How to Eat Healthy on a Budget: 8 Tips

Eating healthy is something that can literally change your life. Most importantly, a healthy diet can impact your physical and mental well-being, providing the full scope of nutrients your body needs to perform at its best while also cutting down on blood sugar spikes that could cause diabetes and decreasing inflammation that could lead to serious health issues later on in life.

Eating whole, nutritious foods can help with:

  • Improved energy levels
  • Better mental health and less chance for bouts of depression
  • More encouraging weight loss
  • Reduced risk of numerous diseases
  • Better overall muscle and organ health

However, one of the biggest challenges of eating healthy is being able to afford to do so. Buying fresh, healthy foods seems like it’s out of the budget for a lot of people. It’s often cheaper to buy foods that are more processed and also easier to go through a drive-thru or order takeout. But, there are ways to eat healthier while watching your bank account, and knowing some of the options available can help support you along the way.

Understanding what eating healthy means

There are several components that form the foundation of a nutritious lifestyle, and knowing them is the first step in understanding just what you need to focus on when filling your shopping cart:

  • A healthy diet focuses on an abundance of fruits and vegetables. No one or two vegetables will provide you with everything that you need to get the full nutritive value every day, so it’s a good idea to eat a mix of different varieties. For example, eat citrus with breakfast, salad greens and lots of colorful veggies for lunch, an apple for a snack, some more greens like asparagus as a dinner side, and perhaps a banana for dessert.
  • Opt for frozen produce when you can’t buy fresh. Frozen versions are an acceptable substitute for most fresh fruits or vegetables, and are always a better option than canned varieties that are often loaded with sodium.
  • The fewer processed, refined, and preservative-filled foods you eat, the better. Manufacturing processes will remove much of the nutritional value from foods, and even sometimes add in dangerous fillers like trans fats. The vast majority of American diets are high in processed foods that lack fiber and nutrients and, as such, have been seen as the cause for the alarming rates of chronic diseases in this country. Opt for fresh and raw food whenever possible, which is a purer form of energy and has more viable nutrients.
  • Choose better snacks. Snacking isn’t necessarily a bad thing. As long as you are choosing the right snacks that can make you feel fuller between meals and provide vitamins and minerals. Nuts, bananas, veggie chips, and protein shakes are all better choices than empty calorie foods like chips and cookies that provide no real nutrition and just make you feel hungry again an hour later.

With this information in mind, you can start identifying what kind of good foods fit best into your life and within your budget. Here are eight tips for how to grocery shop with health in mind, rather than your finances.

1. Plan your meals ahead of time

One of the biggest reasons that food budgets can start to balloon is poor planning. Rather than shopping on a whim and figuring out what you will make for meals later on, planning a week’s worth of meals ahead of time offers several notable benefits:

  • After laying out a grocery list, you can check to make sure that each item fits into your recipe agenda and your budget, making adjustments as needed.
  • You can account for exactly how much food you will need. This is especially important for perishable items like produce. Planning ahead means you won’t end up buying additional quantities that might spoil and end up in the trash before you manage to eat them.
  • You can also lay out meals for each day of the week based on what kind of recipes you have time to make and have a seamless plan—perhaps it’s fast dinners for the weekdays but a slow-cooked roast for Sunday.

Be sure that when you plan your meals ahead, you think about breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks. Combine the right ingredients for the chosen meals over a one-week span, and visit the store only once per week to get what you need.

2. Shop smart

There are a few main ideas to keep in mind to save money when you go grocery shopping:

Don’t shop hungry

Try to eat before you go to the store, or you could easily give into cravings and impulse buys. If you shop while you’re full, you will reduce the chances of buying additional items that you don’t really need.

Start by making a full loop around the perimeter of the grocery store

Most stores are designed to maximize your spending. Fresh, whole foods are usually on the perimeter while the interior aisles contain the more processed foods and expensive items. When you start outside and work inward, your cart becomes full with the best items first, reducing the chance that you’ll buy additional items from the luring aisles.

Don’t stray from the grocery list

When you plan your meals and make your grocery list ahead of time, you’ll have a blueprint for success at shopping. But, the key thing is not to deviate from it. Focus only on buying the items that are on your list, and try to avoid buying anything additional. Otherwise, you’ll be increasing the amount that you spend and leaving yourself with a kitchen containing items you might not end up eating in time.

Look into frozen and dried foods

Fresh foods can be some of the most expensive items at the grocery store. When looking at all your options, don’t forget about frozen and dried foods, which can be just as healthy (as long as they don’t contain preservatives). They also keep much longer than their fresh counterparts, and you can purchase them without worrying about the food spoiling before you are able to eat it.

3. Eat out less

In 2015, Americans spent more on eating out than they did on their groceries for the first time in history. While it can be a nice treat to go out for a meal, do so only on special occasions as eating at home can save a lot of money. Plus, you’ll have full control over what you put into your food so you know you’re getting the healthiest ingredients available. Many fresh foods are easier to cook than you may think—slow-cooker recipes are one way to prepare dinner when you are short on time. Just set up and forget it while at work.

4. Find ways to utilize leftovers

Between 25 and 40 percent of all food in the U.S. will never be consumed, with an estimated 70 billion pounds of food going to waste in the country every year. While much of that is waste from restaurants and stores, it’s still important to know how to avoid tossing out your own food.

If you have leftovers after a meal, plan on eating them for lunch the following day. Or, you can plan out your weekly meals with the expectation of incorporating leftovers into the next day’s dinner (two meals are more affordable than one!). Either way, eating all remaining food reduces your costs—and your carbon footprint.

5. Learn to master different cuts of meats

Proteins are always an important staple of any diet to achieve the best nutrition, but there’s no need to dole out big dollars on salmon and sirloin all the time. You can also learn how to use different, less expensive cuts of meat that can still provide a great meal. Some ideas include tuna, ground meat, and frozen chicken breast, all of which are more affordable and often last longer (such as canned and frozen options).

6. Shop for in-season produce

When produce is in season, you’ll be getting the lowest price because less effort and care is needed to grow it. It’s a good idea to know which vegetables and fruits are in season and change up your meal plan accordingly throughout the year. But, you can also buy in bulk and then freeze ahead. Ears of corn that are in season are often very cheap, for example, and can hold in the freezer for months.

7. Watch for sales

Grocery stores regularly run sales and offer coupons, and different marketplaces in your town may have different specials every week. Try getting into a habit of regularly checking the printed circulars and visit official websites to see what might be on sale at any given time. Sometimes, going to more than one store can save a tremendous amount of money and provide the freshest foods.

8. Become a regular at local farmers markets

Farmers markets have often gotten a bad rap as expensive, trendy places to buy food. But the reality is that you can end up finding much better deals here thanks to the fact that you’re buying direct from the farmer who grew the food. Buying local also means that you get fresher foods and you can talk to the provider about how they were grown.

The real bottom line

It’s easier to fit a healthy, nutritious lifestyle into any budget than many think. The key is knowing what steps to take and then making them a reality. Remember the tips above and you should be able to start eating healthy for less and soon reaping the rewards of a healthy diet.


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