How to Eat Healthy for $4 a Day

June is National Dairy Month and it’s all about celebrating the hardworking farmers who work 365 days a year to provide us with delicious and nutritious dairy—a key piece of a healthy diet. Science shows that eating nutritious dairy foods — such as milk, cheese and yogurt — improves bone health, especially in children and adolescents. They are also associated with a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, Type 2 diabetes and lower blood pressure in adults.

As a registered dietitian nutritionist, I know that dairy foods are a safe, wholesome and delicious source of essential nutrients — available at a reasonable cost.  That’s good news as many of us are striving to eat healthy and to do it on a budget. Follow my few simple tips below to keep you and your bank account well nourished.

Nutrient Bang for Your Buck

First things first, when shopping you need to consider the nutrient value of foods. These are the foods that provide you with the best nutrition per dollar spent. While it may be easy to fill your cart with bargains, it’s important to make sure you are making healthy choices. MyPlate is an easy tool that helps you get the foods you need every day.  Getting a great price on these staples is easy. Here are our top tips in each food group:

Low-Fat and Fat-Free Dairy Products

Milk, cheese and yogurt taste good, are convenient, affordable and—most importantly—provide three of the four nutrients that are often deficient in Americans’ diets: calcium, vitamin D and potassium, plus six other key nutrients. For that reason, the USDA recommends that adults consume three servings per day. To get the most bang for your buck, buy dairy foods by the gallon, pint or block. You can freeze milk, cheese and yogurt for longer storage as well.  Larger containers cost less per serving than smaller sizes.

Breads and Whole Grains

Breads and grains provide many nutrients that are vital for the health and maintenance of our bodies. Focus on choosing whole grains most often like brown rice, old-fashioned oats and whole grain bread. Buy day-old varieties of bread for a better bargain.

Fruits and Vegetables

In season, fresh fruits and vegetables usually cost a lot less. Can’t find what you’re looking for? Frozen and canned fruits are available all year round and can have you money. They have similar nutrition values to fresh.

Frozen vegetables are a great deal and easy to prepare. When choosing canned vegetables, select those with “low sodium” or “no added salt” on the label.

Meat and Beans

Dried beans and peas are a good source of both protein and fiber. They can last a year or more without spoiling.  Canned tuna packed in water is an inexpensive healthy protein choice.

Get Cooking

To see how those tips translated into savings, I made a day’s worth of meals for $4.08. Here the breakdown:


Peanut Butter Raisin Oatmeal

  • 1 cup cooked oatmeal made with milk: 35 cents
  • 1 tablespoon peanut butter: 6 cents
  • 1/4 cup raisins: 24 cents
  • 1 cup orange juice: 24 cents

Black Bean Salsa Sliders

  • 4 ounces black beans: 34 cents
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons onion, diced: 6 cents
  • 1/2 clove garlic, minced: 5 cents
  • 1/4 teaspoon cumin: 8 cents
  • 2 tablespoons breadcrumbs: 7 cents
  • 1 ounce shredded pepper jack cheese: 19 cents
  • 2 tablespoons salsa: 8 cents
  • 2 slider buns: 24 cents

Honey Lemon Chicken with Brown Rice

  • 1/8 tablespoon vegetable oil: 3 cents
  • 1 chicken breast: 50 cents
  • 1 tablespoon flour (all purpose): 1 cent
  • Pinch of salt: 1 cent
  • 1/2 tablespoon of honey: 17 cents
  • 1/2 tablespoon lemon juice: 5 cents
  • 1/2 cup cooked brown rice: 19 cents
  • 1/2 cup peas, frozen: 19 cents
  • 1/2 cup corn, frozen: 19 cents
  • 1 teaspoon butter: 7 cents
  • 1 cup low-fat milk: 14 cents

Carrot Sticks and Cheese

  • 1/2 cup carrots: 17 cents
  • 1 ounce pepper jack cheese: 19 cents
  • 6 whole-grain crackers: 17 cents

Total Cost: $4.08

Plan a Week’s Worth of Meals

Moving beyond just one day is easy when you have the right planning tools. Some of our favorite guides include Eat Good and Cheap, Healthy Eating on a Budget and Meeting Your MyPlate Goals on a Budget. A little planning goes a long way. Know what you need before you go. For more recipes and ideas on how to eat healthy, visit You can also use the keyword “recipe” in the search box to find other recipes.

By Katie McKee, MCN, RDN, LD
Guest Blogger,  Dairy MAX Program Coordinator, Health and Wellness

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