How to Eat Healthy on a Budget

It’s Wednesday afternoon. You’ve already finished your leftovers from last weekend, and you still have a lot to do at work before going to the grocery store and trying to put something together for dinner.

You feel exhausted just thinking about how much time it takes to shop, prepare a meal, eat, and wash dishes. You decide to order takeout instead. As you sit eating your takeout meal, you wish you could eat healthier…if only it didn’t take so much time, planning, and money.

Eating healthier doesn’t have to take a lot of time, planning, or money. Check out these 20+ ways to shop and eat healthy on a budget.

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1 | Keep a food budget

Since we’re talking about eating on a budget, it’s a good idea to know how much you can spend on food each month. This is going to depend on factors such as your income, household size, and the type of diet you follow.

The USDA Food Plan published each month provides an idea of how much food costs each month for families of different sizes and ages. Americans spent 9.5% of their disposable personal income on food in 2019.

Figure out an amount that is doable for you and keep that in mind while shopping.

2 | Start meal planning

The best way to eat healthier foods is to set aside time to plan your meals and prepare your food. Carve out a few minutes each week to plan meals for the week. This will keep you to your shopping list and ensure all your meals are healthy.

In the long run, you’ll likely find that meal planning and preparation actually saves you time. No more frantic Wednesday night runs to the grocery store thinking about what meal to cook, only to pick up an instant meal.

3 | Have healthy go-to meals

Start browsing online and asking friends and family for their favorite healthy meals. Those may be salads or vegetable- or meat-based dishes.

They may take some work to make the first time, but they’ll be easier to make every time after that. Soon you’ll have favorite go-to meals that you add to your meal plan and can quickly throw together any night of the week.

These are some of my favorite quick and easy meals. I substitute items such as salad for rice or Greek yogurt for mayonnaise.

4 | Shop when you’re feeling full

Every food looks delicious when you’re hungry. Go shopping on a full stomach to avoid the temptation of buying unnecessary and unhealthy food.  You’ll stick to your grocery list and save money too!

5 | Eat what’s in season

One of the best ways to get cheap and tasty food is to eat what’s in season now. You can get fresh produce, which tends to be cheaper because it’s more plentiful and may be locally grown. This is true for other items like seafood as well.

Have you ever tried to get cherries or crab out of season? Whew, they’re pricey. Stick with what’s in season to get the biggest bang for your buck.

6 | Visit the farmers market

I’ve been to some high-end farmers markets, where you’ll pay a pretty penny for anything. Look for the more economical ones, where the seasonal produce is sometimes cheaper than at the supermarket.

My local farmers market has peaches, nectarines, plums, and grapes all for $2 per pound. That’s cheaper than my supermarket and fresher too!

Some vendors offer a bag full of vegetables for a dollar to offload some of their older produce. This is more common at the end of the day when prices are cut to make some last sales.

If the vegetables look a little past their prime, cook them that day, which will extend their life a few more days.

7 | Shop ethnic grocery stores and mom and pop shops

Sometimes the best deals are found at ethnic markets and individual stores like mom and pop shops. In my experience, the fruits and vegetables are a lot cheaper and fresher than in chain supermarkets.

You’ll also find more variety of items. Plus, you can feel good knowing that you are supporting local business owners

8 | Eat ethnic foods

Eating ethnic foods can be a cost-saver as well. Many cultures have tasty dishes made with inexpensive items.

For example, Chinese fried rice is made with leftover rice, vegetables, and meat.  Many other Asian dishes use only a small amount of meat for flavoring, leaving other cheaper items like vegetables and carbs to make up the bulk of the dish.

9 | Cut back on processed boxed foods

When you buy single servings of frozen pasta or pizza from the supermarket, those can easily cost $5 each. They’re also heavy in sodium.

But when you buy the ingredients yourself, such as dried pasta and a jar of sauce, you can make a large batch for yourself that lasts for days and costs less than that a serving.

10 | Buy frozen fruits and veggies

Frozen fruits and veggies can be a lot cheaper than buying fresh. It depends on the produce and the season, so do some price comparison before buying.

When I see a small basket of fresh berries for $5 or $6, I’ll pick up the frozen option instead. If you come across a great deal on fresh fruit, you can also buy a bunch and freeze them for later use.

11 | Stock up on economical foods

Foods like beans and eggs are healthy, long-lasting, and budget-friendly. Buy them in bulk when they’re on sale and meal plan around them.

