21 Secrets for Eating Healthy on a Budget + 10 Cheap, Good Foods!

June 26, 2017
Eating healthy on a budget - Dr. Axe

Eating healthy can be a challenge. But eating healthy on a budget can seem next to impossible.

Luckily, that doesn’t have to be the case, as it’s surprisingly doable to maintain healthy eating on a budget if you’re both informed and strategic. I’ve gathered my best tips and tricks for keeping costs down and still eating a nutritious, delicious diet.

Once you eliminate processed foods and invest in eating for your health, you might actually be surprised by your grocery bill — in a good way!


How to Eat Healthy on a Budget — 10 Shopping Tips

When you go shopping, instituting these tips can turn a chore into a cost-cutting pleasure cruise.

1. Plan meals in advance using the weekly circular

Taking 15 to 20 minutes to set a menu for the next week can result in big savings. The trick here is to use the weekly sales circular to plan meals your family will enjoy. Are peppers and chicken on sale? Try making Chicken Fajitas, stuffed peppers and Chicken with Roasted Red Pepper Sauce for the week. Aim for at least five meals a week, leaving two for leftovers.

Pro tip: Ensure you buy things on sale only when they fit into your menu. It doesn’t matter if you get five pounds of apples at a great deal if you have zero plans for those apples.

2. Make a shopping list

Once you decide what’s on tap for the week, make a detailed shopping list. Dividing it by supermarket section (produce, dry goods, etc.) is often easiest. Not only does it cut down on shopping time and make eating healthy on a budget easier, but it helps eliminate impulse buys. Not on the list? It stays out of the shopping cart.

3. Don’t shop on an empty stomach

Seriously. That’s when the junk in the snack aisles starts looking good or you wind up with overpriced ingredients you’ll never use in your cupboard. Eat a big meal before shopping, or bring along a snack.

4. Buy in season

When food is in season, it’s much cheaper and tastes better. It also encourages you to try fruits and vegetables you might not go for normally — like these anti-inflammatory foods or brain foods — adding variety (and different types of nutrients!) to your diet. Stock up on your favorites and freeze them for months when they’re no longer readily available.

5. Eat locally

Joining a CSA or buying at your local farmers’ market both help you eat locally grown foods. Joining a CSA, or community supported agriculture, means you get a rotating bounty of fresh fruits and vegetables delivered to a convenient local location. The catch? You usually can’t pick and choose what’s in the box. While that might be a deterrent for some, it’s also an excellent way to try out new recipes.

If farmers’ markets are more your thing, you can snag some great deals on in-season produce, especially if you stop by toward the end. Farmers are often willing to reduce prices to avoid having to cart extra food back with them. Additionally, many markets now accept SNAP benefits. Meeting food producers from your area is also a great opportunity to learn more about how your food was grown and ask any questions you might have.

6. Buy frozen organic fruits and veggies

At certain times of the year, let’s face it: The produce aisle looks pretty grim. This is when the frozen aisle can be your friend and help keep your family eating healthy on a budget. Choosing frozen, organic fruits and vegetables — which have the same or (even more!) amount of nutrients as their fresh counterparts — to supplement fresh produce can get you over the slump.

Pro tip: This is a great time to scour those sales! Frozen fruits are excellent in smoothies, while frozen veggies make stir fries and side dishes a snap.

7. Look online for frequently purchased items

If there are staple items you use frequently — think coconut oil, coconut sugar and coconut flour nutrition — check prices online before buying at the store. Oftentimes, retailers like Amazon carry the same item for cheaper or allow you to purchase it in larger sizes for less than your local shop.

8. Don’t commit to a particular store

Brand and store loyalty go out the window when you’re on a budget. Your goal is to find the best food for the lowest price. Be sure to look at circulars and prices at all nearby stores; there are often deals in unexpected places.

For instance, Whole Foods can be fairly expensive for certain purchases, but the in-house 365 Everyday Value brand often has prices on organic items that rival or are lower than competitors’ prices. And as big-box stores like Walmart and Target expand their food sections, more and more healthy, organic foods are becoming available at reasonable prices.

Ethnic markets also often have great deals. Mexican and Indian markets, for example, often have staples like rice, pasta and spices — and hard-to-find ingredients like forbidden rice — at much lower prices than local supermarkets.

9. Get creative with your meats

There’s no doubt that organic poultry and grass-fed beef is more expensive than the alternatives, but there are ways to reduce sticker shock and still eat healthy on a budget.

