It’s not all about kale. If you want to eat delicious healthy food but don’t want to spend a lot, here are some genius tips on eating healthy on a budget.
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I am an omnivore when it comes to food. I like to try different things and love to learn how to cook with entirely different ingredients. In my past I have gone through different stages of eating a particular way. My longest stage was as a vegetarian. I have also dabbled with cooking vegan food, raw food, low fat, gluten-free, and paleo.
These ways of eating were not diets. I still occasionally ate (organic free-range) steak when I was eating mainly vegan and a nice warm loaf of homemade bread when I was mainly eating paleo.
I’m not very into rules with food.
It was more that I wanted to learn about different styles of cooking and ways of fueling my body and seeing what works best for me. It was fun to learn how to make raw ravioli (aka rawvioli) with beet “noodles” and cashew “cheese” filling or learn to bake with almond flour or coconut flour.
Even though I’ve clearly been a terrible vegan and haven’t followed the paleo rulebook very well at all, I do have two main ways that I’m consistent with my cooking: healthy (or healthy-ish) and frugal.
Why should you try to save money on food
I know that eating healthy on a budget is possible. Food is usually the third biggest expense for a household, after housing and transportation. Saving money on food will give you more money to pay down debt, put into investments, save an emergency fund, take a trip, and more.
It is possible to eat healthy on a budget even if you follow different diets. There are a lot of different ideas below, and some will work with your life and how you eat, and other won’t.
Pick and choose what feels right for you, and what works for your family. Adopting even some of the tips below will help you eat healthier while saving you money on food.
1. Eating healthy on a budget: Oatmeal is a superhero
Oats are little nutritional powerhouses. They are very nutrient dense, high in soluble fibre, can lower cholesterol and blood sugar, and have more protein and fat than most grains.
Plus oats are super cheap. They make an excellent food to keep on your cupboard I’d you’re trying to eat healthy on a budget.
There are so many healthy ways to eat oats. Of course there is oatmeal. Overnight oats are an easy alternative to oatmeal. You can also add some raw oats to your smoothie to make it more filling and give you extra nutrients.
2. Eating healthy on a budget: Beans, beans, the magical fruit…
Protein! Fiber! Vitamins! Beans should be another staple if you are trying to eat healthy on a budget. Canned beans are cheap and dried beans are cheaper.
If you are thinking of buying dried beans but are intimidated about the soaking step, don’t be! You just rinse the beans under water, dump them in a bowl, cover them with water, and leave them in the fridge overnight. Super easy. They are ready to cook the next day.
If you want to buy dried beans but don’t want to soak, buy split peas or lentils. They can be cooked up straight into soups and sauces without the pre-soaking step.
If you need some bean-spiration, there are 20 yummy bean recipes here.
3. Eating healthy on a budget: Embrace the ordinary
I am someone who likes new novelty when it comes to food (and basically, life). If I see an exotic-to-me piece of produce in the grocery store, you can bet that it will end up in my cart. I love trying new things.
However, if you want to eat healthy on a budget, one way is to embrace the ordinary when it comes to food.
I still buy delicious and more expensive produce like mango, persimmon, and star fruit. But when I’m looking to save money on food, I buy these foods on occasion as a treat, instead of every time I buy groceries.
I have learned to love the much cheaper produce options like apples, oranges, bananas, and carrots. They are all still delicious, healthy, and can be eaten in a variety of ways such as a fruit salad, smoothies, baked apples, etc.
4. Eating healthy on a budget: The incredible edible egg
If you want to know how to eat healthy on a budget and you are not a vegan, eggs are there for you. They are not just a breakfast food or something you use in baking.
Lunches or dinners of quiche or a frittata with lots of vegetables make a filling and satisfying meal and only cost a few dollars for the entire recipe. Having scrambled eggs with veggies for dinner is a great budget food option when you need a super quick meal on a week night.
Try this recipe for brie and spinach quiche – it’s delicious, inexpensive, and easy to make.
Eggs got a bad reputation in the ’80s and ’90s for being an anti health food, but that has since been debunked. They are a great source of protein and an average egg is only 77 calories.
Eggs are so inexpensive, with 3 eggs costing less than a dollar. I always make sure we buy free-range eggs. This adds such a minimal cost to a very cheap food, and it makes me happy to know the chickens are being treated humanely.
5. Eating healthy on a budget: Cook at home
Cook at home instead of buying healthy take-out or restaurant food. Choosing healthy options from fast-food places or restaurants is obviously better than choosing the artery clogging alternatives. But healthy food that someone else makes will always be more expensive than food you cook at home.
Invest in a few good pieces of cookware that should last decades, and you will save money on food by cooking more at home.
Over the last several years we have been switching over our cookware and bakeware to glass, ceramic, and cast iron. Good, basic, well-made pieces that will last a long time, and are also healthier to cook with than non-stick frying pans and non-stick bakeware.
