How to Eat Healthy on a Budget
easy to feel overwhelmed when you consider changing your diet. It can help to
focus on making one small change at a time. Don’t try to overhaul your family’s
eating habits all at once — this is a recipe for failure. Instead, change one
habit, food, or purchase a week and see how it goes.
Eat More Fruits and Vegetables
According to the Centers for
Disease Control, only 1 in 10 Americans eat the recommended amount of fruits
and vegetables. Eating more fruits and vegetables is an essential part of a
The amount of fruits and vegetables
you need depends on your age, sex, and physical activity level. However, the
USDA recommends that adults need 1 to 2 cups of fruit per day and 1 to 3 cups
There are many ways you can up your
fruit and vegetable consumption.
Slip in more fruits and vegetables
during the day by eating them as snacks. Instead of pulling out a bag of chips,
eat some carrots, fresh broccoli with low-fat ranch dressing, or an apple.
Vegetable drinks, such as V8,
provide two full servings of vegetables in every 11-ounce can. Drinking a can a
day is an easy way to increase your veggie intake. If the taste of V8 doesn’t
appeal to you, try adding some Tabasco sauce to spice it up.
V8 is more expensive than regular
tomato juice, so wait for it to go on sale and stock up when it does, or look
for coupons. You can also sometimes find lower prices online through Amazon or
Walmart, or at warehouse stores like Costco.
In-season produce is less expensive
than food that’s grown somewhere else and then shipped to the store. Epicurious
has a useful map that shows in-season fruits and vegetables in your area. Refer
to it before you head to the store.
According to a report by NPR,
frozen fruits and vegetables are just as healthy as fresh produce. They also
have a much longer shelf-life, which is a huge benefit for busy families who
don’t have time to make frequent trips to the store to buy fresh produce.
Another benefit is that frozen
fruits and vegetables often go on sale. If you invest in a stand-alone freezer,
you can stock up on frozen items when they go on sale and save even more.
You can also save money if you
balance fresh and frozen produce around the seasons. For instance, it’s often
less expensive to eat fresh produce in the summer because it’s in-season, and
some stores source these foods from local farms. It’s usually cheaper to eat
frozen vegetables in the winter because much of the fresh produce that’s in
stock has to be shipped in from warmer climates.
: You can also plan
your meals ahead and freeze enough for the entire month. MyFreezEasy will give
you meal plans and show you how to successfully cut meal prep time and cost.
Search for fruits and vegetables at
farmers markets. Typically, prices at farmers markets are lower than what you’d
pay at the grocery store, but not always. Plus, locally grown produce is often
healthier because it’s fresh and often organic.
You can find many unusual items at
farmers markets that you can’t find in regular stores, like wasabi radishes or
kohlrabi. Trying new fruits and vegetables is fun and can make eating healthy
To save money, try shopping at the
farmers market during the last 15 to 30 minutes before they close. Many vendors
will be willing to sell unsold food at a discount simply so they don’t have to
take it back home or risk it going to waste.
You can also use companies like
Farm Fresh To You to have organic fruits and vegetables shipped to your door
any time of the year. You can save $10 off your first four boxes when you use
According to the USDA, any food
made with oats, cornmeal, wheat, rice, barley, or other cereal grain is
considered a grain product. And grains are divided into two categories: refined
grains and whole grains.
Refined grains are milled to remove
the bran, germ, and endosperm. Milling gives the product a finer texture, but
removing the bran and germ means the product has less fiber, iron, and B
vitamins. Some examples of refined grains include:
-White flour products such as
breads and pastries
Whole grains are the complete
grain, which includes the bran and germ. Whole grains are a great source of
fiber, and they contain many other nutrients absent in refined grains. Some
examples of whole grains include:
According to the Mayo Clinic,
eating whole grains lowers your risk of heart disease. Whole grains are full of
fiber, which helps keep your digestive system healthy and moving, and they
expand once inside your stomach to help you feel full. The USDA recommends that
each person consumes 3 to 8 ounces of grains every day, 50% of which should be
There are many ways to work more
whole grains into your diet. For example:
-Instead of white rice, buy brown
-Instead of white bread, purchase
whole grain bread
-Instead of regular pasta, try
-When making pancakes or bread,
substitute 50% of the white flour with whole-wheat flour
-Use old-fashioned oats instead of
quick one-minute oats for your morning oatmeal
-Buy whole-grain crackers instead
of white flour crackers
Many supermarkets sell whole grains
in bulk, and these can be significantly cheaper than buying them bagged. Next
time you’re at the store, compare the price of a prepackaged whole-grain, such
as oats, to the bulk variety to see how much you can save.
head to the grocery store, make sure you download the Ibotta or Fetch Rewards
app. With these, you’ll be able to scan your grocery receipt and earn cash
Eat Healthier Proteins
The World Economic Forum reports
that Americans eat more meat than any other country in the world. Many people
love sitting down to a steak dinner or biting into a juicy hamburger. However,
these protein sources are not only unhealthy, but they’re also expensive.
