It’s true, eating healthy CAN cost more than eating processed foods. Especially if your shopping at Whole Foods or if your buying organic, non-gmo, gluten free cookies (you get my point). While it all may sound good, I can eat healthier and for less money than some people who shop at Whole Foods and buys those things.
How do I do this?
I focus on eating high-quality foods that are minimally processed. This means lots of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, healthy fats, and healthy sources of protein.
I stay away from low-quality foods such as snack foods like the cookies I mentioned above. I avoid frying foods and limit the amount of refined grains, and refined sugar.
If you focus on eating a higher quality diet and follow my tips below, you will learn how to eat healthier on a budget!
1. Eat a lot of fruits and vegetables
There are so many ways to prepare fruits and vegetables so you can eat more. Try to eat as many fresh as you can, they taste better than frozen or canned. Fruits and vegetables are cheap (typically less than 30 cents a serving) and are filled with nutrition your body needs. They are full of antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, plus, the fiber in them will help keep you full.
Ways to eat more fruits:
- Add them to a shake
- Homemade popsicles
- Grilled. Best fruits to grill are pineapples, peaches, watermelon, and pears
- Baked. Best fruits to bake are peaches and apples
- On top of cereal or yogurt
- Chopped on a salad
- Make a fruit salad
- Infuse fruit in water
Ways to eat more veggies:
- Learn to grill, bake, saute, and steam vegetables for side dishes. Experiment with new seasonings to keep flavors interesting.
- Make a stir fry
- Keep a fresh vegetable tray with dipping sauce in the fridge for a quick and easy snack. Ranch, hummus, blue cheese, or other dressings make great dipping sauces!
- Make vegetable soup
- Make a green smoothie
- Infuse them in water
2. Eat produce that is in season
Produce that is in season is not only cheaper, but is also much more flavorful! When produce is grown during its optimal time, the plant is able to devote the correct resources to grow the perfect piece of fruit or vegetable. This is also why produce that is in season has more vitamins and minerals than fruit produced in the off season. See below for a month by month guide on seasonal produce.
January: bok choy, brussel sprouts, collard greens, cauliflower, kale, leeks, mushrooms, onions, grapefruit, lemons, oranges, papayas, potatoes, sweet potatoes, turnips, and winter squashes
February: bok choy, brussel sprouts, collard greens, kale, leeks, lemons, mushrooms, oranges, onions, potatoes, sweet potatoes, winter squash
March: avocado, bok choy, broccoli, brussel sprouts, cabbage, collard greens, kale, leeks, lettuce, mushrooms, oranges, onions, potatoes, spinach
April: avocado, broccoli, brussel sprouts, cabbage, collard greens, kale, leeks, lettuce, mango, mushrooms, onions, peas, spinach
May: avocado, broccoli, cabbage, collard greens, green beans, lettuce, mango, mushrooms, onions, peas, spinach
June: avocado, bell pepper, cucumber, eggplant, garlic, green beans, jalapeno peppers, lettuce, mango, mushrooms, peaches, peas, summer squashes, tomato, watermelon
July: watermelon, corn, cucumbers, green beans, lettuce, summer squash, tomatoes, apricots, blueberries, cantaloupe, kiwis, peaches, plums, raspberries, strawberries
August: watermelon, corn, cucumbers, eggplant, green beans, lettuce, summer squash, tomatoes, apricots, blueberries, cantaloupe, kiwis, peaches, plums, raspberries, strawberries
September: watermelon, eggplant, lettuce, spinach, tomatoes, grapes, pomegranates
October: broccoli, lettuce, spinach, sweet potatoes, winter squash, apples, cranberries, grapes, pomegranates
November: brocolli, mushrooms, spinach, sweet potatoes, winter squash, cranberries, oranges, tangerines, pears, pomegranates
December: brocolli, cauliflower, mushrooms, sweet potatoes, grapefruit, oranges, papayas, pears, pomegranates, tangerines
3. Get creative with wilted vegetables
Just because some of your vegetables are starting to look sad, doesn’t mean you can’t use them! Lettuce is mostly made of water and once it’s picked, it begins to lose its hydration. A way to revive wilted lettuce is to cut the ends off and place it in water. Then put it in the fridge for an hour or two and it should soak up the water and re-crisp the lettuce!
Also, If you see vegetables starting to go bad, don’t be afraid to cut off the rot and use the rest of the vegetables. Although it’s not at its prime to eat it fresh, you could still cut it up and sauté it, add it to casseroles, eggs, whatever you like! This will help save you money by reducing waste in the kitchen.
