Nutrition Articles

Eating Healthy on a Budget

Save Money Without Sacrificing Quality

When you’re on a tight budget, the thought of preparing tasty, healthy meals on a regular basis can seem daunting. Not only is it easy to get sucked in by grocery merchandising tricks, but it’s also normal for most of us to fall into a mealtime rut, eating the same foods over and over. But you’re in control of your kitchen—and if you cook smart, you can enjoy the first-class meals you deserve. 

You can save money and still have quality. If you’ve been using cost as an excuse to eat junk, you can kiss that excuse goodbye! With a little organization and creativity, you can have the proverbial champagne when cooking on a beer budget. To start, here’s a quick review of basic tips of healthy eating:
  • Limit your intake of junk food and alcohol
  • Drink lots of water (at least 8 cups a day)
  • Limit salty and sugary foods
  • Avoid eating many foods that are high in saturated fats
  • Make “variety” the watchword of your eating
Next, set aside regular blocks of time for planning meals, making your grocery list, and shopping—tasks that are most often shortchanged in food prep. Include healthy snack ideas, as well as main menu items. Think about the time of day, day of week, and even week in the month that you shop. Generally, the grocery is the least busy early in the morning, in the middle of the week, and on any day but the first day or two of the month (when many people receive pension or paychecks).

Don’t be afraid to surf the internet for recipes that use specific ingredients (plug the ingredient in as a keyword of your search), since you can often get good buys on breads, meats, and other items marked for quick sale before they go bad.

Stock your fridge and cupboards with items that are quick and easy to cook (yet kind to your wallet):
  • Beans and lentils, whether canned or dried, make nutritious, hearty soups, and can be a main course with the addition of fresh vegetables or rice.
  • Brown Rice is a great addition to leftover meat and veggies. Although brown rice is slightly more expensive than white, the nutritional payoff is well worth it. Another inexpensive, easy-to-fix grain, millet, is best when bought fresh. Simply rinse and toast before using it in recipes.
  • Pasta, likewise, is quick and easy to prepare, and can be paired with veggies, meat, or a fresh salad. Have fun adding your own embellishments (mushrooms, spices, and herbs.) Choose whole-wheat pasta whenever available.
  • Soups can’t be beat for nutrition and convenience, especially since you can use canned or packet soups as your base, then add your own veggies and leftover meat. Again, try to experiment, adding your own herbs and spices.
  • Fresh vegetables and fruit should be bought at least once or twice each week, preferably in season, to ensure optimal taste and nutrition. You can also rely on canned/frozen varieties as handy additions to last-minute meals. Veggies make great stir-fries and vegetable patties, while fruit is good for a quick nutritious snack.
  • Meat and fish can be kept on hand also for last-minute meals— try the newer tuna and salmon pouches, and shop for inexpensive cuts of meat that work well in stews and casseroles.
  • Condiments add flavor and interest to your dishes. Keep a selection of dried herbs, spices, curry powder, marinades, vinegars, tomato and soy sauces, along with stock cubes, in your cupboard. Experiment with the new, such as Japanese miso, an aged salty condiment made from soybeans and various other ingredients (found in the natural foods section, usually refrigerated).

Finally, a few more hints that can help you save a little green:
  • When cooking a big meal, make extra to freeze, or use later in the week for lunches or quick suppers. Double recipes, then freeze half.
  • Save your vegetable trimmings to make your own vegetable stock. Not only do you save money, but vegetable stock also makes a nutritious base for casseroles, soups, and Crockpot cooking.
  • Buying in bulk is almost always cheaper; you can freeze perishable items (such as meat, milk, and even bread) in smaller portions to use as needed. It’s always a good idea to buy non-perishable items in bulk (canned foods, dried beans and grains, etc.).
  • Use less expensive cuts of meat for casseroles that you slow cook; add extra vegetables and beans to make the meal go further.
  • Capitalize on one-pot dishes, which generally save prep time, money, and dishwashing, and often make great leftovers.
  • Look high and low (literally) to find the less expensive generic or store brands on grocery shelves, often very similar to higher-priced brand names though packaged under different labels. Stores deliberately place the highest-priced brand-name items at eye level, but if you compare the cost per unit, you’ll be able to figure out the most cost-effective purchase. You can even try your own taste tests— blind, of course— to see where you can save money without sacrificing flavor.
  • Take advantage of specials on staples—broth, soups, pasta, rice, canned veggies, even bread and meat. Many of these items have a long shelf life or can be frozen for short periods of time.
  • Limit your dining out, especially when it comes to fast food, since you’ll find yourself spending unnecessarily on items that are high in fat, salt, and calories, which short-change you in the nutrition department.
There’s no magic formula to cooking on a budget. Like anything else worthwhile in life, it takes a little planning, creativity, and work. But if you think of the rewards—better health and more money—you’ll find it’s worth the effort. No doubt you’ll still have days when you fall back on that quick-fix packaged food or the local burger drive-thru. But if you look at cooking as an adventure, you’ll also have days when you find yourself pleased at what you’ve accomplished—as you serve dinner to rave reviews from family and friends!

