Healthy Eating on a Budget

Sometimes eating healthy and affording to eat seem like two incompatible ideas. Healthy food can be expensive while unhealthy processed foods are cheap, leading people pressed for money to pay for calories over nutrition. But nutrition is incredibly important for your health, and can still be affordable with a considered, intentional approach.

Follow these 15 tips for eating healthy on a budget to take control of your food budget and secure a healthy diet for you and your loved ones.

Before You Go

Keep these tips in mind before you head to the grocery store:

1. Plan your meals.

Planning ahead is one of the best tools for creating healthy meals on a budget. It allows you to get a good idea of what food you should buy and how much it will cost you. Plus, planning meals ahead will save you time and brain space during the week, so you won’t have to get home from work and try to figure out what to make for dinner. Sounds good, right? Here are some tips for meal planning.

First of all, make sure to cater your meals to your needs and preferences. If you have dietary restrictions or diseases that are influenced by your diet, take that into account while planning. For example, people with diabetes should plan meals with their blood sugar in mind. Remember to plan for foods you intuitively prefer as well! Meals, after all, should be enjoyed.

Next, try to pick recipes that can be made in a big batch and eaten as leftovers throughout the week. Soups and casseroles are great for this, and can save you time in the kitchen during the work week. Try to create a line-up of recipes with some ingredients in common. That’ll pare down the number of ingredients you’ll need to buy. For instance, buy a whole chicken and use it for chicken stir fry, chicken fajitas, and chicken noodle soup. Visit our Recipes and Resources page for ideas!

Lastly, a great way to save money and practice healthy eating is to pencil in some meatless meals. Consider trying a Meatless Monday, or adding some vegetarian recipes to your weekly meals. Substituting meat for cheaper protein options like beans, peas, and lentils can go a long way for your budget, your health, and the environment, too!

2. Create a shopping list.

Similarly, shopping lists will help you plan and can save you time, money, and energy. When you follow your list, you’ll also be able to avoid impulse buys. Make sure to leave room for flexibility in your list in case there are similar items on sale (strawberries instead of blueberries, for example).

3. Eat something before you go shopping.

Grocery shopping while hungry can lead you to make impulsive purchases, and to buy more food than you really need. Make it easier to stick to your list and your budget by making sure you’re full when you hit the store.

Savings at the Store

Once you’re ready to browse the shelves, keep the following tips in mind for greater savings. You can also explore the USDA’s guide for shopping smart in every aisle.

4. Buy produce in season.

Produce that’s in season is usually cheaper. Get healthy food on a budget by finding out what’s in season.

5. Choose less expensive cuts of meat.

Chuck steak, pork top sirloin steak, whole chicken, and ground meat or poultry are more budget-friendly meat options.

6. Stock up on your favorites when they’re on sale.

If something you love goes on sale, and you’ll definitely use it before it all expires, stock up! Sales can be a great way to save money on regular purchases.

7. Look for whole food options that are usually cheaper.

While these foods can sometimes be more expensive, certain whole foods may be cheaper because of the lesser amount of processing involved. For instance, a block of cheese can be cheaper than shredded cheese. Capitalize on price differences like this to eat cheap and healthy!

8. Buy the generic store brand.

The CDC recommends buying generic store brands to help you eat healthy on a budget. They estimate that purchasing store brands over name brands can save you as much as 20-30% on your food bill.

9. Canned and frozen foods can be healthy and less expensive alternatives.

Avoid canned foods with added sugar or sodium and frozen foods with added butter or sauces. Outside of those unhealthy additives, canned and frozen vegetables can be a great money-saving alternative to fresh produce.

10. Avoid the checkout counter with the candy.

If you’ve got a sweet tooth or you’re shopping with your kids, pick the checkout lane without the line of tempting candies. You’ll save money on impulse purchases and avoid unhealthy sugar.

11. Take advantage of coupons and other savings opportunities.

Even low-value coupons can add up to save you a lot of money! Scan ads for coupons, or download coupon apps to streamline the process. You may also want to try grocery rebate apps, which give you cash back for specific purchases. Again, these savings are small, but can add up to be significant.

Bolster Your Budget

These last tips take a broader approach, and should be worked into your lifestyle to help you save money on food while still getting the nutrients you need.

12. Cut down on waste.

Make sure your money is well-spent by consuming the food you’re buying before it goes to waste. Regularly check the back of your pantry and fridge to make sure you’re using what you have. Additionally, proper food storage can help extend the shelf life of your ingredients.

13. Pack your lunch.

Taking lunch to work instead of eating out can save you a lot of money during the week. Whip up some healthy meals for your lunch break and forgo the restaurant tab.

14. Look beyond the grocery store.

Your go-to grocery store isn’t the only place to get the food you need. Keep other options in mind to save money. Discount grocery stores or dollar stores can sell foods at cheaper price points; just remember to check the ingredients and expiration dates to make sure you’re still getting quality foods.

Check out ethnic grocers near you for great prices on a variety of foods. Visit your nearest Asian market for jars of kimchi or a host of other healthy, fresh, and flavorful options!

Lastly, if you have the time and resources, consider starting a little garden. You can grow simple herbs to flavor your food, or small crops like tomatoes and strawberries. You don’t need a huge backyard for this, either; you can grow plants in pots on an apartment balcony, or even along a windowsill. Growing food can be a budget-friendly and enjoyable way to supplement your grocery shopping.

15. Use the resources available to you.

Finally, the most impactful choice you can make to help you eat healthy on a budget is to seek out available resources. Here at the SLO Food Bank, we strengthen our community by providing nutritious food where it’s needed. Food banks in your community are similarly equipped to assist you.

You can also apply for food assistance programs, such as CalFresh, a supplemental nutrition assistance program that lets you extend your EBT benefits at local farmers’ markets with Market Match. Nonprofits and other local organizations can also help you access nutritious foods when money is tight. Look for community gardens and other food assistance in your area. There are always avenues to get the help you need.

We at the SLO Food Bank believe that everyone has the right to nutritious food. We work with a network of community partners in San Luis Obispo to alleviate hunger and to build a stronger community. If you’re in the area, check out our Food Locator to find food sources near you, or support our cause through volunteer opportunities. With reliable access to wholesome food, we are all healthier, happier, and more productive members of our communities. Donate today to help us bring health and happiness to San Luis Obispo County!