Whether you’re cooking for a big family, are a college student looking to avoid the freshman 15, or just trying to save a little money, there are many easy ways you can eat healthy on a budget…including these 12!
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Eat Inexpensive Foods
It pains me that 20 chicken nuggets cost, like, $1 at the drive thru, while a pound of apples rarely falls below $1.99. It’s no wonder so many people think it’s difficult to eat healthy on a budget! That said, there are plenty of healthy yet inexpensive foods at the grocery store and, while fresh is best, just because a product is canned or boxed doesn’t automatically make it unhealthy (just be certain you’re checking product labels for added sugar, preservatives, and artificial ingredients.)
Learn to love these generally inexpensive yet healthy foods:
Convenience foods (i.e., frozen, boxed, or packaged foods/meals,) often cost more than the raw ingredients themselves because companies have taken the time to prep then put them together for you. Convenient: sure. Bloated with sugar, salt, and preservatives: totally. Instead of buying these popular convenience foods, save money, and make them healthier, by making them at home: Click on each one for trusted recipes!
See if your local grocery store has any special discount days or what days they put up manager's specials. If you're not sure if your grocery store offers a program like this…ASK! In my experience, grocery store managers are extremely eager to separate themselves from the rest and more importantly, create happy, loyal customers.
Buy Whole Chickens
Yes, “buying whole chickens” is getting a category all its own because the savings are HUUUUGE! From 1 whole chicken, which occasionally costs the same or less than a package of boneless, skinless chicken breasts, you can extract 2 chicken breasts, 2 thighs, 2 drumsticks, and 2 wings, PLUS you can use the leftover bones to make healthy, homemade chicken stock. That is a lot of savings!
If you love eating healthier take-out-fake-out recipes like Mongolian Beef Noodle Bowls, Fresh Summer Rolls, and Kale Fried Rice as often as we do, take a trip to your local ethnic market to stock up on supplies. Not only are products like rice noodles, rice, and rice paper ridiculously inexpensive at my local Asian market, but they’ve also got a ton of variety to choose from. You may find some fun new ingredients to try too!
Stretch Ground Meat with Vegetables
Most toddlers learn to identify the healthy stuff in their meals and eat around it. Ugh! One of my all-time favorite tricks for making our meals healthier, but also stretches ground meat, is to cut it with minced vegetables which, pound for pound, are a fraction of the cost.
Usually, I’ll mince 8 oz mushrooms in the food processor or by hand, saute in a skillet until the water cooks out, then add 1/2 – 3/4lb ground beef or turkey (or whatever meat I'm using) and use the mixture in everything from tacos to spaghetti sauce to lasagna filling. Not only do mushrooms work great for this, but zucchini and summer squash do too (peel them first for really picky eaters who see color and declare the entire dish inedible,) and even minced or grated cauliflower.
Freeze. EVERYTHING! Buy extra healthy foods, especially in-season produce, when they go on sale at the grocery store then freeze for later. This requires effort on your part to remember to pull meat, especially, to thaw ahead of time, and to remember what you’ve got in the freezer to avoid waste, but the reward is worth the effort. Here are some of my favorite healthy foods to buy on sale then freeze and/or freeze before they go bad:
Cheese (shred before freezing)
Bananas (peel then slice first)
Baby spinach and kale (throw directly into smoothies)
Drink More Water
Know what’s cheap, healthy, and pretty much always available? Tap water. Tally up how many times you choose water over a coffee, soda, gatorade, etc. for a week then add up how much money you saved – I bet you’ll be surprised! To succeed with this tip, get a reusable water bottle and bring it with you everywhere you go!
Check the Unit Price
This point is twofold.
Sometimes grocery store sales can be tricky because you see a product marked “2/$5” and think you’re getting a great deal (which, many times you are!). Check the unit price on the sales tag though, as you can occasionally still get a better deal on a different brand that’s not on sale.
If you see a sale marked 10/$10, for instance, 99% of the time you don’t have to actually buy all 10 items to get the deal – the unit price is reduced regardless of the quantity you purchase. Because who needs 10 cans of green beans?
Meal planning not only reduces time and gas costs (time = money!) because you only need to shop once or twice a week, but you can also plan multiple meals that use the same ingredients to reduce waste and the amount of groceries you need to buy. Write your grocery list out before you go shopping, organizing it by department (produce, meat, health market, pantry, etc.) go alone if you can and, as we all know, never go grocery shopping hungry!
Cook in Bulk
One of my biggest pet peeves is wasting food. There is nothing that makes me feel worse than throwing away half a bunch of soggy cilantro or a hunk of moldy cheese that I bought for one meal and didn’t know what to do with the rest. It’s throwing money directly into the trash can.
Meal planning will help reduce food waste, but making two or more batches of whatever healthy meal you’re cooking, then freezing the extra portions is a wonderful way to not only save time (just defrost, reheat, and eat!) and money by using ingredients that might otherwise go unused, but reduce the urge to order take out or visit the drive thru when you think you’ve got nothing to eat. Some of my favorite healthy meals to make in bulk then freeze for later are:
By far, the biggest savings you’ll find in regard to buying healthy food is buying and eating in-season. When supply is high, prices are low. Buy summer berries in bulk then freeze to enjoy in the winter. Plan meals around fall squash for vitamin-rich dinners. Visit local Farmer’s Markets for savings you won’t believe. Here are some of my favorite healthy and budget-friendly seasonal recipes: