How to Eat Healthy on a Budget: 12 Ways to Eat Well for Less

If you’re on a tight budget, managing to eat healthily may seem like a difficult feat. Fresh produce and organic items can rack up your grocery bill, and less-healthy items may seem like the only alternative. But, in reality, finding ways to stick to your budget while incorporating healthy foods may be simpler than you thought. With a little preparation, putting together a budget-conscious, healthy grocery list can be a breeze.

Useful Tips for Eating Healthy on a Budget

While eating healthy on a tight budget may come with some challenges, it’s entirely possible to learn how to prepare inexpensive, yet healthy meals every day of the week without breaking the bank. Consider these wallet-friendly shopping tips for your next trip to the grocery store:

1. Buy the foods you love in bulk.

“When possible, buy in bulk” is an important rule for healthy eating on a budget. When you make the decision to stock up on your favorite foods, over time, you’ll see a sharp downward trend in your grocery bills. 

Some healthy foods, such as dried nuts, may be expensive when you buy them in small quantities. Buying them in bulk, however, reduces the financial burden over time, and offers you constant access to all the foods you love. If you shop around for the best bulk deals, you’ll be able to stock up on all your favorite healthy foods without draining your bank account.

Here are some healthy foods that are best to buy in bulk: 

  • Whole-grain cereals
  • Brown rice
  • Dried fruit
  • Nuts
  • Whole-grain pasta
  • Canned fruits and vegetables

2. Always shop in season.

When produce is in season, chances are you’ll be able to find it for a lower price. If you’re looking to cut grocery costs while including healthy produce items in your meal plans, it’s always a good idea to shop in season. Consider purchasing items like apples and corn in the fall, berries in the spring and summer, and citrus fruits in the winter. 

If your family loves a particular seasonal produce item, buy it when it’s in season and freeze it for later. Satisfy cravings for an out-of-season item by using a frozen version

Some examples of seasonal fruits and vegetables that freeze well are:

  • Strawberries
  • Blueberries
  • Squash – summer and winter varieties
  • Leafy Greens – spinach, kale, and Swiss chard
  • Corn on the cob

3. Explore alternative protein sources.

When most people think of protein, their minds immediately jump to meat. However, there are plenty of delicious alternative protein sources that are ideal for people learning how to eat healthy on a budget. Many of these choices offer the same amount of protein as meat, at a fraction of the price.

The following alternate protein sources will make it much easier to prepare healthy, inexpensive meals: 

  • Nut butters – peanut, almond, and cashew
  • Beans – kidney, pinto, and black
  • Lentils
  • Tofu
  • Eggs
  • Chia seeds
  • Quinoa
  • Cottage cheese
  • Spinach
  • Greek Yogurt

4. Opt for frozen fruits and vegetables.

Frozen fruits and vegetables are a great addition to your budget grocery list. Although seasonal fresh produce can sometimes be a better deal, frozen food is usually more cost-effective—which makes it a lifesaver when you’re sticking to a tight budget. 

Frozen fruits and vegetables also last much longer than their fresh counterparts. They have a very low likelihood of spoiling, and over time, they’ll dramatically reduce the amount of waste your kitchen produces.

Some examples of fruits and vegetables you should aim to buy frozen are:

  • Vegetables for soup: broccoli, green beans, carrots
  • Smoothie ingredients: pineapple, peaches, blueberries
  • Toppings for cottage cheese or yogurt: strawberries, raspberries
  • Side dishes for dinner: corn, squash, peppers

5. Make a healthy grocery list that fits your budget and stick to it.

Every week, you should aim to create a healthy grocery list before heading to the store. Consider using a digital list on your phone that you can add to throughout the day. If you think of an item that you’d like to buy while you’re out of the house, you’ll be able to add it to your list before you forget.

Creating a list in advance helps you to avoid impulse buys and stay on track while shopping. With a budget grocery list to guide your way, you’ll be far less likely to toss unnecessary items into your cart out of habit. You’ll also avoid spending more than you initially planned, as well as indulging in unhealthy impulse buys like candy bars or cookies.

6. Learn to work with less expensive cuts of meat.

Although it may be tempting to buy the highest-quality cuts of meat on every grocery trip, this isn’t always the best financial decision. In the long run, you’ll greatly benefit from learning to work with less expensive cuts. Many of these wallet-friendly options are just as tasty as their expensive counterparts. Plus, you’ll be able to challenge yourself as a chef by working with new cuts.

