Eating healthy on a budget

So I was originally going to post a recipe but I decided that could wait until tomorrow. I’ve been meaning to do this post for awhile and a friend of mine finally gave me the push I needed to get this post started. My friend messaged me on facebook and recalled how I had mentioned that it is possible to eat healthy while on a budget. Looking around at the items in people’s grocery carts and the rates of obesity, you would think that’s not true. But I was part of a 6 week teaching course (I was the nutrition instructor; there was also a chef and a coordinator) and we taught people not only how to eat healthy and cook healthy meals, but also how to shop while on a budget since our demographic was low-income families. They were people who had families and wanted to learn how to support their families in a healthier way. So it can be done. Even if you are not low income, these are still useful tips. Why pay more money if you don’t have to?

So let’s start with what to do before you even step foot into a grocery store:

1) Plan!! Do not walk into a grocery store willy nilly and expect to come out empty handed. My fiance and I are so bad at doing this. We will walk into the store for like 2 things and walk out with a cart full of stuff. Or I remember the worst, we went into the store for a few things and ended up spending $130 on groceries. yeah, don’t do that lol Try to plan what meals you want to make ahead of time and base your list off of those meals. if you can, try to even plan meals that use the same ingredients so you don’t have to buy a butt load of stuff. you can use essentially the same ingredients for more than one meal. when i buy produce, i try to think of ways to use it in more ways than one so if i have extra, it won’t go to waste.

2) Know your budget! budget budget budget! make sure you have a budget and more importantly, stick to it. if you don’t have a budget, then you’re more likely to just throw things in the cart because really, what’s a $3 bag of chips going to do? well, if you do this repeatedly, it will add up. just think if you buy extras like that every time you go to the store, you’re essentially just wasting money. if you don’t use all the money in your budget, then save it! that money could go towards some other expense, like gas!

3) clip those coupons! coupons are a great way to save some money as well as catching items on sale. Scour the ads and try to plan your meals based on what is on sale. I know, it’s not easy to plan ahead of time. Your tastes may change or one night you decide you really want chocolate chip cookies but you didn’t “plan” for them. Just do the best you can and try to plan as best you can.

4) Bring a snack with you to the store or eat beforehand. I’m sure we’ve all heard by now not to shop on an empty stomach. You’re bound to just buy things left and right when you’re hungry. so make sure to go after you’ve eaten so you’re not thinking about food.

5) Check to see what you have on hand. Again, don’t just go to the store willy nilly without knowing what you already have at home. You don’t want to buy a carton of eggs only to find out you already have 2 cartons at home. In the end, it may not pay off to have those extras because they may go bad before you get a chance to eat them.

So now onto what to do while at the store:

fruits and produce:

– buy when in season. they are definitely much cheaper when bought in season.

– watch out for the higher priced prepackaged produce. often these are fruit or veggies slices rather than whole fruits or veggies so you don’t know when they were cut which means their shelf life is much shorter than regular produce.

– only buy produce in bulk if you will use it all before it goes bad. if you have a big family, then bulk makes sense. but if you’re just a 2 person household, this most likely won’t benefit you.

– take advantage of frozen fruits and veggies. these can be just as healthy as fresh produce plus you have the added bonus of being able to freeze them and use them when it suits you.

Meat, poultry, and fish

– buy larger packages of meat if you can package and freeze for later use

– check unit pricing to find the lower price per pound.

– look for meat that is close to its “sell by date“. it will often be marked down. but make sure to use it sooner than regular meat so it doesn’t go bad.

Milk, eggs, and dairy

– compare the unit prices of cheese, milk, and yogurt in different package sizes to find the best buy. I have gotten jipped so many times because I never took advantage of the unit price information. Here is an example of where to find it:


– you could always make your own bread. I’m a big advocate of making my own breads and if it wasn’t for my fiance, I wouldn’t even buy bread at the store. But if you don’t have the time to make your own, you can look for specials. day old bakery items are sometimes on sale.

– freeze bread when it won’t be used right away. same goes for hamburger buns and even bread you make at home. I usually freeze half of anything I make so it lasts longer.


– choose store brands or bagged cereals. These are often much cheaper than the brand names. plus, often time store brand is just as good as brand name.

– do not buy cereal that is at eye level. these are the more expensive ones. choose ones that are on top shelves or lower shelves.

Just some more tips:

– know the prices of the foods you typically buy so when you see a sale, you will know whether it’s actually a good deal.

– do not get lured in by the end of aisle displays. these are typically items that the store wants to get rid of because they aren’t selling. so they place them at the end of the aisles hoping to lure people in. typically, they aren’t the best deals.

– just like with cereals, watch out for products that are placed at eye level. they may cost more and be less healthy.