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Member Comments

  • So many people think it can't be done! Of course this doesn't cover everyone, but special conditions should be addressed by a specilist.
  • Liked this article very much. We are big legume (beans of all sorts) eaters in this house - stems back to poor grad school days when diet staples were: tomato juice (cheaper than fruit); eggs (19 cents a doz then-I'm old); peanut butter and chicken pieces parts (great for soup stock). We also learned a pressure cooker can be your best friend. Was then and still is.
  • Great article with lots of information. I've saved it so I can refer back to it! Thank you...
    You really don't have to drink all that water, good grief, don't force that all down, it's pitiful to force water on people, healthy eating is already enough of a challenge!!
    The website www.budgetbytes.c
    om has much better suggestions for delicious recipes that are inexpensive to make and go a long way (even in my household of 5). I know the article says to be flexible but I'm a picky eater and we all know it's not good to go without eating. The recipes on budgetbytes round out to around 300-500 calories a serving which is perfect for a meal. The woman who posts the recipes makes lots of use of vegetables, pasta, chicken, other meats, and beans and lentils. Check it out! You'll be glad you did!
    These articles have got absolute sense devoid of confusing the readers.
  • All these articles say to eat rice. Now it has been shown that rice has dangerous amounts of arsenic in it. If you have rice it says to boil it in 6 parts water to 1 part rice and then drain all the water off. It's pretty bad when it is always recommended for people who have a very limited budget to eat things that are not healthy.
  • My tip is to be flexible and alway always check prices! I will eat most anything. My favorite grocery store has some of the best deals on produce if you can luck into them. I can get produce dirt cheap by looking at the prices and I check every time! (today scored brussel sprouts 40 cents/lbs, green onion for a quarter and organic leafy greens for 99 cents, usually costs three or four times as much!). I also bought 2lbs boxes of chicken breast for $1.99 because they were discontinued (usually $12). I have a place where meat is always cheap. I only buy yogurt if it's half off and/or have coupons to make it cheaper.

    I also like to make soup a lot by using up my veggies that are starting to get to end of life. it is always an interesting concoction but cram packed with nutrition. I like to add a pouch of Knorr tomato vegetable soup as a base but a big pot makes about 10 servings so it goes a long way.

    I don't eat canned food at all. I buy tomato soup for the kids and jarred pasta sauce and that's it. Beans are cheaper dried and don't take long to cook if soaked properly. I do buy big bags of frozen veggies as they are often on sale.
  • I can't vote for any ONE of these choices, because use ALL of them, And coupons. Utilizing leftovers, and stretching them into other meals helps. It takes a little research into recipes and tweaking them to suit your needs and tastes, and make them seem new, but to me that's the fun part. I think utilizing a well stocked pantry and freezer can benefit ANY sized family.
  • I agree with NTAR2200
    I find that shopping late evening in supermarkets you can get food thats greatly marked down in price. Thats in England anyhow. I have sometimes stood over the staff whilst they price stuff down then get it if I want it! Mainly, where veg is concerned, I buy stuff in season then freeze it before its out, so that through winter months I can still have choices of veg. ��!
  • When making stocks and other things that have long cooking times I've wondered how much the cost of gas or electricity might add to the cost of the meal. Anyone have any insight into this?
  • don't think batch cooking works well for one person you get tired of it before you eat it all and it often get lost in the freezer. buying in large amounts is not a good plan this would work for a family I am sure.

About The Author

Rebecca Pratt Rebecca Pratt
A freelance writer who contributes to various newspapers and magazines, Becky loves covering ordinary people doing extraordinary things.

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