Having cookware that I like to use instead of a scratched up old pan inspires me to want to cook more.
6. Eating healthy on a budget: Shop the periphery of the supermarket
We have been told this one for years as a tip for eating healthier, and with good reason. It works.
The healthier food is around the periphery of the store. This is where you will find your basics: bread, fruits, vegetables, dairy, meats. These foods are either unpackaged/unprocessed or less processed.
The middle aisles are where you will find the more processed foods. They will have more ingredients per item, and you pay for the processing and the packaging with higher prices. To save money, shop mainly on the edges of the grocery store.
This isn’t a hard and fast rule, because oats and other healthy and cheap items can be found in the middle of the store. Oats for example are usually found in the cereal aisle, just down from the Fruit Loops and Lucky Charms. Avert your eyes to the Fruit Loops! Get the oats and keep moving!
7. Eating healthy on a budget: Grocery list
Make a grocery list and (generally) stick with it. Having a grocery list gives you a focus in the store. Knowing which healthy foods you are planning on buying makes it much more likely you will bypass the Twix aisle (I’m pretty sure that’s what that aisle is called).
Not only will you end up with healthier groceries because you planned it that way, you will save money by avoiding impulse buys and things you don’t really need.
I say generally stick with your grocery list because see the next tip below…
8. Eating healthy on a budget: Eat what’s on sale
Don’t be too rigid in your grocery list – take advantage of what is on sale.
I used to spend whatever I wanted on food. I was very frugal in all other areas of my life (like these budget-friendly exercise bike alternatives) but I just loved food so much that I gave it a pass and bought whatever I felt like eating.
My husband is very frugal when it comes to food (there are stories that won’t be shared on this blog!) and I think over the last few years we have balanced each other out. I now look for sales when I’m out food shopping instead of ignoring them completely.
When it comes to produce, try to eat what is in season.
If you buy berries throughout the year, you know what a huge difference in price there can be when the berries are in season versus not. Again, I used to not care about this at all, but now I try to get a huge raspberry/blackberry/blueberry fix in the summer when they are in season here. I still eat berries year-round, but I slow down my consumption, and try to buy them on sale.
9. Eating healthy on a budget: Cook larger meals
When you have time to cook a meal, try doubling that meal and freezing the leftovers. It is not much extra work to make double of whatever you are making – it is certainly not double the work.
Having healthy freezer meals available will make the choice to eat healthy that much easier when it’s been a busy day and you’re hungry.
These two lasagna recipes (meat lasagna and vegetarian lasagna) both make a ton of food. They are inexpensive meals and they do not have to be calorie bombs. You can make both recipes with whole wheat lasagna noodles, and both recipes have less cheese than most typical lasagna recipes (don’t worry, they are still super delicious!).
When I am looking to healthify these lasagna recipes, I use cottage cheese instead of ricotta. It tastes great in the filling, and gives a big protein boost! The vegetarian lasagna is packed with vegetables, including very inexpensive ones like zucchini.
You can even substitute “zoodles” for the pasta noodles to make a low-carb and budget-friendly option.
So many dishes including these lasagna recipes work well when they are batched up, and freeze well too.
10. Eating healthy on a budget: Eat leftovers
This should not be revolutionary, people. You have already cooked up a delicious healthy meal on a budget. You planned ahead and made extra to save for another day – go you! So eat those leftovers. They are not inferior food.
Past you thought ahead and gave present you the gift of time – you don’t have to make a meal tonight. Reheat those leftovers and enjoy them.
Check out my new e-book: It’s a totally doable meal planning guide + full meal planner that’ll teach you how to meal plan, save more, and stress less.
11. Eating healthy on a budget: Have a no-spend weekend or week
Spend a weekend (or longer) eating the food that is already in your pantry and freezer. Some of the food waste that happens in most homes is because we just forget what we buy and it expires or goes bad.
Commit to a weekend of not buying any groceries and get creative to use up food that is in the deep recesses of your freezer, and the dark corners of your pantry.
If you’re worried that you are going to get scurvy in two days from lack of produce you’re not buying, I would bet that you have some type of frozen fruits or vegetables stashed away in your freezer. Or canned fruits or vegetables. Eat that.
If after a weekend, you notice that you still have a lot of freezer food left or lots of canned or jarred goods that should be eaten soon, try continuing for a week. Use up the foods you already have spent your money on.
12. Eating healthy on a budget: Buy generic brands
I used to ignore the generic brands – that ugly yellow packaging just didn’t catch my eye. But there are so many more store brands available now than there were years ago, and it’s not about judging a book by its cover anyways.
Dried pasta is dried pasta, folks. Sure, fresh pasta made by your Italian grandmother is absolutely going to be better than generic brand dried pasta. If we’re comparing apples to apples, or dried pasta to dried pasta, generic will do just fine, and will be more budget-friendly.