– try to purchase foods that line the outer perimeter of the store. these usually include fresh fruits and veggies, dairy/milk/eggs, meat/fish/poultry, and bread. the foods in the aisles are packaged and processed foods. foods you want to try to avoid if possible. obviously there are some exceptions (like frozen produce and the essentials like flour and baking supplies, etc).

After you shop:

1) make foods at home as much as possible. most of what I eat now is homemade, i made it myself so i know exactly what is in it. eating out typically only lasts you for one meal (for me those meals last like 4 days but for normal people, they usually only last for that one meal) so while enjoyable, it’s not doing you a lot of good financial wise. or health wise. when i make a homecooked meal, it typically lasts a couple of days, not just one meal. i know this will vary for people who have families so this may not work in your favor all of the time. even still, it’s just healthier making meals yourself. as mentioned above, you’ll know exactly what’s in it because you made it. and you can adjust it to meet various health needs (lactose intolerance, gluten intolerance, etc). often these “special” foods are more expensive at the store.

2) try to avoid waste as much as possible. use leftover foods in stews, casseroles, soups, or stir fry dishes.

3) pack leftovers for lunches or snacks at work or school.

4) freeze foods that you won’t use right away so they won’t go bad.

Stocking your pantry

it’s important to be aware of what’s in your pantry. there are often all kinds of goodies in there that can easily be added to a meal to take it from blah to healthy and tasty.

– canned beans like kidney, black, pinto, or lima beans can be added to soups or salads. or they make great side dishes or can be added to main dishes.

– canned salmon and tuna add protein to salads, casseroles, and pasta

– make sure to always have baking essentials on hand (flour, sugar, baking powder, and baking soda). they are often the basis for many fresh baked goods. so if you want fresh baked rolls with your main dish, you can easily make them instead of relying on canned rolls (like Pillsbury). many quick breads and canned breads contain trans fats and other chemicals you don’t need.

– make sure to keep track of the spices and herbs you use most often. that way you can catch them on sale rather than having to buy them at full price when you run out. they are a great way to add some flavor to dishes as well as extra nutrients like antioxidants.

– dried fruits and nuts make a great snack on their own or can be added to cereals, baked goods, or yogurt for extra nutrients.

– canola and olive oils are healthy choices when cooking or baking so make sure to always have these on hand.they are also useful for making your own dressings.

– keep apple cider, red wine rice, or balsamic vinegar on hard for homemade salad dressings and marinades.

– canned or powdered milk keep longer than fresh. they can often be used in place of fresh milk in recipes.

– canned tomato sauce and whole, diced, or pureed tomatoes are great to keep on hand as they are also basic ingredients in many recipes. just be sure to check sodium content if using canned tomatoes or tomato sauces.

– cereals can be used to make trail mixed, baked goods, or crispy coatings for meat, poultry, and fish.

– canned fruits and veggies like pineapple, applesauce, corn, and green beans make quick and easy side dishes or snacks on their own. or, use as an ingredient to stretch main dishes.

* Onions, apples, oranges and potatoes are cheaper when you buy them by the bag rather than individually.

Compared to pre-packaged salad mixes, whole heads of lettuce are a better buy. Go for darker greens, such as romaine and red leaf for the most nutrients.

• Don’t throw away scraps. Broccoli stalks, for example, can be frozen and pureed in soup.

Red, orange and yellow veggies tend to cost more so if you’re making a recipe that calls for red peppers, save money by using green peppers or substituting one red pepper for a green one.

In the meat department, look for “Manager’s Specials.” They’re meats that are about to expire for typically around $2 off the tab. “They’re the best way to get great steaks and other meat at an affordable price,” Bradley says. The trick is to prepare or freeze them immediately. More tips: Buy a whole chicken instead of packages of chicken breasts or parts (that’s somebody touching them, upping the price) and debone it yourself. (Go on YouTube to see how it’s done). Boil the bones to make your own chicken stock. Moms: Make your own chicken nuggets too and freeze them.

In the dairy department, buy skin/nonfat milk. The saturated fat that 1, 2 percent and whole milk contains isn’t heart healthy. If you like soy milk, keep in mind that ounce per ounce, it’s double the cost of cow’s milk. More tips: Shredded cheese can be a good buy if it’s on sale. In that case, buy several packages and freeze for later, Bradley says.

In the frozen section, skip the pre-bagged seasonal fruit. Now that berries and other fruit is in season and consequently at the lowest price of the year, stock up at the supermarket and farmer’s markets, and freeze it yourself. You’ll be so glad you have those homemade bags of frozen blueberries or peaches come October. What else can you freeze? Tomato paste. “When you’re making something that only calls for 1 tablespoon, freeze the rest in tablespoon-size portions in an ice cube tray,” Bradley suggests.

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