Eating right on a budget – National Consumers League

It takes planning and willpower to make healthy food choices, regardless of one’s financial situation, but for those on a tight budget, getting healthy food on the table proves even more difficult. 

No matter your financial constraints, however, it IS possible to create healthy, delicious meals – all it takes is foresight, creativity, and a bit of effort! To make your food budget stretch further in the healthy choices department, follow these tips:

Plan ahead and make a list

Plan a menu for the week, using grocery store sale ads as a guide and incorporating main ingredients into several meals. Make a list of items you need, and stick to your list at the store. Don’t forget to check the pantry before planning meals or buying staple items – you may already have key ingredients to put to good use. Good planning, and shopping only once a week when possible, will enable you to reduce waste, save time, and save gas money.

Buy the right fruits and vegetables

Fruits and vegetables can be incredibly expensive, but they don’t have to be. Seek out produce that is in season in your area, as it generally costs less (and tastes better!). Stay away from pre-chopped, pre-sliced fruits and vegetables, which save time but cost far more than their whole counterparts. Frozen fruits and vegetables are always a great choice, as they are affordable, always ripe (they are flash-frozen at peak ripeness), and can be used in small or large quantities without waste.

Choose whole grains

Whole grains are far more healthful than their refined counterparts and add an affordable nutritional boost to any meal. They have a long shelf life, and many stores sell whole grains from bulk bins, enabling you to purchase only the amount you need. Try using brown rice instead of white, choosing whole wheat bread instead of white, and experimenting with quinoa, barley, and buckwheat. Making whole grains and vegetables the main part of a meal – and serving meat, poultry, or fish as a “side dish” – creates a cheaper, and healthier, plate.

Eat more beans, less beef (and poultry)

Beans are an inexpensive source of protein and fiber, with the added bonus of a long shelf life. Dried beans will give you the most bang for your buck, but canned beans, which are still fairly cheap, are easier to use. Serve beans in salads, pasta dishes, soups, burritos, and chili, or make them the main component of a quick, healthy, meatless, and inexpensive meal.

Bring a brown bag

Although it takes a few extra minutes, packing a brown bag lunch is nearly always cheaper – and healthier – than buying a midday meal during the work or school day. Before you take your weekly shopping trip, plan out packable lunches for the week. Leftovers also make great lunches!

Purchase fewer packaged and processed foods

Meal replacement bars, snack packs, and other packaged, processed foods tend not only to be expensive but to contain ingredient after ingredient that one cannot pronounce. Whenever possible, substitute whole foods for these products (an apple with peanut butter, yogurt and fruit, homemade trail mix), for a healthier diet that saves serious cash. For an added boost to your wallet, buy larger bags of snacks instead of 100-calorie packs, and make your own single servings with plastic bags after you arrive home.

Buy in bulk

When done right, buying in bulk can save both time and money. Focus your bulk purchases on products that you use frequently enough that you will consume them before they spoil or pass their “use by” date. Make a bulk-buying trip with a friend who enjoys similar foods, and split items that you both use, but that are too large for your household’s use before expiration.  Remember that not all bulk items actually save you money, so check the unite price and ensure that you’re getting a good buy before making a purchase.

Find the store brand

Grocery stores sell their own brand of many of the name brand products they offer. These store brands are almost always less expensive and are usually exactly or almost the same as the pricier name brands. Check next to, below, or above the name brand products you usually consume to see if a cheaper alternative exists.

Grow produce in the garden

It doesn’t require a large plot of land, a lot of effort, or more than a few dollars to grow a few fruit or vegetable plants, but the payoff is significant. Plant tomatoes, lettuce, cucumbers, or other favorites, and reap the nutritional and cost-saving rewards of your labors all summer long.