Healthy Eating on a Budget

Have you ever had a mini heart attack after seeing your grocery store total?  Or maybe you are in college, a new career, a big family, whatever and don’t have a ton of cash for food.

No worries!  It’s totally possible to eat healthfully while on a budget.  I promise.

No, really.

Cheap eating does NOT have to mean Ramen noodles for every meal.

Here are 10 tips for stretching a buck and still eating healthfully:

1.   Plan ahead!
Make a menu of meals for the week, check the pantry to see what you have on hand, and then make a shopping list for ingredients you need.  This way, you aren’t buying things at random that you really don’t need. Try to plan meals that will use the same ingredients so it’s less to buy.  For example:  Do you need a certain spice or sauce for one recipe?  Find another recipe that uses the same spice/sauce so you kill two birds with one stone. (Awful expression, sorry…)

Taco Soup2.   Do your research, and use your resources.
Before you throw the weekly circulars in the recycling bin, check out what’s on sale at various stores.  Some stores (like Walmart) will price match, too.  So if you find a good deal, bring in the paper for proof and save a little extra cash.
Another resource:  Online recipe sites for inexpensive meals!  Some of my favorites:

3.   Clips coupons…the smart way.
Look for coupons in the Sunday paper, online, or in stores.  Check out Coupons.com, SmartSource, and Coupon Mom.
BUT use them wisely.  If it’s a “buy 3, get 1 free” coupon, and it’s a product you rarely ever use, it’s probably not worth it.  Recently, I saw a buy 3, save $1 offer for milk cartons.  I would end up wasting money, because the milk would go rancid before I used it all.  (Yes, I’m aware you can freeze milk, but that grosses me out)
Another thing:  You CAN find coupons for healthy items.  And really, just because there is a coupon for $1 off 3 packages of Pop-Tarts does NOT mean you have to buy them.  Try buying a plain Cheerios with skim milk for the same amount of money. You’ll have a healthier breakfast. 

4.   Compare products.
If your store has a price per ounce or price per serving listed on the shelf, use it!  Also, surprisingly enough, store brand is NOT always cheaper.  For example: Pasta.  Ronzoni Smart Taste pasta is actually cheaper, per ounce, than the store brand at my Walmart.  Plus the Ronzoni has added nutrients and fiber.  Double win!

5.  Shop in season, and on sale.
This one is pretty self-explanatory.  Buying fresh produce in season is cheaper.

6.  Save on fruits and veggies.
Join a co-op!!  Look here for my first description of my co-op.  You get fresh fruits and vegetables on the cheap, which is wonderful.   Check out Bountiful Baskets (the one I use) or click here to find others in your area.
Another thing to do:  Buy frozen or canned.  Canned isn’t ideal, but it’s better than no fruits or veggies at all.  For fruit, look for them in fruit juice or no added sugar.
Frozen fruits and veggies are GREAT because they don’t go bad, and they’re a great way to buy produce when it isn’t in season.

7.  Avoid “convenience” foods.
Yes, that precooked frozen chicken breast is convenient and healthy.  But it’s cheaper if you do the work, buy raw chicken and bake it yourself.  Same goes for things like bagged salad and 100-calorie snack packs.  Oh! And same goes for oatmeal.  Getting the hint here??
The more basic the food, the cheaper it will be.  Wash, dry, and cut your own produce, portion your own snacks from a big container, and use plain old quick cooking oats (flavored with cinnamon or something). It takes a bit more time, but you’ll save cash.  Gotta pick your battles on this one 🙂

8.  Buy in bulk.
Do you have a food item you use often?  For instance, cereal, rice, or frozen berries?  Buy in bulk!  If it’s pantry items that will not go rancid, you can stock up and save a bit.  Stores such as Sam’s Club and Costco are great for this tip.  But many grocery stores have some bulk items as well.

Click here for a yummy make-at-home egg roll recipe!

9.  Eat at home.
Yes, that burger at McDonald’s is $1, but that doesn’t include fries or a drink.  Tack those on and your meal will be $3.  Cooking at home is cheaper!  I’ll admit, you may think “oh wow, this is expensive!” when you see your total at the grocery store. But take into consideration that you’re seeing your entire food cost all at once, instead of a few dollars here and there. In the long run, it’s cheaper.

You can also make your own snacks, too.  There are lots of recipes for granola bars, etc that will save money in the long run.  For instance, instead of buying a granola bar for breakfast on  the go, try this recipe:

10.  Don’t be wasteful, and watch portion sizes.
Try your hardest to use what you buy.  Otherwise, your money is going in the trash…literally.  This includes eating leftovers.
Afraid you won’t use all that you make, no matter how hard you try?  Freeze it!  Things like lasagna, soups, grilled meat, etc all freeze and keep well.

Also watch portion sizes, though.  If your portions are too large, you’ll consume more and spend more at the grocery store.  I always advise that people spend money on ingredients for healthy meals, and avoid wasting money on a lot of snacky foods like chips or desserts.  Especially desserts! Store bought snack cakes, ice cream, etc are more expensive than making something yourself for the times that you want a treat.

One last thing:  be realistic.  Sorry if this is harsh, but make healthy eating your budget priority!!  For instance, that new iPad that you use to order pizzas on the Pizza Hut app….the iPad cost a pretty penny.  Perhaps spend that cash on some healthy food and save up little by little for the new tech devices?  (Sorry, I’ll get off of my soapbox now) 🙂

I hope you find this post helpful!!!!
Do you have other tips that have worked for you?  Please comment and share!

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