According to the American Heart Association,
red meat (from beef, pork, and lamb) has more saturated fat than chicken, fish,
and vegetable proteins. And our meat comes at a premium price that only keeps
rising. According to CNBC, April 2020 grocery store prices rose 2.6%, the
highest increase since February 1974. This jump was led mostly by the price
increase in meats, poultry, fish, and eggs, which rose 4.3%, in large part due
to panic-buying and supply disruptions from the COVID-19 pandemic.
The amount of protein you need
varies depending on your age, sex, and activity level. And, you need less
protein than you probably think. The USDA states that the average adult needs
just 2 to 6.5 ounces of protein each day, or, according to Harvard Health, you
need 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. See this protein
calculator to figure out how much protein you need based on your age, sex,
height, weight, and activity level.
While most Americans get enough
protein each day, the USDA states that we need to choose leaner, healthier
proteins, such as those found in fish, chicken, beans, dairy, and whole grains.
Protein hides in a lot of places
you might not expect. For example:
-1 cup of milk: 8 grams of protein
-1 cup of dried beans: 16 grams of
-2 tablespoons of peanut butter: 8
grams of protein
-2 slices of whole-grain bread: 8
grams of protein
-1 ounce of walnuts: 4 grams of
-1/2 cup of cottage cheese: 16
grams of protein
-1 cup of tofu: 16 grams of protein
-5 ounces of Greek yogurt: 15 grams
-1 cup of chicken: 38 grams of
-3 ounces of cod: 19 grams of
There are plenty of ways to sneak
some cheaper, meatless protein into your diet and increase your daily total.
You can also save money with these tips.
The more processed your meat is,
the more expensive it’s going to be. A practical way to save money is to buy
whole meats and trim them yourself.
For example, according to the
USDA’s Retail Price Spreads, one pound of boneless chicken breasts cost $3.15,
while a whole chicken costs $1.57 per pound. You could find an easy roast
chicken recipe and have dinner on the table for half the price.
According to the USDA, the leanest
cuts of beef are round steaks, roasts (which include eye of round, top round,
bottom round, and round tip), top sirloin, and chuck shoulder. The leanest cuts
of pork include pork tenderloin, tenderloin, ham, and center loin.
Check your grocery store’s sale
flyer every week to see if any of these cuts are on sale.
Tuna is a good source of lean
protein, and it costs less per ounce than many other meats. You can often save
even more if you purchase canned tuna in bulk.
Eat More Beans and Legumes
Beans and legumes are affordable and
high in protein. There are plenty of ways to incorporate more beans into your
Add black beans or chickpeas to a
Cook a great vegetarian chili
recipe once a week.
Make black bean burgers instead of
hamburgers. Pioneer Woman has a great recipe that’s delicious, cheap, and
straightforward to make.
Grab your slow cooker and make some
mean black bean enchiladas.
Roast chickpeas in the oven. These
are an excellent replacement for chips.
For more ideas on incorporating
non-meat protein into your diet, invest in a vegetarian or vegan cookbook or
borrow one from the library. The classic “Veganomicon” by Chandra Moskowitz and
Terry Hope Romero is a great choice because most recipes are approachable and
use ingredients found in most supermarkets. If you have an Instant Pot, “The
Vegan Instant Pot Cookbook” by Nisha Vora offers ethnic variety and plenty of
delicious, approachable recipes.
Your slow cooker can be an invaluable
companion in the kitchen because it allows you to turn inexpensive cuts of
meat, like roasts and sirloins, into delicious and healthy meals for your
family. You can also purchase less meat and stretch it farther by adding more
beans, vegetables, and rice.
There are plenty of easy slow
cooker recipes that will help you save money and eat a healthier diet.
It’s relatively easy and affordable
to make homemade dips, sauces, salad dressings, soups, and spreads for wraps
and sandwiches. When you make these items at home, you can reduce or eliminate
the sodium and fat and cut the calories found in prepackaged products.
Homemade sauces and dips are
inexpensive to make, and they add spice to your healthy eating plan. When you
make these items as you need them, they’re fresh and better tasting. It might
also help you reduce food waste because you’ll only make as much as you need or
as much as you can eat within a few days.
This popular whole-grain snack is low
in calories, high in fiber, and cheap. The loose kernels cost much less than
bagged popcorn, and buying them enables you to skip the extra calories from the
butter as well as the high salt content of prepackaged popcorn.
