How to Eat Healthy on a Budget

Photo by @charityvictoria for Twenty20

We all want to eat better and save money. Sadly those two goals often seem mutually exclusive. That’s why we’ve put together our top tips for eating and saving money. It’s good for your wallet, and your waistline. Read on and get inspired to pinch your pennies and improve your heath at the same time.

Think Seasonally

There’s a reason strawberries, tomatoes, and lettuce cost twice as much in February as they do in July. It’s because growing fruits and most vegetables in cold weather is more expensive than doing so under the warm summer sun. But even if money were no object, the cold winter months don’t exactly have us craving salad. Unfortunately, when we think of what “healthy” means, our minds instantly think of nutritious, pricey fare like this. And if we’re honest, winter tomatoes are nothing to write home about. So instead of the blueberries that will set you back $7 per basket, go for the citrus that’s $1 to $2 per pound. It’s just as delicious, will be super fresh, won’t break the bank, and will give your taste buds something to look forward to in a few months’ time. But if you simply must have tomatoes, go for the canned variety and make a batch of tomato soup.

Shop at Farmers Markets

If you’re shopping at the farmers market, it will be much easier to work in a plethora of seasonally appropriate fruits and vegetables. Contrary to popular belief, a lot of produce is actually cheaper at the farmers market than it is at the grocery store, especially when you consider the quality you’re getting. Think about it—you’ve cut out the middleman (the grocery store) and aren’t paying for all of that packaging and marketing that you can’t eat. Plus, you’ll be supporting a local farmer, and will know exactly where your food came from.

Buy Whole Foods

As much as we love the convenience of pre-made meals, the reality is it’s almost impossible to maintain a healthy diet without making sure you’re consuming unprocessed, whole foods. But that’s not all. Buying whole foods and cooking them is much more cost-effective way of eating. If you compare the price of a block of cheddar cheese to its shredded brethren, you’ll likely find the humble hunk of cheese is far cheaper. Dried beans are also much more wallet-friendly than the canned variety. The same goes for brown rice over white. And many whole foods can even be purchased in bulk, providing still more savings. Sure, buying whole foods may require more work than popping a plate in the microwave, but you’ll save money, improve your nutrition, and probably consume fewer calories. Pro tip: Shop at the farmers market for a surefire way to make sure your fridge is full of whole foods and not ready-made, processed junk.

Buy Generic

Despite our strong stance on whole foods, sometimes you have to buy pre-washed spinach or whole-wheat pasta. But when you do, there’s no reason to overpay. Many generic brands are just white-label versions of their branded competitors and come at a fraction of the cost for the exact same product. As with food purchased from the farmers market, you aren’t paying for a marketing budget and plastic containers. So the next time at your local grocery store, look for the less glamorous but equally effective generic version of your favorite item and marvel at the savings you’ll see as a result.

Plan Your Meals for the Week

They say a goal without a plan is just a dream. And if you’ve been dreaming of saving more money and improving your eating habits, an easy way to set yourself on the road to success is to plan your meals for most of the week. This will arm you with a strategy when you get to the grocery store that doesn’t involve impulse purchases and hard choices, which brings us to our next point…

Make a Grocery List and Stick to It

The best way to make sure you only buy what you need is to plan. Jotting down only what you need, head into the store and buy only those items. So now that you’ve planed your meals, make your grocery list. Then stick to it. And don’t forget that we all have a harder time making decisions on an empty stomach so avoid going to the grocery store when you’re hungry!

Cook Your Own Food

We’re too busy to cook for ourselves every night, and we delight at the prospect of a meal out shared with friends. But buying packaged food, ordering in, and eating out are the easiest ways to blow your budget and your diet. By the time you tack on a tip and tax your meal can easily cost $10 more than you anticipated. And when you cook your own meals you know exactly what you’re consuming, which is a much more reliable way to maintain your healthy eating plan. Cooking takes time and energy that many of us overworked busy bees don’t have time for. And eating out is one of life’s greatest joys. That’s why we aren’t advocating a wholesale moratorium on ordering delivery or eating out. But if you find that you’ve been eating out several nights a week, try cutting it to once a week for one month and see how it goes. And while you’re at it, cook meals in large batches and freeze the leftovers. Having a readymade meal to come home to will make you far less likely to order pizza or suffer through another microwave dinner.

Take Advantage of Sales to Stock Up

If you know you’ll eat something and it happens to be on special that week, buy it and eat it all week long. It may sound boring at first, but they say creativity is borne of necessity and there are so many ways to cook the same foods. And besides, by the time you get tired of your third meal containing bok choy, something else will be on sale the following week. If the food keeps particularly well, as much winter produce does, consider making an extra-large portion and freezing it so you can save it for later.

Bring Back Breakfast for Dinner

I don’t know about you, but when I was a kid I loved eating breakfast for dinner. It felt so special. It’s time to bring that back! If you’re not in the mood for eggs once the sun goes down, consider using traditional breakfast items in new ways. For example, eggs are not limited to scrambles and omelets. They can be incorporated into many dishes as a cost-conscious, filling protein like on top of avocado toast, over brown rice and tofu, or in a veggie frittata.

Know When to Buy Organic and When Conventional Will Do

These days, eating healthy means more than just a salad a few times a week. There’s gluten-free, vegan, Paleo… the list goes on. But one of the main decisions about which we find ourselves torn is when to choose organic items over conventional ones. The general rule of thumb we stick to is: if you have to peel the skin to eat it, it’s probably okay to go conventional.

What are your tips eating well while sticking to a budget? Tell us about it in the comments below!