How to Eat a Nutrient Dense Diet on a Frugal Budget

We all want to eat a clean diet. But not all of us have big enough pocketbooks to do so. Or, so we think. Our budgets may be incredibly limited, and with so many of us out of work these days, it’s easy to get caught in the trap of thinking we simply can’t afford to eat a truly nutrient-dense diet. We may be thinking that only those who shop at Whole Foods eat the best. 

But, that simply isn’t true. I do have a Whole Foods near my apartment, and I shop there for certain staples like olive oil, cheese, sardines, sweet potatoes, and roasted chicken from time to time. But, I certainly don’t spend all my paycheck there, and I consider myself to be a nutrient-dense eater—and a frugal one at that. 

You see, there are so many ways to shop creatively, and I think I’ve become a master at it. A health writer’s budget is meager, and I’ve often worked odd jobs to make ends meet. But, I never compromise when it comes to food. I eat and drink well—no matter what. In this article, I’d like to teach you all how to do just that. You simply don’t have to break the bank to eat like a health nut. Ready to find out how to do this frugally? If so, happy reading! 

Do as much grocery shopping as possible at your local farmer’s markets

I remember the first time I made an outing to my local farmer’s market. I thought to myself, hmmmm. The food’s a little pricey. But, the more I started going, and the more I cultivated relationships with my local farmers, I realized their organic produce was actually cheaper in the long run. I was eating seasonal, and getting all the good bugs from the local soil. 

My health improved immensely. And when I ate these farm fresh foods, I actually ate less, because I was getting more nutrition than conventional foods from the grocery store. Then, I began asking for seconds. I got deals on the produce they weren’t going to sell as the saturday market wound down. I learned that if I popped in towards the end of the market, I could give my favorite gal a twenty dollar bill, open my market bag, and let her fill it up with whatever she wasn't going to sell. It was a win-win for us both. And you can do the same. 

I’ll typically get all the produce I need for the week from my favorite farmers and then supplement the rest of my diet with a couple trips to the store where I’ll shop for meats, cheeses, and beans. In this way, I feel I’m eating a truly nutrient dense diet on a frugal budget. And it feels good. 

Why not try canning this year? That’s always a budget-friendly option as the farmers markets come to a close. Load up on tomatoes and can them. Load up on cucumbers and make pickles. Fill your bags with beets and pickle those. There are so many ways to preserve the harvest for winter. You’ll keep your immunity high and trips to the doctor low. And you’ll be doing it on a dime! 

green vegetable on brown wooden table

Eat frugal superfoods

In order to supercharge your health on a budget, you need to start eating superfoods that give you the most bang for your buck. Eating superfoods will fill you up way more than foods with little nutritional value. This means you won’t be spending money on the kinds of junk foods that keep you craving (and therefore buying) more. The top superfoods in my book—the ones I suggest you start eating ASAP—are as follows: 

  • Sweet potatoes

Sweet potatoes are the most frugal of superfoods, grown all over the world for good reason. These sweet and starchy tubers have so many health benefits. They’re full of various vitamins and minerals, and they also have loads of fiber, which is essential for weight loss. Sweet potatoes contain loads of antioxidants, which work diligently to protect your body (and mind) from free radical damage. And because free radical damage is a precursor to serious diseases like heart disease, cancer, and premature aging, eating a sweet potato a day can definitely help keep the doc away! You can cook them up in so many ways. Roast them, bake them, mash them, boil them—the sky’s the limit when it comes to sweet potatoes!

  • Greens of all kinds

Greens are cheap and oh-so-good for you. They’re full of vitamins and minerals that you just can’t get from most foods. Kale, for example, contains all your vitamin D, vitamin C, and vitamin K needs, while collard greens help prevent blood clotting. Raw spinach contains all the vitamin A and vitamin K you could possibly need. It’s also high in folate, which is especially beneficial during pregnancy. 

Cabbage has anti-cancer benefits, and when fermented into sauerkraut, makes a true digestive remedy. Beet greens contain huge amounts of vitamin A, and fair amounts of potassium, fiber, beta-carotene, and lutein. Even romaine lettuce is considered a frugal superfood in my book. It has a good amount of vitamin K and vitamin A. Romaine is also believed to reduce blood lipid levels, which helps prevent cardiovascular disease. A study published in the journal Clinical Nutrition suggests this to be true. 

green leaves on blue plastic bowl

  • Sea veggies

Sea veggies are one of the most exotic superfoods on our list. And unless you grew up in the South Pacific, or Japan, you’re probably not used to eating them. But, you should. Because they give you so much bang for your buck. Their nutrient load is high, while their relative price at the supermarket is low. Nutritionally speaking, sea veggies contain omega-3 fatty acids, a treasure trove of antioxidants, various minerals, a good amount of vitamin C, a fair amount of protein, as well as fiber and iodine. Their positive health effects on the body are many. They work to help reduce chronic inflammation, which makes them a great food for chronic disease prevention. 

