20 Member Ideas for Eating Healthy on a Budget


By: , SparkPeople Blogger
  :  31 comments   :  93,654 Views

Updated by Melissa Rudy, 1/24/16

Sticking to a healthy diet is already challenging enough, but when you factor in climbing prices and shrinking grocery budgets, it can sometimes seem downright impossible. Don't throw in the towel and fall into the takeout trap just yet—with some smart strategies, you can eat higher-quality foods while still saving money. Some of our members offer their real-world tips for cutting costs and calories.
  1. "Consider adding cooked lentils to replace some meat when making chili or tacos. Most of the time you don't even notice." – ZELDA13
  1. "Instead of starting with what I want to eat, I start with what's on sale. A good rule of thumb for me has been to look for produce less than $1 per pound. I always look for the dented cans, quick-sale meat that is turning (cook that day or freeze) and manager's special (read: overripe or bruised) fruits and veggies. From there, I look through Pinterest for inspiration on dishes." – KOTWBB
  1. "Meat is more expensive (money and calories) than fruits and veggies. I dice a zucchini up to cook with taco meat to stretch it. I can have two huge taco salads with just four ounces of raw ground meat." – KOTWBB
  1. "I can routinely get a whole chicken on sale for 99 cents per pound. Pull up YouTube and learn to carve up a bird! I freeze pieces on cutting boards, then transfer to freezer bags. Make stock from the bones, too. If cutting up a raw bird isn't your thing, I started by roasting the whole chicken and carving it afterwards." – KOTWBB
  1. "Protein foods and fresh foods tend to be the most expensive. Luckily we don't have to only eat steak and avocados. Oatmeal, potatoes, milk, butter and oils, eggs, fatty meats and canned fish can make up a big part of the calories in a healthy diet." – GRATISHORE
  1. "If you have a yard, patio or sunny window, plant two or three pots of herbs. I believe that my small patio herb garden saves me hundreds of dollars a year. Even if you only have a sunny window, a little rosemary, thyme, parsley or cilantro can turn simple beans and rice into something sublime. A little oil with garlic and rosemary or thyme rubbed on chicken or pork (or whatever is on sale this week) makes a world of difference when it comes to flavor." – CLARISSABOND
  1. "We bake much of our own bread, but it is healthier and cheaper than most store bread, as we don't add any preservatives—just a little honey and oil sometimes—and use 100 percent whole wheat." – VIENNA61
  1. "Take advantage of reduced for quick sale veggies and meats. If you freeze the meats and cook the vegetables in a day or two, you're good to go." – CLARISSABOND
  1. "I buy peppers, celery, carrots, onions and eggplant on the sale rack, then wash, dice and freeze them in baggies. When I need a quick meal, I cook dry lentils with a tin of diced tomatoes and a handful of each veggie I have frozen with spices." – KAMELIA71
  1. "I like to make salads interesting by putting some fruit and nuts on them, or including fresh herbs you don't usually have like mint, watercress and/or flat leaf parsley. I also like a mixture of balsamic vinegar and soy sauce as a dressing, without oil or with just a tiny bit." – SQUEEDLE
  1. "For fish, canned salmon is a pretty good deal and very healthy (lots of canned salmon recipes!) and I try to serve it a couple of times a week. Tofu or canned salmon can be used instead of ground beef in a surprising number of recipes." – VIENNA61
  1. "Make your own stock by using trimmings from meats, chicken bones, etc. You can make great veggie stock if you save all your peelings and trims for a week or so. Put them in a large pot with enough water to cover and simmer about 20 to 30 minutes. Strain and freeze in saved plastic containers." – SHARONPENNING
  1. "I often plan homemade soup as the main course with homemade bread to go with it, or a nice Italian bread if it is on sale. You could also pair it with a salad or a bowl of applesauce. You could use leftovers for the meat, as soup doesn't need as much meat as a regular meal, so a little goes a long way." – RACEWIFE
  1. "The saying 'fresh is best' may not always be true. Most frozen and canned items are picked and processed at their peak. You just have to read the label to find out what is or is not in the package. Do a little research to ensure that you're making the best nutritional choices." – LONGLIFE
  1. "Farmers markets late in the day, community gardens and your own backyard garden can help a lot. I grow tomatoes and green peppers mostly for a high yield from a small space. Also, herbs and strawberries." – SHARONPENNING
  1. "If you have the storage room and have any staple dry foods, such as oats, rice or beans, get some prices from local markets that have bulk food sections to see if they'll order a full 25-pound bag for you. Most places give a discount for doing this." – STUZZICADENTI
  1. "Carrots are one of the cheaper vegetables. Cook them (they sweeten anything), scrape them and eat raw or dip into hummus, guacamole or even cottage cheese." – PATHFINDER52
  1. "A sleeve of barley is under $1.50—it tastes good with carrots, mushrooms and onions, and you can cook it in a slow cooker." – SUNSHINE6442
  1. "Eggs are a great buy, and two hardboiled eggs with a salad can easily make lunch." – PATHFINDER52
  1. "As long as you are cooking from scratch, you are probably already leaning toward healthy and low cost. Stay away from convenience foods—anything that's ready to open and eat or just needs a microwave to be a meal." – KOTWBB
To help you get started on the road to eating healthier on a budget, try these affordable recipes from our nutritionist, Becky Hand.