Buying store brands of foods like oats, bread, pasta, canned fish, crackers, canned veggies and fruit, non-refrigerated milks (cow/almond/coconut/whatever) in tetrapak containers, and so many other foods, will save you money and help you eat healthy on a budget.
Keep your eyes open to the generic brands and start incorporating some into your typical grocery shop.
13. Eating healthy on a budget: Join a food co-op
Joining a food co-op is a creative way to save money on healthy groceries.
When I lived in Toronto I joined a community food co-op (this one!) I didn’t know much about food co-ops before joining one but it was an amazing experience. I met great people in my community and got to save money on healthy food.
How this food co-op worked is that you got a great member discount on food in exchange for a small amount of your labor each month. At the time the work requirement was only two hours a month which was very easy to fit in, and more than worth it for the large discount on healthy food. Members could work in the store at the cash, stock food, do tech work or repair work, or be on committees like the social committee.
If you’re interested in food co-ops, you can check out this map of food co-ops across the United States and see what’s available near you.
You can save thousands of dollars on food by joining a food co-op and contributing just a small amount of your time.
14. Eating healthy on a budget: Buy bulk
Bring your own containers and save money on foods like rice, pasta, beans, coffee, and more.
Bulk stores have come a long way in the past few years. You used to have to use their plastic bags for everything you bought. Now many stores will let you bring your own containers. They will weigh them and record the weight, then you can fill them up with whatever you want.
Bulk stores are also a great place to buy nuts and seeds at a lower price. Whole cashews can be expensive! Might as well save money on them.
15. Eating healthy on a budget: Tips for carnivores
Since meat is one of the more expensive foods you can eat, here are some tips on healthy eating on a budget if you are a meat eater.
Save money on cuts of meat
You will not save money by buying steak, nor is it the healthiest meat option. Look for lean ground beef, lean ground turkey and chicken and make a delicious meat lasagna. It is a filling family friendly meal and it will make lots of leftovers.
Stewing beef is a cheaper cut of meat and you can slow cook this with lots of veggies for a budget-friendly healthy meal.
The next tip for my carnivorous friends is embrace thighs. I mean chicken thighs. They are much cheaper than chicken breasts and much more flavorful. Yes they are a bit higher in fat but you can absolutely make healthy recipes using chicken thighs (like this one).
Save money by buying meat in bulk
Another carnivorous tip is to buy the cow. Or the chicken. Meaning, buy your meat in bulk.
In many places you will be able to do a bit of hunting around (sorry, bad joke) and find a cattle or poultry farmer who sells direct to customer.
If you have a separate freezer with room, you can buy a few whole chickens, or you can buy a quarter of a cow. This is a unique and creative budget idea that will save money on your food budget. Friends of ours buy a dozen whole chickens and freeze them to have throughout the year.
Save money by going meatless once in a while
You can also try Meatless Mondays, or even having meat only on weekends, or every other day. Eating less meat will save you money.
- Paleo on a Budget – How to Save Money on the Paleo Diet
- Keto on a budget + 22 Keto recipes
- The best Keto broccoli soup you’ll ever have
16. Eating healthy on a budget: Meal plan
When you are looking to eat healthy on a budget, meal planning can help out big-time.
Making a meal plan and shopping for a meal plan can help you stick to eating healthy meals because they are planned out ahead of time.
Meal planning will also save you money by reducing food waste. All the groceries you buy will be earmarked for a particular recipe so they will get used.
I am notorious for letting certain vegetables go to waste (I’m looking at you, cauliflower) because I buy them without a plan in mind and then they go bad. Meal planning will help prevent this from happening because that cauliflower will have a plan!
You can check out my 7-day family meal plan here.
Some people meal plan dinners only and wing breakfast and lunch, and other people prefer to meal plan all meals. There is no right or wrong way to meal plan – it’s up to you how much you want to be planned.
As you might have been able to guess, I’m not someone that can meal plan all my meals and snacks. That would drive me totally bonkers. But I have liked meal planning dinners while being able to be more flexible with the rest of the days’ foods. You do you, bro.
Meal planning help – two great options
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2. Do you feel like you are spending more than you want to at the grocery store but don’t know where to cut back? This budget meal plan program will help you crack the code on healthy meal planning and budget shopping. Get it now!
>> If you are pregnant or postpartum, check out our Easy Postpartum Meal Plan
Eating healthy on a budget: Recipes
Let’s end with eating healthy on a budget recipes to give you cheap meal and snack ideas that are healthy, delicious, and frugal.
Cheap Healthy Breakfast Ideas:
Healthy & Cheap Lunch Ideas:
Healthy Cheap Dinner Ideas:
Healthy Cheap Snack Recipes:
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Do you have any other tips to add on eating healthy on a budget?