Michael Glab MS, RD, LDN
9 Tips for Eating Healthy on a Budget
Updated: Dec 17, 2021
It is a common misconception that healthy eating is always expensive. However, nutritious food does not have to be costly. Use the following nine tips to eat well without breaking the bank!
1. Plan meals and make a grocery list
Have you ever wandered into a grocery store without a plan? You toss food into the cart with a few vague ideas for meals and end up purchasing a bunch of random ingredients. Fast forward to the end of the week and half the groceries in your fridge are about to spoil.
Spending just 10 minutes at the beginning of the week to plan out meals and snacks ensures you only buy what you need and reduces food waste.
BudgetBytes.com is an excellent resource for cost-effective, simple recipes. Choose a few that fit your nutrition needs and jot down ingredients you will buy from the grocery store.
2. Utilize frozen fruits and vegetables
Frozen fruits and vegetables are just as nutritious as their fresh counterparts. They are often less expensive than fresh options and offer great flexibility. For example, most fresh fruit begins to spoil after a week, whereas frozen fruit is good for 6-9 months in the freezer.
How can you incorporate frozen produce into your diet? Frozen berries are a nutritious addition to smoothies. Frozen stir fry vegetables, riced cauliflower and steamable veggie bags are perfect for busy weeknight dinners. Just add a complex carbohydrate and your protein of choice!
3. Shop at budget grocery stores.
Whole Foods may not be your ideal grocery option if you are looking for deals. The good news is that stores such as Aldi and Walmart offer fantastic bang for your buck. Additionally, Aldi’s small store footprint and minimalist layout make for an enjoyable, efficient shopping experience.
Check out Aldi’s Simply Nature organic line that rivals many of the offerings from Whole Foods at a fraction of the price.
4. Purchase less expensive cuts of meat
When it comes to red meat, ribeye and porterhouse cuts are delicious, but can get expensive. Instead, choose cuts from the cow's shank, flank, round, plate or chuck sections. These beef cuts are less pricey and typically leaner, meaning less saturated fat!
Cuts such as chuck roast and round steak do best with slow, moist cooking techniques such as pressure cooking (InstaPot) or slow cooking (CrockPot). Flank steak and skirt steak are great on the grill after a 4 to 12-hour marinade.
Precooked rotisserie chickens are also an outstanding choice for eating healthy on a budget. Prices vary by grocery store but can generally be found for $5-8 each and are large enough to feed up to four people. Learn to carve your rotisserie chicken here.
5. Utilize eggs as a regular source of protein.
One egg contains 13 essential vitamins and minerals, approximately 80 calories, 6 grams of protein and costs just 14 cents. Incorporating 2-3 eggs at breakfast is a very inexpensive way to add more protein and nutrients to your diet.
6. Buy food in bulk.
When buying in bulk, focus on products that will last longer than a month or two. Whole grains, rice, beans, canned goods, condiments, spices, oils, nut butter, and frozen foods are all great bulk buys.
Stock up on these items during big sales or invest in a warehouse club membership such as Sam’s Club or Costco. See our dietitians’ guide to Costco here.
7. Invest in quality storage containers.
Airtight containers are the key to keeping bulk items fresh. They are also necessary for maximizing the life of leftovers and meals you choose to freeze. Reducing food waste is an easy way to save money on food. Quality storage containers help keep food waste to a minimum.
Choose storage containers with lids and airtight seals. Check out this one and here's another.
8. Purchase produce in season.
Seasonal produce includes fruits and vegetables that are purchased and consumed in the same season they were harvested. Shopping seasonally means you get fresh products that will cost you a lot less money. When produce is not in season, it is typically shipped in from other parts of the world.
Farmers’ markets are a great place to purchase local, seasonal products. If you do not have a farmer’s market nearby, use this handy guide for the types of seasonal produce you can buy at your local grocery store.
9. Shop for whole foods instead of prepackaged and prepared items.
Prepackaged food almost always costs more than the individual ingredients needed to make a meal yourself. Similarly, many foods are more affordable in their least processed form. For example, a block of cheese is less expensive than shredded cheese, whole grains like oats and rice are cheaper than less-healthy cereals.
Focus on purchasing whole foods and budget in extra time to prepare your meals.
Confused about where to start? Use the sample 2,000 calorie/day meal plan and grocery list below to plan your shopping. Happy savings!
Mara McStay is currently a dietetic intern and soon-to-be Registered Dietitian (RD). She will be graduating with a Master's degree in Human Nutrition from the University of Illinois - Chicago in December 2021. You can find Mara's nutrition content on Instagram @maramcstay_nutrition.