Figuring out how to eat healthy on a budget doesn’t have to include Excel spreadsheets, long division, or extreme coupon books (wait, are those still a thing?).

You’re likely here because you started your nutrition and health journey, began creating your macro-friendly shopping list, hit the grocery store, and then thought to yourself, “Wait, why is all this healthy food so expensive?” or “Can I even afford to eat this way?”

Spoil alert: eating healthy doesn’t have to break the bank.

Today, we’re sharing our favorite tips and tricks to eat healthy on a budget to fill your fridge and pantry with healthy options you’re proud to put in your mouth and on your credit card.


How to Grocery Shop on a Budget

Before diving into what to look for in-store, do a little survey of what options are available.

Though delicious, fancier stores like Whole Foods can quickly cost you your whole paycheck. Chain supermarkets like Kroger, Hannaford, Walmart, and Publix (to name a few!) will likely be more cost-effective. Novelty grocery stores like Trader Joe’s can give you even more bang for your (literal) buck.

Before diving into our budget-friendly tips, make sure you have a budget in the first place. Map out your monthly expenses and determine how much you can spend on groceries weekly. It is okay if this takes some trial and error, but walking into a store budget-blind is a sure way to experience sticker shock as the bill racks up.

Once you have your budget, use the tips for saving money while grocery shopping below to maximize your allotted spend.


Budget-Friendly Nutrition Tips and Tricks

1. Stick with Simple Meals and Ingredients

Think protein + veggie + starch. Buying several ingredients for one meal isn’t realistic when you’re on a tight budget, so load up on plain staples and season them to add variety. Mustard, soy sauce, hot sauce, taco seasoning, ranch seasoning, and various spices are great places to start.

2. Eat In-Season Produce

Produce that is “in season” tends to be cheaper than their out-of-season counterparts. For example, tomatoes and cucumber are in season in the summer, and zucchini and corn are in season in the fall. You can also check local Farm Stands for in-season produce and buy straight from the source (while supporting your community). Apps like Farmish and SimplyLocal can help you search for stands near you.  

3. Buy Generic and Store Brand

Buy EVERYTHING in generic. EVERYTHING. Store-brand groceries are up to 40% cheaper than name-brand mostly due to name brands needing to offset marketing costs. 

4. Drop Your Grocery Store Bias

Did you know Walmart is the leading grocery retailer for organic foods? Check places like Walmart, Aldi, or even Amazon for packaged items. You might have to drop your bias surrounding what you consider a “good” grocery store. Most foods at most grocery stores are sourced from the exact same place as the store across the street. 

5. Price check! 

Don’t be afraid to shop around the store for a few minutes before you grab a cart. Better yet, try a few different stores over a couple of weeks and compare prices as you go. When every dollar counts, saving $0.50 on multiple items on your list really does make a difference. 

Quick Tip: Price tags for food almost always include a “per oz” price. This is an easy way to compare prices across brands or stores.

6. Online order for pickup

If you know how much money you have to spend on groceries each week, try ordering online so you can keep close track of your cart total. This makes it easy to stay focused on your list and avoid tempting (expensive) extras.

7. Go for Canned and Frozen Options

Frozen fruits and veggies are typically cheaper than fresh produce because they keep longer. Did you know that most fruits and veggies are flash-frozen at peak ripeness? This can make them just as healthy (if not more!) than their fresh counterparts. Just make sure not to grab bags full of pre-seasoned/oiled options!

Like frozen foods, canned goods have a longer shelf life than fresh foods so they’re more reasonably priced. Try canned beans, fruits, and veggies for under a dollar a can!

8. Try cheaper meat cuts

Minced beef, stewing cuts, round/rump steak, chicken thighs, whole chickens, and organs are more affordable than fancier cuts. In these cases, it is important to remember that these options tend to either be extra-lean or super-fatty. This article will teach you how to cook lean meat that isn’t dry or tough. For fattier cuts, ensure it fits your macros, and trim off fat if necessary!

9. Only Buy Expensive Items in Bulk

Frozen protein, frozen veggies, and protein powder are good foods to buy in bulk. And remember, you can always buy these options fresh and throw them in your freezer at home.

Avoid the snack aisles, as these are typically not priced to reflect a bulk purchase! (Plus, big bags of snack foods can do a number on your macros!). 

If money is tight, it’s worth checking how much you’re saving and only buying foods in bulk that is truly a better deal. Remember to check the price per pound!

10. Keep a List

Most of the money lost on groceries happens because people rarely eat all the food they buy. Keep a list of the foods and ingredients you have on hand and the foods you need to buy at the grocery store so you don’t accidentally double up. 

11. Prep, prep, prep

Pre-chopping, portioning, or cooking straight away will help you stick to your plan instead of forgetting foods in the back of your fridge or opting for take-out after a busy night when you have no motivation to cook (read: more money AND more waste!). Our Ultimate Meal Prep Guide will help you create a prepping strategy that works best for your goals and your schedule.


Reduce Waste to Save Money on Healthy Foods

Most of the money lost on groceries happens because people rarely eat all the food they buy. Especially when we’re chatting about buying in bulk, the next question is, “What if I buy all this food and don’t eat it fast enough?”

Here are some simple strategies to reduce food waste (and less money spent on food in general): 

Get creative: If there is peanut butter stuck at the bottom of your jar, add oats and milk to make PB overnight oats for breakfast tomorrow. Have random restaurant leftovers? Turn it into a salad or sandwich or add sauce to make a tasty pasta dish.

Prep, prep, prep: When you bring groceries home, prep them and keep the healthy choice, the easy choice. Pre-chopping, portioning or cooking straight away will help you stick to your plan instead of forgetting these foods in the back of your fridge or opting for take-out after a busy night when you have no motivation to cook (read: more money AND more waste!).

Freeze it: If you bought too many fresh fruits and veggies and can’t eat them fast enough, throw them in the freezer before they go bad. You can use them later for sauteing, stir-fries, or microwave meals! Make sure to chop them before they freeze if you want them in pieces later!

Stay organized and tidy: Labels, jars and shopping lists help you track what you currently have so you’re not doubling up or forgetting what foods are already in your fridge, freezer and pantry. Make sure to keep your fresh food in the crisper to keep it fresher, longer and putting avocado and other veggies in the fridge can slow their ripping process if you need more time to work them into your nutrition plan!

Cook nose-to-tail: Did you know that a lot of an animal is left behind because consumers only favor certain cuts or don’t know how to properly utilize everything they buy? Explore unique cuts, organs (mmm chicken giblets and beef tongue!) and use leftover bones to make broth and soup. These ‘forgotten’ cuts are actually really, really nutritious, super affordable, and nose-to-tail cooking has a very positive effect on the environment. Waste not, want not! 


Get Grocery Shopping!

It is possible to eat healthy on a budget, it just takes a little more research, attention, and planning ahead. Create a budget, stick with store-brand products, and much as possible, opt for frozen and canned options when possible, and don’t assume that just because you buy in bulk, you’re getting a deal!

If you need a little support creating a budget-friendly menu, our RDN-written meal plans were created with saving money in mind!