How to Eat Healthy on a Budget

by Chris on May 2, 2012

It’s a fact that the price of food has been rising at nearly double the overall rate of inflation.  That means that food expenses are likely hurting many people’s budgets these days more than ever.  So the question we try to answer today is, How can you still eat healthy while lowering your food costs?

We have some ideas of our own that we use in our household, and we’ve also gone out and found some other blogs that have their own good ideas.  You can find the other ideas at the bottom of this post, but here are ours.

Look for Healthy Low Cost Food

If you’re just looking for low cost food, most of the available options aren’t that healthy.  However, if you look specifically for healthy food that is low cost, there are a lot of options open.  As any vegetarian knows, beans are plentiful, cheap and filled with fiber and proteins.  Many other whole grains can be subsituted for meats.  And while fresh produce isn’t always cheap, there is almost always some kind of healthy vegetable on sale.  Stock up and freeze the fresh vegetables when the deals are really good.  Of course, you can also grow vegetables for a few cents each (a packet of vegetable seeds is only a buck or two).

Search around on other blogs to help you find specific food items that are cheap and healthy.  The more you find, the more variety, and the longer you can eat healthy before you burn out on the same types of food.

Make Low Cost Meat Tasty

How to Eat Healthy for CheapHave you ever had an Omaha Steak?  Not the filets but one of the frozen, marinated cuts that just melt in your mouth?  Believe it or not, these cuts of meat are very inexpensive.  The trick that companies use to make them so good is the marinade.  They use a natural tenderizer such as papaya to break down the toughness in the meat and instill lots of flavor and juiciness.  The same technique can be done at home to save loads of money.  Besides steaks, large beef and pork roasts can be slow cooked until they are as tender as an expensive cut.  Look for sales on chicken and meat and buy in bulk when you can.  As an example, our grocery store ran a two week special on boneless skinless chicken breast.  Instead of $3.99 a pound it was on sale for $1.78.  There was a limit of two but my wife and I visited about ten times in those two weeks and now have a deep freeze full of chicken.  There are lots of ways to save money buying healthy food if you just focus on it and start trying.

Think Outside the Bun

Not that you haven’t heard this Taco Bell slogan a million times already, but the same theory applies to eating healthy.  You need to think outside your normal eating habits.  For example, you may normally eat a lot of rice.  While rice isn’t bad for your, and the brown rice does have some protein, there are several healthier alternatives that offer more fiber, protein and whole grains and are about the same price.  For example, we use couscous as an alternative.  While prices vary, we found a bulk size package of Israeli couscous at Costco that only costs a few cents per serving.  If you really want to think outside the bun, consider going to a large Asian food market.  There is a foreign food market near us that is larger than most grocery stores and carries exotic and regular foods from countries like Africa, China, Japan, Thailand, Mexico, Vietnam and Korea.  You’d be surprised how cheap this food is to buy.  Not just the packaged goods, but the exotic vegetables and peppers there are only a fraction of the prices at the grocery store.  For example, a head of cabbage at our local store was only 39 cents a pound not that long ago.

And if you’re looking into international cooking options, you’ll find that there are thousands of super tasty sauces that make ordinary food taste great.  Just think of how good curry is.  Did you know you can replace coconut milk or cream with yogurt and cut the fat by 90%!  The more creative you get with this, the better you will succeed at finding healthy and inexpensive cuisine.

One thing I almost forgot about is pizza.  If you make your own dough at home and use fresh tomatoes and skim mozzeralla for a topping, it is actually pretty healthy.  Has whole grains from the flour, protein, calcium, and vegetables.

What Others Are Blogging About This Topic

We often check out other blogs and help get their ideas out as well.  Here is part of an article written at HelpGuide.org that discusses some ways to eat healthier:

  • Shop the perimeter of the store first. This way you will fill your cart with healthy whole foods like fresh produce and meat, leaving less room for the “junk food fillers” and thus saving money.
  • Cook large portions. It saves time to cook once and eat multiple times. One idea is to make a big pot of soup at the beginning of the week or whenever you go food shopping. When you don’t feel like cooking, help yourself to a hearty bowlful along with a green salad. This makes a nutritious but inexpensive lunch or dinner anytime.
  • Beware of hidden sugars. Many packaged or processed foods contain high levels of hidden sugar. They may be easy to prepare and fill your family up for cheap, but too much sugar causes rapid swings in energy and blood sugar, and can contribute to many serious health problems. Hidden sugar may be listed as corn syrup, molasses, brown rice syrup, cane juice, fructose, dextrose, or maltose. Avoid foods such as instant mashed potatoes, white bread, canned soups and vegetables, refined pasta, and sugary cereals. Satisfy your sweet tooth with naturally sweet food such as fruit, peppers, and sweet potatoes.