Making stove-top popcorn at home is
easy and fun. My family and I use coconut oil and sea salt on our popcorn at
home, and it’s far more delicious than any popcorn I’ve purchased in a bag. Try
this recipe from popular food blogger Cookie + Kate to start making stove-top
Granola is full of heart-healthy
whole grains and plenty of nuts and dried fruits, which makes it a perfect
breakfast or snack.
Store-bought granola is incredibly
expensive, and most of the time it’s loaded with plenty of added sugar.
Fortunately, it’s easy and inexpensive to make granola at home. You can also
customize the recipe to reduce your sugar intake and add whatever nuts and
dried fruits you like. Most of the time, you can make granola using ingredients
you already have in your pantry.
Cookie + Kate’s Healthy Granola
Recipe is one of the best, and there are dozens of ways to customize it. You
can change out the nuts, nix or mix the sweeteners, swap the dried fruits,
change up the spices, and even add extras like chocolate chips or toasted
coconut. Once you see how easy and affordable it is to make homemade granola,
you’ll never go back to buying it in a bag.
Tips for Making Healthier Restaurant Choices
needs a break from cooking at home, and it’s fun to go out to eat with family
and friends. However, the food you eat at restaurants is often higher in
calories, sodium, and saturated fats. It’s also more expensive than what you’d
pay to cook the same meal at home.
However, eating out is a treat.
There are ways to save money and make healthier choices when you visit a
Before meeting friends or family at
a restaurant, have a healthy snack at home. You can stave off cravings and
reduce hunger by eating an apple or a banana 30 minutes before you leave.
This tip also works well during the
holiday season, when food-laden parties are scheduled every week.
2. Do Your Homework on
Most restaurants have their menu
readily available online, and some even have nutrition charts posted on their
websites. You can also call the restaurant and ask if they have healthy or
low-fat meals available.
Depending on the restaurant’s size
and popularity, you may find online reviews with healthy meal suggestions. Two
great websites to review include Yelp and Zomato.
Restaurant and fast food meals
often contain high amounts of fat, salt, and calories. Even when restaurants
reveal calorie counts for meals, USA Today reports that they often
underestimate them by as much as 20%.
3. Look for a Healthy or
Smaller-Portion Section on the Menu
Most restaurants have added a
special section to their menus that makes finding healthy choices easier than
ever. If the menu doesn’t highlight heart-healthy or low-fat options, order
grilled chicken or broiled fish, and avoid fried foods and cream-based salad
dressings, sauces, and soups. Your server can provide more details about
healthy options on the menu.
You can also ask for a child-sized
portion at many restaurants. Some restaurants, including Olive Garden, allow
diners to order a lunch portion for dinner. Most restaurants offer oversized
portions, so order a lunch-sized portion or a children’s meal to save money and
stay on track with your healthy eating plan.
You can also save calories and
money by dividing the food at a restaurant. Ask for a to-go box, and divide the
food into two portions before you eat. This ensures you won’t overindulge and
that you have leftovers for lunch the following day. Decline the server’s offer
of a bread basket, and fill up on salad instead.
4. Go to Independently Owned
Restaurant chains such as Denny’s,
Chili’s, and Applebee’s often serve gigantic portions. You can get reasonably
sized meals at smaller, independently-run restaurants. You might get a
healthier meal since many smaller restaurants, especially those in bigger
cities, source fresh produce locally.
Because many of the smaller
restaurants use fresh, local produce, the food often tastes better. Larger
chains often don’t go through the trouble and expense to source food locally.
Instead, they may use lower-quality ingredients and rely on salt and fat to
improve the taste of the food.
Restaurants often serve you more
food than you need. Try to practice moderation whenever you dine out, and don’t
feel pressured to eat everything. Resist bread, soup, and dessert, and eat more
Ask your server if they can cook
your meal with oil instead of butter. Try substituting french fries with a dish
of fruit or a salad.
6. Try Mediterranean Restaurants
Mediterranean restaurants are a
budget-conscious dieter’s best friend. Hummus, tabbouleh, whole-wheat pita
bread, Greek salads, chicken kebabs, and rice are delicious, heart-healthy
The food is high in protein and
inexpensive, especially if you order appetizer portions instead of full meals.
Always verify calorie counts online or in a restaurant before ordering your
people are looking for ways to eat healthy on a budget. Although eating healthy
can be more expensive than buying less-healthy, prepackaged food, there are
plenty of ways to cut costs and stick to your grocery budget.
An added benefit to healthy eating
is that it can boost your immune system and give you more energy.
What healthy foods are you cooking
and eating at home right now?