12 | Buy store brands vs. name brands

Most supermarkets have their version of common food items right next to the big-name brands. Often the ingredients are the same or similar.

They may even come from the same manufacturing plant or packaging facility. The only difference is the cost. Test out a few and see if cheaper options work well for you.

12 | Buy what’s on sale

Scour the ads of your groceries stores to see what’s on sale that week. Then plan meals around those items.

If you’re like me and don’t want to browse paper ads all the time, try signing up for email newsletters from your favorite grocery stores.

You’ll know what’s on special that week just by reading their subject lines or within a few seconds of opening their emails.  

14 | Make large batches of food

Large batches of food help in so many ways: saving money on food, saving time on cooking, and less meal prep and clean-up. If you cook on Sunday night, you have your “instant” meals ready for evenings later in the week. 

You’ll have no need to stop at the supermarket and shop for instant meals because they’re already in your fridge. If you make too much to eat within a few days, freeze the rest to eat at a later time.

15 | Choose less expensive meat or meatless meals

Meat is often the most expensive part of a meal. Try to pick less expensive meats or cuts of meat to reduce meal costs. Less preferred cuts can still taste good when cooked with the right recipe and spices. Slow cookers are great for this.

Most grocery stores in my area offer specials on a whole chicken. It’s usually $5 for a whole chicken on Fridays. Even the more high-end stores like Whole Foods have whole chickens for a few dollars more.

16 | Plan out your snacks and buy accordingly

One obstacle to eat healthily is when a hunger pang strikes, and I don’t have anything to eat on hand.

Most bakeries and convenience stores have only sweets and other processed foods are available. Similar to meal planning, plan out your healthy snacks for the week and then have them on hand ready to eat.

17 | Look at the cost of an item per unit

A quick look at the unit prices of items while comparison shopping will tell you which item is the better deal.

This can be tricky when you have two items next to each other and one has the price per carton and the other has the price per ounce.

With a bit of math, you’ll figure out which is the best deal. Sometimes I’m surprised at the huge difference in price for essentially two versions of the same item.

18 | Use a coupon or rebate app

I’ve read lots of reviews of people saving money on groceries by using apps such as Ibotta. With Ibotta, retailers offer rebates on items that you purchase.

You scan barcodes and receipts from qualifying purchases to receive a rebate, which can then be cashed out. I haven’t tried this myself although I’ve heard good things about this method of saving.

19 | Check out co-ops

While they’re not always cheaper than the typical supermarket, I’ve noticed that co-ops tend to specialize in high-quality, seasonal, and rarer foods. My favorite part about co-ops is bulk bins, which is great for buying just the amount you need of something.

You may have to buy a membership to take advantage of the co-op or its discounted prices, but the cost can take care of itself if you shop there often enough.

20 | Shop at lower-priced supermarkets

I’m sure you’ve heard of Whole Foods referred to as Whole Paycheck. Yes, it can be pretty expensive there.

I’ve seen the exact same items cheaper at Safeway or Trader Joes, which is why I like to shop around. I make it a point not to do the bulk of my shopping at more expensive stores like Whole Foods and only stop there for their unique or sale items.

Food outlets are another supermarket option. The food is still good but the items may be overstock or their expiration dates may be approaching. The items are sold cheaper to move them off the shelves.

The only issue I’ve found with going to food outlets is that you don’t know what items or brands are going to be on the shelves until you get there, so you have to keep an open mind about what you’ll find.

21 | Grow your own herbs and vegetables

The worse thing about buying herbs from the store is that is that I use a small portion and the rest goes to waste. When you grow your own, you use just what you need. Start your own herb garden and save a few dollars in the process.

22 | Substitute items and spices when cooking

Alternatively, if you have a dish that calls for an item or spice that you know is going to be expensive, that you have to buy in large quantities, or that you will never use again, see if you can find a substitute or can leave it out completely. And if it’s just some parsley or green onion for garnish, go ahead and leave it off.

23 | Drink more water

Drinking water keeps you fuller and more hydrated. It also saves you the cost of purchasing other drinks that have sugars and calories. If you can’t or don’t like drinking water straight from the tap, try using a water filter to improve the quality and taste.

Eating healthy doesn’t have to cost a lot of time or money. Use the tips above to eat healthier on a budget today.

How to eat healthy on a budget pin image 1
How to eat healthy on a budget pin image 1

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