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 so you can fill your fridge and pantry with healthy options you’re proud to put in your mouth and on your credit card.
Grocery Shopping on a Budget
Before diving into what to look for in-store, do a little survey of what options are available.
Fancier stores like Whole Foods - though DELISH - can quickly cost you your whole paycheck. Chain supermarkets like Kroger, Hannaford, Walmart, and Publix (to name a few!) are likely going to be more cost-effective. Then, places like Trader Joe’s can give you even more bang for your (literal) buck.
Since your local stores tend to be the most accessible place to grab your groceries and eat healthy on a budget, let’s start there.
Budget-Friendly Nutrition Tips and Tricks
- Shop seasonal: In-season fruits and veggies are more plentiful so they’re often more reasonably priced. An added bonus? Produce is often most nutritious when it is in season.
- Stay local: Not only does this support your community, but foods that aren’t transported from far away places can also be more wallet-friendly.
- Grab overripe options: Baking, reducing, and making jams and sauces is easier (and yummier) with extra-ripe produce. Most local grocery stores or veggie markets want to get these off the shelves ASAP and mark them down. You could also buy these to store in your freezer for later.
- Browse the frozen foods: Frozen fruits and veggies are typically cheaper than fresh produce because they keep longer. Plus, 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!
- Try canned: Just 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!
- 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 so it isn’t dry or tough. For fattier cuts, make sure it fits your macros and trim off fat if necessary!
- Farmers’ markets and stands: This one depends on the farm and the time of day! You may find cheaper produce at local farm stands that are open every day than you would at a grocery store. But, if you hit the weekly farmer’s market, you may find those prices to be much higher. If you’re dying for some local produce, hit the stand later in the day you may be able to grab some good deals on the few items the stalls have leftover.
- Go off-brand: Most grocery stores have their own branded products that are cheaper than name-brand options. These are typically the EXACT same product with a different label. Many grocery stores even reward you for buying their products with different sales/promos or by giving you money back on certain items. Make sure to join your store’s savings program!
Buy in Bulk to Save Money
It is no secret that bulk buying is where the big savings are. But, what should you buy and where can you find it? Here are some of our favs:
- Costco, BJ's Wholesale Club & Sam’s Club: Here, you can find everyday dry-store products at wholesale prices. Egg whites, fresh or frozen produce, fresh and frozen meats, cheeses, grains, veggies… you name it. You’ll save time and money buying pantry staples in advance, giving you more opportunity to search for fresh produce on a weekly basis in other places if you wish.
- Take it online: If you don’t have a physical store near you, there are some online bulk-buying options. Thrive Market is a great place to get high-quality, organic dry-good options. Misfit Market delivers “ugly” veggies that aren’t perfect enough for store shelves right to your door for up to 40% cheaper than local stores.
- Ask your Local Cafe or Restaurant: Develop a relationship with a local restaurant, cafe or business and see if you can get in on their next dry stock order. Hospitality businesses get wholesale prices for their suppliers. Business owners often get discounts the more they buy, so it is a win/win!
- Get a Meat Share: If you’re all about that long-term investment, get involved in a meat share. Rally some friends (or buy a big enough freezer) and buy an entire cow from a local farmer in advance. Ask your local butcher if they can order one for you or help you find a farm.
- Cow Pooling: If you don’t have enough people to share a whole cow with, try cow pooling. It is an initiative started by like-minded, meat-eating, environmental impact and nutrition-conscious folks who want to make it easier to get their hands on some quality beef. There isn’t exactly a directory or service for it, so start asking around, create a meetup, or post in your local Facebook groups. You could even approach a local farmer - they might know others interested in going in on it with you.
Reduce Wastage 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’ll want them in pieces later!
Stay organized and tidy: Labels, jars and shopping lists help you keep track of 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 a bit 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!
What happens once you get those foods home? Well, some of the most macro-friendly recipes are also the most budget-friendly. The key ingredients are usually low-cost vegetable and/or meat cuts. Think peasant-style cooking, which originated from the need to make creative, delicious food using only the ingredients that families could grow themselves or trade for!
Now that you have some ideas to keep your grocery shopping delish, simple and budget-friendly, it’s time to get out there!