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Food

Here’s How to Eat Well for Just $20 a Day

A little planning and the right ingredients combine for a day’s worth of nutritious eats that are good for you and your wallet.

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An often-cited set back to eating more healthfully is the price. It’s not cheap, and it can cost more to choose better-for-you options. The higher prices of fresh, local, or organic foods is a reflection of the extra work it takes to produce these better options. And highly processed foods almost always cost less because they’re made from cheaper, low-quality, low-nutrition ingredients. 

Compare a loaf of whole-grain bread from your local bakery to a mass-produced loaf from your local grocery store. The bakery loaf is hand-made in small batches from organic ingredients and baked that morning. It costs $5.00. The grocery store bread is made in a factory, thousands of loaves at a time, from white flour, soybean oil, and added sugar. It’s designed to last for a long time on the shelf, and it costs $2.50. 

Shoppers are faced with these cost-benefit choices all the time. But the good news is that not every food choice has to be a decision between dollars and health. There are many nutrient-dense options available that are affordable, too. The following one-day meal plan provides inspiration for how to eat healthfully, nutritiously, and deliciously without blowing your whole budget. 

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8 healthy and cheap food choices

Eating right doesn’t need to lead to a tough decision between your budget and your health. For example, you can emphasize meals made from low-cost, high-nutrition foods to compose a healthy diet without spending a ton on groceries. Add these affordable and nutritious picks to your shopping list each week.

1. Oats

Old-fashioned rolled oats are a high-fiber food connected to lowered risk of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and breast cancer. Plus, oats are extremely versatile, and can be enjoyed savory or sweet as a foundation for both healthy breakfasts and easy snacks. 

Cost: $0.23 per ½-cup serving dry oats; $3.00 per pound 

Try this recipe: Biju’s Classic Oatmeal 

2. Carrots and cauliflower

These two cruciferous veggies provide a powerhouse of nutrition and can be used in many ways. Being high in vitamins A and C, as well as a great source of antioxidants, eating more carrots and cauliflower has been linked to lowered risk of certain cancers and inflammation, and better eye health. 

Cost: $0.50 per cup; $1.00 to $2.00 per pound

Try this recipe: Emma Coburn’s Carrot Fritters

3. Beans

Whether purchased dried or in a can, beans are one of the cheapest protein sources you can buy. This heart-healthy food is packed with fiber (just ½ cup provides more than 30 percent of your daily recommended intake) as well as high levels of minerals that are important for heart health. 

Cost: $0.05 per ½-cup serving from dried beans ($0.85 per pound); and $0.40 per ½-cup serving of canned beans ($0.80 per pound) 

Try this recipe: Elyse Kopecky’s Super-Versatile Black Beans

4. Spinach

A nutrient-rich veggie that’s easy to incorporate into salads, soups, casseroles, and more. Spinach is high in vitamins A, C, and K and minerals, making it important for hearth and bone health. 

Cost: $0.10 per 1-cup raw serving; $1.60 to $2.00 per pound

Try this recipe: Spinach and Feta Pie

5. Frozen edamame

High in fiber and protein, whole soybeans are notable for containing all essential amino acids, as well as being high in iron and B vitamins for proper metabolism. It’s easy to enjoy nutritious edamame from frozen packs – just heat in the microwave or on a stovetop with a sprinkle of sea salt. 

Cost: $0.35 per ½-cup serving of frozen, shelled edamame; $2.80 per pound 

Try this recipe: Edamame Pâté Sandwiches

6. Kiwifruit

This flavorful fruit comes in perfect single, packable portions. Some enjoy biting into it like an apple, peel and all (just wash it first, of course), while others slice it in half and scoop out the vibrant green flesh with a spoon. Kiwi is an excellent source of vitamin C, as well as fiber, and has been connected to improved cardiovascular and respiratory health. 

Cost: $0.50 per fruit; $3.00 per pound 

Try this recipe: Healing Green Smoothie Bowl

7. Marinara sauce

Opening a jar of marinara sauce is not only an easy start to a meal, but it provides a plethora of nutrition, too. Made from a base of cooked tomatoes, marinara sauce is high in vitamin C, iron, and lycopene, an antioxidant that is good for your skin and eyes, and has been linked to reduced neuropathic pain, too. 

Cost: $0.38 per ½-cup serving; $2.99 per 24-ounce jar 

Try this recipe: Weeknight Spinach Lasagna Rolls

8. Quinoa

This ancient grain has a lot going for it. Not only is it a great source of plant-based protein, but it also packs in heart-healthy fats, minerals, and anti-inflammatory benefits. 

Cost: $0.70 per ¾-cup cooked serving: $3.50 per pound 

Try this recipe: Recovery Quinoa Salad

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Your 1-day meal plan:

How to eat healthfully for $20 a day

Breakfast Morning snack Lunch Afternoon snack Dinner
Oat Bowl  Fruit & Seeds  Power Bowl  Edamame Creamy Chicken Penne with Spinach and Parmesan-Roasted Carrots 
Cost breakdown
  • ½ cup dry old-fashioned oats ($0.23)
  • 2 tbsp natural peanut butter ($0.45)
  • 2 tbsp shredded unsweetened coconut ($0.15)
  • 2 tbsp cup dried cranberries ($0.40)
  • 16 oz organic coffee or green tea ($0.20)
  • 1 kiwifruit ($0.50)
  • ¼ cup pumpkin seeds ($0.35)
  • 1 cup raw, packed spinach ($0.10)
  • ¾ cup cooked quinoa ($0.70)
  • 1 5-oz can tuna packed in water ($1.50)
  • 3 Tbsp plain Greek yogurt ($0.40)
  • ½ cup cucumber slices ($0.30)
  • ½ cup shredded carrot ($0.25)
  • 2 tablespoons pumpkin seeds ($0.18)
  • ½ cup heated edamame, sprinkled with sea salt ($0.35)
  • 16 oz organic iced coffee or green tea ($0.20)
  • 4 oz (1 cup) uncooked whole-grain penne pasta ($0.40)
  • 5 oz boneless skinless chicken breast, diced ($3.50)
  • 1 small yellow onion, diced ($0.50)
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced ($0.15)
  • 2 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil ($1.00)
  • 2 cups marinara sauce ($1.52)
  • 2 cups raw, packed spinach ($0.20)
  • 2 oz cream cheese ($0.60)
  • 2 carrots, cut into 1 ½-inch pieces (about 3 cups) ($1.50)
  • 1 tsp dried oregano ($0.10)
  • 2 Tbsp grated Parmesan cheese (0.42)
How to make it Prepare oats with water and salt as directed on the package.

Stir in peanut butter, coconut, and cranberries while the oats are warm. 
Layer the spinach and cooked quinoa into a bowl.

Mix the drained tuna with yogurt and season with salt and lemon-pepper seasoning; layer over the spinach and quinoa.

Top with cucumber, carrot, and pumpkin seeds. 
Cook pasta with water and salt as directed on the package.

In a saucepan, saute the chicken, onion and garlic in 1 tbsp olive oil until chicken is cooked through; stir in marinara and cream cheese and heat until warmed and creamy.

Stir the spinach and cooked, drained pasta into the sauce; heat until spinach wilts, 1-2 minutes.

Separately, toss carrots with remaining 1 tbsp oil, oregano, and Parmesan; spread on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Roast carrots in the oven at 400 degrees until tender, 25-30 minutes.

This dinner will provide enough for 2 servings or leftovers for one. 

One-Day Menu Total Cost: $16.15