Are you able to eat healthy on a budget? How do you save money on groceries?

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  • 31
    Such a great useful article. Thanks - 10/20/2017   1:22:18 PM
  • 30
    I’ve incorporated a flexitarian diet into my lifestyle. I only eat meat a few times a week. Not only is eating a mostly plant based diet less expensive, but it’s usually healthier too. - 10/20/2017   10:27:34 AM
  • 29
    Wonderful! Have to remember this article when members ask about cooking healthy on a budget. - 9/12/2017   7:35:04 AM
  • 28
    All mankind love a lover.
    - Ralph Waldo Emerson - 7/25/2017   1:16:31 PM
  • 27
    Great info! - 7/23/2017   10:20:25 PM
  • 26
    Great article. I usually buy stuff on sale. I have splurged at times, but if it's not over the top expensive, I'll get it. - 7/23/2017   12:55:50 PM
  • 25
    Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful,
    committed people can change the world.
    Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.
    - Margaret Mead - 7/23/2017   12:42:29 AM
  • 24
    Lots of great ideas in this list - 6/11/2017   12:30:29 AM
  • 23
    Thank you for the great suggestions! - 3/20/2017   9:20:41 AM
    So many good ideas on this list! - 3/19/2017   6:00:08 PM
  • 21
    There are a lot of great ideas in this article on eating on a budget! - 3/15/2017   2:07:44 PM
    some really great ideas here. Thanks for sharing - 3/3/2017   1:39:35 PM
  • 19
    For recipes try allrecipes.com ,they have a selection of low calories recipes, some 100 calories and all their recipes you can change the number of servings to the exact amount you need before or after you save them. They also have a shopping list for their recipes, they have a patent so do not give people the recipes. - 2/13/2017   4:24:00 AM
  • 18
    I liked this one a lot. To add - for variety get root veggies other than potatoes (turnips, rutabaga). Many veggies can be frozen with no work, some need blanching but they last 6 months. Some fruits (blueberries - personal fav) can be frozen as is...just double bag. Others may need blanching or fruit fresh (a preservative used in making jams and jellies). You can also make sugar free preserves or dry fruits. - 2/3/2017   11:20:19 AM
  • 17
    I buy all generic brands & I don't eat red meat. I eat pork chops & ground turkey and ground chicken instead of red meat. My girlfriend says I should eat red meat because it has 93% red meat. I think it's 93% & 10% fat. I do fine cooking ground turkey & ground chicken for hamburger. - 2/2/2017   7:18:24 PM
  • 16
    I buy a cooked chicken at Costco, $4.95 for about 5.5# bird. I make MANY meals from this 1 bird. At least 7! No really. I DO love soup, so that's what I use to make from the bones, etc. That stretches even more PLUS, there is no cost to cook or clean up from cooking. I also buy frozen chicken breasts at Costco at about 1.25 a pound, for grilling etc. great article! - 1/30/2017   9:39:47 PM
    Buy seasonal produce, and menu plan.

