Eating healthy is so expensive! Or, so I hear. I’m going to share with you 10 tips to help you eat healthy on a budget. It all starts with remembering the 3 P’s – Plan, Purchase, and Prepare.
Tip #1: Make a Food Budget
Determine your food budget by completing, “Family Budgets: Developing a Spending Plan that Works.” Next, figure out how much money you can spend for each trip to the store. If you shop weekly, then take your monthly food budget and divide by four. Remember to follow your food budget.
Tip #2: Plan Meals
Taking the time to plan your meals ahead of time can help you save money and calories. Planning healthy meals is easier when you follow the MyPlate guidelines.
Follow these steps when planning your meals:
- Explore your cupboards and refrigerator to create a list of food items already on hand and try to include them in your meals at the beginning of the week.
- Try to incorporate the five food groups: protein, grains, fruit, vegetables, and dairy.
- Look at the weekly grocery store ads and coupons for cheaper meal ideas.
- Add stews, casseroles, or stir-fries for budget-friendly meals.
- Use beans in recipes for a few meatless meals.
- Incorporate Low-Cost Recipes:
- Budget Friendly Recipes via Nebraska Nutrition Education Program
- Healthy, Low-Cost Recipes via What’s Cooking? USDA Mixing Bowl
- Sample 2-Week Menus – Designed for cost-conscious consumers seeking healthy options, which includes menus, grocery list, and staple list via ChooseMyPlate.gov
- Steps to Healthy, Economical Meals via ChooseMyPlate.gov
- Use a piece of paper, calendar, menu planning board, or app to create weekly or monthly meal plans.
Tip #3: Make a Shopping List
- Create a shopping list after you’ve planned meals by writing down the foods you need to buy and how much.
- Shop quicker by grouping items according to the store layout.
- Stick to your shopping list to help control spending and avoid impulse purchases.
- Write your list on paper, enter it into a computer program or a free mobile app. My favorite free grocery list app is Grocery iQ.*
Tip #4: Eat Before You Shop
If you are hungry when you shop for groceries, you are likely to buy more and not stick to your shopping list. Before heading to the grocery store, eat a healthy snack such as trail mix, apple slices with peanut butter, a piece of fruit, or whole-grain crackers with low-fat cheese.
Tip #5: Affordable Fruits & Vegetables
Buying fresh fruits and vegetables in season usually costs less and tastes better. Frozen and canned fruits and vegetables are great low-cost choices year-round if you select these options:
- Canned vegetables with less salt (low sodium or no salt added)
- Canned fruit with less sugar (in water or 100% fruit juice)
- Frozen fruits and vegetables without added sauces and sugar
Tip #6: Buy Store Brands
Store brands and name brands are packaged differently, but have nearly the same ingredients. Many people may not realize national brands actually produce and package a wide variety of store-brand products. Store brands are usually the better deal without sacrificing taste
Tip #7: Compare Unit Prices
Compare products for the best deal by looking at the unit prices, which show the price per pound or ounce. It is usually listed on the price tag. Larger containers usually have the best unit price, but if it spoils before you are able to eat it, then it is not the best buy.
Tip #8: Limit Extras
Limit buying foods that have no nutritional value such as soda, candy, and chips. Concentrate on buying foods that contain a lot of nutrients such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean meats, beans, and low-fat or non-fat dairy products. Don’t forget to read the Nutrition Facts label to compare items in order to select the healthiest option.
Tip #9: Buy in Bulk
Buying in bulk usually saves money as long as you have the space. Check your storage space before deciding to stock up on frozen or shelf stable foods. Purchase family packs of chicken, steak, or fish if you have enough freezer space. Buy large quantities of canned or frozen fruits and vegetables when they are on sale. For fresh foods, buy only the amounts you can use before they spoil.
Tip #10: Prepare Meals at Home
Save money by planning and preparing meals at home instead of eating out. When you have a busy week ahead, save time by preparing some meals over the weekend. Make a couple of main dishes to use early in the week or freeze for busy nights when you need a quick meal. Pre-wash and pre-cut fruits and vegetables for easy meal prep later or healthy snacks on the go. Plan to use leftovers to save money and avoid food waste
Additional Healthy Eating on a Budget Resources:
- Eating Better on a Budget via ChooseMyPlate.gov (Spanish Handout)
- Save More at the Grocery Store via ChooseMyPlate.gov (Spanish Handout)
- Smart Shopping for Veggies and Fruits via ChooseMyPlate.gov (Spanish Handout)
*Reference to commercial products or trade names is made with the understanding that no discrimination is intended of those not mentioned and no endorsement by University of Nebraska–Lincoln Extension is implied for those mentioned.
- Nebraska’s Nutrition Education Program. Family Budgets: Developing a Spending Plan that Works. http://go.unl.edu/6t59
- University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension Publication. Healthy Meal Planning on a Budget. http://go.unl.edu/d3g
- United States Department of Agriculture. 2015. Healthy Eating on a Budget. http://www.choosemyplate.gov/budget