11 Great Tips to Help You Eat Healthy On A Budget
You work hard for your money! You certainly don’t want to waste it — and you want to put every dollar to good use, especially when it comes to eating healthy on a budget. While it might seem that the healthier foods cost more (and in some cases, they do), there are plenty of ways to keep your grocery bills down while eating a healthier diet with fewer processed foods.
Keep these simple tips for how to eat healthy on a budget in mind the next time you plan your grocery list.
What Are The Most Budget-Friendly Meal Staples?
When you’re making your shopping list and filling your cart, reach for these budget-friendly meal staples. While prices will vary depending on where you live, where you shop, and how much you buy, these nutritious foods are generally budget-friendly year-round.
Fruits and Vegetables
- Root vegetables (including potatoes, beets, sweet potatoes and onions)
Pair roasted root veggies with eggs for a quick meal, or bake and stuff them with canned beans and some salsa for dinner.
- Dark leafy greens (collards, turnip greens, or whole-head lettuce)
Skip the pricey kale in favor of other dark leafy greens that cost less. Braise hearty varieties like collards or turnip greens with some canned tomatoes and an onion for a filling side dish.
- Frozen vegetables
Blends of frozen vegetables allow you to eat the rainbow with far less potential waste. These are perfect for stir-fries, soups, and simple side dishes.
A relative of kale, cabbage is much more affordable but boasts similar benefits. Thinly slice red or green cabbage, and either saute it with a bit of garlic or massage it with vinegar and salt as you would kale.
Craving crunchy veggies? Cucumbers and bell peppers can be costly when not in season, but carrots are relatively cheap year-round. Snack on them with homemade hummus, or shred them and toss with vinaigrette for a French-style salad.
- Apples, bananas, and oranges
Skip the pricier tropical fruit and stick with the staples, which often have a longer shelf life and tend to cost less.
- Frozen fruit
Save money on more perishable fruit like berries and mangoes by buying them frozen. Use them in nutritious smoothies and other healthy dishes.
- Canned tomatoes
From pasta sauces to salsa, canned tomatoes are a simple staple for many dishes. Choose no salt added varieties when possible.
- Legumes — beans, peas and lentils (canned or dried)
Bulk up chili, soups, and stews with canned beans. Or prepare dry beans from scratch, then simmer with an onion and some herbs. Turn any leftover beans into homemade hummus or bean dip.
Not just for breakfast, eggs are an affordable protein at any time of day. Pair them with brown rice and frozen vegetables for a cheap and easy meal that rivals takeout.
- Canned tuna
Shelf-stable with no cooking needed, canned tuna is a quick and affordable protein option. Use it on salads, add to tomato sauce for a Mediterranean twist, or make a healthier tuna salad with your favorite vinaigrette instead of mayo.
- Chicken thighs
This cut tends to be cheaper than chicken breasts. Remove the skin to reduce fat and calories.
- Ground beef
Ground meats are more affordable than most whole cuts. Choose the leanest (> 95% lean) variety you can.
Oatmeal is a filling, nutritious breakfast that’s easy to customize. Prepare your oatmeal with frozen (or fresh) strawberries one day, a banana the next, or keep it simple with some peanut butter.
- Dried spices and herbs
Spice up any meal with simple dried herbs and spices. You don’t need many — keep these eight essential spices in your pantry.
- Peanut butter
Choose good-old peanut butter over pricier almond or cashew butter for tasty treats including peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and homemade energy balls.
Apple cider vinegar is a versatile condiment that can add tang to any meal. Keep it on hand for homemade dressings and marinades, and add a dash to soups and stews for more flavor.
Tips For Eating Healthy On A Budget
Trying to learn how to eat healthy on a budget? Start with these 11 tips.
1. Stop Throwing Food Away
We waste a lot of food. Almost a pound per person per day, according to research published in the journal PLOS One in 2018!
Step one to eating healthy on a budget is to throw away less of it. “When aiming to eat healthier on a budget, take a look at what you are buying and how much is thrown out after going bad in the fridge,” says Hailey Crean, RD, CDE, founder of Hailey Crean Nutrition.
2. Plan Before You Shop
Wasting less food starts with planning. That means creating a meal plan and writing out a shopping list. As you plan, find ways to use up your leftovers. “If you need to buy an onion and the recipe uses half, make sure your meal plan includes a way to use the other half,” says Crean.
3. Create A Budget
On average, we spend about 10% of our disposable income on food.
If you’re spending much more than you want, start by keeping track of food spending for a month. Notice whether you spend more on dining out or groceries, whether food goes to waste, and where you might be able to cut back. From there, set a budget and use these tips to help you stick with it!
4. Shift Where You Shop
The most convenient grocery store isn’t always the most affordable. If you have one nearby, make a trip to Walmart, ALDI, or Trader Joe’s, which often have food for less (including plenty of healthy and organic options). You might also have a nearby grocery outlet, for even more deals.
5. Check Store Ads (and Apps)
Always grab a circular from the front of the store before you shop, recommends Rachel Larkey, RD, CDN, CLC, a dietitian based in Brooklyn. They “highlight the good deals that can help you figure out what to save on when you’re shopping.” And, if your store of choice has a newsletter or app, sign up or download for alerts on good buys.
6. Buy in Bulk
From whole grains and dried herbs to nuts and seeds, the bulk section of your supermarket is a great place to save money.
You can buy as little or as much as you want, so there’s less waste. When you want to try a new food or a recipe calls for a particular ingredient, check the bulk section first.
7. Stick to Your List
How often do foods that weren’t on your shopping list make their way into your cart? It happens to the best of us. If you find that impulse purchases are pushing you over your food budget, stick to your list. Hold yourself accountable with your grocery habits, just as you would for other goals.
8. Fresh Isn’t Always Best
A significant source of food waste is spoiled produce. If this is an issue for you, buy frozen fruit and vegetables.
“They’re often cheaper than fresh and will last longer so there’s no spoilage,” says Larkey. “They’re just as healthy as fresh produce, and are often a bit higher in nutrients since they’re flash-frozen at peak freshness.”
9. Do It Yourself
The less processing involved in a food, the cheaper it is likely to be. If you have the time and energy, you can save money by making foods yourself.
From marinara sauce and salsa to yogurt and hummus, there are plenty of items that are cheaper to make at home. Just eat them before the spoil!
10. Volunteer at a Farm
If you live near a farm that offers community-supported agriculture, you might be able to get a free or discounted share in exchange for volunteering. You could also inquire at your local farmers market to see if any vendors would be willing to trade food for help on the farm.
11. Pool Your Resources
When you live alone and find that healthy eating is expensive because you’re buying more food than you need, team up with a friend. You can split the cost of things like herbs and spices, get together for meal-planning or bulk-cooking nights, and divide up perishable items into one-person portions.