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Easy Ways to Eat Healthy on a Budget

In the quest to eat a healthy diet, it is easy to spend a fortune on food. Use these tips to save money while still receiving the benefit of unprocessed, healthy foods.
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In the quest to eat a healthy diet, it is easy to spend a fortune on food. Use these 20 tips to save money while still receiving the benefit of unprocessed, healthy foods. If you are committed to eating healthy, your grocery bills are almost always higher than the average person’s unless you have a large garden or mini-farm where you grow most of your food.

It is possible to spend over $1000 a week just on food. As this is unrealistic for most people, some people have determined that healthy eating is simply outside their budget. However, this does not have to be the case. These tips can help you find healthy foods for much less and, although it would be as cheap as eating peanut butter and jelly daily for lunch, it will cost much less than $1000 per week.

What is a Realistic Food Budget?

According to the USDA, the average household of two spends no more than $800 a month on food and the average household of four spends no more than $1300 a month on food. This estimation is considered a “liberal” amount of money to spend on food each month. Of course, food costs will vary from region-to-region and someone in a large city will almost always pay more than someone living in a rural area. If you find you are spending significantly more than these estimates you would probably benefit from cutting back on your food bill.

If you find you aren’t visiting the doctor or don’t have enough money for gas because your food bill is too high, that is a sign that your food budget is beyond what you should be paying.

Make a Plan

Have you ever noticed how much different your grocery bill is when you shop with a list versus shop on a whim? If you visit the store for weekend snacks, you can quickly spend over $200 for practically nothing. But if you have a plan, you can make that $200 stretch for an entire week’s worth of food- or maybe even longer if you’re really good at meal planning.

A meal plan is not simply a list of ingredients that you need to make your food for the week. Rather, it is a plan for maximizing ingredients so that everything you buy is used more than once. Before making a list, scan the items already in your fridge and pantry to see what you have.

Try to base meals around ingredients already in your pantry. Have a lot of beans? Come up with several bean-based meals for the week. If you have a lot of lettuce, plan several salad meals. After scanning the fridge, look at the sale papers from your grocery store. Even health food stores have sales.

Meal Planning Tip
Pick your “big-ticket” items from sales flyers, like meat and produce. Most stores have sales on certain cuts of meat and different produce most weeks. Some stores even run specials on items like shampoo and vitamins. If you have a store that offers double-sale days, you can save even more.

Don’t plan elaborate meals if you do not have time to make them in the week. If you know you’re going to be busy in the next week, stick to simple meals that can be made in advance or in the slow cooker.

Don’t Go Off-List

At the store, it’s easy to be tempted to start throwing random items into the cart. If you do, you’ll find that your bill is much higher. Allow one or two impulse or “treat” purchases each trip so you don’t feel too constricted while you shop. Avoid the center of the store filled with processed foods as these foods not only are extremely unhealthy, but they also have the biggest markup on cost.

Eat What You Buy

There is a tendency to make big plans for meals and then never follow through on actually making them. If you make a realistic meal plan, you will be far more likely to want to cook your meals. But if you buy ingredients for fourteen meals, make those meals. If you buy food for home and then go out to eat or order food in instead, you are just wasting money on food you will never cook.

When thinking about your meal plan, only plan to eat in for meals that you will realistically cook. If you know that every Wednesday you exercise after work or your children have soccer on Tuesdays and Thursdays then either plan something extremely simple for those days or plan to eat those meals away from home. This will be much better for your budget.

Set a goal of eating all of the planned meals from the previous week before shopping for the next week. This will force you to make all of the meals you planned and save quite a bit of money from week-to-week.

Don’t Shop Hungry

A huge mistake while shopping is to shop when you are hungry. When you are hungry, you are far more likely to make unhealthy impulse purchases. The best time to shop is directly after a meal before you start to get hungry for the next meal.

Morning shopping is also a good idea, because we tend to think of afternoon as “snack time” which leads to the purchase of more sugary treats and junk food. Few people eat sugary snacks in the morning, which means you won’t be thinking about snacks while you shop and you will spend less and make healthier choices.

Buy Generic

There are very few households who eat zero processed or pre-packaged foods. If you are one of those households, congrats! You are much healthier than the average person. But most of us still purchase some processed foods for convenience, such as bread, milk, and frozen vegetables.

If you have the choice to pick brands, select generic brands, particularly in organic foods. Organic store brands are usually just as good as the more expensive brands but cost much less. If you have a favorite brand, by all means still purchase it, but try several generic brands before making the final call on your favorites.

