Are you working with a small budget for food these days? Think you can only find good deals on high processed “cheap” meals to get your dollar to stretch? If so, read on as I show you how to find affordable, whole foods that you can use to prepare amazing, healthy meals without breaking the bank. Yes, you can eat fresh, whole foods on a budget. Plan your meals, comparison shop and build up a habit of choosing whole foods over processed ones. Soon you’ll find that eating healthy food on a budget has become your new normal. Wellness will follow.
I believe that everyone, regardless of the size of their family budget, should have access to whole, non-processed foods that promote health. Some healthy foods (organic fruits and vegetables, vegan convenience foods and responsibly raised meat and seafood) may be out of reach in terms of cost for many of us. Still, there are a ton of healthy foods available—in every nutritional food group. These nutrient-dense foods will help you meet your weight loss, wellness, and dietary goals while staying on a modest food budget.
Over the years, I’ve compiled a list of cheaper, healthy options. I never want to feel like I can’t feed myself and my family healthy, delicious meals. You shouldn’t have to compromise either. You can eat fresh, whole foods on a budget. Let me show you some of my favorites:
- Shop seasonally. Buy fruits and vegetables that are in season. Check out the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s seasonal produce guide.
- Shop at Farmer’s Markets (and shop late). You can sometimes snatch up a few deals later in the day when farmers are getting ready to close up shop. Work on developing a relationship with the farmers to see if there are any items that they want to sell fast (and hopefully at a discounted price).
- It helps to plan your meals ahead of time (check out my weekly meal planners). It will save you time and money, but don’t be afraid to ditch those plans if you find seasonal produce at a great price. Be flexible and build a new meal around that fresh produce instead.
Frozen fruit (in bulk)
- Keep the staples on hand, and you will always have a lean, healthy protein to build a meal around. Eggs, beans and canned tuna are your best options when it comes to stocking your frig and pantry with a quick, easy high-quality protein option.
- Nut butters are less expensive than raw nuts (although you can find some good deals on nuts when you buy in bulk or at specialty groceries such as Aldi and Trader Joe’s).
Frozen fish filets (in bulk)
- Bulk shopping is where it’s at when it comes to stocking up on grains. Buy some glass canisters (with a good rubber-sealed top) and store your grains safely for months.
- Ancient grains, such as amaranth, are very affordable, especially when purchased in bulk. Farro and quinoa are other cheap grains that will fill your belly for little money. Many of these grains are now easily found in local grocers. These days, even Walmart sells amaranth and farro!
Bulk grains (oatmeal, amaranth, couscous, quinoa)
- Processed oils (canola, corn, vegetable) may be cheaper than extra virgin olive oil, but when you’re talking about your health (especially your heart health), this is one item where it “pays” to pick quality. Comparison shop for olive oil. I have found good deals at Trader Joe’s and Aldi. The money you spend on quality extra virgin olive oil is worth every penny. Reducing processed meals—and thus processed oils—by eating at home (and using sparing amounts of extra virgin olive oil in your cooking) will positively impact your health.
- Nut butters are more popular than ever, and the price has come down on them at bulk groceries like Trader Joe’s. I’ve also found that local health food stores with do-it-yourself grinding machines are affordable (and fun to use)! Grind your own peanut butter.
- Don’t forget olives and healthy fish fat. While salmon may be a splurge item given its high cost, canned sardines, salmon and mackerel all contain healthy fish oils at a much more affordable price.
- Stock up on avocados in the summer months when they are in season. I have found some great deals on avocados from April-August.
Nuts (in bulk)
Nut butters (peanut, almond)
Canned fish (sardines, mackerel, salmon)
Avocados (in season)
Weekly Meal Planning: Reduce Food Waste and Overspending
Use the foods on these lists to do some meal planning, and you’ll likely save more money (and reduce the chance of wasting food). Sit down and plan out each week’s food. Also, figure out what leftovers you need to use during the coming week and whether or not you have frozen food you want to defrost.
Weekly meal planning + buying in bulk at affordable grocery stores can save you dough. I create a weekly meal plan, like this:
Then I buy all the food (usually at Trader Joe’s) for the coming week. I’ve also noted which leftovers should be eaten soon. Once every two months, I go to Aldi or Whole Foods, buy items that I can’t find at Trader Joe’s, or shop to select whole foods that are unique to those stores.
Buy Unprocessed, Bulk Foods
- Find a discount grocery store that: allows you to buy in bulk or get products directly from suppliers (Trader Joe’s, Costco, Sam’s Club, Aldi), has a variety of seasonal produce, or offers specialty items like olives and fish at lower prices.
If you are willing to do some comparison shopping and shop for weekly specials, you can find some reasonable prices and deals at Whole Foods Market. However, I’ve found that Trader Joe’s and Aldi are generally more affordable options.
- Seek out the least processed, cheapest options to make your money go further. Beans, especially dried beans, are a top pick. They are cheap, plentiful and good for you.
- Use meat and oils in smaller amounts and not as the main part of a meal. Reduce portions: try a 3 oz. steak instead of a larger cut of meat. Saute foods using just a tsp of oil, along with chicken or vegetable broth. Make fruits and vegetables the largest portion on your plate.
- Assess how much money you are spending on processed or fast foods. Could you afford to eat higher quality whole foods if you gave up that pricey coffee drink or daily fast food meal? Compare the amount and quality of food you get in convenience foods compared to the fresh fruits and vegetables you could be buying with that money.
- Lastly, think about your health. Isn’t it worth cutting back on a few expenses in other areas to give your body the nutrients it needs to feel its best? Developing new eating habits takes time, so consider starting with one goal at a time. Perhaps, you try to add more fruits and vegetables to your weekly meals. Then, you try to reduce your coffee intake or stop cooking with processed oils. Over time, and with consistent effort, you could revise your shopping, cooking and eating habits and enjoy better health!
So, you see, you can eat healthy, whole foods on a budget. I hope you use this list often—and add to it. Find new healthy foods at a great price, and get healthy, budget-friendly shopping and meals on repeat!
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