Some tasty, less expensive cuts of meat include:

  • Beef: chuck, brisket, blade
  • Pork: chop, belly, shoulder
  • Chicken: leg, thigh

With a little practice, you’ll be able to prepare delicious soups, stews, and casseroles without going over your budget. Best of all, many of these alternate options are ideal for preparing large meals that will leave you with leftovers for several days. 

7. Watch for sales and utilize coupons.

Keep your eyes out for sales at your grocery stores and farmers markets to help you find healthy food for less. Many grocery stores have regular sales that allow you to stock up on all your favorite items, and pack your pantry full of staple ingredients that will last for months. 

Additionally, many popular brands offer online coupons that can be used in stores across the country. If you check your favorite brands’ websites and sign up for email lists, you may find yourself scoring awesome coupons from time to time. However, be wary of coupon offers that lead you into buying items you don’t actually need. A good rule is to never buy anything with a coupon unless you would have bought it full price.

8. Keep your fridge and pantry organized.

Keeping your fridge and pantry organized encourages you to use leftovers and avoid overspending. Having piles of leftovers in your fridge can quickly become overwhelming, tempting you to opt for newer items. So, it’s a good idea to label all your leftover containers so that you can keep track of what’s inside, as well as when it was prepared. Also, remember to regularly throw out old leftovers. This will keep your fridge fresher and less overwhelming. 

The same rules apply to your pantry. There’s nothing wrong with buying in bulk and stocking up on healthy items you love, but a disorganized pantry can be counterproductive. Tame time to regularly go through your pantry and clean out all the items that have passed their expiration date, or that you’ll no longer use. 

9. Create weekly meal plans. 

Creating a healthy meal plan for each week allows you to get the most out of all your ingredients while staying within your budget. By planning your meals in advance, you’ll be less tempted to break your diet by indulging in something too rich or calorie dense. And, since you’ll be putting more thought into everything you eat, you’ll get to try out delicious recipes that you might not have otherwise made.

10. Make your own dressings and sauces.

If you’re like most shoppers, you probably don’t give a second thought to spending a few dollars here and there on dips, sauces and salad dressings. However, over time, these purchases can begin to add up. Instead of buying a new bottle of dip or dressing every couple of weeks, you should consider making your own at home.

Not only is preparing your own condiments an easy way to stay on track with your budget, but it’s also great for your waistline. By preparing dressing at home with oil, vinegar, oregano, and other healthy ingredients, you’ll be able to reduce your calorie intake. 

11. Never go shopping while hungry.

Going grocery shopping while hungry is a common mistake that many of us make. Although it may be tempting to make a quick stop at the grocery store before dinner, this habit should be avoided at all costs. Shopping while hungry leads to impulse buys, and allows you throw extra snacks into your cart that you wouldn’t have otherwise bought.

If your schedule permits, you should consider going grocery shopping after a big meal like lunch or dinner. When you’re full and satisfied, you’ll have a much clearer head—which ensures that you aren’t making any hunger-based decisions.

12. Check out your local farmers’ market.

Don’t make the mistake of thinking that your local grocery store is the only place to fill up your fridge; farmers’ markets can be an excellent way to stock up on fresh fruits, vegetables, and meat. At your farmers’ market, you’ll be able to sample produce grown with a sense of care and pride that you might not find in the grocery store—and the prices can be better as well.

To maximize your savings, consider stopping by the farmers’ market at the end of the day. Vendors may offer steep discounts to unload all their merchandise. They won’t have to head home with a full truck, and you’ll be able to enjoy delicious farm-fresh produce. 

Bottom Line

There are countless creative, fun ways make the best of eating healthy on a budget. With these helpful tips, you won’t have to spend all day clipping coupons or searching for sales. All you have to do is make some minor changes to the way you shop. 

It may be helpful to introduce these tips over time. For example, one week you could create a meal plan and organize your pantry, and the following week you could make your own dressing and try an alternative protein source. If you have an extra busy week, you could try something even simpler, like working with a less expensive cut of meat one night. And before long, you won’t have to give these tips a second thought—you’ll quickly become an expert on effortlessly preparing healthy, inexpensive meals.