How to Eat Healthy on a Budget
“I can’t afford to eat healthy” is probably the most common statement I hear from people who come to me for advice on how to achieve the body of their dreams. It’s not their fault. If you think about it, we were never taught in school how to eat healthy on a budget, open a bank account, take out a loan, or change a tire. Instead, we had to learn all about the different kinds of clouds, cursive handwriting, and how to play the recorder.
It’s also not their fault because, in a world that is becoming more and more obsessed with eating healthy so we can live 150 years and prevent wrinkles, we’re told by “fitness gurus” that we have to eat cocoa nibs and drink green juices to achieve impeccable health and salads won’t cut it. You DO NOT need fancy and expensive ingredients to be healthy. A simple and straightforward diet works just fine.
10 Ways to Eat Healthy on a Budget
1. Meal Prep and Make a Grocery List
If you plan, you know exactly what to buy and how much. Meal prepping is one of the most cost-efficient ways to eat. You have your meals ready every day so you never have the excuse of “I don’t have time to cook”. When you meal prep, you know exactly what you need.
Before I got into the habit of meal prepping, I would end up buying a lot of vegetables and meats without a plan for them and they would get shoved in the back of the fridge. I would eventually forget about them and notice them only when they start smelling and it’s too late. This is a massive waste of money and food.
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2. Skip the Name Brands or Compare the Price Per Unit
Besides meal prepping, this step is essential to eat healthy on a budget. It’s easy to believe that a brand name with fancy and eye-catching packaging is healthier for you and that’s exactly what they want you to think. Many of these products actually come from the same place and are packaged in the same facilities but it’s the brand name that ends up costing you 15%-30% more.
I’m not talking about pre-made frozen meals and snacks like chocolate, flavored yogurts, etc. With foods that combine many ingredients, brand-name and generic will vary significantly in nutritional content and quality. I’m talking about single-ingredient staple foods such as:
- Fruits and vegetables
- Nuts and seeds
- Plain dairy products
Oats are oats. Whether they’re brand-name or generic, they should have the same nutritional content because they’re the same ingredient. Using Walmart as an example, Quaker oats are 3.6 cents/ounce more expensive than Walmart’s generic brand Great Value. This may not seem like a lot but if you do this for each item you buy, it adds up.
Below each item on the shelf, there is a price tag that gives you the cost of your item in cents per weight. The weight is sometimes in ounces or pounds and this can be anywhere on the price tag so keep an eye out for this to make sure you get the best value! Utilizing this was an absolute game-changer for me.
Generic isn’t always the most cost-efficient though. It’s all going to come down to the cost per weight. Using Walmart as an example again, brand-name rice is cheaper than Great Value rice and is also 5 times bigger. Bulk doesn’t always mean cheaper but in a lot of situations, it does.
3. DO NOT Go to the Store Hungry
If you want to eat healthy on a budget, DO NOT go to the store hungry. I repeat, DO NOT go to the store hungry. When you’re hungry, you’ll crave everything you see, even the things you normally hate, and end up spending way more than you usually would because you bought things you didn’t need. Everything seems appetizing when you’re hungry. You then go home, eat, and stare at the pile of nonsense you wasted your money on.
4. Choose Your Grocery Store Wisely
It’s important to take note of what you tend to buy the most and choose a grocery store that offers the most affordable prices on those items. Stores like Target are on average 15% more expensive than most grocery stores.
I’m a Food Lion girl. Food Lion always has sales, especially on meats so I end up saving a lot of money. In addition, Food Lion has their own affordable organic, hormone-free brand which is highly underrated.
5. Dine In, Not Out
When it comes to healthy food, dining in is almost always cheaper than dining out. A kale Caesar salad from Chopt is 2x more expensive than a homemade kale Caesar salad even if you buy brand-name healthy ingredients from Food Lion with excess dressing and cheese.
DO NOT compare the price of a fast food meal to the price of a healthy home-made dinner. The only thing they have in common is that they’re food. Yes, a burger from Wendy’s can be cheaper than a healthy home-made meal, depending on what you’re making, but Wendy’s isn’t healthy so that’s not the point here. Also, DO NOT compare the price of a healthy simple meal you bought to a healthy and extremely complicated meal you made and had to use 50 ingredients for. To eat healthy on a budget, you have to keep things simple which shouldn’t be confused for boring either.
6. Use Your Freezer! Don’t Rule Out Frozen Fruits and Vegetables
When I find meats, fruits, and vegetables on sale, I buy what I can and stash them in the freezer. This is the beauty of modern technology and there’s nothing wrong with this method. There’s also nothing wrong with buying pre-frozen meats, fruits, and vegetables! I buy a bag of frozen soup mix from Food Lion for $1.99 containing 5 servings of carrots, potatoes, corn, lima beans, green beans, peas, okra, celery, and onions. Buying these vegetables separately would cost a lot and require long prep-time.
7. Eat Seasonally
We’re surrounded by fruits and vegetables year-round because we import a lot of them from other countries. You may have noticed that certain fruits and vegetables are far more expensive in the winter than in the summer because of this. The smart thing to do is eat seasonally. For a more complete list of seasonal fruits and vegetables, click here for USDA’s list.
8. Skip Organic*
Some fruits and vegetables are better bought organic than non-organic but I think we can all agree that eating non-organic fruits and vegetables is better than eating fast food and highly processed foods. If you’re a meat-eater, organic and hormone-free meats are better but again, non-organic meats are still better than fast food and highly processed foods. Organic is really expensive so if you’re on a budget and you still want to eat healthier than you are now, don’t let the fact that you can’t buy organic discourage you! The organic vs. non-organic debate deserves a separate blog so I’ll leave it at that.
9. Don’t Underestimate the Power of a Simple Meal
I love my smoothie bowls topped with ridiculous amounts of chia seeds, hemp hearts, bee pollen, cocoa nibs, and fresh fruit. While my smoothie bowls are healthy, they’re unnecessary and I don’t need them to be healthy. In all honesty, I’m probably getting too many certain nutrients that my body is just throwing out.
It’s okay to have a simple snack such as an apple instead of a 20 ingredients smoothie bowl. It’s okay to have a simple dinner consisting of rice, chicken, and asparagus. Don’t let a simple meal make you feel any less healthy.
When in doubt, K.I.S.S: Keep It Simple, Stupid
Unless you’re deficient in something or you know you aren’t getting certain nutrients due to dietary restrictions, you don’t need supplements. Supplements can be a huge waste of money and you don’t need them to be healthier and taking them won’t automatically make you healthier. Excess nutrients get thrown out the excess or can be very harmful to your body. It’s like flushing money down the toilet. The one thing you should probably be taking is vitamin D. Most Americans are deficient in vitamin D and most doctors won’t even test it because of that. When it comes to Vitamin D, even if you aren’t deficient there’s no harm in taking it.