    And learn to cook!!!! - 1/29/2017   6:28:36 PM
  • 14
    Share. I got my job to start a garden on the grounds for our participants (adults living with disability). They allowed all workers to have a small plot to grow on as well! My neighbors and I buy items in bulk and divide it so we all get just what we need. This has led to closer relationships and some awesome potlucks both at work and where I live, lol! - 1/28/2017   8:04:53 PM
    We have switched to a vegan diet and as I'm no longer buying meat I have room in my budget for plenty of fresh fruits and veggies. - 9/12/2011   11:17:48 PM
  • 12
    I buy in season as much as I can and watch for "specials" at the grocery store. A nearby apple orchard sells seconds for $8/bushel, and I like to buy those for canning or freezing applesauce and apple slices to use when they are not in season. Produce from the garden helps, and I am fortunate to have a sister who lives on a farm. Her husband plants sweetcorn with the planter he uses to plant field corn, and they share corn with the family for our freezers. We also have a Sam's Club nearby and a Kwik Trip gas station/convenience store with bananas for $.38/pound and milk in bags for $1.09/half-gallon. Our local grocery store gives a 10% senior discount on Tuesdays. - 9/11/2011   8:07:04 PM
    Between growing veggies in the garden and having six fruit trees in the backyard, I think we're eating pretty healthy this year. Now I just have to deal with all that fruit at one time lol. - 9/10/2011   3:42:42 PM
    Store brands and buying what is in season is how I save. My grocery bill has increased but I rather eat healthy it keeps me out of the doctors office. - 9/10/2011   2:31:42 PM
  • 9
    I see this as paying it forward; by eating healthier I have lost 25 pounds which lowered my blood pressure which took me off blood pressure medication which saves me $30 a month co-pay which I can spend on fruits and vegetables. To me its a win-win situation. - 9/10/2011   10:36:05 AM
  • 8
    Lots of farmers' markets now offer incentives if you shop there with SNAP funds - and even if you don't get SNAP, the markets are a great place to get fresh produce more cheaply than in a lot of stores. Shop at the end of the day and farmers are practically giving stuff away because it's easier than taking it back to the farm. - 9/10/2011   9:15:44 AM
  • 7
    I recently bought a FoodSaver to try and stop wasting so much food....I also have a dehydrator. My mother doesn't even want to give it a chance! She rather keep spending $ 500 on food a month and make me rationalize everything I put on the grocery list. I get so tired of fighting with her on food. If she had her way, I'd just do nutrisystem and shut up! What's wrong with making my own food and knowing what's in it? - 9/10/2011   8:54:15 AM
  • 6
    I save money by shopping at a local smaller market. The fruits and veggies may be wierd shapped and have a little more earth on them, but they taste just as good. I also buy what is on sale or seasonal. If things start to go bad I freeze them and use them later in sauces, soups or hot cereals and a lot of the veggies can be steamed for sides. - 9/10/2011   12:25:54 AM
  • 5
    Buying in bulk (grains, nuts, that sort of thing) has not only let me experiment and find out what we like/don't like has helped me out. I also stick to serving sizes. The food tracker really tuned me in to proper serving sizes.

    I also buy dried greens. I think I'm doing myself a favor throwing in a handful of dried spinach into a soup along with some dried kelp.

    I am by no means a vegetarian or health-food nut, but little changes do make nice differences! - 9/9/2011   5:23:24 PM
  • 4
    I always by frozen fruits and vegetables since they are much cheaper than fresh (I buy apples & bananas fresh), but the point is the FROZEN are FROZEN FRESH. They don't leave them sit around for a week before they process them.
    The suggestions to go to several stores I don't believe in doing, since with $3.49/gal for gas, you can't save much if you are doing a lot of driving all over town. Walmart will honor any prices you have from other store flyers, so compare that way and save. - 9/9/2011   5:20:15 PM
  • 3
    Fresh fruits and veggies are usually what breaks my budget. What I do to help extend those dollars: buy frozen instead of fresh. Frozen is often better than canned (less sodium and no preservatives, plus I think frozen tastes better than canned) and I don't have to worry about anything going bad (as I would with fresh). Also, stock up on fresh produce when they are on sale/shop seasonally. - 9/9/2011   5:04:32 PM
    I find eating healthy is cheaper than not. When I am eating badly all the extra chocolate and stuff adds lots of money on to my food bill.

    My key things are to plan meals, bulk cook and freeze in portions, and always stick to a shopping list. - 9/9/2011   4:32:46 PM
  • 1
    Slow Food is having a $5 meal challenge on 9/17- one might find ideas there: www.forbes.com/feeds/ap/2011/09/08/
    - 9/9/2011   3:17:56 PM

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