Food on a Tight Budget: 15 Clever Ways to Eat Healthy and Save Money

8 minute read

If you’re trying to be better about what you eat and focus on fresh, local, organic produce, you’ll quickly realize that it can be very expensive. It’s a lot cheaper to buy a box of mac and cheese and call it a meal than it is to make a stir fry using fresh veggies and free-range chicken breasts. It’s also a lot easier.

So how do you stick to your new diet goals and eat healthy foods without blowing your budget on food? We’ve got some great tips that will help you master healthy eating on a budget.

1. Plan Your Meals

A little planning goes a long way when you’re budgeting, especially at the grocery store. When you’re trying to save money, wasted food is the worst. This is why, once a week, you need to take inventory of what you have, plan meals around that, and then buy what you need to round out the menu.

Planning meals ahead of time is also a healthy way to manage diabetes or other dietary needs.

2. Check the Specials

Scour your local flyers for deals, and try to use coupons whenever possible. You’ll find a lot of incredible meat and fish deals, and you can freeze them if you’re not going to use it right away. You’ll also notice that when fruits and veggies are in season, there will be big sales, and some of these items can be frozen, too.

3. Make Big Meals

It can be cost effective to buy some food in larger quantities, like meat for example. To save money, time, and hassle, make a large meal that you can divide up and freeze for later. This way you’ve taken advantage of the discount, you’ve cooked a healthy meal at home, you’ve saved money by not going out, and you’ve got future meals that just require thawing and heating.

4. Never Shop Hungry

Most people already know to never go hungry. This is something they've been told, or they’ve experienced what can happen when they do hit the store with an empty stomach.

When you’re trying to stick to a food budget, it’s crucial that you follow your grocery list and don’t add extras that your stomach is suddenly craving.

5. Skip “Processed” Foods

Start paying attention to the price of things and your options. A block of cheese is cheaper than shredded cheese, and you can do the shredding yourself rather than paying for convenience. Whole grains are cheaper than processed grains.

Buy foods that are sold in bulk or from dispensers, as they’re cheaper than pre-packaged foods.

6. Generic Is Good

While you may have seen ads for a name brand and you’re sold on how healthy it is, one quick comparison of the ingredients to generic tells you that it’s not any different. Going generic is an easy way to save money and get a very comparable product.

7. Skip the Junk

If you’re trying to focus on healthy eating, you’re already on the lookout for junk food in your life. But that daily soda habit is not just bad for you, it’s also expensive. Be diligent about removing empty calories from your diet and your budget.

8. Cheaper Meat

A cheaper cut of meat can be just as good in soup, casseroles, lasagna, burritos, and other meals as their more expensive counterparts. Save the expensive fish and steaks for when they’ll be the star of the meal, and opt for a less expensive version when you can.

9. Go Meatless

You don’t have to opt for a vegetarian lifestyle, but going meatless on Mondays or any day of the week can help with your budget. Replacing meat with other high protein foods like beans, legumes, and eggs give you a less expensive source of protein. It can also expand your cooking repertoire, and it’s good for the planet.

10. Buy Frozen

Frozen fruits and vegetables are just as nutritious as fresh ones, and sometimes they’re actually better because they’re picked when they’re ripe, whereas fresh ones are picked up to a month in advance and then shipped. Not only that, but it’s easy to pull out just what you need when you need it and never have to worry about spoiled food.

11. Grow a Garden

Even if you live in an apartment and have no green space, potted tomatoes can do well on a sunny ledge. The number of tomatoes you can get from one plant will astonish you. If you have more space, the more you grow, the more you’ll save.

| Related: Enjoy Gardening with These Top 10 Fascinating Garden Hacks |

12. Buy Online

The options for healthy online food purchases are expanding and becoming more popular. If you sign up for some of these businesses, they will offer daily discounts, and they can sometimes deliver the food to your door.

The time you can save by avoiding the store and crowds can be spent searching for the best deals on great produce and healthy food options.

13. Get the App

There are quite a few grocery apps out there that are designed to help save you money, time, and hassle at the grocery store. You can also attach your store loyalty cards to this app, so you always have them and don’t have to carry a bunch of little plastic cards with you.

14. Shop the Outside

Most grocery stores are set up so the perimeter of the store is filled with healthier items like fresh and frozen fruits and vegetables, meats, dairy, etc. Typically, the center of the store has processed foods and items that aren’t as healthy. To stick to your healthy eating goals, shop the outside.

15. Shop Around

Check out your local grocery stores and learn their schedules. You may find that one store has great meat sales on Fridays, but that you can pick up produce in another store for less any day of the week. Give up on having a favorite grocery store, and shop around for the best deals.

The Bottom Line

Eating healthy and saving money don’t usually go hand-in-hand, but you can find a way to do both with a lot of planning, some thoughtful understanding of foods, and a little creativity.

Sales, coupons, discounts, and apps that manage it all are a big first step as they let you get the foods you want at better prices. Knowing the best times of year to buy fresh and when to turn to frozen can help you save on fruits and vegetables. Speaking of frozen, using your freezer often lets you buy great foods when there’s a sale or when they’re in season. Frozen leftovers also make cooking healthy, less of a chore.

Finally, get to know your local stores, the prices they charge, and the deals they offer. Then take advantage of this knowledge. You can eat better and save money, and you might find that it’s fun to do both.

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