It’s taken me a long time to figure out this little gem. Even though I’m a low income earner, I can eat healthy on a budget. If I want to, that is…
Many healthy foods are budget friendly.
I hate to admit reality. The junk foods that I love are usually not healthy or cheap.
Here are 14 tips to eat healthy on a budget.
1. Change your eating and drinking habits
Eating healthy on a budget is all about changing your eating and drinking habits. Whether it’s a temporary change until your financial situation becomes better, or a lifestyle change depends on your circumstances.
You can’t afford to eat steak and lobster on a low income, so you adapt and find cheaper, healthier choices. Tuna, eggs, chick peas, and tofu might not be exciting or what you’re craving, but they’re cheap, versatile, and good protein sources.
Right now, March 31, 2020, with the coronavirus pandemic and people panic shopping, a lot of grocery shelves are empty. You might be forced to change what you eat and drink based on what you can find.
Unfortunately, a lot of lower priced groceries are quickly selling out as soon as they hit the shelves. Same story with online retailers.
Hang in there. Eventually the grocery shelves will get restocked.
2. Don’t eat out
Don’t waste your money by eating out. It’s a common theme on this blog! The occasional meal out as a treat is fine. If you’re working on paying down debt or building an emergency fund, hold off on eating out until you’re in better shape financially.
If you’re eating out because you don’t feel like dealing with a dirty kitchen, just tackle it in 15 minute shifts until it’s shining. Or hire a cleaning company. You’ll be so mortified that strangers saw your dirty kitchen that you’ll do what it takes to make sure that doesn’t happen again.
Cooking at home using inexpensive ingredients will save you time and money, and provide you with leftovers.
3. Learn how to bake
Someone once told me that creative people are good bakers.
Cakes, pies, cookies and snacks. Yup, I can make them cheaper than buying them, and maybe even make them (marginally) healthier.
Creative? Adapting recipes to fit what I have on hand, experimenting with ingredients, veganizing, and figuring out how to eat healthy on a budget. Perhaps those are the “ingredients” that make me creative.
You can save a lot of money learning to bake bread, cakes, cookies, granola bars, and other snacks.
Some of my favorite snacks don’t even require baking, other than melting ingredients in the microwave oven. Check out my easy recipe for chocolate peanut butter crunchies and swap them out for chocolate bars.
There’s a YouTube video for just about everything out there. Free cooking classes!
Do you want to learn how to bake an easy loaf of bread? Give this poor man’s Dutch oven no-knead bread a shot.
4. Prepare food ahead of time
I’m more likely to prepare food ahead of time for breakfast. It could be overnight oats, chocolate chip peanut butter oatmeal bake, or pumpkin chocolate chip muffins. I’m not a big morning person so if breakfast is already figured out for me, that’s great!
Other foods I make ahead of time are beans in the Instant Pot or vegetarian chili in the crock pot.
As a single, there are recipes I want to make, but I end up eating leftovers for a long time afterwards. Leftovers can be a good thing if they can be frozen. You can have that meal once a week for the rest of the month depending on how much you have.
My Super Easy Instant Pot Vegetable Barley Soup doesn’t get frozen. I keep it in the fridge and have it for lunch or dinner over the next couple of days.
If I’m making Beans in Tomato Soup Sauce or Sweetiepie Beans, I’ll have some the day I make them, and maybe the next day, too. Mostly, they go into freezer bags to eat over the next few weeks or months.
Same with Super Easy Veggie Lentil Loaf. I bring out a slice, boil corn and peas, or make a spinach salad, and it’s a quick meal made from leftovers.
Whatever you’re planning to cook, look for budget friendly meals that can be frozen or keep well in the fridge for a few days.
6. Cut back on meat
When you cut back on meat, your body and wallet will love you. Maybe you’ll drop a few pounds too if that’s an area you’re working on.
I was at a recent event attended by some former coworkers, most of them retired. One of them was checking the sandwiches for meat, and I asked if she was a vegetarian. She said she pretty much became a vegetarian because she can’t afford meat.
Whether you cut back, or cut out, or decide to only eat meat when you go out for special occasions, this can be a huge money-saver when you’re looking for ways to eat healthy on a budget.
You can find other protein sources instead of meat products.
7. Stop drinking alcohol and soda pop
Again, your body and wallet will love you if you stop drinking sodas and alcohol. If you’re trying to lose weight, you might have heard something about “drinking your calories”, and that’s why the scale isn’t budging.
I cut back on Diet Coke and Diet Pepsi over ten years ago when I bought a Mr. Coffee Iced Tea Maker. I drink iced tea year round. I’m usually brewing a new batch of iced tea daily, or at least, every second day. A box of 64 Lipton Green Tea Lemon Ginseng costs around $5 at Walmart and I get 16 batches of iced tea from it. Zero calories.
Would I prefer a Dr. Pepper or a Coca Cola? You bet! These days they’re only a special treat. I save money and calories by not drinking them.
8. Cut back junk food
In addition to cutting back on soda pop, when you’re on a tight budget you should cut back on junk food. For some people junk food means a fast food burger joint, but we’ve pretty much eliminated those places by making a choice to cook at home and not eat out.
