19 Clever Ways to Eat Healthy on a Tight Budget
By Adda Bjarnadottir, MS, RDN (Ice) — Medically reviewed by Kim Chin, RD, Nutrition — Updated on May 25, 2021
Nutritious food can be expensive, and it can be difficult to eat a balanced diet that includes fruits and vegetables when you’re on a tight budget.
The good news is, there are many ways you can save money and still eat whole foods. In fact, here are 19 tips that can help you eat healthier when you’re on a budget.
- Plan your meals
When it comes to saving money at the grocery store, planning ahead is essential.
Pick 1 day each week and on that day, plan your meals for the upcoming week. Then, make a grocery list of everything you need to prepare those meals.
Make sure to also scan your fridge and cabinets to see what you already have. You may have foods hidden in the back that can be used, or you may want to plan your meals around foods you need to use before they expire.
Only plan to purchase what you know you’re going to use. This way, you won’t end up throwing away a lot of what you buy and don’t use.
Plan your meals for the week and make a grocery list. Only buy what you’re sure you will use, and check out what you already have in your cupboards first.
- Stick to your grocery list
Once you’ve planned your meals and made your grocery list, stick to it.
It’s very easy to get sidetracked at the grocery store, which can lead to unintended purchases — and unintended expense.
As a general rule, try to shop the perimeter (the outer edges) of the store first. This is where whole foods are generally placed and will make you more likely to fill your cart with them first.
The middle of the store often contains the most processed foods. If you find yourself in these aisles, look to the top or bottom of the shelves, rather than straight ahead. The most expensive items are usually placed at eye level.
Additionally, you can download a grocery list app to help you shop. Some of them can even save favorite items or share lists between multiple shoppers.
Using an app is also a great way to make sure you don’t forget your list at home.
Stick to your grocery list when you’re shopping. Shop the perimeter of the store first, since this is where the whole foods are generally located.
3. Cook at home
Cooking at home can be cheaper than dining out. Generally, you can feed a family of four for the same price as buying food for one or two people at a restaurant.
So, make it a habit to cook at home, rather than deciding to eat out at the last minute.
Some people find it best to cook for the entire week on the weekends, while others cook one meal each day.
By cooking for yourself, you also gain the benefit of knowing exactly what ingredients are in your meals.
Cooking at home can be much less expensive than eating out. Some find it best to cook for the entire week on weekends, while others like to cook one meal at a time.
4. Cook large portions and use your leftovers
Cooking large meals can save you both time and money.
Leftovers can be used for lunches or in other recipes. They can be reused in stews, stir-fries, salads and burritos.
It is great when you are on a budget because having leftovers can stop you from eating out on days when you don’t have time to cook a meal from scratch.
You can also freeze leftovers in single-portion sizes to enjoy at a later date.
Cook large meals from inexpensive ingredients, and use your leftovers during the following days.
Don’t shop when you’re hungry
If you go to the grocery store while hungry, you’re more likely to stray from your grocery list and buy something on impulse.
When you’re hungry, you may often reach for processed foods that have fewer beneficial nutrients than whole foods. And since these generally aren’t on your list, they’re not good for your budget, either.
Try to eat a piece of fruit, yogurt, or another nutritious snack before you go to the store, this way you won’t be hungry when you get there.
Shopping while hungry can lead to impulsive buying. If you’re hungry, have a snack before you go grocery shopping.
- Buy whole foods
Some foods are more affordable in a less processed form. For example, a block of cheese is cheaper than shredded cheese, and canned beans are less expensive than refried ones.
Whole grains, like brown rice and oats, are also cheaper per serving than most processed cereals.
Less processed foods are also often sold in larger quantities and yield more servings per package, saving you money overall.
Whole foods are often less expensive than their processed counterparts. You can also buy them in larger quantities.
Buy generic brands
Most stores offer generic brands for nearly any product.
All food manufacturers have to follow standards to provide safe food. The generic brands may be the same quality as other national brands, just less expensive.
That said, read the ingredients list to make sure that you’re not getting a product of lower quality than the national brand or one that contains any unexpected added ingredients or allergens.
Most stores offer generic brands for many products. These are often of the same quality as more expensive national brands.
- Avoid buying highly processed food
You might be surprised to see how much you’re paying for highly processed foods like soda, crackers, cookies, and prepackaged meals.
Despite the fact that they often lack beneficial nutrients and may be high in sodium or added sugar, they’re also very expensive.
By skipping processed foods, you can spend more of your budget on higher quality, nutrient-rich whole foods.
Avoid buying highly processed foods. Not only are they expensive, they often contain lots of sodium or sugar, with little to no nutritional value.
Stock up on sales
If you have favorite products or staples that you use frequently, you should stock up on them when they’re on sale.
If you’re sure that the item is something you’ll definitely use, you may as buy it now to save a little money later.
Just make sure that it will last for a while and won’t expire in the meantime. You won’t save you any money if you buy something you’ll just end up throwing out.
Stock up on staples and favorite products when they’re on sale. Just make sure that they won’t go bad in the meantime.
- Buy cheaper cuts of meat
Fresh meat and fish can be quite expensive. However, you can get many cuts of meat that cost way less. Look for chuck steak, pork top sirloin steak, whole chicken, or ground meat or poultry.
