Tips For Eating Healthy On A Budget

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Shorter Version

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Is eating healthy really more expensive? Not if you plan ahead and shop smart! Eating a variety of nutritious foods can still be done on a friendly budget. Stay on track with your health and nutrition goals while saving money by planning ahead. Make a meal plan with an organized shopping list and stick to it! Find your inner chef and prepare most meals at home where you can control the cost, the type of ingredients, and the portions. Shop smart with coupons and weekly store ads. Utilize the bulk foods section for high-quality and non-perishable pantry staples. Know that all whole-foods are “superfoods,” so there’s no need to buy fancy food products or powders. Stock your freezer with whole-foods purchased in-season and homemade meals cooked in large batches. Keep reading for more ways to maximize your dollar and eat cheap healthy meals!

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Longer Version

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Eating healthy foods does not have to be expensive. You can stock your pantry and keep plenty of fresh foods on hand simply by coming up with a plan and shopping smart. Start with a few of these tips that will help you stay on track with your health goals while still sticking to your budget.

Foster your inner chef

The first step in eating healthy on a budget is to eat at home. Dining out can put a pretty big dent in the wallet because you’re paying extra for the labor, convenience, and service. Making your own healthy meals is not only a money-saver, but you can also control the source of ingredients, portion sizes, and preparation methods. When you have a good game plan for shopping and food prepping, nutritious meals will be a total game-changer in your health!

Let’s look at the cost breakdown of purchasing a “superfood” smoothie compared to blending up your own. Store-bought smoothies can range anywhere between $6 and $12 dollars (even more when you add extra “boosters”). For example, Jamba Juice’s Banana Berry Smoothie costs $6.89 for a 16-oz serving. The same smoothie can be made at home for only $2 for seven 16-oz servings. That’s a week’s worth of delicious, nutrient-dense yumminess for only two bucks! The following tips about how to shop smart for healthy foods, cooking in bulk, and how to maximize your groceries will change your mind about going to the smoothie bowl shop on the corner.

Shop smart – save big

After you’ve decided to cook at home, it’s time to stock the kitchen with the essentials and weekly go-to foods. Use your meal plan to make a grocery shopping list to help stay on track. Don’t be afraid to use the weekly store ads and coupons to help you plan for the week. Compare name brands with store brands. Typically, store brand items are the same nutrient breakdown as name brands at a much lower cost, so look up and down the shelves, as name brands pay more to be on the shelves at eye-level. You can compare the price per unit between products for an even further breakdown (see an example of unit prices here). Also, if Farmer’s Markets are your thing, try showing up towards the end when farmers are more likely to give discounted prices so they don’t have to re-transport their food.

Prioritize any specialty foods like organics and “superfoods”. Any whole-food is going to be a real superfood, so don’t be fooled by the food industry’s latest elixir powders and veggie chips. A study published in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior illustrated that families in low-income areas were able to meet their daily nutrient needs simply by purchasing the most basic supermarket items like whole grains, fresh fruits, and vegetables.

First, fill your basket with fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fat sources and then determine if your budget allows for a fun “superfood”. Do you really need that super-greens powder or can you get the same benefit from eating a balance of nutrient-dense meals made from your whole-foods? Determine if you would like to purchase organically. If you do choose this route, stick to purchasing leafy greens and produce where you eat the skin, like strawberries.

Stay in season!

Seasonal foods are going to be less expensive than out-of-season foods, so it’s to your wallet’s benefit to be eating seasonally. Stick with your region’s seasonal produce guide to know the best time of year to buy certain fruits and veggies.

Bulk up on these pantry staples

Shop the bulk aisle for high-quality and non-perishable staples like nuts, seeds, grains, beans, and legumes. It may seem like a lot of money spent up front, but each individual serving is much less expensive compared to buying smaller packages of these items. Stored properly, these items will last a long time and are nice to have on hand at all times.

These items are also naturally available year-round and are very nutrient-dense. Make these foods a priority in your meal planning to keep costs low.

Make convenience at home

Convenience items like baby carrots, spiralized zucchini, hummus, and instant granola are priced according to their convenience. Set aside time during your meal preparation to make your own convenience items. Whole carrots can be washed and sliced for snacking. Zucchini is easily spiralized with a handheld spiralizer or simply using a vegetable peeler. Cook rolled oats in bulk and quickly heat them up before eating later in the week. Not only will you save money making your own convenience foods, but you’ll avoid any of the preservatives or chemicals added to store-bought versions. Save the store-bought variations for when you really need to save time.

Stock that freezer

Frozen whole-foods are just as nutritious as their fresh counterparts. America is fortunate enough to have a variety of fruits and vegetables available in the freezer section year-round. When not in season, purchase frozen whole-foods making sure the nutrition label lists only the fruits or vegetables you would naturally buy in the produce section.

Freeze your own healthy foods at home, too. Stock up on pricier items when they go on sale and immediately freeze when you get home. Load up on seasonal produce at a low cost, prep for freezing, and save them for an off-season treat. Look for proteins, like chicken and fish, that are on sale due to their “sell-by” date. These proteins are perfectly safe to freeze, thaw, and prep later on (learn more about food product dates here). Freezing also applies to meals cooked in large batches.

Plan and prep for eating healthy on a budget

Shop until you drop and put it all right into practice! When you plan out your weekly meals and snacks and write a shopping list, you’re more likely to stick to this plan and save money from high-cost foods or dining out. Along with a good plan, immediately prepping your meals or snacks reduces food waste so that every healthy penny nourishes your body. Carefully thought out portion sizes, purchasing only the necessary amount of foods to make your meals, and having a purpose for each ingredient in the kitchen helps your healthy eating stay on task.

Cook in batches

Cook once, eat all week! When it’s time to prep your healthy foods, try to cook in larger batches so that your one or two cooking times will last you most of the week. You’ll put those bulk foods to good use and can immediately freeze leftover portions for later helping you limit future trips to the store or eating out.

Actionable Steps


Make a meal plan

Check out our meal planning tips here!


Make a grocery list

Make a grocery list using your meal plan and the tips above.


Stay focused!

Shop, prep, and eat healthy!


Learn more about this

Refer to these handy resources for a refresher and for more tips on shopping healthy on a budget and eating cheap healthy meals: Eat Right’s Eating Right on a Budget and ChooseMyPlate’s Eating Better on a Budget.

Still need help? Ask the coaches!

About the Author

shannon costello

Shannon Costello

Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN)

Shannon is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN), Health Coach, Certified Personal Trainer, and Group Fitness Instructor with over 5 years of experience working in Corporate Wellness specializing in overall health, nutrition, and fitness. Throughout her journey to becoming an RDN, she grew her passion for culinary nutrition by teaching and developing hands-on cooking classes for all ages in the community.
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