We all want to eat healthily on a budget. Finding healthy, natural, whole foods are often more expensive than their highly processed counterparts. These tips will show you how to prepare food at home, purchase the highest quality ingredients, and how to stretch your budget at the same time.
I always try to choose the healthiest, organic, sustainable and highest quality ingredients when cooking for my family. I find that eating healthy and exercising gives me more energy and the higher quality of life, that we are all searching for. Here are ways to do just that and not break the bank. Below are some of my favorite tips and techniques.
Eat In-Season Produce
Purchasing produce in season is a great way to find the freshest, most flavorful groceries and also the cheapest time of year to buy them. While it’s nice to have tomatoes year-round, we all know they taste better when local and in the summer (preferably from my back yard). Below are some great options arranged by season.
Apples, Apricots, Asparagus, Avocados, Bananas, Broccoli, Cabbage, Carrots, Celery, Collard Greens, Garlic, Kale, Kiwifruit, Lemons, Lettuce, Limes, Mushrooms, Onions, Peas, Pineapples, Radishes, Rhubarb, Spinach, Strawberries, Swiss Chard, Turnips
Apples, Apricots, Avocados, Bananas, Beets, Bell Peppers, Blackberries, Blueberries, Cantaloupe, Carrots, Celery, Cherries, Corn, Cucumbers, Eggplant, Garlic, Green Beans, Honeydew Melon, Lemons, Lima Beans, Limes, Mangos, Okra, Peaches, Plums, Raspberries, Strawberries, Summer Squash, Tomatillos, Tomatoes, Watermelon, Zucchini
Apples, Bananas, Beets, Bell Peppers, Broccoli, Brussels Sprouts, Cabbage, Carrots, Cauliflower, Celery, Collard Greens, Cranberries, Garlic, Ginger, Grapes, Green Beans, Kale, Kiwifruit, Lemons, Lettuce, Limes, Mangos, Mushrooms, Onions, Parsnips, Pears, Peas, Pineapples, Potatoes, Pumpkin, Radishes, Raspberries, Rutabagas, Spinach, Sweet Potatoes & Yams, Swiss Chard, Turnips, Winter Squash
Apples, Avocados, Bananas, Beets, Brussels Sprouts, Cabbage, Carrots, Celery, Collard Greens, Grapefruit, Kale, Kiwifruit, Leeks, Lemons, Limes, Onions, Oranges, Parsnips, Pears, Pineapples, Potatoes, Pumpkin, Rutabagas, Sweet Potatoes & Yams, Swiss Chard, Turnips, Winter Squash
Grow Your Own
Planting a garden is a great way to stretch your grocery budget. It’s also a hobby that provides a great sense of accomplishment and exercise at the same time.
Depending on the space you have available, you may be able to grow a little or a lot. Almost everyone has the space to grow some produce. If you have a yard, square foot gardening has been shown to produce more than traditional row gardens. If you have a balcony or patio available, container gardening can be a great option. Even in a small apartment, herbs, microgreens and bean sprouts can be grown.
Buy Locally Sourced
Buying locally produced foods can be less expensive since they require less fuel to reach your table. Farmer’s Markets (local farmer’s markets in your area can be found at Local Harvest) and Pick Your Own Farms (local farm listings are at Pick Your Own) are great locations to purchase fresh produce that’s locally grown and picked while it’s at the peak of flavor.
When shopping at farmer’s markets, talk to the sellers and get to know them and their practices. You will find that some sellers purchase and resell items, rather than them actually sell what they grow locally. Other sellers actually follow organic growing practices, but are not able to advertise as certified organic, due to the cost of becoming certified.
What to Buy Organic
I would love to always buy organic, but there are times when it’s either not available or not cost-effective. In the case of produce that has a thick skin that we will typically remove anyway, it may not be as important to buy organic. On the other hand, if we plan to eat the skin or a variety that is heavily sprayed with insecticides, these would be best purchased organic or kept at bay.
Each year the Environmental Working Group (EWG) identifies the most pesticide-ridden produce (known as the EWG’s Dirty Dozen) and those that have relatively little pesticide residue (known as the EWG’s Clean Fifteen). These lists are updated each year and are a great place to start when choosing which produce items are a MUST to purchase organic.
- Sweet corn
- Frozen sweet peas
- Honeydew melons
Think of the times you have to unexpectantly work late, the kids have afterschool activities or a project that is due tomorrow, or someone in the household is sick and needs extra care. Time often has a way of getting away from us and with setting a little time aside to plan ahead, healthy and budget-friendly meals can be prepared at home, in less time than going out to eat.
