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Healthy on a Budget

Find out how to save a bundle and stay healthy with affordable meal recipes, food shopping tips, and much more.

The Cost of Eating Healthy

Posted by Whitney Ajie -


A new study from the Harvard School of Public Health states that it costs about $1.50 more per day to eat the "healthiest diet" - a diet full of fruit, vegetables, whole grains, fish, nuts, etc.

That may not sound like much, but it amounts to spending an extra $10.50 on groceries every week. That totals to an additional $550 per year for each person. For many people, especially those using our Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (the program formerly known as Food Stamps), you can see why it can be difficult to eat a perfectly healthy diet.

That being said, it can still be affordable to eat a healthy diet. Now, granted, I haven't read the full article (accessible through the online journal British Medical Journal Open), but I have a feeling that their use of the term "healthiest diet" may include more expensive versions of healthy foods. For example, fresh fruits and vegetables, and not frozen or canned, are sometimes considered the "healthiest" version of fruits and vegetables. However, frozen and canned vegetables are still excellent options for eating healthy. Other healthy options include un-sweetened applesauce and canned or packaged fruit in 100% juice. These options are often cheaper than fresh produce, yet are still enjoyable and healthy options for you and your family.

Frozen and canned fish are also less expensive options compared to fresh fish, although you should be aware that they contain more sodium (salt). If you are a consumer who needs to eat a low-sodium diet, take care to check the nutrition label. Tuna and salmon are good choices when you are buying packaged fish. To know how much fish (and other food groups) you should eat every day, check out this information sheet.

This chart from Iowa State University Extension shows you the cost of different choices of packaged fish. Prices may be different depending on where you shop:

Product & Cost per ounce
  • Tuna canned in water, 3 3-ounce cans/package = $2.59/9 = $.29 (per ounce)
  • Tuna canned in water, 5-ounce can = $.69/5 = $.14
  • Tuna canned in oil, 5-ounce can = $.69/5 = $.14
  • Tuna canned in water, 12-ounce can = $2.39/12 = $.20
  • Marinated flavored tuna in foil package, 4.5-ounce = $1.69/4.5 = $.38
  • Albacore tuna in foil packages, 2.6- and 6.4-ounce = $1.69/2.6 = $.65; $2.99/6.4 = $.47
  • Red Sockeye salmon, 14.5-ounce can = $3.79/14.5 = $.26
  • Chum salmon, 14.5-ounce can = $1.50/14.5 = $.10
  • Smoked Alaskan Pacific Wild Caught salmon, foil package, 3-ounce = $2.59/3 = $.86

Whole grain foods have affordable options too. For example, brown rice, whole grain pasta, and old-fashioned oats all have affordable options at the grocery store and can be stored for a long time. Check out this article for more information on whole grains: Making Half Your Grains Whole, by Leia Kedem, University of Illinois Nutrition & Wellness Educator.

As you can see, even though eating the "perfect" healthy diet may cost more, there are still several options for eating a healthy diet without breaking the bank.

Wishing you the best of health,

Whitney Ajie
Extension Educator for Illinois Nutrition Education Programs

Budget Recipe of the Week: Salmon Pasta Salad (Serves 8)



  • 1 can salmon, drained
  • 2 cups (8oz.) uncooked macaroni noodles or shells
  • 2 med. tomatoes, cut in pieces
  • 2 cups sliced cucumber
  • 1 cup mozzarella cheese, shredded
  • 1 Tbsp. parsley flakes
  • 1 tsp. lemon juice
  • ¼ cup Parmesan cheese
  • 1 cup low-calorie Italian salad dressing



  1. Cook macaroni, drain, and cool. Set aside.
  2. Drain salmon and remove skin.
  3. Toss salmon with remaining ingredients, except dressing, in a large serving bowl. Toss with Italian salad dressing and serve immediately or refrigerate until ready to serve.

Nutrition Facts (per serving): Calories 280; Fat 13g; Calories from Fat 115; Sodium 660mg; Total carbohydrate 28g; Fiber 1g


1. Mayuree Rao, Ashkan Afshin, Gitanjali Singh, Dariush Mozaffarian. Do healthier foods and diet patterns cost more than less healthy options? A systematic review and meta-analysis. BMJ Open. 2013;3:e004277. DOI:10.1136/bmjopen-2013-004277. Free online access:

2. Iowa State University Extension and Outreach. Cost of Canned Fish. Accessed December 9, 2013.


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