Junk food can be cookies, candies, chocolates, ice cream, cake, pie, crackers, potato chips, donuts, and so much more. I had to stop with my list. I love those kinds of foods!
Although I’m not a big potato chip eater, when I see them on sale, sometimes I’m tempted to toss them in my cart. Same with crackers. And cookies. And ice cream. Yikes! You get the picture!
Instead of potato chips, tortilla chips, or crackers, I switched to popcorn. It’s much cheaper and somewhat healthier, depending on toppings.
I’ve baked cookies forever, but boxed cookies in the grocery store still call out to me. I work real hard to avoid walking down that aisle in the store!
Same thing with the bakery department. It’s a struggle to stay out of there. One of my indulgences is that I bought donut pans and started making my own slightly healthier baked donuts.
I make my own granola bars, so I control the ingredients I put in them. Saves me spending $2 or $3 for a box of granola bars at the store. The store bought granola bars come in boxes of five or six. I can bake a batch of twenty to twenty-four granola bars, depending on how I cut them.
9. Grow your own food
Even if you only have a small balcony, you can probably grow some of your own food.
When I lived in a townhouse with a 10’ x 10’ back yard, I managed to grow rhubarb, grapes, strawberries, and planted a patio apple tree. I also had two kiwi plants but they never produced while I lived there.
Right now I have three planters with rhubarb. That same rhubarb from the townhouse that I’ve been dragging around for years. It’s a family heirloom! I also grow mint and chives in a pot.
Seeds are cheap, or you can buy young plants from a garden center.
The farm where I keep my horse has lots of blackberry bushes. I pick the berries and freeze them. Blackberries grow wild all around the Greater Vancouver Area. It’s common to see cars pulled to the side of the road and people outside in the ditches picking berries.
I’m fortunate that my landlords have blueberry bushes and apple trees and they generously allow me to help myself.
If you can’t grow your own food, shop for produce while it’s in season. Take a drive out in the country where you’ll see farmers selling fresh produce from their driveways.
Try a Google search for a community garden in your area. You’ll get a plot of land where you can grow your own veggies.
10. Frozen produce
The freezer is your friend!
Unfortunately, your freezer could also be a creepy food thief’s friend!
Buying frozen foods is a great way to reduce food waste!
11. Buy generic foods
A little secret is that the big food manufacturers have contracts with grocery stores to prepare and package their food product under that grocery store’s brand name. In other words, you’re getting the name product in a different wrapper for a cheaper price.
I worked for a food wholesaler many years ago and we distributed the Oscar Mayer and Carl Buddig meats plus their no name brands for various grocery stores. Same product, different name and package, lower price.
I love Walmart’s Great Value brand of chunky peanut butter. I also like Kraft, but if Kraft’s not on sale, I’ll grab Walmart’s peanut butter.
12. Don’t shop organic
I’ve mentioned this before. You don’t need to spend more money buying organic foods. It’s nice if you can get them, but often they come at a premium price.
The cinnamon I’m using says organic on the jar. Buying “organic” cinnamon wasn’t my intention. I picked it up at the Asian produce store I shop at because the big container holds twice the cinnamon of what is sold in grocery stores at half the price.
In other words, I may unintentionally buy organic products just because they’re the best price.
13. Stock up on sales
I don’t have a lot of money to be a prepper, but when I see a good price on something that I regularly eat, I’ll grab an extra one. Or two.
Soup, peanut butter, frozen foods, and baking ingredients are excellent choices to get extras when they’re on sale.
Just make sure it’s something you actually eat. You don’t want a good deal hanging out in your cupboard until you toss it out.
14. Avoid shopping at convenience stores
Try out different grocery stores, fresh produce stores, and ethnic stores to find the best prices and freshest food.
The best prices aren’t at “convenience stores”. You know the ones. They’re usually attached to a gas station.
Have you ever run into 7-11 and bought anything besides a Slurpee?
It’s a hot summer day. You’re thirsty. You run in and buy a Slurpee. It happens once or twice a year. Not a big deal.
Do you run into your corner store every day to buy a can of soup for dinner? Or to pick up a gallon of milk because you forgot to grab it at Walmart?
You pay more for groceries in those small convenience stores.
Stop and think about it. Cook something else for dinner that you have in the house. If you can’t get to a grocery store with good prices, just do without until you can.
Repeat this mantra: Prices in convenience stores are for rich people!
Here’s the takeaway.
And I’m not talking fast food joints takeaway!
With a little planning, making a shopping list, making smart choices at the grocery store, and cooking and baking at home, you can eat healthy on a low budget.
Junk food costs too much money and costs your health.
If you can’t stay healthy, you’ll spend money on medical costs, prescription drugs, and it might even affect your ability to work.
Don’t put a price on eating healthy on a budget.
There are many foods that are healthy and inexpensive. You can increase your consumption of beans, eggs, frozen fruit and vegetables, soups, tuna, and whole grains.
Learn to appreciate inexpensive foods.