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Understanding how to eat healthy doesn’t have to mean organic and overpriced. It’s possible to have a healthy diet while on a budget. You can still pick fresh produce that gives important nutritional value to your diet without breaking the bank.
The key is balancing the right sustainable eating habits for your personal lifestyle, which looks different for each person. The end result, however, is the same—overall increase in physical and mental wellbeing. Read our tips for eating healthy while on a budget.
Plan meals ahead of time
One of the most important pieces of eating healthy on a budget is setting aside time to plan your meals. Choosing to dedicate some time one day a week to think about the next week’s meals sets you up for success. Use a food budget to guide your weekly meal plans and grocery lists to help you make the right food choices.
Planning meals ahead of time allows you to figure out what you’re cooking in advance instead of figuring it out in the moment. It also helps you plan what frozen foods need to thaw ahead of time so they’re ready to be cooked in time.
Keeping an inventory of foods already in your kitchen can help craft the meals you make before items expire, and save you from purchasing items you already have.
Have a plan when you go to the grocery store
When shopping, use the shopping list created from planning your meals ahead of time. This helps avoid being distracted by the variety of options available at the grocery store that divulge from your plan and budget. Having a plan helps avoid impulsive buying.
Grocery lists help you buy what you plan to use in order to avoid throwing out over purchased or expired items—which is a waste of money.
Did you know the middle aisles in a grocery store are typically stocked with processed foods and the most expensive products placed at eye level? Oppositely, the outer edges of grocery stores typically hold whole foods.
Grocery shop on a full stomach
The old saying “your eyes are bigger than your stomach” comes into play when shopping on an empty stomach.
If you shop while hungry, you are more likely to purchase high processed foods that have less nutritional value, and foods that stray away from your pre-made grocery list. These less nutritional foods are not good for your body or your budget.
If you’re hungry before going grocery shopping, eat a quick healthy snack like fruit beforehand.
Cook your own meals
Eating out, or even ordering in, costs more than preparing meals at home. In an article published by Forbes, they found that it costs about five times more to order restaurant delivery than to cook the same meal at home.
Breaking down the cost of ordering a dinner portion of Teriyaki chicken from a restaurant compared to making the same meal at home ended up costing $21.94 in the restaurant, but only $1.30 when cooked at home.
Restaurants charge about 300% more than the cost of the actual meal itself to make a profit. This doesn’t include added tips and tax costs either.
Ordering food at restaurants is less healthy than home-cooked meals. In fact, a study by the British Medical Journal found that food served in restaurants contained about 33 percent more calories than fast-food chains. You do not have control of the ingredients in the food served in restaurants. You do, however, have control over the healthy ingredients you put in your own meals.
Cooking for yourself or your family can look different. Whether or not you can cook each day for every meal depends on your personal lifestyle.
Take advantage of leftovers
When you cook at home, you can take advantage of making larger portions to eat as leftovers in the future. Leftover meals can be frozen for future consumption, or be eaten the next day for lunch instead of buying lunch.
Sometimes, depending on the meal, leftovers can be repurposed into other meals like:
Cooking in larger portions to carry over into lunch meals for the next day allows you to retain control of the nutritious food you consume along with saving overall lunch costs. In the long run, it’s a healthier and more cost-effective option.
Buy whole foods
Pre-packaged foods cost more because you are paying for the convenience of someone else doing the work. A block of cheddar cheese in comparison to already grated cheese is cheaper. Usually, whole foods are sold in larger quantities which means you get more product for less money, increasing savings.
Alternative whole food options include:
- Lettuce heads instead of packaged salad meals
- Whole fruit instead of pre-cut fruit
- Grains like rice instead of instant rice
- Whole vegetables instead of pre-cut veggies
Buy generic brands or imperfect foods
Generic or store brands are often cheaper than brand names. Both have to follow the same manufacturing standards. Before purchasing generic brand foods, read the nutritional value to ensure the same quality as the more expensive alternative.
Grocery store produce aisles are lined with flawless looking fruits and vegetables. However, not all produce grows perfectly.
Companies like Misfits Market and Imperfect Foods deliver health and organic produce right to your door at a fraction of the retail cost. Their items have physical imperfections but contain the exact same nutritional value. An added benefit is that they usually have discounts on your first order.
Take advantage of coupons and sales
Grocery stores often have their own apps or weekly advertisements that give access to coupons and promote items on sale. Stocking up on items you use frequently in your cooking is a budget-friendly option to save money overall. As long as you know you’ll use it before it expires.
Buy cheaper meat cuts
Fresh meat and fish are healthier than other protein options. Purchasing these products can be costly, but a great alternative to keeping fresh and healthy options in your diet is by buying cheaper cuts of meat that are just as nutritious as their expensive counterparts.
- Whole chickens
- Beef, pork, and lamb ribs
- Pork shoulder
- Beef brisket
- Chuck eye steaks
- Lamb Breast
- Whole Turkey
Switch up your proteins
One way to save money on groceries is by reducing meat consumption. Meat and fish options are a great source of protein, but alternative sources are just as nutritious and budget-friendly. They also typically hold a longer shelf life which makes storage easier.
A couple of times a week, substitute fresh meat and fish cuts with:
- Canned fish
Buy in bulk and in season
Bulk items such as grains and dried fruit are cheaper when purchased in large quantities. You can be creative with them in your cooking.
Buying fruits and vegetables when they are in season reduces costs. They taste better and are higher in nutritional value. Out-of-season produce is typically more expensive because it’s shipped from farther away.
These items can be bought in bulk during their season and stored in the freezer for future use. It’s an overall economically efficient way to keep healthier foods in your refrigerator.
The goal of these tips is to encourage nutritious eating for any budget. Purchasing and consuming healthy food results in increased physical and mental wellbeing. This in turn reflects in every part of your life, from personal to professional.