These are great to use in burritos, casseroles, soups, stews and stir fries.
It may also be helpful to buy a large and inexpensive cut of meat to use in several different meals during the week.
Less expensive cuts of meat are great to use in casseroles, soups, stews, and burritos. These types of recipes usually make big meals and lots of leftovers.
- Replace meat with other proteins
Eating less meat may be a good way to save money.
Try having a couple of days per week where you use other protein sources, such as legumes, hemp seeds, eggs, or canned fish.
These are all very inexpensive, nutritious, and easy to prepare. Most of them also have a long shelf life and are therefore less likely to spoil quickly.
Try replacing meat 1 or 2 times per week with beans, legumes, eggs or canned fish. These are all cheap and nutritious sources of protein.
- Shop for produce that’s in season
Local produce that’s in season is generally cheaper than out-of-season options. It’s also usually at its peak in both nutrients and flavor.
Produce that’s not in season has often been transported from far away to get to your store, which isn’t good for either the environment or your budget.
Also, buy produce by the bag if you can. That’s usually a lot cheaper than buying by the piece.
If you buy more than you need, you can freeze the rest or incorporate it into next week’s meal plans.
Produce that is in season is typically cheaper and more nutritious. If you buy too much, freeze the rest or incorporate it into future meal plans.
- Buy frozen fruits and vegetables
Fresh fruits, berries, and vegetables are usually in season for only a few months per year, and they’re sometimes rather expensive.
Quick-frozen produce is usually just as nutritious. It’s also cheaper, available all year, and usually sold in large bags.
Frozen produce is great to use when cooking, making smoothies, or as toppings for oatmeal or yogurt.
Plus, you gain the advantage of being able to take out only what you’re about to use. The rest will be kept safe from spoiling in the freezer.
Reducing produce waste is a great way to save money.
Frozen fruits, berries, and vegetables are usually just as nutritious as their fresh counterparts. They’re available all year round and often sold in large bags.
- Buy in bulk
Buying some foods in bulk quantities can save you a lot of money.
Grains such as brown rice, millet, barley, and oats, are all available in bulk.
They also keep for a long time if you store them in airtight containers. This is also true for beans, lentils, some nuts, and dried fruit.
These are all staple foods that are relatively inexpensive and can be used in a variety of nutritious meals.
Many foods are available in bulk for a way lower price. They keep for a long time in airtight containers and can be used in a variety of nutritious, inexpensive dishes.
- Grow your own produce
If you can, it’s a great idea to grow your own produce or join a community garden.
Seeds are very cheap to buy. With some time and effort, you may be able to grow your own herbs, sprouts, tomatoes, onions, and many more delicious crops.
Having a continuous supply at home saves you money at the store.
Home-grown produce may also taste a lot better than the store-bought varieties. You can also guarantee that it is picked at peak ripeness.
With some time and effort, it’s easy to grow your own produce, such as herbs, sprouts, tomatoes, and onions.
- Pack your lunch
Eating out is very expensive, especially if done regularly. Packing your lunch, snacks, drinks, and other meals is less expensive than dining out.
Plus, you’ll have complete control over the foods you eat and can choose options with lots of beneficial nutrients.
If you have adapted to cooking large meals at home (see tip 4), you’ll always have a steady lunch to bring with you, without any additional effort or cost.
This does require some planning, but it should save you a lot of money in the long term.
Packing your own lunch reduces the expense of eating out. This can save you a lot of money in the long run.
- Use coupons wisely
Coupons are a great way to save some money — just be sure to use them wisely.
Sort out the good quality deals and stock up on cleaning products, nutrient-rich foods, and other staples that you’ll definitely use.
By cutting the cost of products needed around the house, you can spend more of your budget on nutritious foods.
Coupons may be a great way to stock up on cleaning products and nutrient-rich foods. Just make sure to avoid the coupons that involve processed foods.
- Appreciate less expensive foods
A lot of foods are both inexpensive and nutritious. By making some adjustments and using ingredients that you may not be used to, you can prepare many delicious and inexpensive meals.
Try increasing your use of eggs, beans, seeds, frozen fruits and vegetables, cheaper cuts of meat, and whole grains.
These all taste great, are cheap (especially in bulk), and are very nutritious.
Incorporating more inexpensive yet nutrient-rich foods into your daily routine will help you save money and eat well.
- Buy from cheap, online retailers
There are several online retailers that offer nutritious foods for up to 50% cheaper than the grocery store.
By registering, you get access to daily discounts and deals. What’s more, the products are then delivered straight to your door.
There are online retailers that focus exclusively on nutritious and unprocessed foods.
Buying as much as you can from these types of retailers can save you money.
Online retailers sometimes offer healthy foods for up to 50% cheaper than the supermarket and deliver them all the way to your doorstep.
The bottom line
You don’t have to break the bank to eat well. In fact, there are many ways to eat nutrient-rich foods even on a very tight budget.
These include planning your meals, cooking at home, and making smart choices at the grocery store.
Also keep in mind that highly processed foods cost you twice.
This is because eating lots of foods high in sodium or sugar could lead to various health conditions. These come with costs for care or medication and may mean you’re not able to work as much as you did previously.
Even if eating nutrient-rich foods was more expensive — though it doesn’t have to be — it would still be worth it down the line. You really can’t put a price on your health.
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