Healthy Eating on a Budget


Healthy Eating on a Budget

Saving you money

One of the more common excuses you will hear for not eating healthy is, “I just can’t afford to buy healthy foods!” There is no doubt that there are people living in poverty for whom this is really true, but unless you are one of them, you can’t afford NOT to eat healthy!

Illness is expensive

Consider the cost of medical care for sickness and disease. When you include tests, doctor visits and medications, the final bill will be a real budget killer! On the other hand, a little careful planning with your food dollars can go a long way toward keeping you well.

Here are some ideas to help you succeed at healthy eating on a budget. Even if you can't implement the whole list, even making a few changes can help stretch your food dollars.

Buying food

--Figure out how much you can afford to spend on food each month.

--Make a list before you go shopping, based on your menu plans and the store circular showing what’s on sale.

--Avoiding expensive impulse items that will run up your grocery bill is easier if you don't shop when you are hungry.

--Clip coupons, but only for healthy foods! Even if you have a coupon, you are not saving money if you buy an overly processed product that will not add to your family’s good health.

--Skip empty calorie foods, such as soft drinks, sugary snacks, candy, most chips and doughnuts in favor of foods that make the best use of your food dollars, such as fruits, vegetables, lean meats, whole grains, legumes and dairy products.

--Stay mainly on the perimeter of the grocery store where the healthy foods are kept and where you will not be tempted by attractively packaged and often overpriced junk food.

--Pay attention to "sell by" and “use by” dates when you purchase perishable items. Look for the further away dates, especially if you do not plan to use the food right away.

--Shop at local Farmers’ Markets, join a local CSA or a SHARE program.

--Buy fresh foods when they are in season to get the best price. Enjoy the foods while they are available and buy extra amounts to freeze for use at a later date.

Choosing food

--Drink water instead of soda, juice, flavored water or other expensive beverages. Keep a glass (or stainless steel) bottle of filtered water in your refrigerator or at your desk to quench your thirst.

--If you like to drink tea or coffee, try brewing your own instead of spending your food dollars on fast-food versions.

--Limit meat consumption in favor of less expensive protein foods, such as beans, lentils, rice and frozen vegetables. Nuts and seeds are also a good, nutrient dense alternative, but use them sparingly, since they are caloric and can be expensive.

--Look at portion sizes and learn to eat serving sizes that are appropriate for your age and lifestyle. In addition to helping you stay within your food budget, this will also help you to lose or maintain a healthy weight.

Eating out

--Save eating out for special occasions. You can buy a lot of food at the grocery store for the cost of one restaurant meal. If you do eat out, take a "doggie bag" home to be used as a meal the next day.

--Take your lunch to work instead of buying your lunch. With some planning, it only takes a few minutes to pack a healthy lunch, and the cost of eating lunch out can add up very quickly.

--Drive right past the drive-thru window. At worst, fast food is loaded with simple carbs and fat to make you unhealthy and overweight, and even apparently healthy foods, such as salads, have chemicals and preservatives to keep them looking fresh longer.  Although the latest “deal” may seem like a bargain, there is no doubt that fast food will start you on the fast track to poor health!

Preparing and storing food

--Store the foods you buy carefully, to avoid waste. Wait to wash fruits and vegetables until you are ready to use them, and dry them thoroughly if you will be storing them. Plan to use more perishable foods first, and freeze those items that you know you will not be using in time.

--Baking seems to be turning into a lost art, but you can still make better and cheaper breads, muffins and other baked products yourself than store-bought versions.

--On the weekend, or when you have time, prepare larger meals and freeze the leftovers for those days when you do not have time to cook and are tempted by pricier and less healthy fast food or convenience food.

--Take one week each month or two and use up foods that you already have in the house. Be creative, making soups, hashes, casseroles and other dishes from the odds and ends of food in your refrigerator and cupboard. Vegetables that are a little past it (limp but not spoiled) can be use to make soup or stock instead of being thrown away.

--Try preparing one meatless meal a week. Using foods such as rice, beans and vegetables in your meal plans can save money and improve your health.

Growing food

--Plant a garden and grow some of your own food. Even a porch or patio garden with tomatoes and herbs can help your food budget as well as the taste and nutrition of your meals. It also can be a rewarding experience or hobby. Freeze any excess produce to enjoy in the winter months.

Knowing food

--Take time to educate yourself about which foods are good for you and how many servings you need each day to be healthy. Don’t be taken in by gleaming food labels that make health-related promises. Become a smart consumer who is not easily manipulated by fads and advertising campaigns.

--Keep it simple. A healthy eating diet is generally made up of a varied combination of whole foods, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes with a small amount of lean protein foods, dairy products and healthy fats.

Click here to go from Healthy Eating on a Budget page to Healthy Eating Guidelines page.