26 ways to eat healthy without breaking the bank

26 ways to eat healthy without breaking the bank


Picture of a mature woman preparing a meal in her kitchen at home.

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Eating healthy and staying within a budget are admirable goals. But sometimes they seem to disagree.

26 tips to get you started

Wondering how to eat healthy on a tight budget? Healthy food can be expensive, but it does not have to be, especially if you plan ahead. Here are 26 ways you can eat healthy on a modest grocery budget.

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Create a grocery budget

Once you have made the decision to eat healthier and stick to your budget, you need to decide what that budget is. Dig out your bank or credit card statements and look at what you have spent on groceries over the past three months. Divide by three to get your average grocery consumption.

Use your average as a starting point to start with. If you know you’re spending too much, reduce it by 20% and start with that number. You may need to review this over time. It may be cheaper to eat unhealthy rather than healthy, but you can still get a healthy diet on a budget that works for you.

2. Compare grocery stores

Your nearest grocery store may not be the best for you. Visit three or four local stores and compare their prices on things you actually buy. You may be surprised to find that one store is best for you, or you may need to work two stores into your weekly shopping trip. If you plan to go to more than one store, make a note of which items are cheaper in each store so you know what to buy where.

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Before you go to the grocery store

3. Plan your meals

Planning your meals for the week will help you with both of your goals: you will eat better because you know what you are eating, and you will save money because you only buy what you need.

4. Allow snacks

Include healthy snacks in your plan. Having something on hand to grab between meals can help you stay on track. Not taking into account snacking can make you run out of something fast, unhealthy and expensive, so it’s best to be prepared.

5. Make a shopping list and stick to it

Make sure you have a list – on paper or on an app, but not just in your head. Stick to the list, but allow yourself some flexibility for merchandise. For example, if you have navel oranges on your list but cara cara oranges are on sale, go for the sale price. If chicken breasts are for sale, buy them instead of the chicken thighs that are on your list; another plus is that chicken breast tends to be slimmer than thighs.

6. Use coupons and apps

If your favorite grocery store has an app or loyalty card that offers savings, be sure to use it. And keep an eye out for coupons you can use to buy what’s on your list. If you have a coupon for a sale item, it’s even better!

7. Shop your stores’ weekly sales

Most supermarkets issue a flyer every week promoting the items they have for sale the following week. Check out the sale items and try to incorporate them into your meal planning. Make a note of the items on sale. If you shop in more than one store, a sale item in one store may be cheaper than the normal price in your usual store, so keep an eye on it.

8. Have a snack before you go

Shopping when you are hungry can lead to impulse buying and poor choices. Get a healthy snack before you go out to the store so you are not tempted to throw extra items in your shopping cart.

At the grocery store

9. Buy the perimeter

Grocery stores typically have their products, meats, dairy products and frozen foods around the outside of the store. The aisles usually house processed foods along with stationery and household products. Shopping around the store instead of the inside aisles – unless you need toilet paper, of course – will help you stick to your list.

Buy in bulk, but be smart

Large sizes of products are often a better deal, but before you reach for the five-pound bag of clementines, make sure you eat them all before they go bad. If you throw away spoiled food, you have not spared anything.

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11. Buy the Store Brand

Name brand products are often more expensive than the same product with the store brand. But they may not be healthier or even more delicious. Try the store brand when it’s available – if you do not like it, you can always go back to the more expensive name brand.

12. Weigh the pros and cons of buying organic

Organic foods are often more expensive and may not provide significant, if any, health benefits. Instead of paying more money for organic products, buy locally grown fruits and vegetables.

13. Buy fresh produce in season

Most fruits and vegetables are more abundant during the summer months, which drives their prices down. Take advantage of this and buy your fresh strawberries in June or July. During the fall, look for squash and other root vegetables.

14. For off-season products, buy frozen

If your favorite fruits and vegetables are not in season at the moment, do not despair. Go towards the frozen food. According to the USDA, frozen vegetables are as healthy as fresh and can cost less. Frozen fruits are great for making healthy smoothies or for mixing them with yogurt for a healthy breakfast.