When buying chicken, for example, often purchasing the entire chicken is much cheaper than buying particular parts, like the breast. You can get several meals out of an entire chicken, plus make homemade Chicken Bone Broth from it. Don’t stick only to cuts like boneless, skinless breasts, either; those are pricey! Instead, opt for chicken thighs or bone-in breasts. You can always remove the skin yourself, and having the bone in during cooking actually adds extra flavor.

When buying beef, tougher cuts can be made into melt-in-your-mouth pieces by slow-cooking for hours in the crockpot. This is also when it pays to make friends with your local food producers; they can alert you to when they’ve got something good coming up or save specific types of meat for you.

10. Buy in bulk with friends

Warehouse stores like Costco can offer great deals after the initial membership fee on staples like canned and dried foods, frozen items and even fresh foods on occasion. Unfortunately, there are only so many cans of chickpeas most of us have room for when buying solo. Instead, split the cost of membership with a fellow healthy-minded friend. You’ll get manageable amounts of great deals at half the price.


Eating Healthy on a Budget — 11 Cooking Tips

1. Eliminate expensive drinks

Juices, sodas, sports drinks: These are all laden with bad-for-you sugars, and none are cheap. Stick to the basics instead: The benefits of lemon water, water, tea and milk are far healthier — and cheaper — than unhealthy beverages devoid of nutrition.

2. Grow your own food

You don’t need lots of space or time to grow your own garden! From herbs and leafy greens to tomatoes and peppers, even small spaces can produce big results. I love the tips in this article to get your garden started, no matter how small of a space you’re in.

3. Eat meat in moderation

Becoming a part-time vegetarian or vegan (think: one to two days a week) can drastically reduce your meat budget with little effort. When you do eat meat, reduce the amount you use and bulk it up with vegetables; adding mushrooms’ nutrition benefits to meat dishes is great for this, as they soak up the flavor of whatever they’re cooked in quite easily and often have a meaty texture.

4. Cook more than you need at the moment

Having healthy, homemade meals at the ready means fewer nights of ordering greasy, expensive takeout because there’s “nothing to eat.”

If you can, set aside a day, like Sunday, to make one or two extra meals alongside that night’s. You can reheat these throughout the week for ready-made dinners with little extra effort or freeze them immediately for homemade “TV dinners.”

Too much of a hassle? Just make extra portions of whatever you’re already cooking to use at a later time. Making lasagna? Assemble an extra pan, and freeze instead of cooking immediately. Chopping up fresh veggies for burritos or wraps? Cut up extras now and store for later; there’ll be zero prep work the next time you make the same meal.

5. Freeze food in individual portions

Another great way to ensure food doesn’t go to waste is to freeze it in individual portions. For instance, if you bought a family pack of 24 chicken drumsticks, chances are you’re not using them all at once. Instead, freeze batches in the amount you’d need for one meal. Do the same with leftovers. This will make it easy to pull out just what you need, when you need it.

6. Remix leftovers

Whether you love ’em or hate ’em, leftovers are a great way to eat healthy on a budget. Instead of eating the same meal over and over again, however, try mixing it up. Use leftover cruciferous vegetables in a stir fry or veggie wrap. Shred leftover meat and mix into a hearty salad or into a quesadilla. Or do one of my favorite things: Once a week, assemble all the leftovers and let everyone pick and choose their own favorites; it’s a DIY dinner!

 

Ways to eat healthy on a budget - Dr. Axe

 

7. Eat desserts you make yourself

Can’t seem to stop buying treats to satisfy your sweet tooth? This is one of my favorite tips: Eat dessert as long as you make it yourself! You’ll spend much less buying baking ingredients than you will on all those prepackaged chips, cookies and cakes. Plus, you have complete control of what goes in them. You might notice the pounds coming off, too!

Browse my collection of healthy desserts for something you’ll love.

8. Bag your own lunches and snacks

Skip overpriced, undersatisfying lunches out and pack your own instead. Find yourself craving something mid-afternoon? Take one of these on-the-go healthy snacks with you instead of hitting the vending machine.

9. Experiment in the kitchen

Don’t be afraid to take chances when cooking. If your favorite recipe calls for one vegetable but you only have another, try it anyway. Do you have a few ingredients you think might work well together? Test it out! Playing in the kitchen is the best way to become a more confident cook and learn to appreciate making and eating healthy foods.

