10 Tips for Eating Healthy on a Budget

by Kimberly Daly Farrell
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10 Tips for Eating Healthy on a Budget

Dollar menus have their appeal—cheap, quick food you can stuff in your face while driving. But they come with a hidden price: your health! Often loaded with added sodium, added sugar, saturated fat, and nutritionally empty carbs, those value meals don’t seem like such a bargain when you factor in the cost of managing diabetes, obesity, and heart disease.

Eating healthy on a budget doesn’t mean you have to give up flavor, fun, or speed. It’s possible to buy fresh foods without spending your entire paycheck or resorting to a slow-cook lifestyle. With a little planning and prep you can eat well and still have time and money leftover to enjoy life. Keep these 10 tips for healthy eating on a budget in mind on your next grocery trip.

1. Eat before you shop Impulse buys can add up to a busted grocery budget. (Those quick-grab treats don’t do anything good for your waistline either.)

2. Pay attention to specials Pick up the sales flyer at the front of the store to find out which produce is in season and see the deals of the week. Also, watch out for little hangtags in the aisles calling out savings.

3. Reach for store brands For things like milk, butter, brown rice, cereal, frozen veggies and more, in-house brands are just as tasty as the name brands—and they can be dollars cheaper!

4. Don’t pass up ripe produce My grocery store often has bags of extra ripe fruit at discounted prices—I once picked up 20 bananas for just $1.00! Cut everything up when you get home, freeze it, and you’ve got fresh fruit that will last for weeks. Frozen fruit gives a vitamin boost to smoothies, hot oatmeal, and more.

5. Skip the fancy steaks Save the filet mignon and t-bones for special occasions, and opt for leaner, less expensive cuts of meat and ground beef instead. Flank steak can be dressed up with spices, and roasts make a nice meal that will provide plenty of next-day leftovers. Also, consider buying beef in bulk. Stock up when meat goes on sale, or go in in with friends to purchase a side of beef—you can get 100lbs. for around $3.60 per pound. (Be sure to store everything in the freezer!)

6. Invest in eggs Packed with protein—one whole egg contains all of the essential amino acids. Eggs are also inexpensive compared to other protein sources, and don’t have to be relegated to breakfast recipes. (These yummy scrambled egg tacos make a quick mid-week dinner.)

7. Get a whole chicken It might seem like less work to pick up packages of pre-cut breasts, but it’s often more cost effective to get an entire bird. Whole chickens will set you back around $1.15 per pound—a bargain compared to the upwards of $6 per pound you’ll shell out for individually cut and packaged pieces. A three-pound bird takes a little over an hour to cook, but then you’ve got several meals worth of food—saving you time later. You can have roast chicken for dinner on Sunday, use the dark meat leftovers for chicken tacos or lunch wraps on Monday, and toss the bones into a slow-cooker overnight to make broth for a hearty soup or stew later in the week.

8. Fill up on frozen goods Frozen fruits and veggies are packaged up at their peak, helping to lock in nutrients and making them just as healthy as their fresh counterparts. (Just be sure to read the labels and skip anything with added sugar or sodium.) Other frosty goodies, like wild-caught fish and pasture-raised beef and bison, can also be great buys. They’re often dollars less than what you’ll find at the meat counter. Prep tip: Pull wild sockeye salmon out of the freezer in the morning, thaw it in the fridge during the day, then roast it with a squeeze of lemon and some pepper in a 425 degree oven for 15 minutes—add a mixed greens salad and you’ve got a quick, healthy dinner!

9. Visit the bulk aisle Staples like brown rice and beans are even less expensive when you skip all the packaging and scoop them out of the bulk bins—about $.60 per pound for brown rice and about $1.50 per pound for beans. Cook up a big pot of each and toss them into quick meals throughout the week. Brown rice and beans can be served up in stir-fry, chili, salad, burritos, and more. And brown rice even makes a yummy breakfast porridge—just add a splash of milk, cinnamon, and fruit. Oats are another great item to buy from the bins!

10. Hit up the farmers’ market Because you’re cutting out the middleman (the grocery store), local growers often have the best deals for fresh, in-season produce. Don’t be afraid to buy a lot—fresh fruits and veggies can be cut up and stored in the freezer for later. (New to open-air shopping? Here are 10 Farmers’ Market Tips that might come in handy.)

How do you save on healthy groceries? Share your tips in the comments below!

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  • Dave Gee

    Wow, a post with decent advice!.. Nice done 🙂

    However, Kimberly, care to provide some citations for why we should avoid ‘added sugar’? Have scientists discovered some way that our bodies can now tell if the sugar was added or not and work differently?
    What if the sugar was ‘added’ from the same source? Say sugar from the fruit added to the same fruit? Would that be worse sugar?

    • Irene

      I think the comment on “added sugar” here means that if you get a frozen product with added sugar, it simply has more sugar than the fresh product would. If there’s no added sugar or sodium, than the frozen version is equivalent to the fresh version.

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  • Dada Q. Trinidad

    I love the advice! It’s dollar based pricing but the logic still applies to all countries =) Thanks for sharing!

  • RolfTheElder

    #4 May not be advisable for everyone. For example store brands always have higher salt content and added sweetening.
    Perhaps to make them tastier.

    • kimmie

      That’s not true I once compared green giant broccoli to shop rite broccoli green giant had more preservatives and additives

  • Gina

    I think my No. 1 advice would be to learn to cook, if you don’t already know. There is no way I could live on my government pension if I didn’t cook everything from scratch as well as building my menus on what’s on special right now. I do have one daily indulgence, though: quality cheeses, which I buy at the warehouse store where the prices are amazing.

  • Katie

    Eggs are good when we can get them on sale or in large quantities. CA’s new law (regarding egg producers) drove up the price of eggs.

    • kamwick

      Much better for the hens, however. We live near a large scale egg farm that has been free ranging it’s hens for years. When the law went into effect, their prices didn’t go up that much, and their eggs are still huge, with beautiful yellow yolks. I’d much rather pay the extra than go for the cheap multi dozens knowing the hellish conditions the hens are raised in. Quality food has a cost.

      Some people raise their own backyard hens for delicious eggs.

      Amazing that this country’s agricultural practices can result in “cheaper” food, that has likely helped fuel our obesity epidemic. In the old days, folks didn’t have chicken breast every day, or the huge amount of beef and pork that is commonly consumed. And knowing the conditions the animals are raised in makes me want to stick to the “poor people’s diet”: beans, veggies, fruit and grains.

      • Katie

        Well, even the “poor people’s diet” has gone up.

        • kamwick

          So true. But the government tells us there’s no inflation…..right

  • wyomech

    I keep a few cans of beans on hand, but mostly buy dry beans in bulk. They last virtually forever, & have good protein & fiber.

    As an experiment, I bought the ingredients for a “Multi-Bean Soup” at the Family Dollar Store (& one can do better buying in bulk, btw)…& made 4 servings of hearty soup for a total cost of $1.89.

  • Great tips! 3, 4, 6, and 8 save me money each and every week!

  • lvqt

    Get the Ibotta, Savingstar and Chechout51 rebate apps on your phone and get money back for fruit and veggie (and lots of other) purchases.