Good to know

Frozen foods can be stored longer in the freezer so you can always have them on hand.

15. Avoid buying processed foods

Processed foods represent a double whammy when it comes to eating healthy on a budget. They tend to be both more expensive and less nutritious. So stay away from biscuits, chips, cookies and other processed foods in the grocery store.

16. Compare unit prices

It can be difficult to try to figure out which option is cheapest when comparing different sizes of foods. Therefore, grocery stores state the unit price of each product on a sticker on the shelf. This sticker will show you how much an ounce or a gram of product costs, regardless of the size of the container it comes in. Comparing unit prices can help you determine the best values.

17. Buy less meat

Meat is expensive and many of us eat too much of it. The USDA guidelines suggest 5.5 ounces of lean meat or protein each day if your suggested caloric intake is 2,000. It is much smaller than many restaurant-sized portions of meat in a single meal and probably smaller than what you are used to eating, even at home. In addition, non-meat proteins such as lentils, beans, tofu, quinoa or oatmeal can be a healthy and cheaper substitute.

Other options besides the grocery store

If it’s hard for you to stick to your list when you go to the store, or even if you just do not like shopping, there are other options.

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18. Shop Online

Buying your groceries online can help you reduce the number of impulse purchases you make. You can also see how much you spend when adding items to your shopping cart, which can help you stay within your budget. Additionally, you can not smell muffins baking when you pass through the back aisle!

19. Try community-supported agriculture

With the recent emphasis on local produce, farmers have in many cases taken to selling their crops directly to consumers. Community Supported Agriculture, or CSA, is a way for consumers to purchase local produce directly from the farm. It is usually a subscription or a membership service so you get seasonal products throughout the growing season. You can even get some new vegetables or fruits you have never tried before!

20. Buy food that is less than perfect

Do you know all the stacks of perfect, shiny apples you see in the supermarket? Newsflash: not all apples come from the tree and look like that. There are many products that are not attractive enough for grocery stores to display, but it is perfect to eat. It is also cheaper. You can look at the discount rack at your local grocery store or try subscription services like Misfits Market or Imperfect Foods.

21. Cultivate your own

You may not have room for a full yard in your backyard, but you can grow some vegetables and herbs in containers on a sunny porch. In addition to cultivating a satisfying hobby, you get super fresh food at a really cheap price.

Now that your purchases are complete

Planning the right meals and buying the right food is a good start. But you also need to prepare and consume the right foods to stick to your plan.

22. Cook at home

Take-away food can be delicious, but it is usually unhealthy and expensive. In addition, you have just bought all the delicious, healthy groceries. So make your meals at home.

23. Bring your lunch to work or school

Like grabbing take-away for dinner, it should not be a habit to go out for lunch if you are trying to eat healthier on a budget. Bring your lunch from home so you can be sure that it is both healthy and economical.

24. Drink more water

Water is free – or cheap if you drink bottled water – and good hydration is important for good health. Plus, drinking plenty of water will help you feel full faster if consuming fewer calories is part of your healthy diet plan.

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25. Meal preparation

Cooking at home can be time consuming, but if you prepare several meals in advance, you can cook once and eat for days. Making a variety of salads to take to work or school for lunch will prevent you from getting bored and help keep you within your budget.

26. Use leftover ingredients

Reheating yesterday’s dinner for lunch is one thing, but use your imagination to see if you can create something new instead. The extra chicken and vegetables you have from dinner can become delicious soup for the next day. Just add a few extra vegetables and a little broth, then you are ready. If you made extra quinoa for dinner, throw it in tomorrow’s salad for lunch.

Try to plan your meals so that you use most of the ingredients within a few days, as fresh foods have a short shelf life.

Eating healthy on a budget is a worthy goal and it is not impossible. With these tips and a little determination, you save money and feel better in no time.

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About the author

Karen Doyle is a personal finance writer with over 20 years of experience writing about investing, money management and financial planning. Her work has appeared on several news and finance sites, including GOBankingRates, Yahoo! Finance, MSN, USA Today, CNBC, Equifax.com and more.

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