Buy in Bulk

Larger packages often (but not always, so always check) cost less per serving than small packages. If you buy large quantities of staples, you will usually end up saving quite a bit if you have the storage space. This is of particular benefit when purchasing items like meat, sugar, dried beans, and flour. Look for these at your regular grocery store, at farmer’s markets (you may find a farmer selling a quarter of a cow, for example), and through warehouse membership programs.

Make More Than One Meal

For every meal that you prepare, make enough to serve leftovers. Often, recipes cost the most when made for one portion, then as you add additional portions, the cost drops dramatically. For example, you can double the serving size of spaghetti sauce by adding another can of tomatoes and nothing else. Make large portions of simple meals and eat the leftovers for lunch, the next day, or freeze the leftovers to make a quick meal later on.

Buy Inconvenient Foods

Convenient foods, such as separated eggs, grated cheese, and spice mixtures tend to cost more than the items in their original form. Cheese is usually drastically cheaper when purchased in a large block. Dried beans are much less expensive than canned beans. You can save a bundle when you purchase these items in their raw forms and prepare them from scratch at home.

Buy Cheap Meat

There are a wide range of meat cuts that vary in price. You can save a lot of money by purchasing the less favored cuts of meat. For example, chicken thighs are usually much less than chicken breasts. Strip steak is much less than ribeye steak. Depending on how you plan to use the meat, these alternate cuts of meat may work even better in your dishes than the prized cuts of meat. Many stores also run specials on certain cuts of meat if the store ordered too much of a single cut.

Always ask for manager’s specials when ordering meat from any store. You may also be able to ask for meat parts that are not traditionally eaten (like feet and organs) for a greatly reduced price or even get them for free. Since most stores just throw these parts away, they are usually willing to sell them inexpensively. These neglected meat pieces work great in soups, sauces, and stews.

Eat Alternative Proteins

While protein is important, you don’t have to eat it at every meal. Instead of eating meat, you can eat eggs, canned fish, legumes, or beans instead. Many of these alternative protein sources are extremely inexpensive. Try replacing some of your lunch meals with these proteins or have two or three nights a week where you eat an alternative protein instead of meat.

Buy In Season

It’s not difficult to tell what produce is in season at your local store because it will be the cheapest. At many grocery stores, in-season produce can cost under $1 a pound, or at the very least, under $2 a pound. Always purchase most of your produce while it is in season. Some staple produce, such as apples and oranges will always be sold inexpensively as they are in such high demand. Apples and oranges make an excellent supplement to other in-season produce.

Grow Your Own Food

Regardless of if you have a tiny backyard or several acres of property, you can grow some of your own food. Even if you live in an apartment, you can still grow food on your patio, such as herbs, tomatoes, and other vegetables. A garden is a must-have item for any health nut. Grow what you can and supplement for the rest at the grocery store. If you have a lot of land, you may even want to consider adding chickens or another meat source to reduce your grocery bill even further.

Eat From Home

Do you always eat out at lunch? Eating out is fun, but it cost much more than bringing food from home and it is much less healthy. As long as you do not have a business lunch meeting, bring some leftovers from last night’s supper to serve again for lunch. You can also pack a lunch of healthy snacks like meat pieces, cheese, vegetables, nuts, yogurt, and fruit.

Buy Online

Some online retailers sell food for less than brick and mortar stores. Often, these retailers offer discounts on items like spices, vitamins, health supplements, tea, oils, and other health foods that a regular grocery store may not carry regularly or sell for significantly more. Some online retailers even have their own club memberships with additional discounts.

Save on Junk, Splurge on Supplements

One area where you should never scrimp is supplements. Many cheap supplements do not contain much of what they claim at all. Supplement manufacturers are not regulated by the FDA and many of the cheaper manufacturers take advantage of that by offering supplements adulterated with useless fillers. If a supplement is much cheaper from one retailer than the competition, it is probably poor quality.

If you plan to take supplements, particularly if you are trying to cure or prevent a specific condition, then supplement quality is essential. Only purchase your supplements from reputable manufacturers who disclose all ingredients on the label. Generic brands and cheap brands typically do not provide the same level of benefit as the more expensive supplement brands.

You Don’t Have to Spend a Fortune to Eat Healthy

Can you spend a fortune to eat healthy? Absolutely. But do you have to? No. It is possible to eat healthy on a budget. You just have to pay attention to what you are doing and stick to your plan. By following the steps outlined above, you may find that your grocery bill drops dramatically and you have more money for other things that matter. Your health is important and worth spending money on, but not at the expense of your quality of life.



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