Here are a few examples of meals you can create with wilted vegetables:
- Make a pesto sauce with wilted greens
- Add it to pasta
4. Cook at home more often
We save so much money eating at home. And to be honest, it prevents us from entering situations where we make bad decisions. When we go to a restaurant that serves fries, it’s so hard to say no when your trying to eat healthy. Not to mention you will also spend so much more than if you made the same meal at home.
Here are some tips for eating at home more:
- Plan ahead meals
- Keep meals super simple
- Keep backup freezer meals
- Keep a written list of meals that take less than 15 minutes to make
5. Buy in bulk
Buying in bulk means that you buy a large quantity of one product. In this case, the purpose of buying large quantities is to get a lower cost per unit. This means that you have to spend a little more upfront, but in the long run you will be saving money. There are a few things I know I use a lot that I save a good amount if I buy in bulk. The first one that comes to mind is eggs. Buying in the 5 dozen usually saves about $1 per dozen if eggs are not on sale.
Other healthy food items that are great to buy in bulk:
- Brown rice
- Peanut butter
- Olive oil
- Coconut oil
Tips for buying in bulk:
- Cost out the price per ounce to make sure you are actually getting a good deal.
- Don’t buy in bulk if you have never used that item before. Try it out in smaller amounts before investing in weeks worth of supply.
- Make sure you store it correctly to make it last it’s full shelf life!
6. Shop weekly
Grocery stores are smart. They have an entire team of marketers who set up the stores just right, to encourage you to buy more stuff. So every time you step into a store, you risk the temptations of buying things you don’t necessarily need. Buy enough groceries to last you a week, that way you don’t need to make more trips to the grocery store. This also saves time and money on gas!
7. Buy meat when it is on sale
Meat quickly drives up food costs. When chicken breast go on sale, I will stock up enough to last our family about a month. I would buy more, but my freezer just can’t store much more(we eat a lot of chicken). The great thing about meat is, if you portion it out for your family in plastic wrap, it will last in the freezer for 3 to 4 months.
8. Meal plan
I used to grocery shop without meal planning for the week and quickly realized I would buy things just to buy them without necessarily having a plan for them. This led to either, 1. It going to waste or 2. Finding a recipe that would use the item that I bought, only to realize I didn’t have some other ingredients in the recipe I didn’t have. So therefore, I still didn’t use it.
Meal planning allows you to be purposeful with every item you put on your grocery list and will reduce waste tremendously.
It does take time initially as you plan out meals and check your kitchen to make sure you have everything, but honestly, this process doesn’t take me more than 30 minutes each week. The best is coming home from work and not have to think about what I’m going to make or if I have all the ingredients. I can just get straight to cooking something healthy.
9. Eat cheap sources of protein
My favorite choices of cheap protein are chicken breast, eggs, and peanuts. They are cheap, relatively low in fat, and high in vitamins and minerals. If you’re looking for a fish source of protein, tilapia is a great option. It’s one of the more mild tasting fish, super versatile, and one of the lower costing fishes.
Other healthy and cheap sources of protein:
- Whole chicken
- Whole turkey
- Chuck eye steak
- Pork loin
- Top round steak
- Mussels and clams
- Frozen fish
10. Never let food go to waste
If you want to save money, then you also can’t waste money! If there are leftovers in the fridge, make sure to eat those items first. If warming it up in the microwave doesn’t sound appealing, think of a new way to recreate the dish! Try to use your leftovers as ingredients rather than a meal.
Here are a few ideas to use leftovers:
- Blend leftover vegetables and add tomato sauce for a pasta sauce
- Use leftover vegetables in a soup
- Turn stale bread into croutons
- Leftover rice is great for fried rice
- Leftover meats and cheeses are great for sandwiches, burritos, and tacos
- Create an egg scramble
So, there you have it! Here are my best strategies to eat healthy without spending a fortune! These tips and tricks can be used at any grocery store you shop at. No need to buy any special expensive protein powders, all organic non-gmo foods, or exclusively shop at Whole Foods to eat healthy. All you need to do is change the way you view eating healthy… increase your consumption of high quality foods (unrefined and minimally processed foods) and lower your consumption of low quality foods (highly processed snack foods, refined grains, fried foods, foods high in saturated and trans fat) regardless if they are organic or not.
Let me know if you have any tips and tricks you use to keep your food costs low and still eat a healthy diet in the comments below!