Read the rest at Healthy Eating on a Budget.

Personally, I like the perimeter shopping idea.  I’ve been doing it for years but never really thought about it as a way to save.

We also found another interesting post from Shannyn at Frugal Beautiful, that had the following ideas to help eat healthy and cheap:

  • Oatmeal.  Long shelf life, good flavors and easy to eat on the go.  Throw a packet in your bag and just add hot water or milk in a coffee cup at work and you’re set.  Extra Frugal Tip: Buy the plain oats in bulk, and premeasure single servings into ziploc bags or tuppers.  Add your own dried fruits, brown sugar or cinnamon so all you have to do is add water and it’s already measured!
  • Canned tuna.  Albacore is good for you.  I will sometimes just crack open a can to top on my salad or eat on its own just for simple protein.  Don’t feel obligated to make an elaborate tuna salad sandwich…just open the can, drain the water and go for it.
  • Frozen veggies and chicken.  One of my best quick-recipes is soup.  Keep broth mix on hand, throw it in a pot with frozen veggies, chicken and rice or noodles, let it simmer while you study and in a few hours,  you have an easy one-pot meal.

Read more at How to eat healthy for cheap.

I had almost forgotten about canned tuna.  When mixed with mustard instead of mayo its pretty darn healthy.  And the frozen vegetables that you can get in bulk at Costco or Sams Club make great fillers for things like pasta, rice and stir fry.

Do you have any ideas for our readers that you can share?

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

kjscrafts May 2, 2012 at 1:16 pm

Great helpful tips. I really like the idea about cooking larger amounts to them reheat later. I tend to end up eating unhealthy stuff too often because I am too lazy to really cook. I really need to figure out a time to do it once a week at least.

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BrandyB May 2, 2012 at 10:57 pm

Good tips. I’ve started doing the bulk cooking, so that I’m less likely to just go through a fast food drive through during the week. When I’m tired from working all day, the last thing I want to do is stand around the kitchen and cook something elaborate. It’s great to have a casserole all ready to just pop in the oven.

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TheQuailsPlume May 3, 2012 at 4:04 pm

Great tips! I’d also recommend getting into the habit of having a Vegetarian Night at home once a week. While not inherently healthy (there are loads of unhealthy vegetarian options!), vegetarian eating can be very low cost and (with determination and a little research) can also help support a healthy lifestyle. If you cook for others, before long your diners will want to get involved in picking the recipes for this special day of the week. Veggie burritos are yummy and kid-friendly as well as very budget-friendly. A veggie stir-fry is cheap and memorable. Chole saag and Chana masala are both Indian dishes featuring chickpeas that are so good and can be made at home for a fraction of what a restaurant would charge. Make it a fun experience with some easy table decorations and hand-made (or kid-made) menus. You will be teaching your kids (and/or friends) a lesson in frugality AND good, healthy eating!

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FamilyTreeClimber May 6, 2012 at 4:10 pm

These are excellent tips! I usually cook more than I need and freeze leftovers whenever possible. It saves on waste and money. Also, it keeps me from being bored with the same meals several days in a row. If I buy a box of rice pilaf or other mix, I always add vegetables to it. I can get several meals out of it that way. I eat it for one or two nights and freeze the rest in individual servings. I can buy a bulk bag of frozen vegetables at Costco which last me several weeks. I always have different varieties of beans on hand. They add a little variety to my meals and are very filling.

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AlwaysAMama May 16, 2012 at 11:58 pm

This is a really informative article! There are really great tips in the comments too! Another tip is using coupons! I often see coupons for healthy items, sometimes I even find them for produce and meat.

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