes
- Lentils (Dried)
- Canned Corn
- Peanut Butter (Jarred)
- Dried Pasta Sauce Mix
- Shelf-Stable Broth (Boxed or Canned)
- Instant Rice
- Canned Chickpeas
- Shelf-Stable Tofu (Vacuum-Packed)
- Instant Oatmeal Packets
- Bell Peppers
- Sweet Potatoes
- In Season Produce (Varies by Season)
- Greek Yogurt
- Cottage Cheese
- Ground Turkey
- Canned Tuna
- Canned Salmon
- Popcorn (Air-Popped)
- Rice Cakes
- Nuts (Assorted)
What Are Some of the Cheapest Meals
- Vegetarian Stir-Fry: Stir-fry a colorful mix of bell peppers, zucchini, onions, and carrots. Serve over rice and drizzle with soy sauce.
- Mediterranean Chickpea Salad: Mix canned chickpeas, diced cucumbers, tomatoes, and red onions. Top with a dollop of Greek yogurt for a refreshing salad.
- Sweet Potato and Lentil Curry: Cook lentils and sweet potatoes in a flavorful curry sauce made with canned tomatoes, coconut milk, and curry spices.
- Pasta Primavera with Tofu: Toss cooked pasta with sautéed zucchini, bell peppers, and cubes of extra firm tofu. Drizzle with olive oil.
- Oatmeal Banana Pancakes: Blend oats, bananas, and eggs to create a batter. Cook into delicious pancakes for a wholesome breakfast or snack.
- Cabbage and Carrot Slaw: Shred cabbage and carrots, mix with Greek yogurt for a simple and crunchy coleslaw.
- Tuna and Chickpea Salad Wraps: Mix canned tuna and chickpeas with Greek yogurt. Fill whole wheat wraps for a quick and protein-packed lunch.
- Veggie and Lentil Soup: Simmer dried lentils, canned tomatoes, carrots, and spinach in vegetable broth for a hearty and nutritious soup.
- Quinoa and Roasted Vegetable Bowl: Roast bell peppers, zucchini, and sweet potatoes. Serve over quinoa and drizzle with olive oil.
- Popcorn Trail Mix: Combine air-popped popcorn with assorted nuts and dried fruit for a satisfying and crunchy trail mix.
FAQs About the Cheapest Foods
The cheapest foods that tend to have a longer shelf life include dried staples like rice, lentils, and pasta. Canned goods such as beans, tomatoes, and tuna are also economical options with extended durability. Additionally, items like oats, flour, and instant rice contribute to cost-effective, long-lasting pantry choices.
Buying in bulk is a cost-effective strategy, and some cheap foods suitable for bulk purchases include rice, pasta, dried beans, and lentils. Oats, flour, and canned goods like tomatoes and vegetables are also economical when bought in larger quantities. Additionally, purchasing larger portions of frozen fruits and vegetables can be a budget-friendly way to stock up on nutritious options.
To save money while maintaining a balanced diet, consider incorporating affordable staples like rice, beans, and lentils into meals. Plan meals around in-season produce, as it tends to be more budget-friendly. Include versatile and economical protein sources such as eggs, canned tuna, and legumes. Cooking in batches and embracing leftovers can further stretch your food budget, providing cost-effective and convenient meal options
With that, I think you should have everything you need in order to gain control of your finances and start on a path that’ll help you be more prepared for unexpected expenses.