You can enjoy sea veggies in many creative ways. My most frugal-friendly one is simply soaking dried sea veggies in miso soup. And if that doesn’t appeal, you can always add them to salads and roasted veggie dishes. Wakame, dulse, nori, spirulina—these are all the kinds of sea vegetables you’ll want to buy on a regular basis. And if you’re a smoothie lover, invest in a big jar of spirulina powder. Add a serving to your morning smoothie and see its nutrient load soar to the highest of heights. 

At Trader Joe’s, I like to buy the packets of roasted seaweed snacks that come in packs of 6. They’re perfect to eat by themselves, or with any topping you like. One idea is to put some canned seaweed and sliced cucumbers between two sheets of seaweed, and make a sandwich of them. But, get creative here, and see what you come up with. You’ll be amazed at what you do! 

  • Oats

Oats are so cheap and so good for you. They’re an excellent source of fiber, as well as vitamins, minerals, and various antioxidants. Oats are the perfect fall and winter breakfast, as you can add whatever you want to them, or nothing at all. I like keeping it simple, and cooking up a cup of oats for breakfast with a dash of cinnamon, a drizzle of honey, and sometimes a small handful of chopped walnuts and/or chopped apple. Oats are known to help decrease blood sugar and cholesterol levels, while also protecting against heart disease. 

Make smoothies on a budget

Do you love smoothies like I do? They’re so versatile, and so easy to make. I typically make mine for breakfast, which sets a truly healthy tone for my day. You can get so much nutritional loveliness into a morning smoothie, and you can totally do it on a budget. You just need to be a little savvy when it comes to sourcing your smoothie ingredients. Here’s what I do:

First, there’s the star ingredient which is typically a berry. Berries are antioxidant-rich foods that have many health benefits. Blueberries are my go-to favorite. But, I also like strawberries and raspberries. When it comes to berries, follow your taste buds. You simply can’t go wrong. When purchasing berries, buy in bulk, pick them from a farm, or get them from a frugal-minded store. You might want to buy loads of them when they’re in season, and simply freeze them to enjoy throughout the year. 

Then, there’s the liquid base. The cheapest ones are oat milk, rice milk, and coconut milk from a can. Although, shop the sales, as many nut milks go on sale from time to time for a good price. I like them all—hemp milk, flax milk, almond milk, cashew milk—there are so many to choose from. 

You can get creative when it comes to your liquid base. Some people combine yogurt and water, while others use a mix of their favorite juice and water. Because fruit juices are full of sugar, I only use them in moderation. But, if you love orange juice, for example, why not squeeze the juice from fresh oranges? Using the whole fruit is always healthier than buying juice from the store. 

To really make a nutrient dense smoothie on a budget, you need to add a handful or two of greens. Spinach is cheap, and so is kale. Romaine lettuce is another option, as is Swiss chard, beet greens and even dandelion greens. Anything that’s leafy and green is a good bet. I like to add another green goodie (like cucumber or avocado) to up the nutrient load even further. These ingredients are full of nutritional goodness, and they’re relatively cheap to boot.

To really get scrappy, buy your favorite dark, leafy greens in bulk and then freeze them. Because smoothies are enjoyed cold, taking a handful of frozen greens from the freezer is a simple way to make your smoothie frosty and refreshing. You may even want to roast beets and then freeze those, too. Any vegetable that doesn’t overpower a smoothie can be frozen and added as desired. This is a wonderful way to ensure you’re getting your daily dose of vitamins and minerals without overspending. 

Extra frugal-friendly smoothie ingredients

Frozen bananas play a part in many smoothie recipes. They’re a great natural sweetener, and ripe with potassium. Buy them when they’re on sale, then peel them, cut them in half or in threes, and throw them in the freezer to add as needed. Bananas are an ideal natural sweetener—big on nutrition, small on the budget. 

Superfood add ins:

You might initially think of superfood supplements as far too expensive. But, not all of them are, and when you consider the amount of nutrition you’re getting, relative to the amount of money you’re spending, you’ll see that some of these superfoods are well worth it. Here are some of the best: protein powders, vitamin c, collagen, flaxseeds, chia seeds, raw honey, bee pollen, and spirulina powder.

three clear drinking glass filled by shakes

Learn how to forage for food

Foraging is so much fun once you know what you’re looking for. And it doesn’t cost a thing! I tend to forage for herbs in my neighborhood, where my neighbors tell me to help myself. There’s also a large city park nearby where I’m free to clip from their herb garden. Chances are, there are dandelion greens growing all over the place around you. Dandelion greens are nutrient dense, and a great addition to salads and other greens. When you’re foraging, just make sure the area isn’t sprayed. You don’t want to be ingesting chemicals and pesticides if you don’t have to. 

I hope you see now just how easy it can be to eat a nutrient dense diet on a frugal budget. You just need to shop well and think outside of the box. After all, the best things in life are (practically) free!