It is the decision we all face. Do I eat healthily, or do I buy the easy/cheap junk food? Do I even know how to eat healthy on a budget?
It is possible, I promise.
You don’t need to choose between cheap and healthy. Healthy eating is totally possible on a budget. Even better, it will help you avoid hefty medical bills down the road that are the result of eating too much junk food.
Here is what I have found works when trying to feed my family healthy food while saving money.
When you are getting ready to make your grocery list for the week, look at the sales flyer for your store. If there are good deals on certain fruits, vegetables or unprocessed meats, make a note of it.
If the price is good enough to stock up on the item, then do so. Just make sure you have enough freezer space or the food will actually get used before going bad. If you end up throwing it out, or it will get lost in the frozen tundra of your freezer, then it isn’t a good deal.
Plan your meals
Meal planning is probably the most important step in learning how to eat healthy on a budget.
Take a look at foods that are on sale, then start planning your meals for the week. Keep in mind that meat is often the most expensive ingredient of a meal. If you can get your meat on sale or plan meals to use plant-based protein sources, that will go a long way saving money.
If you are a meat-centric family, try doing one meatless dinner each week. We have gotten to the point where I try to do only 1-2 meals each week that include fish or meat. That combined with meal planning has made a huge impact on our grocery budget.
Make a grocery list
Take a look a the meals you have planned to make and make your grocery list accordingly. Go through your cupboards to see what ingredients you need to buy and what you already have.
Don’t forget things like milk for cereal if needed and healthy snacks.
Buy whole foods
When you go shopping, primarily shop the outer aisles of the store. Stock up on fruits and vegetables. When you buy meats, look for unprocessed meats such as at the butcher counter or packaged in the freezer aisle such as frozen chicken breasts.
What about convenience foods? While buying whole carrots is less expensive than purchasing a package of baby carrots, if getting the peeled baby carrots means you will eat actually eat them, it is worth the extra pennies. A few select healthy convenience foods are perfectly ok if you have room in your budget.
Buy cheaper brands, shop cheaper stores
When buying packaged goods such as pasta sauce, canned beans or frozen vegetables, try out the store brand or a less expensive brand. Often, the quality is still very good and the price difference can be significant.
The store you shop at can also make a huge difference to your budget. At the stores I shop at, sometimes the dry goods and produce are almost 50% less than prices for the same or similar item at other grocery stores.
Eliminate junk food
Junk food is tasty. I get it. Really, I do. I even watched a video on YouTube the other day where they had personal trainers try junk food. Of course they liked it, but they knew the consequences of eating it.
But if you want to eat healthily, you need to stop buying so much junk food. Avoid the chips, the packaged cookies, doughnuts, frozen dinners with ingredients that include added colors and flavors.
Junk food is not how to eat healthy on a budget. The nutrition per calorie just isn’t there.
Shop in season
It is easier to find deals on fruits and vegetables when they are in season. Trying to find a deal on butternut squash in the spring is a lot harder than during peak season in the fall. Same with trying to get a deal on watermelon in the winter.
When you shop in season, the produce will be abundant, fresher, and less expensive.
Buy frozen foods
Frozen vegetables may sound unhealthy, but they are frozen right after picking and so keep most of the nutrients. It is also a great way to reduce food waste.
If you need 1 cup of peas for a recipe, you can do that easily from a bag of frozen peas. If you have to open a can or buy a bunch at the store, you’ll end up with food waste.
You can also find some great deals on frozen fruit, which is great if you like to make smoothies.
Pack a lunch
It is so tempting to go out to lunch if you work near restaurants. But doing so is one of the biggest food budget busters there is. If you pack most or all your lunches, you will eat healthier by avoiding oversized portions along with excess fat and salt. You will also save a bundle of cash.
Packing your lunch or eating leftovers is a simple step to take when learning how to eat healthy on a budget.
Freeze meals for later
Many people have learned how to eat healthy on a budget by freezing meals for later. You can make a double batch of the meal you are cooking and freeze leftovers for later. Soups and casseroles are great for this, but you can also do it with homemade pasta sauces, fillings, or pre-cook meat to use later.
There are also freezer meal plans you can use such as MyFreezEasy that make planning healthy meals on a budget super simple and fast.
Use the bulk bins
If your grocery store has bulk food bins, check them out. Spices, especially, are so much less expensive when you can buy them from the bulk bins rather than off the shelf. A container of nutmeg off the shelf may cost a few dollars, but you can get a couple teaspoons (which is probably all you need for that recipe that calls for it) for just pennies.
There is often a great selection of granolas, whole grains, and dried beans in the bulk bins as well. I have even seen brand name specialty flours (almond flour, spelt flour), nutritional yeast, and dried fruits.
Eat more beans
Meat is an expensive source of protein. Beans, however, are inexpensive, provide plenty of protein and fiber. You can easily incorporate or even substitute beans into some of your favorite recipes.
Try using beans in enchiladas, make an all-bean chili, beans with pasta, or there are lentil meatloaf recipes out there that even my kids like to eat.
You can find canned beans for $.50-$1 for a can, or a pound of dried beans is about $1.
Plan healthy snacks
Snacks seem to be where junk food continues to make an appearance in people’s diets. But it doesn’t need to be that way.
Popcorn is an inexpensive, healthy snack if you avoid the packaged types laden with fat and chemicals. Baby carrots or sliced veggies with hummus is another inexpensive, tasty and healthy snack. You can even use hummus as a sandwich spread. Yum.
Fruit is a great choice for snacking as most fruits are inexpensive and full of nutrients and fiber.
Learning how to eat healthy on a budget
You don’t need to go broke to eat well. Now you know how to eat healthy on a budget and it really isn’t that difficult.
The basics for eating healthy are to plan your meals, shop wisely, and cook at home. If you aren’t sure where to start, try a program such as MyFreezEasy or look for varied recipe blogs. There are a lot out there aimed to vegetarians, vegans, Paleo diet, or written by registered dietitians. You will be able to expand your palate and improve your health without shrinking your wallet.
What ways have you found to eat healthy on a budget?