This is probably one of the most popular questions that people have when they decide to start eating more healthfully… how do I do it and not break the bank? How do I eat healthy on a budget? It’s a sad reality that fast food dollar menus are often cheaper than more nutritious options, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t possible to eat well while keeping your budget in mind.
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Everyone starts their journey to healthier eating at a different starting place. That starting place will impact how you approach changes to what you’re already doing. For many people, simple swaps can bring improvements in the quality of the foods they eat, and those swaps don’t have to be expensive.
As always, I wouldn’t recommend attempting a complete diet overhaul all at once. Find something you’re comfortable changing, then use some of the tips below to do so without driving up your food budget!
Something that people wonder a lot about is whether or not they need to buy organic. It tends to be more expensive, and when you’re working with a limited budget, it’s easy to wonder if you’ll have to spring for the pricier produce (or meat) in order to improve your health.
Let me put you at ease: you don’t need to worry about it! I will probably write a more in depth post about this in the future, but for now, please know that it’s not nearly as important as some would have you believe. The vast majority of us have other things in our diet that we can improve on before we start getting into such minor details. Tackle the big rocks first!
What big rocks? I think there are two biggies that we can focus on to begin with:
1 – Focus on satisfying meals instead of needing snacks
2 – Eat more veggies and fruits.
These two things work hand in hand to get you eating a bit healthier. Most snack foods don’t add much to our diets except extra calories. If our meals are substantial and satisfying enough, we are much less likely to feel the urge to snack in between them. This is actually one of the first things we help our clients to work on too. If you can corral your eating into 3 or 4 times per day, making sure to eat an enjoyable and satisfying meal each time, not only will you likely take in less calories overall (by eliminating some extras you probably won’t even miss!), but you’ll spend less time thinking about food. As an added bonus, if you’re not buying snack foods, you have more in your food budget to work with!
How do we make our meals more satisfying AND more nutritious if we’re going to be eating “only” 3 or 4 times in a day? We bump up the volume with veggies and fruits.
(Come on, you knew that’d be a recommendation, right?)
The grocery store you currently use may already have the best prices on produce, but don’t just assume that. Check out the competition in your area. Where I live, in Pennsylvania, I’m lucky enough to have a Wegmans nearby. Wegmans is awesome if you have one. They use a lot of local farmers, and they even have their own farms. When comparing the produce there to the produce at other local stores (like Giant or Shoprite), I frequently find much better prices there. The extra bonus is that I also find it seems to be fresher and better quality. A win-win!
When I lived in Virginia, I was able to shop at Trader Joes, which is another great store with great prices (although a bit less of a selection). I hear Aldi’s has also gone through a nice overhaul recently and is offering better quality produce, while still keeping their prices low. I haven’t checked them out personally, but I read that they’re actually starting to compete with the very pricey Whole Foods (“Whole Paycheck” as some people call it!). So it could certainly be worth a second look if you’d previously written them off.
Even Amazon has a “Prime Pantry” feature, and if you check it out, you may find that there are deals and coupons on some of the staples you buy frequently. If you’re not a Prime member yet, you can get a free trial HERE (or the box below) and check out the Prime Pantry option! You can even use it in conjunction with tip #3 next…
Even before kiddo came around, and it was just my husband and I, I would always buy “club packs” of veggies at our grocery store. You’ll pay less per unit by buying more. I get a 3lb bag of broccoli florets for $4.99 (that’s $1.66 per pound), as opposed to $2.99 for a 1lb bag if I don’t buy in bulk. That’s a 44% savings!
I hate to be wasteful, so buying more is also actually an incentive to eat more veggies because I don’t want them to go bad! If you’re like me and will eat the veggies before they go bad, buying in bulk can be a really great way to cut costs.
If you hate the idea of veggies going bad before you can eat them all, consider frozen vegetables. Since they’re frozen very soon after being picked, they retain a lot of their nutritional value. You can simply take out the amount you’ll eat in a sitting, thaw/cook it, season however you like, and enjoy!
Sometimes this is a great way to not only save money, but also to support your local farmers. I will say that it’s not always cheaper than buying at the grocery store though, so you’d have to check on prices in your area. If you like veggies, and are willing to put up with having your weekly veggies picked out for you (you usually don’t get a say in what veggies arrive in your box each week), then a CSA might be a cool option for you.
What about the other foods you buy? How can you save on the other staples?
As I mentioned above, swapping something you already like for a slightly healthier version is a great way to start on a healthier food journey. If you’re currently buying frozen convenience meals for your work lunches, like I used to do, see if you can find a brand that has some healthier options (less salt, more protein, etc).
Take a look at the staples you buy each week, and see if there are healthier versions you’d be willing to try. You can find more nutritious breads, pastas, canned goods, and frozen selections if you take the time to compare them. Usually you’ll pay about the same, and sometimes you might be surprised to find you pay less!
Check store brands, because they’re often cheaper than brand names and can sometimes be healthier too. I used to buy a particular brand of bread for $3.50 a loaf. Then I compared it to one of the Wegmans brand breads that was $1.99 and found it had fewer ingredients, less sugar, and was just as tasty as what I’d bought before. Win!
Don’t forget about Prime Pantry, I’m actually surprised that the prices are so competitive!
Going out to eat means the food is pricier AND higher in calories than if you cooked a similar meal at home. It also takes longer, since you have to drive there, wait for a table, decide what order, and then wait for it to arrive. In the time it takes to go out, you could easily cook up something healthier and cheaper.
I’m not saying you shouldn’t go out to eat every once in a while. It’s a nice change of pace! But if you can shift some of your budget from the “going out” category to the “grocery” category, you’ll find that your dollars go farther.
Speaking of cooking at home, I have a great (and free!) guide that contains strategies you can use to help make healthy meals quickly and easily. Grab “Make Healthy Meals EASIER Thank Take-Out” HERE, or by using the form at the end of this post!
What do you think, did I miss some great ideas? If you’ve found ways of eating more healthfully while keeping costs in check, share in the comments how you did it! I know many of you will have some great tips up your sleeves 🙂
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