When you have no money, grocery shopping becomes a terrifying and overwhelming experience. There can be so much food to sort through on the shelves. And food can be ghastly expensive. There is a reason the grocery category of a budget can be completely shot in a month.
Obviously, you want food that will be filling and nutritious for you and your family. But the trick becomes finding inexpensive food that won’t put a dent in your already strained budget.
You want to find the cheapest foods to buy that will still provide healthy meals for your family. This is a big deal because it can help you save money on groceries.
When I first became a single mom, this was something I paid extra attention towards. Living on a tight single mom budget, I had to be extra careful with what I bought at the grocery store.
To be honest, I’m still careful when I go to the grocery store. I like to save money. And it is still important for me to save as much money as I can, so I can stretch my budget. Because although things aren’t as tight as they once were, there still isn’t a whole lot of wiggle room.
So, here are the cheapest foods to buy at the grocery store.
27 Cheapest Foods to Buy When You Are Broke
Finding the least expensive foods means going back to the basics. You want to find staples that can either be a complete meal on its own or something that you can build meals around.
Oatmeal is a fantastic choice. It is filling, good for your heart, warms you up on a cold day, and can be used in many ways. You can eat it as-is for any meal really. It can be used in cookies, granola bars as well as some creative dinner dishes like broccoli cheddar oatmeal bake.
A healthy, delicious, and cheap snack. But you can also use them on top or as part of the pancake. They can also be used to make pancakes and they are quite yummy. (1) You can make banana bread or muffins. You can also mix them with other ingredients to make a smoothie.
3. Frozen Vegetables
Frozen vegetables get a bad rap for not being as healthy as their fresh counterparts. But actually, they are. (2) Because they are frozen you don’t have to worry about spoilage after a few days. They are great for getting food ready in a hurry. You can use them in casseroles, frittatas, quiches, omelets, use them in a stir fry – honestly the possibilities are endless.
When you mix rice and beans you get a complete protein which in essence translates into the start of a complete meal. Rice is a great cheap food to buy. It is versatile and inexpensive. You can turn it into a stir fry, make rice pudding, use it in casseroles, use it as a side with butter and salt.
Dried beans are cheaper than canned beans and they don’t have the extra salt that canned beans tend to have. But canned beans are still a cheap food because when you can find them on sale or in a case lot sale. There are lots of ways that they can be used. In chilis, soups, stews, casseroles, beans, and rice, as well as something simple like a bean dip.
I love to always have eggs on hand. They can be used for so many things. Frittatas, omelets, quiches, on their own cooked in a variety of ways such as poached, scrambled, sunny-side up, hard-boiled, and in chicken salad.
7. Canned Tuna or Salmon
Honestly, I don’t like tuna. I never have. But it can be turned into some cheap meals and snacks. Tuna salad sandwiches, tuna with crackers. Canned salmon can be made into salmon patties.
Pasta is a fantastic staple that is also inexpensive when bought on sale. You can have it as a side dish with cheese and butter or turn it into a full meal with meat and sauce. Either way, it is a food that can be served to your family for pennies.
Yogurt makes a great snack all on its own. Or you can blend it with other ingredients to turn it into a smoothie. You can mix oats and fruit with it to turn it into a complete meal.
10. Peanut Butter
Obviously peanut butter can be used for PB & J sandwiches. But it is also great served with apples or on crackers as a kid-friendly snack. This is another item that is great to catch on sale.
11. Ramen Noodles
Okay, I know what you are thinking. “Ramen noodles? Eww, gross.” But hear me out. Ramen noodles are extremely cheap to buy, especially when buying them in bulk.
They are a great substitute to pasta and can be used in a stir fry as well. You can make them healthier by skipping the seasoning packet they come with and season them with spices you have in your spice cabinet.
No list of cheap foods to buy would be complete without potatoes on it.
Like Samwise in Lord of the Rings said, you can boil ’em, mash ’em, fry ’em, stick ’em in a stew.
A few of the meal options include; Shepard’s pie, pot pie, and potato soup.
13. Canned Tomatoes
Diced tomatoes, tomato paste, crushed tomatoes, and tomato sauce are all ridiculously cheap to buy.
Diced tomatoes are a key ingredient in making chili on the cheap. Tomato sauce can be a base for your own pasta sauce. Crushed tomatoes and tomato paste can be used to make your own homemade pizza sauce. If you take tomato sauce and mix it with heavy cream and basil, you can turn it into tomato soup.
Not food. But can be used to make foods, such as bread and your own pizza dough. Now if you have a gluten allergy, you should leave this item off your list. You could buy gluten-free flours, but they won’t be cheap. But making your own gluten-free items will most likely be cheaper than trying to buy them at the store.
Salsa is great to add a vegetable component to foods. If you have run out of vegetables and have yet made it to the grocery store, you can use salsa instead. It also favors foods as well. I love to put salsa on my eggs, to eat with chips for a snack, on top of nachos.
16. Hot Dogs
They can be used in the traditional way with a hotdog bun and toppings or you can add them to macaroni and cheese.
17. Macaroni and Cheese
On sale, you can find the boxed name brand macaroni and cheese for really cheap. If you add meat and vegetables, (or just vegetables if you want to go sans meat), it can make a great meal.
They are inexpensive, delicious, and versatile. You eat them on their own. You can eat them with peanut butter. You can turn them into apple crumble. You can make apple bread. You can sprinkle them with cinnamon, cook them, and top them with yogurt. (A guilty pleasure of mine when I was in college.)
It is an essential item on my shopping list. Your kids might like it best with cereal, but you can also use it for baking, sauces, and soups.
Cereal is a great thing to have around when you have kids. The best cheap cereals are the ones that can do double duty. They can be used for eating at breakfast as well as for other things. Corn flakes make a great breading on chicken. Rice cereal can be turned into sweet treats for your kids.
21. Cottage Cheese
This makes a great snack served either plain or with canned fruit as a topping. You can also swap it out for ricotta cheese in pasta recipes.
22. Chicken Thighs and Drumsticks
Not all chicken is great to buy on a budget. Chicken breasts can be quite costly. Chicken thighs and drumsticks are better when you are looking for the cheapest foods to buy.
If you find a whole chicken on sale, even better. It can be used for meals throughout the week. You can have roast chicken one night, chicken sandwiches the next night, and so on and so forth.
23. Canned Fruit
Fresh fruit is healthier, but canned fruit is great in a pinch and you need a cheap alternative. You can eat it by itself for a snack, mix it with yogurt, put it on top of cottage cheese, use it in desserts, or even add it to pancakes to give a sweet boost.
Broccoli is a cheap staple food that also happens to be super healthy. You can put it in casseroles, soups, quiches, and even as a side dish steamed with butter. Now if you have picky kids, the side dish idea might not work.
You can pick up a loaf on the cheap. Of course, you can use it for sandwiches of all varieties. But you can toast it to serve alongside eggs. You can also use it to bulk up meatloaf and meatballs, make your own bread crumbs, and even your own croutons.
Onions are another cheap food that can be used in so many ways. You can pair them with peppers to make fajitas or stir fry. You can add them to pasta sauce for extra flavor. You can put them on top of a burger. You can even make homemade onion rings.
Green bell peppers are really cheap. Stuffed peppers come to mind as an obvious meal. But you can also use peppers in omelets, stir fry, fajitas, and frittatas.