Each week take a look at what is on sale at your local grocery store, what you have in your pantry and freezer. Plan your weekly meals and snacks around these items. It’s also a time-saver to keep a list or notebook of go-to meals that your family likes and can be prepared in under 30 minutes.
Use Coupons and Apps
Coupons and Apps are a great way to stretch your grocery budget, but it’s often difficult to find coupons and offers for the brands and products that are organic and the healthiest options. Unfortunately, there are plenty of coupons available for unhealthy and processed foods. Here are some great places to find nutritious deals:
- Grocery store websites
- Websites for your favorite brands
- Social media accounts of your favorite brands
- Mailing lists from your favorite brands
Apps are also a great way to get money back for the groceries you are purchasing anyway. Through these apps, you select offers and send them a photo of your receipt for a refund. Although many apps primarily feature processed items, I find that Ibotta is the exception. I love that they often have offers for fresh produce and “any brand”.
Keep in mind when using coupons and apps, you are only really saving money if it is something you can use (preferably what you would purchase anyway).
Bagged salad greens, prepared produce, and shredded cheese can be much more expensive than their whole counterparts. This convenience can really add up on the bottom line of your grocery bill, and add an increased risk of contamination at the processing plants. Spending an hour or two a week on meal prep makes it much quicker to get a healthy meal on the table, especially during those busy weeknights. Since you already have a meal plan, you have an idea of the items you need prepared.
- Shred cheese
- Chop onions and garlic
- Clean and prep vegetables
- Prep vegetables and fruit for snacks
Another way to reduce the prepared food in your diet is to prepare large batches and freeze in portions that can be used.
Marinara Sauce: I make Marinara Sauce in large portions and freeze it in 3 cup portions, which can be used in any recipe that calls for jarred Marinara Sauce. This is my favorite Marinara Sauce Recipe cooked in a Crockpot.
Dry Beans: Dry beans can be cooked ahead of time and stored in 1 cup portions. This is the perfect portion to substitute for 1 can of beans in many recipes. This is the No Soak Black Bean Recipe I use. It uses the Instant Pot to save time.
Shop Sales & Stock Up
When the items that you regularly use are on sale, it’s the perfect time to stock the freezer and pantry. Typically, each store will have the basic items on sale once per month. Additionally, holidays are can be a great time to stock up on certain items. For instance, Christmas is a great time to stock up on baking goods such as flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, etc.
When fresh produce and meat are one sale, it’s the time to stock up (but only the amount you will really use). Freezing in meal-size portions before freezing also makes it more convenient and a better chance to be used.
Another great way to eat healthy on a budget is to purchase generic organic grocery items. Many stores have their own generic brand for organic and natural goods. They can be a great option and an economical way to purchase organic goods. Whole Foods has their 365 Brand that I purchase frequently and have been very happy with. Also, my local grocery store Publix has their brand for natural and organic foods, which is Greenwise. I’m glad to see that many grocery stores see the need for generic brands for their organic and natural food options.
Meat is one of the most expensive items on our grocery list. Eating a meatless meal once or twice a week is a great way to stretch the grocery budget. Beans, lentils, and eggs are economical options that most families enjoy. Beans and lentils are not only budget-friendly but very healthy and filling.
Another option is to use less meat in a dish than you normally would. If your family enjoys meaty chili, think of substituting half the meat for more beans.
Food waste is a large problem for the Western World. Many of us got used to the convenience of processed food with such a long shelf and are now trying to get fresh and healthier foods. Since we don’t have time to go to the grocery store every day, here are some tips to keep your produce fresh until eaten.
- Eat delicate items, like berries first
- Buy bananas at varying greenness, to have them at the correct ripeness throughout the week
- Fruit should ripen at room temperature but can be refrigerator to store longer
- Don’t refrigerate tomatoes
- Most vegetables should be stored in the refrigerator’s crisper drawer, where there is greater humidity
- Wilted leafy greens can be crisped by placing in cold water
- Wash and chop lettuce and store in a zip-top bag with a wet dish towel or paper towel. This will keep it fresh all week and ready for salads.
- Store onions, garlic, and potatoes in a cool, dark, well-ventilated area away for extreme temperatures.
- Remove carrot greens when carrots are first purchased to keep carrots crisp. Carrots can be stored in cold water for a few weeks.
Additionally, using our food scraps to the largest extent possible will stretch the grocery budget. When you roast a whole chicken or turkey, use the bones and a few vegetable scraps (onion peels and carrot tops can be kept in the freezer until ready to use) to make homemade stock and freeze for future use. Food scraps can also be composted to produce a high-quality soil for the garden.