Check out my recipes as a starter, and then go wild!

10. Don’t pay for convenience items

Some packaged foods are just as easy to make yourself. Skip the overpriced microwave popcorn, which may be a health disaster, and buy a bag of organic kernels to pop on the stove instead (this perfect popcorn method is fool-proof!) — it’s much cheaper, unprocessed and tastes delicious.

Pass on sugary granola and make your own mixes. Make a big batch of tomato sauce and freeze in individual containers to use as needed instead of the jarred stuff. These small changes add up into real dollars.

11. Clean out the cupboards

Do you ever find yourself wondering what, exactly, is in your cupboards? Here’s a challenge: Before your next shopping trip, pull out everything hiding in your refrigerator, pantry, cupboards, extra freezer — everywhere!

Then commit to using the items before restocking, supplementing only with fresh produce and meats. So often, we continue buying when we already have more than we need; you’ll be shocked by the ingredients you already have to eat healthy on a budget. If you have more than you can handle, donate extras to your local food pantry.


10 of the Healthiest, Cheapest Foods

Still need more inspiration on eating healthy on a budget? The 10 foods below are some of the most inexpensive in markets across the country — and the best for you. Stocking up on these makes eating healthy on a budget a snap.

1. Bananas:

Bananas nutrition comes from their loads of vitamins, potassium and fiber. They’re cheap, filling and delicious. I love them on their own, as a snack with nut butter or in a smoothie, like my Chocolate Banana Nut Smoothie.

2. Beans:

One of the best high-fiber foods, beans are easily available and insanely inexpensive. I love using all types of beans to bulk up soups or meat dishes or add flavor to Tex-Mex dishes. Some of my favorites are black beans in this Black Bean Quinoa Salad or Black Bean Soup or using chickpeas to make Hummus.

3. Broccoli:

This green vegetable has double your recommended daily value of vitamin K, tons of vitamin C, improves digestive health and keeps osteoporosis at bay. Get the most of broccoli nutrition in this super simple Crockpot Beef and Broccoli recipe or in a light Broccoli Salad.

4. Brown rice:

This grain is full of nutrients not found in white rice and, when bought by the bagful, is a filling, inexpensive carbohydrate. For a light supper, try it in this Brown Rice, Tomatoes and Basil recipe (bulk it up even more with beans or chicken!) or in this crunchy Brown Rice Salad.

5. Eggs:

Cheap, plentiful and a great protein food for vegetarians, even when buying organic, eggs are still a bargain. Plus, they don’t need to be relegated just to breakfast. These Baked Eggs and Spinach and Southwestern Omelet recipes are just as good for dinner.

Try more of my delicious egg recipes as well.

6. Sweet potatoes:

These spuds are chock-full of vitamin A, potassium, vitamin C and more. Incorporate sweet potatoes into your dinner menu with this Roasted Garlic and Sweet Potato Soup, or serve them as a side for hamburgers using this Sweet Potato Rosemary fries recipe. 

7. Spinach:

As one of the most nutrient-dense leafy greens, spinach nutrition is great for your body and easy on the wallet. You’ll love this Crustless Spinach Quiche, which uses frozen spinach, and my Grecian Spinach to serve as a main dish’s side.

8. Plain, organic yogurt from grass-fed animals:

Probiotic yogurt is loaded with benefits ranging from better digestion to reducing bad cholesterol. While my favorite yogurt and the best for you are raw yogurts from sheep milk, goat milk or grass-fed cows, organic yogurt from grass-fed animals is available in most stores at a lower price point. Skip the artificial sweeteners and add your own natural sweeteners if you need them; honey and maple syrup work nicely. Use yogurt as a base for smoothies, or enjoy it with fruit or snack on it with granola.

9. Whole-grain/gluten-free pasta:

Pasta, even whole-grain and gluten-free varieties, gives a lot of nutritional bang for its buck. While you don’t want to eat it every night, pasta in a simple meat sauce or with olive oil and veggies is still inexpensive, filling and darn tasty.

10. Whole, organic/local chicken:

Roasting an entire chicken provides you with cooked meat you can use in a variety of ways. From adding it to wraps and salads to stuffing it in enchiladas and burritos or putting it in soups and stews, you’ll get your money’s worth from using the whole bird. Don’t forget to make my Chicken Bone Broth with the leftovers, too!

Read Next: 27 Delicious, Easy Meals With 5 Ingredients or Less


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