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“Buying healthy food costs too much.”
This is something I frequently hear from clients, family, and friends.
And yes, I understand that feeding a family off the dollar menu might be less expensive than buying all of the ingredients to make burgers and fries at home. But if you shop smart and plan ahead, cooking at home can end up saving you tons of money over time. It is possible to eat healthy on a budget and here’s what you need to know to do it.
How Much Does it Cost to Eat Healthy?
I believe that how you spend your time and money reflects what you value.
In my case, I spend on quality food and books without regard. But that also means I limit my spending in other areas, like clothing (maybe this is why everything I own came from a sale at Old Navy? maybe…).
If you’re looking to transition to a healthier way of eating, figure out if there’s a way you can pull from another category to prioritize.
The amount of money you spend on food depends on a few main things:
- Where you shop: Whole Foods probably carries a heftier price tag than your neighborhood Harris Teeter or picking up produce from the local farmer’s market.
- What you buy: A bag of organic apples is $3.99. So is a party-size bag of Cheetos.
- How much you buy: You don’t need to buy as much when you purchase nutrient-dense foods. A bag of chips is a single-serving in our house, so buying a bag of chips is one snack, whereas a bag of apples means snacks for a week.
With that in mind, I implore you to look at your weekly grocery list and try one of these 10 ways to eat well without breaking the bank.
Make a list
I used to be someone who aimlessly wandered the aisles, grabbing whatever looks good and putting random things into my cart. I’d end up at home two days after my grocery store run, wondering what I was thinking I’d make with peanut butter, noodles, and corn.
If you’re not accustomed to shopping from a list, take time to write out your meals for the week, then make your shopping list to follow your meals, not the other way around.
Pro Tip: I use printables like this weekly meal planner to figure out our meals for the week and help us stay organized.
In your list, don’t forget to include:
- Breakfast items
- Lunch items
- Dinner items
- Anything extra if you have an upcoming event this week like a cookout or church event where you’ll need to bring a dish (this sweet and spicy corn and black bean salsa is always a hit at events!)
Plan where you’ll shop
I’ve been battling our grocery budget for years. And I’ve found that certain stores are always going to be cheaper for particular items. For example, we use Costco for household staples like paper towels, toilet paper, and coffee. We get delivery from Thrive Market for spices, teas, and cat food. But our local Harris Teeter is the go-to for weekly produce needs.
I’ve found that the memberships for a club like Costco or an online vendor like Thrive Market* are well worth it. After just a few trips, I’ve already more than made up for the membership cost with deep discounts.
Buy generic or white label products
This is often a pretty easy swap for people to make unless you’re a super brand-loyal kind of person. For example, if I need a can of black beans, the grocery store brand will serve me just as well as the name brand.
Stores like Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods have their own private label version of most items. Each of which comes at a drastically reduced price point. And sometimes that lower price more than makes up for a small difference in taste.
Choose organic when it makes sense
Each year, the Environmental Working Group releases their lists of the “Dirty Dozen” and the “Clean Fifteen.” These lists are based on how many pesticides are commonly found in types of produce. I try to buy organic when it comes to the dirty dozen. But if I can’t, I can’t.
Of course, just because they’re not organic doesn’t mean you shouldn’t eat the strawberries over a donut. As a rule of thumb, go organic where you can, but if you can’t, still buy produce over heavily processed options.
Eat similar foods all week
There aren’t a ton of things my husband and I disagree on, but this is one. I could eat the same exact thing for breakfast, lunch, and dinner for weeks on end and not think a thing about it. But my dear husband would lose his mind.
If you share that sentiment, I love Cassie Joy Garcia’s book, “Cook Once Eat All Week.” She provides shopping lists that will create a week’s worth of meals using one main protein. And while meals may be similar in ingredients, they vary enough in flavor that you won’t feel like you’re repeating the same thing day after day.
Don’t fear the freezer
The freezer is one of the best tools to help stretch your grocery budget. For example, when you make a soup or casserole, consider doubling your ingredients, making two, and freezing one for later. Then, in the coming weeks, thaw the dish, and bam, you have a healthy dinner ready to be re-heated and served. It’s not only a huge money saver but also helps save time on a night you’re busy.
Stock up on frozen foods when there’s a sale
The beauty of frozen foods is that they’ll last a really long time at an incredibly affordable price point. And because they’re frozen, they tend to hold nutritional value pretty well too. I shop at Costco for our frozen items and buy large bags of wild blueberries and wild-caught salmon when there’s a sale.
Pay less for your beverages
Water is not only better for you but far less expensive than stocking up on lots of soda or juice. Leave the sugary drinks on the shelf and flavor water with fruit infusions at home instead. If you’re already buying strawberries and limes, toss a few slices into a pitcher of water and savor the fresher flavor.
Another less expensive beverage option I’ve been digging lately is LMNT electrolyte packs. I drink one each morning and after a long run when I sweat a lot. They cost around $1 each (I buy the 30-pack from Thrive Market for $34.99), making them significantly less expensive than a daily latte or Gatorade.
Let meat take a back seat
Buying meat is often the most costly experience of a shopping trip. However, incorporating meat into a meal only once or twice a week can drastically cut the budget.
If you’re an avid meat eater and cutting it out in certain meals just isn’t an option, choose to bulk up meat with beans or legumes to make it go further. Adding lots of delicious veggies is also a great way to lower the proportion of meat, meaning your carnivore budget will stretch further.
Don’t give in to impulse buys
End caps on aisles and the candy they put at the front of the store are dangerous territory. Especially if you’re shopping when you haven’t eaten in a few hours! Don’t give in to the temptation to grab just a candy bar or two. It’s money you don’t need to add to your grocery budget’s bottom line.
The Main Thing About Eating Healthy on a Budget
Planning is everything when you’re trying to eat well on a budget. In addition to knowing what you’ll eat for each meal ahead of time, you’ll also need to figure out where to get the best deals. Remember to:
- Evaluate prices at the stores around you and online options like Thrive Market.
- Don’t be afraid of the bulk purchase when things are on sale or using your freezer to stock up on items you’ll definitely use.
- Go organic when you can, but don’t let the limited availability of non-organic options stop you from filling up your grocery cart with fruits and veggies.
Do you have another way you cut back on spending without sacrificing health and quality? I’d love to hear about the ways you eat healthy on a budget in the comments!